Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Football Fever

With the World Cup on, the country is in the grip of football mania. Every newspaper and every blogger wants to write about it. Let me jump on to the bandwagon.

I have been agonising over the absence of India in the World Cup. We seem to lack the basic temperament to play this game. Not that we haven’t attempted. Many an Indian has tried his hand at football. That’s the problem. Football rules don’t allow use of hands. We should try our legs instead.

Another problem is that Indians play so many different types of games and tend to get confused. While playing football, it is important to remember that the ball must be hit into the net, not over the net as in tennis. While approaching the goal-post, Indians try to maneuver the ball towards point and extra-cover. Such off-side shots are disallowed in football. Also, Indians have the habit of hitting the football outside the boundary line, believing that it will fetch them six runs, but football rules are slightly different. The most awkward moment for Indian football was when one Indian defender, thinking that he was playing kabaddi, tackled one of the opponent forwards, bringing him down and crushing him . Apparently the tackler was from Goa and a Goan constrictor at that.

But, all is not lost. W.Bengal is producing some great footballers. Mohan Bagan, for instance, has had some great players like Hiralal Mukherjee, Samar Banerjee, Sudeep Chatterjee, etc. These surnames Mukherjee, Banerjee, Chatterjee, I am told, are Anglicised versions of traditional Bengali names like Mukhopadhyaya, Bandopadhyaya and Chattopadhyaya. East Bengal had a goal keeper called Bhaskar Gangopadhyaya, who anglicized his name to Bhaskar Gan-goalie.

The reason why Bengal is able to come out with such great football talent is because the Bengali language converts all ‘va’ sounds to ‘ba’ sounds. “Vande Matram” becomes “Bande Matram”, “Viswa” becomes “Biswa” and “Ravindranath” becomes “Rabindranth”. Consequently, when the rest of the country is struggling to vend the wall like Veckham, Bengalis can effortlessly bend the ball like Beckham. The day is not far off when a team of Bengalis will play the World Cup and conquer all the other teams. The proud captain can then exclaim, “Beni, Bidi, Bici”.

Yes, these Bengalis can certainly do magic with the football. The most famous football magician from Mohan Bagan is known as P.C.Soccer. When the opposing team is inching menacingly towards the goal post, he can make the entire football stadium disappear, with his magical bond, sorry magical wand.

With that bit about the Wand Bagan, let me jump off the bandwagon now, by reciting these lines from Tagore’s Gitanjali, that beautifully captures the feelings of the Indian footballer and his futile quest of a goal…

There are times when I languidly linger
and times when I awaken and hurry
in search of my goal;
but cruelly thou hidest thyself from before

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The severe headache

(Relax. This is the last piece in the PJ series. Author)

I have had a nagging headache from morning. Sometimes, it gets quite painful and becomes a head-do, head-teen or even head-char.

Headaches can have many causes and doctors need to do a thorough analysis. In one case involving chronic headache, the doctor suspected brain tumour as the cause and removed the person’s brains. The headache persisted still. It turned out that the root cause of the headache was the tight underwear that the person was using. It was pressing the hip bone, which in turn was compressing the spinal column, resulting in increase in pressure on the skull and causing the headache. The patient was simply caught underwears. There was no need to remove the brains at all.

I see red when I hear about such callousness on the part of doctors. I react like those bulls in Spain. But, I read in Mad magazine that, contrary to popular belief, bulls are not at all affected by the red colour. Only cows are. Bulls get angry when shown red colour, because they hate being mistaken for cows.

Bull-fighting. When will such cruelty to animals stop? The other day, three men attacked and killed a lion. The three Rotarians have since been arrested for the murder of a member of a rival club. .

Lions are however quite safe in Tanzania, where they are kept in a protected area. Tan-zania, as you must have heard, was a country created trigonometrically by dividing Sine-zania by Cos-Zania.

Are you aware that many of the mathematicians are Jews? And that many of the fruits are juice?

Poor Arjuna in the Mahabharata. Was forbidden from eating apples, oranges or mangoes. “Do thy duty” Lord Krishna admonished him, “Fruit is not thy concern”.

Arjuna pleaded with him if he could, at least, have some vegetables such as brinjals and if Lord Krishna could go over to Bheema’s house to borrow some. This episode has since been immortalized in the classic song, “Krishna, Nee Baingane Borrow”

What great epics are the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Likewise, the Greeks had their own, the Iliad and the Odyssey. When Alexander the Great conquered Kalinga, he taught the locals the nuances of these epics. To this day, Odissi is popular in Orissa.

These classical dances, Odissi, Kuchipudi, etc can make your head swim and give you a headache. As I was telling you, before you interrupted me, I have had this nagging headache from morning…

How Landmark found a way to sell Megan McCafferty's books and make a killing

During a recent stopover at the “ Landmark “ bookshop, I found that the novels, "Sloppy Seconds" and "Second Helpings” authored by Megan McCafferty, were displayed prominently at the entrance , with this sign next to them :

The books that inspired Kaavya Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life”

Ha, these sales guys, I admired. Can find ‘opportunity’ in any situation,

But I wonder now if Kaavya and McCafferty were at cahoots with each other all along and if the whole outcry over the plagiarism was stage-managed by the agents, to gain some publicity for the latter’s novels and laugh all the way to the bank.......

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The power of rural India

It was the summer of June 2012.

The population of rural India alone had crossed 1 billion.

But, there had been some good tidings too, in the last few days.

The Govt. had finally delivered on its promise of ‘power for all rural villages’. Another 100000 MW of power supply was available now, thanks to the mega-coal plants that had come up.

The Prime Minister’s Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme had been a grand success and thankfully there was nobody below the poverty line.

Inspired by C.K.Prahalad’s theory of ‘bottom-of-pyramid” opportunity, marketing companies had brought out affordable, low-cost goods. An air-conditioner was up for grabs for less than Rs 1000/- now.

So it came about, that in the village of Rayapatti reeling under a sweltering heat, Govinda switched on his brand new A/C and for the first time in his life experienced the comfort of a cool ambience and the joy of sweatless sleep.

In distant Raichur, the generator in the thermal plant responded to Govinda’s A/C demand, by stepping up its output by 750 watts with minimal effort, and, in the process, burning a little bit more coal and discharging a tiny bit more carbon-di-oxide.

Soon, Govinda’s neighbours in Rayapatti, in tens of houses, switched on their A/Cs, one at a time. Distant thermal plants responded to the load readily and spewed up some more minute amounts of CO2, warming the globe by a minuscule fraction of a degree. Sensitive, nanodegree-scale thermometers in observatories in Paris and Sydney picked up the infinitesimal change in temperature.

In the next few hours, in one village after another, in all parts of India, the A/Cs came on in rapid succession in every rural household.

The thermal plants now groaned, but revved up gamely to meet the huge demand. Coal was being lapped up hungrily, thousands of tons of CO2 pumped out into the atmosphere, and the globe being warmed steadily.

Finally, when Prasad, in the village of Bharatpur switched on his A/C – the 250 millionth A/C to come on that night in rural India – the global temperature reached the tipping point.

The polar caps started melting rapidly. So too did the Gangotri Glacier.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The journalistic scoop

V.Gangadhar, who pens a delightful column called, “ The Slice of Life” in the Sunday magazine of The Hindu, laments in his latest piece that Indian journalists touring the West Indies with the cricket team, missed a sensational scoop by failing to establish a link between the Antiguan game of warri and the South Indian game of ‘pallankuzhi’.

Actually, an alert blogger, Usha Vaidyanthan, had spotted the connection immediately and had come out with a lovely post on “pallankuzhi’- that had her readers in the grip of nostalgia for several days. Many wrote in to say that the game was identical to the one they had played when they were kids- it was called ‘chennamani or Hali Guli Mane’ in Kannada, “Sagar Gotya’ in Maharashtra, “ Congkak” in Malaysia, etc.

I guess that this just underscores the point that, by the time the mainstream media puts on its boots, bloggers are capable of carrying the news across the world and, what’s more, engaging in a lively conversation.

Monday, June 19, 2006

On smartness...

I was to take the 6.45 am flight to Delhi. Making generous allowance for the time it takes to reach the airport in the early hours and the time it usually takes to check in and go past security, I asked for a car to pick me up from my residence at 5.15 am. My office, adding a margin of safety, instructed the taxi agency to ensure that the car reached my house at 4.45 am sharp. The taxi agency, building some more cushion as a matter of abundant caution, advised their driver to report to me at 4.30 am without fail. The upshot of this was that the exuberant driver rang the doorbell (the one that plays out the entire nursery rhyme) at 4.00 am, on the dot, and woke up the entire family.

Anyway, the good boy that I am, I reached the check-in counter, groggy-eyed and brain-dead, at 5.45 am, a full hour before the scheduled departure of the flight. There were three other passengers before me in the queue and I waited patiently. Just as my turn came and I was about to furnish my ticket to the person at the counter, I felt this jostling and pushing and turned around to see a passenger jumping the queue, charging menacingly towards the counter and demanding that he be attended to first as he had to board the Bangalore flight which was about to take off any moment now.

Instead of handing him over to the police, the airlines chose to give him priority over others and he marched off triumphantly with the boarding card in his pocket and a wide grin on his face.

Not bad, I thought. He managed to sleep for an hour more than I did, though booked on a flight that was taking off 30 minutes before mine. When am I going to be smart enough to beat the system?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Conversation with daughter- 2

The results of the Board Exams were to be released the next day, and sensing the butterflies in my daughter’s stomach, I felt a ‘lighter touch’ from her father would help alleviate her misery. So, I made her sit next to me on the sofa and assuming as solemn a tone as is possible, narrated this story that I had read somewhere.

“One of the Sultans in the Middle East was blessed with a son. On this occasion, he summoned all the wise men of his land and commanded them to compile all the wisdom that could possibly be found in the Universe, so that his son, when he reached adulthood, could access all that was needed to be known. The wise men traveled far and wide, for ten years, and wrote down in 36 volumes, whatever they had seen or heard. When they presented this to the Sultan, he observed that this was too long and they should make it shorter. So, the wise men spent five more years compressing the data to fit into one volume. The impatient Sultan was still not satisfied. “Make it still shorter”, he barked. The wise men were closeted for another three years, before they managed to distill and condense the essence in a single sentence”

“And, what was that sentence?” asked my daughter.

“The sentence was ‘This too shall pass’” I said

“ And what does that mean?” she asked.

“ It means that everything in Life is of a transient nature and fleeting and will eventually get swept by the winds of change that keep blowing relentlessly. The hundred-year war came and went, the world wars passed, the British rule lasted two hundred years, but it too got over. Nothing is permanent and nothing is so important that you must keep worrying about it ” I replied, awestruck by my own profundity.

“So, what’s the story got to do with me ?” asked the daughter, completely unimpressed by the deep philosophy and universal wisdom encapsulated in that single sentence.

“You too shall pass. In your exams” I pointed out and waited for her applause and the girlish giggles.

The daughter got up quietly from the sofa and walked away from the room slowly, no doubt wondering, for the umpteenth time, that if the adult world was a place where nutty characters like her dad abound, whether it was worth growing up at all.

Father's Day thoughts.

Today’s edition of The Indian Express carries an article on “Father’s Day”, authored by someone called Deepak Gharial.

The article is titled,“ Present Perfect” and asks “ What do you give your dad on Father’s Day?” There is a photograph of a very Western-looking father and son, both dressed in formal, black suits. You know, the typical father-son duo that you find in any town or village in India.

Deepak Gharial writes :“ Your dad is one of the most important persons in your life. Now is the time to give him the recognition and thanks. Maybe, though, you find it hard to find the perfect gift for him. If you are strapped for ideas, here’s a list of things that might come in handy”.

Among the items Deepak Gharial lists are a classy timepiece ('to spell style and taste'), a bottle of Scotch whisky or a selection of fine wines from around the world, or a Golf kit (‘even if Dad has the basic kit, more specific clubs can be added to suit one’s abilities’). He ends by pointing out that ‘though you might spend a few hundreds or thousands on these gifts, it’s really the time that you spend with him that will make him feel like a million bucks!.

Some questions for Indian Express and Deepak Gharial :

1) Were you were not able to find even a single photograph of an Indian father – son or father-daughter to accompany this article?

2) Do you seriously believe that these elitist items like Scotch whisky and Golf sets make any sense to even 1% of the readership of Indian Express?

3) If you must plagiarise an article from an American newspaper, can’t you spend a few minutes to, at least, “Indianise” the content to some extent?

On a grimmer note, The Hindu carries an ad of Apollo Hospitals that tries to play the 'guilt' card. “Your father” it says, “has been a mentor, guide, teacher, role model… But while being all this he neglects his health. Shouldn’t you on this Father’s Day show your gratitude by helping him to take care of his heart?”

I am now quite confused, as I am not sure what I would prefer as a Father’s Day gift from my daughters. A Golf kit consisting of more specific clubs ( whatever that means) or a Gift Voucher from Apollo Hospital to do a 64-slice CT scan of my heart.

Friday, June 16, 2006

That's cricket.

Bill Bryson explains to his American readers what cricket is all about :

“Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it out to center field; and that there, after a minute’s pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt towards the pitcher’s mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of the man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioactive isotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg. Imagine moreover that if the batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to try to waddle forty feet with mattresses strapped to his legs, he is under no formal compunction to run; he may stay there all day, and, as a rule does. If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a misstroke that leads to his being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called and everyone retires happily to a distant pavilion to fortify for the next siege. Now imagine all this is going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept in and all your library books are overdue. There you have cricket.”

- From Bryson's book, " In a sunburned country"

On Japan, Aishwarya, Arabia and CPI-M

I am told by reliable sources that M.K.Stalin, Rahul Gandhi and Uddhav Thackeray are visiting Japan shortly. They have heard so much about the “Land of the Rising Son” and are keen on picking up some valuable tips.

But, first, they must learn, from the Japanese, the importance of paying obeisance to elders and treating others with utmost courtesy. It is such a solemn ritual there. For example, when the Japanese people address each other, they respectfully attach the suffix ‘san’ to the name, as in Suzuki-san, Tanaka-san, etc. Three of my friends from Chennai by names Va, Gane and Nate went to Japan on a business trip. They came back as Va-san, Gane-san and Nate-san.

The practitioners of martial arts such as judo, karate and wrestling may kill their opponents with blood-curdling, hair-raising cries, but never fail to observe the right protocol. A Sumo wrestler was killed in a fight last year. His victor made it a point to attend the funeral and bid a tearful goodbye to the vanquished opponent, waving his hands and crying, “Ta-ta Sumo”.

The reason why Aishwarya Rai is so respectful to seniors in the film industry is because her great grandfather hailed from Japan. Yes, he was a warrior there. His name was Samu Rai.

Don’t believe the rumour that Aishwarya has completely ditched her ex-boy-friends, Salman and Vivek. Even last month she attended the Khans film festival in France and stayed at the Hotel Oberoi there. But, why does she always dress in black when she is there? That’s because her current boy-friend, Sheikh Abhibachchan insists that she follows the tradition of the women in Saudi Arabia.

These Sheikhs! They like black-females and then they black-male the world with threats of cutting-off oil supplies. Oil is selling at 70$ a barrel. Black Gold, as it is called!

Not that real gold is getting cheaper. It is going to touch Rs 1000/- a gram. And, what’s worse, the gold that you buy is not pure. Even, in the gold shop, run by the Communist Party of India, a customer was cheated. He expected 24-carat gold, but learnt that the CPI-M had only 2-carats. Prakash Karat and Brinda Karat.

These Communists are so disorganized that the famous Gujarati playwright, Bernaudbhai Shah once commented, “We should have had communism already but for these communists.” Why aren’t they producing great leaders like Lenin and Stalin anymore?

But I have digressed. I was telling you that Stalin was due to visit the Land of the Rising Son…………

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Manifesto

Heard Ms. Jayanti Natarajan, Congress Party MP, put up a spirited defence of the Reservation Policy, in the ‘Big Fight” program of NDTV. In fact, she dismissed all objections with one argument which, if my memory serves me right, was :

“ I will not be brow-beaten by this urban audience. Reservation for OBCs was part of the Election manifesto of the Congress Party; the party was elected to power on that basis and has the mandate to make the changes; the issue was debated in Parliament and the Act passed. We are only doing what the people want and what they have elected us to do.”

Without getting into the merit or demerit of reservation, I tried to check out a few facts, just out of curiosity:

1) Is the issue cited as a key action area in the Congress Manifesto? The only reference I could find was:

“The Congress believes in affirmative action for all religious and linguistic minorities. The Congress has provided for reservations for Muslims in Kerala and Karnataka in government employment and education on the grounds that they are a socially and educationally backward class. The Congress is committed to adopting this policy for socially and educationally backward sections among Muslims and other religious minorities on a national scale. The Congress also pledges to extend reservations for the economically deprived persons belonging to communities that are at present not entitled to such reservations.”

So, the affirmative action promised is limited to religious and linguistic minorities. There is also a specific mention of economically deprived persons belonging to communities that are at present not entitled to such reservations. Isn’t this one of the suggestions made by the anti-reservationists too ?

2) Did the people elect the Congress Party to power ?

Statistics show that, in the 2004 Lok Sabha Elections a) 67% of the citizens were eligible to vote b) the voter turn-out was 54% and c) about 26.53% voted for the Congress. What this means is that 67% x 54% x 26.53% = a paltry 9.5% of the people of India voted for the Congress. If you look at the percentage voting for the NDA and UPA alliances, the former actually garnered more no. of votes. Congress came to power on the basis of the reluctant support given by the Left parties. With 9.5% of the people voting for them, on what basis do they claim that they reflect the will of the people ? Fine, electoral arithmetics works in a certain manner and they formed the Govt. But, will of the people ?

3) How many people in India read the manifesto, before voting ? Even if one reads the manifesto and then votes for the Congress, does it imply that he or she has endorsed all the points there ?

4) If Congress is so committed to implementation of all the promises made in the manifesto, how about taking up the hundreds of other issues on which action has been promised ? At least the one mentioned in the last para

“Within 100 days of receiving the mandate of the people of our country, the Congress will release a detailed action plan with milestones for governance based largely on the promises and commitments made in this manifesto. Every year on October 2nd, the Congress pledges to present to the people of India a Jan Dastavejh on the progress of implementation of the manifesto.”

5) Debates in Parliament ? Have you heard one or heard of one ?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The brain...

Dr. Oliver Sacks, author and neurologist, in his book, “The Man who mistook his wife for a hat” writes about ‘phantom limbs” – the sensation experienced by patients whose legs had been amputated, causing them to believe that the missing limb continued to be attached to the body. (Dr. V.S.Ramachandran has also done some extraordinary experiments on patients suffering from this delusion and has shared his findings in his book, “Phantoms in the Brain”.)

In a different chapter, Dr. Sacks describes the case of the patient waking up in his hospital bed to find a severed human left leg beside him. Thinking it was a New Year Eve joke played by the staff, he attempts to push it off the bed – and falls to the floor himself. It is, in fact, his own leg, but he is unable to recognize it as belonging to him. What’s more, he is convinced that his own left leg is missing.

What a practical prankster, the brain can be. In the first case, it convinces the person without a real leg that he indeed has one. In the second, it convinces the person with a perfectly good pair of legs that one of them is not really his. Out of the two persons, “who is better off?”, I morbidly reflect. The person who doesn’t have the real legs but, thanks to the phantom sensation, clings to the belief that they are still present. Or, the person who still has the real legs but will refuse to believe that they are his? Tough choice.

Next post : Would you rather be a claustrophobic person who would not step into a car as you feel trapped in a confined space or an agoraphobic person who cannot get out of the car because open and crowded spaces terrify you?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

For your comfort...

As the plane reaches cruise mode and seat belt signs are switched off, pilots pompously announce from the cockpit, “ Ladies and Gentlemen, the temperature outside is minus 50 degrees centigrade, but for your comfort, we are maintaining cabin temperature of plus 24 degrees C.”

Trust these guys to take brownie points for something that they must provide as a minimum. Seriously, do they want us to feel obliged for not flying with the windows open and freezing to death?

Imagine your barber announcing before commencing the hair-cut,“ Gentleman, I hold in my hands a pair of scissors that can clip your ears off. But, for your comfort, I will limit the cutting to the hair”.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Music world

As Chennai-bashers keep saying, the city has only three seasons, ‘hot, hotter and hottest”. Unfortunately, this criticism is well-founded. The weather here can get oppressive. Why, meteorological records show that, on certain days, even the minimum temperature has been so high and actually exceeded the maximum temperature by a few degrees..

So, to cool down my nerves, I attended a concert last week by Bombay Jayashree at the Music Academy. What stage presence! What a lovely saree she was wearing ! What a mellifluous voice ! It is said that one when listens to soulful music, the brain produces more gamma waves that help in cooling down the body. The exact medical explanation is not clear, but the aesthetic appeal of the sari and the therapeutic effect of the gamma waves made the musical evening a truly ‘sari gamma’ experience.

Bombay Jayashree was accompanied on the violin by G.J.R. Krishnan , the son of the eminent Lalgudi Jayaraman, who has spent six decades in perfecting the violin. In this respect, he is completely different from Mohandas Gandhi, who, if you recall was a sworn non-violinist.

Carnatic Music and Hindustani Music are alike in all respects, except that the percussionist in Hindustani Music uses a desktop device called the tabla while his counterpart in Carnatic Music prefers the laptop version called the mridangam. Some experts have also told me that Hindustani singers use a different pitch, while Carnatic singers stick to the regular 22-yard one. Also, Carnatic musicians like to arm themselves with titles like “ Kalaimamani Sangeetha Kalanidhi” to impress the audience, while Hindustani musicians use shorter honorifics like Ustad and Pandit, depending on whether he is a Muslim or Hindu. Sandalwood smuggler Veerappan was an exponent of Hindustani Music. Sorry, sorry, he was a Bandit, not a Pandit. .

I remember a concert I attended in the ‘70s. Pandit Ravishankar with his sitar, accompanied by an Irish guitarist known as Ritchie Blackmore. The duo became so popular, that a movie was made, with them as heroes. It was called “Sitar Aur Guitar” and also featured Hema Malini as the heroine who was torn between her love for Indian classical music and western rock music and finally ditches both to marry Dharmendra. Incidentally this mix of Indian and western music was called“ Fusion’ music. This is not the same as some of these modern ensembles involving a cacophony of sounds. Which is not fusion music but ‘confusion’ music.

Film music is, of course, a completely different genre. Composers like Naushad, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, R.D.Burman dominated the scene in the ’70 s and ‘80s. Though, if he were alive today, R.D.Burman would be referred to as R.D.Myanmaran. More on film music in my next post. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

News round-up

Rahul Mahajan has been caught snorting cocaine. Misguided fool. Couldn’t he have got hold of something more pleasurable like heroin – such as Aishwarya Rai, Kajol, Rani Mukherjee?

What is wrong with the present lot of West Indian cricketers? Why are they so excitable and boisterous? Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I remember they were far more Sobers. Sobers, of course, was from Barbados, but this Brian Lara was born in Trinidad. Yes, his father was a Trinidadian and his mother a Trinimomian. Both heavy smokers as they lived in Tobago nearby. That explains.

Wimbledon will happen soon. Is Martina Navratilova going to play for the 40th year in a row? And what about her eight sisters, Ek-ratilova, Do-ratilova, Teen-ratilova……? Will Federer be judged the best player of all times and become Federest? Only Time can say, or perhaps Newsweek too.

Football mania has gripped Europe. All eyes are on Ronaldo and Ronaldino. I read a story that George Bush, when told about these two guys, asked in all innocence, “ How many millions make a Brazillion?” I don’t blame Bush. Americans tend to get confused over such trivial things. A guy from Florida once told me that he wouldn’t trust me as I was a Tamilian and his zoology teacher had told him that Tamilians keep changing their colours. Had to gently point out that perhaps his zoology teacher had referred to a chameleon and not a Tamilian. Though there are some resemblances, the two belong to entirely different species.

Sholay is being re-made. Should taste great with Alu-tikki. I vaguely remember the movie of the ‘70s. Gabbar Singh trains his pistol at one of his men, shoots, misses and says, “ Yeh bach gaya”. He takes aim at a second guy, misses again and says, “ Yeh bhi bach gaya”. He does the same thing the third time and says, “ A B C bach gaya”. And laughs his guts out. Memorable scene. Powerful acting.

News that Abdul Kalam will get into a supersonic aircraft today and cross the 1 Mach barrier is heartening to hear When he is traveling above the speed of sound, maybe, we living in the sub-Mach world, will not be able to hear him and be spared of his sermons on his Vision 2025.

Antagonise and unite

In Cho Ramaswamy’s popular, political satire, “Mohammed Bin Thuqlak”, Thuqlak as the Prime Minister of the country offers a simple solution to the dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over Belgaum. “Hand over Belgaum to Tamilnadu” he orders, “Maharashtra and Karnataka won’t fight over this territory any more.”. Similarly, to solve the contentious issue of national language and the resistance in Tamilnadu to the use of Hindi, he would decree that Persian be declared the national language of India. If all people are equally handicapped, they will stop their quarrelling, he would justify .

The solution is not so absurd as it sounds. Indonesia has had such a language as its official language for decades now. In 1945, when Indonesia attained independence, ‘Bahasa Indonesian’ which was the ‘mother tongue’ of just 5% of its people, was chosen the official language, on the basis of its flexible structure and the fact that the coastal community which had trade relations with many other countries had adopted this language. So, a vast majority of the people were equally disadvantaged and had to learn this language from scratch. No wonder that Indonesia, with hundreds of languages and dialects, hasn’t seen the kind of bickering that we have.

So, can a policy of antagonizing the majority, actually promote unity?

Remember the story of the Enfield rifles that the British had introduced in India and how the sepoys were required to bite off the ends of the lubricating cartridges which contained pork and beef , how this managed to antagonize both the Hindus and the Muslims and resulted in the Sepoy Mutiny ? This was a rare instance of the two communities fighting on the same side. Ever since, the British realized the virtue of the ‘divide and rule’ policy and kept the two communities at loggerheads with each other.

So, if we need to ‘antagonise and unite” the Christians. Muslims and Hindus, here’s a formula. Publish a story which is a mix of Da Vinci’s Code and Satanic Verses and pepper it with caricatures of Goddess Saraswati, drawn by M.F.Hussain. This will incite all three communities and bring them together as never before.

Chronic problems require out-of-the-box solutions, I guess.

: I learn that the principle of equal disadvantage was also applied when a capital city had to be chosen for Australia in 1901. Sydney and Melbourne were strong contenders, but both compromised and agreed to the idea of a ‘neutral’ place as the capital, even if it was to be located in an inaccessible place.
Here’s how Bill Bryson describes the trade-off, in his book, “ The Sunburned Country”

“…In 1891, the six separate colonies ( plus New Zealand, which nearly joined, but dropped out) met in Sydney to discuss federation and forming a ‘proper nation’ to be known as the Commonwealth of Australia. It took some years to iron out the differences, but on January 1, 1901, a new nation was declared.

Because Sydney and Melbourne were so closely matched in terms of preeminence, it was agreed in a spirit of compromise, to build a new capital, somewhere in the bush..

Years were consumed squabbling over where the capital should be sited before the selectors eventually settled on an obscure farming community on the edge of the Tidbinbilla Hills in New South Wales. It was called Canberra. Cold in the winter, blazing hot in summer, miles from anywhere, it was an unlikely choice of location for a national capital. About nine hundred square miles of surrounding territory, most of it pastoral and pretty nearly useless was ceded by New South Wales to form the Australian Capital Territory, a federal zone on the model of Washington DC.

Although Canberra is now the sixth largest metropolis in the nation and one of the most important planned communities on earth, it remains Australia’s greatest obscurity .As national capitals go, it is still not an easy place to get to. It lies 40 miles off the main road from Sydney to Melbourne, the Hume Highway, and is similarly spurned by the principal railway lines. Its main road in the south doesn’t go anywhere much and the city has no approach at all from the west..”

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Encyclopedia ( that's Tamil for 'hold my bicycle)

I know that, in these internet-obsessed days, it is too much to expect you bloggers to read hard-bound volumes of old-style encyclopedias. So, as a public service, I had taken it upon myself to read 33000 pages and 44 million words of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and proudly present some pearls of wisdom, carefully distilled from the collection.

  • Know how to identify an Arabian horse from a non-Arabian one ? Count the vertebrae. Arabian horse has only 23; other horses have 24. (So, if you are in the market for horses, remember to send me a thank-you note.)
  • What country do you think has the highest per capita alcohol consumption ? France, Ireland, Scotland ? Not, it’s Luxembourg. The Luxemboozards!
  • The word’s largest bell was built in Moscow in 1733. It weighed in at more than four hundred thousand pounds. It never rang. It was broken by fire before it was struck. Ask not who the bell rings for. The bell doesn’t ring at all.
  • The name cappuccino comes from the Capuchin monks of Italy, whose robes were light brown, the same colour as coffee with steamed milk. If coffee had been discovered in India, we would have had saffron coloured coffee named the Sanyasino.
  • The easiest divorce around : Pueblo Indian women leave their husband’s mocassins on the doorstep and –that’s it- they’re divorced. Simple. No lawyers, no fault, no socks, just shoes. Wife, please take hint.
  • Dragon flies can eat food equivalent to their own weight in thirty minutes. Wonder what its cholesterol level is.
  • Technically, the term ‘duck’ should be used only for female. The proper term for a male duck is ‘drake’. No wonder that Donald Duck has a gender identity disorder.
    The literal translation for the Greek word’ gymnasium” is “school for naked exercise”. Now, you know how to be appropriately dressed at the gym.
  • Know why Greenland is called so, although it is almost entirely white ? Turns out that the country’s name was coined by an Erik the Red, who had been banished from Iceland in 982 AD for manslaughter. He called his new home Greenland to entice more people to move in there. Real estate agents have followed this practice ever since.
  • Hollywood was founded by a man called Horace Wilcox a ‘prohibitionist’ who envisioned a community based on his sober religious principles. Huh ?
  • “Jack and Jill’ is actually an extended allegory about taxes. The jack and jill were two forms of measurement in England. When Charles I scaled down the jack ( originally two ounces), so as to collect higher sales tax, the jill which was by definition twice the size of the jack, was automatically reduced, hence ‘came tumbling after’. Hell, we teach our kids commercial stuff in their kindergarten.
  • Opossums have thirteen nipples. How unlucky for them.
  • Napoleon sold the western half of the United States to Jefferson for less than 3 cents an acre. Should France rescind the contract now ?

    Well, to be honest, I couldn’t read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica myself, but I did the next best thing. I just finished a book, “The Know-It-All” by a A.J.Jacobs who has completed the awesome task of reading all 33000 pages of the encyclopaedia and has presented some tidbits and trivia in a very interesting and humorous manner.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Needed : Honest arrogance

As I have written before, every time Sachin Tendulkar utters a politically correct, pseudo-humble statement in that babyish voice of his (“ Records are not important to me. Only the team is”), it gets my goat. Come on, if you have scored 35 centuries and more than 10000 runs, you are entitled to (and expected to) gloat a bit.

But Tendulkar is not alone.

Neil Armstrong’s famous words as he became the first man to land on the moon,“ This is a small step for me, but a giant leap for mankind” stand out for their modesty. Here was someone, at the biggest moment of his life, completely marginalizing his individual role and thinking of humanity as a whole. How awesome! Except that his words simply don’t ring true.

I have often wondered how many speech writers at NASA must have sat together for endless hours gulping down countless cups of coffees and cokes, to fulfill the mandate of coming out with a memorable line for posterity. That line simply did not sound genuine and spontaneous.

Charles Conrad Jr, the leader of the next mission - Apollo 12 - that landed on the moon soon after, was refreshingly honest when he shouted "Whoopie! Man, that step may have been a small one for Neil, but it's a long one for me!”

Take Isaac Newton. An undoubted genius, but not without some human frailties. His spats, feuds and ego clashes with fellow scientists and contemporaries like Liebnitz ( who is credited with conceptualizing Calculus independently) were legendary. Yet he came out with a sugary statement, “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” that smacked of false modesty.

Contrast this with Benjamin Franklin who had no such hang-ups when he claimed, “Even if I became the most humble man in the world, I would still be proud of my humility." Or Leonardo Da Vinci who used to say that it was better for people to be deaf than blind because a deaf man could at least see his paintings. Geniuses who knew their worth and made no bones about it.

The renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in his memoirs “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.” I like this sentiment.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The indefensible posture of Defence Minister

Most newspapers, yesterday, carried the photo of Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, inspecting a guard of honour after signing a MOU with his Chinese counterpart, General Cao Gangchuan.

What struck me first about the photo was the glaring difference in the postures and the general body language of the two Defence Ministers. While General Cao Gangchuan was in formal military dress, chin held up, shoulders pulled back and imposing, Pranab Mukherjee was hunched forward, tense, choking in his Jodhpuri jacket, struggling with his salute and making heavy weather of the task of touching his forehead with his three fingers.

In my first job in a sales organisation, I had to learn the rudiments of body language- to demonstrate passion, exude confidence, dress appropriately, stand erect – to make the right impression on the customer. Clever use of the body language, I was taught, helps to manipulate the attitude of the other person, but leaves the latter believing that the opinions were formed by his or her own good judgement and taste. This indoctrination has left me a strong believer in the importance of ‘body language’ as a communicating and controlling medium. So, when I saw the photo of the weak Pranab Mukherjee alongside the towering Gangchuan, my first reaction was, “ God ! Is this the person in charge of the country’s Defence?”

In this television age, politicians in western countries ( and in China too, I guess) undergo crash courses in non-verbal communication, how to transmit the right signals to the public and how to interpret and pick up cues from an opponent or a counterpart. It is recognized clearly that ‘body language’ is as important as verbal communication. George Bush and Tony Blair are regularly provided training and feedback on the movement of their hands, on their posture, on how to maintain eye contact, etc. They also try, quite consciously, to look energetic, confident and relaxed and to convey the general feeling that they are in control. When they fail to do so, the public and the media are quick to pick up the signals.

Unfortunately, when it comes to politicians in India, we associate old age, frailty, drooping posture, etc as reflective of wisdom and actually venerate these persons. They dodder and dither and falter and we accept this as par for the course. We elect senile, even demented men in their eighties and nineties, believing that older is better.

When these frail characters go abroad to negotiate on our behalf, we send out wrong signals. The message that we convey is “If the Defence Minister looks so timid and docile and barely manages a salute, then the country that he represents cannot be much of a force to reckon with.” Or, is this too critical a view?