Archive for March, 2011

Falling out of love

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 March 29th, 2011 Aabhas Sharma

In the last one month or so I have been called a snob, a loser, a pseudo, and even unpatriotic. Why? Only because I have not been watching the cricket World Cup, and when I mean not watching, I mean my cumulative watching time has been less than 60 minutes.

Like millions of Indians, I was a die-hard cricket fan too. I used to pester my father to take me to cricket matches and then travel in second class compartment of a train, stand in queues for hours to get in the stadium just to watch India play. I have even travelled a good 250 kilometres just to watch Jonty Rhodes field. I went for a South Africa vs Australia match just because I wanted to see Rhodes live in action. I used to love the buzz one gets in a cricket stadium. Thousands of fans going delirious when Sachin used to hit his trademark straight drive used to be a conversation point for weeks. That one shot used to be worth all the pain one took to get inside the stadium.And trust me, it was a lot of pain.

Now, on the eve of what is being called the biggest match-ups of all time, I find myself avoiding newspapers, TV channels, radio stations  as they are talking about just one thing – India vs Pakistan. It’s been four years since I lost interest in cricket and became totally indifferent towards the Indian cricket team and the sport. Friends who have seen my passion diminish understood my apathy but in the last one month, even they have been shocked to see my attitude towards the sport.

For the last few years, I have seen the face of cricket completely change. Now you will say that it’s the same game with a few tweaks here and there. But from where I see, it’s a different sport. Let me start with the pitches. Every pitch in the 90s had a character. Be it Durban, Perth or Motera, they stood for something. Now reading about the ease with batsmen notch up hundreds and double hundreds and bowlers take fivers, I just wonder what the people running the sport think. It’s true that batsmen draw crowds but I have had long chats with friends who lament at the quality of pitches and how it is slowly killing the sport. There is nothing more intriguing in world sport more than watching a fast bowler giving it his all on a pitch that has something in it against a world class batsman. I think that is a very, very rare occurrence these days.

Then came the Indian Premier League. The “baap” of all entertainment is what I think the promoters call it. And that’s when calamity struck in my life as far as watching cricket was concerned. I don’t watch sports for instant gratification but the IPL was, or rather is all about that. The razzmatazz, sixes becoming “maximums”, maiden overs column being replaced with dot balls and fans changing teams faster than they change clothes is not my idea of cricket. It never has been and it never will be.

Maybe I was spoilt cricket fan, having seen some of the greatest names ply their trade week in and week out, you are bound to find the current crop quite mediocre. Not that mediocre cricketers didn’t exist in the late 80s and the 90s. For every Lara, there was a Jimmy Adams. For every Waugh, there was a Prasad. But do we have a Lara or Akram or Ambrose now? People say you are being unfair comparing the modern-day cricketers with some of the all-time greats. But why shouldn’t I do that as that is obviously my reference point.

Having been such an important part of life for so long, I have made efforts to try watching cricket again. But it just didn’t happen. People often ask me, how can you want India to lose? And I always say I don’t want them to lose as them winning or losing a game won’t make a difference to my life. It’s very difficult to fall in love with a sports team or a player as people who are die-hard fans will tell you. But as I have found out, it’s very easy to fall out of love with a sport. The hard part, however, is trying to explain people that it happens. Even if you were in love for over two decades.

Uncle Sam on the job yet again

Monday, March 21st, 2011 March 21st, 2011 Nayanima BasuNayanima Basu

“For God’s sake leave us alone,” screamed a 40-something burqa-clad woman in Benghazi against the attack launched by allied forces against ‘tyrant’ Muammar Gaddafi. Ever since civilians in Libya declared war against their leader for 42 years, the port city of Benghazi – Libya’s second largest city has become a household name across the world. However, the place could well turn out a new playground for President Obama, who was longing for such an opportunity to come his way with the help of which he can now finally show Americans that he is the quintessential US President and not the one who would bring “change”.

As massive fighter jets took off Saturday night for Libya, the world watched in awe that Uncle Sam was back again on the job it knows best – to intervene in other’s affairs not because their hearts bleed for poor Libyans but because the smell of oil is too strong to resist.

The ghastly memories of 2003 were rushing to my mind when President Obama called Gaddafi “a tyrant who is killing his own people” in a similar fashion and accent that George W Bush used to describe Saddam Hussein in order to justify his attacks on Iraq. It has never been civilian or human rights that fuels American fighter jets but oil and only oil to swell its reserves. The US strategic petroleum reserve currently stands at 727 million barrels and the Obama administration is under severe pressure from the Congress to tap its reserves to stabilise prices.

Gaddafi has lost the nasty game he was playing and sooner or later he would face the inevitable. And just as people there took up arms against their leaders without any intervention from the US, the UK and France, they would have destroyed their dictators also and would have chosen their own leader. But now, with US intervention, not only will these people lose, they would become puppets in the hands of so-called Western democratic despots.

It was Mr Obama only who had said during his ever-aggressive election campaign that it was due to his predecessor’s faulty foreign policy that US was facing adverse impacts in its Af-Pak policy. Then what’s happened now? Mr Bush must now be laughing his heart out. And once again the US has proved that it can never change. The world is once again watching with muted response as global giants’ rampage the world again while others pay a heavy price.

And it would be foolish to think that the reason why suddenly the Arab leaders have joined hands with the allied forces is because they want democracy or they are proponents of human rights and dignity. Rather this is an extremely clever way of crushing the spirit of democracy that is sweeping the Arab world recently. This can be clearly seen in the way voices of democracy and freedom are getting choked in Bahrain.

Hope Mr Obama is quite aware of the fact that whether it is North Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Libya… US will only win hatred and NATO troops will bleed to death while terrorism raises its ugly head once again. Only this time they will be fiercer and bloodier!

It’s time we listened to Jairam

Sunday, March 13th, 2011 March 13th, 2011 Vishwas

jairam.jpg“NEWSALERT: Japan tsunami may spread to US, Australia; India safe”

I heaved a sigh of relief as I put this alert on the Business Standard website around 2 pm on March 11. The news surely calmed Indians even as Japan was being devastated by the country’s most powerful earthquake since records began. Hundreds of houses, fully compliant with the construction norms for quake-prone areas, were swept away by a wall of water after the 8.9-magnitude tremor. The damages suffered by Japan are incalculable, and the country might take several months before it recovers from the shocks and of course aftershocks.

Millions of people in India watched the horrific videos on TV and shuddered at the thought of facing a similar tragedy here. Nature’s ferocity and wildness was evident, and it appeared to say in a roaring voice that humans had messed with it way too much, and now it was time to pay back.

While Nature was avenging the insult and abuse it suffered at the hands of humans across the globe, the one person who came to my mind was our Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. The man, who has given a new meaning to environmental governance in India, has received accolades as well as abuses for his crusade against the factors causing damages to the environment in the name of development and economic growth.

Often, our politicians, builders and industrialists accuse him of being anti-development. Clearly, the myopic bunch does not even have the slightest clue why Ramesh takes environment more seriously than his predecessors who occupied the wallflower Environment Ministry. Most of them just dismiss his objections as mere political gimmicks. But the live video of the earthquake and the tsunami that vociferously invaded Japan should beat some sense into the heads Jairam-bashers that the man’s words should be taken far more seriously. It has to be understood with absolute clarity that environmental abuse is far worse than terrorism, and it should be avoided at any cost. If the messages to save the environment continue to be ignored, the day is not far when India will have to face the wrath of the Nature in the manner witnessed in Japan.

So, let’s stop and listen to what Jairam and other environmentalists have to say. If steps to prevent environmental damages are not taken in time, it will be too late, and when Japan-like calamities knock on our doors, we will have nowhere to hide. Everything acquired at the expense of the Nature will be annihilated by Her in the most brutal manner.

Photo finished

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 March 8th, 2011 Pablo ChaterjiPablo Chaterji

I think I can claim with assurance that mine is not an addictive personality – with the exception of the utterly lascivious world of the jalebi, of which I am a slave. Place before me a box of fresh, crisp jalebis, with a translucent, saffron hue and a propensity for splashing your mouth with bursts of sugar syrup at every bite, and I take leave of my senses. I am a man possessed. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m normally not given to addictive behavior – and that I have just found another jalebi-like world into which I find myself being irresistibly drawn. It is the world of old, manual focus, ‘legacy’ photography lenses, and I lay the blame for this addiction squarely at my colleague Aneesh’s feet.
It all began innocuously enough, when Aneesh walked into the office brandishing a battered, manual focus Nikon 35mm f2.8 lens that he had bought for a song. Using an adapter, he had mounted it on his Canon DSLR, and the results were outstanding. I was intrigued, but the matter retreated from my consciousness soon enough. Then, a while later, he announced the purchase of a Russian 58mm f2 Helios lens, from a seller on Indian ebay based in Surat. Now I was more than a little intrigued – I put thought into action, logged on to ebay and bought a similar lens (with a Russian Zenit camera from 1965 attached to it) for a paltry sum. That was the beginning of the end, as it were – when the lens arrived a couple of days later, looking all retro and just begging to be put through its paces, I was well and truly hooked.
Since that fateful day, I have developed behavioural traits that effortlessly qualify me for the photographic equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous. I began by immersing myself in internet research about lenses, in general, and the use of manual focus lenses on digital bodies in particular. Every spare moment of my time was spent staring at a computer screen, absorbing such legendary names as the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f1.2, the Yashinon ML 24mm f2.8, the Leica Summilux 50mm 1.4 and the Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5. I learnt that my beloved Carl Zeiss lenses (some of the best pieces of glass ever made), which had criminally fallen into disuse because they didn’t fit any other camera body except my film-only Contax G1, could now be used on a Micro 4/3 format digital body with the help of an adapter. It was literally the work of a moment for me to contact a friend in America and have her buy me a used Micro 4/3 camera body off ebay, for a reasonable pile of cash, just so that I could put those lenses to work again. While I was at it, I also ordered an old Pentax 24mm f2.8 lens, and a whole bunch of adapters that would allow me to use various lenses on the m4/3 body and my existing Olympus 4/3 DSLR.
It didn’t end there. I registered myself on various photography forums that are dedicated to the use of old lenses on DSLRs, and began to have animated discussions with people in St Petersburg, Cambodia and Israel, to name just a few places. I bought four more old lenses, swelling my lens collection to 12 in a matter of a few weeks and considerably weakening my bank balance. I began to literally dream about lenses. I put away my new, autofocus lenses and began to rediscover the delightful art of manual focussing and prime lenses, where to zoom in and out means having to step forward or back, and where you take your time over the process of ‘making’, rather than merely ‘taking’, a picture. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – my name is Pablo Chaterji and I’m an addict, and I’ve never been happier.