Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wooo-hooooo ! What a ride! Let’s do it again!

Before the start of the Adelaide test match,  Virat Kohli went on record that he will be ‘aggressive’ in his outlook.

The first manifestation of that stated approach appeared to be in the selection of Karn Sharma in the playing eleven.  The thinking clearly seemed to be that even if Sharma may prove expensive and give away runs, he being a leg-spinner, would also put in more spinning revolutions on the ball, thereby giving  a much better chance at taking wickets - as compared to the overlooked Ashwin or Jadeja.


India are a wonderfully aggressive team when it comes to the short form of the game. In particular, the batting unit, high on the adrenaline shots of the IPL, express themselves with unfettered abandon.   Fascinatingly, they respect the opposition enough to consciously inculcate a healthy disrespect for them.   The game-plans then invariably include attempts to put the opposition off their game.  

That thinking then, is inherently sound. At the highest level of the game, when the opposition has worked out a carefully-thought-through game plan to make you redundant, one simply has to disrupt that game-plan, in order to survive. Continued push-backs are mandated, even to simply stay in the same spot so to speak, leave alone progress. Attack therefore, is the best form of defence – and dare one say, is the only form of defence at most times.

Cut to the longer form of the game.

Survival. Wearing down. Resilience.  Patience. ‘Gutsing’ out.

These are words we commonly hear in the context of test matches. 

Aggression however, is not a word one normally associates with India and test matches. It seems that India at the outset, generally set out to not lose a test match. Only later, does it appear that the possibly of victory crosses their minds. This seems all the more so in test matches played outside the subcontinent.  The reasons are not very hard to fathom:  India have historically been poor travellers, with a test match series victory outside India being a rare and precious result, and defeats being more the norm.   

The fear of losses then, generally overpowers the desire for victory.  Safety first, has generally seemed to be the mantra of the India test team.

It is in that context then, the approach adopted by the India test team led by a stand-in captain, has made an interesting departure.  At no point arguably – either on the ground or in the statements to the press - did the team give evidence to suggest that they were playing for a draw.  It is of course a different matter that there also lies a valid argument that at some point yesterday, the team probably ought to have nuanced their approach and ‘pulled the shutters down’ and looked to save the day.  As the saying goes, ‘Sar salaamat, toh pagadi hazaar – if the head is safe, one can try on a thousand pagadis or headgear – there are yet three more matches in the series.

But that said, for now, the all-or-nothing approach adopted by the team led by the stand-in skipper, is quite fascinating.

The approach if continued – and it’s a big if - will no doubt plunge the followers of the team into the desperately deep and dark abyss of despair from time to time, for inevitably there will be games like yesterday, where defeat will result from possible winning positions.

But that said, make no mistake: the approach will also bring along with it, the exhilarating possibility of achieving breathtaking victories: the possibility of success when all seems lost; results miraculous and awe-inspiring.

Without doubt, it is too early to say; but if the team adopts this ‘take-no-prisoners’ policy as an article of faith, we all would do well to strap on our seat belts, and brace ourselves for a rollicking and roller-coaster ride.

I love rides.  How about you?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Not an 'achha din'

A journalist is heckled for expressing a view found unpalatable by some.  Push comes to shove, literally, in an undignified manner.

Not much value can be found in a ‘he-said-she-said-he-did-she-did’ exercise.

So then, let’s look at the larger picture.  

For a moment, let’s completely accept that Rajdeep is a ‘khan-gressi stooge’, and was ‘insulting the country’ outside India. Let’s take it that he has always ‘insulted’ the prime minister, and had an ax to grind. On top of that, let us put the icing on the cake: he is ‘paid media’.  All accepted, and then some, for a minute. Sure.

Having said that, do we allow us to forget that all said and done, he does his ‘stuff’ with his words? Do we also allow ourselves to forget that unlike a few other anchors on television, he almost invariably, gives the other person a chance to speak through, and importantly, a chance to disagree with him?  Do we forget that in a free world, it is the survival of the fittest tv channels, and we are all blessed with remote controls in search of an alternative truth?

Is Rajdeep really then, the point?

The important thing is what gives the chest-thumping self-righteous warriors of ‘achhe din’ the right to heckle him, abuse him? What gives someone even the right to say ‘he had it coming’?

How did educated and reasonable people end up becoming so blind to the fundamental building block of a democracy: that as they are entitled to their views, so are others to theirs? Even contrarian and ‘khan-gressi’ and ‘sickular’ views, if that may be?

Our prime minister seems to be doing a good job in his new role, and if he ends up achieving a quarter of what he seems to plan, this country will be better off. Of that, there can be not much doubt.  But that said, is Mr. Modi, God incarnate, and totally beyond criticism? Come to think of it, is God Himself beyond criticism?

In fact, one of the erm..criticism that I have of Mr. Modi is that he himself has spawned this entire horde of chest-thumping, intolerant class of ‘bhakts’ by numerous small, but insidious thoughts.  Do we remember the amazing ‘Congress mukt bharat’ slogan?  The one which equated a opponent political party, to an evil and a disease? No Sir, none of the measured:  ‘Vote against congress/ bring me to power’; but a ruthless ‘eliminate the congress disease from this country’. Is it any wonder then with that 'tone from the top', the bhakts also speak the same language? That the bhakts are totally convinced convinced that any contrary view is a symptom of the ‘disease’ diagnosed by their leader, and utterances of blasphemy?

Yes, we all expect great things from the prime minister, and it is possible, probable even, that he may end up significantly impacting the country positively. There is an undoubted sense of optimism around that ‘achhe din’ will come.   It is entirely true that most of this country looks forward in hope.

But that said, if we give up logical argument and measured thought in seeking to express our disagreements, and seek to stifle or threaten the contrary voice, how boring will that be? 

How sad will that be, for this great democracy?  What can be remotely ‘accha’ about it when one is mortally scared to even entertain a differing viewpoint?

The Prime Minister reportedly reached out to Rajdeep through an intermediary, expressing regret. I hope he recognizes the importance of his personally coming out and taking a clear stand for tolerance. I hope he asks his worshiping band of strident bhakts to indulge in some yoga : breathe out the negativity, breathe in peace and positivism. Say Om.  Say ‘I disagree’, when feeling like disagreeing; and nothing more. 

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Friday, January 24, 2014

In support of air-conditioned chambers.

Opportunities to change the world we live in come across only a few. And that too, not everyday. 

During a cold Delhi December, a young upstart political party was the chosen one. 

That Delhi handed the reins of power to the Aam Aadmi Party, was as much a matter of pride and satisfaction in the process of democracy in India, as it was a scathing indictment of the established political players. Let us not make any mistake about the message here. If an MNC organisation having long established career executives angling for the top job, anoints as its CEO a raw inexperienced rookie fresh out of college, what message that for the well-entrenched?

Heartwarming indeed then, was also the accompanying thought that things could actually change. Change for the better. That people could see behind the cynical machinations of the career politicians, and the people breathtakingly, had the courage (or desperation?) - to go out on a limb and trust a new kid on the block to do right by them.  'Hold on for a moment', we seemed to tell the die-hard cynic in most of us - 'all may not be lost as yet'.

Hope germinated. Fragile, but hope unmistakably.

When the AAP was shoe-horned into the ruler's chair by the career politicians, the thoughts and calculations seemed straight out of a comic book illustration 'balloon' - visible for all to see ! The newbie's thoughts -  'Oops ! Did I actually make it to the chair? Err... What next?'. On the other hand, the career politicians rubbing their hands with breathtakingly Machiavellian cunning 'Let's give this upstart a rope long enough, and sooner than later, he will hang. Teach 'im to play with us big boys !'.

For the AAP, it was never going to be easy, for one does not build any organisation overnight. Be it a successful business, or a political party, organisations are built with time, energy and effort. The Congress has been in existence for a century; the BJP, decades. For all their faults in delivering, these organisations are smooth well-oiled political machines, with established processes in place. The spokespersons know their lines and roles, the high-commands and vice-presidents and such others know how each action of theirs is perceived by the public at large, there are funding sources lined up, hierarchies and ladders lined, each of the MPS and MLAs speak in 'one voice' carrying the official line, etc.  All well organised and smooth.

Been there, done that. Since time immemorial.

The AAP then, was never expected to be a smooth, calculating political machine, with all drivers in the party driving in the same direction, at the same speed. Fully expected was that some drivers wanted to go slowly, some faster. Some on the highway of economic liberalization, and some choosing the by-lanes of protectionism. Some drivers were expected to be polite and thoughtful, and some abusive, spitting paan and venom. All this, because the newly minted motley crew of MLAs were driving on the roads of power, without even holding so much as a learner's license ever !

But all these were sins to be expected, and with a bit of indulgence, eminently forgivable. 

However, what was and is expected, at least by the trusting Delhi citizens if not the hopeful masses in the country, is a good solid honest effort. A roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-sweaty-and-dirty effort. What was expected that once the keys to the vehicle of governance were given, at least all the drivers would stay put in the car and try to give a honest-to-God account of themselves !

Governance is of course many things : At times, it could indeed mean spot checks. At others, it could also include seeking views at 'darbars'. And at yet other times, it could even possibly extend to  'protests and dharnas'; for who is to grudge somebody a new way of doing things? But at at the heart of it all, governance means one indisputable thing : To Govern. And govern The Whole. 

This does mean an attempt to set policies and things right for the masses of people, the entire state for which one is responsible. It means simplifying processes at large. It means bringing in laws impacting the whole state in one go. It means reforming at a systemic level, and not at the level of the individual. Taking an example, for sure sending a few cops on leave may give the police force a message that they need to do right by the people. But how effective the message? For how many policemen? For how long does the message sustain? 

If there are no fundamental and systematic changes for the police force at large  - better salaries, better equipment, removal / reduction of political interference, instilling pride in their work etc. how does sending a couple of odd cops on leave really matter? 

Fundamental change is not easy. It necessarily means long hard hours, difficult discussions over budgets and conflict of interests, reconciling expectations at a centre and state level, changing laws, working to get a consensus or trying to achieve a majority vote etc. All difficult and for sure, unglamorous work, as compared to sitting on protests, but if we all are honest with ourselves, it is the only real way to bring about lasting change.

Of course, in this instance, the police force may not be under the domain of the state government, but the larger point is this : The AAP can only bring about fundamental changes and leave a lasting impact on the lives of citizens by doing what they ironically, claim to detest : sitting in air-conditioned chambers !

Who says there is nothing to learn from the Congress and BJP?