Monday, August 30, 2010

When players are fixers

By John Cheeran
So what’s new? Match-fixing in cricket is old hat especially after Hansie Cronje was fixed by Delhi Police and all of us know cricketers, irrespective of nationalities and racial background, are willing to take the bait if you can up the stakes.
Yes, it’s a total disaster for Pakistan cricket and Pakistan the nation state. The News of The World expose has done more damage to Pakistan than the recent floods and possibly what an Indian nuclear attack could have done. It would take a long, long time for the credibility of Pakistani cricketers to be restored.
India, too, had dealt with the monster of match-fixing and who can tell how clean Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his band of men are? But, then, unless exposed and established otherwise we should believe in their integrity.
With video footage clearly showing some of the Pakistan players currently touring England accepting cash from a bookie, things are looking bleak for Salman Butt and guys.
Arguments that spot fixing is a bit of harmless fun and the result of the match is not influenced or determined by such transgressions will not hold much water since it’s question of integrity of the players involved. You can either be bought or cannot.
Will this recent spate of allegations drive fans away from cricket? Today, cricket is many things for many people. More than a sport, it’s a commercial circus and all those involved, television channels, sponsors, players, International Cricket Council, national cricket boards will do their level best to convince us that what’s being offered is genuine, unadulterated stuff.
And you watch at your own peril.
Long live cricket.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Absolute Khushwant By Khushwant Singh: A Review

By John Cheeran
These days readers are more familiar with Chetan Bhagat than Kushwant Singh. It’s a pity. Singh, at a venerable 95, can no longer shock or prick Indian society’s egos. We, of course, have come a long way since the sardar wrote that his pen has no condom.
Very few would have read Singh’s Train to Pakistan that tried to capture the emotional vivisection of partition, published in 1956. Singh still retains the candour that endeared him to readers of his newspaper columns in the past and his fresh take on various topics, Absolute Khushwant, is a delightful read thanks to his brutal honesty.
Singh, a former editor of Hindustan Times and The Illustrated Weekly of India, never cared for political correctness and has no qualms to recall that by turning bullshitting into an art form he changed Indian journalism irrevocably. As an editor he never hesitated to titillate, if there was an occasion for it.
Singh still sings the praise of Sanjay Gandhi, despite Emergency and all that. He not only finds Sanjay dynamic but confesses that it was the man in a hurry who got him the editor’s job at The Hindustan Times. Not many editors would have been honest enough to say this when the dead cannot come back to scratch your back.
Many associate Singh’s prolific writings with ribaldry but the novelist, historian, lawyer and editor has many shades that quarrel against easy classifications.
Singh takes pride in continuing his war against fundoos despite advancing age. BJP, he says, has poisoned the country with its right wing agenda.
At the height of Emergency, Singh supported Sanjay and Indira Gandhi unabashedly. Today, Singh says, India is in safe hands—in the hands of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Well, not much has changed in his world.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The curious case of Vishwanathan Anand’s Indian passport

By John Cheeran
Who is an Indian?
If Vishwanathan Anand, who has been living in Spain for many years in order to pursue his passion, chess in this case, ceases to be an Indian merely because of the number of days he has spent in India in recent times, it is an incredibly ludicrous moment thanks to a babu in New Delhi.
Anand, of course, holds a valid Indian passport. Despite that it now has emerged that the human resource department in New Delhi raised doubts about Anand’s citizenship status when Hyderabad University decided to honour him with a doctorate.
Unlike most of us resident Indians, Anand has brought India glory. He has been the most unassuming of champions that India has produced and loves his Tamil, idli and sambhar in that order.
Anand is the finest brand ambassador India could ever attain. It’s true that he had to shift his base to Spain. He finds it more convenient to compete and keep abreast of the game from there. May be tax regime there is a bit more considerate. But he is not living in Pakistan. He has married a Chennai girl. His parents live in Chennai. His friends are in India. His heart is in India. Whenever he has won a world title – right from when he won the world junior chess title in 1987—the country has made him its own.
Let’s not forget that the desperation with which we try to appropriate individual who excel on global stage, especially science. Remember Venkataraman Ramakrishnan? When he won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 2009, we were quick to find reference points to India so that we could bask in reflected glory. And he had utter contempt for all of us when he blurted out that congratulatory emails from India only go to waste his time and energy.
Unlike many such worthies, Anand has been modest to a fault and never forgot the fact that in outlook and approach he remains an Indian, though he does not require the state’s patronage to ply his trade.
If Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, LK Advani and I are Indians, Anand, too, is an Indian, though king on the chessboard does not have any nationality.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Serious Men By Manu Joseph: A Review

By John Cheeran
Every English language journalist in India has a novel project. Manu Joseph has completed it in a remarkable manner and Serious Men is the result.
It’s smart novel, one that you dream of producing at a writers’ workshop. It’s about a daring con job that a Dalit pulls off on scientific society with stealth and a large dose of insouciance.
A lot of thought has gone into the making of Serious Men.
Just as Ayyan Mani had a project to turn his son Adi into a genius, at least for a short span of time, making use of paid news and other tricks, Joseph too had his grand design of vowing readers. Please note that both Mani and Joseph chuckle at the end of the story.
Joseph does not need a certificate from me on how well he writes. Of course, he writes well.
Familiarity with journalism has helped Joseph hone his writing skills and it is a pleasure to read his measured, clear sentences and sardonic wit.
But one cannot ignore the artifice and intellectual pretension that inform and, in the process, harm Serious Men. In the end it is a deflating experience to realize that Joseph’s Serious Men derives its strength from Mani’s stealth and voice recorder as well as the ire of a spurned woman to sustain the narrative and engineer the denouement.
In a recent column in Open magazine Joseph has explained how he seized upon the idea for his novel project while reacting to a newspaper story on a childhood prodigy. His skepticism shows through the novel and results in smart aleck moments such as when Arvind Acharya notes how human beings can live without water, citing Tamilians as living proof. Well, I loved Acharya’s speech where he observes that how every mediocre fellow rails about mediocrity without realizing his own shortcomings. Such wry observations sit well in a column but a great novel requires insights and inspirational writing.
Joseph, however, has brilliantly captured the social tension in the post-Mandal India, and racial and class divisions that alarm and frighten the Brahmins. The big stories in a liberalized India are the rise of Dalits and Naxals. Again there can be opinions on whether the journalist has triumphed over the novelist or vice versa.
When markets crashed in India in 1998, Joseph had written a piece in Times of India that began with the lines “every time a friend of mine succeeds a little part of me dies.”
It’s a line made famous by Gore Vidal and though Jospeh chose not to acknowledge the American, the success that Serious Men has attracted will leave you no choice but to say it aloud.

Delhi Calm By Vishwajyoti Ghosh: A Review

By John Cheeran
Delhi Calm is a graphic novel with a difference. It tackles contemporary Indian history about which our understanding, still, is nebulous. As a recent newspaper report suggests, 35 years later, no one in the Indian establishment knows where the documents that record the correspondence between then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and the government are.
Vishwajyoti Ghosh deserves praise for choosing the dark days of Emergency (1975 June 25-1977 January 18) for his debut graphic novel.
Ghosh, however, could not weave a gripping tale out of the exciting and exasperating times when there was change, and Total Revolution, as coined by that wooly idealist Jayaprakash Narayan, were in the air.
What instead Delhi Calm provides is political commentary in patches. It’s a long and laborious affair and at the end of it, the reader is not left with any single graphic image that captures the bathos of those extra-ordinary times.
It is important to recall in this context the cartoon by the late Abu Abraham which depicted President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed supine in his bathtub and signing yet another constitutional amendment as desired by prime minister Indira Gandhi and asking a flunkey if there are any more ordinances he has to sign. It calls for an astute understanding of the political theatre, and may be in good time Ghosh would grow to acquire it.
Having said that one must admit Ghosh has succeeded in conveying a fair share of the complexity that dogged JP’s call for Total Revolution.
Not only the Prophet even his movement was undergoing dialysis with a motley crew almost hijacking it. By slipping Jogi, the right winger, into Naya Savera Band constituted by Vibuti Prasad, Parvez Alam and Masterji in the name of ‘inclusion’, Ghosh shows how cracks began to develop in the identity of the righteous movement. Masks were worn by not just Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay but those who were ranged against them too.
Ghosh has gone on record that he did not intend Delhi Calm as a dummy’s guide to Emergency. That’s fine. One can look elsewhere for that. Delhi Calm’s fatal flaw lies in the fact that its author lacks a story, a bigger picture to share with readers. Even after all these years.

Title: Delhi Calm
Author: Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 246
Price: Rs499

Delhi On The Road by Supriya Sahai: A Review

By John Cheeran

Flipping through these black and white sketches by Supriya Sahai you suddenly realise that Delhi, essentially, is a city of tombs. Ghosts of emperors walk its streets and Sahai’s attention for detail produces stunning visuals, even for someone who has spent the best part of his youth in the city.
Humayun, the only Mughal emperor to have been buried in Delhi, and a slew of others have their private spaces to rest in peace. She, however, has no time for Rajghat.
Sahai’s Delhi is steeped in history. Most of the sketches make you aware of the deep scars in the cityscape and of rulers and empires that quietly slumped out of our sights.
Delhi On The Road is a collection of richly evocative sketches that offers insights to the historic city. You also realise that in spite of the appellation of new to the city, there is a distinct lack of modern monuments in New Delhi. May be the Metro and flyovers along with suffocating and chaotic traffic should be enough for New Delhi. But, then, again these are sketches from a curiosity angle to satisfy the needs of travellers. Sahai, it seems, has no pretensions of laying bare the soul of the city through her drawings.
Title: Delhi On The Road
Author: Supriya Sahai
Publisher: Collins
Price: Rs 299

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Randiv’s no-ball: All is fair in love and cricket

By John Cheeran
Virender Sehwag missed his century. Is that such a big deal? India played Sri Lanka in a inconsequential triangular one-day match in Dambulla on Monday and won comfortably. It should have ended there. But when you are looking for a story, such circumstances are not missed easily. With Sehwag unbeaten on 99, India only needed a single to overcome the Lankan total of 170.
So in a losing situation Sri Lankan bowler (off-spinner) Suraj Randiv did the smartest thing to do – sent down a no-ball by overstepping the bowler’s crease to deny Sehwag his 13th ODI century.
No rules were broken.
I don’t think Randiv or Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara or Tillakaratne Dilshan besmirched the spirit of the game by that smart piece of strategy.
Yes, they were not magnanimous to allow Sehwag complete a statistical milestone. Cricket, after all, is a sport and sport tends to be combative and competitive.
I’m baffled at the attempt of some commentators to draw parallel with Australian Trevor Chappell’s underarm ball to New Zealand striker Brian McKechnie in the final of Benson and Hedges Cup in 1981. That was well within the rule book but not in the spirit of the game.
In Sri Lanka, the other day, had Sehwag showed some more urgency the century would have been his. There was no attempt to subvert the spirit of the game; and India won. Had the non-striker been an enterprising guy, there would not have been enough opportunity for Sehwag to complete his milestone. So these are mere storm in tea cups.
The fact that Sri Lankan cricket board took the matter seriously and conducted an internal inquiry is a welcome step indeed. Now that Randiv has been suspended for one-match and Dilshan docked his match-fee, Sri Lankan board can retain its veneer of moral superiority.
But let’s not forget that all is fair in love and cricket.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna: A Review

By John Cheeran

“No matter how far I tried to go from you. No matter how I have tried to forget, or how much I deny it, I carry you within me like a hook in a fish. Like a bullet, Devi, a bullet that has worked its way permanently into my flesh.”

Push a pin anywhere on earth, it may hit upon letters of love.
In Tiger Hills, Sarita Mandanna tells an epic love story set in Coorg. It’s her debut novel but you can immediately sense the masterly control she wields on the narrative. In itself, a love triangle is not the ideal subject to make a gripping read. We have had enough of love.
To the credit of Mandanna, it must be said that she keeps the reader engaged almost till the end and the restraint with which she handles the all-consuming love of Devi is laudable.
The obvious fault line is the epilogue that reveals the desperation of Mandanna, clueless on how and where to apply the brakes to the wheels of fiction.
Mandanna, a private equity professional with a PGDM from the Indian Institute of Management and MBA from Wharton Business School, has stuck to a terrain that she is familiar with in Tiger Hills. That’s her strength. Being a Coorgi has helped Mandanna to easily evoke the mysterious charm of hills in the pages of Tiger Hills.
With butter yellow laburnums twisting in the breeze, Mandanna’s heroine Devi Nachimanda is determined to set right the one calamitous event in her life, her marriage to Devanna. Later Devi realises that one has to fight for happiness and for one’s dues. May be we, too, should agree with her.
It’s not Kambeymadas – Devanna, her meek but intelligent childhood friend with gold in his brain, and tiger killer Machaiah – who play crucial roles in Devi’s life. It’s Devi who woos Machu the hero, forcing him to break his vow. It’s Devi who pushes her husband Devanna and later Machu’s wife into suicides. Alas, as in love, Devanna fails in ending his life too.
Devi is the child of destiny. The flock of herons that sent her avvaiah Muthavva the message, reappears in Devi’s life quite often.
Devi’s grit is remarkable when confronted with love—her love for Machu and Devanna’s love for her. Even when Machu finally retreats from their illicit rendezvous and gets married, Devi is unwavering in her devotion and attention to the one who was meant for.
She, in fact, turns the death of Machu, far away in the battlefield of Afghan mountains, to further her own agenda. She fills the absence of Machu by bringing home Machu’s son Appu and bringing up the kid as her own.
It’s Devi’s way of wreaking revenge on tayi and appaiah who left her with little choice other than marrying Devanna when the latter fled the medical college in Bangalore and sought refuge in the body of his beloved. Addled by ragging and the death of his pet squirrel Nancy, Devanna had lost control of himself. He wanted love, an anchor in his life. On his return, he could not resist and forced himself upon Devi and in the process set in motion betrayals that went on to devastate the lives of his and Machaiah’s sons.
At the end one realises that Tiger Hills is more about suffering than love. The suffering of missionary Hermann Gundert, who pinned all his hopes on Mission Devanna but found to his bitterness that all the signs were misplaced, the suffering of husband (Coorg) Devanna who lives on regardless the insults of his Devi, the suffering of Nanjappa, a son whom his mother calls a curse, and the suffering of Nancy the squirrel. And most of all, the suffering of Devi herself, who finally has to accept fate as it is, despite all her fighting spirit.

It had been the nape of her neck. The first, fatal hook. The smooth skinned grace of it, all but obscured by the plait that swung to her hips. She had thrust past him at the Kaveri tank, the very picture of determination and his spurt of irritation was swiftly replaced by amusement. And then, as she had wedged herself before him, he had found himself unable to tear his eyes away. Following every dip of light and shadow, the interplay of muscle beneath the translucent skin, as he craned her neck this way and that. He had shut his eyes for only a brief moment in prayer; when they opened, she was tilting slowly towards the water. The compactness of her waist, fitting neatly into the span of his hands.

Title: Tiger Hills
Author: Sarita Mandanna
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Pages: 452
Price: 599
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