Sunday, March 25, 2012

What, me retire?

According to a report in The Hindu :

Sachin Tendulkar made it clear on Sunday that he does not intend to retire anytime soon, and left open the possibility of playing in the 2015 World Cup.

The master batsman, who will turn 39 next month, took on his critics who have been suggesting that he should retire from the one—day format of the game and focus on Test cricket.

“I feel that the retirement decision is something I should decide, because the decision to start was (also) not decided by someone else.

Those who are advising me about retirement did not bring me in the team,” he said at a rare press conference here.

Sachin is right. He need not announce his retirement just because others are asking him to. He can choose to stay unretired as long as he wants.

In the same way, the selectors – if they choose to and if they look at the larger interest of the team- need not wait patiently for Sachin to retire. They can simply drop him and then sugar-coat the decision in suitable platitudes.

When Sachin says “I don’t need anybody to tell me when to retire” or when he says it will be selfish on his part to step down when he is doing well, what he forget is that there is such a thing as “law of diminishing returns”.

This law catches up with almost all cricketers by the time they reach 35 years of age. From this point, any further investment on this cricketer will not necessarily yield negative returns, but will yield lower returns than before. At this point, when you compare the 35-year old cricketer with a promising 21-year old, the former might look better, but if the decision to invest in the latter is delayed, the law of diminishing returns would reduce the former to almost zero in 2-3 years, leaving the team vulnerable and without a mature replacement. Sachin is 39 years old and it would be delusional to believe that he can escape the clutches of the law of diminishing returns.

Investing in a 21-year old on the other hand can result in accelerating returns in 2-3 years. In the next few months, India is due to play most of its matches in the sub-continent, and this is the best time to invest in a younger lot..

Dravid’s retirement was well-timed and characteristically unselfish of him. I am afraid I don’t feel the same way about Sachin. Cricket is a team game, unlike a game like, say, tennis. In tennis, a delayed retirement does not affect a team or other players. The selectors must remember this simple fact,

And it is ridiculous to say that someone has earned the right to decide when to relinquish his place in the team. Past performance deserves tributes, but cannot be held as a reason to stay on for all times to come.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Can the natives become good Judges?

By the 1850s, Courts in India already had native lawyers and native judges at the lower level. The Appelate Court and the District Court were however presided over by English judges. With cases increasing in number and complexity, opinion slowly gained ground that the participation of native lawyers and judges in the legal process was desirable.

The paper, “Indian judges, British and native” ( page 277) in the book, “ The Edinburgh review or critical journal, volume 130-1" published in the year 1869 discusses the wisdom of getting native judges appointed and whether they had the capability to cope with the task entrusted. The intention of the British judiciary to ensure that local nuances were properly considered and to render justice comes through very well. Here is an extract.

With the hope of contributing something to the successful accomplishment of this object, we will try to estimate the natural aptitude of a native of India for a legal career, and the mode in which that aptitude may be most successfully trained for use in the public service.

Nothing is more marked in the present intellectual condition of India than the avidity with which natives take to the study of the law. There seems to be the same general dislike to the study of the physical sciences according to the method pursued by Europeans as there is said to have been in Europe in the age which immediately succeeded Bacon. But every native is eager to study law. This is intelligible enough. Besides that already it opens to them a career by far the most lucrative and honourable of any which they can select, it exercises largely that keenness of intellect which is the pride and ornament of the Hindoo mind.

A Hindoo revels in a legal argument. He delights in fine distinctions, in minute verbal criticism, in picking his way through a long subtle argument. Nor let anyone doubt the value of this intellectual capacity. It is quite true that it is a capacity which may easily enough degenerate into a fault. It is quite true that Hindoos are prone to an excess of subtlety. But law, if rightly taught, is just the study which of all others restrains while it exercises this dangerous power. There are sciences more subtle than law; there are sciences of which the conclusions are more forcible and weighty. But there is perhaps none in the scientific conclusions in which there is such a union of force and subtlety.

That, if properly educated, natives of India might become in the highest degree eminent, not only as forensic disputants, but as sound lawyers, we have not the least doubt.' Nor can it be well denied that could we bring this intellectual power into full play upon the administration of justice in that country, a great advance might be achieved. Could we once combine in the judge a masterly knowledge of law with a deep insight into the manners of the people, we should surely sweep away that mass of trickery and fraud which in India destroys titles to property, swamps innocent persons in liabilities which they never incurred, deprives men of their just duos, paralyses the strong and oppresses the weak.

Why do the present judges of India stand so helpless in the face of all this? The answer is simple. They do not understand their business. They see the fraudulent result, and strive to prevent it. They may succeed for the moment; but by some clumsy device which does not go to the root of the evil, and which very often only suggests a contrivance for some new villany. Successfully to cope with the cunning devices of fraud requires indeed a judge of skill and experience. But even skill and experience are not alone sufficient. The judge must also have such a scientific knowledge of law as will enable him to comprehend the question he has to decide in all its parts and all its relations, to foresee new combinations, and to provide for new results. Like the surgeon, he must have knowledge to discover as well as skill to remove; and further knowledge to assure himself that the cure is complete. Let him fall short at any point, and he is but a bungler after all.

Not only in the administration of the law, however, but in legislation also, native jurists will run the English hard. They start here, as elsewhere, with great natural advantages. Hindoos and Mohammedans understand better, at any rate, than Europeans, the ground upon which they are to work. Law is never dead. The growth of it and the conditions favourable for its development are just beginning to be understood, owing in a vast degree to the genius and learning which Mr. Maine has applied to this subject. If the matter is left to English lawyers or English legislators, we can see what will happen—they will be ever trying to thrust upon this country their crude English notions, just as they are—antiquated, anomalous, and obscure.

What have Hindoos or Mohammedans to do with opposed systems of law and equity, with trusts, with interests vested and contingent, with freehold and leasehold, realty and personalty, reversions, remainders, estates for life, and estates of inheritance? These terms and distinctions are founded on notions almost exclusively English; they are bound up exclusively with the development of law in England; a development which stands alone and which is marked out as peculiar even in Europe. A pretty piece of patchwork we shall make by sticking these notions on to Hindoo law! No—the law of India, like every other law, must be grown from its own stem. Prune it, cultivate it, train it as you will; but it must remain the indigenous plant.

Monday, March 19, 2012

London to Calcutta in... 7 days !!!!

When railway trains became popular in England and their potential to cut down travelling time was understood, more ideas were put forward to reduce the voyage time between London and Calcutta. At a time when average sailing time was around 100 days, an engineer made a daring proposal for inter-modal transport ( a mix of travel by sea and travel over land by train) which he promised would make possible, communication between London and Calcutta in- believe it or not- 7 days.

Allen’s Indian Mail and Register of Intelligence for British and Foreign India, China and all parts of the East- Volume IX, published in the year 1851, carries this report (page 562), which must have left its readers awestruck.


Such is the announcement which lies now before us. To be sure, the information is termed a prophecy, but, unlike most prophecies, it fixes the exact period of its own fulfillment, and that period is only fourteen years distant. Moreover, the consummation is to be gradual, and every five years will not only contribute its own realized portion of the work, but give a pledge for the completion of the rest. In sober truth, the scheme exhibits not the first visionary ideas of a projector, but the revised designs of an engineer who has been for some time engaged in maturing the means of the undertaking. About two years ago, we surprised our readers with the original prospectus of the "Direct Calais and Mooltan," and some doubts were, perhaps, entertained as to the seriousness of such an extraordinary suggestion. Since that time, however, the scheme has been actually extended in its scope, discussed in its details, approved in much of its purport, and so fur advanced, that of the four great divisions of the route, two have been positively decided on, and are in present course of completion.

To form a proper judgment on the character of this enterprise, the reader should open some general map including the continents of Europe and Africa, with so much of Asia as would comprise the mouths of the Ganges, and then follow our remarks, pencil in hand, upon the sheet before him. The ancient route from England to India was round the Cape of Good Hope, —a passage which was performed wholly by sea, and which generally occupied of late years about 100 days. In 1840, the first step of a new system had been taken, by turning the course straight to the East at the Gut of Gibraltar, carrying it along the Mediterranean Sea, across the Isthmus of Suez, down the Red Sea, and so over the Indian Ocean to Bombay, or round Ceylon to Calcutta. Nor was this all, for, by traversing France from Calais to Marseilles, the detour round Cape St. Vincent was altogether escaped, and the route assumed the appearance of a tolerably straight line from Calais to Aden. It will be observed that this gain had been effected partly by the division of the voyage into stages, whereby steam power became available, but more notably, by the substitution of overland cuts for long sea circuits. Thus, the cut from Calais to Marseilles saved the circuit round Spam, and that across Egypt the vast circuit round the Cape. Now, this substitution of land carriage for water carriage is the one simple principle of the scheme before us, and the problem is nothing more than this,—how to eliminate from the route between Marseilles and Calcutta those portions which au: still performed by sea, and substitute, instead thereof, some means of transport by land. Curiously enough, this is the exact reversal of that invention which changed the face of history four centuries ago.

At that time, the communication with the East was by land, but land journeys were then so painful and adventurous, that the discovery of a sea passage round the Cape at once diverted the course of traffic to a route which it still steadily maintains. At present, by the introduction of railroads, land travel has become to sea voyages what sea voyages were to mediaeval caravans, and the consequence is, that Vaseo di Gama's invention will be superseded in its turn, and the traffic of the East will once more be conducted through Constantinople, Augsburg, and Cologne.

The sea stages of the present route to India, exclusive of the trip across the Channel, are two; one from Marseilles or Trieste to Alexandria, and the other from Suez to Bombay or Calcutta. These stages constitute by far the longest part of the journey, being 5,075 miles, performed by steamers, from which an average speed of some ten miles an hour is all that can be expected. The longer, again, of these two stages is that from Suez to Hindostan, as it includes a circuit round two sides of the triangular territory of Arabia. The first object, therefore, is to treat the detour by Aden as the detours by Cape St Vincent and the Cape of Good Hope have been treated already, by carrying the passengers to the mouths of the Orontes instead of the mouths of the Nile, and forwarding them across the Turkish territory to Bussoruh, at the head of the Persian Gulf. The railroad required for this purpose would run along the Euphrates Valley, and its length would not exceed 900 miles,—barely two-thirds of the extent just executed in the little commonwealth of Massachusetts,—whereas its completion would reduce the distance from London to Calcutta by more than one-half,—by twenty days, in fact, out of thirty-nine! This project, it is conceived, could be accomplished in five years' time, and the route would then lie through Ostend, Trieste, by the Mediterranean Sea, to the Orontes, thence to Bussorah, and by the Persian Gulf to Bombay, where it would meet the Indian railroads now actually commenced, and by that time completed to Calcutta.

We have thus got rid of the Red Sea circuit, andl substituted a land route for 900 miles of the distance. There remain now the straight run from Bussorah to Bombay, and the circuitous reach, from Trieste to the Orontes, to be commuted for the facilities of direct railway transit by land. Of these, the latter is the first to be taken in hand, and its difficulties are the less, as a continuous line of railway from Ostend to Orsova, on the frontiers of the Turkish empire, is already decided on. From Orsova to Constantinople is only 315 miles; from Constantinople to Bussoruh is about 1,355, of which 900 would be already covered. The distances, in our English eyes, are undoubtedly great, but Americans have accomplished greater feats of railroad mechanism in countries where the natural obstacles were at least equal to those likely to be encountered in Asia Minor. It is suggested that the line should run round the coast of the Asiatic Peninsula, and an estimate is given that this communication between Constantinople and the Orontes, completing that between the same city and Bussorah, might be established by the year 1860. On that assumption, the total mileage of the route would give 4200 to railways and only 1,600 to steamers, and the journey from London to Calcutta would occupy twelve days.

Here, perhaps, we might pause, for it is no mean exploit to have brought Calcutta as near as New York; and Beloochistan, we must needs think, would be a strange country for even Irish "navigators." The projector, however, is not yet content, and he allows five years more for eliminating the Persian Gulf and continuing the railway from Bussorah by "the coast line of Persia and Beloochistan" to the old capital of the Ameers— Hyderabad on the Indus, whence the several branches of the Indian lines would soon whisk the passenger to Bombay, Lahore, or Calcutta, according to his wants, the latter station being exactly 5,600 miles, or seven days' journey, from the booking office of the company in Grace Church-street- This is the scheme. Its accomplishment involves the completion, altogether, of some 5,600 miles of railway; but of these, some 2,600 are actually decided on, and in course of construction already; and, if we look to what has been done elsewhere, we may perhaps think this Anglo-Saxon prophecy by no means so impossible of fulfilment as it seemed at first.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ethics without religion- 2

In an earlier post, I had linked to an essay that argued that ethics can evolve independent of religion. That is, it doesn’t need a religious anchor or framework. Atheistic societies can have high ethical standards and have their own moral compass.

In his book “Religion for Atheists” ( confession : I haven’t read the book, I only read this review in the NYT), Alan de Botton has a slightly different view. As the reviewer David Brooks says:

De Botton looks around and sees a secular society denuded of high spiritual aspiration and practical moral guidance. Centuries ago, religions gave people advice on how to live with others, how to tolerate other people’s faults, how to assuage anger, endure pain and deal with the petty corruptions of a commercial world. These days, he argues, teachers, artists and philosophers no longer even try to offer such practical wisdom.

It wasn’t a loss of faith that brought us to this sorry pass, de Botton argues; it was a loss in understanding about how to transmit wisdom. The religious authorities had a low but realistic view of human nature. We are fragile, sinful and vulnerable — unable to create moral universes on our own. We therefore need self-confident institutions that will unabashedly transmit God’s guidance and love.

Today’s secular institutions, by contrast, have an absurdly high and unrealistic view of human nature. We are each charged with the task of coming up with our own philosophy and moral laws. We are supposed to have the ability, on our own, to remember the key things we learn and to put these ideas into practice.
So, is de Botton arguing for a revival of religion? Not quite. He is “calling on secular institutions to adopt religion’s pedagogy, to mimic the rituals, habits and teaching techniques that churches, mosques and synagogues perfected over centuries. For example, religious people were smart enough to combine spirituality and eating, aware that while dining in a group, people tend to be in a convivial, welcoming mood.”

In short, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Religion had some good methods and tactics. Adopt and fit them them into a secular context to bring about ethical behavior.

On writing....

I have read only one book - “The Unaccustomed Earth”- of Jhumpa Lahiri’s. Her narrative style is simple, yet striking. She rarely uses a big word, but manages to string together the right words in every sentence.

In this recent piece in the New York Times, she reveals how the words occur to her:

My work accrues sentence by sentence. After an initial phase of sitting patiently, not so patiently, struggling to locate them, to pin them down, they begin arriving, fully formed in my brain. I tend to hear them as I am drifting off to sleep. They are spoken to me, I’m not sure by whom. By myself, I know, though the source feels independent, recondite, especially at the start. The light will be turned on, a sentence or two will be hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper, carried upstairs to the manuscript in the morning. I hear sentences as I’m staring out the window, or chopping vegetables, or waiting on a subway platform alone. They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, handed to me in no particular order, with no discernible logic. I only sense that they are part of the thing.

Over time, virtually each sentence I receive and record in this haphazard manner will be sorted, picked over, organized, changed. Most will be dispensed with. All the revision I do — and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation — occurs on a sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds. To work on them so compulsively, perhaps prematurely, is to see the trees before the forest. And yet I am incapable of conceiving the forest any other way.

That last para is very interesting. The words and the sentences come first, before the characters become clear to her and the plot unfolds. Not the other way round.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The lottery pool

In a brilliant story titled “Ukridge and the accident syndicate” and written by P.G.Wodehouse, the plot goes like this ( extracted from Wikipedia)

Weeks was a struggling actor who believed all he needed to get his breakthrough role was a decent wardrobe. Ukridge, Corocoran, Weeks and others are dining at their regular haunt when one of their number reveals he has acquired accident insurance as a bonus for subscribing to a magazine, and has subsequently received five pounds after a minor cycling accident. Ukridge is inspired by this, and persuades his comrades to form a syndicate, subscribing to all magazines offering this free insurance, arranging an "accident" and splitting the insurance monies. Lots are drawn, and Weeks is selected as the one to be insured and to suffer the accident.

Time passes and Weeks shows no sign of taking any damage. Despite much cajoling, pointing out of appropriate taxi cabs and even the placing of dangerous dogs in his rooms, he remains unhurt. Finally, he agrees that he will do the honourable thing, on condition that he is first primed with a fine dinner and champagne. The syndicate scrape together the necessary funds, and watch glumly as Weeks dines and guzzles the pricey drink, abusing his friends roundly as he grows inebriated. After the feast, he laughs at his friends, tells them he had no intention of having his accident despite their generosity, and promptly slips in front of a passing truck.

Visiting Weeks in hospital, he claims to have no memory of events, stymieing any attempt to retrieve the funds. Instead he spends the cash on fine clothes, and kick-starts his career in the movies. Returning to the present, Ukridge bribes a passing vagrant (with a shilling borrowed from Corky) to throw a tomato at Weeks as he leaves the church to face the waiting throng of photographers; the good man's aim is true, and justice is restored.

Well, I’ve read this story several times and laughed my guts out.

Today, I came across this real-life story which bears a resemblance to Ukridge’s story:

Five construction workers who claimed a colleague cheated them out of their share of a multimillion-dollar lottery jackpot have been awarded $4 million each by a New Jersey jury.

A unanimous verdict was reached Wednesday morning by the jury, which heard the lawsuit in state Superior Court in Elizabeth. The panel rejected the claims of Americo Lopes, 52, who had claimed he won the 2009 jackpot on a personal ticket – not with a ticket he bought as part a lottery pool with the co-workers.

I wonder if the P.G.Wodehouse Trust can sue Americo Lopez for plagiarising an idea.

"As long as the sun and moon endure".

The Hindu has the following story today (link)

When Tipu Sultan lost the Third Anglo-Mysore War to the allied forces in 1792, the old Mysore region did not have a newspaper to report it. But, thousands of kilometres away, readers of the Philadelphia-based The Mail; or, Claypoole's Daily Advertiser read the details of the war and the treaty that was signed subsequently.

A copy of the four-page newspaper, having survived for nearly 220 years in different hands, reached Bangalore-based document collector Sunil Baboo. He bought it from a U.S. dealer last year.

The September 8, 1792 edition of The Mail… carries details of the treaty signed between Tipu and allied forces commander Lord Cornwallis. The war came ended on February 6, 1792, and the treaty was signed on February 22, 1792. It was notified in the July 5 issue of London Gazette.
The article doesn’t carry the text of the treaty and my curiosity led me to Google Books- which did not disappoint me.

A Collection of treaties, engagements and Sunnuds relating to India and Neighbouring Countries” published in 1864 produces the text of the treaty (page 147-152)  signed between Lord Cornwallis and Tipu Sultan in 1792. Apparently, it was dictated by Lord Cornwallis at the gate of the Sultan’s palace and sent across to the latter for signature and acceptance. The treaty has this grand opening narration:

Definitive Treaty of perpetual friendship for the adjustment of affairs between the Honourable English East India Company, the Nawab Ausuph J Ah Bahadoor, and Rao Pundit Prudhan Bahadoor, and Tippoo Sultan, in virtue of the authority of the Right Honourable Charles Earl Cornwallis, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Governor General, invested with full powers to direct and control all the affairs of the said Company in the East Indies, dependent on the several Presidencies of Bengal, Madras, and Bombay, and of the Nawab Azim-ool-Omrah Bahadoor possessing full powers on the part of the Nawab Ausuph Jah Bahadoor, and Hurry Ram Pundit Tantea Bahadoor possessing equal powers on the part of Rao Pundit Prudhan Bahadoor, settled the 17th day of March 1792, of the Christian era, answering to the 23rd day of the month Rajeb, 1206 of the Hegira; by Sir John Kennaway, Baronet, on the part of the Right Honourable Charles Earl Cornwallis, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, .; and Meer Aulum Bahadoor, on the part of the Nawab Azim-ool-Omrah Bahadoor; and Buckajee Pundit, on the part of Hurry Ram Pundit Tantea Bahadoor, on one part: and by Gholaum Ali Khan Bahadoor, and Ali Rheza Khan, on behalf of Tippoo Sultan, according to the undermentioned Articles, which by the blessing of God shall be binding on their heirs and successors as long as the sun and moon endure, and the conditions of them be invariably observed by the contracting parties.

The contract is valid till the ‘sun and the moon endure”!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Conversation with daughter-36

Me: Where do you want to go for lunch?

Daughter: I am ok with any place.

Me: How about a quick thali at Woodlands?

Daughter: Ugh. No.

Me: Then, why don’t you suggest some place?

Daughter: I don’t know. I am not able to decide…

Me: When will you learn to be part of the solution and not the problem?

Daughter: Just because I don’t have a solution doesn’t mean I’m part of the problem, ok?

Me: Great repartee. You are going to be a very successful boss in the corporate world, in a few years.

Daughter: How?

Me: If someone comes to you with a problem, you can say with a straight face, “That’s interesting. Tell me, what do you plan to do about it?” Soon, that person will take the hint….

Daughter: …And go back clueless.

Me: And chastened. I knew of a boss who was even more impressive. If a subordinate approached him with a problem, he’d give him two more problems. Far from getting a problem solved, the poor guy would go back with three problems. That boss went far in his career.

Daughter: So, who ends up solving all those problems?

Me: No problem has ever been solved in the entire 350-year history of the corporate world. Problems just get forgotten and quietly buried, when larger ones materialize and make them look trivial in comparison.

Daughter: Sounds a lot like our Maths class, to me. I’ve always wondered if we’d be able to find some practical use for the stuff taught to us and the problems we are asked to solve. I realise now that they’re just preparing us for the corporate world.