Thursday, November 13, 2008

Paper tiger?

I was disappointed when The White Tiger won, over a book I much preferred. Adiga has an idea, he has a scathing bluntness, but he is not half the storyteller that Amitav Ghosh is. Even if one penalises Sea of Poppies for the irksome dialects (especially the endless Anglo-Indian cant), it’s infinitely more informative, has far more empathy and several times the imagination, and is generally a far far better book. I’m not even going into the issue of better writing, because that’s a matter of taste (especially since Paddy Doyle). And what was the relevance of letters to a Chinese politician?

I’m slightly better disposed towards Aravind Adiga after reading this

"Do you feel that the world ignores India's poor? Carol Davies, Cambridge

The truth is, India doesn't need the world's help in fixing its poverty. The money is present right here, the social workers are right here. The basic steps needed to lift the 400 million Indians who live in extreme poverty are known to everyone – a massive increase in government investment in primary schools, hospitals, and farming (most of the poor live in villages). What is lacking in India is the political will to make these investments – and to fight the pervasive corruption that erodes the effectiveness of the meager anti-poverty programmes currently in place."

Perhaps simple to the point of being trite, it’s just that I entirely agree with his prioritisation. I’d add one more point (which I have mentioned on this blog earlier) – the need to make all citizens stakeholders by making them taxpayers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Good night, sweet prince

When they posed for the group photograph, he was way off to one side. Smiling, possibly happy, but already drifting out of the frame.

Even earlier, when Harbhajan leaped in joy at the last wicket and the rest of the team converged on the pitch, he was alone, jogging in from the outfield, a smile on his face but his eyes hidden by those glares. He had a hand held up to high-five his mates. The only guy he could find was the next-to-newest member, Amit Mishra. He still smiled.

Oh, they chaired him off the ground afterwards. And Mahi had already made a grand gesture of asking him to set the field for a while after the 8th wicket fell. It’s a sign of the man’s enthusiasm for the game, or perhaps his love of being in charge, that he actually accepted the offer. I thought it was a trifle demeaning, he should have smiled and waved it off.

Then they left the ground. The curtain came down. He’ll come back to his home in Behala and then, perhaps, when we can’t see him, the smile will fade.

He may deny it, but there are regrets. Those last 15 runs that eluded him in the first innings. Hell, the 17 runs that were his for the asking in Taunton, 1999, if Azharuddin had not kept him from the strike for 14 balls in a row. And of course, closing the face of the bat too early to that wrong ’un from Krezja. But he was never a fairy-tale prince. Not for him the perfect climax or the unblemished record. Except for that first tour of England (where he didn’t get the third consecutive century on debut) or that ODI series against Pakistan in Canada in 1998, he’s always been the Prince of What-Might-Have-Been. Which may not put him up there in the pantheon, but damn, it makes a far better story. And he’s always given us the best stories.

It was never just about the cricket. There will be a few dozen articles and a couple thousand blog posts about how he gave Indian cricket Attitude, about his record as captain and his magic through the off-side. But for most of us, and especially in Calcutta, it wasn’t just about the cricket. There was the angle of the local boy making good. There was our glee at his in-your-face incidents. But what really endeared him to us was his fallibility. Hell, a Don or a Tendlya aren’t human. They are phenomena. THIS man fought against his own frailties, his lack of form, his failing reaction time, his leaden feet. He fought against perceptions, against half-truths, against his own hubris. He fell from eminence in a manner he hadn’t anticipated, he fought his way back, he toughed it out. And he found that just as panache couldn’t hold him on the pinnacle, not even performance could put him back afterwards.

He was never one to go gentle into that good night. But like they wrote on Cricinfo, after a while a man bears the marks of “every glove that laid him low, or cut him”, and it’s better to leave on your own terms.

It might be bathetic to label him our last tragic hero. Unlike his opening partner (Chhoto Babu to his Babumoshai) he was too human for deification. He was never larger than life, let alone large enough to be a superhero. Maybe he was even a loser in his last war. But then again, perhaps those lines spoken over the body of another loser might not be out of place – “This was a man … ”

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Run away?

Too many books, too many movies. Well, actually only about a half dozen movies in three weeks, but that’s about 5 more than I would have watched in the normal course.

And some Conversations. Including one with The Mentor, long distance. I said I’m increasingly pessimistic about this country as a place to bring up my daughter, we should probably emigrate in 5 years. Which prompted a couple of choice expletives and a list of reasons for hope. Orissa, and some response by the Govt. to the issue of mayhem on grounds of religion. The arrests in the Malegaon bombing case, which may show that Muslims don’t hold a monopoly on senseless murder OR that the Indian State is impartial. The poor show by secessionists in every poll in Kashmir, indeed the very fact that polls are held in Kashmir. Instances of public outcry speeding up justice. The fact that despite the woolly-minded yearnings of a section of the Indian middle class, the armed forces have never even attempted to take over power in this country. Even in my own State, some response to the issue of air pollution.

Yes, well, that’s good. And the consideration that if one is to avoid corruption, the only viable option seems to be Scandinavia. Weighed against the suicide rate there (and the certainty of my being about a foot shorter than the average woman), it really wouldn’t make much sense.

About corruption. The Greatest Country in the World makes a lot of hoo-haa about the annual report on corruption. Some of our more “enlightened” countrymen then make despairing noises about “the state of this country”. Which is ridiculous when you consider that the Vice-President of the Greatest Country has an open deal with a firm called Halliburton. And that - coincidentally, of course – in 2006 Halliburton were awarded 45 BILLION dollars worth of contracts in Iraq without any process of tender. To put that in perspective, Indian government rules do not permit purchase of more than Rs. 20,000/- without quotations, and any transaction of Rs. 2 lakh or more requires a process of open tender. Even if you use Purchasing Power Parity instead of simple currency conversion, the difference is huge.

And let’s not even get into the question of fair elections. The Chief Executive is elected on a recount in a state where the highest government executive - in charge of running elections too – is his own brother. And when it comes to a recount, guess who’s in charge? A lady who was on his campaign team. Even after 8 years, the level of moronicity bothers me.

Something else that bothers me. The lack of an effective Opposition in my own state. The one person who has been the face of the Opposition for more than 10 years now has never articulated any agenda other than opposition. Even during a tenure as a Union Minister, she staged a sit-in in the well of Parliament. Opposition for its own sake? Seems to me the story of the Great Dane and the yellow Beetle [1] is sadly apt here.

There’s a slew of other things that bother me – reality shows, SMS greetings, taxis parked at corners, misplaced apostrophes, Shilpa Shetty’s grin – but I’d be the first to admit that they’re not good enough reasons to emigrate. I probably wouldn’t be able to avoid them even if I did emigrate. Hell, not even La Shetty’s grin.

[1] The story? Well, this suburban guy bought a bright yellow Beetle. First day he took it out of the driveway to get to office, the neighbour’s Great Dane jumped the hedge and chased the car all the way down the lane, barking loudly all the way. This happened the second day too. AND the day after.
On Day 4, the guy finally lost his patience. As the huge hound lolloped after him, he stepped on the brakes, screeched to a halt, rolled the window down an inch and shouted “OK, you’ve GOT it! What are you going to DO with it now?!” Result, one very sheepish Great Dane.