Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Heart of the Matter

Rahul Bhattacharya reflects on the most fascinating Indian cricketer of our time
Love him or hate him, you just can't ignore Sourav Ganguly © Getty Images
At some stage, hard to say when, Sourav Ganguly no longer remained a cricketer and turned into a folk hero and a folk villain. Averages and the rest came into it but with Ganguly things became a matter of convictions of the soul. Anything he did or did not do could provoke an outcry. Everything that was done to him or not done to him could provoke an outcry. Ganguly issues took the form of movements. In many ways he is the cricketer-phenomenon in India's modern pop culture.
A year of sustained chaos, encompassing several riots, numerous u-turns and countless epitaphs, has now led to a predicament of superb absurdity. In a recent column the satirist Jug Suraiya was badgered by his partner to attend yet another festive-season party. "You'll meet lots of interesting people," he protests. "I'll end up as always like a spare Sourav; present and accounted for, but no one quite knows what's to be done with him." Indeed, no one quite knows.
The Ganguly situation is impossible. No answer is a solution, not even the one of respectfully putting him out to pasture, because he isn't going, and if he isn't going he is almost certain to be back. No, the situation must resolve itself and the rest is commentary. The fashion is to be exasperated, if not disgusted, by the whole affair. Personally I'm not tired of it. Not in the least. I'd be lying if I say I'm not fascinated: as human dramas go, there's too much in it.
And the situation could not be what it is were Ganguly not what he is. On braving my surname and referring to Ganguly as the most fascinating Indian cricketer of his generation in a recent article, I was ticked off by a reader: "I am sure no person, living or dead, on earth outside people of Bengali origin thinks that Ganguly comes anywhere close to being one of the most fascinating cricketers, let alone being `the most'." Another put it more succinctly: "A f***ing Bong standing up for another f***ing Bong."
Never mind the enlightened. The reactions Ganguly evokes comprise a phenomenon broader than Bengali parochialism.'s diarist Siddhartha Vaidyanathan reported from Pakistan that the first thing locals asked him after the khatirdaari was about Ganguly. They were unhappy with the treatment meted out to him. They related to his naked passion. In one way or another Ganguly speaks to watchers. At once he compels you to assume both the best and worst about him; at once he can prove you both right and wrong. In short, he makes you feel. I have not spent quite so much time discussing, debating, any other cricketer. What is it about him?
In ... out ... in again, the going has been tough for Sourav Ganguly in the recent past © Getty Images
I suppose Ganguly came to symbolise individualism and rebellion. Individualism in that he was given to flouting norms, yes, but also in the way he could not be bothered about members fitting into or giving energy to the group. To him match-winning talent was match-winning talent and that was that. Type was important: the brasher the better. In his book Aakash Chopra and Mohammad Kaif were meant for walk-on parts and Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh for glory. This could not be scoffed at because, as much as the attitude may have bred hubris, at the time the team was being built there exuded from it a rawness of belief that was both effective and appealing.
A journalist recalls being phoned by Ganguly to watch a youngster in a first-class game that was being televised. "Aap is ladke ko dekho. Badaa khilaadi hoga yeh. Mujhe khilaana hai. (Watch this boy. He is going to be a big player. I want to pick him right away.)" A few months on, Mahendra Singh Dhoni smashed 148 against Pakistan from No. 3. One player put it this way: "If you capture Dadi's imagination, he will do anything for you." And vice-versa, for once he'd captured Dadi's imagination the player too would do for anything for Dadi. Yuvraj on his first comeback to the team was quoted saying: "I'm ready to die for such a captain." Harbhajan's unstinting support can in some way be understood in light of the fact that, feeling defeated by disciplinary issues, the chucking saga, an ordinary international track record, and economic pressure at home, he was contemplating moving to the US to drive trucks for a living at the time Ganguly fought for his selection.
Generally Ganguly fostered angry or reckless young men. To him "good behaviour", a broad term espoused by the present team management, belonged in school and probably not even there. He himself had been summoned to the match referee no less than 12 times in the last decade. His approach was bound to precipitate what could possibly be termed a cultural conflict in the world of modern sport. For Ganguly, like for Arjuna Ranatunga, competitiveness involved brinksmanship rather than training. As far as they were concerned Australia were not to be aspired to. They were simply to be toppled. England were not to be appeased. Victory lay precisely in their disapproval. In other words, Ganguly and Ranatunga wanted to do things their way. Both carried a resonance of the anti-colonial rather than that of the savvy global sports professional of the age (in Pakistan, Ganguly blithely sported an oversized beanie bearing a logo of the wrong corporate). If it was limiting it was also inspiring. And it invited, from Western observers especially, a ludicrous mix of suspicion, ridicule and condemnation. Much more easy to be gracious about well-mannered fellows who toe the line.
So far so good. Ganguly quenched the thirst for individualism, which is an essential allure of sport; he had an effect on young players and followers similar to that of a rock concert, and all the while kept a successful team together thanks also to a wonderful set of seniors and a fine coach.
And yet, after a point every day for him became a day of decay: the uncorrected technical errors, the sinking fitness levels, the sagging fielding, the jaded tactics, the lowering of standards for himself and by extension for the entire side - not least the gifted youngsters over whom he had so much influence. Finally, his almost politician-like desperation to hold on to power manifested itself in an insecurity - or was it the other way round? - that tore away at the very fabric of the team.
The deterioration looked all the more stark because of the contrast with that most outstanding of cricketers, and Ganguly's exact contemporary and heir, Rahul Dravid. Simply, Dravid built himself on stronger foundations. Ganguly batted pretty as a butterfly but, distracted, found himself blown away by the winds of high pace. Dravid opened up once his base was sufficiently secure. When it came down to it, Dravid had the rigour to last. Likewise, where Ganguly the leader powered on bare-chested with the belief that with flair on his side nothing was impossible, Dravid appreciates that any group must have the safety net of work ethic, discipline, punctuality, enthusiasm - the finer things. Dravid's brand of risk-taking is more cerebral. With Ganguly there was always the element of danger, of losing it all. Ganguly was not about systems and processes. Ganguly was about whims and instincts. This was the thrill, and a great thrill. But I suppose when you're losing, the thrill is gone.
Personally, commenting on the Ganguly situation has been challenging because it involves a tussle between the heart, which wants the individual, the rebel, to beat the odds and win, and the mind, which cannot help but log the slow, sad decline. Then the watcher and the journalist in you battle and they can be, but are not in every instance, the same.
Besides, this was a situation like no other. The more I dwelled on the issue the more I stopped dwelling on the rights and wrongs (there were so many that there weren't any) and the merits of the case (which became too tiresome). They didn't matter so much either. Simply, I just wanted to see how it would unfold on a human level.
I suppose in effect I was choosing the simple intimacy of the watcher to the powerful insider-ness of the journalist. I couldn't see why a nebulous "what's best for the team" should become a pamphleteering cause with me - that was merely a parameter to be considered while trying to pass honest judgement on the actions of the men responsible. Beyond that it was neither my duty nor my inclination and I felt foolish for harbouring any guilt in this respect. At a deeply personal level it did not matter a great deal to me whether India became the next Australia or not. Cricket was at once a massive joke and the most significant human theatre and all the joy ultimately came from the universal stuff and would be fulfilling regardless. And banging on either way missed the most crucial point of sport - that we really don't know what's going to come.
It was with this sense of freedom that a colleague and I jumped on to a spontaneous train to Rajkot on the eve of a Duleep Trophy fixture in which Ganguly would need to prove his form and fitness. It felt like something special might happen, and it did. On a municipal ground, in an environment so anti-climactic that it was melodramatic, the soon-to-be-deposed Indian Test captain hit a rousing century. It was lovely to watch, not so much because of his strokes, some of which were indeed vintage, but because of all the other layers to it.
That evening I met Ganguly at his hotel. I was apprehensive. I had written critical articles about him over the past few months and these things have a way of getting around, often in exaggerated form. I had nothing specific to ask him. I only wanted to try and gauge what he might be thinking, how he might be reacting to the uniqueness of his dilemma.
Sourav Ganguly was largely calm through ups and downs, but his fans certainly were not © Getty Images
There was an air of complete serenity about him, heightened because he was initially sitting on a swing in an open courtyard. He looked the perfect bhadralok: crisp white kurta pyjama, hair neatly parted, thin-rimmed spectacles.
It was an easy, enjoyable, and in some ways warm, conversation. Broadly, three things were striking. One was that retirement was very far from his mind; how others might like to remember him seemed to be their own business. Another was his sense of hurt about allegations of "divide and rule". But the most remarkable was his aura of calm. His family members would later tell The Hindustan Times that he has always been so, that he had never ever lost his cool off the cricket field, that nothing ever fazes him. He himself would say that he believed in destiny and expected to be playing the World Cup of 2007. In that short little meeting I could appreciate more properly than ever before the temperament of a man who at any moment of time has more knives at his back and more garlands at his face than a cabinet of ministers.
A week on, Ganguly was dropped from the one-day squad altogether. Then stripped of Test captaincy, then deemed a Test allrounder, then... you know the story.
The most revealing moment came in the response to his being dropped after the Delhi Test against Sri Lanka. He could have retired right then a saint, all sins forgotten. The man who a few months ago was among the most reviled in the land now had the undiluted support of the nation. It was extraordinary that he would pass up the opportunity and choose instead to put himself and the team under so much pressure and run the risk even of humiliation - were he to return and flop. As ever he left you grappling with mixed feelings: to admire his self-belief or to dismiss him as delusional? What to make of such a man?
And so there he was in Lahore in India's first Test of the new year. He probably should not have been playing at all. Despite the denials to the contrary, it is learnt that his inclusion in the touring party had more to do with the wishes of authorities other than the selectors and the team management.
Late on the second afternoon: Pakistan 668 for 6, India wilting. Ganguly had just made an impressive dive at the boundary. Now a high ball swirled above his head. An initial misjudgement, frantic back-tracking, a final, flailing leap, a one-handed catch both spectacular and comic, a slow-motion backward roll on hitting the ground, and off like a bomb upon regaining poise, injecting humour and spirit into a weary side. It felt like he was one of the boys again. Even Greg Chappell smiled. It was by a distance the most contagious moment of the game. He did not bat a single ball and humbly carried drinks in the next Test.
He was back again for the final match. He made 34, 37, and two errors which were each to be - as luck would have it, and since this story has a strain of tragedy running through it - his only error of each innings. Both times the team required a big score and in the final analysis these were a pair of letdowns. Still it was not an illusion: he indeed batted beautifully, more fluently than any other Indian in the match and as fluently as he had ever done in his career. Few could have expected it. Among those few was Ganguly.
Two days later he flew back home as Dravid turned his mind to the upcoming one-dayers and, some part of it no doubt, to the batting order for the next Test series. And that's where the Sourav Ganguly saga rested at the last opportunity to update.

Monday, February 20, 2006

It's Quiztime, folks...

It's that time of the year. BEQ is about a month away. So start brushing up. Answers? In about a week's time? Unless you answer first

Janet Jackson, Hurrican Katrina, Tsunami, Xbox 360, Bradd Pitt, Michael Jackson, American Idol, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie, Harry Potter: What is being described?

The 60 year old Indian IT industry honcho is all ready to put a luncheon date with himself up on auction on eBay as part of a fund raising campaign that this gentleman has got his firm to do for the Society for Rehabilitation of Crippled Children. Identify the gentleman.

Connect Publishing and Broadcasting Limited, Crown Casino and World Series Cricket to a gentleman who was in the news for his demise.

Which Indian politician has been invited by UK’s Warwick Manufacturing Group to come on board as a professor to apparently teach international affairs because of his vast experience in the matter.

The famous statement "... is idiots price our devices...” was among the many that were seen on the Internet when this company launched a product nearly four years ago. Which product are we referring to?

A piston fires.
The next piston fires at 315 degrees.
There is a 405-degree gap.
A piston fires.
The next piston fires at 315 degrees.
There is a 405-degree gap.
And the cycle continues. What is being described here?

In 1935, the then Governor of the US State of Kentucky, Ruby Laffoon made this gentleman born in Henryville, Indiana an honorary Colonel. The Colonel's exploits included not only at the battlefront but elsewhere too. Name him.

One of the oldest trademarks, this was introduced in 1898. It takes its name from the slogan meaning "Now is the time to Drink". It is also used to describe the appearance of someone obese or wearing comically bulky clothing. Who am I talking about?

Where in India (specific location) is the TJ Brand of Confectioneries (including Potato Chips/Wafers) manufactured?

Every member of which business group is encouraged to practice the Vedic Principles of work: ‘Service with devotion’ and ‘Willingness to see fulfillment of one’s self interest in the active promotion of the interest of the collective’?

He graduated with degrees in Economics and Sociology from Bombay University before going on to Oxford to complete his post graduation. He played for the Oxford cricket team alongside Michael Atherton and averaged 27.75 from 7 matches. Who?

Antoine Lavoisier was given charge of producing gunpowder for the revolting Americans in 1776 by the King of France. Irenee-de-Nemours, one of the apprentices at the factory, later migrated to Wilmington, Delaware, where he set up a gunpowder unit of his own. He felt deeply grateful to Lavoisier and wanted to name the unit after the scientist. His family eventually persuaded him to give the company a truncated version of his own name. Which company originated thus?

This is from the memoirs of someone’s wife. When he went to meet his would-be-wife's father, he was wearing a bright red shirt. He told him that he wanted to become a politician with Communist party and wanted to open an orphanage (though his salary was not enough to support his family). He proposed to his wife saying "I am only 5'4" tall. I come from a lower middle class family. I can never become rich in my life & I can never give you any riches." Nonetheless, she married him and rest is history. Who is this person?

Which logo or emblem has been chosen by the most number of people in the world to be tattooed on their body?

Guarantee Trust is the first and so far only non-South African insurance company to do what?

When this project was launched as a public- private venture- with the Kerala government, non-resident Indians, financial institutions and airport service providers joining hands- many people thought it would not take off. It was a first of its kind in the country, yet 10,000 NRIs from 30 countries became its shareholders or ‘donors’. The venture is now a dividend paying company. Just name this venture which proved every skeptic in the country wrong.

This 1975 Ford Escort has no radio, hub caps or air conditioning and still contains carved rosary beads, a box of matches and a tin of sweets and a dashboard medallion of a saint. Its new owner is millionaire John O’ Quinn who plans to put the car in a private museum. Now the question: who was the car’s earlier owner?

Graduated from IIM in 1971. He is the publisher of ‘India Abroad’, a weekly newspaper in New York. He won the DataQuest Pathbreaker of the Year award in 2000. He co-founded Rediffusion in 1972.

An apt question in this time of a Sensex boom. A Raipur boy, was rusticated from school. He started as an employee of New India Assurance Company which he later quit. He propounded the ‘Replacement Value Assets Theory’. Whom are we talking about?

Named after the first mate in Herman Melville’s book, Moby Dick, this company was founded in 1971 in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. From its humble beginnings, the chain now owns coffee houses in North America, Europe, West Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Rim.
The chains success is credited to Howard Schultz who first joined the company in the early 1980s. He turned the company from a local roaster and retailer of whole bean and ground coffee to an international chain that served liquid beverages. The chain through its company-owned and franchisee outlets-9671 at last count- now employees 90,000 people. Identify brand/company.

X's death is officially determined by Y by gently tapping his head thrice with a golden hammer and calling his name. Y then retrieves X's Ring that he usually wears in his right hand and cuts the ring in two, and X's seals are defaced so that they can be never used again, and his personal apartment is sealed. Who are X and Y?

This legendary figure, who died sometime back, had made a will stipulating that Jack Nicholson and Michael Jackson must preside over his funeral service. He also wished his body to be ‘fried to a crisp’ and scattered over the palm trees on an unidentified island in Tahiti. Who?

One of the first questions Nelson Mandela asked on being released from prison in 1990 was, “Is Sir ________ still alive?” Who?

Which trading house started as a collaboration between Tata Sons and Volkart Brothers in 1894? It is now a leading manufacturer of air-conditioners and refrigeration equipment.

Which company was incorporated in 1968 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Blow Plast Limited by the name of Aristoplast Limited? This brand is now the market leader in the luggage industry in India and is the largest moulded luggage manufacturer in Asia.

This breed of dog was known as the 'Firehouse Dog' as it was the mascot of American fire stations for a long time. Their popularity surged after a Hollywood film of 1996 and lead to a widespread demand from households for the particular breed to be taken as pet. Which is the breed in question?

The Nobel Peace Prize for the year 1948 was not awarded to anyone. On November 18, 1948 a statement was made about the award not being given because “there was no suitable living candidate”. Why?

The award for bravery in journalism instituted in 2001 by the Los Angeles Press Club is named after whom?

Sticking with awards. The inventor of artificial testicles for dogs, Nigerian internet scammers and a team that calculated the pressures created when penguins poop have won these awards. Believed to be spoof prizes, these are awarded by science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Name the awards.

He recently resigned as the managing director of a BPO company that deals with payroll and HR functions, owing to differences with the board of directors. He was also the president of the US offshoring services of the group. He’s also been associated with films. Name him.

Based on a bamboo exercise toy that the founders of the company. Wham O saw on a trip to Australia, this toy notched worldwide sales of more than 100 million within 6 months of its launch in 1958. The Japanese banned its use in public because of impropriety. Which toy?

Was recruited to perform as a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his Bad tour, where she was forced to change her name to Shirley, and asked not to make eye contact with MJ except when onstage. In 1999, also made her acting debut as ill-fated drifter Laurie Bloom in the suspense drama The Minus Man. Who?

He came up with his most famous invention while covalescing in a military hospital around 1941. When asked what he felt about his name becoming an almost household name on account of the invention, he said “I wish I had invented the lawn-mower”. Who?

Vinton Cerf, who was instrumental in co-authoring the paper that gave the world TCP and IP has recently been appointed by Google for internet innovations. The post accepted by Cerf is very creative. Just name the post.

Mercedes Benz withdrew all ads for about a month in September 1997.For what reason?

Corriere Della Sera, the country’s leading newspaper, consigned the impending war with Iraq, Page 1 news elsewhere, to page 20 on Jan 25th 2003. The first 19 pages were devoted to coverage of this giant’s death. Who? (Name the company he used to head, if its simpler)

This was an offshot of Monkey Brand scouring soap .Takes its name from an English colloquialism meaning ‘force’ or ‘vigor. Marketed by Unilever. What?

1909: $950, 1912:$780, 1913: $600, 1916: $440. 1917: $360, 1926:$290. What?

The product sold for only around $3.00. The real money was made off the accessories. Individual items cost between $1..-5.00 and the entire collection used to be sold for $136.00 in 1963. Identify product.

Richard DeVos and Jay Van Aandel, sales reps for Nutrilite, quit in 1948 to start a soap selling venture that now employs 3 million reps worldwide and sells more than just soap. The company’s name was apparently chosen to appeal to patriotic interests. Identify.

Connect the movies – The three musketeers(1973), Superman(1977), King Solomon’s Mines(1985), Lord of the Rings:Fellowship of the Ring(2001) and Kill Bill(2003).Please note this may not be an exhaustive list.

This Hollywood star of the 1990s died of pneumonia at the age of 27 in December 2003 at the Taknes Fjord, near the Halsa Municipality in Norway. Who? (Clue: He’s a different kind of a hero)

San Francisco based Maurice Kanbar the inventor of Skyy Vodka, the vodka without a hangover has applied for a license from the California state authorities to introduce something that would be exported by the Bajaj Group. What?

This high-profile lady from the corporate world became India’s first brew-master, after specializing in malting and brewing technology from the Ballarat College, Melbourne. She is also the author of a book called ‘Ale Arty’. Who is it?

Founded by David H.McConnell in 1886 as California Perfume Company (CPC) in New York. In September, 1939, the name was changed to its present name. Traditionally a direct-selling company, the company’s fastest growing markets today are in China and Russia. Currently, the company is headed up by Andrea Jung, the company's chairman and CEO, who was promoted to the position in 1999. Which company?

This company was founded in 1931 by Shojiro Ishibashi, whose family business previously made tabi, a form of traditional footwear. He derived the company’s name by reversing his own surname, Ishibashi. What was the name of the company he founded?

In 1978, sports announcer William Rasmussen set up this channel in order to broadcast New England Whalers hockey games and University of Connecticut sports events. Which company did Mr. Rasmussen thus set up?

When the inaugural flight of Virgin Atlantic Airways was about to take off, the cabin cinema screen began showing what was supposed to be a view of the cockpit as the aircraft actually took off. The passengers looked on in surprise as three men in the flight deck seemed extremely casual about flying the aircraft. They later turned out to be two famous cricketers, Ian Botham and Viv Richards, along with ________. It was actually a video clip that had been recorded the day before, in a flight simulator. Just tell me who the third person was? It’s very workable.

He was apparently considered for the Nobel Peace Prize five times during the first half of the 20th century. The prize was never given to him on account of Norway’s close ties with Great Britain. Who?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"Looser men and cheap rich girls with artificial expressions and revealing outfits..."

They say that every movie should be freely interpreted by the viewer. Here is a bizarre example of such.

Aranya Din-Ratri (the days & nights spent in remote forest area) Story of 4 bengali males shown beautifully by Director Mr. Satyajit Ray ! 4 friends take a break – 3 of them are average looking & tall and one is short and below average to look at. They do not make proper arrangements – just barge into a Goernment Guest House and bribe the caretaker to let them in by giving him some money. The poor care taker has an ailing wife so since he could not go out to buy stuff for them, the porter boy agrees to buy & carry food stuff for them.

A typical life style of average common men (looser men rather) is shown here – how they just crib about having to butter the boss and please him by attending late night parties, boozing and spending time with cheap rich girls with artificial expressions and revealing outfits.

One the friends was ditched lately by an educated girl (played by Aparna Sen) – who was fashion conscious (wore wigs to look more seducing) as well as very intelligent & observant who had the sense to smell tricky / foolish people from a distance. She had written a 5 paged letter to her boyfriend who in return could barely write half a page – showing that he was not very sound as far as 'literacy in romanticism' was concerned. This the girl understood and washed her hands off the idiot ! (very well done I would say) – the fact that her decision was absolutely right is seen later as the movie proceeds … when the same fellow indulges in intercourse with a 'dirty, smelly, ugly looking maid servant category, drunkard woman he meets in the forest remote area !!He does IT with her on open ground in the forest on the thorny weeds !! – so utterly frustrated and sex starved - just anyone would do for such men – therefore his girlfriend definitely made the right decision to ditch him.A looser man in all respect.

Second fellow was a bit intellectual and adventurous , well read – in the game of "remembering names' he said Shakespeare and Sharmila Tagore – a lady he meets there, says Cleopatra – in fact each one took the name of the historical/ literary figure he / she either hero worships/identifies – or admires in one way or the other. He meets this quiet & attractive lady and gets drawn towards her – she had a traumatic childhood – the reason of her quietitude – Mother had died of fire in front of her and elder brother had committed suicide !Another looser who knows it all but cannot do anything about it.

Third fellow was decent – playing it safe kinds – the widowed sister-in-law of sharmila tries to seduce him (missing her husband I guess) – had said Rabindranath Tagore in the game of 'Remembering names' by the way. A decent man who could change if he wanted to – looser or winner depended on him.

Fourth fellow – happy go lucky – the fact that he was ugly & short was taken very lightly by him – had no attitude problems – couldn't have any in fact – compensating on his below average looks – so he turned comical and made things appear funny. A very common Bengali man category since the average height of Bengali men is around 5'5" and also Bengali men are dark and not very good looking – so they make fun of everything and anything and spend time making merry – with or without any reason.