Sunday, November 05, 2006

The party spoiler

(This is a topic that practically every Indian living abroad would have thought, felt and if he ever blogged, written about. In a way it summarizes the self-discovery process that so defines this fleeting phase of your first few years abroad. Nevertheless, heres my 2 cents.)

Being an Indian living abroad can make you vulnerable to quite a lot of banterous persiflage. Right from the rather unflattering adjectives that are appelled to your name ("desh drohi", "firang saala" and a new one, "angrez kutta"), to the polite reminders you get every now and then ("I dont know if you are aware, but we celebrate a festival called Diwali in our country today"). Most of it is all in good spirit, but I sometimes notice an underbelly of "you have abandoned your Indian-ness" sentiment hiding beneath the surface. It irks me a bit, because in my opinion it is exactly the opposite- my brief stay away from India has really enlightened me about what "Indian" really is, what Indian stands for, and where we go wrong and where we are changing for the better.

It is obviously the interaction with other cultures and communities that opens up your mind and exposes the fallacies of beliefs that you have all along assumed as facts. Perhaps its also the feeling of being part of a bigger society, and the absence of national fervor to cloud your thinking. But residing in a multicultural society provides you with a neutral experential viewpoint to judge things as they stand.

Perhaps thats the reason why whenever one of those small-talk conversations with acquaintances from the West veer towards a discussion of the exciting India success story, I somehow find myself arguing the othert side of the coin. It is funny- just a few years ago global Indians would probably be found at parties fervently advertising the rising India to unconvinced audiences- now India definitely seems to be the hot destination on everyones lips and people like me are actually saying "Hey, wait, cool down!"! After all am a trader at heart- we are trained to think against the market's hastily-conceived perceptions. But dont get me wrong- Im a strong believer in India's potential. But what Im skeptical about is: will we be able to fulfil it and become the next superpower? More importantly, will we be able to sustain ourselves as a superpower and not throw it all away like we did centuries ago? Above all the talent, the growth potential and the education, there are some cultural and moral values that define a superpower, a great nation. In my opinion, here are ten of them which India lacks:

1. Dignity of labour
The disparity between how cleaners/ drivers/ other manual labourers are treated in India as compared to their counterparts in the West needs to be seen to be believed. The cleaner lady who comes to clean my house in London refuses to come after 8 pm- shes got kids to look after too, right? They live by their own rules here, very unlike India. Obviously this can be attributed to the shortage of labour here- but there is an entirely different attitude here.

Look at other professions- cab drivers, sex workers, waiters- and the other story is the same. You get respect here for what you are doing, unlike in India where you are doomed if you are not an engineer or an MBA or a cricketer. (See, High Power Distance)

2. Personal integrity
Well, this is self-explanatory. Thankfully, of all the ten reasons here, this is the one flaw that can be largely explained by the economic situation of the country- corruption is largely a bane of developing economies. The odd doubt however lingers- look at our politicians- most of them have amassed wealth and yet are plundering away to glory. Will wealth make us more honest?

3. Attitude towards failure and mutual respect
Cited as one of India's biggest advantage as compared to China in the race to rule the world is our entreprenuerial spirit and our home-grown companies. However as a society, we remain largely unreceptive and worryingly cynical when it comes to failure. The concept of "Serial Enterpreneurship" is celebrated in America- people are respected for having experienced the harsh lows of risking it out on their own. On the other hand the Indian media are ready with daggers drawn whenever a business plan goes awry.

May be a completely unrelated topic but I was once speaking to an Aussie colleague about cricket and the love for it. He was telling me about how Sachin Tendulkar is probably as much respected in Australia as Ricky Ponting is (and thats something). He made one observation which I cannot forget: he said even after a bad day's bowling if McGrath was spotted in a pub, he would be greeted with a standing ovation, whereas he was shocked by the TV footage of people stoning Kaif's homes during the World Cup. Reminds me of that Star Tv programme "Waah Cricket" which my earlier roommate used to so relish watching, and how they made a spectacle out of relentlessly and illogically abusing the Indian cricket team after every defeat. Wheres the respect for our countrymen?

Another situation in which mutual respect comes across is queues- why are we always trying to jostle others and break queues and be the first person to get the window seat? Its because we dont appreciate the fact that the one ahead of us is also going through the same distress as we do.

4. Understanding, embracing and mixing with other cultures/ people
This is a well-known issue- Indians abroad are considered annoying because of their inhibitions in reaching out to other cultures and in following the adage "When in Rome, do as Romans do". We form "desi" clubs and cliques wherever we go, and hang out mostly with fellow Indians.

To be fair, this is true only for a few people, and even for those, it is more a matter of inconfidence and apprehension whether they will fit in with other cultures, rather than snobbery or an attitude problem. On the other hand, once the barrier is broken, we maintain very good friendships- the lack of uber-practicality that is rooted in Western cultures makes us quite adorable!

Whatever be the reason however, the lack of cultural diversity skills does put us at a backfoot when it comes to controlling globalization. And we are generally supposed to be low on teamwork skills and communication skills (confidence?). The silver lining- our command over English, our interest in the West and the confidence in our economy should gradually see us improving.

5. Giving back to society
Heres a leaf that the world must take from the US book- the regular donations from famous alumni is a big factor to the competitiveness of US universities- conversely, that culture is virtually non-existent in India. I sometimes wonder if we really attribute our educational institutions with more than providing us with "the best days of our lives"?

6. The attitude of the rich towards the poor
This is what frustates me a lot sometimes- the attitude of rich towards the rest of the society- the blatant lack of responsibility that the affluent display is appalling. Somewhat of a repeat of my points earlier about the power distance and the giving back- but the bottomline is that you cannot be a superpower if only a handful of people become very wealthy and the rest become very poor.

7. The theory- oriented process of thinking
One of the biggest myths we have in India is the assumption of level of the Western intellect- we all love to say "they are all so dumb", dont we? I believe that intellect has various elements- logic, creativity, presence of mind, judgement etc. We may be right when it comes to mathematics, or logic- we far outsmart many others in that respect. But are we the best in applications of theory? Look at the Mathematics Olympiad for example, where the level of mathematics is quite basic, but the onus is on applying it creatively. What is India's best position in it? 7th, in 1998. USA has never been outside the top 4 after 1996. (See

The fault lies in our educational system, which focuses squarely on theory, theory and theory. Our MBA courses are more like M.S in Finances. Hence we lack that judegment-based, practical common-sense approach to problem solving. We are excellent in computation but flounder when it comes to transferring ideas to newer pastures.

8. Professionalism
This is a personal foible :) But business in the West is conducted in a very professional manner- time-bound and time-efficient, something which I found lacking in my rather short experience of working in India. We take long lunch breaks, we consider it commonplace to arrive late for meetings and we work longer but inefficient hours. It is our style, but there isn't a doubt about the need to imbibe discipline. And yeah, 52 holidays a year!!

9. Lack of Meritocracy and hierarchy:
We are arguably better at this than Asian countries, but the distinction between age and seniority is still isn't well developed in Indian corporate circles. We still very strongly believe in the "age brings experience" adage, and many Indian managers are fixated with the "When I was your age, I worked in a sugar mill, so should you" mentality. Its very different here- I'm the youngest in my team, but I have as much as a vote in anything as the team head. The callousness of youth is respected, rather than derided.

10.Love and responsibility for our country and civic sense:
Something which is glaring in the eye for any Indian who goes abroad- the way people love their country. Scotland is a beautiful example- the story of how the Crown jewels were hidden away from the invading English and buried safely for nearly 200 years is truly inspiring. A look at the really ordinary crown jewels and you realize how much more extraordinary our monuments were and how much lesser have we fought to restore them.

The way we spit at every street, the way we treat Bombay as one large dustbin. The way we are so well-behaved when abroad, and so relieved when being able to throw that candy wrapper on our return back. We absolutely and shamelessly lack civic sense, and more so, the realization of the impact of our own adverse actions on our own world.

Phew. But don't get me wrong. The intent here is not to distance myself from moi des and rant on about its various deficiencies. I, and for that matter every Indian abroad is as much a part of "We", and we probably have a greater responsiblity to improve on these than anyone else.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Into the public eye

When an injury to Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal before the World Cup crushed the nation's hopes of winning the ultimate prize in soccer, one commentator aptly described it as “the most talked-about metatarsal in the world”. Which makes me think about how different body parts have been catapulted into the public glare by famous influential people. And that it would be a good waste of time, space and effort to list down the prominent ones. So here goes. As expected, sportspersons dominate the list, but the interesting ones are really the rest. Interestingly, most of them have been famous not for their functionality, but for their absence! For the sake of my orthodox audience, with some notable exceptions, I wont touch upon (uh huh) the controversial parts.

I'm all ears!: Has to be Mike Tyson, and his appetite for Evander Holyfield’s auditory organs, which he politely indicated on the 28th of June, 1997 ( for a narrative). And, ooh, how can we forget the greatest William Shakespeare and his immortalization of the ear in Julius Caeser’s most famous quote: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”

Headstrong: Indian mythology digs me out of a helpless situation in this case- surely has to be Ravana with his ten heads! The mention of the villainous name takes us back to those wonderful days when we were made to believe that Sundays were holidays because Ramayan was aired on TV- aah, those super cool arrow-fights in space…(And credit also to the amazingly imaginative Douglas Adams for his multi-headed character Zaphod Beeblebrox, the President of the Universe…)

Letting your hair down: The late Persis Khambatta, arguably India’s most international actress created quite a buzz when she decided to shave her head for the role that she would always be remembered for- Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And on the other side of the coin, David Beckham taught us how to make a fashion statement out of a coiffeur- his most famous being the Mohawk one (want one yourself? Not a surprise, actually, because it runs in his family- his mom is a hairdresser.

Looking down our noses: A pity I can’t include animals, because who can forget our favourite reindeer Rudolph (not that we know many…). And Kate Moss’s nose couldn’t escape the eyes of nosey Brit papparazzi as it was splashed all over UK tabloids, full of cocaine.

The eye of the beholder: Considered by many as Aishwarya Rai's best asset, the eyes have been intricably linked to beauty through history. Be it Mona Lisa's eyes that could be interpreted to show a thousand different emotions, to that haunting green eyes of that Afghani girl on the National Geographic award-winning cover, they have always had us captivated.

A Shoulder to cry on (or, about): Undoubtedly Sachin Tendulkar's, in more ways than one. Earlier a silent hero for balancing a billion-odd people’s hopes for fifteen years, it has recently gained considerable notoriety for not performing at its best (What else do you expect!). Well hes back- Sachin, make us proud all over again!

The hand that rocks the cradle: The "hand of God"- Diego Maradona's term for his daring sleight of hand in that quarter final of the '86 WC. Five minutes later he scored the goal which was to be voted as the best ever WC goal, wiggling through 5 English defenders to score with a stylish finish. Two contrasting sides of the same legend.

A finger on the pulse of the nation: In the finance world, has to be the fat finger syndrome and its latest victim- an unnamed trader at Mizuho who sold 600,000 shares of a firm for 1 yen when he actually wanted to sell 1 share for 600,000!! Cricket had its own share too- that umpire (cant recollect who) who raised it involuntarily in response to an appeal and then hoped it would vanish somewhere- ultimately deciding to call the batsman back.

Chest (male): A few examples in tennis come to my mind here. Agassi's made quite a few headlines when he proudly displayed a shaved one in Wimbledon. And Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi used theirs as a motivational tool by thumped against each others' after every point during their wonderful run at the top of doubles' tennis.

Can't stomach the fact: Probably the English cricket team, for a simultaneous strike by their stomachs before the Test series in India. But nothing compared to the commotion that Ronaldo's stomach caused when it had fits in that fateful WC final- the mystery still remains, though Ronaldo got ample opportunities to bury his ghosts.

Pelvis Risley: Madhuri Dixit’s the name, as far as India is concerned atleast! Each time the organ moved, thousands of hearts in India skipped a beat. Talk about magic.

Hip-hop: Shakira Shakira! they don’t lie, as she crooned in her latest oooh-so-sexy song.

Foot the bill: No one but George Bush. Time and afain he has able demonstrated how to put it into his mouth. Some skills there!

Watch your back(side): Ogled at since time immemorial, the derriere has been the object of man’s base-est instinct. But Jennifer Lopez (singer-cum-model-cum-actress-cum-dancer-cum-fashion designer, and consistently atrocious in everything she does), catapulted it into fame by putting her money where her backside is- she reportedly insured it for a billion dollars in 1999. Debate still exists over the issue- JLo herself refuses to shred some light ( ). And if its true, I wonder who was the insurer- the deal could be quite significant for their bottom-line.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Brain-warming up...

Cant believe its been nearly five months since I last wrote a blog. The last time I trimumphantly clicked on the "Publish" button on this site and nearly destroyed the F5 key as I impatiently waited for the blog to be updated was the 17th of May 2006- yeah the date is vivid in my memory, just like a sissy lover who ruefully remembers every boring detail of the last serenade with his woman before she left him for a faraway land.

Since then, I must confess I have logged onto the site quite a few times, even wrote a few drafts, but somehow never got the time or energy to bring them to fruition. I also unfailingly checked for any new comments, but never had the heart to reply to any- what excuses did I have for my absence?- and delayed all the replies for that sunshine day, that great day when I would break my sabbatical and get back into action. But many thanks to those who missed me and let me know so- it is probably this accumulating guilt that sprung me into action this Sunday night sitting in the balcony of my Tokyo apartment, gazing out into the warm moist darkness, all by myself.

But I must generously share the blame with the crazy hecticity of the last few months. It surely is difficult penning down after a stressful day's work in front of a computer screen (a word of appreciation for the people who still manage to do so- you guys are great!). And when you get the feeling that your weekends are probably more hectic than your weekdays, you know that you've taken a crash course through the lesson of life! But a short business trip to the land of sushi and samurais was just the blessing in disguise that I needed- solitude can indeed be bring about a humble realization of how interesting a person you always thought you were but really are not!

And so I've sat down to write down this theme-less, point-less and hazily-structured piece, much like a warm up for my hand-brain coordination system. And if you are purposeless enough to still read it to this point, theres good news: you can definitely expect some better writing soon. There have been ample vicissitudes of fortune that Ive experienced in the time I was away, and I surely will be digging them out from the archives of my brain and exhibiting them in this museum of introspection that we call a blog.

Schumacher's smelling another F1 title, Sachins back to scoring centuries, India seems to be losing again, and I've got back to writing- the world seems back to normal again :)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"I'm telling you, the guy is Rambo"*

Our first few weeks in IIMB represented the harvest season for the campus grapevine. As we unsuspecting lads groped around the vast campus finding our footing, know-it-all seniors passed down all the legendary stories that had been passed down the years. Facchas sat awe-struck in the L-square, hearing tales of exemplary students and terrifying staff members who had left their mark on the institute’s history. But no one was as discussed as one particular professor- little did we know he was soon going to ensure that a third of the batch would discuss him even more fervently, day and night, over the next three months. “Rambo” was the name we heard from every senior’s mouth in hushed tones. Real name S. Ramesh Kumar, professor in marketing.

Seniors spoke about his strictness and how he insulted, nay ripped apart students in his class. His chief weapon was the term project which he called the Apex (short for Application Exercise), a component that actually accounted for 30% to the course score, and yet required 40% of the total effort for all courses put together. We heard with amazement that his current behaviour was a lenient version of his earlier self. The hype Rambo had created about himsef was a classic case study in branding- a professor applying the concepts that he taught, to his own world.

For us Section A students, the enigma and curiosity was uncontrollable, because we never saw him around. Rambo seemed like the loch-ness monster- everyone talked about him but no one in our section had seen him. And having a bumbling story teller as our marketing professor only made us more interested in Rambo. Rambo’s class tests results were more eagerly awaited than ours- I waited with bated breath every week hoping my Section C friends would get off the mark. For his part, Rambo left no stone unturned in keeping up the hype. Having had to call off a class 15 min earlier than normal because of urgent work, he held a 15-min lecture that afternoon, attended by 100% of the class. (our prof’s lectures were also 15 minutes long, as far as content was concerned) But nothing was more initriguing than the sight of a group preparing for their Apex- they stayed days and night in the Computer Center, working frantically on it,skipping lunch and dinner and every social activity that transpired in the last week before their Apex. Tempers ran extremely high- heated discussions abounded in the group and friendships were broken over it. It was an intellectual reality show. The name was apt- it was the ultimate Apex of one’s survival in IIMB.

My blind curiosity ensured I wasnt going to lose another chance to meet the man- I took his elective Consumer Behavior (ConB) in the 2nd year. For a man with such personal influence, Rambo was a stocky man, and walked with a bent shoulder and a slow pair of legs. Rambo?!, I wondered. He spoke softly too, and resembled more a scientist past his prime. But it was not long before he lived up to his name- in the 1st class he mercilessly flayed an over-enthusiastic CP’er (class participation) for dubious content. This was going to be fun.

Rambo’s lectures were highly theory-oriented- and it was in the form of frameworks. He explained them using antique projector slides and a weird formation of his hands- both hands horizontal and at right angles to their normal state, pointing towards each other- that became the famous mimicry act on campus. Experts soon came to the conclusion that the distance between the two hands increased with the complexity of the funda he explained, a theory that could not be verified (Rambo could not be approached for comment). But his major power came from his words- they pierced through the ego of the hapless victim and proceeded to puncture the temporary sense of security that onlookers somehow mustered. In the 1st year’s last Apex, Ali's desperate answer was complimented by “You should have better concepts at this stage of the course.” In ConB, he once showed an advert to illustrate a concept. The moment he put it up on the projector, our man Dushyanth Jayanty immediately recognized the model as Deepti Naval and even blurted it out in a surge of excitement. As Rambo stood smiling at him with that look of amazement on his face, the silence turned to muffled peals of laughters. Then he said, with his hands in position, “I would really appreciate if you would rather concentrate on the concept that Im trying to explain.” Deepti Naval would have wished she wasn’t there.

Our Apex days are still vivid in my mind. We had one less member than the others and ours was the first one- so there were no mistakes to repeat. Seven days of sleepless nights and yet on the day of the Apex it was still a sinking feeling. Wierdly, the last hour before the Apex is when when we were most relaxed, because by then we had left it to Fate. I still remember the rare moment of glory as Rambo smiled. Our joy knew no bounds. His words of praise still linger as fond memories.

Clueless about the future and content to stagnate, Id settled into a vegetative existence in IIMB. The Apex revived me into action, and revive it did. Seven non-stop days of slogging away and surviving on countless coffees somehow proved to myself that I still had that dedication and commitment that I once prided myself on. For me, the Apex was the base of the mountain I was to climb.

Rambo was overacademic and his course lacked application, say some. But, isn’t that the role of academics? History has long rewarded those who created a science out of an art, and those who created an art out of a science. With his obsession with linkages, Rambo deserves his little bit of credit for providing us with a scientific perspective to the field of marketing- long considered an art. Thank you, Professor.

*The title of the blog is taken from the film Wall Street, in which two men in a bar when speaking about a 26-yr old executive who has made $650,000, refer to him in those words.

Friday, April 21, 2006

On the Edinburgh bridge

On the Edinburgh bridge Posted by Picasa

The Power Equation...

Ive always wondered about what drives relationships. What makes succesful relationships and what breaks them? The web of our existence is intertwined by a unending array of relationship threads- and they are certainly not similar. Familial relationships are god-given, friendships are symbiotic and work-related networking a bit like a temporary equilibrium- you strive to maintain that delicate balance between formality and bonding. Yet there must be something common to all of these- some virtue that applies to all, but in a different way to each?

During my growing-up days, my idea of a love story with a happy ending was based on the tenet of true love: you love your partner so much that you are ready to sacrifice evrything for him/ her. Everything else- status, compatibility, et al was just secondary. Indeed, fables and Bollywood (however senseless it may seem now, it surely had a subconscious influence) only reinforced those beliefs.

And indeed, when I looked around, it did seem true. I had, and still have, friends from various strata of society, with different mindsets, different perspectives to life. Yet all that matters for me to click with them is an agreement of core values- the basic things we stand for. Indeed, I do know of people falling in love, irrespective of vastly different social backgrounds and disparate views of life. And not all of it was puppy love- there were deep connections.

But did it all stand the test of time? Not really. As some close friends fell apart and lovers' tiffs turned to quarrels, I realized that true love didn't guarantee eternal happiness in a relationship. Something else was pulling the strings. My prime suspect- some sort of balance between the two parties involved. Something that is an innocuous bystander at the start- its meek voice is obscured by the din of love and caring. But as time goes by, it starts speaking to both, furtively, creating the fatal rift. I call it the POWER EQUATION.

So what is the Power Equation? Simply put, its a parameter of each partner's relative strength in a relationship "as perceived by each other". My theory- to be happy in a relationship, you have to get the power equation right. If that is not the case, irrespective of all the love in the world and all the caring, you will never be happy and contented.

So where does the Power Equation derive itself from? It could be as simple as how much each partner needs the relationship- that's Emotional Dependency, the most common player. Indeed, in my case, most of the times it was emotional dependency that led to unhappiness. The most common is also the most curable- Emotional dependency is perhaps the only thing that is within your control. In other less-fortunate cases, it could be rigid factors- Financial Status in some cases, Intelligence in some.

Again, the important part here is "As perceived by each other"- a couple may be living off on the fortune the wife earned by heritage, but if wealth is not an important parameter to the both of them, they could still be living happily. The relative perceptions also are equally important. The wife may feel that the husband is not giving enough time to their baby, though he may feel he is doing enough- it would result in an unbalanced power equation in the wife's mind. Most of the times however we see an interplay of various power equations- take the first example again- the wife may be richer but may be much more insecure than her husband- the two would then cancel out to create a harmonic balance.

A final word- not to imply that true love is a fallacy. Indeed, the hopeless romantic that I'm, I still believe in it. Just that the Power Equation is an important consideration too- a notion we often dismiss away under the guise of over-practicality.

Think about it. Does it help in a teeny-weeny way in solving those riddles that always racked your brains? For me, yes it has. And it's also given me a key to happiness- I now keep the equation balanced, and it keeps itself solved :)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

You can't run if you go weak in the knees

A rare sunny London afternoon greets me warmly as I step out of office to grab my mid-day grub. Liverpool Street is abuzz with its usual activity. A sea of investment bankers clad in garish pin-striped suits jostle their way to their offices in hurried paces. Scores of bodies make their way in and out of the tube station in two orderly lines, occasionally accosted by newspaper vendors offering free copies of the Metro. In a way it reminds me of Bombay, my hometown. The same speed, just a tad more organized and a lot less messy. Thats probably the reason why I have grown used to it so easily. Only, if only, they could import the smell and color of Bombay. Sigh.

I cross the street color-blind to the traffic light, graciously allowing a police car to go through. Soon I'm one among the sea, making my way to the sandwitch joint around the corner. Its not until I get a clear stretch of pavement ahead of me that I shift gears into that familiar fast pace that Ive always been comfortable with. I do like it this way, dont I?

Friends have always jibed me for my gait- they just could never catch up with me. And it's not just the walking- I've saved a fortune in telephone bills considering how fast I speak, and I also eat fast and think fast.(Intriguingly, the only thing I am not fast in is where it really matters. God does play his little tricks sometimes.)It somehow stems from my crazy utilitarian mentality- I dont like wasting time on the mundane things in life. (I obviously treat the three hours spent everyday snooping into random people's orkut scrapbooks as time well spent.)

A rude tackle by a heavy Turkish passerby jolts me out of my thoughts. An involuntary glance at my watch reminds me of the impending dreadful post-afternoon meeting. I step up the mph, virtually flying as I manouevre the irregular human traffic. And just as Im about to cross, a lovely Chinese couple, very much in love, amble across slowly, hand in hand and eye in eye, inadvertently coming in my path. I reluctantly grind to a halt as I politely let them go through first.

The contrast between my sprint and their relaxed stroll could'nt be more pronounced, I realize. And then I ask myself- if I were to be committed, wouldn't I have to slow down, just the way the young man had, for my better half? (Surely yes, because both of us running around hand in hand would be an extremely funny sight.) The metaphor strikes me immediately- wouldn't the added responsiblity and commitment become a spanner in my dream-works? The breezy way of life, the mad rush to capture every moment of the day, wouldn't all that have to take a backseat? Dreadful thought indeed.

I successfully squeeze through the revolving doors just in the nick of time, congratulating myself for the effort. The swiping of the card and the entry through the glass doors is timed to the usual perfection. I run up the escalators and gripe as the 2nd floor dealing room door just shuts on my face- "Holy shit! Extra time wasted in swiping the card and pulling the door!" I smile to myself. God does play his little tricks sometimes. With good reason.

A remedy of errors...

The increasing number of oversights by referees in soccer games is an issue that has had FIFA on the mat of late. The third umpire concept which has been such a success in cricket, just cannot work in soccer because of its continuous free-flowing nature. My room mate Mittal had a nice workaround suggestion- may be there could be a third referee in soccer too, only that he neednt be referred to- he would have the right to override the referee's decision on highly critical matters such as a handball/ tackle in the penalty area. So if his decision were to be the opposite of the on-field referee's, he would indicate so via a special whistle. Not bad, eh?

50 years down the line, we could have a futuristic solution for the handball problem. What if we fit every player's hand with a chip and insert a chip in the ball too, so that if they came into contact the ball would start glowing red? There would be some logic needed to ensure the ball doesnt glow if it touches the leg or the head, but should'nt be that difficult!

Friday, April 07, 2006

A "doosra" strategy...

Indian cricket's lack of expertise in the pace bowling department has been the favorite breakfast nibble for quite some years now. In a way the issue resembles that faced by a smoker- we know the problem, and the solution too, and yet are helpless about implementing it. So, rather than deal with the grassroots issue of having more pacer-friendly pitches, can we force the same outcome indirectly?

A wierd idea struck me whle watching a tennis game the other day- could we borrow a leaf from it's book? Just like we have Grand Slams on different surfaces, each suiting a certain style of playing, could we replace the various meaningless Leagues in India with 2 specialized leagues? How about a Kapil Dev pacers league and a Prasanna spin league? Probably the seperation of the two arts of bowling could lead to specialization in each?

Its very much an impractical idea, not well-thought out, indeed. But if somehow it could be worked out, it could work- we could see motivation at the grass roots level to prepare players for pace bowling.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Washing dirty linen in public....

When the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (IIMB) advertises itself as the place to be, the city of Bangalore is the Ace card up its sleeve. Compared to Ahmedabad and Calcutta, the other two top-IIM cities, Bangalore is a well-developed city with a nice young crowd and happening hang-out places. Foremost among its qualities is however is its amazing weather, Mediterranean-like the year round. In a way it typifies the Kannadigas: amiable and reliable.

For the sizeable population of IIMB that hailed from hot places like Bombay and Delhi, the weather was pure bliss. For a few slothful male students, the author being very much one of them, the absence of sweat presented 2 years of escape from the most arduous task that man has ever conceived- the daily bath.

Frankly, I had never really enjoyed bathing. Having being born with elaborate planning skills, I almost always stared down the clock showing 15 minutes for school to start, with me yet to get dressed. With my schedule heavily packed in every other way, I strived to fit my bathing somewhere in between. In the process, I created and subsequently bettered several world records for the fastest legitimate bath (Legitimate implying the involvement of some quantity of water, and not necessarily of any kind of soap). I did make an effort to start liking bathroom singing, but at that speed, rapping was the only genre I managed to master.

What perhaps annoyed me most about a bath was its purpose, especially on holidays. (The argument just grew stronger after I discovered the existence of deodorants.) Some wise friend then drew my attention to a recent research by some MIT PhDs: women seemed to be attracted very strongly towards male body odour! It was a breakthrough study, its significance heightened considering their last major finding was that male rats blinked 320 times between the times of 12 am to 2 am. I immediately applied the concept to my dealings with the opposite sex. The results were as lacklustre as before, but my belief in the strategy remained intact- my casanova looks had probably never allowed it to be put to use.

Which gives you an indication of the elation that I experienced on reaching Bangalore. And I was, by no means, alone. It was especially a pretty sight during tests, dishevelled students turning up in dirty clothes and scratchy hair. The guys' hostel had an official capacity of 300 but in reality was populated with millions- ants, bacteria, rats and even fungi lived together in peaceful symbiotic harmony. Some like my dear friend Aman took it upon themselves to create mini-worlds of their own- the moss discovered in his room in the 1st year fetched more press coverage than the seniors' final placements. Changing rooms after the 1st year was an emotional process, not for the students but for the cleaners.

Understandably I revelled in the atmosphere. Days, weeks and months passed by with the soapcase lying ceremoniously on my window sill. The only parameter used to decide whether to take a bath or not was the ability to stand one's own stench. However, just like a criminal hardens enough to beat the lie-detector, Aman had gone beyond that too. But somehow the experience taught me how to respect the bath. It DID feel nice after having one.

Human behavior has an amazing ability to adapt itself to the changing environment. Flustered with the deplorable levels of hygiene on campus, the clean guys came up with the solution: they decided to beat us at our game, to subject us to such a level of dirtiness that we would throw in the towel, literally. And thus was born the Birthday Hoosh.

Traditionally limited to a spanking of one's posterior, the Birthday Hoosh was ingeniously adapted to include a variety of food items being imparted to every part of the victim's body except his mouth. Despite the fact that the offerings were washed down with an ample quantity of water (which, by the way, constitutes a legitimate bath), the presence of egg and cream left the victim high and dry, and having to take a bath. The move worked, and IIMB soon started witnessing an increased usage of toilet soap.

However, soon, weak people like me found themselves being the wrong end of every complimentary hoosh, and the unkempt rebel within me was fast finding his voice. The proverbial last straw came in December 2004 when two of the women I was linked to celebrated their birthdays one after the other. If having a bath the first night seemed cruel, the thought of having another in the space of 24 hours pervaded me with an utter sense of guilt. Was I going to let all those months of hardwork go down the bathroom drain? No way. It was a determined me as I hurriedly washed the creamy cake off my face and took my books for the 1 am consulting prep meeting with Sudha.

Mention must be awarded here to Sudha, who despite herself looking straight out of the pages of Dracula, was a stickler for cleanliness. I had a near-brush with her fury when she first unilaterally decided to, and later refused because I hadnt taken a bath, to tie me a rakhi. (Looking back, that was a nice escape.) Sudha had drawn a laxman-rekha just inside the door, beyond which no shoes or dirty feet (except her own) could transgress. If you dared to break that rule, an irritating alarm was ready to go off- usually Sudha herself did the honours. It was in such trying circumstances that I arrived at her door that fateful December night.

My initial skeptism about my unbathed state slowly gave way to confidence- the washed face and the deodorant were doing the trick. Soon we were in the midst of a heavy discussion, and as was our wont, it turned into a heavily-debated one. Not ready to cave in, I defended my idea vociferously in my usual hands-all-over-the-place style. And then it happened. As I agitatedly lunged forward to protest against Sudha's comment, a thick blob of cake disloged itself from the recesses of my ear, wobbling in its trajectory as it landed straight into Sudha's lap.

There was a momentary silence as I made an emergency prayer to God to somehow ensure she wouldnt notice it. God refused to help, probably he himself was pretty disgusted with the sight. And then Sudha erupted, her scream carrying the mixed emotions of recognizition, disgust and utter hatred. Terrified, I ran back to my room to sleep behind bolted doors. We never had a case meeting again.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The awakening...

Life always seems to me a never-ending race. What makes it difficult is not the constant running, but the fact that its a 100-meter sprint and a 15-km marathon all combined into one. Juggling between our varied priorities,we struggle to maintain that ideal balance between short-term happiness and long-term success. Some of us become masters at the sprint, while others focus on the marathon, albeit not knowing when it would come or whether they would be able to cross the line.

I had a pretty lacklustre start to my race- a pretty ordinary childhood laced with the occasional flash of brilliance. Despite blessed with an utter lack of sporting skills, I ambled about playing cricket all day long in the backyard. Books were considered a taboo among the crass kids in my locality, and creativity in music or the arts was a virtue I never knew existed in me. Hobbies were as permanent as a Casanova's keep: they came as fast as they went.

VJTI marked the turning point in my life and my attitude. Shrugging off my inept social skills and confidence, I exploited to the hilt my biggest virtue at that time-my boundless energy. All along I had plodded along life akin to a two teams meandering away to a Test match draw. Now life had got a purpose. I realized that organizing events in college provided me with self-worth and a recognition, an identity. It was a positive spiral. The enthusiasm grew. For two months in 2003, I practically lived in the VJTI quadrangle, not even stepping into a class and going home at 12 am. I'd achieved a lot. Life was good.

And then IIM happened. And the first rays of reality simply burnt my sleepy eyes. Superhumans confronted me at every step, people who had academic distinctions all their life, were also great sportsmen. Music afficionados who could speak about Led Zeppelin's history and Statistics with equal ease. The list was endless.

My natural reaction was to struggle to come to terms with my relative ineptitude, and then to rationalize. Obviously if I had been backed at an early age, I would have learnt sports. Oh, I never had the money to buy a CD, how could I ever develop a taste in music? But, try as I might, I was increasingly accepting the truth: Despite my talents in certain areas, I had just wasted 22 WHOLE YEARS of my life. As I looked back over the years, I could see nothing constructive except my financial independence at a young age.

Beautifully captured by Pink Floyd (probably lyrically the most superior band ever) in their single Time from Pulse(1995):

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in the relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

The reality shock did however jolt me into action. A lacklustre summer internship at Britannia which I so completely hated was a blessing in disguise: it provided me with ample time to make a new beginning. I started reading extensively, from fiction to current affairs. I was an utter simpleton when I entered IIM- reading a daily newspaper used to take me 5 hours simply because every news was news to me: I knew absolutely nothing. But I read and I read in the 2nd year of MBA- magazines, google, I just fed myself with every kind of information, not caring whether it was important or not. It was just the hors d'oeuvre I needed to drum up the hunger for knowledge.

Pure genius is an utterly useless virtue by itself, and yet such a potent weapon when applied to every aspect of life. Brain-dead for 22 years, its almost like my mind is growing up now. Theres a restless curiosity that drives me every moment in every direction. Like a dear friend once wrote about me "..a kid in a toy shop, who likes evrything he sees...". And as I scurry around trying to savor every second of life, Im finding things in myself that I never knew existed.

Its been a false start to the race, but Im gearing myself for a photo-finish. And Im happy running, as long as I keep changing lanes :)

Its all in the game...

Being a cricket fan in these parts of the world doesnt get you much mileage. Cricket is a poor cousin to soccer- while soccer is a religion, cricket is a pastime sport. A bit sad, considering that this is its very home. A look around the world, and except in the subcontinent, the story is very much the same. The question is begging: why are there only 12 national cricket teams part of the ICC, as opposed to FIFA's 250? On a broader perspective, what makes a particular sport so popular that it is an universal religion? and relegates some other to permanent oblivion?

I turned to Malcom Gladwell's bestseller "The Tipping Point" for inspiration- the book in which he talks about how fashion trends and word-of-mouth spread in much the same way as an epidemic. But unfortunately Gladwell shuns away from applying his dear concept to sports, very surprising because Gladwell himself is a passionate sports enthusiast.

Surely it has to do with the game, and then also with the circumstances of its becoming popular. Cricket's long standing nemesis has obviously been its duration- most people dont like the idea of spending an entire day waiting for a result. In some way, it ties with the concept of "Instant gratification" that marketers tout nowadays- people want return on their time and money IMMEDIATELY. And wot the heck, 35% of all test matches have been a draw, so sometimes there isnt even a return! Cricket enthusiasts may argue that there is a lot of excitement even in a draw, but when you are looking at attracting new eyeballs, its not too good.

The decline of West Indies since their heady domination of the 70's has long being attributed to kids taking up basketball and baseball instead of cricket. Could then the answer be in the excitement that it provides to a player and spectator alike? I could theorize that football's status as a religion is because of the delirion that some moments provide to the spectator and a player. A solo goal can send a crowd into raptures. Most of the times, it prompts wild celebrations by the players themselves, with kissing and hugging and chest-baring not uncommon. Simply because one goal can decide a match. One penalty awarded dubiously can crush an entire nation's hopes. Cricket simply does not have those moments. Commentators' favourite line "You havent won until the last ball is bowled" is ironically cricket's undoing in a way- it implies that consistency rather than a momentary flash of brilliance is the key to victory.

But then basketball is also similar to cricket in that sense, and is a far more popular sport. Could there be other answers? Part of the excitement in soccer and other ball-games is probably due to the presence of all the players on the field, in the heat of the action. A team event versus a one-on-one duel is more exciting because it has the added ingredients of team-work and multiple points of action(there are more players you can look at, and chances of exchanges between players are more). Could it be that cricket being essentially a 11-on-1 game loses out on that count? More importantly, there is only one point of action- the ball. At any time, only 2/3 players are actually involved in the game- the rest, like us, as mere spectators, standing at their places.

A final point: its not so much about the game spreading to different countries as much as the quality of the game being very high in all countries it is played. In fact, in terms of spreading the game, cricket has surprisingly done well inspite of its obvious shortcomings- there are 74 affiliated national cricket federations in the world as opposed to soccer's 204. (Source: a bit unreliable, The issue is rather that of these 74, only 8 are worthy of even participating in a world tournament. Compare that to football, where as many as 207 teams have made it to the World Cup finals! Is it that cricketing skills are difficult to impart? Or is it that though it has spread, it is yet to permeate at the grassroots level? Is it the lack of sporting models for youngsters to look up to? Any clues?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Leaving on a high...

How do you want to leave this world?

Its a topic that most people are uncomfortable discussing...but nevertheless a very interesting one: whats your death style? prefer to wither away in peace, or exit with a bang?

Fittingly enough, death been given more than its due footage in Indian it the superhuman hero in the 60's, who made it a point to say a few words to every family member/ friend/ enemy around before he breathed his last, or the dramatic heart attack that chose the most happiest moment to make its entry, portraying death has always been a great dramatic moment.

Which makes me notice that Shah Rukh Khan has been involved in some really absorbing on-screen deaths. Expectedly so, because it really suits his naturally over-dramatic personality. The last run he makes in Devdas, to see Paro one final time, and then falls dead at her doorstep. Or that poignant last moment in Ashoka with a quiver-full of arrows in his back...

But my all time favourite remains Kal Ho Na Ho...and watching that movie is what has prompted me to think abt this topic. Even as Shah Rukh lies on his deathbed, the life he infuses into that scene is unmistakable. As people cry all around him, he refuses to be overcome by the situation, and instead delivers some last minute feel-good dialogue. Hes dying but hes leaving behind his enthusiasm, his energy.

I saw and I knew it: this is how I want to die. In the limelight, extracting every bit of last-minute glory. Cmon, whos going to remember you after you die, anyways?

Dying in my sleep would be such a SHAME. you are gone and you yourself dont know it. I would rather pass away in pure daylight, so that everyone can be around me in those last moments. So I have it all planned. That last day when doctors would have given up hope. Phone calls being made to every single friend/ relative I know. The hospital overflowing with well-wishers, clamoring to catch a bit of me. Those rosy testimonials. Probably, finally some one will acquit me of those Maadu allegations. (Or may be not, I may extract a last-minute treat from them "Ab to jaa rha hun yar, banta hai"). And amidst their sorrow, Ill crack a silly joke. And laugh over it. And bring a smile to their faces. Touche. Time to go.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The first post

So finally I write my first blog. Months after the idea first came into my head, and flitted around in the recesses of my brains, Ive finally mustered the courage to make that first move. Perhaps it helped that this was already a long email sent to unsuspecting pals: i just had to copy-paste it. And not to mention some really nice words of encouragement Ive receieved in the past few weeks on my writing. So here goes!

Its a little late in the day for this blog, but Ive been really caught up with work and small-talk socializing in the last week, so couldn't write in. Nevertheless the subject is very much fresh in my mind, and it would be a real shame not to share this experience with you.

Sunday the 5th of February marked a historic day in my life. We all have our "once-in-this-lifetime" dreams and ambitions: be it making a TV appearance or meeting Sachin Tendulkar in the flesh, it is the seeming impossiblity of their occurence that keeps them alive. And when suddenly one day they happen, it takes so much for the realization to sink in. The euphoria of the present moment somehow erases the significance of the wishful wait.

One such dream for me has been to watch a premier-est Premiership match live in the stadium: Frankly, have never followed soccer like many of my friends did, but the few matches that I had seen on TV, I had been overwhelmed by the atmosphere. Larger-than-life stars, drunk followers and heated free-for-alls all in the space of 90 min: soccer seemed to have it all.

And when you are in London, you just cannot escape the magic that this game weaves on the common man. Club soccer is not a pastime here, it is a religion. People, however poor, buy season tickets costing £1600 for their favourite club, impressive considering the average annual salary here is £18,000. Every pub worth its salt advertises their large screens on a matchday, and stadium tube stations reflect a sea of uniform hue as fans dress up from head to toe in their club colors.

So it felt unreal when one day at a daaru party someone floated the idea of going to a stadium to watch the Chelsea-Liverpool game. The fact that it would be prohibitively expensive apart, we were not sure if we would get tickets. I mean, Chelsea-Liverpool! how would we ever be able to get a seat for it in this soccer-crazy country? It was however worth a try, we agreed, and collective enthusiasm ensured that we landed up at Stamford Bridge on a dark Sunday afternoon.

It had not been difficult to find the way: the whole world seemed to be going there. All exits at the Fulham tube station were closed except the one going towards the stadium. Cops dressed in bright uniforms regulated the crowds at every juncture, but I could feel the atmosphere already. The fans had already kicked off their slanging match in the tube, and soon there were slogans and abuses all around. As we walked down the long road towards the Chelsea stadium, enthusiastic Chelsea volunteers gave away free magazines to their supporters.

Having come so far, I didnt want to miss the action now: we immediately started looking around for touts. We found some gruff ones, and after some unsuccessful negotation which had the sole effect of antagonizing one of them nearly into action, we agreed hurriedly to buy tickets at £100 each. It seemed a fair price considering the true price was £60. What we soon realized was that none of the tickets were together, as he had promised. We split up, each his own way.

As I made my way to the East stand, I saw that there were 2 queues: for supporters and for away fans. I realized I liked Chelsea after noticing a relatively small queue on the supporters end: most fans like to sit on the West End. It took an eternity to reach my row, and my seat was bang in middle, but there seemed to be no leg space to wade through to it. I stood there clueless, until one helpful Brit made the others stand up and let me pass. "And by the way, Chelsea is in blue", he informed me, mocking my ignorance, to the laughter of everyone around. I would have turned red, but was scared they would kill me.

From then on, it was pure magic. The continuous singing, the booing, the "Hernan Crespo O O O O" adulation, everything was so much fun. And then Gallas scored, and they all erupted, dancing and hugging each other. If you were a L'pool fan sitting there by accident, you would have been converted by the end of the game. I remained in a state of disbelief as Gerrard took a corner just yards away from me, and when Crespo scored a beautiful goal to make it 2-0.

Chelsea had had a great game and as we trudged out of the stadium, Chelsea fans were intent to rub it in. All of them gathered near the Liverpool supporters' buses, taunting them. As fistfights started, I poked around trying to get it on video on my phone (I so love raadas) and barely escaped being hit by cops on horses. Hmm, one down. What next, Wimbledon Center Court, Federer v/s Agassi?