Archive for March, 2010

IPL, EPL: Leagues Apart

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 March 31st, 2010 J Jagannath

“To put things in perspective, the amount of money spent on Kochi and Pune’s IPL teams is same as that spent on Manchester City last year,” said Indian Express (don’t judge me, it’s my job). Until then my when-it-comes-to-math-I-turn-dyslexic mind didn’t fathom the gravity of the million billion rupees splurged by the latest owners of two new franchisees of Indian Premier League (if you are one among the 29 people who don’t know what it is, I am not explaining and, trust me, I envy you). Does this mean that IPL is IPL and EPL (English Premier League) is EPL and the twain do meet? Are you (certain Mr Modi) kiddin’ me?

I don’t mind the money part but I do have problem with this never-ending run making marathon being touted as India’s answer to EPL (the name itself is a derivative). I never saw Roman Abramovic talking about finer details of football on the cathode tube while in IPL the owners masquerade as coaches at the dugouts. Those marble dolls with alabaster cheeks can be seen talking about “team strategies” as if they are giving a power point presentation on selecting curtains for kitchen. The moment a wicket falls or the ball soars over the boundary, camera shifts to the pretty owners or, in the case of reclusive ones, to the anodyne gyrating of cheerleaders. You have to give it to Lalit Modi, the IPL chairman, though, that he sold everything that is worth selling. If the 1985 World Series was dubbed as the Packer’s Circus, the IPL is truly Modi’s harem.

Modi is, however, justified for devising every which way to make money but the moral high stand that he takes gets onto my nerves. He says that IPL is a platform for young cricketers to rub shoulders with the players they admire. That’s hogwash. The condescension on the part of the senior players can never be more apparent. Here’s a rookie bowler, who’ll get a ball signed by the “man himself” (Sachin Tendulkar), for bowling his heart out. I don’t remember a younger Rooney genuflecting before Giggs so that he would get an inflated football as souvenir. Thus, seamless integration is still a genuine problem.

Has playing well in IPL changed the fortune of any local player apart from Ravindra Jadeja, who ironically is ‘banned’? Will we throng the stadiums to watch Ranji matches where the IPL performers will be playing? The answers for both queries is no with a capital N. In fact, Brendon Mc Cullum even said recently that one-day international is well on the dinosaur way looking at the amount of 20-20 being played these days. If you know your cricket, Mc Cullum is not puritanical by any standards.

A couple of days ago Times of India (like I said, it’s my job) carried an anchor story on front page that on basis of weekly wages IPL players are next only to their NBA counterparts. Good for the players but then that’s it. The IPL is sending a wrong signal out there when it bears the name of a country where, according to Wall Street Journal newspaper, only 1 per cent of the 1.2 billion population earns above Rs 85,000 per month (Arjun Sengupta report is so 2007). With this NBA comparison are we to forget for a fleeting while (six weeks precisely) that we continue to be a third world country and that we are far ahead of England (EPL) and Spain (La Liga)? In a recent Spectator article, these were Lee Langley’s words, “The privileged (in India) inhabit an environment of fitness gyms, personal trainers, mobile phones, chauffeur-driven limos, lipo-suction and designer labels, blind to the filth and decay outside their radar, where millions live as they have always lived, clinging to survival by their fingernails.” Superbowl of India – take a walk!!

IPL will face its major litmus test next year when two new teams will come and the pool of players remains stagnant. Therefore, here comes Brian Lara, Lance Klusener and all those geriatrics, who couldn’t even find a commentary job. If IPL was a movie, it would have been put by a critic as a bastard child of ‘Wild Hogs’ and ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. With these teething problems, IPL is nowhere up there as yet. So, for now, leave those inane comparisons to a future date and revel in the bowlers’ leather-chasing masochism.

P.S: Don’t stop supporting Deccan Chargers, like my room-mate, just because it ‘represents’ Hyderabad (Telangana) and you belong to coastal Andhra.

Humble ‘Candidate’

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 March 24th, 2010 Praveen Bose

He came, a former corporator, now canvassing for his daughter. She’s contesting the polls to the local civic body. He represented the ward earlier. Why not try his luck this time?

The ward is reserved for woman (general) this time around. The last time it was reserved for woman (SC). He had visited my house about 10 years ago. He had come home then promising to give a metalled road in addition to a few more facilities for the people in the locality.

With the promise, though, came a caveat though. He promised to get the job done if he was paid Rs 25,000 for a start, by the people of the locality, which then had about 50 houses. He managed to get Rs 1,500. He did not take it with his own hands. His hangers-on did it.

Yes, he did remember he had taken the money and reeled out a list of “good work” he had done for the people. The 72nd Amendment had indeed given him the powers and autonomy to spend money on “good work”.

This time? “My daughter sir. She’s standing. She is well-educated. She’s a BCom graduate. Please vote for her. I will  be there to guide her.”

When he came canvassing for his daughter, he came with his son. He promised to be in control of the situation.

But, why would I vote for her till I spoke to her and even got to know her intentions? “Our women don’t go out. We give them respect and they prefer to stay indoors.”

Will she attend the proceedings in the House? “That I will let her. She’s a good girl. I will be in the galleries watching her.”

Oh, for the women’s independence!

In power, people change. Will she tear herself away from father’s control and style of politics?

Food for life

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 March 24th, 2010 Abhilasha OjhaAbhilasha Ojha

I enjoy cooking a lot. In fact, I find it a stress buster. It’s great fun to rustle up something in the kitchen. It’s an experience to think of unique ways to turn perfectly simple dishes into something scintillating. And it doesn’t have to be too much effort. All it requires is a dash of imagination, a drizzle of innovation, and you’re sure to have a fabulous dish on the table.
While nothing works better than a cold cucumber soup for me (dunk it over bite-sized bread pieces), whenever I’m feeling low, I find it reassuring to have a glass of warm milk (I pour it in a bowl, again, over slices of bread, with a generous sprinkling of sugar). In winters, especially, I love wrapping my hands around a mug of warm milk (with heaped spoons of chocolate powder, some crushed almonds) with a book resting by the bedside table. Speaking of winters, another quick recipe included washing and roughly chopping a whole lot of fresh veggies (spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, broccoli), a fistful of moong dal, a spoonful of rice apart from chopped onions, tomatoes, bruised garlic pods and a humble potato. After putting oil/butter in a pressure cooker, I’d just put some asafetida (I love it), cumin seeds, turmeric, throw in the veggies, cover with enough water and sprinkle salt and cover the lid and basically just take it off the gas after one whistle. I hate straining (in any case, this soup-meal/stew isn’t too watery) so I’d opt for a generous sprinkling of chilli flakes, a garnish of cheese (it works), top it with just a little more butter (it’s so tempting) and basically eat it with bread/soup sticks.
I never really cooked as a kid (I was in the hostel for most time) and my mum often worried about how I’d be the recipe for disaster in the marriage market eventually. There were bitter fights too but we’ll save that part of the story for another day.

I think the first brush with cooking really happened when I was in the hostel where we “set” cakes – not ‘bake’ them by the window sill (oh yes, we did that). The recipe was simple: it involved Parle G biscuits, Bournvita, some water, a packet of Gems, a fairly thick cardboard piece (from any notebook, really). The method of creating these cakes began days in advance and involved, well, sacrifice. We first had to save biscuits (four biscuits used to be given to each student every morning before the morning PT class and during tea time in the evening). Saving them was a hard task since we were hungry goats. Once we had enough biscuits (around 30-40 of them), we used to crush them and bind them with water (and you must know that there was no concept of mineral water. Oh, this process was done with our bare hands in plastic mugs). After this we would also mix Bournvita (a dash of chocolate taste, you see) and take the entire mixture on cardboard torn mercilessly from a notebook. Then began the tough part; ‘setting’ the cake into shape. A ‘heart’ shape –was a big hit, it involved taking a measuring scale, the edge of a compass, and deftly scooping out extra ‘cake’ to create the shape. We decorated the cake with Gems but since it was moist (note: we didn’t always get the water measurement right), we used to leave it overnight by the window sill. Our logic: By night time, the cake would dry out. What if it didn’t? Well, there would be many more nights, of course.
I feel like puking even as I write this but back then, when we were living in a hostel, there wasn’t anything better than our biscuit cakes. Midnight feasts were a hit because of ‘bun omelets’ (diligently saved for over a week), a limp packet of chips, beer bottles (skillfully sneaked into the premises), Maggi (soaked in water that was warmed thanks to the water heating rod in an aluminum bucket, and so much more.
Food, then, is really savouring so many memories, right?

PS: I’d be delighted if you could exchange simple recipes, food stories, on the forum. Thanks.

Salaam Sourav!

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010 March 23rd, 2010 Joydeep Ghosh

I am 38. And like most Bengalis of my age, lack sporting icons. When my uncle keeps on harping about Pankaj Roy’s record opening partnership, I barely bat an eyelid.
Maybe, it is tragic but it is true. In the last one-and-a-half decade, Bengal has not produced a sportsman worth talking about. In my school days, football used to be the big thing. I briefly remember Manoranjan Bhattacharya, Bidesh Bose and Shyam Thapa playing in Patna (my hometown) in the late eighties.
Intellectuals, I really wouldn’t know. But I have not heard about them definitely. Moviemakers, again I do not know but… The only other sphere I think they have done reasonably well is music, mostly playback singers – Kishore Kumar, Abhijeet and Shaan, Sreya, more recently. And of course, journalism.
No wonder, I have followed Sourav career quite fondly, and at times, with complete despair – like now.
When Sourav’s made his grand Test match debut in England, I had just bought my first television. The next match, he scored another one. And whether I admit it or not, I have watched or, at least try to keep tabs on his career over the years.
And it has been one roller coaster drive. Not because he was mercurial, by performance or attitude (you don’t make 18,000 plus runs in both tests and one days by being one), but because he did things his way. So people, including selectors and oppositions, hated him or loved him. With Sourav, it has always been white or black, never a shade of grey.
When he was dropped by Greg Chappel, there was a furore. The comeback trail was equally dramatic. Yes, he has made his mistakes over the 15 plus years. But as they say, it is a part of the game.
Unfortunately, these last three years in IPL have been a torture. While Sachin, Dravid and even Kumble have managed to hold their own, Sourav has clearly been a disappointment. Of course, last year Buchnan queered the pitch with his ‘one-captain per match’ formula.
Even if one gives him the benefit of doubt, his performance has not been worth talking about. Things have simply gone downhill.
No, it is not to say that he is not capable of getting that sparkling 50 or 75 during the tournament. However, it does not matter. Somehow, even his greatest fan would know that. It’s time to step down gracefully. Anytime is right. And if possible, after a sparkling 50. The god of offside owes his fans one…

Just Cheering

Friday, March 19th, 2010 March 19th, 2010 Praveen Bose

The IPL has brought in the best of the US TV sports that can be brought into our drawing rooms. Americans may have no idea of what cricket is, but one of their newest life exports i.e. the nimble and supple cheer leaders are now taken for granted on the TV show called the T20.

Take them out of the drawing rooms, and what would the cheer leaders look like in flesh and blood? That’s the curiosity that is driving a very great number of those ‘repressed’ fans that come to cheer… the teams. With the cheer leaders egging them on, it is but natural that you see the dozens of ‘fans’ cheering their approval for the ‘moves’ of the cheer leaders.

A fellow journalist who has spent over least a score and a half years in the profession went to watch a T20 match. Not to see the cheer leaders alone. He decided to be a part of the hoi-polloi, instead of the VIP lounge that he could have managed with some push. But, being a hands-on ear-to-the-ground kind of journalist, he came across a group of college-going ‘kids’, very cheerful and who made it clear as to where their support lay, with their t-shirts and other accoutrements.

On seeing the older man.. perhaps the age or even older than their parents, they were curious. “What are you here for sir?”

“Just to see what the circus is all about.”

“We are all here to see the cheer leaders. How do they look in flesh and blood.”"We are grateful to Lalit Modi for bringing the cheer leaders and cheering us up.”

So, even as the debate over the corrupting influence of cheer leaders on the Indian culture, the BCCI and Lalit Modi will laugh all the way to the bank, and so will the cheer leaders laugh all the way to the American bank.

Who will police the policeman?

Friday, March 19th, 2010 March 19th, 2010 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

Does it bother you that the nature of the Indian State is changing before our very eyes and it is acquiring untrammelled power insidiously?

It bothers me. It bothers me a lot.

The combined twin threats of Islamic radicalism and Left Wing Extremism (LWE) are enabling law enforcement agencies to arm themselves with complex new powers. The courts are much more sympathetic to law enforcers, thanks to all the scare-mongering by TV and newspapers. And it is really hard to see where policing stops and corruption begins.

In 2009, Saji Mohan, an IPS officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre who was decorated for record drug hauls during his tenure in Chandigarh a few years ago, was arrested in Maharashtra for drug peddling. Apparently, he used to seize drugs, under-report the quantity found and stash it away to sell it himself.

Last week, the Goa government arrested four policemen alleged to be engaged in drug peddling, including a highly decorated police officer, Arvind Shirodkar, who was a star buster of drug peddling rings. Shirodkar was arrested on the strength of the testimony of an Israeli drug smuggler in prison.

In Haryana last week, members of the Special Task Force were arrested for extortion.

This is happening because the police force knows the extent of the power it wields: and true, fewer police officials used to be arrested earlier, but the number of officers being put away now suggests the situation is probably worse than we imagined.

Two Muslim boys were arrested on supposed charges of conspiring to blast Mumbai last week. One of them said he was picked up for a love affair with a Hindu girl. In the past you might have scoffed at this. Today, it is entirely possible.

I don’t know about you, but I resent attempts by temples to keep me awake all night and try to invoke the law (SCR: no loudspeakers between 10 pm and 6 am) whenever there is a jagaran in my locality.

Lately when I call 100 to request PCR for a van to put an end to the caterwauling, policemen have taken to asking me what religion I belong to. God knows what they say to Muslims.

It makes my blood boil.

About 20 years ago, when undertrials were blinded in jail, the conscience of India’s civil society revolted and there was a massive uprising of persons in support of civil rights.

Good, honest, righteous men like VM Tarkunde spearheaded that movement. Today, the apathy is frightening.  And yet, the state is either being corrupted or coming into your face to say: ‘Now, behave!”

Are you happy with this infantilisation? Can’t we do something about it?

Arrogance in sport

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 March 17th, 2010 Aabhas Sharma

When Michael Jordan was a rookie, a coach reprimanded him for being too selfish and not passing the ball to his team-mates. He told Jordan, “Always remember Michael, there’s no ‘I’ in a team.” Jordan casually replied, “But there’s an ‘I’ in a win”. Arrogance is a great asset to have if you can actually pull it off by delivering results. Jordan, of course, did it with aplomb.
Arrogance is something which is always frowned upon in almost all walks of life but more so in sport. Very often we are told that what separates the great athletes from the greatest is the humility. Sachin Tendulkar is a great example of this. As is Lionel Messi. But then Diego Maradona didn’t have it. Muhammad Ali stayed far away from it. And yet they were loved despite being quite cocky. And because they were better than the others, they had the right to be arrogant. They played to the gallery, gave quotable quotes and were loved by one and all for that eccentric streak. Pete Sampras was often called boring as is Roger Federer. They are diplomatic, politically correct and say the right things at the right time. For me, it’s always better to have that arrogant streak in a champion as it certainly adds spice to the sport.

Like tennis, I feel is full of good guys, showing tremendous amount of respect for each other and more so to Federer. There’s nothing wrong in that and yes, he deserves to be respected and applauded but it would be good if there was an added edge like there was when John Mcenroe and Jimmy Connors were rivals. Or like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were rivals in F1 in the ‘90’s. Legend has it that once Prost was stopped by a traffic cop for speeding and the cop actually told him on his face, “Who do you think you are? Ayrton Senna?” Needless to say, this added fuel to the blazing rivalry the two drivers shared. Both were cocky and arrogant and let no opportunity go by to prove how one was better than the other.

Michael Schumacher, back in Formula One at the age of 41 faces an interesting few months ahead. In his heyday, Schumacher was the epitome of arrogance. He didn’t care too much about his rivals and all he wanted was to win at all costs. He will never win a popularity contest for sure! Arrogance is something which is needed in a sportsman. Not that Federer, Tendulkar and Messi don’t have it. It’s just that they keep it under check. Does that make them boring? As a prominent sports writer had once said, “Brilliance can never be boring, in whatever form it might come.” But then again when you see Sreesanth or Andre Nel showing arrogance, you can understand why it is a quality which irks most people.

Road tip

Monday, March 15th, 2010 March 15th, 2010 Rrishi Raote

One morning in Mumbai in February a friend and I leapt into his trusty Hyundai Getz at 5 am to commence a driving tour of southern Maharashtra. The first stage was to be a pelt down the national highway towards Belgaum. The friend being a details fiend, everything was planned down to the minute.

Pretty soon this best-laid scheme of us nice men gang seriously aft agley. On the long, long upslope before Khopoli on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, suddenly the engine appeared to stop transmitting power to the wheels. Stamping on the accelerator did nothing but make noise, and then we caught a whiff of something burning. Miserably, we pulled over, got out and threw open the hood.

It was still dark, and slightly chilly. We had halted on a turn. Giant container trucks crawled past with their engines screaming against the gradient. Neither of us knew anything about car innards, so my friend got on the phone to find a Hyundai service centre. Nothing in Khopoli, it turned out, nothing closer than Panvel, an hour away in the wrong direction. Towing charges in the thousands, repair charges in yet more thousands, time wasted in waiting.

While my friend was still working the phone, scarcely two minutes after we had stopped, a scruffy-looking man on a beat-up scooter trundled to a stop next to us. A mechanic, he said, with a repair shop just down the road, and he would fix what he said was a burnt-out clutch plate for thousands less than the service-centre quotes and in much less time. A quiet fellow, not much of a talker, with a humorous glint in his eye.

So that’s what we did. The mechanic left his scooter on the verge, we pushed the car to a gap in the expressway median and then coasted a good way downhill, off the main highway onto the old highway, off that onto a bumpy patch of land and finally into a tiny, lean-to garage. The mechanic had already called one of his colleagues standing by at the parts store, so the parts (original, we checked) soon arrived at high speed on another beat-up scooter. With the mechanic at the shop and a spare colleague, that made four men working on the car.

Day broke, a tea shop was the only other structure nearby, and we sipped and chatted relaxedly while the work continued. When it was done, the first mechanic hopped into the car with us, drove us back onto the expressway and up to an ATM. We gave him the cash, he waited for us to leave, then hopped onto the scooter of one of his colleagues who had followed us from the garage to head back, and that was that. We were on our way again, major repair complete, a mere four hours after the breakdown.

The point is: in India, the unorganised sector is often more efficient than the organised sector can ever hope to be, and much more responsive to the customer’s needs. The mechanic described their business method. One man circles back and forth on one section of the expressway, while another stands by at the parts stores and a third at the garage. Cars will break down, especially under the strain of a long climb; when they do, help (and profit for the mechanics) is only minutes away. The company service centres lose horribly in this scenario, by being more distant, more expensive, less personal, and less responsive. Had we chosen the service centre in Panvel, we would have lost the day. Instead we got a good, economical repair job and a free lesson in grassroots business thinking.

CATastrophe and after

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 March 10th, 2010 Kalpana PathakKalpana Pathak

The IIMs deserve both–bouquets and brickbats.

Bouquets, for a what they have done with their placement process. In the past three years, placements have never been so organized (Ok, agreed there are salary figures floating around but by the own admission of the IIMs, they are speculative).

Before the placements began, a communication from IIM-A and IIM-C read somewhat like this: “Media will not be entertained on campus over the entire span of the placement process. We request you to kindly cooperate with us on this. The placement committee will not be dealing with the media directly over these days. They will pass all their statements through the external relations secretaries.”

Wish they could come up with a similar formal communication regarding CAT scores.

While MBA aspirants have been vocal about the right to information (RTI) applications they have filed (they are fully aware that by the time they receive responses to their applications, the admissions at IIMs would be over), IIMs still remain in-communicado.

An IIM-C professor tells me that the IIMs were always unified in their decision over making CAT a computer-based exam. But IIM-C is said to have warned the other IIMs of getting into the computer-based format, too soon. 

While an IIM director says that there could have been some errors in the scores, he says that could be stray cases. You might want to agree with him. But if you go by the statement of test-preparing institutes, whose faculty members took the test and attempted only one section (still ending up with a score as high as 90 per centile), the IIM director’s argument does not hold much water.

While the blame game continues, what remains to be seen is if the students manage to get some details from the IIMs on the RTI applications filed. Vice Chairman of a test-preparing institute tells me that he has been filing RTIs to the IIMs since 2003 and has not yet received a proper reply to any of them.

Prometric, the agency which conducted the test has owned owned responsibility for the lapses and delays and says it has learnt its lessons. Let’s see what the IIMs will say. Or will they go mum, as usual, over the whole issue.

It will read your lips

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 March 9th, 2010 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Do you get irritated by loud-mouthed blokes shouting into their mobile phones on train/bus/metro or worse, chatting on mobile phones during movies? I do. And German researchers saw my discomfort (perhaps of a few others too) and have come up with a new concept for mobile phones that is being called ‘noiseless communications’.

What’s that? A new technology, unveiled at the recently concluded CeBIT fair in Germany, highlighted how lip movements can be transformed into a computer-generated voice for the listener at the other end of the phone. The device, developed by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), uses electromyography, monitoring tiny muscular movements that occur when we speak and converting them into electrical pulses that can then be turned into speech, without a sound uttered. Already engineers have devices working to 99 per cent efficiency with this technology — so the mechanical voice at the other end of the phone gets just one word in 100 wrong.

Simply put, your mobile phone will read your lips. WOW! The implications of this concept can be huge. It could be a great tool for those with speech disorders.

Or, you can have a fight with your spouse/partner while you travel in public transport or perhaps a carpool like me. If you are feeling mushy, then you can mouth saccharine-dipped words without being audible to people around you.

Although we would make an awkward (or comical) sight — people mouthing words into their handset receivers.

You can discuss your future employment prospective with a recruiter or potential employer, right in your office without having to rush to the nearest empty corridor. You can even discuss your boss’s salary details without needing those coded messages on Twitter or Facebook.

Better still, in public places like night clubs and bars, one can feasibly use a mobile device to talk without having to shout into the receiver.

The technology uses nine electrodes that are stuck to a user’s face. These measure the electrical signals, which are then recorded and amplified before being transmitted via Bluetooth to a PC. Software on the computer decodes the signals into text, which could be spoken using a text-to-voice program. This can be easily integrated into a handset, claimed the researchers.

The technology, add researchers at KIT, can turn anyone into a polyglot. Since the electrical pulses are universal, they can be immediately transformed into the language of the user’s choice. So, speakers can silently utter a sentence in their language, and the receivers can hear the translated sentence in their language.

Since the German research institute has just presented the concept at CeBIT, so in all probability we won’t see this technology in a handset any time soon. But that just gives you and me plenty of time to come up with even more ingenious uses of ‘silent’ calling, should it ever hit the mainstream.