Tuesday, March 06, 2012

You don't say

In this month's issue of The Caravan, I looked at the regulations that have led to unprecedented levels of self-censorship on modern Indian television. As channels grow more reluctant of causing offense, their list of what causes offense enters the realm of parody.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


This is an incredible comic. (via @mantaraycomics)

Kapil Sibal's super amazing plan to boost social science research that will change everything and lead to more enlightened policy, etc.

Giving them awards.

(Poetry, tablets, taming the internet, and now this. Seriously, is there any problem Sibal can't solve?)

Rights for votes

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Eric Bellman reports on developing countries demanding more rights for their overseas laborers.
The millions who go abroad to take jobs as domestic workers - mostly women employed as maids, but also including such traditionally male jobs gardeners and cooks - are a crucial source of foreign currency back home, and are emerging as an important vote bank.
Read the full story here.

Obituaries deserve better

The first paragraph of Mumbai Mirror's remembrance of Sharada Dwivedi:
It is rather ironical that writer-historian-author of several books on Mumbai, who was instrumental in forming the Kala Ghoda Art District, passed away on February 6 - that time of the year when the city is abuzz with its annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
It is indeed fascinating to see the dizzying number of books Dwivedi wrote on Mumbai's myriad aspects.
I read obituaries as much for the dead as for life in the writing. In this case, I can't help but feel Dwivedi deserved a better piece. The reporting swings in to her life and out with a quote to sum up the things she did. Quotes are easy. They're fast. But they can only do so much.

An obituary is a story of a life - even a normal one - with a beginning, a rich middle, and an end. It takes readers along, telling them of who this person really was, what they did, who they liked, what they hated, and perhaps even why they will be remembered. But this piece does nothing of the sort. The city's best newspaper could have given its finest chronicler a better sendoff.

Monday, February 06, 2012

How can I invest in Rohit Shetty?

I just realized that Rohit Shetty has directed five movies in four years. And if all his announced projects come to fruition, he will have eight movies in six by the end of next year.

Shetty doesn't just make money, he does it faster than anyone else.

Not as global as kabaddi

In one devastating paragraph, Sambit Bal tells you why cricket isn't a global game:
Only notionally is cricket a global game. It is a mainstream sport only in ten countries. Of these, nearly half can't generate enough resources by themselves to even pay their own operating costs. Only three cricket boards can genuinely call themselves profitable. And one of them generates nearly three-fourths of all global revenue. Even at the peak of America's superpowerdom in global politics, the scales were not remotely as lopsided.
Connoisseurs of kabaddi will no doubt point out that with 16 participant nations, their world cup is bigger than our world cup.

Ps. Sambit's piece was provoked by the Woolf/PWC governance review of the ICC.

What liberty should be

Like me, a lot of you probably haven't heard about the Whitney v California case from 1927. I just stumbled up on the case, and can't help but envy the society that benefits from it. The judgement is a dream, for it defines free speech in all its fullness, and treats it as the thing from which all other things grow.
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end, and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law -- the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the evil to be prevented is a serious one. Every denunciation of existing law tends in some measure to increase the probability that there will be violation of it. Condonation of a breach enhances the probability. Expressions of approval add to the probability. Propagation of the criminal state of mind by teaching syndicalism increases it. Advocacy of law-breaking heightens it still further. But even advocacy of violation, however reprehensible morally, is not a justification for denying free speech where the advocacy falls short of incitement and there is nothing to indicate that the advocacy would be immediately acted on. The wide difference between advocacy and incitement, between preparation and attempt, between assembling and conspiracy, must be borne in mind. In order to support a finding of clear and present danger, it must be shown either that immediate serious violence was to be expected or was advocated, or that the past conduct furnished reason to believe that such advocacy was then contemplated.

It was some coincidence that as I read this, this news came in:
Facebook, Google fall in line, remove content
Maybe it isn't a coincidence anymore, given that our liberties dwindle everyday under the wooly notion of a greater good.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The man with no name

It's been interesting to see how people refer to Shirish Kunder. Many identified him by name, of course, but a noticeable number didn't. Our biggest English paper referred to him as Farah Khan's husband, while Sucheta Dalal called him "someone or the other". But the hands down, best damn descriptor of all time goes to India Today, who pretty much described him this way (although to be fair, they were aiming for fig leaf anonymity): "the choreographer-cum-director's editor-turned-filmmaker husband".

I can't stop laughing.

(The India Today spot goes to Krishn Kaushik: @krishnkaushik)

Caravan reportage: Mark Mascarenhas

The February 2012 issue of The Caravan contains my first story for the magazine. In it I take a look back at Mark Mascarenhas, Indian cricket's first superstar agent, who also ushered in a new understanding of how undervalued the sport was. I had done part of the reporting four years ago; the bit that contains anecdotes from his childhood. But the rest of it was reported and written in nine manic days earlier this month, and then edited over a few sleep-deprived nights. The only thing that helped me keep it together was working with Mr. Shainin, whose editing is sensational.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Times of India is too big for details

Indranil Basu’s front page Times of India story on the discontent in Indian cricket makes me cringe. Here’s is a bloated rumor masquerading as a major sports story. Just take a look at the headline, for christ’s sake. “Dhoni may be sacked as Test captain”. So the reporter isn’t sure. Or maybe he’s sure that the board isn’t sure.

Parts of it read as if a cricket administrator wrote the stuff. “While senior players, including VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, have clarified that they are not retiring from cricket as yet, it doesn’t mean that both, or either, will be selected for Tests again.” Who said that? The Times can be frugal with details, but here they’re stingy with anonymity too. So I don’t know if one board member is thinking this, or if lots of them are. A little later, Basu writes, “It is also being said that if Yuvraj Singh gets fit, he will be an ‘automatic choice’”. Nowhere does Basu indicate that he questioned those doing the saying about what they were smoking. He thinks it’s not important to tell us how he knows that Sehwag’s feeling left out under Dhoni. And he certainly doesn’t explain which particular cricket bosses think Sehwag should be given a chance. Okay, fine, don’t give us that. At least tell me how many people feel that way.

At one point in his story, Basu decides to toss away dispassion and distance entirely, and writes, “However, what is disturbing is the talk of ‘an ego clash’ between Dhoni and Sehwag”. I can’t make up my mind over whether Basu’s editorializing or being savaged by the Times’ light-touch copy-editors. Maybe he’s just being a mouthpiece, because this is what comes next: “It’s said that this affected Dhoni’s captaincy and he couldn’t assert his authority with Sehwag and a few others.”

Basu may have done the hard yards, and perhaps everything he wrote may still turn out to be true. But he forgets that to present all these voices without attribution, even if those voices are anonymous, is just beyond stupid.

This story, and others like it, just serve as a reminder that the only reason I let this collection of half-truths pretending to be a newspaper into my home is because I’m working on my sift-through-garbage-to-find-one-fact skills.

Ps. I just read the last part of the story online. It is an editorial.

A fan's note on Indian cricket

I don’t remember when exactly I began to have this fear, but the specter of an Indian team shorn of its extraordinary fortune (there’s no other way to describe how so many great batsmen turned up at the same time) numbed my pleasure as a fan for a long time. For many years this team achieved less than it was capable of, and so, if it won when it wasn’t supposed to, I believed that things had come together for one long moment. But a losing team that starts winning is a strange thing: many of its fans celebrate, but some, like me, are left deeply uneasy. Not much has changed, so how did we start winning?

When I look back now, I see the comfort we found in constant underachievement. We were anchored to our failures, of which we were very aware. They hung around, reminding us of what needed to be done before we could set sail. But we slipped away by choosing the lubrication of good fortune over the struggle of creation. Well, here we are, finally run aground on a reef of We-told-you-so’s.

Now that our luck has left us, I feel oddly reassured. What remains is not actions but words that expose the hollowness of this team’s spirit. It is built on revenge, on the mistaken belief that they will show us, and we will be converts once more. They talk in the abstraction of numbers, they remind us of the good times, they tell us we need to stand behind them. There has been hubris, not humility; they speak not of remedying themselves but of doctoring pitches. Here they are, cold, frightened, and utterly lost. Orphans.

And from afar, from the man in exile, come solutions the length of an SMS. This, that, that too, and don’t forget this. Obvious solutions, old solutions - all put forward half a decade ago, and then discarded by him. He did not see luck as an opportunity to buy more time and create his own. Instead, he set about taking control and creating wealth. But those values were on paper, and ultimately they hinge on how the sport is played. Which he largely ignored. The funny money paid for those crazy Indian broadcast deals? Those weren’t for Indian cricket, they were for Indian cricket’s superstars. Now some of India’s greatest batsmen will leave and what happens next should be fun.

Here’s what we have. We are left with a team, or the remains of a team, that has fewer spinners than England does. Putting it mildly, we now regard Harbhajan Singh with something like fondness. The board talks about avoiding whitewashes. Dravid says there is no hurry to decide on his retirement. Laxman says nothing. Sachin waits, and we wait with him. This is as it was. These are the failures we were anchored to a decade ago. And here they are again. Except that the greatest batting lineup ever is now behind us, as is the finest Indian spinner.

The promise of this team lies in men who haven’t announced themselves yet. So I know I will wait for them to come along, as they have always done, and remind us that Indian cricket is alive once more. But again, and I have to keep reminding myself of this, it will be our fortune that takes us forward.

This time, though, the specter of good fortune deserting us can be some other fan’s private nightmare. I’ve seen this once; it’s all I can take, frankly.