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Posts Tagged ‘The Guardian

Doubts Punctuate The 1950 Milan Kundera Spy Case

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“Mirek rewrote history just like the Communist Party, like all political parties, like all peoples, like mankind. They shout that they want to shape a better future, but it’s not true. The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past.” The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

As if taking a cue from one of his characters a dark secret from the past threatens to crash on the opening chapter of Milan Kundera’s life. In October 2008, the Czech weekly Respekt published a story that claimed Kundera informed on one of his countrymen in 1950, leading to the man’s imprisonment for 14 years in a hard labour camp.

The basis of the assertion was an old police report that fell into the hands of Adam Hradilek, a historian researching the bleak days of Czechoslovakia’s Communist past. The police document reopened the story of Miroslav Dvoracek and that of his childhood friend Iva Militka. The report also brought the past of arguably the most brilliant literary surgeon of communism in Eastern Europe to the forefront. It is a widely reported and misreported story in which the jury is still out on the truth and doubt remains the only certainty.

The 1950 Police Report
The police report dated March 14, 1950 says: “Today at around 1600 hours a student, Milan Kundera, born 1.4.1929 in Brno, resident at the student hall of residence on George VI Avenue in Prague VII, presented himself at this department and reported that a student, Iva Militka, resident at that residence, had told a student by the name of Dlask, also of that residence, that she had met a certain acquaintance of hers, Miroslav Dvoracek, at Klarov in Prague the same day. The said Dvoracek apparently left one case in her care, saying he would come to fetch it in the afternoon… Dvoracek had apparently deserted from military service and since the spring of the previous year had possibly been in Germany, where he had gone illegally.”

The most important thing is the veracity of the police report and from what has come out the document is being considered as genuine (though there is speculation on whether its contents are genuine). Jerome Depuis of the French magazine L’Express travelled to Prague and cited the historian Rudolf Vedova from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR), the same institute Hradilek works for: “We had the document analysed by the Czech Secret Forces archive. The paper, the names listed, the identity and the signature of the officer were all examined—and the document was found to be authentic.”

Around the same time Jiri Grusa, a Czech poet and in 2008 the president of the international writers association PEN, told a German radio station that he went to Prague to see the police document for himself. Grusa said that he now has no doubts that “the document is real. There’s no denying it. Only it is not Milan Kundera’s document, it is no denunciation, it’s a police annunciation. And if Kundera says, I didn’t do it, then I have to believe him.”

The Background
In 1948 a putsch in Czechoslovakia led to a communist takeover. This resulted in the armed forces being purged and veteran airmen who had flown with the RAF in the war (about 40 per cent of Czech Air Force) were demoted, kicked out or sent to labour camps due to their exposure to the West. Even students were not spared. Two boyhood friends, Miroslav Dvoracek and Miroslav Juppa, who had attended the same school in a small town in Eastern Bohemia were included on a list of expulsions in a memorandum from January 1949. When they were ordered a month later to join an infantry unit, Dvoracek and Juppa, aided by Juppa’s girlfriend Iva Militka and her relatives fled to West Germany.

Click on the headline to read the full story.


Roger Federer: A Magician Lost

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Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was this magician from Switzerland who came down to London and used his racquet as a wand every summer from the first Monday to the last Sunday of the Wimbledon fortnight.

Roger Federer was immune from whatever surprises the tennis world generated and made it a habit to be present on those two days from his first title in 2003 to 2009. In seven years he won six championships and his only loss in 2008 was hailed as the greatest tennis match of all time.

Over these years Federer produced some breathtaking tennis and orchestrated escapes that would have made a Houdini proud. This year, though, Federer looked like any mortal tennis player. There was no magic about him. He managed to escape the ignominy of losing in the first round when he came back from two sets down against unheralded Columbian Alejandro Falla.

The magic of Federer has been fading for a while now but his fourth round defeat at Centre Court to Czech Tomas Berdych signifies a new low for him. Berdych played an almost perfect match and had Federer on the defence for the better part of the match. Federer had his chances but he wasn’t allowed to take them. On more than an occasion he took the game from being 0-40 down on the Berdych serve to deuce but could not break.

Then there was an opening that Berdych provided by making two double faults in one game but Federer did not have what over the years has been known as his other gear and Berdych held on.

In the Australian Open in 2009 Federer had come back from being two sets down to Berdych in the fourth round. Federer had won eight in a row against Berdych before the match in Melbourne and Berdych had a solitary win going back to the Athens Olympics in 2004. Then Tomas Berdych found a way to win and this year in Miami he beat the Swiss 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 in the round of 16 after saving a match point on Federer’s serve in the third set tie-break.

Just like Falla earlier Berdych attacked the Federer backhand and went around his returns to hit scorching forehand winners. The main weapon of Federer, his forehand, repeatedly let him down as he missed returns that a few summers ago he may have hit with his eyes closed.

Kevin Mitchell of the Guardian wrote: “Only Roger Federer and Tiger Woods among great athletes of modern times have had the aura to survive slumps and still be regarded as dangerous until they are scraped off the canvas. That, sadly, is no longer true in either case.

As Federer leaves Wimbledon, his back, right leg and heart aching, he must wonder if he can continue to absorb as much punishment as he once did, to his spirit as well as a body unused to such failings.

He was a god reduced, a humbled champion, and he has not been so despondent after a defeat in a very long time. He struggled and failed to hide his inner torment.

He is still hungry. “I can’t wait for Paris and Wimbledon to come around next year,” he said, defiantly. But he is angry too—angry at himself for being mortal and angry at suggestions he is not as great as he has been for nearly a decade. But defeat sent him tumbling to third in the world, a position of relative ordinariness he has not experienced since 2003”

Federer’s problems began in 2008 when Rafael Nadal literally blasted him on the red clay of Paris and then snatched his Wimbledon crown. There was consolation though as Federer came back from two sets down to level the match and the fight in the fifth set went on till near darkness.

Order was restored when Federer won the US Open at the end of 2008. He then reached the final of the Australian Open in 2009 and lost for the third time in a final to Nadal in less than a year. The rest of the year was productive as Federer won his first French Open title and won his sixth Wimbledon crown.

He went past Pete Sampras at the All England Club where past legends were watching from the stands. He lost the US Open to Del Potro but 2009 was a very successful year for him as he reached all four Grand Slam finals and won two of them. Federer then silenced his critics by winning the Australian Open in 2010.

Then came what he and others called a lean period rather than a worrying stretch: no tournament wins in five months. Soderling crushed him in Paris and even Lleyton Hewitt beat him in Halle two weekends ago on grass.

Mitchell wrote in his blog piece: “This is really amazing for me,” Berdych said. It was just as amazing for everyone fortunate to witness one of sport’s most dramatic moments, and perhaps a tidemark in the career of not only the Czech but the legend he dismantled.

“I don’t think I played poorly,” Federer said. “He went after it.” But he did play—if not poorly—without his familiar excellence.

The Swiss is often perceived as so good he does not have to fight, which is wholly inaccurate. There is calm in his soul that disguises his determination. But injury has dented his body; we will discover in the months to come if the hurt goes deeper.”

The act of a magician has three parts: the first is a pledge, then comes the turn and the success of the trick relies on the third part called prestige. Roger Federer has done it before, having gone through the turn he has restored his magic by conjuring a prestige on many occasions.

This time it is a sharp turn and a prestige looks highly-unlikely. On his part, Federer can take consolation from the fact that all great magic is achieving the highly-improbable.

Written by Deepan Joshi

July 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm

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.

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.

Is It Just The Front Page That Has Died!

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I read a dirge by famous columnist Vir Sanghvi—in a blog he maintains for hindustantimes.com—on the death of the front page over the last year or so. As a consumer of more than half a dozen newspapers I can also vouch for receiving some dead bodies on a daily basis. And here I mean not just the front page but that part of the bundle that goes to the heap in the storeroom with every crease in tact.

I buy different newspapers for different reasons and despite the recession some of them are part of an old habit while some of them are just for my neighbours to know that a journalist lives here and, therefore, buys more newspapers and magazines; never mind the fact that the world and he himself is recession hit.

This post is also an elegy, though the scope here is vast and encompasses much more than just the front page and tries to sniff if behind the death of the front page is the debris of the strongest pillar of the fourth estate; the institution of the editor. I don’t have extensive factual basis for such a nauseating inkling but then it has been that kind of a year where I am finding it difficult to believe that the six-letter title of ‘editor’ automatically means some simple ‘virtues’ like transparency, ethics, a basic minimum honesty, the competence to gauge the merit of a story and the most important quality to know what to do when confronted with an ethical dilemma.

“The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free but facts are sacred.”—C.P. Scott, Editor, Manchester Guardian, May 6, 1926.

This is a time when the newspapers are competing with quality material that readers have access to much before the broadsheet comes out and that number is going to go up with the broadband coming, the economy growing, and the literacy rate climbing up. Quality is going to live and no matter where it is the interested reader will get to it.

That does not in any way mean that the bullshit is going to go away because a lot of people don’t know the difference and a lot of journalists cater to that market because they don’t know what else to do themselves; so all of it lives side by side. I have had some classic interactions over the years with the relatively-new as well as the senior old hands to have a decent first-hand experience of journalistic ‘copelessness’. The details are both horrifying and hilarious and some of them have even been on official channels; it is at best a subject for a book and not a long post.

The average marketing professional has his logic: “We’ve come up with a study that the market loves bullshit and we don’t understand why you can’t give more of it.” A story I read in livemint.com by Aakar Patel explores whether India’s high-growth can continue and says, “Nine half-literates are produced by our colleges, by Nasscom’s numbers, for every graduate of passable quality.” Mathematically then there has to be a probability for these semi-literates finding a way to the newsrooms. And also some probability of heading the newsroom. Also if there is just one literate for every nine semi-literates; it would be quite unsuccessful to cater to just 10 per cent of the population that is of passable quality.

So I come to my morning bundle and the Hindustan Times is the first paper I see on Sundays for the columnists I follow; on other days I look at its design and then go elsewhere to find something to read. I take The Indian Express for news as their reportage is excellent. The Times of India to see the pace and the direction that the market-leader is setting. The Economic Times for clean good copy that one can learn from and for some of their international business coverage that is unlikely to be found in any other paper. Last Saturday I took my first Crest and it was a pleasure; the edition was miles ahead of what any paper had on Tendulkar completing 20 years of international cricket. Three more daily papers that do not deserve mentioning serve some purpose or the other in my house.

When columnist Patricia Smith of the Boston Globe was forced out in June 1998 after having been found to have made up quotes, Andrew Marshall of the British newspaper The Independent had a go at his American peers in an article on June 23, 1998.

“British journalists have been smirking at two high-profile scandals involving two of their American peers who made up quotes and events in articles for two highly-respected publications. No, that sentence will not do. Since we are writing on the subject of journalistic accuracy, let’s be spot on. British journalists have been laughing hysterically, slapping their thighs and fighting desperately to retain bladder control. ‘We have long suspected that all this fact checking stuff was a charade,’ said a source close to me yesterday. ‘And now we know.’”

It is quite natural to think that lapses in journalistic accuracy would cause some major concern to our editors as well. And to point them out would not be considered as tantamount to being ‘the enemy of the fourth estate’ in India. As a journalist it is very heartening to know via the Medium Term that the heart of the Chairperson of a large newspaper house of the country is tilted positively towards the editorial aspect of the business. What is disheartening is that the hearts and minds of ‘some of the people’ responsible for editorial quality and journalistic ethics in the same newspaper house are not in their jobs. I’ll spare you the details but don’t be disappointed they will come up in the static pages once I have learnt how to organise the sub-folders.

On Saturday, though, the Hindustan Times did an exceptional bit of investigative journalism on a front page top box with a wonderful picture of Tendulkar under a good headline ‘The everlasting run machine’. I should not have been reading it as it was not a Sunday but I did; and so I found out.

“30,065 Runs scored in international cricket in both forms of the game (Tests and ODIs), the highest by any batsman. Ricky Ponting, again at second place has 24,057.” The numbers are wrong in both the cases; by 10 runs for Tendulkar and by 401 runs for Ponting. The sum total actually is in all three forms of international cricket where Tendulkar has played just one T20 international and scored 10 runs while Ponting has played 17 matches and 16 innings for his 401 runs. Although it is a very complicated error to achieve; it is understandable that this could have happened due to lack of communication.

Lets gear up for the investigative part now. “43 Centuries scored in Tests, the most by any batsman. Ricky Ponting of Australia comes second with 39.” This is an open insult in a country where cricket is a national obsession and the gap between the Little Master and the Tasmanian called Punter a subject of everyday discussions. Ponting scored his 38th Test hundred in the first Ashes Test of 2009 played in Cardiff beginning 8th July and did not manage a three figure score in the rest of the series. Who knows where he was caught scoring his 39th Test century after the series was won 2-1 by England and I signed off writing a post titled ‘A Sad Ashen Pundit’ after HT signed off with ‘A Sad Ashen Look’?

Ode To A Simple Man

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I keep coming back to the saying of the Guardian’s legendary editor C.P. Scott and his words as I love the simple manner in which it defines the job of a journalist: Comment is free, but facts are sacred. The fact is not a matter of interpretation. It makes no difference to the fact whether you face it or you avoid it; the fact is just the fact. This post is dedicated to a simple man who lives with the fact.

My 88-year-old uncle, K.C. Tewari, has limitless attention, not a single problem and a face that conveys without a word immense love, understanding and concern. He is the husband of my mother’s eldest and only sister. His life has been quite eventful; six children, 3 boys, 3 girls, all of them married and all having growing up children. The eldest son is about 58. My uncle had a pretty senior government job, and all his children were married after he retired. He is not one of those old men who get together in the park and discuss a lot of things, he is quite happy on his own. He neither seeks company nor does he avoid it. Everyone faces the fact, one has to; but to live with it is quite another matter.

I have seen only one in my life. To quote a 20th century philosopher, “Is there a basic duality at the very core or, does duality arise only when the mind moves away from ‘what is’?” You have pain in your stomach, that is the fact, and the process of thought that there was no pain yesterday or will not be tomorrow is duality. My uncle is always with ‘what is’. I admire him, and on very cold and stormy days I just go and sit by his side for a while, his warmth is enough to heal. I don’t have what he has and I don’t even try because any comparison is an even bigger movement away from the fact.

Perhaps that is the reason that he has never carried any problem in his life despite having a multitude of them over the years. When death and tragedy and the inevitable suffering that most people get caught in came to his doorstep and in the lives of his children then that was the fact. When all that passed and the Sun came out on a bright new day then that became the reality. You can’t fight with him because he is beyond conflict and it’s not possible to drag him into one. It is tough to be with the only thing that exists, which is this moment in which you might be rich or poor, happy or miserable, lonely or ‘absolutely whole and alone’ like my uncle.

I am told that he did his work with a lot of care and he was a man of few words. He now speaks a little more than when he was young. Sometimes you can see him looking at the dictionary because he might have seen a new word in the newspaper. He loves to watch football. His handwriting is so beautiful and so clear, that each and every alphabet is worth looking at. And there is a lot of his written work available as after he retired and even before it there was always someone or the other that he was teaching.

He made all the college notes of his youngest daughter and then must be for five or six grandchildren after that. Before he had retired he would teach Hemraj; a servant in the house who was very interested in getting educated. Hemraj cleared his 12th standard, and I don’t know how many man hours my uncle devoted everyday after work for more than six years. Hemraj now runs a successful motor repair shop in my hometown of Mandi; he always comes to meet whenever my uncle is visiting. My uncle must be sitting in his house right now with ‘what is’. You can talk about the past with him; he has a great memory it’s just that he is not stuck there.

He was close to dying twice, but when he survived there was no thinking of that time because he was all attentive to the now. According to him there is no problem with the fact; while there are all sorts of problems in escaping it. He is a man of action and needs no activity. My uncle is very frugal with money but is blessed with the generosity of the heart. And at 88 he takes care of quite a lot.

As such things cannot be inherited the children have the DNA but not even one of the qualities that he has in abundance. He is full of life; and has a dignity that is so easily visible yet difficult to describe as it is not linked to a position, title or any tangible material accumulations. He must have seen me as an infant but my memory of him goes back to when I must have been six or seven years old. The pleasure of his regular company started when I began my first job in Delhi and lived in my uncle’s home initially. It was home not just to me but for many of my journalist friends in the initial years.

The cover of security had to be broken and the temptations of the world at 22 had a gravitational pull that I never thought was worth resisting. So first with friends and then alone slowly I settled in the city and would meet my uncle with irregular regularity. One day and I don’t remember when; just like the last scene of the movie The Sixth Sense my memory of him went all the way back after a thought crossed my mind.

My uncle was never caught in the process of becoming and all the strife that goes with it; he always had the joy of simple being. Some things cannot be planned, they just happen. Becoming can never know being; becoming is psychological effort and being is effortless. A man is either simple or not and there is no way of becoming simple. The only possibility here is to realise one’s complexity and the mind may stumble upon the simplicity that takes all the worries of life away.

He is a wise man and, therefore, many a times just says a word or two to change the course of a life he cares for if it is going sideways. More than that my uncle lets everyone go his or her way and never interferes as he probably understands what the Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha talks about: Knowledge can be transferred but wisdom is incommunicable. He doesn’t read fiction or non-fiction so the sentence for him is a statement I wrote as it seems to be true in his case.

If anyone has the desire to see a man who is completely unscarred by 88-years of life, I can arrange for that. My only request is just observe simply without making him feel strange, he is rare but otherwise normal; I am pretty sure you will have a good time if you are one of those who love the facts of life.

Cosmopolitan Mumbai’s Tryst With The Jungle

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Pakistan’s vacillating stance after the chilling and brazen attacks in Mumbai has been disheartening but not unexpected. The United States should know this better as this is not the first time they are getting exposed to layers and layers of deception in Islamabad. The strategy of buying time in any possible manner and to relegate what happened in Mumbai to the dismal background of unresolved terror acts that are being investigated works very well for Pakistan. And why give up a strategy that has worked so well for so many years.

Pakistan has milked Washington for three decades now while following its own agenda. The confirmation of the New York Times story two years ago has come from the horse’s mouth this time as Gen Musharraf candidly admitted that the money given for the War on Terror was diverted to strengthen military options against India. Of course, a denial has also come within days.

Tavleen Singh in her column for The Indian Express a few weeks ago wrote about covert operations as a way to counter the threat of Islamist terror that originates from across the border—a dismal but realistic way to counter a state that uses non-state actors as its most potent foreign policy tool. We should though proceed in our own sensible manner.

The passionate piece of Arundhati Roy for the Guardian after the Mumbai attacks attempts to put the violence of those terrifying November days in context using her celebrated talent with words. The vast background she paints starts with the Radcliffe line and covers the Gujarat riots, the Kashmir issue, Babri Masjid and also the Batla House incident; all legitimate issues in themselves that offer a convenient and lazy explanation when considered together.

Roy is confronted with the same problem that the West faced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11; the search for the ‘root causes’ of terrorism. Her delusion is not rare and though she lashes out at George Bush, her approach is strikingly similar to the-then American president. When the refusal to use the word fanaticism is based on the reluctance to recognise the fact of fanaticism then the response automatically becomes a flight of fancy.

One of the Chechen terrorists said during the siege of the theatre in Moscow: “We will win in the end, because we are willing to die—and you are not.” The Chechen who said this hit the Achilles’ heel of a ‘modern rational society’. What background explains the actions of a young Egyptian man about to finish his architectural study in a Hamburg University from where he takes a detour to lead a suicide mission as the pilot of the first plane that hit the World Trade Center on a bright September day in New York? His companions were 15 Saudi Arabians, one Lebanese and two men from the UAE—no one was a veteran of the Afghan jihad and most had visited Kandahar for the first time between 1999 and 2000.

Lee Harris, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Opinion Journal’, rubbishes the naïve attempts of a cause and effect explanation. “Only a profound misunderstanding can explain the ill-fated American project to deal with terrorism by bringing democracy to the Middle East,” Harris commented on America’s misadventure in Iraq.

The Palestinian elections in 2006 indicate the scale of the mistake. The free and fair elections in Gaza produced a landslide victory for Hamas, regarded by the US and the European nations as a terrorist organisation. The rampant corruption of Fatah, Hamas’ main rival, was how the West explained this victory. Could it not be that Hamas won simply because it echoed in the most direct and vehement manner the populist sentiment of not accepting the state of Israel; the agenda that defines Hamas.

In a liberal society people are not harassed for their opposing view points; and we can disagree with Roy’s opinion but not with her right to express them. The author’s language skills, sadly though, are not enough to mask her misplaced sense of history, especially about Afghanistan. Kabul was once an elegant city of broad streets and walled gardens before it became a site of vicious urban battles that erupted seasonally and led to a state of physical ruin and human misery that compared unfavourably to the very worst places on Earth.

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is to entertain children and adults and should not be seen as a definitive work about the rules that govern the chaos from which mankind seems to have evolved. The first law of the jungle is that there is no law. And whenever the law of the jungle is the final arbiter of any conflict, those who are reasonable are always at a disadvantage. A ‘modern rational society’ needs order while the ‘fanatic’ wants to disrupt that order precisely because the resulting jungle is to his advantage. ….Continued. Click on the headline to read the full piece.

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