Monday, August 13, 2007

The Shashi Tharoor critique - Preface

There are rebels without a cause, and yes, there are also rebels without a pause. On the other side are the conformists, the rigorously and supremely optimistic, sanguine people. Of the people whose views I respect (and care to read), I often find it a bit disturbing if they tilt too far towards either side of this spectrum. Shashi Tharoor, in particular, has a tendency to lean too far right in my spectrum spanning rebellion to "conformism" - he is the perennial first-bencher, always in shining whites, upright and prompt. No, but that is not my problem. In his eagerness to be the voice of optimism, he glosses over harsh reality. In toiling hard to illustrate a fraction of success he sights over the horizon, he overlooks the tonnes of trouble lying here and now. While that is not in itself bad, I fear that his selling of success will more often than not lead to complacency, instead of becoming the refreshing pit-stop, as probably intended. In his endeavors at taking pride at what is, I fear, we will loose sight of what can be. Yes, accompanied by the occasional garnish of wit, is Shashi's very subtle insinuation to action. But the latter is far too feeble to be recognized. Chances are, that, one blessed with special faculties does sniff at the wit, admire it, but will probably still ignore the message.

(By the way, I've read a couple of works by Shashi (apart from what he pens for the STOI), and must admit that I've enjoyed them thoroughly. I found the Great Indian Novel especially impressive).

With this introductory text, I (hopefully) begin a series of posts on posts by Shashi in the STOI.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Gentleman _is_ game

Often, cricket is called the Gentleman's game. Yes, it might be. But read that again. It could well mean that the gentleman is game, which could well mean that the gentleman is a chicken. Of late, that is exactly what it means - the gentleman, on the field is a willful chicken that can be scared into submission. Well, the gentleman can be (or "is") subjected to "mental disintegration", and that's even an accepted strategy. After all, cricket is played more in the mind, than on the pitch.

So, wicket keepers become motor-mouths, spewing inane profanity infinitely. Close-in fielders are not there for taking the catches, but rather to incite the batsman. Bowlers show more aggression by their body language than by their bowling. And if you are not good at ensuring mental disintegration, you will probably not make it to the high-school team. And of course we talk of much higher skills at the international level. Yes, you need to be able to play a bit. But if you can ensure that your opponent plays lesser than he normally would, that's a special skill which is valued.

So, is everything fair in war and sport ? A South African captain once took wireless headphones to the ground, so he could stay tuned to the constant advise of his coach. The Brits take jelly beans to throw at the batsmen so as to distract him. The lore of Australiana is underlined by the oral performance of Gilchrist as much as, if not more than, his impressive skills as a batsman and keeper. Of course there have been numerous other, and decidedly, harmless pranks or pressure relievers - the kangaroo dance of Miandad, More's constant (respectful) maternal reference, or even Sreesanth's version of salsa. These surely add to the colour of the game. But some make the game "off colour".

The question that we now face is really fundamental. Should the game still stay as a "gentleman's game" ? Look around, the Tour De France is stained by Dracula practise - literal injection of fresh blood to extend one's stamina. Olympics have forever been mired in the constant game of oneupmanship between drug tests and drugs that can deceive the tests. In fact, when sport becomes as crazily "professional" or "competitive" as it has now become, the rule of diminishing returns applies, and consequently, there is a minuscule little that differentiates the winner from the rest. Often, that little minuscule difference comes from sources which are questionable. It is interesting to notice that the winner has to constantly innovate to stay ahead of the pack - the pack contains quick followers and quick learners. Once a certain practice is seen as normal (not as in "legalized", but as in "accepted" or worse "ignored"), the very people who had been complaining about the practice being non-ethical etc, will not only incorporate it themselves, but will probably innovate further. So, indeed a number of things are fair in sport. The question of fairness is never absolute. As long as a certain practice provides competitive advantage for all the participating sportsmen, it is considered fair. With increasing regularity, we tend to focus less on the absoluteness of this premise. We accept evolution, especially technology evolution, for providing this competitive advantage. But what about the practices that are not technology driven, but are more subjective ? Fact is, there is a thin line between them. Injection of fresh blood is today considered wrong, but well could become the norm in a few years. And why not ? If Formula 1 cars can take a pit stop, then cyclists will like to take one at the blood bank. And cricketers will take jelly beans and eels and squid and i dunno what. Pity our Indian veggies who wouldn't touch some of that with a stick (or a bat). Maybe Thackeray will give them some petroleum products instead. Hey, Vaseline sounds like a good idea.

Talking of ideas, here are a few more
  • The keeper feeds himself plain old beans (not jelly), so that he can fart at will (or at the most appropriate moments), a la Eddie Murphy
  • The skipper uses a mobile phone to send SMSs to position his fielders. Comes in very handy, when skipper is applying delaying tactics.
  • Idea b), with the extended advantage that the bookies can call the players directly, when the game is in progress. Betting goes live, like never before !
  • One of the visiting team's players (picked randomly) is food-poisoned, probably with a laxative, so running between the wickets acquires a new meaning (and urgency !)