Vantage point

Friday, March 31, 2006

Choudhury on Powar

Chandrahas Choudhury, easily one of the best cricket writers alive, has a delectable post on Ramesh Powar up at Different Strokes.

Ramesh Powar is that rare thing: the genuinely slow bowler, someone whose bowling never quite "arrives". One knows that Powar is a tease even before he rolls his arm over: the substantial Powar waistline, the zany red Powar sunglasses, the glimmer of a Powar grin that appears on the ten-step Powar gambol to the wicket, all convey to the batsman the air of a seriously unserious cricketer having a bit of a lark. But there is no harm in all this. Spin bowling, after all, is basically about subterfuge.

Read more.

Little Bevans Again

India defeated England in the Faridabad ODI today. Again, it was two guys from the younger crop who kept their cool and saw India home. I'll just redirect you to a post I wrote four months back.

Update: Reader and fellow blogger Salil Benegal makes a post where he disagrees with Bevan being given too much credit for development of the modern day ODI game.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A "Scientific" Discussion

Two of my Puneri pals, Ashutosh and Hirak, both now in the US, are having a great discussion about non-professional higher education in India. They are talking about why the US is still head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to scientific research. And of course why India is lagging behind. Ashutosh thinks that it is because in India, non-professional courses are generally looked down upon.

Read about it here, here and here.

Let me just add one small personal note here. Ashutosh's views are not one of those sour-grapes types. He is not someone who had to go in for a BSc because he didn't manage an admission to a professional course. Having grown up with him, I can tell you that he was one of the two truly outstanding well-rounded intellects in our batch at Abhinava Vidyalaya (the second being Satyen) and would have done well at any professional course, or indeed any profession. He chose to enter pure Sciences. In fact he had gotten admitted to a good Engineering College, but opted out to do a BSc.

Two Apples a Day?

Two Apples a day....certainly won't keep lawyers away.

It's Apple vs. Apple in British Court

Until a few years back, one could have said that its OK for the two to co-exist since their businesses are as different as apples and oranges (oops, that's another brand name). But with Apple Computer entering the music business, a war is brewing.

Apparently both companies entered an agreement in 1991 where both promised not to "step on each others' toes", i.e not enter into each others businesses. If that is indeed the case, then Apple Computer is at fault.

As it is, iPod and iTunes are more well-known brand names than Apple in the music business. I think they would be well-advised to spin off that division and call it something else.

Karvanda? Papanas? Shraavan Ghevdaa even? Maybe!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Talking in your sleep can get you divorced!

No kidding!

A Muslim couple in Jalpaiguri district have been ordered by local religious leaders to separate as the husband allegedly uttered talaq three times in his sleep.

While the couple, who have three children, refused to obey the order since there was no discord between them, the community leaders are adamant that they must separate or face a "social boycott".

No, this is not a someachaar or an onion-style post. This is reality.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The News Wars

A Hindi news channel had a 30 minute show about the impact of M S Dhoni on hair styles in India. The topic of the show, as inane as it sounds, seemed to be immensely and profoundly more relevant than the whole "Office of Profit" quasi-scandal that is being splashed on most English news channels.

Yes, Sonia Gandhi took splendid advantage of being in the spotlight by pulling her "sacrifice" move. But the spotlight itself was brought on due to the coverage being given to a story that is completely devoid of any relevance to the life of an Indian. So what is the reason behind this ill-advised focus on an otherwise lame story?

The main reason is the so-called "War for News" that is on at the moment. Until a few months ago, NDTV was the uncrowned King of the Indian English News Media. Aajtak's English arm, 'Headlines Today' was at best a "channel you switch to when NDTV has commercial breaks" and posed no major competition. Then a few months back the scene hotted up with the high profile launch of two English news channels backed by biggies - CNN-IBN and Times Now. CNN-IBN is a venture between CNN and TV18 (more known for running CNBC in India) spearheaded by Rajdeep Sardesai. Times NOW is the Times Group's attempt to spread its domination of the Indian media scene even further, spearheaded by Arnab Goswami.

Thus two of Prannoy Roy's proteges broke away creating some much needed competition. And the average English-news-watching viewer echoed Roy's sentiments when he said "Welcome" to the competition.

Media is a business like any other and depends on market-share for profitability. There are important factors like ethics, responsibility, role of a watchdog etc, but at the end of the day it is after all a business. And intense business competition is a lot like war without weapons.

In any business, the war for customers is won by providing superior products/services. But another thing that plays a huge role is to convince the customer that you are actually providing him the best products/services. In case of certain products it is very easy. Television makers will speak about the picture quality, screen technology, sound, etc. Car makers will speak about mileage, engine power, etc. Detergent powders will speak about how well the clean the clothes.

But in the business of news, the parameters are somewhat fuzzy. Standards of judging the product here are extremely subjective and so there is no clear objective direction in which a company can focus their efforts. A car maker can work on improving mileage, but for a news channel there are no indicators of the defining factor.

Thus the job of telling the customers that you are indeed the best becomes even more important. In the News business, this is achieved by boasting about being the "first to break it", or getting an "exclusive scoop", or "creating an impact". Let me evaluate, as a viewer, what part these differentiating factors play in my eventual opinion of a news channel.

The "first to break it" factor, very frankly, doesn't do much for me beyond the first hour of the story or so. Yes, if a particular channel is the first to break a story, it will get my undivided attention for a short while, but after a couple of days I do not care nor remember who was the pioneer in breaking the story. As a viewer, what matters is accuracy, depth and analysis of the happenings. So the "first to break" factor ends up becoming a brownie point that loses relevance to viewers rapidly. It seems to be more an attempt to show your thumb to the competition than convince the viewers.

The "exclusive" factor is similar too. Exclusivity of anything is lost sooner rather than later.

The "impact" factor is probably the most tricky issue. Prima facie it seems like a powerful factor. If a channel's activism is going to make some difference on the ground it really is admirable. But that does not mean I will watch that channel. If that were so, Indian Express would be miles ahead of other newspapers, since no other competitor can claim to havemade as much of an impact. But in the end, it is content that matters.

There are two phases through which a customer is taken. One is capturing the customer and the other is retaining the customer. The aforementioned three factors can at best help in capturing attention and thrust the particular brand into the customer's consideration set more forcefully. At the end of the day, it is all about retention though.

And since this media war is in its initial phase I find that the emphasis being placed on capturing customers is a lot more than ensuring the quality of content. The office-of-profit is an issue where there isn't any scope for depth in terms of content. Really, what is the issue in the first place? That there is a silly law that makes it illegal to hold posts which has the government paying salary?

Well, boo-effing-hoo!

Who gives it a serious thought? And what is it about this issue that makes it more important to the average Indian than Dhoni's hair? Nothing. So there is not much differentiation possible in terms of content. The meaningful content about this issue can be summed up in three lines.

Yet all these English news channels had hours and hours of programming about it over the weekend. NDTV actually had both "Big Fight" and "We The People" focus on this issue. There is nothing worse than confusing a pure "one upmanship" issue which can at best just give you these "impact" and "exclusive" type brownie points with one which gives scope for solid content. If anything, such an intensely depth-free issue can end up boring audiences and have them switching over to other channels, maybe even Hindi channels.

Yesterday I got so bored by the unnecessary rumination of the "at-best-three-lines" content of this issue on the English channels that I preferred the show on Zee News which featured a woman from Ghatkopar being purportedly stalked in a very bizarre manner.

The manpower churning due to the sudden birth of competition has meant that it is not exactly clear which channel has those factors which will make me choose it for a longer period of viewing. NDTV has a definite plus point now in terms of its sleeker presentation template. The bottom of the screen isn't cluttered with trivia, tickers, scrolls, scores and what not. In all other parameters, i.e depth, breadth, imaginativeness of programming, presentation, slotting etc, all channels seem equal right now because more thought seems to be going into "one upmanship".

That is again natural during the early stages of a business war where the focus naturally tends to be more on blowing your own trumpet, both for attracting customers as well as energising and motivating employees. But business wars have been won only by those who, through this trumpet blowing, do not forget that it is eventually their product that will win them the game.

Remember, even from a pure revenue generation point of view, money is not made during the "breaking news" moments or the claims of superiority. Money is made when your viewer stays on your channel long enough for your advertisers to sell him their stuff. And that can only be ensured by having a solid product.

As of now, neither NDTV, nor CNN-IBN nor Times NOW seem to have kept this in mind. Whoever realises it first and executes it properly will win the war.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sonia's Done it Again

I have always said that folks who claim they are not interested in politics because it is "boring" are missing a lot of entertainment. The twists and turns in the plotlines of politics can rival any soap opera.

Once again we see a series of events unravelling like a well-crafted narrative in Indian politics. Once again, the BJP was set up for a telling blow by Sonia Gandhi, and they swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker.

This is how it all started. Jaya Bachchan was disqualified from the Rajya Sabha by the Election Commission for holding an "office of profit". It is widely believed that elements within the Congress orchestrated this removal with the dual purpose of targeting the Samajwadi Party, to which Bachchan belongs, and to please Sonia Gandhi, who has been leading a silent feud against the Bachchan family. It is also alleged that Sonia Gandhi herself masterminded this removal.

The SP cried blue murder, led by Amar Singh, but to no avail. It was rumoured that Amar Singh too may lose his seat in the parliament due to the same rule.

Out of nowhere, the BJP springs into action. As we know, the BJP has been lying dormant for a while. They completely failed to extract any mileage out of the Varanasi blasts. In this twist feud between two of their enemies, they saw an opportunity to win some crucial points.

They said that Sonia Gandhi too, technically holds an "office of profit" as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council. Now whether NAC Chairpersonship is an "office of profit" or not, is very grey. In Jaya Bachchan's case, it was quite open and shut since the post, by definition, had a salary. Her defence that she never took the salary cheques hence didn't hold any water.

In case of the NAC however, apparently the post by definition has no salary associated with it. The NAC itself is a new creature, created by the UPA Government, so there is no precedent as such.

This whole issue of "office of profit" is rather murky, since MPs across party lines are holding such offices and are thus vulnerable to disqualification. One had expected that all political parties would agree to a constitutional amendment of sorts which will clear the whole issue up. The only reason the Congress stalled a similar move by Mualayam Singh in UP was to score brownie points with Sonia by causing Bachchan's disqualification.

However the BJP, still obsessed with Sonia Gandhi, saw an opportunity to embarass her again using this excuse. They started clamouring for Sonia's disqualification. What was a universal problem was suddenly turned into an anti-Sonia measure by the BJP. The planned ordinance/bill was said to be drafted with solely Soinia in mind.

The BJP no doubt felt very proud of themselves. Finally they had managed to get the slippery Sonia in a tight spot. So intoxicated was the BJP that good ole Vajpayee announced that if the government came out with such an ordinance, "the government will go". Ermmm...Atalji, how exactly will it go? Vote of confidence etc? Let us not raise such trifle questions with Atalji.

The government then did something rather bizarre. In face of the Sonia-bashing by the BJP and the SP, the parliament was adjourned "sine die" with the reason being stated as "completion of all financial business(this was the budget session, remember?) and no matters pending". The opposition and media yelled like never before. The charges of wanting to save Sonia were again raised, as was the allegation that the adjournment was done only to allow the said ordinance to be passed (since ordinances cant be passed when parliament is in session).

What happened today leads me to believe that the adjournment was nothing but a bait that the Congress threw to the opposition, which swallowed it hook, line and sinker. The BJP further increased focus on Sonia and tried to invoke memories of 1975 when Emergency was declared just to save Indira gandhi's post.

And Sonia Gandhi did it again. She resigned freom Lok Sabha as well as from the NAC. Again, she has seemingly taken the "high moral ground" saying she isn't interested in posts and is hurt at the suggestion that all this drama was done just to protect her posts. Here, she doesn't care about the posts.

The BJP as well as the SP are now in quandry. The media has already whipped up the whole "sacrifice" drama again. An SMS-poll on CNN-IBN shows that 60% believe that it is indeed an "act of sacrifice". Now keep in mind that english-channel-watching classes have traditionally been the biggest Sonia-haters. If even among them, 60% feel it is an act of sacrifice, you can imagine how it will be perceived by the general populace.

Again, several birds have been killed by this one stone. The BJP has been made to look stupid for the umpteenth time. The SP is baffled too. The worst trapped is the Left which so far was safely on the sidelines. Nine of their MPs hold these purported offices of profit. They can't follow Sonia's lead, because...well,. it's already been done. They also know that this "2nd coming of the sacrifice" will be exploited fully in the forthcoming elections in WB and Kerala.

Sonia Gandhi and her supporters have shown themselves to be by far the wiliest folks in Indian politics. I don't believe this "sacrifice" nonsense, but I have to doff my hat at the tactical brilliance of this decision.

The BJP leaders who refuse to learn from their mistakes need to ask themselves - have they really come to terms with the changed rules of the game? Do they realise that they are fighting, not Indira Gandhi who was power-hungry and quasi-dictatorial and thus easy to make a public villain out of, but a prima donna named Sonia Gandhi who knows that she need not hold posts to pull strings. A woman who is brilliant at impression management and knows the value of a "moral high ground" in as emotional an electorate as ours.

The BJP leaders are on TV now, making hollow triumphant voices, saying the resignation is a vindication of their stand. Just like the resignation in 2004. But one hopes they know better. Or do they? Will they continue to repeat these blunders? If they do then Election 2009 is going to be easy pickings for the Congress.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pinnacle of Amitabh's Career

Has to be this!

A bhojpuri film? Did the government secretly pass a law making it mandatory for AB to act in each and every film made in India? I know for a fact that there is such a law for Amitabh and TV commercials.

You Love Nerds?

Spotted in Oxford Bookstore yesterday - a rather good-looking and shapely girl wearing a t-shirt that said - "I Love Nerds". Well well well! Nerds of this world, there is still hope. Just try to find her, prove your nerd credentials, and make her go out with you. After all, isn't there a law which makes any proclamation on t-shirts a binding contract?

Ten points for Cha Bar

Tucked away in a corner of the Oxford Bookstore near Churchgate is the 'Cha Bar'. As the name suggests, it is a tea bar, and serves around fifty different types of teas from all over the world. There are Assamese, Darjeeling, Neelgiri, Kashmiri, English, Japanese, Chinese...and many more.

The range available is diverse and rich and the method of serving tea is also equally imaginative and impeccable. Right from getting the masala or ginger chai "cutting style" in the conical glasses right off the streets of Mumbai to getting the Kashmiri Kaava in a quaint teapot with a traditional circular earless cup, the entire experience reflects the painstaking effort that has gone into conceptualising and presenting Cha Bar.

Most teas are served with milk and sugar, and are in teapots. The quantity is quite wholesome, and you can easily have 2-3 cups from a single order, the average price of which is around 40 rupees. It is thus extremely VFM as well, and when you take into account the proximity to books, it becomes an ideal location to spend many afternoons and evenings. There is something elegant about mixing your own cup of tea with just the right spot of milk and sugar and inhaling the unique aroma of each blend..

On almost every count, it scores over coffee shops such as Barista and CCD, and I hope the Cha Bar people have the initiative as well as the funding to open several such stores all over the country. It will reacquaint many urban Indians with their forgotten love - tea.

Day 5 at Wankhede

Can't write a full "diary", so just noting a few points -
The queues for the daily's ticket outside the stadium were so huge, that it was apparent that I am not in a minority hoping for an India win. Thankfully I had a season's pass and walked right in.
They weren't showing any replays on the giant screen visible from my perch. So I watched the whole match without watching a single replay, the "original old-fashioned way". Does make you appreciate the value of television coverage.
Watching cricket this way also made me understand why cricket is a batsman's game. Watching the game at the ground, you can appreciate batting skills no matter where you sit. The poetic sound of bat hitting ball, the way the ball races away grabbing the spotlight all the way to the boundary. To appreciate bowling however is very difficult. Sitting above the sight-screens, it might be possible to note the turn of the ball, its loop, or its movement in the air or off the pitch. But from anywhere else, there is nothing too "artistic" bout the bowling. It became possible to watch and enjoy bowling only with television where because of the caemra, every TV spectator feels like he is sitting near the sight-screen. Naturally when the game was in its initial days, batting gained superiority over bowling.
The crowd, almost baffled by the whole boo-hoo over booing, kept cheering Sachin every few minutes just to set the record straight.
Yes, the cheer greeting Dhoni's arrival did match that of Sachin's. MSD certainly is the new superstar of Indian cricket, and deservedly so. Notwithstanding today's dismissals.
A powerful throw by Anderson from the deep thuds into Jones' gloves right above the stumps. The crowd applauds the near perfection.
Shaun Udal - another one who will be indebted to the Indian nation for helping him get his 15 minutes. No wonder people like India so much.
As the 8th wicket falls, Tony asks me "Do you think Flintoff will take off his shirt in Mumbai again?". Hmmm...indeed!
It's over. England has won. The series is levelled. The entire crowd gives them a standing ovation. Flintoff and team come out before the presnetation and do a round of the ground, applauding the entire crowd and thanking them. Flintoff and Hoggard realise what old fogeys like Vengsarkar and Wadekar don't - that the "Flintoff is a b*****d" and "Hoggy is a doggy/homo" chants are the North Stand's version of friendly banter and no offence is meant. Yes, they may not appeal to our sensibilities....I certainly won't take part in such a chant. But Flintoff and Hoggard realised that a knowledgeable crowd is known by the response it gives to displays of excellence by the opposition. And on that count, the Wankhede crowd is as good as any. Even the Barmy Army is quoted in the papers saying that the crowd here is a lot more appreciative and fair than crowds in Australia.
Flintoff has turned into quite the statesman. Mature batting, incisive bowling, and a great gesture at the end of the series.
Dravid's name is called during the presentation. The entire stadium erupts into chants of "We Want Sourav!!". I don't think most of them mean it, but it is a harsh rebuke to Dravid. Right from making the wrong decision at the toss, to persisting with the mistaken 5-bowler strategy, to leading an ultra-defensive response to England's target, this has been Dravid's nadir as a leader. He seems to be slipping back into the pre-2001 mode when he seemed to value occupation of the crease more important than scoring runs.
People are walking up to the Englishmen in the crowds and congratulating them on this win. That's getting a bit too saccharine for my taste. I am pissed off and walk out of the stadium disappointed that my "debut test" and probably my last one for at least 4-5 years has ended thus.

Joggone It!

Don't most of your attempted jogs go this way? Mine do!

Great Quote

"The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities."
- Ayn Rand

Waiting for GOTOT

No it is not a typo. It is not meant to be Godot, but GOTOT.

Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett about two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for someone named Godot. Who exactly Godot is, why they want to meet him, etc is never revealed. The repititive plot just has the two tramps conversing, and waiting for Godot, who incidentally, never turns up.

Waiting for GOTOT is a "play" that has been in progress for almost 17 years now. GOTOT stands for "Grand Outstanding Tendulkar-Owned Test". For years, Tendulkar's fans have been waiting for him to decisively and unarguably stamp his authority on a test match, a test match which will forever be remembered as his own. Several batsmen in the Indian time have "owned" their own test matches.

Laxman owned Calcutta'01
Dravid owned Adelaide'03
Sehwag owned Multan'04

Tendulkar however, the greatest batsman of them all, has yet to play a test innings which, in terms of content as well as context, be so outstanding that it will forever be recalled with awe. For years now, Tendulkar's fan expect that every time India is in a spot of bother, he will come and "silence his critics" for once and for all. However that one defining test knock is yet to come.

Chennai'98 despite being special, was just not huge enough at 155. Chennai'99 ended in a losing cause. Chennai'01 again lacked the size, and was also overshadowed by Harbhajan's heroics as curdled by a second inning failure. The double against New Zealand was in a draw and again curdled by a second innings failure. The doubles against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were....well...against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. The 193 at Headingley came after Dravid and Bangar set things up. The 241 at Sydney just lacked content and was a highly neutered innings.

Sachin fans(including me) may often come to his defence in this regard but at the bottom of their hearts, they know that he has not produced that trump card which they can use to good effect in any argument.

He has owned several one-dayers. The one at Sharjah, the one against Pakistan, the one at Hyderabad to name a few. But it is test cricket whose history is hard-bound. ODI history is always paperback.

We keep waiting for GOTOT not unlike Vladimir and Estragon, without realising that the odds of GOTOT coming are very less. There was once a time when Tendulkar was counted as one of the unluckiest batsmen. Umpires seemed to make their worst mistakes against him, and fielders seemed to pull off their best catches against him. Bowlers invariably produced deliveries of their lifetimes when they faced Sachin.

Yet of late, whenever a potential GOTOT opportunity has presented itself, more often than not Tendulkar has been dismissed due to his own mistake. Today, he gave his wicket to Shaun Udal, an almost-has-been who has been around for as long as Sachin has, but has hardly played a handful of tests. In Karachi a few weeks back, he got out to Abdul Razzaq, who certainly would not find a spot amongst the top 10 Pakistani seamers of all time. In Bangalore last year, he was dismissed by Afridi in both innings.

It is no secret that Tendulkar's powers are on the ebb, physically speaking. Even his technique is faltering. Until a couple of years back I would happily enter debates against people who said Dravid had the best technique in the Indian team. I always maintained that though Dravid is technically very sound, he is not as good as Tendulkar when it comes to execution. Recently however, I would let such a debating opportunity pass. The frequent gap between bat and pad, the playing away from the body, the frequent lapses in footwork... this just isn't the same man anymore.

Of course, it is not like his technique has completely gone sour. By and large he seems to stick to it. But the mistakes are just too common by his standards.

From all angles thus, it looks very likely that the best of Tendulkar is behind us and though I would certainly not join the ridiculous and idiotic chorus of "Endulkar" and ask for him to be dropped, it is clear that waiting for GOTOT is going to be no different than waiting for Godot.

This post has been cross-posted on Cricinfo's blog - Different Strokes where the comments are enabled

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Track

Lost in the din of Dravid's wrong toss and the Tendulkar Boo-Boo is a story no one has paid any attention towards - the Wankhede pitch. The previous test match at Wankhede lasted barely two days, and a pitch which would have made minefields look like beach resorts was held responsible.

This time though, the pitch has made absolutely no news....and that is good news. The Wankhede ground staff has gone a fair distance in redeeming itself after the 2004 nightmare.

The pitch had a grassy look to it on the first morning, tricking Dravid into electing to field. Though the Indians picked only 3 wickets, it must be said that the pitch had bounce, and the bounce persists even now on day 4. The English seamers were able to get bounce and movement off the seam and reduced India to a mess. But once a batsman played himself in, he was able to play quite comfortably and only a rash shot or bad luck would dismiss him as Dhoni, Pathan, Yuvraj and Dravid would testify.

Day three onwards the pitch has deteriorated a bit and the roughs have formed, but the surprising bounce persists, and the pitch is well suited for a bat-vs-ball contest. As I write this post, England are all out towards the end of Day 4 and India will be chasing 313 at a runrate of around 3.

This sets up a thrilling last day, since the pitch even on day 5 has a bit for both sides, which is a rarity. Usually in India pitches either break up and turn into the proverbial dustbowls like in Bangalore, or ease out even further and become belters like Nagpur. A pitch like Chepauk which stays alive right untul the last session is a rarity.

And a Wankhede pitch which sees the match evenly poised even as it enters the fifth day is a pleasant surprise.

Innovation in Email Scams

Email scams have usually been very cliched and run-of-the-mill. You get a mail from someone claiming to be related to some dictator or politician from some random African or Latin American country. They say they have millions of dollars which they want you to help them transfer outside their country. Or then you are told you have won a lottery, or a free foreign trip, or even a university diploma.

Such scam mails are usually written using a standard template, and have started to bring a bad name to the profession of scamstering. Don't scamsters have even the teeniest bit of creativity, one wonders. Is innovation restricted to just changing the names of the countries?

Today I got an email which redeems the image of scamsters a bit because it displays rare innovation. I got an email from "U.S.Embassy", complete with the American bald eagle Seal, saying I had been randomly selected for a visa into the United States. All I had to do was send a thousand dollars (but bizarrely not through western union).

Here's the mail -

U.S Consulate General
387 Wichayanond Road
Chiang Mai 50300,Thailand

Dear client,

Congratulations,you have been selected as one of the lucky winners of the US VISA through our internet email extracting and screening machine,your application was applied and processed by our internet email extracting and screening machine which randomly extracts and scans millions of email adresses across the world.

This Special visa programme is new and was innovated by the US embassy in Kuala lumpur Malaysia last year november.The US Consulate in Chiang Mai launched the programme this year november,the programme is designed to be held every year ending.The aim and objectives of the programme is to give free visas to citizens of developing countries around the world to enable them travel to the US and start a new life and work.The Chiang Mai consulate released 12 visas in this regards and hopes to increase the visa number to 24 by late next year,you are among the 12 lucky people that won the visa and among the 5 foreigners that won the visa,7 visas were won by Thai nationals.

Your visa winner's identity is:MM-52047 and your serial net visa passport with us is:JM-102648,your visa type permits you to travel with your family.Your visa duration is 10 years multiple entry to the U.S,it is renewable upon expiration and it permits you to work,study and own properties in the US.

In this respect you are directed to forward the following requirements for the immediate processing of your visa certificate and acknowledgement card:

1.Write in full your office and residential adress.

2.Scanned copies of your recent passport photograph,members of your family passport photograph should be included if you have family members that wants to travel with you.

3.Scanned copies of your/members of your family international passport and i.d card,your family members above the age of 16 requires seperate international passports for travel.

4.Clearance and acceptance fee:U.S$1,015(One thousand fifteen dollars)only.This fee should be payed through an account of the designated agent and NOT by western union money transfer.

Providing the above requirements will assure you your visa certificate/acknowledgement card and visa security pin code which we shall scan to your email adress.With the visa certificate/acknowledgement card and pincode we shall send to you,the U.S embassy in your home country or your country of residence will stamp the 10 years multiple entry visa on your/members of your family international passport within 3 working days immediately you present these documents to them because the Chiang mai Cosulate has confirmed your visa,all they will do is to log in to the U.S Immigration network database and key in your visa pincode there they will find your visa winning details.

Important notice:

According to the united states code of conduct in the constitution Vol:189/965:Act 220Sl guiding all immigrations,green cards,visas and permit agencies:if non-response after 31 days you receive this message,your winners status shall reveal no interest and we would in response refer your visa certificate/code and acknowledgement card back to the U.S government/immigrations service center.

We shall be anticipating your reply soon.


Ray Murphy
U.S Consulate Chiang Mai


How elaborate!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Mountain out of a Boohill

I was at the Wankhede Stadium on Day 2 as well, and the first I heard of this whole "Tendulkar Booing" incident was at night on the news channels. Apparently some sections of the crowds near the pavillion did a bit of booing. I don't know the exact details, but I can state this confidently - that it is not as if the entire stadium booed Sachin, the way the media is making it out to be. My friend Tony didn't notice the booing either. I spoke to a couple of other folks I know who were in other stands and they too were shocked to learn of these booing reports. The stands near the pavillion is where the bulk of the barmy army is camped, so it won't be surprising if it was some of them who booed Sachin. Plus the whole concept of "boo" is not very Indian. Crowds here will go "hai hai", but "boo"? Nah!

So the reports you see of Sachin being booed by his "home crowd" are rather generous media-driven embellishments.

Anyway, the position that the game is poised in, I feel tempted to wager on a second inning century from the great man. India fought back really well today. I wasn't at the stadium but the tenacity shown by the lower order was extremely commendable. This test, at the end of day 3, has all the makings of a classic.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Diary of Day 1 at Wankhede

6:20 a.m.
Waking up early is always easier when the reason is something aligned with your interests. If you're waking up to study, you always want to keep hitting snooze and steal those extra five minutes. But when the reason is getting good seats in the stadium to watch test cricket, even the concept of snooze is forgotten.

8:15 a.m.
In the local train with friend and temporary roommate Tony. The train is not at all crowded, which is a good sign, since it means lesser crowds jostling to get into the stadium. Two young boys get in at Dadar wearing FC Barcelona jersey. I am puzzled about the motivation behing wearing an FCB tshirt to a cricket test match between India and England

8:40 a.m.
At the Churchgate Railway Station. Tony and I decide to have the traditional Mumbai breakfast of vadapao. We head the the Railway Canteen where the paos are being unloaded. The vada is decent, but the pao is a bit pasty, and much smaller than the average pao. The paos were 'branded'. I speculate that the contracts for the paos were given to a clearly inferior product because of kickbacks and also because the income of those who run the canteen does not depend on maximum customer satisfaction. Whereas for the vadapao-wallah on the street, his daily earnings depend on satisfied customers, and hence his paos are bigger, fresher and fluffier.

8:50 a.m.
Walking towards the Vinoo Mankad Gate, we survey the looooong queue for the day tickets and smile smugly and self-congratulatorily since we had the foresight to book a five-day-pass in advance. The aforementioned FCB-jersey-clad kids are there in a larger and similarly dressed group. Intriguing!

9:00 a.m.
At the Vinoo Mankad Gate, officials of the MCA stop us after cellphones are found on our person. Gruffly mention point no. 6 or 7 or 8 at the back of ticket in tiny font which mentions cellphones as one of the many things not allowed inside. We and a group of people, including some firangs, argue asking what we are supposed to do with the phones now. MCA officials rather rudely tell us they couldn't care less. I get a brainwave and call up Amit, who is in the press box. We ask him if he could bear our burden for the day. The fine gent that he is, he turdges down all the way to the VM Gate to collect our phones and selflessly carries them with him. Thus de-celled, we enter the Vijay Merchant Stand (Lower).

We grab seats in the extra-cover direction and watch the cricketers warm up. Sachin ambles towards the practice pitches near us and starts a mini set session with the help of a local flunkie. Even though it is a flunkie throwing the ball at the length that he is asked to, the sight of watching Sachin middling the ball, which then races away in different directions, brings satisfaction. Yes, watching it live from a few feet away is a different experience.

The North Stands a fair distance away are getting noisier by the minute. After a few customary "Sachin, Sachin!!" and "Pakistan Chor Hai!!" chants to loosen their vocal chords, they turn their attention to the English captain and go "Flintoff is a b*****d!!" and also add "England Sucks!" for good measure. I am impressed. I have never heard chants in the english language at a cricket match in India before.

Dravid and Flintoff walk to the centre for the toss. There is a huge screen in front of us, but no audio. It is clear that Dravid has won the toss, and the crowds celebrate, assured of a weekend of watching India bat. There is stunned silence a few seconds later when the screen informs us that India has chosen to field first. The stadium is abuzz with mini-discussions, not a single one supporting Dravid's wisdom for sure.

I myself am puzled. Though the pitch from this distance doesn't look the usual dusty-cream Wankhede type, it can't be grassy per se. Yes, the groundsmen, wanting to wash off their 2004 sins, may have prepared a harder and a truer pitch, but let's face it. It is Bombay and it is the same pitch. Why field first then? Are we scared of a depleted English attack, a man behind me thinks out aloud. Indeed, was the Indian team scared that Anderson, Hoggard and Flintoff might run through the Indian line-up in the absence of Harmison and Jones?

To add to my irritation at having missed an opportunity to make a test "debut" watching Viru bat, I notice that everyone who is entering the stadium now seems to have a cellphone. Why the hell were we made to give ours up then?

And to compound all this, the guy next to me turns out to be a college student who has come alone and so he assumes Tony and me are his new best friends and starts bombarding us with his opinions. Nothing wrong with that except that his opinions are juvenile, simplistic and often plain stupid. Sample - "India must have chosen to field first because it is a spinning track so we will bowl first and spin them out."

The crowd around us has a fair sprinkling of English supporters. There are many women skimpy clothes. If this sounds good, well it wasn't! Not a single woman is under the age of 50. In fact the older an Englishwoman is, the skimpier her clothes are. I realise that the hue and cry against English exhibitionism at Mohali was more out of the desire to not be subjected to naked ugliness, than out of the whole "Indian culture" funda.

The English team meanwhile is stripping the Indian team of any sense of pride of superiority by negotiating the pace attack(!) with alarming ease(at least Strauss does). That a spinner, Anil Kumble, is introduced into the attack within the first hour is baffling considering that the captain chose 3 seamers and chose to field first. Finally Sreesanth gets the breakthrough dismissing Bell. Until the first wicket fell, any fielder who came to the boundary studiously avoided responding to the crowd. But once the first wicket fell, a warm fuzzy feeling must have ensued since they start smiling waving and even chatting a bit.

Owais Shah has walked in one-down and he faces pacemen with a stance that can be said to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He attacks hHrbhajan with alacrity in the first over, charging down the pitch. Shah exudes self-belief and a determination to capitalise on this chance. As the session draws to close, England are around 60 for the loss of the solitary wicket. Certainly not what Dravid had planned.

12:00 - 3:00
The post lunch session is spent meeting up with Sunil and his wife at the fine Cafe Mondegar. A varied biological selection is consumer, i.e beef, chicken and squid, along with beer. Cafe Mondegar, incidentally has great interiors and its walls are covered with cartoons by Mario Miranda. The SBI ad where a girl is eating mirchis after losing a bet is shot there.

During an extended lunch, we follow the score. Strauss and Shah are milking the bowling with ease. Sunil joins Tony and me in cursing dravid for spoiling what could have been an ideal weekend. Now instead of watching the free-flowing strokeplay of Sehwag, Sachin, Yuvraj et al, we wuld be forced to watch the dour Englishmen.

To ensure that the English batsmen don't out me to sleep when I return to the stadium, I have a large shot of strong black coffee. Tony doesn't, and suffers later, as we shall see.

After bidding Sunil and wife goodbye, we return to the stadium where we are informed that Shah retired hurt and Pietersen has taken his place. Now KP I like! Despite links with South AFrica and England, two of the three powers that make up the troika of boring batting(this being New Zealand), Pietersen is an entertainer. Strauss meanwhile reaches a hundred and celebrates. We applaud.

Strauss and KP step it up a notch for a few overs before a splendid spell from Munaf has both of them struggling. This bloke is nippy and tall. He makes life tough for the Englishmen for a while before he is taken off. Kumble is also bowling a probing line inducing an edge which Dhoni floors, but now the proceedings have slowed down. A while later Harbhajan is introduced into the attack. Tony by now is dozing and is woken up by the commotion when Bhajji dismisses Strauss. This time Dhoni caught it at the second attempt.

Various attempts to generate a Mexican Wave have failed. Sreesanth meanwhile is also bowling a decent spell and is rewarded with success when Pietersen nicks one to the keeper.

Now at the crease are Flintoff and Colingwood. Both play cautiously, though Freddie does clobber Harbhajan into the Sachin tendulkar Stand for a splendid six. Flintoff really has matured as a batsman and very rarely does he gift it away. He makes the Indian bowlers toil. The crowd at Wankhede gives ample proof of their love-hate relationship with him by chanting "Freddie Sucks" and "Flintoff is a b*****d", and following it up with thunderous and genuine applause whenever he plays a good shot. No wonder he stripped his shirt off in confused exulatation four years ago.

The Barmy Army responds with some sing-song chants which no one can make any sense out of. Let us assume they were rather celever too. Atithi devobhav and all.

The day is going from bad to worse. No further wickets fall as England creep along at 3 runs per over, and reach a position from where only a dramatic Mohali-style collapse can see them end up on the losing side. They have made full use of Dravid's gift, and have a great chance of posting a 500-plus score and going all out for an equaliser.

After the end of play, as if the crowds have not had a bad enough day already, the sound system starts blaring with Himesh Reshammiya shrieking 'Aashiq banaaya aapney'. Reshammiya incidentally held for over two weeks the record of the most undeserved award when he was given the Filmfare for his playback singing. The record is now held by Reese Witherspoon for winning the Best Actress Oscar.

We all troop out in a daze...still not quite able to believe that Dravid didn't elect to bat. Though tomorrow is a Sunday, considering the pitch, it is unlikely there will be huge crowds thronging to Wankhede. I will be there though, hoping for a quick collapse.

Rahul Dravid, you owe me a Sehwag double hundred!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility of Runrate

I know that a few seconds after being immersed in the surreal exhilaration of having watched the historic Aus-SA match were 434 was chased down, I made a blog post calling it the best match of all times. I would like to clarify that it was a momentary reaction and not soemthing I believe after having looked back at the match.

It was amazing, memorable and unbelievable for sure. As I have written before, the quality that separates great sportsmen from good ones is that they are their own biggest supporters. They obstinately refuse to accept defeat. South Africa displayed that quality, something which was sorely lacking in them at crucial stages. And it made for a very special moment.

But looking back at it objectively, it was not the greatest match ever, because as JR says, there was hardly a role in it for the bowlers. I love watching bowlers in action, and am not one of those for whom cricket is all about batting. I hated this match not because the flat pitch made the bowlers ineffective, but because the bowling on display from both sides was just pathetic.

Roger Telemachus started the 48th over with Australia on 381. He proceeded to bowl 4 no balls which Symonds merrily whacked all over. How can a bad pitch make you bowl 4 no balls on a trot? The over had yielded 19 runs before it even began!!!! It was just horrible horrible bowling.

I refuse to believe that a pitch where 434 runs can be scored would be noticeably flatter than one where 350 is scored. The additional runs were scored because there wasn't a single bowler who bowled with discipline. And of course some bad captaincy from the fielding side. Lewis just kept bowling!

I agree with JR again that the 1999 World Cup semi-final between the same two sides was much better and complete. Good batting, good bowling, great fielding, tenacity, self-belief, had everything. I think the law of diminishing returns applies to the run rate in one-day internationals as well. I think the funrate/runrate returns ratio peaks at somewhere between 4-5 runs per over in an ODI. After that, the runrate has diminishing marginal utility, as far as complete cricketing entertainment is concerned. If a team scores between 200-250 then it means that there were some good knocks from the bat, and a couple of good spells with the ball. Between 250-280, it means there was just 1 good spell with the ball. And beyond 280, the bowlers were just like furniture.

Of course there are exceptions when the bowlers do well, but one individual just turns it around. An excellent example is the Ind-SL one-dayer in jaipur a few months back where Dhoni scored 183 not out. Bowlers kept taking wickets, and no one else made a big score. But Dhoni was just phenomenal on that day.

So except for those phenomenal matches where inspite of 300 being chased down, we still see a good contest between bat and ball, the cricketing fun peaks at around 5 rpo.

Oh by the way, i will be making my test debut tomorrow. as in, I'll be watching a test match at the stadium for the first time in my life. Here's wishing for a Sehwag 200 by tea.

But why must Sridevi stop acting?

While several rebuttals have been posted all over the blogosphere about an intensely pointless post which many of you would know about and which has caused zillions of electrons as well as neurons a lot of unnecessarily brutal effort, the one that takes the cake for its pithiness and hilarity comes surprisingly from Nilu who says -

If they want to argue they are not blaming liberalization but just saying it has not helped many, I ask, "Why don't you also say, they have remained poor since Sri Devi stopped acting?"


I recommend!

Whenever someone puts forth the idea that government regulation would be done away with, several people who are distrustful of the intentions of big corporates cry foul, fearing that it would usher in an era where big corporates do anything unchecked.

I this this opposition arises because the supporters of regulation feel that when someone calls for removal of government regulation, he is also asking for the removal of the rule of law. That is not the case. What is actually being suggested is a strong rule of law where there are disincentives for wrong-doing in the form of punishments, and also provisions for compensation for victims.

Naveen Mandva makes this point very succinctly in his blog post Understanding Gawker and regulations much better. Do make it a point to read all the reports, studies and documents that he has linked to.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

How to Become a Liberal in 10 Minutes

Want to be recognised as a compassionate soul?
Want to be considered as a left-liberal?
Want to wash away the guilt of being born non-poor?
Want to be gareebon ka maseeha?

Yes, you can do it all, and that too without spending any money on ultra expensive designer kurtas, jholas, or going to JNU.

Just follow the steps mentioned in these two blog posts and the next time someone asks you "Have you done your part for the country's underprivileged?", you can look them in the eye and say, "YES, I HAVE!", then proceed to counter-question, "Have you, really?".

The Ten Commandments of Poverty by Aadisht
The Parlour Game by Ravikiran

What is Michael Higgins' Job?

What do you get when you read this post and a few other posts from the same blog just minutes after having watched Syriana? You get a post which follows.

I am fully and utterly convinced that Michael Higgins works for the CIA!

The guy just knows too much about India. OK, his wife is an Indian, and he is a smart guy who loves to read a lot, but still! I am sure that by knowing so much about a country other than his own, he is breaking some law in America. Yet he isn't being arrested. Why? Because like James Bond has license to kill, CIA folks have the license to know about other countries. So while any other American might get put away for at least 7 years for knowing the capitals of more than 3 foreign countries, Michael, being in the CIA can know the life history of Piyush Chawla and yet enjoy immunity.

An American writing a blog post about Piyush Chawla, whom hardly any Indians themselves had heard about? An American writing about how to make good upma?


Chicken tikka masala, maybe. Tandoori chicken, maybe. Mulligatawny soup, maybe. But upma? Something is rotten here and I am not referring to the stale ravaa.

Also notice the convenient timeline. Michael tells us how in 1996 he was clueless about cricket. Since cricket knowledge forms a huge part of knowing about India, it means he didn't know much about India. Yet here we are in 2006 and Michael is organising esi bloggers meets while thinking about cooking upma for Piyush Chawla! So what happened in the interim?

You may say it was his devotion to his Indian wife. But he himself says that his wife hasn't seen a cricket match in the last 10 years. What then caused this sudden surge in his interest about India?

The answer dear reader, lies in 1998!

On a hot summer day, the Americans noticed that the ground beneath Rajasthan shook considerably. What was first thought of as an earthquake turned out to be a full fledged nuclear test!! The CIA was red-faced, Bill Clinton was red-faced, and they asked for Michael.

"Your wife is an Indian right?" CIA Chief asked
"Umm yes" Michael replied
"And you still didn't know that India would conduct nuclear tests?" Clinton yelled

Michael's face also went red, an effect that he admits persists to this day.

Michael is thus a CIA agent. Maybe he heads their India desk. His job is to align the events in India with American interests. He has even boasted about how he trapped the Commie Messiah Prakash Karat in an embarassing situation. Who are the biggest enemies of the Commies? CIA of course! Who would be more motivated to make a commie go red in the face than a red-faced CIA agent?

I could go on and on and give more evidence but I think I have sufficiently proven what Michael is. Here is the clinching evidence -

Which state does Michael live in? Virginia.
Which state is the CIA headquartered in? Virginia!

This proves beyond doubt that Michael Higgins works for the CIA (though he faces a bitch of a commute from Fairfax to Langley).

Now that I have outed a CIA agent, I may not live to see tomorrow's rising sun. I may be terminated with extreme pride...I mean prejudice. In recognition of my sacrifice, I request Prakash Karat to go red in the face for 1 minute.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Of Hyenas and Darwin

Read this hilarious post at Terminally Screwed.

Another Quiz on a Blog

Interested? Head over to DhoomK2's.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Mohali Test

Finally it all fell apart for England. The scrappiness which saw them dominate the first test and stage a valiant comeback in the first innings reducing India to 150 odd for 5 despite being a depleted side finally gave way. A team can go only so far on pure spirit alone, as England discovered. And when the worm turns and the dice starts throwing up wrong numbers, it all unravels. Which is exactly what happened after that stage. India rode their luck to post a lead, and then their bowlers struck form. Kumble was back to his baffling best and Munaf Patel did what very few Indian pacemen are known to do - grab an opportunity with both hands.

This match saw test cricket very close to its best because we saw wickets being earned and not given away. Be it England's bounce or India's guile, the bowlers showed their skills. It is only towards the end that ENgland seemed to have given up completely that the game became "easy". An exhausted England decided to give in without a fight, but in doing so they didn't realise they were making a mistake which could haunt them at Mumbai. They allowed Sehwag to roar back into form. When the dude gets going, he keeps going. Ask Pakistan! Another cheap dismissal would have seen him go into Wankhede a tad worried. Now his swagger will be back and with Jaffer proving that he is "ready" for test cricket, the two can lay an excellent foundation for a huge total.

All's not well with India either. One burning question that will be swept aside in the euphoria of this win - Is there any thought being given to the five bowler strategy? It is all well picking five bowlers. But if you don't utilise them well, then you are just effectively sacrificing a batsman and going in with 10 players. Kumble bowled almost 60 overs in the match. Harbhajan bowled 35. How many did Chawla bowl? Just 14! Why pick him at all then? Sehwag, Sachin and Yuvraj could have combined to bowl 14 overs in the match. It's not just about the number of overs given to Chawla. It was the way the bowlers were rotated. It did not seem like the captain really wanted to bowl the fifth guy.

And it's not like all four were doing well. Harbhajan Singh was as benign as an empty cartridge. The only wicket he got was thanks to an umpiring error. And yet Dravid persisted with him for 35 overs. Hardly any attempt was made to give Chawla an extended run. It's almost like Dravid didn't trust Chawla. He would rather bowl a toothless out of form clueless confused bolwer like Bhajji.

The Indian team nees to think their tactics through. This time we got away with effectively fielding just 10 players. We might not be this lucky every time.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Best Match of All Times!!!

Another South Africa - Australia match!!!!!!!!!

I can't effing believe they effing did it. This post has been made a few seconds after Boucher hit the winning 4!!!!

New Business Opportunity for India

Kamal Nath, in an exclusive to MadManWeb unveils plans for a new lucrative business opportunity for India - The SPO Industry

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Inzy the Spokesman

The United Nations recently announced that Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul-Haq have been selected to become spokesmen for ‘Sport for Development and Peace’. Dravid as a spokesman is understandable. He is intelligent, well-read and articulate. But the idea of Inzamam serving as a spokesman for anything has caused a a mad scramble among the jokes in my head to rush out of my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Inzy. I think he is one of the all-time greats and a really nice guy whose affable leadership has played a large role in taking away the war-like edginess from Indo-Pak matches and converting them into mere sporting contests. But his simplicity and what I can only describe as “cuteness” can be source for a lot of amusement as well.

I can just imagine him walking to the rostrum in the UN Building, and starting off “Bismilla Rahmaney Rahim, First of all thanks to Allah god”, and being surprised when a New York policeman nearby pounces on him, because that phrase has been marked as a chant a suicide bomber might use. Of course, no matter how burly the cop is, Inzy will shoo him away like a fly.

And no matter what Inzy is asked, whether it is about sportsmanship or peace through sports, he will probably say “Yes, the boys played is very well, but India also is played very well”. Of course, he will also be mindful of the law in Pakistan that makes it mandatory to bring up the Kashmir issue every few minutes when in the vicinity of the UN. So Musharraf could coach him to say “Yes, boys is played very well and India is also played very well, but peace through sports is not possible unless is core issue of Kashmir is resolved, keeping is in mind the wishes and aspirations of the is Kashmiri people under the ambit of the UNSC resolutions which is promises right to self determination…..” and so on.

As long as Inzy is there in New York, he may as well drive up to Toronto and have lunch with his old friend Shiv Kumar Thind. Wonder what will be on the menu?

And I just learnt of this through Google News - Bush met Inzy when he was in Pakistan!!! Can you imagine the possibilities?


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Outrage Factor

The Blank Noise Project saw heavy participation, and chronicled some rather shocking incidents of harrassment which we didn't know happen around us. As Gawker commented somewhere, it was eye-opening, because growing up as a carefree boy in India, one has no idea about the hell that girls go through.

Some have questioned the purpose of the Blogathon itself. Some think that parts of it encourage shrill feminism which paint all men with the same brush. Some find the exercise rather pointless.

The purpose of the blogathon in my eyes, is an attempt to spread awareness about what is happening, and also the "outrage" or "shame". Is it going to stop eve teasing altogether? Obviously not. So what is the point?

I think the point of the project or the purpose was achieved when the first guy who read it felt a combination of shame and outrage. Not because the guy himself used to fondle women, and will stop doing so because of this. But because with an increase in the shame and outrage there is a small increase in society's overall outrage factor. And with a lot of guys feeling the same way, there will be a decent amount of increase in the "outrage factor".

What is the practical need for the outrage factor? Firstly, what is an outrage factor? Loosely, it can be defined as the consensus reached in society that a certain act is wrong/bad/damaging/immoral/unethical enough to cause outrage to most of its component. As a result of this consensus the society can put in place a punishment which will act as a deterrent to someone involved in that act.

In a society where personal freedom is well-defined and protected under the legal system, the outrage factor is not useful at all. The question of what you can and can not do is defined on the basis of these well-defined freedoms, and the outrage factors, as John Cleese would say, "don't intrude with it". An excellent example of the futility of the outrage factor in case of such well-defined freedoms would be the one Ravikiran cited of the United States where you can't pass laws to ban burning the American flag. The outrage factor would certainly be high. But it still doesn't overshadow freedom.

Now sadly, we in India do not live in a society which has clearly defined freedoms. In fact the definition of freedom in India is as fuzzy as it can get with a million footnotes and caveats, making you wonder whether freedom is a right or a privilege.

In such a society, punishments or deterrents imposed are framed as well as executed, not on the basis of the sacrosanct definition of freedom, but on the basis of the outrage factor. So practically speaking, the only way to get society to impose costs is to take that outrage factor to a critical mass.

It is my contention that in India, there is a cost/deterrent for robbing a house not because the robbers have violated some rights of the house owner, but because "stealing is wrong". This overwhelming consensus on the wrongness of stealing ensures the presence of such a law and that the law is imposed with a reasonable amount of sincerity.

But eve teasing or street harrassment is not seen by society as that big a deal. It is still not considered wrong/bad/damaging/immoral/unethical enough to cause outrage. Hence the Indian society imposes no effective cost on it. Even the few laws which are in place are not implemented properly. The simple reason is that the people around the victim, say the police, or her acquaintances just do not feel or share the outrage. And sadly, people sharing your outrage is a major factor, if not the only factor, that is useful in getting justice, or imposing a deterrent.

This is not how it should be, of course. Laws and deterrents should not be put in place based on the outrage factor, or sometimes it leads to some laws which end up trampling freedoms. The banning of dance bars is one example, and the law which makes homosexuality ounishable is another. These two laws are in place not to impose a cost on infringing someone's rights, but to impose a cost on "doing something unethical" and outraging the society.

If you recognize this role played by the outrage factor, you will realise that eve teasing is rampant in India because the lack of the intensity of its outrage factor which precludes putting in place an effective deterrent.

Towards this end, the Blank Noise Project is making a difference. How much of a difference is hard to say. But as I said, even if one person feels more strongly about eve teasing, it is useful because it adds to the component of outrage factor. One day I hope it reaches a critical mass.

The reason why BNP is important currently is that the ignorance or indifference about it is very high. I was shocked to read many incidents where women were harrassed as girls, but since they were confused and unsure about what happened, they did not tell their parents or create a ruckus. Yet imagine the same girls, in the event of something being stolen from them(let's say candy). Would they have stayed silent? Obviously not. A girl, whether she was aged 6,8 or 10, would immediately tell her parents that someone stole her candy. Because stealing is wrong.

Similarly if parents start mentioning explicitly to their children that a man fondling you or groping you is wrong, it will give the kid enough awareness to yell at the first instance of it happening. That a lot of girls were confused after their first instance of harrassment shows that parents are not doing enough to make their kids aware.

Parents not doing enough to proactively tell their children about this is one side of the coin. The other side being the sheer apathy of the "people in charge" i.e cops or office bearers. An autowallah in Delhi tried to rape a friend of mine. She managed to kick, scream, fight back and make him run away. When she was planning to file a police complaint, the Principal of her college (a supposedly 'modern' and 'forward' college) tried to dissuade her saying it would bring unnecessary bad publicity to the college. I will give the same analogy... would the Princi say this to a student whose bike would have been stolen on the streets?

It is correct to say that things have deteriorated so much in India due to lack of a cost. But remember, we have a 'splendid' society and legal system where costs are imposed on the basis of ethics and morality rather than an objective definition of freedom and rights.

Innocence of the French Girls

This happened a couple of years back. A big crowd of European students descended upon IIM Lucknow as a part of the Student Exchange program in the fifth term. Most of these students were girls, and so we had a big crowd of French "babes" studying with us for an entire term.

One night a few friends and I had gone to the city for dinner. IIML is around 10 km from the city and the institute has an hourly bus service to and from the city. The last bus from the city leaves at 10:30 pm. We had finished our dinner, and taken cycle rickshaws back to the Purnia Chauraha, a place from where we board the bus.

As we approached the place, we noticed something strange. It was a group of French students, four of them female and one of them male, standing at the bus stop, laughing and talking amongst themselves. They were very clearly having a great time. What was strange was that around them, in a radius of about 15 metres, stood at least 25 guys. These guys were the roughneck types, and they were standing in two or three groups, staring at the French girls, talking amongst themselves. Me and my friends were standing a few feet away, buying fruits.

We then noticed that a few guys started creeping closer and closer to the French group. One guy, who was on a bicycle, started riding it in a circle very close to them. A few other guys were very obviously discussing something animatedly, and we weren't sure what the topic of discussion was, but one of us heard the words "apni maruti van kaafi hogi" (our maruti van will be enough).

All this was happening very fast and by the time we bought fruits and moved towards the bus stop (there were 6 of us, all desi guys) the group of shady looking guys were spread uniformly all around the French students. It almost looked as if all these guys were also waiting for a bus back to IIML. Their intentions were very clear.

We walked up to the French students and started talking to them about the evening and other stuff. Within a few seconds I noticed a change in the attitude and demeanour of the guys around us. Suddenly they seemed to have discovered the concept of "space" and "privacy". The cyclist stopped cycling around us, and a few of them left almost immediately. The group started dispersing and within a few minutes, the street was deserted, with just us students waiting for the bus.

I found two things extremely remarkable that night. One was the difference in the attitude of the group of men towards a group of four women and one man, as opposed to four women and seven men. I have no clue what they were planning to do, and giving them the benefit of the doubt, I will assume the men just wanted to examine from close quarters the firang girls. I will assume that there was no "ulterior" motive of harrassment or worse. But earlier they were "examining" them from extremely close quarters, and when 6 desi guys joined the girls, suddenly they backed off.

The second thing is, that the French students had barely noticed what happened. When we spoke to them about the group of men surrounding them, they seemed puzzled. Yes, they had noticed a lot of men around, but they had assumed all of them were waiting for the bus. They seemed a bit amused at the advice that it would be unsafe to stay out so late unless there were at least two or three guys with them.

The French students displayed a kind of "innocence" about this whole issue which made me realise how bad things are for women in India as compared to a place like, say, France. Here we had four girls standing on a street at night in India, with a big group of men staring at them, seemingly advancing towards them, and yet they didn't notice it or feel alarmed. Because incidents of women being harrassed by strange men on the streets in France are very rare.

Contrast this with Indian girls who are always cautious and wary of any strange man they see on the street. This caution and wariness is a result of years of conditioning due to harrassment that they have to face on the streets of India.

This post is my contribution to the Blank Noise Project.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cracks Me Up Every Time

Though my favourite character from Seinfeld is obviously George, the funniest moment in the entire sitcom for me came from Kramer, and went as follows -

Mr. Pless: Mr. Kramer, he is an innocent primate.

Kramer: So am I.

Every time I watch it, I crack up. Especially the sheer "pathos" with which Michael Richards says "So am I". To read the context, go read the transcript of that episode.

The Joke I Took Years To Get

When I was six, my family moved to Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh from Mumbai. My dad's company was building a bridge on the Godavari there. Nothing really earth shattering happened during my year in NTR-Raaj. I learnt to speak telugu, attach "Du" after every word, discover cycle rickshaws and eat rice using as much of my hand as possible. I forgot most of those things, but a few things stayed in my mind. The Paper Mill school, Aryapuram, avakai pickles, etc.

But what held the position of utmost prominence in my mind for many years was a joke that I just could not get. Considering that at the age of six I had just started being identified as a "funny guy" by one and all in school, my complete inability to comprehend this joke was utterly frustrating.

I first heard the joke about six months after we moved to Rajahmundry. My aunt and uncle had come visiting us, and my mom was telling her about life in AP. Then with a wry look on her face, she said to my aunt,

"You know what people here say in telugu if they want to welcome you into their house very respectfully?"

"What?" asked my aunt

"Randi, randi!" (pronounced, obviously run-D, run-D)

And my mom and aunt burst out into peals of laughter.

I stood there confused, all of six and a half years old, wondering what was so funny about it. I had heard so many people say "randi" to each other. What was the big deal? I thought about it for a couple of days, tried to figure out the humour in the situation, but failed. I then asked my mother, but she avoided the topic.

A few months later, we moved to Pune. Whenever we would meet some relatives, friend or acquaintances, this same piece of information would be repeated and much amusement would be derived by all. And I grew more and more baffled as the days passed by. I asked many friends, but they were all equally baffled (all being in the 6-8 years range).

For a few months I was engaged in relentless pursuit of the meaning of that joke. But all my sources proved to be useless. It was becoming increasingly clear that this joke was based on a secret that you learnt only when you grew up.

Eventually I moved on. More important things demanded my attention, like schoolwork, the discovery that my hand-writing was horrible, etc. I don't exactly remember the moment of "epiphany" when I learnt what the word "randi" means.

But yes, I get the joke now. :-P

Monday, March 06, 2006

Line of the Night

.. Oscar Night that is. Came from Jon Stewart (who else)-

For those of you at home keeping score... Martin Scorsese - Zero Oscars, Three 6 Mafia - One Oscar

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Crash Review

Crash, one of the nominees for tomorrow's best picture Oscar, was quite an enjoyable experience. Some commentators have criticised it for portraying an exaggeratedly negative version of LA. Maybe they're right. But during the movie, I wasn't sitting and passing judgement on the city of Los Angeles. I was just watching the inter-woven stories unfold.

A movie shot using what I call the "shuffled cards" technique rather than a linear chronological one is old hat nowadays. As is the concept of multiple storylines which have small but intense intersection sets. And also the concept of witty dialogues which keep you smiling as the movie chugs along.

Crash impresses because two of those stories are very well conceptualised and executed. I love it when a scene's 'time cone', to mis-use a term I learnt from Hawking, includes some small seemingly insignificant happenings from earlier in the movie.

The story of the Iranian store owner and the Hispanic locksmith was the best by far.

The thread about two cops played by Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe (whose beefier twin brother brought up across the Atlantic is currently leading the English test team...but I digress) is also a good one, overflowing with irony. It also manages to remind us that the issue of racism isn't as black and white as we make it out to be.

The remaining stories, for me, were providing apt background support for those two. They are definitely not intended to be so and are probably meant to be as significant. Especially the story revolving around Don Cheadle, one of the producers. But somehow I wasn't as touched by them.

By now everyone must have read about the Ebert-Foundas debate regarding this movie. I will side with Ebert and recommend it to one and all. Good fun.

Oh yes, Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser have been under-used. Another good point in favour of the movie. :-P

Musharraf = Bush's Dog?

Here is a rather solid argument that can be used by all those who often refer to Musharraf as Bush's dog.

Rajghat has been "purified" after Bush's dogs visited it

The last time a high-profile "purification" of Rajghat was carried out?

After Musharraf visited it!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Dravid's Captaincy

Feel free to brush this post off as a reactionary one, arising from the certainty of watching the Indian team get humiliated at Nagpur tomorrw (it will be humiliation even if we draw it). Maybe I will do the same after a few weeks.

Rahul Dravid, when he is not captaining the team, averages over 60 in test matches. As a captain, he has an average of 34 after 10 test matches with 2 hundreds and 1 fifty. Both the hundreds came on the bowler-kabristaans of Lahore and Faislabad.

Sourav Ganguly, when he is not captaining the team, averages 44 in test matches. As a captain he has an average of 37 after 49 tests with 5 centuries and 13 fifties. 2 of the 5 hundreds came against Zimbabwe. 4 of the 13 fifties came against Zim/BD.

Sachin Tendulkar, when he is not captaining the team, averages 57 in test matches. As a captain he has an average of 51 after 25 tests with 7 centuries and 7 fifties. He never captained against Bangladesh or Zimbabwe.

Ganguly and Dravid both of course have win records much better than Tendulkar. They both also captained the team in the post-fixing era and usually had a say in the selection process. They both also had the benefit of coaches with a professional attitude and a keen cricketing acumen.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Calling BJP....Anybody Home?

I thought to myself a while back....hey remember that party which was in power until a couple of years back? Which still rules several states in India? What's its name...B-something. Yes, BJP!

Where on earth has it disappeared? Has it finally given up pretending to be an Opposition, since it is the Left which is acting as the de-facto opposition even as it continues to support the UPA government?

You just don't see the BJP around nowadays. Be it on the union budget, the Bush visit, the Iran vote or even the Nuclear deal issue, one can't hear even a peep out of the BJP. They are quiet about the Danish cartoon riots, have no opinion on the Amar Singh tap case. They are not warming the seats behind expert panels in TV news channel studios, hindi or english. (Except Prakash Jawadekar of course. Like a true blue Puneri, he has a dissenting view on every point. :))

Since there is not much that separates the policies of an in-power-Congress from an in-power-BJP, there is only so much that they can really attack the government about.

All this has been happening since 2004 you say. What has changed?

Well, the BJP isn't even embroiled in internal fights any more! No Uma Bharti vs rest of the world, or Pramod Mahajan vs anyone who cares, or Advani vs Nagpur. The BJP has almost gone underground!

Who is the current BJP President? It took me a few seconds of head-scratching to recall...oh yes, Rajnath Singh. When was the last time you saw him on TV, or on the front page? This near disappearance of BJP from public consciousness is rather strange.

I decide to enter "BJP" in Google News Search and check what results trun up on the 1st page. It's the best way to -

BJP to scrap Article 370 if it comes to power: Venkaiah
Ho hum. Even the Kashmiris don't take note of this empty boast any more.

BJP steps up demand for Central rule in UP
So what's new?

Sniffer dogs in Rajghat draw BJP's ire
BJP getting senti about insult to Gandhiji? LOL!!!! What next? Will BJP lambast Jyllands Posten?

BJP will have to wait in opposition till 2009: Mahajan
Thanks, Pramod. I have been trying to solve "2004 + 5 = ?" since so many days.

BJP asks govt to firmly raise India's concerns with the US
Good advice!

Abbas Naqvi flays PM's decision to receive Bush
Oh but wait, what's the next headline?

Naqvi's remarks on Manmohan his own: BJP
The party not backing its leaders' public statements has become so common that it is not even mildly amusing any more.

BJP criticises Punjab Govt.
Ooooh! Bet Amarinder's quaking in his boots!

well, you get the general idea. This utter confusion within the BJP is hilarious, baffling, and is also slightly alarming.

I have always believed that the least damaging scenario for India would be a de-facto two-party system with Congress and BJP being the two dominant players. Because the alternative, i.e either the greedy regional satraps, or the Left (same difference) are so much worse.

A decline in BJP's fortunes creates a vacuum which will only too happily be filled by the Left and the SP-BSP-LJP-types. And that is a scenario which makes me quake in my boots a lot more than Amarinder Singh.

Messers(sic) Karat, Nilotpal, Yechury, Dasgupta, Mulayam etc spouting illogical and anti-national nonsense in TV studios and in front of paid clueless crowds is one thing.

Messers Karat, Nilotpal, Yechury, Dasgupta, Mulayam framing policy? Brrrrrrrrrr!!!

Rajnath, wake up!! Do something!!

Butterfly Effect?

George Bush, the American President orders an attack on Afghanistan in 2001 and a group of people goes on rampage in Hyderabad and Bihar, throwing stones at innocent people who choose to not participate in their protests and destroys private property belonging to Indians.

Jerry Falwell, some right-wing nut sitting in USA calls Muhammad a terrorist, and a group of people in Solapur goes on rampage, destroying private property, and killing several innocent Indian people who choose not to join in their protests.

A newspaper in faraway Denmark publishes cartoons that portray Muhammad as a terrorist and a group of people in Lucknow take out a protest march, again disrupting life, and damaging private property.

The same place, same people, a fortnight later, Bush comes visiting, and this time the protests are stepped up a notch, leading to deaths.

So Indian deaths have happened and Indian property has been damaged as a fallout of the actions and words of people in America, Afghanistan and Denmark.

Bizarre, eh? What could be the reason? Who knows?

Must be the Butterfly Effect.

Watch Out, Iran

Just finished listening to Bush's Purana Qila speech.

It had a lot of expected pfaff. You know - democracy, natural partners, love, roosevelt, cooperation, bhelpuri, spices, lacy underwear etc etc.

What intrigued me was the bit where he mentioned Iran during his democracy spiel. All other places where democracy and freedom needs to be ushered in were mentioned by just name - North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe etc. However he singled out Iran for special mention, calling it a place where a few select clergy men are oppressing millions.

Portent of things to come?

Anyway, here's a Bush joke we developed in the office today -

Bush visited Rajghat, which he was told was Gandhi's mausoleum. Later he went to a high falutin lunch where he was introduced to the leader of the Congress, Mrs. Gandhi. Bush turned pale as if he had seen a ghost, and whispered to Laura, "Didn't we just visit her tomb, Laura?"

2007 Ahoy

Maybe it is just confirmation bias on my part, but I get the feeling that the Indian test team does not go into battle with as much preparation as the ODI team does. It's not just that the collapses seem more frequent and the problem of dismissing the tail is recurring. There seems to be a lot less planning. The team usually seems to be waiting for something to happen rather than making something happen. Over the last few years, the Indian team usually gave the impression of playing good session-by-session cricket. Now it seems to take it day-by-day. And if a plan doesn't work and some sort of a fightback starts developing from the other side, we never seem to have a counter-plan in place.

By contrast the ODI team has grown leaps and bounds.

Is Greg Chappell focusing too much on the 2007 World Cup and forgeting that test cricket is after all the real cricket?

Stupid is as stupid does

Bush's visit gave a lot of people opportunity to display their stupidity, ignorance, and complete lack of respect for private or public property.

The stupidity and ignorance came to fore in a story done by Times Now. They mingled with the crowds at the CPI(M)-SP anti-Bush rally and asked people exactly what they were protesting and why. The answers were so hilarious that they were tragic, ranging from a man saying he was there protesting Bush's hand behind the cooking gas price hike to another saying he was protesting Bush "drawing" the cartoons which insulted Islam.

Meanwhile a group of so-called intellectuals led by Syed Bukhari organised an anti-Bush rally in Mumbai. It attracted over a hundred thousand people, some of them forcing their way into Ladies compartments in local trains. After a shrill speech, the crowd destroyed public and private property around CST.

And as I type this, the TV channels are showing a group of 'protestors' on rampage in Lucknow, attacking shops, vehicles etc, roughing up people leading to 2 deaths to protest Bush's India visit. The state government of Mulayam Singh has undoubtedly instructed the police to be understanding of the "rage" of people.

Yes, that'll teach Bush to visit India, or so would be thinking Mulayam Singh, Prakash Karat, K L Bajaj and Syed Bukhari. The next time Bush decides to attack another country, he will think of the cars and shops owned by innocent people which were destroyed, the public property paid for by innocent people's taxes which was destroyed, the innocent men who were killed and the innocent women who were molested by the valiant "protestors". And he will shudder with fear and call off the invasion, eh, fellas?

Monty's P(h)atka

Monty Panesar, written off as a sacrificial lamb before the tour started, put in an impressive performance, producing two great deliveries. The first one trapping Tendulkar plumb in front, giving Monty perhaps the best maiden test wicket he could have prayed for. The second, late in the day, was a left-armer's dream dismissal. The ball pitched on middle and leg, drawing Kaif out in defence, and turned enough to beat the bat and kiss the off stump.

What motivated Monty you ask?

My hypothesis - Amit Varma's Ponty Manesar series. :-)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More Cartoonists Targeted

Breaking News - '15000 atheists in London rioted after a blank sheet of paper was found on a cartoonist's desk'

Hat-tip - Chandru

Blank Noise

I will be taking part in a great initiative called the The Blank Noise Project. This is how the project describes itself -

Street harassment is an offence. It has been granted normalcy due to its daily recurrence. Street harassment also known as eve teasing needs to be addressed on the streets. The project in its current phase seeks to build testimonies of street harassment in the public space and making them public. The project also seeks to recognize eve teasing as a crime, something that may be normal, but is unacceptable.

I agree completely. Eve-teasing, a term unique to India, is almost seen as normal due to its daily recurrence. And its daily recurrence is because it is seen as normal. The outrage against such incidents is not as widespread in the Indian society as it should be. And debate rgarding this topic doesn't reach a logical conclusion because some parties, often male as well as female, bring in points which don't add anything and end up being detours.

For instance, the standard point about how women should be cautious and dress carefully to avoid such attention. As far as caution is concerned, do you think women are dumb enough not to gauge what will be safe and what won't? Most if not all women, will be cautious about their clothing, their demeanour, etc in public. People who bring in points about how women should be cautious don't realise that women already are cautious, careful, at times a bit too much. And yet women get teased and harassed day in and day out.

Entering a debate about street harassment by saying "oh you should be careful with what you wear, how you walk, whether you are alone, what time you go out, which place you are at" is like going to someone whose house has been robbed and saying "you know, you should close the door".

Well, people get robbed inspite of closing doors, installing latches and even burglar alarms. So no one goes and gives them this advice. Yet when a woman is teased or even raped, this point of 'cautiousness' is brought up.

When someone's house is burgled, do people say to the house-owner "So sorry this happened to you. But you must understand. The robbers could not control themselves. Your being rich was too much of an enticement. It is natural for people without money to rob others. We must try to understand what drives robbers to steal."

I don't think anyone says so. Yes, people may go and research reasons behind crime. But no one is going to say all this to the house owner. He will get the sympathy and help he deserves, from by-standers, neighbours as well as cops.

But a victim of eve-teasing has to hear these homilies about how it is the basic nature of men to be aroused and violate women and hence women should be careful they don't end up enticing men. It is inappropriate, complete bullshit, and as I wrote some months back, very offensive to men.

The reason victims of robbery are treated as victims while victims of sexual harassment are treated as accomplices, is that robbery is considered wrong in our country. Whereas sexual harassment is considered very normal.

This post was meant to be just an intro to the blank project and a note that I will be making my contribution on 7th March. However it has stretched a bit longer than that.

I will make a separate post on the 7th. I will be writing from the perspective of a brother, a son, a boy-friend and how I feel about eve-teasing as someone who plays those roles. About how enraged and helpless someone like me feels when something like this happens and I am not around.

Meanwhile, do visit The Blank Noise Project and if you have a blog, join up as a participant. If you don't have a blog, what better reason to start one?

Here's Another Quiz

I attended Chakravyuh 2006, the open quiz hosted by my alma mater College of Engineering Pune last weekend. Shamanth Rao and I won it by the narrowest of margins. The Quizmaster, Abhishek has put up the questions on his blog.

Do go attempt. Here's some help. The guy in Q18 is NOT me!


That's what Scott Adams says his philosophy in life is. Read more about it at his blog.