Vantage point

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Hypocrisy of the Public Sector

You know what really gets my goat about the public sector entities? Not that they're inefficient. Not that they waste taxpayer's money. Not that they infringe on areas best left for private initiative and free market. All these things get my goat too, but what REALLY gets my goat about the public sector is the sheer hypocrisy.

The "public" sector, by its name, as well as its claims, seems to suggest that its purpose is to serve the public. But in reality every public sector entity ends up tormenting the public and serving only a few select people. The Public Sector will make noble claims but never back it up with actions.

One excellent example is the cricket telecast row regarding Doordarshan for the ongoing tri-series in Sri Lanka.

This is the story so far. the tri-series is happening in Sri Lanka. Ten Sports has paid big money to bag the rights to telecast all cricket played in Sri Lanka. Obviously, they would like to broadcast the matches in India over Cable TV exclusively and make money.

In steps Doordarshan. It tries to strike a deal with Ten so that it can broadcast the matches too. It claims that it is doing so in "public interest" because a majority of TV-owning homes in India don't have cable TV and would thus be deprived of watching cricket. Now it's not as if Ten refused the deal. They aid down some terms and conditions, which I sure must have been such that, DD broadcasts the matches, but without making money itself.

After all, if it is "public" sector, its primary job should be to serve the public's interest, right?

But apparently DD would not play ball.

Now first of all, watching cricket is not a fundamental right. If you can't afford to pay for cable TV, you can't watch it.

But even if we assume, for the sake of the argument, that watching Indian cricket is somehow a fundamental right of all TV owning Indians. Is Doordarshan committed to assuring that right?


Until last year, Doordarshan had exclusive rights for all cricket played in India under the auspices of the BCCI. This means that DD had the rights for every test match and one-dayer played in India. Now DD didn't have to fight anyone for it, right? It was all theirs. So were all TV owning Indians able to watch all cricket?


For at least the last five years or so, Doordarshan would telecast full test matches only on DD Sports which is, not just a cable channel, but a "paid" cable channel. This means that it is not enough to just have a dish antenna to catch DD Sports. You need to pay DD something to watch the channel. So only "privileged" cable TV owning homes could watch entire test matches.

The rest of the TV owning population was thrown morsels of test cricket. One hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. That was all being telecast on DD National. The remaining four hours could only be seen by cable TV homes.

So throw your mind back to March 2001 when VVS Laxman was scripting a historic fightback against Australia in Kolkatta. When he scored his 200th run, the only people watching it live were those who had cable TV. Why?

Because it was scored in the middle 4 hours of the day.

So Prasar Bharti, if you are so concerned about cable-less homes watching cricket, why don't you make DD Sports a channel like DD National or DD News, i.e a channel which anyone with a television can watch?

You want to make DD Sports a paid cable channel? So anyway cable homes will watch all cricket. And DD will make money. Let Ten make money then. At least they know that an over has 6 balls, not four.

Fortunately the Supreme Court too gave a sensible judgement. It restrained the Kerala High Court from interfering in the deal between DD and TEN by preventing it from hearing a PIL filed by Prasar Bharti.

Suresh Raina's Endorsement Deal Story

As I write this blog post, Suresh Raina, having been generously granted a life by the butter-fingered West Indians, is batting well. This reminds me of an incident that happened a few months back.

Suresh Raina had just started making waves in the domestic circuit. His batting exploits were reminiscent of Virender Sehwag who also plundered domestic attacks in his junior days before meting out the same treatment to international bowlers. With Ganguly and Laxman being in patchy form, many were in form of giving a break to young dashers like Suresh Raina and Venugopal Rao. Raina, thanks to his explosive batting style, was more in focus.

With cricketing experts, several people from the ad world too had an eye on Raina. One of them was Shyamsunder Saxena, the head of a leading ad agency. he thought that he could sign on Raina early enough for a lower amount and then make money out of him once he became a star. It had worked with Irfan Pathan when an early gamble had paid off.

So Saxena signed on Raina and decided to hunt for ad assignments for him. Though several colas showed interest, the most attractive offer came from British Telecom. BT was lobbying hard in the Indian government and planned to enter the booming Indian telecom market by the end of 2005. They reckoned that by the time the clearances and licenses came through, and BT was ready to take on biggied like Airtel and Hutch, Raina would have become a star too. So they decided to plan a campaign starring him.

Everything was finalised. All that remained was the last financial negotiation and contract signing which was to happen in BT's London office. Shyamsundar Saxena and Suresh Raina were to meet with Ben Verwaayen, CEO of BT and finalise the deal.

Raina reached the office and was sitting in the conference room waiting for his agent. But the agent didn't turn up. raina and Verwaayen waited for a couple of hours but he still didn't turn up.

A passing Indian minstrel shook his head at this state of affairs and sang....

Raina BT jaaaye, Shyam na aaye... Raina BT jaaaaaaaaaye...Shyam na...aaaaaaaaaaye

:) :)

Defending Khan

I don't know why I am doing this. Maybe the rain water has seeped into my brain or something. I am actually going to defend Sharukh Khan!

Nope, I am not going to say he is one of the all time great actors of our times. As an actor, I think he is good....competent. No one can deny he has good screen presence.

What I admire about Shahrukh Khan is that contrary to popular perception, he experiments a lot, and takes many risks. A lot more than Aamir Khan, who is the poster boy of the urban intellectual Indian movie-goer.

Yes, what happens a lot of times is the characters he plays end up seeming more "Shahrukh"-ish than connoisseurs would prefer. As I said earlier, his acting is competent, not great. But you gotta give the guy credit for trying different things.

We all know that he came from a theatre-and-parallel-cinema background. So I won't list his initial "good" movies. I will concentrate on his career after the time he got firmly entrenched in the Chopra-Johar-candyfloss camp. I am going to take that as the time after Dil To Pagal hai.

After DTPH was a hit, Shahrukh did a lot of the vacuous predictable pink-and-blue-font-title movies on a regular basis. That is when he probably lost the respect of the "intellectual" crowd and Shahrukh-bashing became a trend. I too hate those movies. I'll list those movies, which inspite of being commercial successes are movies I endured only in Volvo buses -

Dil To Pagal Hai (Yash Chopra)
KKHH (Karan Johar)
Mohabbatein (Aditya Chopra)
KKKG (Karan Johar)
Devdas (Bhansali)
KHNH (Nikhil Advani)
Main Hoon Na (Farah Khan)
Veer Zaara (Yash Chopra)

In all these movies, the storylines are standard, the characters played by Shahrukh are almost identical, and there is very little imagination used by the writers and directors. However, every movie listed here has been a hit.

But there have also been several movies where Shahrukh has not played the standard Raj/Rahul type role. Where he has experimented. The result might not have been a cinematic triumph everytime. I have actually disliked many of those movies. But there is a difference. In the earlier genre, I dislike the concept of the movie itself. Here I like the concept, but sometimes end up not liking the execution of the concept itself.

Check this list -

$ Dil Se - Directed by Mani Rathnam. Very challenging role, and a big gamble considering how unconventional the structure of the movie and its ending were. I loved the movie, and it is still one of my all time favourites.

$ Baadshah - Directed by Abbas Mastaan, a goofy-ised copy of the Johnny Depp starrer Nick of Time. Khan plays a bumbling detective. Nothing too earth shattering, but slightly different nevertheless.

$ Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani - Directed by Aziz Mirza, and co-produced by Khan himself. The movie was a failed brave attempt to make a "different" movie, with a jab at the media. Though decent in patches, it was overall a shabby movie. Parts of the movie though could be seen as remarkably ahead-of-their-times. Remember the entire media hoopla connected with the hanging of Paresh Rawal in the movie? Now recall the Dhananjoy Chatterjee saga and notice the similarities. So anyway, a different effort, and actually co-produced by Shahrukh.

$ Hey Ram - Directed by Kamal Hasan. As radically different as a movie and a character could get. Shahrukh took on the role of Amjad Ali Khan and portrayed it quite competently.

$ Josh - Directed by Mansoor Khan who had an impeccable resume until then. It was an attempted remake of Westside Story. Shahrukh played the hooligan brother instead of the loverboy. Movie was horrid and blotted Mansoor Khan's career.

$ One 2 Ka 4 - Directed by Shashilal Nair. Didn't watch the movie, so have no comment. It sunk without a trace. But he played a cop, so am assuming it wasn't a typical Raj-rahul-ish role.

$ Asoka - Directed by Santhosh Sivan, and produced by Shahrukh Khan. Again, a bold experiment with a historical figure. I found the movie quite decent. His performance was okay-ish and he ended up Shahrukh-ising Asoka a lot. But still, it was a "hatke" attempt.

$ Hum Tumhare Hai Sanam - Directed by K.S.Adiyaman (who??? beats me!!) Have no idea about this movie, except for the fact that it also starred Madhuri and Salman and someone told me it was the only Hindi movie which has portrayed a "platonic" friendship between a guy and a girl properly.

$ Shakti: The Power - Directed by Krishna Vamshi. The movie belonged to Nana Patekar and Karishma Kapoor, and Shahrukh didn't. He plays a maverick I hear. Haven't seen the movie. Heard it was bad and a total mistreatment of a potentially powerful (pardon the pun) concept.

$ Chalte Chalte - Directed by Aziz Mirza and produced by Shahrukh. Okay, some might say I shouldn't include the movie in this category. It was very candyfloss-ish, his name in the movie was Raj, and he has a song-and-dance routine in Europe....everything so Yashraj-ish. But the second half of the movie was an attempt....albeit a feeble one, to depict the evolution of a marriage. However feel free to chuck this movie out of the "hat ke" list if you want.

$ Swades - Directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar. No need to write much about this great movie.

$ Paheli - Directed by Amol Palekar and produced by Shahrukh Khan. Again, a self-financed different movie.

From the list above, delete movies which you feel are not really "hat ke" and are really "Safe bets" similar to yashraj movies. Even then you will be left with a decent number of movies which were quite 'off the beaten path'.

If we take a look at his forthcoming movies, they are -

$ Munnabhai meets Mahatma Gandhi - Directed by Rajkumar Hirani. Shahrukh will go head to head with Sunjay Dutt in a sequel to Munnabhai

$ Don - Directed by Farhan Akhtar and written by Javed Akhtar, and co-starring Amitabh, this is probably Shahrukh's first proper foray into the gangster-flick genre.

$ Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna - Karan Johar crap

$ Happy New Year - Farah Khan crap

$ Baiju aur Tansen - Being directed by NRI Krishna Shah, it will star Amitabh as Tansen and Shahrukh as Baiju in the "Battle of the Indian tenors".

Again, a fine combination of crappy-floss and experiments.

I hope you will now agree that Shahrukh has managed to strike the balance pretty well. He has acted in his share of Raj-Rahul movies, but there have been regular doses of offbeat movies, a few of them his own productions.

So the next time, while stating an example of a bad formulaic Hindi movie, don't say "Shahrukh movies". Say Yashraj-Dharma-Production movies.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Parnab Update - 1

A friend of mine (whose name is being concealed on his request) was intrigued on reading my post on Parnab. Googling, he came across several tall claims.

Take for instance this intro on the NIT Rourkela site -

(Parnab Mukherjee)Graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from Pennsylvania State University.

Now this is the mail which my friend got from Penn State -


We have conducted a thorough search within our Records from 1855-
Present and have not located any records of any student with the
name "Parnab Mukherjee" having attending Penn State.

Please be aware that the search was conducted within this name
parameter only -- first name of Parnab, Last Name of Mukherjee and
First name of Mukherjee and Last name of Parnab.

If there is any other spelling or deviation of this name, there is a
chance a record exists.

As it is, I can verify no one by the name of "Parnab Mukherjee"
received a BA in Journalism degree from The Pennsylvania State

If you are able to provide any other names, other spellings of the
name, social Security or PSU ID number along with approximate dates
of when the degree was awarded, we would be happy to conduct a
second search. If you can provide a current address for Mr.
Mukherjee, we would follow up with him regarding the statement on
his web site regarding the degree.

Thank you,
Kaye Keith ( )

I wonder what NIT Rourkela has to say about this. Not only does the Penn State Univ debunk claims of his studying there, they want the current address of Mr. Mukherjee to follow up with him regarding the claims. If anyone has his address, please mail it to me.

Now regarding his claims about a PhD in Economics from Princeton -

We can't verify that a Parnab graduated but we do have individuals with that last name and other first names who have completed degrees here. Is it possible that the individual would use another first name? Also, do you have an approximate year because our records in our computer database are since 1972. I am copying the Certificate Department on this email so they can look into your inquiry further. Please send any other emails to or

Maureen Killeen

Watch this space for more......

What the hell?

Maybe I am being too emotional and sensitive, but I am just seething with anger at the snide tasteless remark made by Tilotamma over here at Nilu's blog.

She says - Now brace yourself for the deluge of self-congratulations which the 'Mumbaikars' are going to drown us in.

For being the greatest city ever just for coming out of the monsoons alive.

Kadavule kapathu appa!

Even on Sepia Mutiny, this lady is taking a very cynical tone.

Speaking from a personal point of view, when I praise Mumbai's spirit and generosity, I am not spitting on Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore or Calcutta(that i do when i am discussing rickshaws and taxis :)). Will the display of this "spirit" be evident if such a calamity is repeated elsewhere? Maybe.

All I know is that there were thousands of people in Mumbai who had escaped the wrath of the rains thanks to their good fortune. They could so easily have stayed at home, drinking tea and reading books. Instead these people went to the streets, helping out the unfortunate ones.

Particularly heart-warming are the several instances of people who stood around manholes in their areas in pouring rain to make sure that the folks walking home don't fall in them.

This spirit of Mumbai is evident at all times, not just in times of crisis.

Is a similar spirit evident in other cities too? Maybe. Personally I have experienced such "spirit" in Lucknow too. I am sure there must have been several instances of such "spirit" during the tsunami too. Document and applaud it.

But snide comments underplaying the magnitude of the catastrophe faced, especially at a time when thousands are still picking up pieces of their shattered lives? That's just cruel.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Generous Helpings of the Spirit of Mumbai

Will be posting here some heart-warming incidents that show the helpful spirit of Mumbai. As Amit Varma writes - "That’s one thing about Mumbai: people help each other, because they know that we’re all in it together. You look out for the guys around you, and they look out for you. It’s self-interest." If you people experienced anything similar, mail it to me and I'll post it here

$ At Khar Road, a Mullah with a flowing white beard was standing on the street with his legs spread wide apart. He was standing above an open manhole and directing people around it so no one would accidentally fall in.

$ Though the BMC was more concerned with pumping the water out of the Thackeray residence at Kalanagar, people living around Bandra took tea and snacks for several people stranded on the road.

$ A man noticed that an old man and his daughter, stranded alongside him at CST were lookign very worried. They weren't able to find an empty taxi, and they had to go to Byculla to pick up the wife who was to have an operation. This man walked to Gateway, found an empty taxi, and got it for the old man and his daughter.

$ Three men standing near the phone booth in Kalina market with their Reliance phones. Reliance's was the only network fucntional and these men offered the use of their phones to anyone who were not able to get through to their friends and families using the MTNL phones at the booth. The men must have easily run up bills in the hundreds, even thousands.

My Flood Experience contd

Then an hour later, power supply was restored to some parts of Kalina. Immediately a phone booth, located in the "lighted side" opened for business. A long queue formed in front of it, with me in the 20th position or so. However the phone lines were unable to handle these lines. Each person entered the booth, dialled a few numbers, then put the receiver down and came out shaking their head saying that they couldn't get through. Sure enough when I tried to call up people, the response was "All lines in this route are busy".

I strolled around the market for a while. People were buying milk, water, biscuits, and were discussing the tragedy at Air India Colony. After an hour spent in the market, I had a mini brainwave. I went home, got my mobile phone charger and requested a bakery in the "lighted zone" to plug it in. Even though mobile phones were still not working, my phone has FM radio, so it was providing me some info about what was happening in the city. Things looked pretty grim. Apparently most of the office-goers were still stuck on the roads, more than 24 hours after they left.

Once my phone was fully charged I went home. Listened to FM radio. The cellular networks were limping back. Every few minutes there would be a couple of indicator-bars worth of network. I would send and receive a few text messages before the network would conk off again.

I fell asleep contemplating the scale of the disaster. I was positive that no major city in the world had ever been lashed by rains of this intensity. And considering how rapidly Kalina was flooded, there had definitely been a cloud burst. In the face of that, it was admirable how the city seemed to be coping with the situation. None of the people in Kalina market were whining or complaining. All of them had a look of quiet determination on their faces. Did the administration and the government do its job well? I didn't know then and I still don't know. But the common man had responded admirably. Even though everything was scarce, the shopkeepers had not jacked up prices. Most of them kept their shops open way beyond normal hours. They even sold a lot of stuff on honour-credit, because cash machines weren't working.

Today morning, there was absolutely no rain. But the power was still not back in my neighbourhood. Apparently some transformers in our phase were still under a bit of water and resuming the power supply would unleash a series of short circuit fires. Water had entered our elevator duct, so our building was a definite candidate for short-circuit. It looked like power would not be restored until Friday morning.

The radio was full of stories narrated by people who had walked more than 10-15 kilometres in knee deep water to reach home the previous day. The newspaper was then delivered, though a bit late. It spoke about the fire at Bombay High. Looks like disaster had arrived in Bombay in full force.

In the afternoon, after hours of trying I finally got through to Sunil. Apparently there was power in his place in Vile Parle. I caught a rickshaw and came here. The Western Express Highway was lined with bloated carcasses of buffaloes.

So that's been my flood experience so far. Apparently there are warnings of another "repeat performance" tonight. Will keep you posted, electricity permitting.

My Flood Experience

In the past I have often read about calamities in newspapers or followed the coverage on television. I realise now how "fictional" those calamities were for me because I was miles away. Over the past few days I have been in a region that has been worst hit by a calamity, and the reality of the experience is jarring, mind=numbing, and makes me feel very insignificant.

I was saved from the full impact of the rain somewhat fortuitously. I had gone to work in the morning on tuesday. After lunch I realised that I had forgotten at home some of my income tax documents which I needed to submit for filing the returns. So I went home and collected them. As I was about to go to office, it started raining very hard. I thought I would leave once the rain stopped. Needless to say, by the time the rain stopped, mundane things like office and work were not on my mind.

In a few minutes after the rains started, the power was gone. It still hasn't returned in the area where I stay - Kalina (am writing this psot from a friend's place in Vile Parle). No TV, no net, and the mobile networks weren't working either. I just stayed put in my apartment.

The first indication of the unprecedented intensity of the rainfall came when I heard water outside my door. I live on the fifth floor, and it was very unlikely that water could have risen so high so fast. As I opened the door I saw there was a virtual waterfall flowing down the stairs. Apparently the terrace of our building was filling with water so fast that the drain pipes couldn't empty it fast enough. The water was flowing through the terrace door, down the stairs.

The land around me started flooding. A few cars were almost completely submerged. As I fell asleep that night, I had no idea how bad this calamity had hit us.

Wednesday morning I looked out of the window and could not see land anywhere. It was as if my building was in the middle of a sea. No electricity meant that no tap water since the pumps weren't working. After the rain took a break I decided to go to a shop nearby and get some bottled water and food. I was wading in waist high water and just about managed to return home before the rain started again. The shopkeeper told me that the army was rescueing some people in nearby Kurla.

By evening the water had receded but the electricity wasn;t back. Mobile phones weren't working. No contact with the outside world. It seemed such a cruel irony that right now the whole world knew the details of what was happening in Mumbai, but not us Mumbaikars.

At night once the water receded completely and the rain stopped, I ventured out to go to the Kalina market. Below my building I could hear wails and cries of women who lived in a house close by. Apparently her son, who was sleeping, had died because of the flood. In the kalina market an ever more macabre sight awaited me. Half a dozen dead bodies were neatly laid out on palstic sheets next to the police station. This was the first I heard of the incident in Air India colony. Apparently around thirty people had died.

I walked around trying to locate a phone booth from where i could call up my family and friends, but to no avail.

to be continued.... need to have lunch

Monday, July 25, 2005

I Am Offended!!!!

Whenever the issue of harrassment of women/couples at the hands of either policemen or other elements of the society, both prudish and lecherous, is raised, one of the prominent arguments made is "she/they brought it upon themselves".

The main thrust of this argument is that men are by nature sexual predators, and in any situation are likely to lose control. This, it is deemed, is an act of nature, and as unavoidable as a dog barking. However, women's clothing and behaviour, is not dictated by nature. So they can control it. Hence the onus of preventing incidents of eve-teasing and molestation, somehow, lies primarily on the woman. If she walks alone down a street wearing a mini-skirt, she is "asking for it".

Many bloggers, mainly female, have written how insulting this argument is towards women. About how unfair it is that a woman be actually blamed for something being inflicted upon her.

I raise a different issue. I say this argument is extremely insulting to least a large number of men... who do not act as if imposing their lust on other women is a god-given right. I, am personally offended, that according to some people, my kind, i.e men, are supposed to act like animals wanting to hump the first thing in sight. As a man, I am offended at this warped logic which pulls down the rest of the population to the level of the most barbaric repugnant male.

There have been several occasions when a pretty woman passing by has caught my eye. But not once in my life have I even remotely considered "molesting" or "eve-teasing" anyone. And trust me, it does not take Herculean Mahatma Gandhi or Jain Monk style self-control. It's not like I took classes in self control and hence can let a scantily clad babe pass me by without feeling her up.

As silly as this statement might sound, it has to be made - It is easy to not molest a hot woman on the streets.

The fact that it is so easy makes it even more insulting that the so-called guardians of Indian culture say "It is natural for a man to get aroused and act rashly. The woman should dress decently to avoid it." To give a parallel, it's like saying.... see, animals urinate whenever they want, wherever they want. That is hence natural. So it's unreasonable to expect a human being to go to the bathroom. It's just unnatural.

Remember, when a woman walks down the street in a short skirt, and a man gets "aroused".... the arousal happens in the man's head and not the woman's. Hence the onus lies on the man to control it. When a couple is making out in public and a prudish old lady gets "offended", the offence happens in the lady's head and not the couple's. Hence the onus lies on the woman to do something, maybe look elsewhere or go home. Sadly, most social commentators forget where the arousal or offence happens and blame the wrong people.

It is easy for me and a vast number of men like me to not molest a woman because of upbringing. That does not mean my parents sat me down and said "If you see a hot babe in hot pants, don't pinch her butt". But I was taught, more implicitly than explicitly, to respect others.

Respect does not mean falling prostrate at the feet of elders every time you see them. Respect does not mean paying lofty lip service to the role of women in society. Respect comes from within. And respect for another person is shown by letting that person choose to live life his/her own way. If you respect another person, you won't impose or intrude on the way they live their life.

Yet the behaviour of those men who molest women betrays this very lack of respect.

And whoever says that such behaviour is supposed to be a norm for my gender, I very respectfully give them the finger.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Kumble in Formula 1

Me: Anil Kumble would make a great F-1 driver.
Friend: How come?
Me: He never spins!

In defence of Parnab....or not!

Read this hilarious "defence" by Arnab the Great Bong of our friend Parnab. Funniest post I've read in ages.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Boyfriend: Darling, I will bring you the moon!!!!!!!!
Girlfriend: Really???????
Boyfriend: least a great close up of it, thanks to Google Moon.

Yep, Google now offers you the moon. At least part of it. And if you keep zooming in, you make a startling discovery. The moon actually IS made of cheese.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bush says there are now 6 N-Powers

There were murmurs about this, but few thought it would actually happen. In a move that is sure to bother China and infuriate Pakistan, the Bush administration has virtually said it accepts India as a Nuclear Weapons State, and has started proceedings to formalise the move.

This means that India will now be eligible to get any help and co-operation in Nuclear matters that the other 4 nuclear states under the NPT get.

From the sanctions in 1998 to this move in 2005, Indo-US relations have really travelled light-years. This move has both practical as well as symbolic and political ramifications.

In practical terms, the civilian nuclear technology program in India, i.e mainly nuclear power generation, will be able to buy material and technology from the US. It means that several Indian companies involved in India's nuclear program, to whom American companies could not sell anything other than stationery, will now face no such restrictions.

It also means that India can buy a lot of military equipment related to nuclear weapons, which it previously couldn't.

In politico-symbolic terms, this move makes the 50 year old "hyphenation" of India and Pakistan by successive American governments go up in a mushroom-shaped puff of smoke. All through the cold war, Pakistan was the ally of preference in South Asia. But after the cold war ended, the Clinton administration always sought to hyphenate India and Pakistan. Every little move made with regards to South Asia was carefully caliberated, so that neither country should feel jealous that the other was getting American attention.

A couple of announcements in the first few months of the Bush administration showed that this hyphenation may soon end. India fitted very well in the Neo-Con scheme of things and it was but natural that India and USA would come close. In fact a few months later, the Bush government announced lifting of some sanctions related to the 98 tests, over India, but not over Pakistan. It was the first small sign that the Bush government realises that long term friendship with India is more desirable than keeping Pakistan mollified.

But a few weeks later, 9/11 happened, and Pakistan's worth shot up. It was to serve as the launchpad for the war on terror in Afghanistan. So Pakistan had to be mollified, even if only in the short term. Over the next couple of years, sanctions were withdrawn, both for India and Pakistan. It semed like hyphenation was back.

The Americans though, kept talking of how India was a long term natural ally, and how we should not mind this coddling of Musharraf so much, as it is a temporary need.

This announcement has proved in one stroke that the Americans were serious. The one bone of contention in the Indo-US relations has been nuclear status. More so during Democratic regimes than Republican ones. Those who read my blog last year will remember that I sided with Bush and opposed Kerry, and this was one of the main reasons. The nuclear issue.

Ironically, if the 9/11 attacks prolonged the hyphenation, the 7/7 attacks have made it easier for the US to de-hyphenate India and Pakistan. The involvement of Pakistanis in 7/7 shows that the region is still the source of human ammunition for Al Qaeda. Pakistan is on the backfoot, slightly embarassed, and can not create as much noise as it usually would have.

The deal comes with some obligations that India must fulfil, but I think even in that, we have gotten a good bargain. India will have to grant IAEA access to its civilian nucelar facilities, but not military ones. So the IAEA can go to Tarapur, but not to Pokhran. It also means that India will have to clearly separate its military nuclear installations from the civilian ones, a much needed and welcome move. Civilian and Military applications of nuclear technology are totally different, and so far nuclear power generation has suffered precisely because such a demarcation had not been carried out yet.

India will have to stick to its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing, which was always going to be the case anyway, deal or no deal.

By pulling off this deal, Manmohan has made his visit the most successful foreign visit by a PM in decades.

Opponents of this decision in America have said that this decision will "open the door" for several other countries to do the same thing. They are missing the point. This decision shows that the Bush administration doesn't consider India as one of the "other countries", but as a key player, both economically and strategically, to counter China. It shows that they are confident that India won't set up a nuclear Walmart and proliferate all and sundry. The decision is all the more significant considering that India refused to support US on Iraq inspite of immense pressure.

The decision still has to be ratified by the Congress and by the group of countries which formed a cartel banning sale of certain material to India.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Review of Half-Blood Prince


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a lot better than its predecessor -'Order of the Phoenix'. It is dark without being excessively melodramatic(Umbride making Harry write imposition with his own blood) and without begging for pity towards Harry(no one trusting him).

However it is not as good as the first four books were. To be fair to Rowling, when you are keeping most of the characters, the basic storyline and the structure same(Start at Privet Drive, then go to the Weasley residence, and then spend the remaining time at Hogwart's), it is difficult to keep enthralling the audience for 6 books. Rowling seems to have realised this fact judging by the book's ending which gives a peak into the concluding part of the series.

As I wrote earlier, the book fills you with a sense of deja vu until Page 450 or so. Prof Slughorn reminds you of Gilderoy Lockhart. The Half-Blood Prince's textbook reminds you of Tom Riddle's diary. The romantic goings-on are very much like those in Goblet of Fire. Even the Quidditch matches seem absolutely predictable.

But post-450, the book picks up. As a friend and I were discussing last week, the major flaw with OOTP was that it did not take the story forward. It was an extra-dark book which seemed more like a Greek tragedy.

In HBP, the story does move ahead. Dumbledore and harry together go through a lot of old memories of people associated with Voldemort to try and figure out something. They discover that killing him is even more difficult than first imagined. He has used something called divided his soul into 7 parts, and hidden them in 7 different places. He can't be killed unless all the 7 parts are destroyed.

Two parts have already been destroyed, and a third is destroyed during the course of the book. Four parts remain for the concluding book.

Oh yes, the character which is killed is Dumbledore. However I think there is more to it than meets the eye. I suspect that Dumbledore will make a Gandalf-ish return.

The reasons for saying this is that he is killed by Snape. Snape, at the beginning of the book itself, is shown to have meetings with Death-eaters where he takes the Unbreakable Vow that he will do what Draco Malfoy has been asked to do, if Draco fails. This task, as we learn later, is to kill Dumbledore. An Unbreakable Vow means that if Snape breaks the vow, he will die. yet Snape takes the vow.

Now throughout all the books, I have seen a trend. Harry often jumps to conclusions. And Dumbledore is always right. So throughout the book, Dumbledore keeps insisting that he trusts Snape despite Harry's evidence to the contrary. If Dumbledore is so vehement, then in Dumbledore we trust.

I am sure that there will be some catch. Snape and Dumbledore must have done this together so that Snape can infiltrate the Death Eaters and earn Voldemort's full confidence. There will be some way Dumbledore will be able to come back to life in the next book. Maybe he himself has a horcrux stashed away somewhere.

At the end of the book, we are told that Hogwarts will be closed for the next year. This means that the action in the last book will not follow the typical pattern. All romantic problems have been sorted out in this book itself so another school year isn't needed. Ron and Hermione are an item. Harry and Ginny are too, though in the end Harry ends things with her in a manner almost identical to Peter Parker and Mary Jane in Spiderman 2.

The stage is set for a thrilling last book in which Harry will destroy the horcruxes, one by one, and in the end might get help from a rejuvenated Dumbledore, a sympathetic Snape, and possibly a reformed Draco Malfoy (again, there are hints of that).

We'll find out if I'm right in another two years.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Mom, What does "S#ut" mean?

Managed to buy the latest Harry Potter book (Half-Blood Prince) very easily. Have another 200 pages to go before I finish it. It starts off very well, with the Minister of Magic calling on the Muggle Prime Minister of England. The whole meeting was very hilariously written. After that though, very little has happened that would make this book memorable. So far there are shades of each of the previous books, but nothing that has helped the book come into its own. So far the most notable event has been on page 342. At least I think so.

On this page, I found the word "s#ut" used by one character to refer to his sister. Now I don't know if the usage of this word has become very common in children's literature. But if it hasn't, then J.K.Rowling and her editors have committed a serious faux pas.

Some mothers, whose children might confront them with the question mentioned in this post's title, might kick up a storm.

Meanwhile, I'll get back to the book, hoping that the book takes an interesting turn.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


..stands for Yet Another Panipuri Post.

This time from the blog of Satyajit 'Beatzo' Chetri (who, as an aside, is an excellent quizmaster to hire for your college quizzes after giving Parnab the heave-ho).

He writes here -

I mean, you are there, in a queue, and the vendor is in a zen-like state of panipuri-distribution, his hands working purely on instinct. He does multiple things at the same time, juggle preferences - like one customer wants only sweetened pani, one wants more of the filling, another wants more onions , keep a count of how many of the gobblers around him have gobbled how many panipuris. You are part of the system. You lift the panipuri from your plate in one fluid motion, taking care not to spill the water on your clothes or your shoes or ( sacrilege!) the ground. You gulp it down, making sure that you do not breathe when you do so - lest you cough up the puri on your neighbour and cause all the devotees considerable distress. And you also ensure that you're done with the panipuri that was assigned to you before the next one lands on your plate - otherwise the older one will get soggy, and the newer one will unbalance, and that causes a disturbance in the Force. And that, my friend, is the Panipuri Experience, and not this - sitting at a table and using spoons and having to crack open the puri yourself...nossir. This is HEY, hands off my plate!!! "

So true!


Notice that Manmohan's speech, which had a few kind words for the British empire, is potentially a lot more damaging that Advani's speech about Jinnah.

Yet there is hardly any dust being kicked up by it, compared to the Advani saga.

I guess it helps when people in your party are not media-hungry quote-racks who would stab you in the back just to get some front-page-newsprint.

In other news, George Fernandez takes the whole "NDA-is-very-tight" bit seriously, and admonishes the RSS on BJP's behalf. the BJP in turn admonishes him for getting too big for his boots.

First Advani, then Yashwant, now George. Looks like all the members of the previous Cabinet have taken up crow-eating as a hobby.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Quizzing in my Engineering days in Pune, and occasionally IITB, one heard a lot about Parnab Mukherjee (not to be confused with the Deefence minister), the legendary quiz master who apparently asked questions from memory, and never carried a set of written questions. The opinion on Parnab was sharply divided. His fans said that shows that he knows his questions inside out, and does not need to carry a piece of paper. His detractors (far outnumbering his fans) said he does not need a paper because he makes up questions and their answers anyway.

Today, through Aniruddha Dutta's Quiz Blog, I came across a few scathing blog posts about Parnab -


A lot of quizzers whom I respect consider Parnab to be a huge fraud.

I have been to only one Parnab quiz, which was the general quiz at IIT Kanpur's fest in 2004. As I recall the experience, this is what comes to mind -

The IITK students first gave an "introduction" of the QM, which said - "Dr.(sic) Parnab Mukherjee is a PhD from Princeton university. having studied under the famous John Nash, and is a former World debating Champion.....blablabla".

Then Parnab came on stage, wearing a looooooong Kurta. You guys know the kurta Amol Palekar wears in Golmaal? Parnab's was the exact opposite. Palekar's kurta hardly extends below the waist, while Parnab's just about shows a few inches of his jeans.

The elims would have 25 questions he said, and started reading them out one by one. What struck me was the high percentage of questions about leftist fundas. The others were all know-it-or-you-don't types. All in all, the elims were disastrous. Even then, miraculously, me and my team mates from IIML qualified for the finals.

The finals, like the elims, were conducted from memory, were heavy on leftist fundas, and were know-it-or-you-don't types, with very little scope for workability.

At that point of time, I remember doubting the veracity of a lot of questions which seemed totally made up, like Parnab-bashers had predicted. However now I can't remember most of them. A couple that I can recall are as follows -

The question was about a Chilean leftist organisation and spoke about what all it did in Chile. Most of the teams passed. we were the last team to attempt the question. My philosophy while quizzing is to never say pass, and give the nearest possible answer. So not expecting any points, I said 'Tupac Amaru' because it was Peruvian leftist organisation, and Peru was close to Chile. To my shock, Parnab said "Correct", and gave us the points! None of the teams protested, I assume because they did not know about the Tupac Amaru.

I also remember the question we were asked in the infamous "Speciality round", in which Parnab tells you to choose any topic you like and he will ask you a question on it. He says it can be as obscure as possible, and he will still be able to ask a question. Not very difficult when you make up questions, eh? Some of my friends who have sat through many parnab quizzes recommend that one should choose as general a topic as possible. Then he goes easy on you and asks a reasonable questions, often even an authentic question. But if you try to act smart and give him a very obscure topic, he really makes you regret.

I suggested to my team-mates that since at that point, we were 3rd, and had a shot at the top place, and the 5000 rupees cash prize, we should give him a generic topic, and play safe. However my Bong team-mate Rony said he had a topic in mind which he knew inside out - Books by Satyajit Ray. I personally felt that a Bong challenging another Bong by pretending to know Ray books better than him would be suicidal. But Rony was insistent, so Rajk and I agreed.

On hearing our choice of speciality subject, Parnab gave a diabolical smile. He thought for a few seconds, and asked -

"Which tribal sport is shown as being played in Ray's novel Whatchamacallit?" (sorry, I don't remember the name, maybe Rony can enlighten us)

Rony was positive there was no sport played in that novel, so we said sepak takraw, which was wrong. The fourth team timidly answered "Boomerang?". Parnab said "Correct!!". Most teams had Bongs, and they erupted in protest, including the team which had given the supposedly right answer. firstly, boomerang is not a sport. Secondly, it does not feature in the novel, they said. However Parnab took the "QM's decision is final" way out, and showed us how stupid we were for acting smart.

The next round was even more ridiculous. We were all given newspapers, and were told to choose a page. Then we were given five minutes to go through the page. Parnab would then go through it himself, and ask a question to which the answer could be found on the page.

We chose a page, Parnab went through it and asked -

"Which institution, mentioned on this page, has in its main hall a painting by Raja Ravi Varma, and has among its alumni famous names such as Deepak Chopra and Sushmita Sen?"

I spied the name of some Delhi college on the page and answered that. However it turned out the answer was DPS RK Puram, also mentioned elsewhere on the page.

The net informs me that Deepak Chopra was born in 1947, while DPS RK Puram was started in 1972. So unless Chopra was 25 when he completed his schooling, the question was nothing but poppycock. I did not bother to check the Sushmita Sen or the Varma painting bit, but I'm sure they would be wrong as well. I am also pretty certain that had we given DPS RK Puram as the answer, he would have stated the other college as the answer.

All in all, the quiz was a harrowing experience. bad, and definitely concocted questions, no hint of objectivity, and bizarre rounds.

One thing about which I must commend Parnab is the speed with which he comes up with lies and how confidently he propounds them. But then, being a hardcore leftist, I guess it comes naturally (sorry, couldn't resist that dig ;)).

It seems like a majority of the country knows what a fraud Parnab is. Surprisingly though, he keeps getting invited to conduct quizzes, and that too by esteemed institutions like the IITs. Why, I have never understood. Its not like there aren't other afforable quality Quizmasters available in India (there is your's truly :)).

Maybe it was the lack of awareness and the lack of networking among organisers across campuses.

However now that we have blogs, they can be used to spread the word. Hopefully we can replace the Parnab-mania prevalent in several colleges, with a regard for quality quizzing, and a regard for truth rather than an ability to conduct paper-less quizzes.

If anyone reading this blog post knows about someone organisation which is planning to invite Parnab to conduct a quiz, please forward this link, as well as other links listed earlier to them.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Today's Kids I Tell You!!

When do you realise that your generation is no longer young? When other people of your age (and maybe you too) cluck their tongues in a very disapproving-schoolmarm-ish way when evaluating the generations after you.

Most people believe that the evolution of the human mind peaked with their generation, and believe they are witnessing the decline of the same as future generations are born. Others, who are self-loating about their own generation believe that it peaked at some previous generation, and they themselves are a part of that decline.

This attitude can be summed up using a standard sentence construction template -

"___________ is not what it used to be."

Art is not what it used to be.
Music is not what it used to be.
The approach towards education is not what it used to be.
Politics is not what it used to be.

Lamenting the decline is a universal phenomenon. Why? Is the decline real? I don't think so.

I firmly believe that coming generations are smarter, more decent, more well-behaved, and in general superior to their ancestors.

It is just fashionable to cluck our tongues at the "new generation", because of some reasons.

One reason is that we just tend to remember the good things about the past, and the forgettable things are... well... forgotten. Whereas, while formulating an opinion about the present, we take in everything, good and bad. It makes the comparison seem skewed in favour of the past.

Another reason is that a classic becomes a classic many years after its creation. And in the process of becoming a classic, it plays an important part in altering and shaping the public's tastes in a way that its own qualities are thought of al parameters to define a classic. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was a flop at the box office. Over the years though, it has refined people's tastes enough to be considered a classic itself. I still remember the scorns I got from my friends when I said 'Dil Chahta Hai' was a potential classic, when it released. But mark my words, twenty years from now, it will be counted as a classic, simple because generations will grow up watching it and will imbibe the different ideas it used, departing from the then-norms of film-making.

Another factor which comes in to play is while talking about the decline in "values", "attitudes"....things like "In our time, we used to study for the sake of it's all about the money" or "In our time people would stay loyal with an employer for people change jobs every few years". This factor is the options or opportunities available. People who make these comments don't understand that the options available to people then were very limited. The choices they made were mostly Hobson's choices.

An old manager who complains about how youngsters change jobs at the drop of a hat will not admit that in his days, there was no job security, and even getting a job required involved bribery and nepotism.

Somebody who looks down upon kids today toiling mechanically to get into an IIT, while recalling how he didn't take it so seriously in his younger days, does not take into account the difference that being an IITian makes in today's economy, when IIT has become a huge global brand.

In conclusion, we need to get over the feeling that evolution stopped at our generation, and let those born after us, live life and change the world on their own terms. Imagine if we had been held to the standards and parameters of generations before us. Would we have liked it?


Ankit Solanki writes in -

Nice post. It brings this gem by Douglas Adams to mind (link):

1) everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you're thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it's been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What is this....

.. World Terrorism Week?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

There You Go, Tully

This post on Cafe Hayek (link via Amit Varma) describes perfectly the sentiments I felt a few chapters into Mark Tully's book 'No Fullstops In India', and the reason I chucked the book.

He describes the royal treatment he is gets at a wedding he attends in an Indian village. Later on he laments how Indians, especially those in the cities are "losing their identity" by "copying the West". I find a link between the royal treatment and this desire for a status quo.

And to all those people, especially self-styled care-takers of Indian culture, let me say this. Before throwing around terms like "losing one's identity", they should understand that "identity" is the most intensely personal concept in this world. A person defines, discovers and shapes his own identity, and is proud of it. By hinting that anyone "loses one's identity" because of some changes made in lifestyle or thought process, the very definition of identity is turned on its head. All these changes are made out of choice. And those changes are more a part of identity than some empty symbols that status-quo-ists tend to idolise.

So don't go sick worrying about others and their identities. Think about your own. Is your identity one of a person who wants to sermonise others on how to live their life?

Tyres in F1

From this post of mine, Sumeet got the impression that I was blaming the one-tyre-rule for the Indianapolis fiasco. Far from it. The blame for the fiasco lies entirely woth Michelin.

But I hate the one-tyre rule nevertheless, because it has made the game poorer. No matter how great the tyres are developed, there will be wear and tear, And when there is wear and tear, drivers will take caution. And when drivers take caution, the standards of racing are set to fall.

Most races this year have been a bit like many Hindi films. The first half has been exciting and promising, and the second half has been tepid, predictable and disappointing. There have hardly been any dog-fights in the second half of the race, and if you listen to the occasional radio communication excerpts between the teams and drivers, the instructions are almost always to "finish" rather than try something ambitious. The teams get afflicted with the "a second place in hand is worth two wins in the bush" syndrome.

In the good old days of tyre changes, a driver after changing tyres, could launch an offensive on the car in front of him without worrying too much about tyre failure. It gave us several classic races with race leads changing due to overtaking manouevres even in the closing stages.

Now even though we have seen a couple of races where we feel that that the race leader is being challenged, one has hardly seen a real challenge being mounted. race leads have almost every time changed, if at all, due to pit strategy.

Return to old tyre rules will make racing more exciting than it currently is.

The Pune Season Opener Quiz

The first quiz of the 2005-06 Pune Quizzing Season will be held this Saturday.


* Open quiz.
* Flavour : General
* Teams of 2
* No Registration fee
* Date : 9th July (Saturday)
* Time : 1630 hrs
* Venue : Bhageerath,PSPL - behind Domino's Pizza on Senapati Bapat Road
* Conducted by: Harish

Please assemble at the venue by 1630 hrs so that we can start the elims at 1700 hrs.

Info via - Interrobang

BJP - Bad at Boxing

The BJP's shooting-in-the-foot continues.

They have demanded the resignation of the Union Home Minister as well as the U.P. Home Minister "on moral grounds" for failing to prevent the Ayodhya attack. They say it is intelligence failure, security breach, blah blah.

By taking this knee-jerk stance, they merely throw themselves open to more scrutiny and ridicule. Do the BJP leaders think that the people of India, and the media persons, not to mention the Congress, has forgotten all the attacks that took place during the NDA rule?

The attack on the parliament which led to the death of a few guards and the Akshardham attack which saw 30 innocent civilians killed, were surely greater events of terrorism in magnitude. On the contrary, in Ayodhya, all six terrorists were killed, and only one civilian died.

The mature reaction from the BJP should have been to condemn the attack, but not ask for any resignations.

Considering how many soft spots the BJP leaves open for attack, the party members would not make good boxers.

Speaking of violent sports, did anyone see Togadia yelling at the top of his voice on TV? I am sure even these guys don't exert their larynx so much. There were reports of some rabble at a nearby construction site actually being roused.

Livelihood Freedom Petition

Critics of Indian Libertarians often say that we are too involved with the macro perspective and the "hep" issues and we are not as vocal as we should about the micro issues that concern the masses. i myself have endorsed this opinion in the past.

One Libertarian body that is going about things the right way, however is the Centre for Civil Society(CCS).

Here is a mail I received from them recently about a Livelihood Freedom Petition. please go through it and extend your support -

Dear Sir/Madam,

Our government has-notwithstanding its noble intentions- failed to deliver where it matters the most.

Consider this example: New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) has recently ordered the eviction of encroachers in and around its market area, keeping in mind the 2010 Commonwealth games. The most logical question one would then ask is where would these “illegal encroachers” go once they are beaten and chased out of their livelihood space. Madan Thaplial, PRO of NDMC sums up his government’s attitude to these poor street entrepreneurs: “Let them go anywhere!”

Now comes the latest treat for our street entrepreneurs-this time from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which has decided to shut down the Sunday Book Bazaar in Daryaganj. The fact remains that the government has done nothing significant at all for these entry level professionals. In fact, when they try to improve their lives by utilizing space, it moves in to drive them away-and thereby deny them a human right as basic as their right to work.

Street vendors are amongst the most visible and active parts of India’s large informal economy. Hawkers, for example, sell many goods that are manufactured in small-scale or home-based industries, which employ a large number of workers. They thus do a great service to our economy-and to the government- by helping to sustain employment in these industries while supplying a market for their products and providing a valuable and affordable service to consumers, simultaneously.

Do you think street entrepreneurs too need to be empowered with livelihood freedom? CCS has an electronic signature campaign that champions livelihood freedom. If you believe that street entrepreneurs’ too have the right to work in a just and favourable environment and believe that they deserve the economic freedom to earn their livelihood, then please endorse our petition at this page.

Please don’t stop with just endorsing our campaign. Do send this message further to all your contacts- let the flame of liberty be lit!

A big and hearty thanks to all of you who have already endorsed our petition!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Privatisation of Water Supply

Finally the Delhi Jal Board, has admitted that it can not ensure water supply to the city by itself, and will need the help of efficient private operators.

It will be contracting out work to these private players.

Reputed names like Tatas, Mahindra and Manila Water will be bidding for these projects.

Inspite of the great success and efficiency achieved by private players in distribution of electricity in Mumbai and Delhi, there is still a great deal of reluctance about experimenting with privatisation of inefficiency and corruption ridden civic facilities.

If this project succeeds, then like the power distribution in Mumbai and the telecom revolution, it will be another case study for free market supporters to justify a greater involvement of the private sector in improving our lives.

Some Sena!

We have all heard of Shivsainiks roughing up teenage couples.
We have all heard of Shivsainiks roughing up doctors and nurses and vandalising hospitals.
We have all heard of Shivsainiks roughing up teachers and scholars and vandalising institutions.
We have all heard of Shivsainiks roughing up journalists.

Now, suprisingly, the sainiks finally take on someone their own size, those rane-follower sainiks who are on their way out of the Shivsena. And not surprisingly, considering their practice so far consists of roughing up teacher and nurses, they end up on the losing side, and ask for police protection against rane's goons. They are also vandalising their own Sena offices!

This is fun! :)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Gharaaneshaahi, not RaNeshaahi

For decades Bal Thackeray has been blasting the Congress for its GharaNeshaahi(Dynastic rule). Ironically, it turns out that he himself prefers that the Shivsena be under GharaNeshaahi than RaNeshaahi -

Fired, Rane says Thackeray love for son finishing Sena

As the dialogue from a pre-candy-floss-and-Shahrukh-Khan-era Yash Chopra movie goes - Jo log kaanch ke gharon mein rahtey hain, woh dusron par patthar nahi fenka kartey (People who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others).

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Battleground London

London was the battleground for two absorbing duels on Saturday. In both duels, there was drama, there were twists, there were superlative performances, and there was pure unbridled nail biting excitement.

One duel took place in SW19 while the other in St. John's Woods, and I wish the spectators at both venues were wishing they could have been in two places at the same time.

Let us first start with the ladies final at Wimbledon. Venus Williams met Lindsay Davenport in a match that even before it started was too close to call. Both players had played some hard matches coming in to the finals, both were trying their best, but neither of them looked in supreme Federer-esque touch, so there really were no favourites.

It started off well for Davenport. She wrapped up the first set in half an hour. On the second set, she faced resistence from Venus Williams, who fought hard, and levelled the game by winning in the tie breaker. In the third set, it looked like Davenport had regained her bite. She broke Williams and raced to a 4-2 lead. But the ink on the script wasn't dry yet. Venus broke back, and levelled scores. A short break where Davenport went to have a bit of medical assistance seemed ominous. She returned, but did not look too affected. She still kept holding her service easily, and taking Venus' service games to deuce. Multiple vintage rallies later, the score was 7 games apiece. That is when Venus reached deep within her spirit and dug out that something extra that separates champions from mere mortals. She broke Davenport, and then helf her own serve taking the third set 9-7. The match lasting close to three hours, has to count as one of the greatest Wimbledon finals ever played. For me it brought back memories of the 2001 men's final between Ivanisevic and Rafter which also ended 9-7 in the last set.

Venus was jumping all over the court after the match, and understandably so. She has won the title twice before this, but I am sure 2005 is the one that will mean the most to her. Her game just kept improving with every round, she played some tough matches, demolished the defending champion in the semis and survived a battle of attrition in the final. A deserving champion.

On the other side of London, in St. John's Woods, England were meeting Australia in the finals of the Natwest Trophy. While many Aussie supporters shrugged off the 4-successive-defeat week as "just a phase", keen observers will note that there is a definite change in the way this Australian team is playing. A wisp of self-doubt has crept in, and they have been confused about what to do when the opposition fights back. Not only did they lose a match to Bangladesh, but they also had to work very hard to win the last one.

Whether batting or bowling, the Australians come at you strongly from the first ball. Within 10-15 overs they knock the fight out of the opposition, and then just complete the formalities. Where Ponting's (or Steve Waugh's) team differs vastly from Mark taylor's team is, it does not seem as adept at handling difficult situations. If the attempted KO does not work, then Ponting seems at a loss. His self-doubt often affects his men too, who otherwise are more intimidating than starving man-eaters.

The same thing happened yesterday. Batting first, Gilchrist and Hayden attacked the bowling. They raced to 50 in 8 overs, on a lively pitch where clearly even 250 would be a tough ask. However 'England on the ascendant' (much like Venus on the ascendant) did not bend over, and prepare for a huge chase. They fought back with some tight bowling from Flintoff, Harmison and Jones. There were absolutely no loose balls given for the Aussies to feast on. The pressure showed as the Australians kept losing wickets, were not able to take as many singles as they usually do, and the run rate from over 6, dropped to under 4, where it stayed till the end. Mike Hussey ensured that they inched closer to 200, and finally ended up on 196.

First Australia had batted well, and thrown away the advantage. England grabbed it, and restricted them to a low score. Now in another twist, the England top order decided to take a day off, and owing more to poor batsmanship than superior bowling, were reduced to 33 for 5, with all big names, including Flintoff, back in the balcony. It looked all over, because though Paul Collingwood is a fine player, and Geraint Jones has shown gumption in the past, the target was just too far away, and this was the world's best team bowling to them.

Except that it didn't play like the world's best team. They almost looked bored with the match and just expected England to perish on their own. The bowlers were, as the cliche goes, going through the motions. There was back-slapping for the tight overs bowled by Symonds and Gillespie, unmindful of the fact that run rate is not the issue. Wickets are. Both men went wicketless as Collingwood and G Jones put up a memorable partnership. A nudge here, a stolen single there, and an occasional inspired fence hit later, England were back in contention.

Plus Ponting was faced with a problem that he and other captains won't have to deal with next month onwards. The fifth bowler's overs. He chose Mike Hussey who was nowhere as accurate or intelligent as the Wugh twins used to be while bowling part-time. England accepted his gifts graciously and the equation looked easier still.

Then just when it looked like England would sail through, the twosome departed. Collingwood ran himself out, and Jones displayed bad footwork against Hogg.

With the specialists back in the pavilion, Ponting should have tightened the screws. Yet he continued with Hussey, who despite picking up Simon Jones' wicket, was giving away too many easy runs. So even though Bret Lee bowled a tight line and gave away only a few runs, the equation stayed in the real of the doable, even for tail-enders.

England needed 28 off three overs, and Lee and Mcgrath had only one left each. Here Ponting again displayed bad captaincy. He should have brought in Mcgrath to deliver the knock-out punch, especially since tail enders would not be as cavalier in the 48th over as in the 50th. If Mcgrath picked up a wicket, or even went for just 3-4 runs, it would still be tough.

However bizarrely, Ponting threw the ball to the genial Mike Hussey. Gough and Giles accepted the gift and took 9 off his over. 19 off two overs was still tough, but easier than a potential 24 off 2, which might have been the case had Mcgrath bowled.

G & G kept the scoreboard ticking, with some slice of luck in form of a top-edged four over the keeper's head. Lee didn't look very purposeful, and Ponting looked confused, with no definite game plan in terms field placements. 9 off the over again, and 10 required off 6 balls.

Now Mcgrath was brought back. he too looked very disinterested in the proceedings and started off with a no ball off which a single was taken, making the equation a very achievable 8 off 6. From there it was a question of nudges and pushes. Giles and Gough took a single here and a double there and the equation stood at 3 off 2.

Now it was the turn of the English team to muck up. A length ball from Mcgrath, Gough played it to silly mid-off and ran for an impossible run. Mcgrath showed presence of mind, took time, took aim and hit the stumps, running Gough out. Knowing that the equation would be 3 off 1, and being the better striker of the ball, Gough should have kept strike. Instead he mucked it up.

Giles however made the most of the situation, and took two runs off the last ball which went to third man.

Match tied, trophy shared.

Usually when matches are tied, people say it was a fitting result because both sides deserved to win.

In this case it was a fitting result because neither side deserved to win.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Mulayam Singh in Contempt of Court!

An interesting point about the Imrana case.

She claims she was raped by her father-in-law. What does he say about this charge? Has he confessed to it? If so he should be sentenced to imprisonment at once.

If he has not confessed to it and will plead innocence, then the panchayat or the darul-uloom have no right to pass any judgements until the actual occurence of rape has been proven. If the rape never took place, zina has not been committed.

By passing the fatwa, the darul-uloom has infringed into the territory of the Indian judiciary, because rape is covered under criminal law, and only the judiciary can rule whether it actually happened. The fatwa implies that it has decided that what Imrana is saying is true and the rape happened, something only the courts can decide upon, and hence the darul-uloom must be held in contempt of court.

So should Mulayam Singh Yadav, for supporting the fatwa.

Imrana Dilemma

As I try to articulate my opinion about the Imrana case, I find myself in a dilemma.

For those who have not heard about the case, Imrana, a Muslim woman in UP, was raped by her father in law. The village panchayat ruled that according to the Sharia laws, "zina" had been committed, and the rapist was a blood relative of her husband, and so her marriage was anulled. Instead, she was told to marry the rapist, i.e the father-in-law, and start thinking of her present husband as her son.

The media caught on to this story, and talked about how this judgement was so unfair, and castigated the panchayat for pronouncing it. Imrana herself expressed displeasure at the judgement and said she did not want to marry her rapist father-in-law.

The matter was then referred (by whom, i don't know) to the "Islamic scholars" of the Darul-Uloom in Deoband. They issued a fatwa upholding the judgement of the panchayat, saying it was in accordance with the Sharia.

Some members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board have endorsed the judgement, though the Board has not officially made stated its position on the issue yet. Mulayam of course, whose blind appeasement of Muslims has in the past irked even the most hardcore Muslims, has also supported the bizarre judgement.

This is where the dilemma comes in. Now Imarana has said that she is willing to abide by the fatwa, because she believes in Islam, and considers the Darul-Uloom as an authority on it.

Now if the victim herself is willing to abide by it, what locus standi do we have on the issue? Maybe she is being threatened into abiding by the fatwa, or maybe she is doing it of her own "free" will, because she has been brought up believing that the Darul-Uloom is always right.

Now in such a case, where a person is presumably conditioned from childhood into believing something, should we consider it free will? What role does the state have in the realm of personal law? If the state leaves defining personal law to communities, is it actually failing to protect the interests of the weaker subjugated members of that community who might be browbeaten or even brainwashed into following their warped laws?

Should there hence be a universal civil code? But if so, who should decide it? It is well known that the Hindu community was overwhelmingly opposed to the progressive Hindu Code Bill, and Nehru literally muscled it through. If the consensus of the society were to be taken into account, we would have a Hindu personal law as arachaic as the Muslim Personal Law.

A few months back, Yazad said to me, "Why do we need personal law at all?". I guess he meant that instead of forcing civil codes and personal laws, we should all be free to define our own relationships, based on mutual consent.

But here again, the brainwashing question comes in. If Imrana and her husband, the victims themselves, are willing to abide with the judgement, how can we criticize the fatwa as being unfair?