Friday, February 25, 2011

The real lathi charge is on all of us

A few days back I watched with amusement Arnab Goswami grilling the BSP spokesperson about an incident involving a police officer polishing Mayawati’s shoes. One almost felt sorry for the spokesperson after seeing the dressing down he received from the anchor. Sometimes I wonder if these guys regret taking up jobs which involve defending blatantly wrong acts. However, much as Arnab Goswami may loathe the feudalistic mindset of the political class, the fact is that the arrogant sense of entitlement is institutionalized among the rich and powerful. Another example of this emerged yesterday when it was revealed that a miniscule number of seats for the world cup matches were being sold to the general public. The elite who complain about reservation in jobs are shamelessly making themselves benefactors by reserving entertainment for themselves. For the rest of us, watching matches on television is expected to be our definition of sporting culture.

As a teenager I watched my share of cricket matches in-stadia but not before spending half a day roasting myself trying to buy a ticket. I could only afford a seat in the cheapest stand which had half a roof, so getting into the stadium was no relief from the over generous subcontinent sun. Back then I did not understand much about roof construction costs but it was evident that affordability came with the ‘suffer, asshole!’ tag. If getting your skin burnt was not enough, you had to contend with chipped wooden slabs for seats, graced with bird shit. These seats were obviously manufactured keeping children in mind, or for those who crave physical proximity with strangers. Before every match I fantasized about rubbing shoulders (literally) with a pretty babe but mostly had to settle for fat overbearing men twice my size to whom I would gladly concede my 1 squarefoot ass-rest. My entertainment did not end there. In India events are official platforms for extortionists to ply their trade. Vada Pav was made available at the price of a MacDonald’s burger and a small pouch of water for the price of a bottle of beer. (Some bottle throwing lunatics had ensured that anything that could fly would not be allowed inside). Poor affordability of water and heavy sweating was a blessing in disguise as it eliminated the need to visit the sewage treatment plant called the loo. Watching a match was an interesting mix of privilege and punishment.

It might seem to you that I have digressed much from what I started with. Feudalism and entitlement. I assure you I haven’t. When I heard about cricket fans being lathi-charged, I was reminded of my past experiences, which were not bone shattering, but were equally painful in their own way. An Indian defeat (which were plentiful that time) in the match would only add insult to injury. These days we lose lesser matches and the stadia seem to have better seat. However one thing that has not changed for sure is the anger that comes from not being able to purchase the ticket. Not disappointment, but anger. During my college days I attributed this to the fact that I woke up at the last minute to buy a ticket. Gradually the truth dawned upon me that there simply weren’t enough tickets to be bought in the first place. Fat cats cornered most of the seats and for the rest of us it was back to the television set or a seedy beer joint.

Many of us do not realize that sponsorship does not end with a ‘DLF Maximum’ or ‘Karbonn Kamaal Catch’ kind of corporatization of cricket lexicon. Behind the scenes, sponsors extract their pound of flesh by appropriating a large number of seats. There is nothing illegit in all this since the sponsorship contracts provide for this kind of bourgeois practice. Sponsors themselves dole out a large number of these tickets to politicians and government officials. After all the entire system itself is a result of industry-government-babu nexus. Stadiums in India have not come up for the common man. These stadiums double up as clubs of the super rich, built on prime public land acquired through government support on ridiculously favorable terms. Such resourcefulness of Sharad Pawar Inc. has to be rewarded ultimately.  

Nothing, however, is more paradoxical than fans getting the stick on the one end and near empty stadiums on the other. Cricket for all its hype, refuses to make inroads beyond the traditional bastions. Every 4 years you get the same set of teams who would have played each other two dozen time in the preceding years in the form of Champions Trophy, Asia Cup, T20 World Cup and all permutations & combinations of Triangular contests, so there is little novelty of contest left. The result is a plethora of one sided group matches in which you feel desperately sorry for the way the minnows get thrashed.

A conspiracy theorist told me that China is secretly preparing for the 2015 Cricket World Cup and it would send a team that would whack the daylights out of the ruling kingdoms of cricket. I certainly hope so, for the sake of the game, to which the word “Incredible” has been added in this edition of the cup. ‘Incredible’ (unlike the adjective ‘beautiful’ used for soccer) is a flexible word that can be employed to mean incredibly stupid, incredibly boring, incredibly predictable and so on. Cricket lovers will hate my cynicism, but there is some truth in the fact that Cricket is becoming unfairly India centric, dangerously sponsorship driven and a cohort of yes men kind of administrators and ‘experts’ who are only bothered about where their next paycheck is coming from.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dogfather : Part I

Sheppie and comrades are back by popular demand. My statistics page reveals that ‘Everybody needs a lobbyist’ is the most read post. So I have decided to leverage my furry friends a little. (To those who are new to these characters, please read the aforementioned blog posted in January). For those who don’t want to take the trouble, these chaps are anthropomorphic dogs/cats, who will tell a new story in every episode, though retaining some shades of their original character. In this edition, Sheppie is the head of the powerful Canine family, which has controlled the leftover food trade for a decade. He is an old school gangster of the Don Vito Corleone vintage – a baddie with scruples. His family has maintained an uneasy truce with the Feline family, headed by Don Moustachio Feline, a less scrupulous cat but willing to honour to the coexistence agreement. Don Mongy is the local slumlord, known to provide temporary muscle to racketeers through his control over stray dogs. But his goons are no match for the thoroughbreds of the Canine family. 
Sheppie and his trusted lieutenant, the muscular Labbie don’t always see eye to eye on implementation methods.

Sheppie: Labbie, I need your boys to tone down the aggressive posturing they adopt during food distribution. Some day it will break out into a fight with the cats and I am not looking for trouble again with the dog disposal squad.

Labbie: Don, we don’t need to share our territory with them in the first place.

Sheppie: Don’t underestimate them Labbie. They may be small, but they are tenacious and agile. Ask one-eyed Joe. He was lucky not to have his balls torn off. Besides, let’s not forget that the guys at the dog disposal squad are on their payroll.

Labbie: Damn. Why isn’t there a cat disposal squad? Pommie is not pushing the bill enough in the Parliament.

Sheppie: I have asked Pommie to go slow on it. Moustachio called me last week and said that any such bill will be met with a dog sterilization bill. Our numbers are already dwindling. If such a bill is passed we will soon be history.

At this moment, Don Sheppie’s Consigliere Puggie enters the room. Labbie and Puggie don’t like each other much. Labbie is a street bred fighter who has worked his way to the top while Puggie is a late lateral induction into the family, much  admired for his analytical skills but sometimes found lacking in his understanding of ground realities.

Puggy: Don, my boys have just completed the MIS report. Would you like me to take you through it?

Sheppie: Sure. Pull up a mat. Let’s see what you got

Puggy opens up a powerpoint presentation with charts and matrices.

Puggy: Research shows that our boys are most interested in jobs that involve biting Congressmen. Apparently they are the best fed and easy targets as they need permission from High Command before attempting to escape.

Labbie: Tell us something new kid.

Puggy: Research also shows that the gang headed by Mongy the slumlord is slowly and steadily gaining territory. He provides underground locations where the tax evaders can stash their cash. With Swiss Banks fearing leaks by Julian Assange, these underground locations provide perfect alternatives and can be accessed only by Mongy and his boys

Sheppie: Good work lad ! But why didn’t Pommie get me this information? Get him on the line. He is spending too much time with film stars.

Pommie is on the line

Sheppie: Pommie, it seems someone else is doing your work for you these days. Why didn’t I get information on Mongy’s growing clout from you?

Pommie: Don, I have been trying to get a contract for 100 security dogs for the IPL matches. The BCCI is giving me a tough time because of our Modi links. Can you believe, they threatened to hire Moustachio’s cats instead, if I didn’t leak certain information that Modi’s pet dog is privy to. Everybody is interested in a leak these days.

Sheppie: What do you think of this underground money business?

Pommie: The market is good. You can also earn supplementary income by providing dogs that guard these locations. Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif have shown some interest. If you give me the green signal I will sign a deal with them.

Sheppie: I am not sure I want to get into this business boys. It’s not good for the economy. We may be thugs, but we have some principles

Puggie: Don, we need to change with the times, or upstarts like Mongy will soon be calling the shots

Labbie: Hold on boys, we have built this family with sweat and values. Every business has The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I may not be The Last Man Standing, but I will not compromise For A Few Dollars More.

Puggie: Cut the Western jargon Labbie. There’s shitloads of money to be made in this business.

Pommie: I just got a Tweet that Mongy and Moustachio have signed a contract with Mayawati. Moustachios boys will dig the holes and Mongy will provide the security. Rivals coming together is not good news boss

Sheppie: Set up a conference call with Mongy and Moustachio. What they are doing is not right.

A conference call is set up

Sheppie: Don Mongy and Don Moustachio, it seems you will go to any extent to make money. What is this deal I hear about with Mayawati.

Moustachio: That’s only the tip of the iceberg Don Sheppie. Besides there isn’t much money left in flesh trade.

Mongy: We slumdogs have right to a good life too. Why should the pedigreed have all the money.

Puggy: They are right Don Sheppie. The window of opportunity is small. If Julian Assange gets arrested, the Swiss Banks will be back in business.

Pommie: Hold on. Just got a tweet from Baba Rahul.

Everyone: What does it say??

Pommie: Oh nothing. He just says that he got his feet licked clean by a senior party member. God, he is getting repetitive. I think I will stop following him

Sheppie: Ok everyone. I am not into this money stashing business. And I will make sure none of my guard dogs help you out in this.

Look of disapproval from Don Moustachio and Don Mongy. Puggy is seen forwarding his resume to two email addresses from his smartphone. Two beeps are heard.

Don Sheppie and Labbie look at each other and nod. The war has begun.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The You and Me awards

Watching the Filmfare Awards show is like confirming that the earth is a sphere. If there is anything more predictable than the awards, it is Mulayam Singh Yadav declaring that inflation in India is a BJP/Hindutva conspiracy (I am quite surprised he hasn’t said it yet). Since the time Filmfare awards started getting competition from Star, Screen, Sony and god knows which awards, the film industry has officially embraced groupism of the kind only seen in schools. Which is not really surprising. Bollywood is a massive mutual admiration society in which you earn respect as you touch feet. In many ways it is like politics - rank outsiders have to go on proving themselves till they earn respect, and the more they become successful, the more they start looking like the insiders.

A revolution in India? Nah. We are like this only (including me)

With every passing day I wonder if an Egypt can ever happen in India. This question, coming from a citizen of a democratic country may sound odd. After all we do get a chance to throw out the government every five years. Or do we really? Skeptics have often rued the lack of options which rob our country of the privilege to call itself a true democracy. Without going into the complexities of political thought, democracy is essentially the rule of majority. Since coalition politics arrived in India, it has ceased to mean even that. A party that you disliked and voted against, can still come to power by joining hands with another party that you disliked and voted against. Democracy in India is simply majority arithmetic, not necessarily what is good for the country.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

India on Egypt - to speak or not to speak

I watched with interest a debate on Times Now about Indian government’s silence (read not taking a stand) on the crisis in Egypt. The UPA has decided to sit on the fence by saying that this is Eqypt’s internal matter. The truth is that the government is lost on how to respond to the situation, which in this case may prove to be an advantage. ‘Intellectuals’ in the media who have little understanding of Arab politics have been aggressively trying to push the government to take a stand, and generate a few more debate topics.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Indian air traveler

Indians are finally being allowed to use their mobile phones as soon as the aircraft lands and exits to the taxiway. Airlines perhaps realized the futility of persuading us to keep our phones switched off “till the aircraft comes to a complete halt”. About time. After all we are the most important people in the world and every missed call is a missed opportunity. However, the realization of our self worth is only one of the reasons why safety measures sound alien to us. We urban Indians live under a constant threat of being murdered, gunned down by a terrorist, run over by a speeding car or being blasted away, so flight safety being jeopardized by a harmless looking mobile phone doesn’t really make us sweat. Travelling while hanging on the sides of a train or finding our way through a maze of buffalos on a two-wheeler, or edging past a bus while crossing the road are activities which rattle most foreign tourists but are second nature to us. We are brave people. It also helps that we believe in destiny.

The "Burden" of a name

Every ethnic group has its share of funny sounding names, but for someone alien to a language, the humor may be lost. Hence some English names have universal laugh value, as cricketer Ryan Sidebottom will know. However, Brits are clearly not amused. A recent study that compared names to an 1881 census discovered that the number of people with funny names has declined drastically. Surnames “Ball” and “Daft” were down by 50% while “Cock” was down by 75%. The sharp decline in the latter name can be attributed to the fact that it is often used as a suffix to another word (Hiscock, Badcock), giving it interesting interpretations.

More than just a game

As a gaming enthusiast, it pains me that not a single popular game has an Indian location as its setting. For all of India’s tech prowess, scoring a complete zero in this department is not acceptable. My complain however is with both the Indian gaming community and the foreign developers. Practically all the gaming studios are based in North America and develop games based on their world view. And in this world view, India doesn’t seem to provide a setting that can sell a million copies. A large majority of games continue to be based on the stale formula of Russians, Arabs and aliens as trouble makers. Japanese, the only Asians who regularly churn out games unfortunately pander to American sensibilities. Even Nepal has been pictured in one game (Uncharted: Among Thieves) albeit more as one of the pieces on the journey to find the fabled Shangri La than a South Asian country. From the brilliant detailing on display in the game it was evident that the developers had done their homework well and used local contacts for bringing out some accurate cultural references. Why then does the huge Indian community fail to find a voice among the studio think tanks?