Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer of 2011: Time for Rahul Dravid to bid farewell

By John Cheeran
After the triumph in 2011 World Cup not many would have taken India’s tour to the West Indies seriously. The Indian squad itself was depleted, without Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag.
India, however, did well both in the one-day and Test series. Yes, India did not show enough aggression, especially by not going for the kill during the second innings chase on the final day of the third Test. And skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been flayed by many critics for his pussyfooted approach to the end-game.
Am I disappointed? Yes and No. Yes, because it was an opportunity that we did not reach out for. No, considering the overall outcome of the series. It is, however, important to realize that India still depends on seniors such as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman to steady its ship in the choppy waters of Test cricket. It was a joy and relief to watch Dravid play another match-winning innings (112) in the second innings of the first Test at Sabina Park, Kingston. But, then, Dravid has given his best with India in a crisis. Statistics would show that he has performed on a higher plane away from home. But Dravid is not your man to bet on a situation that borders on gambling as was in the final Test. The classicist that he is, Dravid reiterated his relevance on a cricketscape awash in young dreams.
But there are other things that Dravid has to remember at this age and stage of his career. This is the time to go. The tour to England is a great opportunity for Dravid to put full stop to his splendid career.
Dravid has had his run, after all. Yes, he is fit, and good enough for another 12 months of Test cricket. I hope he remains hungry for success in fields other than cricket too.
But the memory I have of him during India’s last Test series win in England in 2007 was that of a Dravid struggling at Kennington Oval to ensure that nothing goes amiss during India’s second innings, despite a first innings lead of 319 runs. Dravid, after India lost its first three wickets – Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik and Sachin Tendulkar – for 11 runs, would have been troubled by the memories of the World Cup disaster, and pottered around for 140 minutes for 12 runs. It was not a pretty sight.
Dravid, at 38, is still capable of producing big knocks. He began his Test career in England, and he is more of an English cricketer than an oriental hero. There cannot be a better place for Rahul Dravid to bid adieu than England. I wish he relives the summer of 1996, and walks off to the pavilion, making India asking for more and why.
At that time, Dravid would not be the highest run-getter or the scorer of maximum number of centuries but none will doubt that he gave all he had to India’s cause at the cricket pitch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh: A Review

By John Cheeran
Amitav Ghosh is a highly persuasive writer. Unhurried narrative and an eye for detail make him compelling reading. The second of his Ibis trilogy, The River of Smoke, is a long novel at 535 pages but Ghosh succeeds in taking you along the voyage and the slow unfolding of the standoff in Canton between Chinese authorities and an assorted group of merchants who swear by the supremacy of free trade at any cost.
The River of Smoke fills in you with the buildup towards the first opium war between Britain and China in 1839. China had an ambivalent policy towards opium trading in Canton, encouraging British and Indian merchants to operate in connivance with a section of Chinese traders. When the emperor realised that drug addiction was reducing his subjects into zombies he wanted to bring in import restrictions. It threatened the existing commercial relationship between Britain and China.
But what sustains the interest of the reader is the story of Bahram Seth, the Parsi trader, who has taken the biggest gamble at a now-or-never moment in his life to take a huge cargo of opium to Canton. Bahram has been trading in opium with Canton merchants for long, he is familiar with the tics and twitches in the Chinese system and has a yen for making money. But this voyage in 1839 from Bombay to Canton was against heavy odds, starting from the ominous signs at his home and entreaties of his wife Shireenbai, then the storm that destroys the figurehead of his ship Anahita and loss of a large chunk of the cargo.
Though another ship – Redruth, carrying plants and flowers—is there in the sea, it is only to illustrate the unfolding Canton picture.
Yes, Ghosh persuades you to take a stand against the profiteering spirit of English traders in Canton but it is the fate of Bahram Seth that keeps you turning the pages. Bahram, too, is in league with British traders but by painting a fuller picture of the Parsi merchant --his relationship with a Chinese boatwoman and a son he cannot acknowledge in public and the machinations of his brothers-in-law back in Bombay --- you are made to empathize with him. Bahram wants to sell this load of opium at any cost even though he admits to himself that he has sold himself to Ahriman by doing something that is now declared illegal by the Chinese authorities and new commissioner Lin.
With no prospect of selling his cargo and commissioner Lin making plans to destroy the whole load of opium, with little hope to rebuild his life, Bahram muses while watching his nephew playing cricket at the maidan in Fanqui Town. “Will they remember that it was the money we made here, the lessons we learnt and the things we saw that made it all possible? Will they remember that their future was bought at the price of millions of Chinese lives?... Was it just for this: so that these fellows could speak English, and wear hats and trousers, and play cricket?”
Sea of Poppies did not have a heroic, tragic figure as its mast and that did take away the emotional frisson from it. In River of Smoke, long after the siege of Canton was resolved, Bahram refuses to leave you. He lets you drown in a river of smoke.
John Cheeran at Blogged