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.