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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Interesting Reading: Why Sena's attack on Sachin will backfire

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Last couple of weeks have witnessed increasing regional chauvinism, particularly by the MNS and Shiv Sena. It started with MNS slapping Abu Azmi and then threatening SBI. Shiv Sena followed with its supremo lashing out at perhaps the biggest modern day Marathi icon - Sachin Tendulkar.

It is quite hard to understand why the Shiv Sena chose to take on Sachin. Sachin's remark that "Mumbai belongs India" was most likely to be directed on the MNS and its chief. Perhaps he has not learned from what happened in 1999.

The Shiv Sena government established an award.... I think it's name is Maharashtra Bhushan Puraskar. Basically, Maharashtra's equivalent of the Bharat Ratna. The first recipient was, duh, PuLa. In his acceptance speech, PuLa made some remarks that were mildly critical of the Shiv Sena government. Nothing too hardcore, but a rebuke nonetheless.

Pu La Deshpande, the literary genius, a selfless and austere humanitarian, and an independent spirit, was (and continues to be after his death), something akin to a god for most Marathis. Bal Thackeray flipped his lid. He made some rude and uncharitable comments about PuLa, something like "jis thali mein khatey ho, usi mein chhed karte ho" (Source)

Shiv Sena had called for early state elections so that they could be held along with Lok Sabha elections and Shiv Sena could benefit from the NDA wave. The Saffron did win the Lok Sabha elections but lost the assembly elections. The election pundits were surprised and dumbfounded. One obvious reason was that the alliance between the two was well demarcated - BJP would be the senior partner in Lok Sabha hence fight more seats while vice-versa for Shiv Sena in Assembly Elections.

There has been absolutely no wonder that the MNS has not uttered a single word against Sachin. Raj Thakerey selectively picks his enemies. For instance, Mumbai-Pune circle accounts for 40% of film collections and hence he chose to attack Karan Johar's Wake Up Kid. He knew that the producer will buckle down due to commercial reasons.  Likewise he has attacked Bachhans (a North India). He will not dare to attack an icon like Sachin.

Its just hard to understand how a seasoned politician like Bal Thakerey would commit such a rookie mistake. Even the BJP has distanced itself and has praised Sachin. The Sena on the other hand seems to be hell bent to isolate itself. It followed up its atack on Sachin which a physical attack on the IBN Lokmat.

In the recent Assembly elections, Shiv Sena was badly defeated. It was even forced to give up the post of the Leader of the Opposition as it won only 44 seats as against the BJP's 46. The BJP, marred by problems of its own chose to continue the Saffon alliance (its oldest ally) and let Shiv Sena fight many more seats. It surely could have won many more seats on its own.

The Congress on the other hand is following the model that the CPM employed so successfully in West Bengal - keep the alliance intact and divide the opposition. CPM continued to have an alliance with other Left Front members despite the fact that they enjoyed simple majority. For the moment, plan seems to be working, but its the poeple of Maharashtra who are suffering. Its Govt. is complacent because it knows it will be re-elected as the opposition is divided. Apart from some sugar coated statements from the Chief Minister, nothing has been done against the MNS.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why is billion strong India a laggard in Sports

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A few days ago, I wrote a post on India’s chances to host the 2020 Olympic Games. I disgusted to see the reactions of people who laughed at this mere suggestion. They mocked the Indian Sport persons. This post is for those morons who have no idea to Sports and perhaps don’t watch any sport other than Cricket. They have no idea how much sports has changed.

I am starting this article by covering some of the sports which I follow.

Hockey is the national game of our country and India has won the Olympic Gold and World Cup several times. However, field Hockey moved from playing on grass to synthetic surfaces in the early 90’s.

India does not enough of these which are costly. Moreover each surface has only a fixed life. No wonder, India has hardly done well at either the World Cup or in Olympics. The lowest point came when the mens team failed to even win a medal at the 2006 Asian Games. They even lost to China. Infact the Chinese went on beat Pakistan as well and finish second on Mens Category and won the gold in Womens - can you imagine that!!! Indian eves however saved some grace for the national sport by winning the bronze medal. I suppose by that logic sooner Chinese might even win the Gold in Kabbadi as well.

Chak de India, a Bollywood sport movie based on Indian Women’s Hockey clearly showed the difference. While Australia’s coach was strategizing based on video footage and printouts, India’s coach was merely encouraging his players.

India’s current Hockey coach, Brasa from Spain is realizing this lack of facilities. According to him, India badly needs a sports psychologist, GPS system, heart-rate monitoring machine, a software to analyse matches and some laptops for the coaches. Till date he has only received promises. (Source)

Vijay Amritraj (former World no 16) is perhaps the only singles player (of good quality) that India has produced. Though he never won a Grand slam, he defeated John Mc Enroe four times. Sania’s best rank was 37th and even she has hardly defeated any top ranked players. On the doubles circuit though, Leader and Mahesh have been a dominant force.

The reasons are not hard to guess. It is a herculean task for any Indian player to rise in the ranks. Top ranked Tennis players usually prefer to compete in tournament in the Europe and the US. This is because of the higher prize money. This means that the local talent gets to see and play higher ranked players thus improving the standard of play. An Indian would have to spend a lot of money just to travel and compete. Better training and coaching facilities abroad further aggravates the gap. As a result, higher ATP points are given for winning a tournament in Europe than a one in India. It is no wonder that generally the top ranked players hail from Europe, US and Australia.

Ten years ago there were just 8 Indians among the top 2000 men and women. Today there are 50. But just one woman is among the top 100 while none in case of men. Yuki Bhamri, the number one junior player essentially trains abroad. Prakash Amritraj also has a US passport and play there.

Mahesh Bhupati in partnership with Apollo Tyres launched the Apollo 2018 mission with an aim to produce singles Champion by 2018. It aims at selecting young talent and providing them with the best training. However, this has run into financial troubles due to recession.

This is surely an upcoming sport in India. This sport is dominated by the Chinese. In the past Prakash Padukone and Gopichand have won the prestigious All England Cup. Saina Nehwal, perhaps the best Indian singles talent, has been doing a great for the past couple of years. She reached the last eight in the Beijing Olympics.

But even this sport is not without any fiasco. Recently Saina had to miss a major international event because the Badmintion Association officials didn’t send her entries. As a result her rankings dropped from World No. 6 to World No.8.

Not long ago, she had almost missed out on participating at the Yonex Sunrise World Super Series Masters Final in Malaysia because she hadn’t received her passport in time from the regional passport authorities of Hyderabad. Only when The Times of India intervened on behalf of the teen did she receive the documents from the Chief Passport Officer in New Delhi. It took him just a few hours on Saturday, which is usually an off day. (Source)

Shooting is perhaps the most promising non-cricket sport of all. We have producers winners like Rajwardhan Rathore, Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, etc. We have got a realistic chance of producing many more Olympic medals in Shooting.

But all is not well. For instance, at a major international event, India performed exceeding well (as compared to the previous edition of the Games). Soon after the team lands, the Chief Coach resigned because he was sick and tired of delays in ammunition.

Abhinav Bindra, India’s lone Olympic Gold medal winner comes from an affluent Sikh family and his father had setup an indoor shooting range at their home in Punjab. He was someone who got the right training. Sports have moved beyond the sport fields and into the research labs. For instance, Shooting at the highest level involves controlling your heart beat. Not many Indians can afford this.

On back of their strong performance, National Rifles Association of India(NRAI) recently got Sahara as its sponsor. Top 15 shooters got Cricket styled graded contracts. “ Abhinav Bindra’s absence in the National Rifle Association of India’s (NRAI) graded contracted system is just the most apparent lapse, it’s hardly the only one. Kynan Chenai, who won a gold at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Pune last year, has more national and international accomplishments than Shresyasi Singh. And yet the latter is placed in the higher slab — Rs 12 lakh per year — while Chenai gets Rs six lakh per year. Shresyasi also happens to be the daughter of the NRAI president Digvijay Singh. ” (Source)

Cricket, the most popular game in India is played in just a handful of countries. There are just nine Test playing countries. Of this, we all know the standard of Bangladesh Cricket while West Indies Cricket has been struggling for quite some time now. That leaves just seven countries that play good standard of Cricket. Yet there is immense popularity of the sport in India. There two reasons for it – first Cricket is a team sport which makes it much more interesting to watch, second, unlike other sports India has in the past has won all the major Tournament (World Cup, World T20, and Champions Trophy).

Now just picture this, India’s population every year increases by an amount that is roughly equal to the current population of Australia. Yet our team (of which most of us ardent supporters) is thrashed by a team that was essentially composed of Australia’s reserves.

Reasons are not hard to guess. There are 27 teams in the Ranji Trophy (at least one for each state). These are divided into two divisions – Elite (10 teams) and Plate (17 teams). This number was even higher in 2007 when there were 12 teams in the Elite division. The number of reduced following India’s humiliating exit from the 2007 World Cup. Ideally this number should be further reduced to eight (something that is hard to do). Dhoni who played for Jharkhand( a Plate division side) made it to the Indian side shows that the systems is well equipped to promote talented players even from the Plate Division. Only difference is that, Had Dhoni played for a bigger Ranji team like Mumbai or Delhi, he might have made his debut by time he was 19. He eventually made his debut at an age of 23.

Compare that to Australia which has just six teams in its domestic structure. This means every Australian has to fight hard just to keep his place in the state side, forget the national side.

Infrastructure has improved compared to the past. But picture this; UP an Elite-division team has been very well for past few seasons. Some of the top player like Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla hail from here. But until very recently they did not have a full time physical trainer. You can surely imagine what would be the condition of the Plate division teams.

IPL has brought in the money, but has it really improved the quality? Earlier this year, IPL tournament just preceded the T20 World Cup, seemingly an ideal preparation for it. The defending Champions were badly beaten. One of the obvious reasons is that there are as many as eight teams in IPL. Most teams have just one or at max two good bowlers. As a batsman you would try to play out these bowlers and attack the rest.

You all can imagine what would happen to the standard of Cricket when the number of teams is increased in 2010. Domestic T20 tournament in Australia has six teams with each team allowed just two overseas players as opposed to four in IPL. And what I find really hard to understand how people can support any of these teams? I asked some of my colleagues who hail from Hyderabad, why were they support the Team. That team hardly had any players from Hyderabad or AP for that matter. Other than the foreign recruits most of the Indians in the team hail from other states.

Inefficiency and Corruption in cricket is even higher at junior levels which are by and large outside the media glare. IPL has addressed this to a certain extent but it has also made players less enthusiastic of playing for India, since they can make enough money even if they never get to play for India. Most of the support staff around the world are Australians. There was time when there were as many as five Australians as National Coaches – Greg Chappel (India), John Bucchannan (Australia), Tom Moddy (Sri Lanka), Dave Whatmore(Bangladesh) and John Dyson(West Indies). The best umpire till very recently was also an Australian. Surely there is something in the Australian setup.

Our Sports Administrators
Most of the times, it is the sportsmen who face the ire of the fans. The public is completely oblivious to what happens behind the scenes.

• National Games to be held in Jharkhand in 2007 have been delayed four times and still no dates as to when they will be held.
• Our Commonwealth Games preparation is going shamelessly slow. Though IOA has assured that they will be done on time for the Games, Indian sportsmen would not get any home advantage because lack of practice and thus would cost us lot of medals.
• A certain Monica Devi missed out on the Beijing Olympics because the Indian Olympic Association withdrew her name after she tested positive during a drugs test. When she asked for another test, it was found that she was, in fact, innocent, but by then it was too late for the Manipuri to participate at a competition that just about every sportsman dreams of. (Source)
• PT Usha, the doyen of Indian athletics was denied proper accommodation at the National Athletics Meet in Bhopal. The 'sprint queen', as she is known as, was asked to share her less than spectacular room with five others. The room did not even have hygienic conditions or running water. (Source)

Forget the money, if we can just remove these inefficiencies, a quantum jump in performances can be achieved. With improved performance money will come as is shown by the recent contract won by Vijendra Singh.

The way forward……..
If money alone would have been the issue, then Africa or North Korea would never win medals at the Olympics. Surely they have something right in their sporting structure and it is not marred by the corrupt and inefficient practices. Perhaps this is not just the story of Indian Sports alone, this is a story of all Indian Systems across the board, be it civil administration, police, judiciary, etc.

Sports are a way of life. Sports can also play a major in raising nationalistic feelings. In India, the North-East and in particular Manipur has a sporting culture. In the last National Games, Manipur and Assam were at second and third spot respectively in the overall medals tally, quite disproportionate to their population size. This region is capable of producing Olympic Champions. Cricket is not the only sport in this region. More encouragement and better facilities could produce better results. These regions are also insurgency prone and sports could act as a means to integrate them with the rest of the country.

BCCI is perhaps the only Sporting organization in India that has loads of money. It has recently started supporting other games. It has promised 25 crore to help the Indian Football over the next two years. However, it can surely be more innovative and invest in long term projects that can produce lasting results. For instance, it can invest in an Institute of Sports Science.
Sport science is a discipline that studies the application of scientific principles and techniques with the aim of improving sporting performance. Human movement is a related scientific discipline that studies human movement in all contexts including that of sport. The study of sports science traditionally incorporates areas of physiology, psychology, motor control and biomechanics but also includes other topics such as nutrition and diet, sports technology, anthropometry kinanthropometry and performance analysis. (Source).

Andrew Leipus, India’s physio during 2003 World Cup had a Sport Science degree from an Australian Institute. If we could have a local institute to produce physios, most Ranji sides could have a physio and thus India’s perennial problem of fielding could be solved. Fitness in other sports would also greatly improve. Likewise, Indian sports need Sports Psychologists.

If Indian sportsmen still manage to win so many accolades, it is not because of the system, it is despite the system. Let us not mock these sportsmen who bring glory to our nation.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Interesting Readings

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I came across two interesting articles.

The first one is article mentioning some of the major books that have been banned in India since 1934. Largest number of the books banned are those that have been critical of India and its foreign policy (primarily on Kashmir)

The second is an article that appeared in the latest edition of Outlook magazine. It is a article by a Pakistani journalist and gives interesting insight into the viewpoints from across the border. It states that 1947 is a wrong lens to look at Pakistan. According to him 1971 is a more appropriate lens when India took advantage of an internal trouble to divide Pakistan, something that is still not forgotten and may never will be. Hence, the Pakistanis don't give too much weight age to terrorism in India as for them it is justified.

Though it is slightly biased at times, it is worth reading. I would strongly recommend you to read the second article.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vande Matram: A needless controversy

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‘Vande Matram’ or Hail the Mother land

Vande Matram’, the national song of India has distinct historic importance. It was one of the more prominent slogans of the Indian Freedom Movement. It was the national cry for freedom against the British Raj and played an important role in generating nationalistic feeling. The song was written by Bankim Chandra in 1876. It was sung by Rabridranath Tagore in 1896 at a Indian National Congress Session making it the first political occasion when the song was sung. Later the song was regularly sung at Congress sessions and today it is sung in the Parliament as well before the start and end of every session. A one point of time, the song was banned by British.

However, this song has been controversial from the very beginning. Recently Jamait-e-Ulema Hind issued a fatwa against the singing of the song. Earlier in 2006, Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee also instructed the Sikhs not to sing the song.

Why is this song controversial?
The main reason why this song is opposed by some of the religious groups is that - the original song written by Bankim Chandra represented India as the Hindu deity of Durga and called to bow/salute the Nation, i.e. Hail the Motherland. Many religions like Islam are opposed to idol worship and this is precisely the reason why there was so much of opposition.

In 1937, the Indian National Congress had a detailed discussion on the song. Finally it decided to adopt only the first two stanzas as the National Song which did not have any religious connotations. Furthermore, Jana Gana Mana became our national anthem even though Vande Matram was the more popular song at that time. This meant that it wasn’t mandatory to sing this song.

Present Controversy
Other than politics, it is difficult to understand the present controversy behind this song simply because it is not mandatory to sing this song. Ironically, it was A.R. Rehman (born Hindu but practicing Islam) who released his version of Vande Matram in 1997 on 50 years of India’s independence.

It is highly unfortunate that a song that played a major role during our freedom is being dragged into such controversy. In 2003, the song was selected as the second most famous song from a BBC poll conducted all around the world.

Indian Muslims took active part during the freedom struggle and have also laid down their lives for the country in the various wars. It would be foolish to associate their patriotism to just the singing this song. Likewise, I don’t understand “What’s the need to issue fatwas as long as the song is not mandatory”. There are many other issues, much more important concerning the Muslim community and India that need attention. Moreover, I doubt how many Indians actually understand the meaning of the song, something that is rarely taught.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bollywood: Miles away from Bharat

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India is a land of great diversities. In his book ‘India After Gandhi’, Ramcharan Guha describes “Hindi cinema to be great unifier.  We are divided along caste, class, language, language and gender. Attempts to make Hindi a national language failed. It is Bollywood that has made Hindi language more comprehensible across India. It has given icons that are revered across the country in the same breadth“. The only other thing that unites India like anything (that comes to my mind) is Sports and more precisely Cricket. With Cricket and Bollywood, I really find it difficult to believe that India could have remained united with such a diverse culture.

Films can play an important role in the society as they reflect on present issues. In a poor country where vast numbers of people are still illiterate, movies are much more effective medium to shape public opinion than books. Hindi movies have always played an important role in nation building. Bollywood played a vital role during the Independence struggle as it evoked patriotic emotions. Post-independence several movies about inter-caste marriages, north-south marriages and also Hindu-Muslim marriages have been made aimed at promoting India’s unity. The legendary 1957 movie ‘Mother India’ talked about struggle of a widow, the exploitation of the farmer at the hands of the moneylender.

But that has been Bollywood of the past. Bollywood today does not cater to the audience in rural areas. Bombay (Is Raj Thakerey reading :P )-Pune  circle contributes around 40% of the revenues. Today’s movies are targeted at Multiplex audience and Audience abroad. Today’s producers and directors like to copy Hollywood stories, use Foreign Locations, and depict the lives of NRI’s or rich in India (of course that represents the aspirations of a small section of Indians). Quite often producers are enticed by Western Countries to shoot in their countries. (This is because Hindi movies are an ideal platform to showcase their countries to the potential tourists from India.)

Looking back at the Bollywood hits in the last 10-15 years, I really find it hard to recall many mainstream movies that were based on a story of rural India in today’s context and depicted the issues of rural India. Only movie that comes to my mind is Swadesh. But even Swadesh didn’t really cover all issues that plague our rural society. It basically talked about poor infrastructure and illiteracy. Caste issues were touched but not much. It did not touch issues such as farmer suicides. Nevertheless, it was brave attempt. It was more centered on evoking nationalistic feelings and called upon the intelligentsia to stay in India and to contribute in nation building.

While the movies in the earlier year’s depicted common man and his problems like dacoits in villages or role of money lenders. Gradually these dacoits were replaced by Smuggler. Today’s villains are Underworld gangsters and terrorists. This is more of an urban phenomenon and urban issues. Unfortunately, no bollywood mainstream movie has depicted the problem of farmer suicides.

While movies on Kashmir are regarded as glamorous, there are hardly any movies on the North-East. There is absolutely no wonder that these region are troubled and yet to be fully integrated with the India mainstream (in real sense). 

While the Prime Minister of India might argue that Naxalism is the biggest threat to India, Bollywood doesn’t seem to be interested in the issue.  There have been several Bollywood movies on Pakistan, Terrorism, and even about Gay and Lesbian relationships but no mainstream movie has been made either on Naxalism or Farmer Suicides.

It would be incorrect to say that Bollywood does not make any movies with social messagea. Some of the recent movies that come to mind are – Lage Raho Munnabhai, Swadesh, Firaaq, Baabul, etc. But by and large, such movies are rare, and mostly take up issues that more relevant to Urban India, and not to the rural Bharat. Even Baabul, a story on widow remarriage, was actually a story set in an Upper Class Family. The upper class and even middle class to large extent are much more open minded. It would have been better if the producer could make a similar movie based on a rural setting.

Two of the upcoming movies – My Name is Khan and Total Ten. While the first one is about a Muslim man’s struggle in America post 9/11, the second one is about 26/11 Mumbai Attacks. Both the issues are primarily urban.

Naxalites often claim that there is a growing inequality in our society. Unfortunately our movies only tend to depict the opposite. It showcases only the riches, lives of NRI’s, grand marriages. Movies like Hum Apke Hain Kaun were purely urban stories. The only poor people shown in the movie were servants. Even Slumdog (which was an Indian story by Indian author, involved Indian Actors, Technicians and Musicians) was actually produced by a foreigner.

If Hollywood can successfully movies like Kiterunner (depicting problems of Afghanistan) ,Blood Diamond (Africa), Hotel Rwanda, etc depicting problems of all around the world, why can’t Bollywood do the same on the problems of our own country. All the above mentioned movies were big hits.

Over the last 10-15 years, Indians have been bombarded with this false sense of prosperity and now there is feeling that is creeping, particularly among the urban, metropolitan youth that India is much better off that it actually is. They are often surprised how HDI rank of India is even poorer than Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.

Bollywood cannot remain oblivious to its environment. It’s difficult to think of any suggestions or solutions. Movies on patriotism are often made tax-free. Even Lage Raho was made tax-free as it was based on principals of Gandhi – the father of the nation. But movies on Naxalism, North-East and other Social Issues like caste, dowry,etc should also be made tax-free. This is can make such movies commercially viable. Likewise, the govt. can tax movies that particularly and clearly made for the classes – movies that are ostensibly made for audience abroad and show far too much prosperity.

While the first step is rather easy, the second is difficult to implement. While it is difficult to convince producers (often driven by commercial interests) to make movies on these subjects, attempt can be made to promote art movies. Art movies are often much closer to reality. One such move can be to fix a mandatory period of say 2 weeks during which all cinema halls across the country (including multiplexes) can show only movies that won the national awards in any category. Few Indians would know that every year, Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration is given away. Some of the Bollywood movies like Mr and Mrs Iyer, Bombay, Roja have also won it in the past.This can be a huge promotion for regional cinema as well help in integrating India.

Indians need to be constantly reminded that there is Bharat that has been left far behind India.