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A Friend And A Golfer

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Roughly about six years ago, starting around a Delhi autumn and leading up to the coming spring, I spent a good part of the capital’s pleasant season where a visit to the Delhi Golf Club on Zakir Hussain Marg was not an anomaly. The outdoor veranda of the club where tea and snacks are served is a beautiful place from where one can see the lush green course and have a relaxed conversation (I don’t know if the veranda still looks like that). It was in this unrepeatable season that I learned a little bit about golf because a lot of things converged to make it possible.

An old friend and roommate of mine had left a job in Bangalore and found another one in Delhi. I had spent the past few years staying alone and I looked forward to having an old friend for company and someone to share the rent. The most-important factor was that my roommate had joined Golf Digest India, which was and still is, edited by a common friend Prabhdev Singh.

The benefit of Golf Digest coming to my house every month courtesy my roommate and the company of an avid golfer and a golf editor gave me some idea about the game. It made me appreciate Arthur Daley’s quote: “Golf is like a love affair. If you don’t take it seriously, it’s no fun; if you do take it seriously, it breaks your heart.”

The first television major I enjoyed watching was the Augusta Masters in 2005; where Woods pulled off a win in a playoff against Chris DiMarco. An anonymous one-liner says: “Golf is life. If you can’t take golf, you can’t take life.” The part below is from an edit Prabhdev wrote for the magazine he heads.

“I have seen the Woods effect on women from quite close. First, the 2008 Masters. Waiting at the crossover at the par-3 sixth, an eye-catching blonde parked herself next to me. Soon after she started emitting sounds, the kind people make when they see something they like. I shuffled and smiled but unfortunately she wasn’t into turbaned men. The object of her desire strode purposefully down the slope from the tee and quickly walked past us, eyes fixed on his golf ball on the green. There was no way he couldn’t have seen her (or heard her!) but Tiger had golf on his mind. I was impressed with his single-mindedness.

Last year my wife accompanied me to the U.S. Open at Bethpage, just outside New York. One of the days she decided to make the trip to the golf course to see what the fuss was all about. It so happened that while she was there, Tiger finished his day’s play, and he was then to come to the informal interview area just outside the clubhouse for a quick Q&A. My wife heard about this, and she started to wait for Tiger. It began raining and I ran for cover, but there was no budging her. A security official, who seemed to have seen plenty of this before, lent her a pen in case ‘the man’ happened to be in a mood to sign. When he finally arrived was the time I actually should have run for cover. The wife was suddenly transformed from an almost middle-aged (my golf clubs lie hidden as I write this) housewife to a squealing college goer. It became quite a task to get her to leave the place even long after Tiger left, the wife insisting that he might return. I did get sympathetic looks from my colleagues.

You would have to be carved out of stone to remain impervious to such adulation, and Tiger has been subject to this kind of attention on a sustained basis ever since he started playing big-time golf. People chose to think he is god, but Tiger has shown that he is human.

As for those who have invested large sums of money in him, they would have profited equally-well by all accounts. Money on the PGA Tour has grown more than four-fold since Tiger joined it in 1996. Journeymen pros have him to thank when they dive into their swimming pools in the backyard. Like millions around the world, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Tiger Woods play golf, and I hope I get to see more of the same.

He does have some matters to settle before that. There are three people he is answerable to—his wife, on an immediate basis, and then his two kids when they are old enough to comprehend what they are being subjected to. Of course, how he goes about that is his business.”

Written by Deepan Joshi

January 19, 2010 at 12:02 am

Leadership Is Not Divorced From Daily Life

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Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata in a rare moment of uncertainty and anguish.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

From The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats, who wrote the poem in the aftermath of the First World War in 1919.

It is always a perfect time to talk about leadership; just like it is always a good time to demonstrate it. This post will try to catch the essence of this elusive quality around which large corporations are built and complex global issues tackled. This is a subjective post because of the screen created by the ‘I’ through which I observe leadership.

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences,” Susan B. Anthony. Susan travelled in the United States and Europe and gave 75 to 100 speeches a year on women’s rights for 45 years in the 19th century and she worked for more than 50 years for women to have the right to vote in the US.

The first subjective observation is that there is a distinction between being in a leadership position and having leadership qualities. Leadership does not come with the corner office or with a title that sounds impressive; it is a quality that a man brings to the office and not the other way round. I don’t think leaders need challenges to excel; that to me sounds like the police need gangs and crime to function and the intelligence agencies need terrorist plots in order to work well. Leadership can be seen in simple every day situations and the lack of it may not be that apparent in daily life but it gets exposed completely in a crisis. That is because a crisis is a test of character; and leadership has everything to do with character and almost nothing to do with position and power. Cut to the chase; leaders face the music.

One such crisis or rather devastation began on the night of November 26, 2008; when 10 drugged and systematically- programmed killing machines reached the shores of Bombay having navigated their way from the port city of Karachi. The 62 hours they survived in India’s financial capital have been the ‘suspended fatal hours’ around which the wounded consciousness of a nation has been hanging for over a year now.
One significant point has now become public knowledge; and that is the complete lack of leadership during those 62 hours. There was no one in command when the 10 trained terrorists armed to their teeth tore through the flesh of our complacency and carpe diem ethos. The Indian Express consistently did marvellous stories by picking up the pieces in the aftermath of the attacks and stories were also broken by Times of India, Hindustan Times, Hindu and many other Indian publications and also by some international news organisations. And from Tavleen Singh and Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express to Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times and Thomas Friedman and Patrick French in The New York Times, some brilliant columns challenged stated positions right through the year.

An AFP picture by Pedro Ugarte showed the anguish of a man with abundance of leadership qualities. It was Ratan Tata, looking up as the last of the flames were being doused and a lot of smoke was billowing from his over-a-century-old heritage, on the morning the torment ended and the last of the hell-bound jihadis had been taken out. It was a picture that captured a decisive man in a fleeting moment of agony and an indecisiveness borne out of factors beyond his control. When Ratan Tata later spoke to most of the TV channels and gave an interview to Fareed Zakaria on CNN there was no hint of indecisiveness and there was no dilemma about the road ahead. He spoke about the important things first and everything was so real about his manner and his concerns.

Our Booker heroine, Arundhati Roy, did a piece for the Guardian that had all the qualities of a good fiction writer struggling to come to terms with facts. “Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America’s ally first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careening towards civil war,” wrote Roy. What is the source of this assertion? The first instance was neither forced and nor run according to American wishes; Zia-ul-Haq was worried that Pakistan may get sandwiched between Russia on one side and India on the other and he wanted to take the war across the Khyber Pass to keep the Russians on their heels. He entrusted the ISI to manage the liaisons of Pakistan with the CIA and with Saudi Arabia’s GID (Saudi Intelligence Agency), headed by Prince Turki. The proselytizing Wahabi oil money through Saudi charities was also swelling and the ISI and its vault was at the centre of it all in the 1980s. This is sourced information available in many books and for key assertions the primary sources have been listed by a few journalists with immaculate sourcing, astonishing work ethic and a great understanding of nuance.

Lack of justice may have made it easy for the LeT to establish sleeper cells within India but this has not been a plan that would have been even whispered in front of those who provided fringe help. I don’t buy the theory that the terrorists picked their targets in Bombay because they were upset about the Indian Army being placed in war-torn Kupwara. Andrew G. Bostom, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Renal Diseases of Rhode Island Hospital, published a comprehensive and meticulously-documented book in 2005 named The Legacy of Jihad, Islamic Holy War and the fate of non-Muslims. Ibn Warraq in a foreword to the book wrote that ‘Dr Bostom has gathered together an impressive range of primary and secondary source documents relating to the theory and practice of jihad, and to a certain extent the condition of dhimmis, non-Muslims living as oppressed tributaries in Islamic countries’. It is a great work for those who can face facts and want to learn about them. “Andrew Bostom speaks of jihad as a ‘devastating institution,’ yet the evidence he provides demonstrates that jihad was also a devastatingly ‘effective’ institution,” Lee Harris wrote in his book The Suicide of Reason.

Was the angst in India about the fact that they also picked the high-end five-star hotels along with CST and those who have a voice made a lot of noise? Maybe 20 per cent of it had to do with that but I think 80 per cent of the anger was the result of being slaughtered by a neighbourhood butcher who just saw us napping in our own backyard. It was the unabashed nakedness of violence and our complete helplessness to deal with it that caused the outcry. Bombay gets me derailed every time and I’ll just say one more thing before coming back to leadership: The United States is not going to stand up for us if we don’t stand up for ourselves. Our leadership needs to realise this.

It is odd how so many people in leadership positions find it difficult to use the three hard-to-say phrases according to Mark McCormack and a fourth one according to me. “I don’t know, I need help, I was wrong, and I am sorry.” There is nothing wrong with any of the four phrases. I don’t know why people find it difficult to say I don’t know so I am not going to give any theory around it. But not admitting what you don’t know always leads to suspicions about what you do know.

My only global example for leadership quality is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela; just think about the man and what he did for South Africa in particular and for humanity at large. South African cricket writer Telford Vice was very busy recently in conducting a poll for an all-time great South African XI with separate introductions to various disciplines and the middle-order was a tight spot with many contenders. An edited extract: “The middle order is the archetypal South African batsman’s natural habitat, the place where push comes to shove for him. …Some South Africans seem stifled by technique, while a few make a mockery of it. The majority take the coaching manual as their guide to varying degrees, and conjure the rest as they go along.

There is something in the national character that relishes proving people wrong. South Africans appear to be better than most at realising that the light they see at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train, even when the rest of the world is convinced that it bloody well is.

This is, after all, the country that should have been broken by centuries of race hatred and inequality. It wasn’t. Then it became the country that should have been destroyed in the aftermath of those centuries of race hatred and inequality. Again, it wasn’t.

Instead, the centre of South African society held firm thanks to the leadership of a man whose north star was fairness and justice for all. In another world, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela would have made a middle-order batsman of the highest order. He’s not on our list of contenders for South Africa’s middle order, but those who have made it aren’t in the habit of letting people down either.”

Imagine saying this and meaning it: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
This is pure leadership quality without an ounce of the divisive politician.

‘What an unlucky country’

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Early in September 2001, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center got a routine report from Ahmed Shah Massoud’s intelligence service about two Arab television journalists crossing the Northern Alliance lines from Kabul. The CIA had renewed its partnership with Massoud in September 1996, after a gap of almost six years. The alliance focused mainly on Arabs in Afghanistan and reports were sent via dedicated lines that linked the Panjshir Valley to Langley. In this instance the Center took note. It did not seem of exceptional interest.

This information is almost towards the end of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning book for general non fiction Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, who was the managing editor of The Washington Post then and is with The New Yorker magazine now.

Osama bin Laden and the freedom he had under Taliban rule brought the CIA back into the region. Coll’s riveting and authoritative narrative paints an astoundingly vivid picture of the years starting from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001. The New York Times called it the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of al-Qaeda.

At the US Embassy in Islamabad the Taliban’s rise was evaluated as an isolated Afghan mystery. Many career officers in the US government believed, even as late as September 10, 2001 that Mullah Omar would hand over bin Laden on his own, as Pakistan was assuring them.

“Afghanistan after 1979 was a laboratory for political and military visions conceived abroad and imposed by force. The language and ideas that described Afghan parties, armies, and militias originated with theoreticians in universities and seminaries in Europe, the United States, Cairo, and Deoband. Afghans fought as ‘communists’ or as ‘freedom fighters.’ They joined jihadist armies battling on behalf of an imagined global Islamic umma. A young, weak nation, Afghanistan produced few convincing nationalists who could offer an alternative, who could define Afghanistan from within. Ahmed Shah Massoud was an exception.”

“Few in Panjshir could read or write, but Massoud’s parents were both exceptions. His father was formally educated. His mother taught herself to read and write, and urged her four sons and four daughters to improve themselves similarly. Ahmed Shah Massoud’s mother meted out family discipline, and because he was a child who seemed naturally inclined to mischief, his reprimands came often. She never struck her children physically, her sons recalled, but she could wither them with verbal lashings. Years later Massoud confided to siblings that perhaps the only person he had ever feared was his mother.”….Continued. Click on the headline to read the full piece.

O Ponting! My Ponting!

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When the heat cools down and the dust settles, the 2009 Ashes defeat would hurt Australia much more than the loss in 2005. That was an England side on a winning spree, with a bowling attack that had phenomenal bite and their batting too was much better on paper than this time.

Australia had the services of most of their greats of the past decade and the matches were tight. Warne was magical throughout the series and brought Australia back into the contest almost in every game after Lord’s. England was a unit that looked like winning after the Edgbaston Test. This time it is not just a defeat but also a shock as this did not seem like a possibility after Leeds.

“When Australia won the dead Sydney Test of January 1987, having already lost the Ashes, a journalist at the press conference asked the visiting captain Mike Gatting: Wasn’t it really rather good that the hosts had won a consolation victory? Didn’t he, deep down, feel a little sorry for the Aussies?
Gatting imparted some advice to remember. Beating Australia was always great, he insisted. And nobody, but nobody, should ever feel sorry for a cricketer in green and gold.”

For the past decade or so I’ve always been thrilled to see Ponting’s back in any match. That 10-over spell of Ishant Sharma at Perth at the end of which he got his man was the moment when the match swung in India’s favour.

Ponting’s been a part of two amazing 16 Test wins on the trot for Australia in the last decade or so. He’s captained Australia to two World Cup wins and there have been times when the probability of the victory speech at the end of a Test match being his has been close to 100 per cent even before the start of the game. Sometimes his smirk has looked ugly and his celebration pompous; like after the acrimonious Sydney Test against India. His team remorselessly flogged England 5-0 the last time they met in Australia.

When he lost his wicket in the second innings at the Oval, for the first time I was shattered seeing him depart. I didn’t like seeing his back and the fact that it was because of a run out made it more painful. Suddenly I saw everything in a completely different light; the reason to always celebrate his wicket had little to do with like or dislike and everything to do with his ability to single-handedly change the course of a game. …Click on the headline to read the full story.

Written by Deepan Joshi

August 25, 2009 at 1:15 pm

What Happened To Newsroom Characters?

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This lovely piece has been in my mail ever since it was first sent by a friend. David Shaw lamenting about the disappearance of newsroom characters in 2002, and I guess the situation now is no better. In 1994 when I joined my first job I met some delightful rogues in the newsroom, people one loved to talk about because of their odd way of looking at things and an odd way of living. Having come from a small town where there was no dearth of characters, like in most small towns; I slowly realised the dearth of them in big cities. I am putting this piece in my blog because I’d love to share it with people and to preserve it here lest something happens to my mailbox.

By David Shaw
© 2002 Los Angeles Times

In my early years at The Times, at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the ’70s, I often marveled at the stylish prose turned out by several colleagues whose writing was so evocative and so lyrical that I came to think of them as poet-journalists. When Bella Stumbo died early this month, at age 59, she became—sadly, shockingly—the fourth member of that elite group to succumb at a relatively young age. Dave Smith died in March, at 64; Chuck Powers in 1996, at 53; Jim Stingley in 1984, at 43.

Talent and early death were not all these four had in common. They all worked hard and played hard, with booze, drugs and inner demons as not infrequent companions. And they were all genuine characters. Jim shambled through the newsroom, unkempt and unshaven, looking more like a lumberjack than a reporter. Dave had various psychological problems, and in 1968, after he wrote a long, brilliant profile on a deeply troubled mass murderer named Benny Smith, one editor here nicknamed Dave “Benny the Shrink.” Chuck and Bella were a couple for a while—a ferociously tempestuous couple—and I can still recall Bella punching Chuck in the mouth during one of their more public quarrels at The Times’ local saloon.

I miss these four—and their talent. I have at my desk, in a file labeled “Others’ Epics,” copies of several of their stories. An early paragraph in Dave’s Benny Smith profile: “Inwardly, in one dark valley where his mind comes more and more to dwell, and where no one else can see, corrosive fantasies leap and flicker, finally taking on life of their own—stronger than that of their quiet, timid creator.”

Dave, Bella, Chuck and Jim were all long gone from The Times when they died, but I think their absence symbolizes a void in our profession (and our society) that’s even greater than their talent. There aren’t many larger-than-life characters being hired in big-city newsrooms—or stepping into the larger political arena—these days.

The only true character I can recall The Times hiring in the past decade or so lasted about two weeks in the mid-’90s. His newsroom colleagues ridiculed him and complained about him, and he got no support from the then-top editors. He left in a New York minute.

I’m not saying that today’s reporters aren’t good. Most newspaper staffs are better than they were 30 years ago—better-educated and more sophisticated. Many, at The Times and elsewhere, are fine prose stylists. But they aren’t characters. They aren’t colleagues about whom you go home and say, “Geez, you’ll never guess what Bella [or whoever] did today.”

This is more than a lament for the good old days. And I certainly don’t long for the days when many reporters played poker in the newsroom, took free meals and gifts with both hands, and drank their lunch out of half-pint bottles stashed in the bottom drawers of tobacco-stained desks. But I’m convinced that when you take the characters out of the newsroom, you also take some of the character out of the newspaper.

Newspapers are generally more responsible today than they used to be. But they’re also—often—less interesting. There are far fewer stories of the sort that make a reader say, “Wow, I never thought I’d see that in the paper.” I’m thinking of a mood piece Chuck wrote after hanging out with derelicts in MacArthur Park, for example, and I’m thinking of an impressionistic blend of hippie dialogue and quasi-dramatic construction, written by Dave Felton, another of The Times’ 1970s poet-journalists. Click on the headline to read the full story…

Written by Deepan Joshi

August 18, 2009 at 10:39 pm

The First Step

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I’ve been in journalism for about 16 years now. Started off with a sports desk and then never went anywhere near it for almost 14 years. All these 14 years though I have never been able to watch sports without being on the edge of my seat.

After my first job in 1994, where I had covered a Ranji Trophy match, I wrote again on cricket after the acrimonious Sydney Test in 2008. Some colleagues and a lot of friends had been goading me for a few years that I should seriously consider sports writing; not that I was showing any signs but because I was immersed in reading sports pieces from around the world as a matter of routine. I have willingly been a desk person throughout and so the byline has never been the driving factor in my career. I was thoroughly enjoying being a spectator and a fan in my personal life; so it really didn’t matter that I was not doing cricket copies at work.

It all changed in my last job as a deputy editor with a Delhi-based newspaper, where I from within felt a ripe urge to write about cricket. I was enjoying the game and also looking forward to any opportunity to write about it. I was liking the balance of writing about cricket as opposed to no balance when I am watching it. My weird ways and unexplainable routines while watching a good Test match or a thrilling Grand Slam encounter are a source of great entertainment for my family, even my two-year-old son finds it funny — one day he embarrassed me and made everyone else laugh when he was jumping behind my back imitating my excitement while seeing a match.

So with the idea of being the owner of my balancing act, last night I took the first steps towards starting my blog. Being an owner also gives me the freedom to rummage in the past, reflect the present or talk of the future, and that really broadens the horizon. In my research to set up the blog I found a very apt analogy to the kind of attitude that makes a new blog possible; just start it and see where it leads. It is like driving in the night with the visibility just being 100 metres because of heavy fog; so one has to drive those 100 metres first to see what lies ahead. In my case this backdrop to the blog are the first 100 metres.

Written by Deepan Joshi

June 19, 2009 at 5:19 pm

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