Sehwag – Stuff dreams are made of

March 28, 2008

It would be the dream of every boy who has played cricket with a tennis ball, to reach a century with a six or at least a four. Ask Sachin Tendulkar’s son.

Sehwag almost did that thrice in a day. Boundaries and sixers flowed from his bat in his 90s, 190s and 290s. He has got out in Australia trying to hit a six in his 190s. But nothing deters him. This guy knows how to dream and moreover is capable of living out his dreams.

The only paradox about Sehwag is that he is a test specialist who has a 20-20 strike rate but cannot perform in the shorter version. Probably because, you need time to dream and plan.

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Do Whites hate money when its colour is brown?

March 4, 2008

First came the Indian software and BPO industry. People in the west started getting worried about the work and money that was flowing into India. But more than these industries, the Whites are getting nervous about a challenge from an unexpected quarter – Cricket. Browsing through many articles by English and Australian writers, it is obvious that they are worried that the colour of money is turning brown.  A cursory glance will throw out headings like ‘Silly Money’, ‘I dont need IPL money’, which miserably fail to mask the contempt for the money earned by Indian cricketers.

There was a time when Indian cricketers yearned for county contracts. Now the English board and the Australian board are struggling to keep their players from moving to Indian shores due to the lure of money.

I hate the BCCI for its complete incompetence in managing the sport in the country. But they must be appreciated for unlocking the financial value of the game in India and storming the White bastion like nobody else before. They can even be forgiven for acting no different from Whites, when it comes to misuing the power bestowed upon them by money. Let India make the most of it, as long as it lasts and make it last as long as it can. White capitalists can continue to whine like Indian socialists on why so few are earning so much.

IPL is not the end. And this phenomenon is not going to be restricted to cricket. The colour of money is changing.


The race row – both sides of the coin stink

February 6, 2008

The Harbhajan-Symonds race row has turned out to be more than just about cricket. It has thrown open a huge Pandora’s box and can now be regarded as an excellent case study on a plethora of issues – culture, diplomacy, management, racism, power and capitalism.

First, let me wash off the Indian linen, so that my arguments, at no point, are not construed as biased. The entire string of the actual incidents can only be viewed through a stream of probabilities due to the lack of legally acceptable evidence.

Did Harbhajan call Symonds, a monkey? Probably yes. I think he must have; I dont think Aussies will stoop so low to frame a false case (outside the cricket field).

Do Indians use the word monkey as a racist term? No. Except for a few educated Indians, well versed with Western culture, monkey is not known to be a derogatory term in the western racist sense. Anybody, who ‘looks’ or behaves like a monkey is called a monkey. Sometimes, children and husbands are affectionately or irritantly called as monkeys. Indians will object to someone being called, say, a Pariah (remember the plight of Subramanium Swamy)  but not to monkey. Some sections of people, though not all, will take strong offense to someone being called a bastard or even a fucker (this is the first time ever I am using these words publicly in speech or writing). During school days, a gang of about 20 students, marched to the house of a friend who called another friend a bastard in Tamil (not many of us even knew the full meaning of the Tamil word then). We were all intent on complaining to his mother, who happenned to be a teacher in our primary school long back and finally gave up as the guy broke into tears and appologised profusely. The whole incident took on an ultra-sentimental angle, as the victim of the word, had lost his father at an early age.

There was another incident during college, when I was subjected to the first rites of ragging, a guy repeatedly called me fucker in Tamil (again, I was not too sure what the Tamil word meant at that time, but I knew it was something ‘vulgar’) and I was almost moved to tears. I never spoke to that guy again. Later on, after getting polished through the grind of B-school, I have grown totally immune to any kind of profanity as long as it is not directed at me.

But, again, not all Indians take offense to the same set of words. There are huge cultural discrepancies and North-South divide even within India. Hindi boasts of a wholesome vocabulary of vulgar words than a South Indian language like Tamil. Mother and sister commonly feature in profanities in North, while they are largely non-existent in South. 

So, it all boils down to saying that words do not have same connotations in all cultures, even within a country. Therefore, when Symonds was called a monkey for the first time in India, I dont believe that there were racist intentions. It was more of a harmless jabber.  But, when Symonds was called a monkey the second time in Mumbai, I think the crowd knew of the racist undertone. Symmonds made a mountain of the monkey the first time and the monkey stuck onto his back afterwards.

By denying the racist undertone in the Mumbai incident, we were setting the stage for the repeat of the incident. Which is what has happenned in Sydney, thanks to Harbhajan and not without help from Symonds himself. Having muttered the word under provocation and aware of the consequences, Harbhajan had to go into a denial mode. As long as he, himself, was denying it, the Indian team had to back him up.

Aussies could have resolved it diplomatically by bringing it up with Kumble behind closed doors and then Harbhajan may have even admitted and apologised. The Aussies chose to complain publicly. Not a crime, they definitely had the right to do it, but not a smart move either. It has set in motion a very complex game.

I am afraid that Indian crowds will latch on to this and keep doing the monkey chants everytime Symonds is in action. Such is the nature of crowd mentality. It is very unlikely that monkey will immediately become  a racist term and be used against all black players. It would just become a special word reserved for Symmonds. Over a period of time, it might evolve to be racially used against a broader set of people.

Are Indians racist? Not in a Western sense, but in many other ways, yes. We are a deeply casteist society. Caste, I believe, is a localised surrogate for race. There are deep biases ingrained in the Indian society on basis of caste. We have not got enough opportunities to become a ‘racist’ society but when we do get the opportunity we might become one because of the inherent Indian bias and reverence for fair skin.

Did BCCI do the right thing in supporting Harbhajan? Yes, they were right in supporting him, in the lack of any serious evidence against him but they were horribly wrong in the way they supported him. They had no business in taking up an aggressive posture, which was almost tantamount to blackmailing, before the judgement was spelled out. This was a clear sign of a ‘new’ rich man throwing his weight around unduly. The entire thought process behind this act that money gives them power and this power could be exercised for any cause is disgusting.

Are Aussies (and many English) justified in cribbing about the power wielded by BCCI? No. It was not long back when English and Aussies were ruling the game, they still do in many ways than is obvious. Now they are not ready to let go of the position of power to a strong challenger.

Are Aussies or Whites, in general, upholders of the fight against racism? Oh, yes, as much as Bush is the messiah against terrorism. If we think, racism is exorcised by not calling a Black as a Negro or as a monkey, we can’t be farther away from the truth. If we call all American blacks as African-Americans should we not call all whites as European-Americans? How many white countries have had a black head of state? US is close but still not there and Obama is not fully black anyway.  Can the Aussies nominate Symmonds as their captain-in-waiting, instead of Clarke? Is throwing eggs at Murali, any less a crime than monkey-chants?

Only one thing is certain. It is time that we acknowledged that humans are deeply divided across various parameters and strong biases exist all across – religion, race, colour, caste, wealth, education, gender, language and many more. It is time that we make sincere efforts to bridge these divides rather than resorting to lip service.

It is an ultimate indictment of western and human hypocrisy that one can be punished for calling someone a monkey but not for abusing his mother. Did your mother congratulate you on saving the nation’s honour, Mr. Singh?


The push from the peak – Why drop Ganguly?

January 22, 2008

“Why should we select players who have got just one or two years left to play. We want to build a India cricket team for the future,”  says Vengasarkar.

I can’t help asking back, why drop a player when he still has one or two years left to play. Is one year so cheap a commodity that you can throw it to the dustbin? Future has to be built with the ruins of the past, not by ruining the past.

Ganguly is now at the peak of his powers, effort and determination. The descent from the peak has to be a slow and deliberate process or a calculated flight with a smooth landing; it cannot be so abrubt a fall. Here is a man who,through his majestic comeback, has given a new definition for determination and through this steely captaincy earlier, had shaped the character of this team. And our selectors treat him like an undeserving  beggar who has intruded onto the stage uninvited.

I am not even talking about Dravid yet. There is a gross misjudgement regarding Dravid. He plays slowly in a test because it is required to be done so. He has a different approach to the shorter version in the recent past, which the selectors and critics are overlooking. (To deviate a little, on the contrary, I think Sehwag is a pure test player, who, because of his dashing game, is expected to repeat his success in one-dayers, which he has repeatedly failed to do. He would be better off playing only test matches.). However, more than Dravid (or Laxman who was never in the picture anyway), Ganguly’s ommision is completely unwarranted, given his record and potential in one-dayers.

If age is the only criteria for selection, the selectors should rather be watching reality shows on TV than wasting time at international and first class matches (if at all they do) to assess the performance of players in challenging match conditions.


Oh Federer!

January 21, 2008

Even as India was on its march to an improbable victory over an invincible Australian cricket team at Perth, there was another man in Australia who was demonstrating what invincibility is all about.

We had seen Laxman, the previous day, giving rest to his artistic wrists and slugging it out with hard work and patience to place India in a position of strength. Now, it was the turn of the other sports-artist, Federer, to do some hard work. And how he did it!

Nirmal Shekar, writing in The Hindu, summed it up beautifully : “It was one of those days — a day when you suddenly found yourself having to throw away the much-used Roger Federer lexicon, so handy when it comes to authoring one Festschrift (German term for celebration writing) after another, and, instead, employ words unheard of vis-À-vis Federer’s performances — words such as strife and struggle and fallibility and weakness.”

Federer never looked like winning. His game was awfully off the mark. Except a strong serve, everything else had strangely deserted him. Anybody watching Federer for the first time would have refused to believe he is a great player. But he won, against an opponent who was refusing to lose. People always doubted if Federer has the mental resilence required for a great champion. They should watch this match. They will realise that he never could demonstrate his resilence before as he never allowed his resilence to be tested.

The only reason, I believe, why Federer won today was because he simply could not come to terms with the fact that he was losing, so early in a major. And then, the fact changed.

When asked in the post match interview, he admitted that the probability of defeat crossed his mind sometimes. I doubt it. I think he was just being polite and diplomatic before a large crowd. If ever he thought he could lose, he would have lost. He knew, all along, he can’t lose. He just had to play differently and ‘demonstrate his resilence’.


Undersung, if not unsung, heroes of tennis

January 17, 2008

Sania has made it again to the third round in a Grand Slam. Chances are quite high that she will fall to Venus. But it is a credit to Sania that we are talking about ‘chances’ instead of a firm certainty. She truely belongs to the Top 30 now. This, to my mind (I am no less a fan of cricket than tennis), is a bigger achievement than most of what Indian cricket team has done or not been able to do. For the simple reason that the stage is huge, competition is tougher and Indian women were nowhere in the picture till Sania came along. There was only a Nirupama Vaidyanathan before Sania who even hardcore tennis enthusiasts might only just about remember. Today people from more countries know Sania than Sachin. Ofcourse, it is a different fact that the Sachin is a household name in cricketing nations, which still Sania is not, even in India.

Krishnans and Amritrajs have all been lonely unsung warriors on the tennis circuit who have waged many a valient battle against some of the biggest stars. Mahesh Bhupati has been on top of the world in doubles. But the two persons who really deserve more than a passing mention in the history of Indian sports are Sania and Leander.

Sania for being the first Indian woman to break into the top, the importance of which will dawn a few years later when more women come through. Sania is a tennis equivalent of a Kapil Dev or Vishwanathan Anand, who paved the way for other Indians to enter hitherto uncharttered territories.

Leander for being Leander, a man who has given more than his best everytime he adorned the India colours.  From the first time, well past midnight India time during a chilly winter in France, when as an young lad he made many hearts skip many beats and tricolour flutter, playing 100 notches above his usual level, to the time when as old warhorse he was fighting cramps and a Pakistani player through five sets,  Leander continues to be a real patriotic superhero, consistently. If determination can overcome physical abilities, possibilities and barriers, it is always on display when Leander plays in Davis Cup or Olympics.


Saint Ponting and Sinner Singh

January 6, 2008

History takes strange turns. After having a racist stranglehold over the brown, black and yellow worlds for centuries, the white man is turning around and blaming the brown man of racism.

Aussies, the masters of sledging, are not able to tolerate it when it comes from the opponents. How dare, they speak back, stand up and strike back, when all they are supposed to do is sulk and surrender. It is not acceptable. Therefore, my brown friends, I accuse you of racism.

Racism, after all, lies in words and not in deeds. If, the umpires repeatedly trust the white man’s word against the brown man, there can be no racial intentions there. We have seen enough deceitful appeals from Ponting and co today, which have been held by the esteemed umpires at Sydney.

But a provoked Harbhajan may have said monkey and he must be a racist. Rest assured, the Indian crowds, like small children aching to do the forbidden act, will catch on to monkey chants everytime Symonds steps on to an Indian ground. The entire country is going to be branded racist, no doubt.

Saint Sissy Ponting will meanwhile take advantage of all this racist slur to snatch one more victory.