Monday 31 December 2012

You and I

This is by my friend Vikram Sheel Kumar, a doctor, entrepreneur and writer (he contributes to Forbes India and is a consulting editor for ForbesLife India, in response to Imagine, a piece I wrote a few days ago. continue:

Remember when ministers tendered their resignation at a slight challenge to their honour?

There was accountability. And honour. And respect.

Yes, we are all accountable for a society where beastly acts such as gang rape occur. But neither you nor I can make sure our buses are safe.

Neither you nor I can scare the sins out of people through a trusted and tough police force.

Neither you nor I can direct precious national funds to prevent the next rape instead of sending a critical patient offshore through sophomoric medical (and political) judgement.

Neither you nor I can speak a few words, on television, to the full nation to reinforce through humanity and humility that we remain the great civilization to which the world has turned for its spiritual depth and awakening, and we have just, perhaps, over the past couple decades, lost ourselves in the race for easy money, quick thrills, and our own personal Idol worship.

Neither you nor I can set policies that move the economy forward, so at 9pm men are thinking of what to wear at work the next day, not how the get the next high.

You and I can demand public accountability and safety, and pray our leaders find in their depth the honour, respect, trust, judgement and wisdom that justify their position of power in our nation. And if our prayers are not answered, we can take back the power by finding in our depth the honour, respect, trust, judgement and wisdom to exercise our own democratic prerogative.

Saturday 29 December 2012

For Anonymous

If you're in Delhi, there's a condolence meeting at Jantar Mantar at 11am.

For the rest of us:

This evening, around sunset.

If you're in Bombay, perhaps at the Gateway of India, our India Gate. Or Marine Drive, Azad Maidan, Shivaji Park, the amphitheatre at bandstand, the park near you, with your friends and neighbours.

If you're n other places, name your place to meet.

Here's what you could do.

Wear a white ribbon, or a white headband.

Bring a flower, any flower, but I suggest a rose or anything that has a thorn or two.

When you get there, use that thorn to draw a little blood from your thumb. Feel that little bit of pain. Think how much worse it was for The Girl, for the thousands of others like her who we have not heard of, may not ever hear of. Remember it. Use the white headband or ribbon to clean up that drop of blood.

Take the flower again. Pull off every petal, one by one. As you do, say to yourself, with each petal, we killed her, all of us, by never fighting the daily atrocities, by never saying, no, enough, I will not let this happen.

Crush the petals in your hand and release the fragrance. As you inhale it, say to yourself, this is where it ends. This is where I do all I can to stop it. Let the petals fall to the ground. (If you're near a river, or the sea, let the petals go into the water.) Throw the stalk in the nearest dustbin.

Sing together. Choose something you all know. Perhaps 'We shall overcome / Hum honge kamyaab' could be it. Sing it soft.

Disperse. Go home. And start changing our world.


Imagine, if you will, a world where women are not treated like possessions.

Imagine a time when bride prices are a forgotten term, when language professors will puzzle over the meaning of terms like "eve-teasing" and "honour killing" because their usage has no currency.

Imagine a time when anything that is fine for a boy to do is appropriate for a girl to do too.

Imagine a time when the only time we tell our mothers and wives and sisters and daughters what they should wear is when it is raining outside and they haven't noticed and are going out without their raincoats.

Imagine a time when film students will wonder how songs picturised around the glorification of sexual harassment ever found an audience, how the stars and the makers of those movies ever got rich and famous instead of ridiculed and scorned.

Imagine a polity where 'leaders' who make primitive sexist statements are hounded out of public life.

Imagine a society where rapists, not the raped, are shunned, disgraced and have their lives ruined.

Better still, imagine a time when rape is something that no longer happens.

Imagine being the generation that made it possible, by raising their voices, by being the change instead of demanding it, by being furious with the government (and rightly so) and the politicians (and rightly so) and the police (and rightly so), but also recognising that they, my generation and the ones before us, let it be possible for venal people to flourish and perpetuate these horrors, and by screaming out loud and long, enough!

We couldn't. You can. Imagine that.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Why you should send your visiting card to a PR spammer

An email to my office address. I've tried to preserve the formatting. Yes, it came in with all-underlined text. I've removed the company name. Do not miss the bit about "There are at least 10,000++ people on this email."

Dear all,

I have pleasure in sending you the link to the very first MHAP e-Christmas Card.

Read every line of my email dont miss it..

Its once a year that i have to thank you all for all the support you have bestowed upon me. Believe me without the support of the corporate and media and travel world i would not be able to reach and achieve my goals which i have.

If this email reaches you more than once here's a sincere apology as your name might be marked in my mailing list on different names but rest assured you are remembered and i have the "Gratitude" for you all which i should.

My address is attached below so please post/courier/drop me your visiting cards not on email but a hard copy of the card.

Now, why do i need the visiting cards...yes..I call the entire team to join me once a year for a luncheon and i would like to send out the invitations for it. No, dont rush after you are finished with your holidays and new year i shall have my party closer to Valentine's day..So send in your cards...I have a lucky my best relationship manager, my best friend, my best (loads and loads)of gifts... The industry has seen my get togethers in the past and they know it has been awesome.

So complete all your work and believe me you will have a network to connect with which no party or organisation can provide..There are at least 10,000++ people on this email who you will meet and connect with..So happy holidays compliments of the season and yes dont forget to Click Me! below and see the brands i am associated with my best wishes.
GOD BLESS YOU!! Stay Blessed!! you are in my PRAYERS...

[cheesy graphic of cask with the words 'click me superimposed on it]

Miss [Name removed]
Senior Management
[Company name removed, but it's a world-famous premium alcohol brand]

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Do they know it's Christmas?

Air-dashing we will go
As soon as ma’am-ji says
O'er the states we go
On mantri discount fares!
Can you see my bling?
Don’t I look a sight?
What fun it is to be giving
Prime time news hour sound byte!

(Oi!) Single girls, single girls,
Why do you protest?
Now I’ll have to use the hose...
See? You’re getting wet.
Single girls, single girls,
Why you questions ask?
I answer with aasu gas,
And you forgot gas mask!

Now Rajpath is all wet
And all you people, young,
Are getting lathis on your butts
Ooh! I bet that stung!
Go home and watch TeeVee
We’ll hold special I Pee El
Go to malls, spend money!
Or go to bloody hell!

(Oi!) Single girls, single girls,
Why do you protest?
Now I’ll have to use the hose...
See? You’re getting wet.
Single girls, single girls,
Why you questions ask?
I answer with tear gas,
And you forgot gas mask!

Inspired by Deepanjana and her colleague Colleen, and Samit.

Sunday 23 December 2012

The problem is us

If you haven't been discomfited by a government form that demands a father's or husband's name, you're part of the problem.

If you think that a woman must change her name, first or second or both, when she marries, you're part of the problem.

If you are not ashamed of laws that treat women as if they were possessions of a man, or less than men in any way, you're part of the problem.

If you work for, or patronise, a company that insists a woman has no identity of her own, that she ceases to become part of her birth family once she is married, you're part of the problem.

If you think that ladies compartments in trains and ladies seats in busses are a solution, you're part of the problem.

If you think security cameras and banning sun-film on vehicles are a solution, you're part of the problem.

If your son can stay out late but not your daughter, if your daughter must be 'dropped home' but not your son, I know I'm being hard on you, and I would do the same in our cities, but you're part of the problem, as I am.

If you are not distressed by playgrounds where little boys run wild but where you don't see any little girls, by boys coming out to play cricket on the street during a bandh, but not girls, maybe you're not observant enough, or maybe you're part of the problem.

If you run an ad campaign that has hunky male film stars asking the world to 'be a man' and join him in protecting women, you're part of the problem.

If you think that getting men to think of all women as their mothers and sisters and daughters is a solution, perhaps you're not a problem, but I'm sorry, I think you're very wrong. It should be enough to think of them as fellow human beings, with rights of their own as valid and as important as yours.

If you think offering bangles to a man, or saying he should be wearing a sari, is an insult, you could be making a very subtle point about gender imbalance, in which case I'm sorry I didn't get it. Or you could be part of the problem.

If you call sexual harassment 'eve-teasing,' you're making a crime sound like boys-will-be-boys mischief, and that, I'm afraid, makes you part of the problem. If you think that 'outraging the modesty of a woman' does not smell strongly of woman-as-possession, then perhaps we have different sensibilities, but I'm inclined to think you're part of the problem.

If you think that chow mein or other foods result in uncontrollable libido, you're a lunatic and definitely part of the problem. If you think anything can result in uncontrollable libido, you're a very serious part of the problem and should be restrained for your own good and the good of all around you.

If you think the solution is giving young men child brides so that they can satisfy their lust, you're part of the problem.

If you think rape shames a woman, that her izzat has been stolen, that she is henceforth a "zinda laash," you're part of the problem.*

If your stock visual for rape stories is a woman with her face hidden, you're unimaginative, wrong, and yes, part of the problem.

If you think people having sexual intercourse, or even marrying, outside the religious, communal, economic or gender boundaries that you are comfortable with (and no, I don't include children and animals here) is against  your culture, you and your culture are part of the problem.

If you think that she shouldn't have been wearing those revealing clothes, because dressing that way is provocative; if you think that she shouldn't have been out that late, alone; if you think she was being 'adventurous' because she was returning from work at 2 a.m.; if you think rape happens because 'men and women interact with each other more freely'; if you think she invited trouble because she had a drink—or two, or three, or six—or because she smokes; if you think her being the only woman in a group of men was foolish; if you think her having had sexual intercourse with someone—or several someones—she's not married to makes it understandable that other men would think they can have sex with her against her will; if you think that her having sexual intercourse for money makes it okay to have sexual intercourse with her against her will; if you think her working at a bar is a reason why she will be targetted; if you think that her husband has a right to have sexual intercourse with her whether she wants to or not, you're part of the problem.

Yes, if you think there's any possible justification for rape, if you imply in any way that a woman is asking for it or provoking it, you're part of the problem.

And if your reaction to young people protesting a culture that makes rape commonplace is not standing up and saying, "We hear you, we're sorry that you're upset enough to come together like this, we're upset too, we're doing our best to stop this and our resolve is strengthened because we know we can count on your help," but instead you fire water cannons and tear gas shells at them, and then decide to lock down the area, you're not only part of the problem, we will lose faith in your ability to ever find a solution, because you are central to the problem.**

* Sentence rephrased after a suggestion from Harini Calamur

** Some very smart people I respect said, on Twitter, that this last paragraph took away from this post, referring, I guess, to the violence and vandalism that took place today. I must clarify that I was referring to what I had learned from reading about the situation yesterday, and leaning a lot on Nilanjana Roy's from-the-spot tweets and subsequent blogpost, and a chat with her on the phone last night. Which is that the mostly young people at Raisina Hill yesterday afternoon were not just protesting peacefully, but also actively stopping fellow protesters when they crossed the line. For example, telling each other not to throw back tear-gas shells, because that would give the police an excuse. Later yesterday, I know, and definitely today, various opportunistic ruffians and/or political parties descended on the protests, and things changed. I do not, by any means, seek to condone the violence that has now happened, and never will agree with violence as a means.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Facebook Communique

In response to the new-new Facebook guidelines (as opposed to the old-new guidelines and the new-old guidelines that have since been lost to history) I hereby declare that I would like to issue a declaration too.

Truth is, I haven’t a clue what Facebook owns or doesn’t. In any case, most of the time I’m linking to stuff other people have done, or telling you what I had for breakfast. But, as I was saying...

I just hope like hell that if I post something vaguely legal-looking that all my stuff, which includes (but is not limited to) my personal details, who I was in a relationship with, scintillatingly witty status messages, roguishly clever comments and photographs of colleagues or friends looking silly, will somehow become very valuable and therefore require Facbook to pony up some of its billions if it uses them without my written consent.

Of course I recognise that the last place I should be putting up anything that’s private and/or likely to earn me money and/or litigable is Facebook. Nevertheless If I post this and add something like..

Post this on your timeline and Mark Zuckerberg will give you money.
..then some people may just go ahead and share it.

Friday 26 October 2012

Caro Ferrari,

In India, we love many things Italiane. We scarf down pizzas by the truckload (of course we like some of our own toppings, like tandoori chicken and paneer, more, but we’re sure you won’t mind), and all kinds of pasta too, with a little mirchi thrown in. When we’re feeling all posh, we slurp granitas and gelatos and forget we already had golas and kulfis. We like our cappuccinos and americanos. We adore olives on toothpicks with our daaru, and we’re fond of olive oil. And lest you think this is all about food, we’re also partial to visiting Italy, to take in your beautiful architecture, your art, your music, your scenic countryside. We think highly of your apparel designers (some take the adoration to the most sincere form of flattery), and one way to get Indians to look twice at a new brand of Indian attire (and other things too) is to give it an Italian-sounding name. Which also applies to real estate; you’ll notice a lot of piazzas and casas in the names of new projects, and Italian marble is very hot for interiors.

And yes, you may have heard that the most powerful person in India was born in your country.

So, Ferrari, basically we kind of like your country.

And, truth be told, your racing team has a huge number of fans in India too, going by the all the Ferrari merchandise we see here, not to speak of the fervent Facebook and Twitter posts about you.

Which is why it’s rather strange to see that in our grand prix, you plan to adorn your vehicles with Italian navy flags. “In doing so,” your web page says, “Ferrari pays tribute to one of the outstanding entities of our country.” Strange, you haven’t done that in all the years you’ve been racing, have you? No, wait, there’s a clue! You go on: “also in the hope that the Indian and Italian authorities will soon find a solution to the situation currently involving two sailors from the Italian Navy.”

Could you be referring to the sailors who are currently enjoying the hospitality of the Indian government because they killed are accused of killing two Indian fisherman in Indian territorial waters? [Edit note: The text initially said "killed," but since the matter awaits a court verdict, that has been changed. ~PG] The ones who your government wants released to be tried in Italy instead, because, perhaps, they don’t trust the third world Indian legal system to give the poor trigger-happy marines a fair trial?

Strange then that you choose to bring your high-tech cars and massive racing team to compete in an Indian event.

Why not just boycott the event in protest, if you think so poorly of India in general and Indian justice in particular?

I mean aren’t you worried that India’s timers and racing officials will be not be fair? That we will puncture your tires and put sugar in your gasoline? That Indian audiences might somehow hamper your race? That a win in India might be, I don’t know, somehow less valuable?





Scusi. Pardon us. We get it now. You need the points. You've poured a lot of money into the team, and you want to see some return on the cash. After all, you’re still in the running for both the constructors’ and the drivers’ championships. That’s business. Nothing personal.


We, on the other hand, can be emotional. Sometimes too emotional, I concede, but hey, we’re like that.

So, pardon us for this.

Ferrari, go home! Ferrari, vai a casa!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Helping the police with the enquiries

Our Supreme Court has agreed with our police force that sun film on our cars should be removed. Never mind that that film that we were permitted thus far gives us a wee bit of protection from the tropical sun, that it keeps the insides of our vehicles fractionally cooler, thereby making our car ACs a teensy bit more efficient and gives us fractionally more fuel efficiency, making a minuscule difference to the environment. In what is this wise decision rooted? In the fact that our police feel that our sun film obstructs them in the performance of their duties by making it harder for them to look into our cars to determine that we are not terrorists.

A short while ago, the media carried reports that we would all have to get new license plates soon. These new plates would come, if memory serves, with a special kind of locking mechanism that would not permit us to swap the plates without breaking the lock, thereby preventing us from concealing our cars’ real identities when we robbed banks and suchlike. And more: the plates would have some sort of sticker on them, which could be read by special scanners carried by our noble guardians of the law, even at distances of 2o feet and more. One more way to keep tabs on our childlike and immature citizenry who all have criminal tendencies and must be tracked everywhere they go so that the police can find them when they want them.

Privacy? We don’t deserve it. We must all pay for the privilege of helping our law enforcement institutions protect us. After all, we hear, if we’ve done nothing wrong, what have we got to fear?

One wondered what will come next. One came up with some theories.

• All cars must remove their window glass altogether. Window glass can, in bright sunlight, be reflective. This will not do.

• All cars must remove their roofs. Completely. There. Much better. During the monsoon, you people in cars will be permitted to hold an umbrella over your head. Said umbrellas must be transparent.

• Why just cars? Two-wheeler riders will not be permitted to wear full face helmets and/or helmets with visors. What about the safety angle, the protection in case of accidents? Well, they should ride more slowly then they wouldn’t have accidents. We suggest 20kmph.

• Let’s not stop at vehicles. All curtains / Venetian blinds / straw mats etc. in homes and offices are now banned. All windows must be at least 20 feet wide and must not have panes. Better still, only support beams will be permitted; no other walls.

• Caps, hats, topis, turbans, and other forms of headgear will not be permitted any longer. No chunnis or scarves over you heads, ladies, and you can’t have your sari pallus over your head either. What? Against Indian culture. Okay, we’ll get back to you.

• Oh yes. No dark glasses either. They conceal facial features. We’re thinking about spectacles. Hmm, yes, no beards or moustaches. And those of you who wear your hair long must pull it back into a plait or ponytail so that your hair may at no times fall over your face and obscure your features from the Law.

Of course all government servants, the judiciary, and legislators will be exempted from all these restrictions. They are superior beings.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Savage Breast

Griffin's Law of Music: the more you dislike a genre of music, the louder it will be played in your vicinity and the worse the audio system.

Copy Desk Laws

Griffin's Generalisation on Copy: Check for ellipses and exclamation marks in the first page or two. If you find any, the piece will be bad.

Griffin's Second Generalisation on Copy: If you find properly used semicolons and em-dashes, your task has just become easier.

Griffin's Third Generalisation on Copy: If (a) the page format is set to US Letter in a country where A4 is the default and (b) the default dictionary is US English in a country where UK English is generally used, then (c) the writer just isn't anal enough. Or maybe Microsoft wins after all.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

10 lessons on #journalism from Twitter

Being a late convert from advertising, I'm probably the least experienced journalist in the Forbes India team aside from our interns. So I'm always grateful for the lessons the world can teach me. Like last week's brouhaha about our Flipkart cover story.

• It is possible to pronounce judgement on an article based purely on a headline and/or tweets about it.

• A critical cover story must be a marketing gimmick by the subject of the article in collusion with its “critics,” because, after all, as Mr Barnum said, bad publicity is still publicity.

• If you work for a large media group that also owns non-media properties, any article that is critical of competitors of your group companies is biased, track record be damned.

• Great customer service = great company, and any attempt to say anything critical about other aspects of the company can be negated by vociferously mentioning this great customer service, even if one of the premises of an article is that that great customer service is one of the things that is weakening said company.

• A business publication is not entitled to question the business models of its subjects.

• The media must not criticise darlings, period. They can only offer advice on how said darlings must get better.

• An article that defies the previous stricture and criticises a darling must be rooted in (a) spite (b) envy (c) irresponsibility (d) sensationalism (e) all of the above.

• (This needs a place of its own.) If the media criticises an Indian start-up, the media are being anti-national.

• It is terribly unethical to seek to sell more copies of your media product.

That's nine. In the best traditions of social media, I'm crowd-sourcing the tenth. Leave your nominations in the comments. Or on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Friday 31 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 13

Your poem must be based on any Wordsworth poem. It must be titled "The spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings."

Thursday 30 August 2012

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 11

Write a poem about how the canonical poets are all over-rated.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 10

Write a stream of consciousness prose poem about your day.

Monday 27 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 9

Write a poem about what a bitch it is to have to go to a dull boring office with crass commercial philistines who don't see the beauty of art rather than sit around languidly writing poetry all day. For bonus points, make say nasty things about publishers and how your genius will be recognised one day, long after you're dead, and then they'll be sorry, but see if you care.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 8

It's Sunday. You have time on your hands. You could spend it with family, and/or doing fun things outdoors. But no. You are a poet.

So, today, you will create a new poetic form. And explain it by writing a poem in that form.

Of course you can name it after yourself.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 7

It's the weekend. Yay! You can teach yourself stuff about how to format things online. Write a shape poem.

Friday 24 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 6

Your poem must be an ode to a public figure. Preferably a film star or a cricketer. Or Anna Hazare.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 5

In this poem you must write about The Grave Social Issues That Plague Our Country.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 4

Today's poem must be in SMSese. And it must be at least 20 lines long.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 3

Today, Godawful Poets, you will write either a ghazal in English or a sonnet in Hinglish.

Monday 20 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 2

Today's poem must be about love again. But at any age.
And it
• must be in rhyming couplets
• should, preferably, be in terrible meter
• should, preferably, use the rhyming pairs love/dove and moon/june

Sunday 19 August 2012

Godawful Poetry Fortnight - writing cue - day 1

Dang. Wrote this and forgot to publish it!

Today's poem must be about unrequited teenage love

Wednesday 15 August 2012

What Godawful Poetry Fortnight did next: call for exits

As you already know, Godawful Poetry Fortnight starts on the 19th August and runs up to the 31st August. This blog is its literal and spiritual home. All previous posts on the subject here are tagged thus.

Our Patron Saint is William Wordsworth.
And he gets this signal honour for saying that poetry "is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." Way too many aspiring poets have rallied behind that banner, too few going so far as recollecting those emotions in tranquillity, let alone reading the rest of the preface to Lyrical Ballads (which can be found on Bartleby, for those interested).

This is its fifth year.

Godawful Poetry Fortnight isn't a competition such, so we don't invite entries. We instead invite all poets, of whatever degree of cringing self-image, to use its licence to put down their very worst work. Let it all out, we say, like you would acidity or, erm, other body wastes. So this is our call for exits.

Post godawful poems as often as you like during the Fortnight. (The True Believers Challenge: post thirteen godawful poems, one on each day of the Fortnight.)

If I can think of 13 prompts in time, I'll post them all here, and you can use them, if you need them. No promised though.

Use a Godawful Poetry Fortnight tag or label on your post, and/or maybe a #GodawfulPoetryFortnight hashtag on Twitter and/or Google+. You can link to this post or this blog if you want to, and/or you can alert me on Twitter) and/or Facebook and/or Google+. None of that is required if you'd rather not. The important thing is the evacuation. I mean exit. I mean poetry.

Right then. Onward! Upward!

Friday 10 August 2012

The Olympics: still sexist after all these years

This Olympic Games made history by making it mandatory for every participating country to have women athletes in their teams. So we saw even staunch bastions of male chauvinism send in at least a few women. Hurrah for that.

But there is still sexism evident in various individual sports.

• Until just a few months before the games, there were still attempts being made to insist that women badminton players and boxers compete wearing skirts, and that women beach-volleyballers wear bikinis (while not insisting on abbreviated costumes for the men). Thankfully wiser counsel prevailed and left it to the players to decide. (A few years ago, indoor volleyball had suffered similar conniptions, with fusty old administrators insisting that women players wear really short shorts, while not mandating any length for men.)

• In artistic gymnastics, events for men and women differ. And in events that are similar, like the floor exercises, you'll see that women have music playing, while men don't, seemingly implying that the men require just strength while the women must have grace and artistic interpretation.

• Full-contact sports like boxing and wrestling, which used to be men-only, now have women's events. So at least there's recognition that women can fight too. But these sports have far fewer categories than the men's events. Boxing has has only three weight categories for women against ten for men. (Which is why Mary Kom had to box in a heavier weight category than she had thus far). Free style wrestling has seven weight categories for men and four for women. Greco-Roman wrestling has seven categories for men and none for women. The other 'combat' sports—judo, taekwondo and fencing—have an even balance of weight categories.

• Even athletics has a wee level of discrimination against women. There is no 50km walk for women, though women compete regularly in far longer, arguably more gruelling events like triathlons and ultra-marathons. And the men's decathlon (as the name indicates, 10 events) is matched by the women's heptathlon (7 events).

• Shooting allowed women in for the first time in Los Angeles, 1984. There was mixed gender competition—which seems logical, considering that gender does not augment or detract from accuracy with the use of a piece of technology—until Barcelona in 1992, but separate events after that. And there are fewer events for women (six for women, nine for men) and fewer slots (each country is limited to 28 athletes, 20 men and eight women).

• Then there is sexism of a different nature: synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics do not have men's events. (Synchronised diving, however, does.) Grace of movement is surely not an exclusively feminine trait?

• This must be said. The shining beacon for gender equality is the otherwise elitist-by-its-very-nature equestrian section, where men and women compete as equals.

IOC, you've come a long way, baby, but you still have ground to cover.

Saturday 16 June 2012

President Me

Dear politicians,

The Presidential succession seems to be causing much strife. Political equations are breaking down, threatening the stability of a delicate coalition, perhaps hurrying us along to an early election we can’t really afford.

While Mr Pranab Mukherjee is, no doubt, well deserving of a quiet start to his retirement, his selection as a candidate is finding vociferous objection from many quarters. And, truth be told, he is well-nigh indispensable as the Mr Fix-It of the current coalition.

May I propose an excellent alternative candidate?


Yes, I know. This is a bit sudden, and unexpected. But hear me out.

I’m not political. Broadly, you could say I’m from the arts (I once won a poetry contest), so as much as I don’t represent any political party, I also won’t antagonise any of them either.

My name may appear to disqualify me, but really, if you look at it, it’s a plus. I’m a member of one of the smallest minorities in the country. Technically, I’m Anglo-Indian, but actually the European part of my ancestry isn’t British; it’s part-irish (and you know how the Irish feel about the Brits), part Scottish (they want to split from the United Kingdom too). The rest of my ancestry includes some East Indian, some South Indian and who knows what else. I was born in Vizag, my mother in Khurdha Road, my father in Ludhiana, one grandmother in what was Burma, the other grandparents in various parts of what is now India. While my name is Christian, I’m more of an atheist / tree-hugger. So you can’t place me in any real slot. Ergo: no regional, caste or community equations to balance. I am, sirs and madams, national integration in the flesh.

Then, I’m media-friendly. Heck, I work in the media. I’ve also spent many years in advertising, so I can be hands-on with the creation of our next tourism/FDI-attracting campaign. I also have a pleasant, microphone-trained voice, with a small portfolio of voice-over and radio work behind me. (While on the media, I will quickly concede that a glance at my profile picture will tell you I’m not prime-time’s dream face. But then, none of our presidents have exactly launched a thousand ships.)

Add this: I love to travel. And I’ve actually worked as a travel writer. And I’m reasonably tech-friendly: I blog, and I dabble in social media. So, hey, I promise to live-blog and live-Tweet and Pin and Facebook all the Presidential tours. How’s that for distracting the people from all the real issues?

Oh yes, I also have long hair, in keeping with the trends set by our current President and the one she succeeded. Granted, it’s not silver, but then, we could turn that into an advantage: I could be India’s youngest President! (Here’s an idea: how about I dye my hair in the colours of our national flag?)

But, most of all, I really, really need a house. The price of real estate in Bombay and its neighbourhood is just unreal, and I can’t even think about buying a place of my own. So, a five-year stint in Rashtrapati Bhavan followed by a retirement in a wee mansion on some re-purposed army land would be wonderful.

Thank you for your consideration. Please indicate you support by tweeting with the hashtag #ZigzacklyForPresident. Long live the Republic!

Your future President.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Rah-Rah Rahul

I'm not a cricket fan. At least, not in the way that a large part of this country seems to be. I played a bit of 'colony cricket' as a lad — who hasn't? — but vastly preferred basketball, badminton, table-tennis, and volleyball. I've never watched a game from s stadium seat, but have watched my share of the game on TV, and watch bits of cricket on the office television happily enough, now that I don't have a set at home, but if I had my druthers, a nice escapist movie works better. I read reports and analysis, and follow a few exceptional cricket writers, but that reading is more for the writing than the game. And I couldn't care less if the BCCI's team wins or loses.

What I can say about Rahul Dravid, therefore, would be shallow, because it would not begin to be knowledgeable and affectionate about his cricket, which defined him for all of us.

My far more knowledgeable colleagues have been engaged in heated debate (on our private newsgroup) on the man's legacy and his place in the pantheon, but this being a hectic time for the crew, with the Budget around the corner, no one has had the time to do a connoisseur's take just yet. So I will play curator instead, and extract from and link to some excellent pieces from around the Web.

But I'll venture to say this first. Dravid epitomises the ideal of the sportsperson. He played hard, without being boorish, respected his opponents without conceding an inch of ground, put it all on the line for his team-mates, leading by example. That he retired when he did, without pomp and long farewell tours, while people still "'asked 'why?' rather than 'why not?'" spoke volumes for his character. He is a gentleman to the bone, and everything he does spells class.

The writer CLR James asked, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" I'd wager that very few top level cricketers would know the quote. And that Dravid would be one of an even smaller group who'd know that the line was after Kipling's "And what should they know of England who only England know?" Dravid always came across as a complex, curious, well-rounded personality, of someone who could talk about many things, with understanding and compassion.

I've had few sporting heroes — Muhammad Ali, Prakash Padukone, Michael Jordan, Sunil Gavaskar, Carl Lewis — and Dravid is one of them. He's younger than I am, but I can say this with certainty: when I grow up, I want to be like Rahul Dravid.

Rohit Brijnath in Mint:
If the old-fashioned among us have a quaint notion of wh the athlete should represent, then he met it for us. Greatness can be worn gently, a man can stay true for 16 years to the idea that desire and sportsmanship, ambition and etiquette, are not virtues in conflict. We needed a reminder that even amidst the over-indulgence and over-worship of modern sport a man need not lose himself.

Sambit Bal in ESPN-CricInfo
There is a normalcy about him that is almost abnormal. There are public figures who go out of their way to put you at ease, but the effort is palpable. Dravid does it just by being himself. There is no affectation and artifice to it. Not that he is unaware of his stardom or is falsely modest about his achievements, but he can step outside all that and connect with the world at a real level.
It's almost as if he leaves that part of his world behind him when he leaves the cricket field. And perhaps that's why he can see the cricket world from the outside, reflect on it objectively, and see the ironies and futilities of stardom. It's a rare and remarkable quality. It has helped him engage in relationships in the outside world without baggage.

Mukul Kesavan in CricInfo
Greatness in batting, specially in the last 20 years, has been associated with masterful aggression: Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting. In the same period, Dravid (along with Jacques Kallis) showed us masterfulness of another sort: great defensive batting put to winning ends. Dravid's originality as a batsman needs an essay to itself; suffice to say that by melding Gundappa Viswanath's wristy genius with Gavaskar's monumental patience and poise, he became that remarkable and original creature: a stylish trench-warrior.

jamie Alter in Cricketnext
In particular, I remember two shots of Dravid's. The first, when was closing in on a century in Adelaide, the scene of his most famous innings. Jason Gillespie had just bounced him, and Dravid looked a bit rattled. Gillespie repeated the short ball again, and this time Dravid took him on with the hook. It wasn't connected perfectly, but sailed over the fielder at fine leg to bring Dravid his century, one that turned into 233 of the most fabled runs ever scored by an Indian.
The second shot he played during his colossal 270 in Rawalpindi to drive India towards a rare series win in Pakistan. He was batting on about 220 - I am not sure - and played a drive for four past extra-cover off Danish Kaneria. Dravid was sapped, mentally and physically, and stooping over in his crease; but the way he planted his front foot forward and drove that ball with all the basics intact was stirring.
These two shots came in different circumstances, and showed two different shades of Dravid. It is hard to imagine him playing an aerial shot, that too with a horizontal bat, when so close to a century. That too when the bowler had just mouthed him off. But Dravid did it, and on that day succeeded. It was one of the rarest instances of him sending a message back to the bowler, in anger. The shot in Rawalpindi came after he had crossed his double-century and was sagging. But even when his body was showing signs of collapsing, he stuck to what he knew best. That, it was as if he was saying, is how you play a cover drive. These two instances, for me, encapsulate Dravid.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, a.k.a. Sidvee, consistently one of Dravid's most eloquent admirers, in a letter to Dravid on his blog
You are too conveniently slotted as a specialist batsman. I disagree. That’s too simplistic. For me, you are an allrounder – not in the way our limited imaginations defines an allrounder but in a broader, more sweeping, sense.
I find it hard to think of a more versatile cricketer. You were one of our finest short leg fielders. You were, for the most part, a remarkable slip catcher. You have opened the innings, batted at No.3, batted at No.6 (from where you conjured up that 180 in Kolkata). I’m sure you have batted everywhere else.
You have kept wicket, offering an added dimension to the one-day side in two World Cups. You even scored 145 in one of those games. You captained both the Test and one-day teams. Sure, things didn’t go according to plan but you were a superb on-field captain. More importantly you were India’s finest vice-captain, an aspect that is often conveniently forgotten. Jeez, you even took some wickets.
There’s something unique about this. In Indian cricket’s hall of fame, you can proudly share a table with Gavaskar and Tendulkar. But you can also share one with Kapil, Mankad and Ganguly – cricketers who excelled in more than one aspect of their game for an extended period of time.

Ed Smith, Dravid's team-mate at Kent, in CricInfo
One word has attached itself to Dravid wherever he has gone: gentleman. The word is often misunderstood. Gentlemanliness is not mere surface charm - the easy lightness of confident sociability. Far from it: the real gentleman doesn't run around flattering everyone in sight, he makes sure he fulfils his duties and obligations without drawing attention to himself or making a fuss. Gentlemanliness is as much about restraint as it is about appearances. Above all, a gentleman is not only courteous, he is also constant: always the same, whatever the circumstances or the company.
In that sense, Dravid is a true gentleman. Where many sportsmen flatter to deceive, Dravid runs deep. He is a man of substance, morally serious and intellectually curious. For all his understatement, he couldn't fail to convey those qualities to anyone who watched him properly.

And the last word from his wife, Vijeta Dravid, in this eloquent piece. Here's an extract:
People always ask me the reason for Rahul being a "normal" person, despite the fame and the celebrity circus. I think it all began with his middle-class upbringing, of being taught to believe in fundamental values like humility and perspective. He has also had some very old, solid friendships that have kept him rooted.
He is fond of reading, as many know, and has a great sense of and interest in history of all kinds - of the game he plays and also of the lives of some of the world's greatest men. When he started his cricket career, he had a coach, Keki Tarapore, who probably taught him to be a good human being along with being a good cricketer.
All of this has given Rahul a deep understanding of what exactly was important about his being in cricket and what was not. It can only come from a real love for the game. When I began to understand the kind of politics there are in the game, he only said one thing: that this game has given me so much in life that I will never be bitter. There is so much to be thankful for, no matter what else happens, that never goes away.
Cricket has made Rahul who he is, and I can say that he was able to get the absolute maximum out of his abilities as an international cricketer.
What next for him? I know he likes his routine and he's in a good zone when he is in his routine, so we will have to create one at home for him. Getting the groceries could be part of that. A cup of tea in the morning for his wife would be a lovely bonus, I would think, particularly now that he doesn't have to take off for the gym or for training at the KSCA at the crack of dawn.
More seriously, though, I think he will spend time relaxing and reading to let it all sink in a bit. He has loved music and wants to learn how to play the guitar. Then perhaps he would like to find something that fills in at least some of the place that cricket occupied in his life, something challenging and cerebral.

And the announcement:


Friday 17 February 2012


How many times have you got this email forward? Does it piss you off or leave you feeling all soft and warm and fuzzy and proud?

You may know some of the following facts. These facts were recently published in a German magazine, which deals with WORLD HISTORY FACTS ABOUT INDIA.
• India never invaded any country in her last 10000 years of history.
• India invented the Number System. Aryabhatta invented zero.
• The World's first university was established in Takshila in 700BC. More than 10,500 students from all over the world studied more than 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century BC was one of the greatest achievements of ancient India in the field of education.
• Sanskrit is the mother of all the European languages. Sanskrit is the most suitable language for computer software reported in Forbes magazine, July 1987.
• Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to humans. Charaka, the father of medicine consolidated Ayurveda 2500 years ago. Today Ayurveda is fast regaining its rightful place in our civilization.
• Although modern images of India often show poverty and lack of development, India was the richest country on earth until the time of British invasion in the early 17th Century.
• The art of Navigation was born in the river Sindh 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word NAVGATIH. The word navy is also derived from Sanskrit 'Nou'.
• Bhaskaracharya calculated the time taken by the earth to orbit the sun hundreds of years before the astronomer Smart; Time taken by earth to orbit the sun: (5th century) 365.258756484 days.
• Budhayana first calculated the value of pi, and he explained the concept of what is known as the Pythagorean Theorem. He discovered this in the 6th century long before the European mathematicians
• Algebra, trigonometry and calculus came from India; Quadratic equations were by Sridharacharya in the 11th century ; The largest numbers the Greeks and the Romans used were 106 (10 to the power of 6) whereas Hindus used numbers as big as 1053 (10 to the power of 53) with specific names as early as 5000 BCE during the Vedic period. Even today, the largest used number is Tera 1012 (10 to the power of 12).
• According to the Gemological Institute of America, up until 1896, India was the only source for diamonds to the world.
• USA based IEEE has proved what has been a century-old suspicion in the world scientific community that the pioneer of Wireless communication was Prof. Jagdeesh Bose and not Marconi.
• The earliest reservoir and dam for irrigation was built in Saurashtra.
• According to Saka King Rudradaman I of 150 CE a beautiful lake called 'Sudarshana' was constructed on the hills of Raivataka during Chandragupta Maurya's time.
• Chess (Shataranja or AshtaPada) was invented in India.
• Sushruta is the father of surgery. 2600 years ago he and health scientists of his time conducted complicated surgeries like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, fractures, urinary stones and even plastic surgery and brain surgery. Usage of anesthesia was well known in ancient India. Over 125 different surgical equipment was used. Deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, etiology, embryology, digestion, metabolism, genetics and immunity is also found in many texts.
• When many cultures were only nomadic forest dwellers over 5000 years ago, Indians established Harappan culture in Sindhu Valley (Indus Valley Civilization).
• The place value system, the decimal system was developed in India in 100 BC.

Monday 13 February 2012

Make Blog Not War

From Anja Kovacs of the Internet Democracy Project.

A Freedom of Expression Training for Bloggers

An initiative of the Internet Democracy Project

Are you a blogger and interested in deepening your understanding of Internet censorship and freedom of expression as they play out in India? Would you like to know more about the ways in which such issues may affect you directly? As a blogger, do you see yourself has having an important stake in the freedom of expression debate?

Then this is your chance. The Internet Democracy Project is organising a training on freedom of expression and censorship for bloggers on 25 February 2012. In the course of this day-long program, a mix of short lectures and more interactive sessions will take you through:
• the history of censorship in India and its current status;
• the legal framework regarding online censorship and the ways in which it may affect you;
• debates on difficult questions such as where and how to draw the line where hate speech is concerned;
• what to do if you are served a legal notice;
• alternatives to censorship to fight problematic content;
and much more. Throughout the training, we will of course be paying particular attention to how all of this may affect your blog and yourself.

As the training aims to be highly interactive and will draw to a significant extent on participants’ experiences and inputs, there will be space for only fifteen select and experienced bloggers. They will be joined by four trainers: lawyer and law and tech blogger Apar Gupta; documentary film maker Bishakha Datta; literary critic, journalist and blogger Nilanjana Roy; and the Internet Democracy Project's Anja Kovacs.

The event will take place in Delhi, from 10 am until 5 pm. Bloggers from all over India are welcome to apply: the Internet Democracy Project will take care of the travel costs of all participants in the event as well as food for the duration of the event (as this is a day-long program, we will, however, not be able to provide any accommodation).

In return for facilitating your presence in the training, we ask that you write five blog posts on issues related to freedom of expression in India in the two months following the event. That is the commitment you make if you decide to join us.

Are you interested in being part of this program? Please send your answers to the questions below to Anja Kovacs, anja AT internetdemocracy DOT in as soon as possible and by 17 February at the latest. Selected participants will be informed on 18 February.

Where do you blog? If you are on Twitter, please do include your Twitter handle as well.
Why are you interested in joining this training?
Have you blogged on or otherwise engaged with freedom of expression issues before? If so, please share some details.
What are particular issues/questions you would like to see covered in the training?
Have you ever implemented any kind of censorship on your blog? Please expand (please note that answering yes to this question is not a reason to disqualify you from participation!).
Has anyone ever attempted to censor you as a blogger in one way or the other? Please expand.

Please note that while a demonstrated interest in one form or another (including on Twitter or Facebook) is definitely a plus, expertise in freedom of expression issues is not a requirement for participation.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday 11 February 2012

#flashreads for free speech / Feb 14th

THE IDEA: To celebrate free speech and to protest book bans, censorship in the arts and curbs on free expression

WHY FEBRUARY 14TH? For two reasons. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the death of Salman Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses. In GB Shaw’’s words: “Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.”
February 14th or Valentine’s Day has also become a flashpoint in India, a day when protests against “Western culture” by the Shiv Sena have become an annual feature. In Chandigarh, 51 Sena activists were arrested by the police after V-day protests turned violent in 2011. Our hope is to take back the day, and observe it as a day dedicated to the free flow of ideas, speech and expression.

#flashreads is a simple way of registering your protest against the rising intolerance that has spread across India in the last few decades. At any time on February 14th—we suggest 3 pm, but pick a time of your convenience—go out with a friend or a group of friends and do a quick reading. If you'd like some suggestions/ selected passages, email me or leave a message in the comments and we'll send you some selections from challenged books. Or pick your favourite passage on free speech, or passages from a challenged book or the works of any writer who has faced sedition charges, a book ban or other forms of censorship.

Feel free to create your own protest.

Places where you might do public readings: subway and Metro stations, public parks, coffee shops, open areas in malls. If you’re talking about Flashreads on Twitter, please use the #flashreads hashtag.

If you have a blog, a tumblr or a website, an easy way to join in is to post Tagore’s poem, “Where the mind is without fear” (see below) on your site for a day, or choose any other passage on free speech/ censorship that appeals to you. Or write a post about free expression and what it's meant to you in your own life.
(You could do this on your Facebook / Google+ / other social site profile page too. On Twitter, consider linking to one of the many posts that contain this message. Or Tweet 'Where the mind is without fear' line by line, with the #flashreads hashtag

Where the mind is without fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

~Rabindranath Tagore

Monday 9 January 2012

Elections and the elephant in the room

The Election Commission's order to cover up all statues of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, and her party symbol, the elephant, has caused some consternation. One sees the logic, and one holds no brief for Ms Mayawati. Nevertheless, in the interests of fair play, one recommends that symbols of other political parties (PDF, scroll to page 79) in UP — and elsewhere — be similarly obscured.


• All lotuses in all ponds should be covered, lest they give the BJP free publicity. (We recommend little gauze bags, so that some air and light get in.)

• Sickles should not be used: in cornfields, since that is an obvious advertisement for the Communist Party of India; and near hammers, because that's a plug for the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

• All alarm clocks must herewith be banned. They ring for the Nationalist Congress Party. Tell the boss that when you're late for work.

• Also to be kept away from the impressionable public eye, or to be covered with tarpaulin: bicycles, bows and arrows, hurricane lamps, spectacles, rotary dial phones, busses, lions, the rising sun, incandescent bulbs, torches, roosters, conchs, mangoes, weighing scales (the manual kind; you can go ahead with the electric variety), umbrellas, tops, hand-pumps, leaves (in pairs), three-petalled flowers, and a number of other fairly mundane items (see link above for the list).

• And, of course, since it just wouldn't do to let the Indian National Congress get away with it, you, yes, you, every one of you, will, until after polling day, kindly keep your hands in your pockets.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

You who can't sleep tonight

You who can't sleep tonight,
As restlessly you move,
Tossing, turning, left, right,
But just can't find the groove -

Yes, you sod, you're alone!
Man up, don't whine, no tears!
Get online, yeah, c'mon!
And tweet away your fears.

Not Vikram Seth

Sunday 1 January 2012

Why Sachin Tendulkar isn't god

We — our media, but also our chattering classes, as visible on social media — call him God. We say he is gifted, that his skills are superhuman, and that his records will never be broken.

One begs to differ.

Every time you ascribe divinity to the man, you're doing him a great disservice. You're ignoring the hours and hours of practice that made handling a bat second nature to him. You're ignoring the fact that his coach, Ramakant Achrekar, ferried him from game to game at maidan after maidan on his scooter, so that on a given day he got more turns at bat in a competitive environment than anyone else. You're ignoring the more than 10,000 hours of purposeful practice that he had put in, honing his skills, before he made his India début; hours that most others managed to do only by their late teens at best, more likely in their early twenties.

You're also not paying due respect to the giants on whose shoulders Tendulkar stands, his wonders to perform: the generation that brought India's first cricket World Cup home, thereby inspiring countless young lads for whom cricket was suddenly more viable as a vocation, as a way of life. Which, in turn, encouraged the setting up of hundreds of cricket academies, and, in time, the channelling of advertising money into the game, which made it even more viable for all those lads, which in turn inspired even more... you get the picture.

We live now in an age when, thanks to the IPL, hordes of young men can aspire to a life of reasonable affluence on the back of nothing more than cricketing skill. They don't have to make it to the national team for the money to start rolling in. And their aspirations are being reinforced by the many hours of cricket being streamed into our homes by television and the internet, by the many advertisements starring cricketers who are the flavour of the month.

Which means more cricketing academies, more trained coaches, better facilities, and definitely more striplings wanting to play cricket.

Chances are, as you read this, many millions of little boys aged five to ten are out there in the playing fields of the towns and villages, dreaming of being Tendulkar, much like he dreamt of being Gavaskar.

In a few years, some hundreds of thousands of them will actually get to play the game with some level of seriousness, maybe for school or college, or impromptu neighbourhood teams.

Of those multitudes, many will drop out even while still in school, sure. But some will genuinely fall in love with the game and want to put in the extra hours in the pursuit of happiness (and excellence).

Some tens of thousands of them will have pushy/supportive (your adjective may differ) parents who send them off to cricket classes.

Of those, a few thousand will have the good fortune to receive high-level coaching, the kind that hones the basics but also innovates, pushes boundaries, teaches mental strength as well as physical skills, all without burning the tykes out or making them thoroughly sick of the game.

These kids will go beyond making it to the school and college teams: they'll play for clubs and states, and probably in smaller, more localised versions of the IPL, of which, I think, there will be a fair number of, and from which scouts for the big franchises will find their talent.

Of these, dozens will be good enough to be in contention for the national team. And they'll be playing at a level that is much higher than the current incumbents can. This is natural: standards rise over time, and cricket is much further from hitting a theoretical wall defined by human limitations than, say, the 100 metres track event.

What are the chances that at least one of them — inspired as a child by the winners of the 2011 World Cup, nurtured by parents and coaches, favoured by circumstances, and with the mental strength and the physical conditioning to last through a long career — will beat all Tendulkar's records?

Sacrilegious as it may seem, pretty good, I think.

Well, okay, maybe the little big man's Test records will never be broken. Because that form of the game will have vanished by then.