India plays fair, now for a lovely 2nd innings

By T S Sudhir

If it sounds an exaggeration, so be it. But to me, for the Trent Bridge crowd to boo the Indian team with chants of `cheats’ when they went to the pavilion for the tea break in the Nottingham Test, was a verbal version of Bodyline. This when one of their very own, Michael Vaseline Vaughan, had showed just a day before why the Brits are such cry babies. VVS Laxman with his receding hairline, would not have known that vaseline had such side advantages as well.

But first the run out controversy. By now everyone knows Ian Bell, sauntering back to the pavilion for tea (some cheeky Indians have called it Bell’s slutwalk) was given run out. You may argue that the ball was dead but then the third umpire did rule him out. The England captain and coach walked to the Indian dressing room at tea to request MSD to withdraw the appeal. `Mahatma’ Dhoni agreed, even though with that decision, he had kind of, also lost the match.

So what, his fans and admirers asked. Dhoni has won hearts, they argued. Fair enough. We may lose the number 1 ranking in Tests, but at least we will win the Fair play award. It can’t get more fair and lovely than that.

India has its back to the wall (actually it is back to the Wall, quite literally) in this Test but it is England, for who the bell tolls. Particularly after the uncouth manner in which Vaughan suggested that Laxman’s bat helped him escape from a faint edge. The decision was reviewed by England but rejected by the Hot-Spot technology.

“Has Vaseline on the outside edge saved the day for Laxman?” tweeted Vaughan. This after Stuart Broad had the temerity to walk up to Laxman and inspect the Hyderabadl’s bat. His mythological avatar would have chopped off Broad’s nose !

Sunil Gavaskar, India’s last word on all things cricket, pointed out that Vaughan had questioned Laxman’s integrity and that VVS should take the Brit to court. Realising the tweet was proving a touch too slippery, Vaughan let loose a barrage of tweets in his defence. Sample these :

“I think there has been a slight over reaction to Vaseline gate … Taken to court!!!?? Sense of humour required to many I think …”

“Just woke up to barrage of abuse from India … What are they going to be like when they lose this Test?”

Now that Vaughan is daring India to win, I would suggest Laxman lets his vaseline-free bat do the talking instead of his lawyer. And at the end of it, send Vaughan a bottle of vaseline, with compliments.

And as far as “sense of humour” is concerned, the next time an England team comes to India and complains of Delhi belly, the BCCI should send them DVDs of the Aamir Khan production to humour themselves in their hotel rooms. And tell them, S**T happens !

And for now, can we get back to Trent Bridge and win it or save it please? Can’t have the Boycotts of the world go Kaanv Kaanv about their team endlessly.


The Wednesday at Mohali

By T S Sudhir

“Mohali mein hum itne chauke-chhake maarenge ki confuje ho jaaoge ki boundary pe khade ho ki border pe!!!”

This Salman Dabangg Khan inspired joke is just one of the hundreds that facebook and twitter are brimming with, ever since India ruined Punter Ricky Ponting’s dream of another Aussie win in the World Cup. This post by Madhup Mohta was in response to the post by one of India’s most witty men, Madhavan Narayanan who wrote : “Rajkumar to Shahid Afridi : Jaani, tumhari daadi bahut khoob hai par lagta hai tere hajamat ke din aa gaye.”

Passions are rising across the Wagah as well. A facebook event page `Wear Green on March 30th 2011‘ has been created and when I checked last, it had 7664 members `attending it’. Its location is not geography-specific to the west of India. Rather it says : `Through out the World where Pakistan Cricket fanatics live’.

Of course, a clever Indian wrote : “It is good that the match is happening at Mohali. From there, it will take only half hour for the Pakistan team to reach the Wagah border by rickshaw.”

No cricket match in recent times has evoked such hype, such hysteria, such excitement as this battle of Mohali. Harsha Bhogle mildly objected to Tony Greig using the word `vendetta’ while looking ahead to this neighbourhood encounter. But surf through any TV channel or read the screaming headlines in the newspapers. Each one of them is raising the pitch to `Pak them off’.

A cricket website `Clear Cricket’ has blogged on `prescribed etiquettes and attitudes for the greatest match ever’. One of them being : `Loser desi footie fans, if you’re going to compare this to ManU v Liverpool, El Classico or some shit, please piss off right now, you won’t be spared.’

Another one : `For all those who are terming this as cricket’s holiest war, End of Times, Judgement Day etc. we f**king love you. It is going to be just that, in that Colosseum.’

Clearly it is not going to be `A Wednesday’ (a hit film on terror attacks in India). It is being billed as `The Wednesday’, when at any given point of time, only one Prime Minister will clap while the other will clench his fist and bear. Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani will watch the semi-final together at Mohali even as security agencies have gone into an overdrive, with intelligence inputs of a terror attack doing the rounds. Wonder if the fidayeens and the jehadis won’t like to take a day off as well to watch shots and massacre of a different kind.

The stakes are indeed high for Dhoni’s boys. Because if the Greens trounce the Blues, there is the nuisance value of saffron king Bal Thackeray who will threaten to queer the cricket pitch by imperiously declining permission to Pakistan to play in his backyard, Mumbai.

But first things first. It is taken for granted that the streets, from Kanpur to Karachi and Palakkad to Peshawar will be deserted post 2:30 pm on Wednesday. Pakistan would hope for a Javed Miandad-like Sharjah kind of performance while India would hope Nehra and Munaf do not do a Chetan Sharma. There would be for sure, a lot of chatter around the 22 yards and Sreesanth could use that to make a good case to find a place in the team. Purely on merit ! We all know he is a proven talent and has a way with words.


I end this with the final word from Madhavan Narayanan who writes : `India vs Pak semi-final at Mohali. Theme song: Wagah-Wagah.’

Move over, Shakira !


1983’s dark horse has a fair chance in 2011

By T S Sudhir

One of the sports channels was showing a half hour special on the 1983 triumph. I was enlightening Tejaswini, my seven and a half year old daughter, on that day in London when India won the World Cup. On the telly that moment was Kapil Dev running backwards to take that Viv Richards catch. I told Teju this was the turning point of the game.

“Is this man still there?” she asked. “Yes of course,” I said. “He is the only Indian captain to have won the World Cup. And now, when the World Cup is to be played in India, everyone is hoping we will win it again. After 28 years,” I explained.

But her “Is this man still there?” stuck in my mind.

To my generation, each moment of that heady triumph is registered in our minds. But to the cricket fans of today, 1983 is a long, long way back. To them, a Kapil, a Gavaskar, a Jimmy Amarnath or a Sandhu are not names they relate to. Krish Srikkanth stands a better chance because the World Cup final’s highest scorer is strategically the man who has presided over the selection of Dhoni’s boys.

As I see 18 and 20 and 25 years old post status messages on Facebook beseeching Dhoni to play to potential and win the Cup, I realise the expectation levels are sky-high. India is today a powerhouse in the world of cricket and the men in blue a combative unit, who have few off days on the field. They start the World Cup campaign as one of the firm favourites and are almost certain to make the semis. From there, it is just a matter of two good matches and the Cup will be home. 

It wasn’t so in 1983. I remember it was the Australian captain Kim Hughes who said India was the dark horse. Save Hughes, no one, repeat no one, gave India any chance to be on the Lord’s balcony on 25 June 1983. India had won just one match in the previous two editions in 1975 and ’79 and it was taunted more for Gavaskar’s laborious 36 not out in a 60-over match in the 1975 edition.

But then what most people ignored was that India had won a match against the Windies at Berbice in a one-day series coming into this World Cup. That Kapil was to serve as the viagra for a team that still hadn’t got used to appreciating the sex appeal of the one-day format. The fear factor of Andy Roberts and company was somehow not as daunting as before and India was to repeat the feat in the World Cup in the league match.

But it was not as if the campaign was a smooth affair. Far from it. India would have got bundled out of the World Cup at Tunbridge Wells against Zimbabwe but for Kapil’s whirlwind 175 not out. Before Kapil walked in, half the side was back in the dressing room, with the scoreboard reading a sorry 17-5. The campaign was marked on many occasions by simmering tensions between Kapil and Gavaskar, which is recorded by P R Mansingh (the manager of the team) in his book `Victory Insight’.

And when the Indians were skittled for 183 in the final, without even managing to play out their 60 overs, it seemed the Indians had overstayed their welcome in England. The swagger with which King Richards walked in and went on to demolish the attack, spoke of a resolve to show the Indians their place in world cricket.

But it was as if the Gods had ordained that the Calypso will not be heard that evening in Barbados, Antigua and Jamaica. Wickets tumbled in a heap as the overconfident Windies succumbed to the lazy evening walk run-up bowling of Jimmy Amarnath. Jeffrey Dujon hitting the pitch with his right hand in exasperation, when he was out, was indicative of the hole the Caribbeans had fallen into. 

India in 1983 was living a dream. The underdogs who no one gave a chance. It was quite likely that they would have got a hero’s welcome even if they had lost the finals.

But 2011 is different. Everyone is talking of how 1983’s dark horse has a fair chance in 2011. The pressure is palpable. And that makes the job that much more difficult.

Every ball, every run, every non-run, every dot ball, every confrontation that Sreesanth enters into, every catch, every dropped catch will be scrutinised under the microscope of every Indian who is an armchair expert on the game.

This will be coach Gary Kirsten’s last outing with the team. Yet again, a man has travelled from South Africa to this country to guide India to realise its dream. History is proof that you can hope for the best from those trained in the land of the Cape of Good Hope.

An evening in Paris

By T S Sudhir

(video of my story aired on NDTV24x7)

Saina Nehwal’s adoring fans will hope she will not be in India to receive the Rajiv Khel Ratna award to be given away by President Pratibha Patil on the evening of Sunday, the 29th of August. That’s because they would rather see the world number 2 in action in Paris playing the finals of the world championship in the French capital the same day. And they will hope it will be an evening in Paris to celebrate, cherish and remember !

20-year-old Saina, quite possibly, wouldn’t have seen `An evening in Paris’, the 1967 Shammi Kapoor-Sharmila Tagore starrer. But a DVD of `3 Idiots’ will be part of her hand baggage to take away some of the stress built up by the expections of India’s badminton lovers. This Aamir-SRK fan who leads the Indian team, has a first round bye but faces a tough draw thereafter.

The same month last year, all of India had expected to cheer Saina to a title win at the world championship in hometown Hyderabad. But a bout of chicken pox ruined her preparation for the big-ticket tournament, though she still managed to reach the quarters. This time, Saina has improved in ranking, fitness and preparation.

“All over, this year, I have improved quite a lot over last year and I am in much better shape. I am moving quite good on court,” she says.

Yes, her defence and side play remain areas of concern where her coaches have focussed on. Those are also areas where the Chinese will mark her out.

“They really will try and find out which is the area where I can be beaten. They are doing all those things. During the tournament also, they will take videos of my matches, ” she says and with a chuckle, adds, “But then, I am also going to do the same with them.”

Coach Bhaskar Babu, who was by Saina’s side during her victories in the three tournaments in Chennai, Singapore and Jakarta in June, however strikes a word of caution.

“If she gets to the quarters, we can hope for the title. But the concern is exactly when she will hit peak form.”

Bhaskar says Saina could train only for five weeks before the championship while she needs atleast 7-8 weeks to peak. “If we are lucky, Saina may reach peak form during the championship.”

The fast courts at Paris would test the fitness of every player. Saina is confident she won’t run out of breath. She has played on these courts before and has done well too. Either way, we will be watching you play with bated breath, Saina.

Veiled bigotry

By Uma Sudhir

A colleague whose wife, he says, grew up wearing short skirts to high school, now won’t step out of home without her burqa. They have two daughters. The elder one went to a Christian school. The younger one is going to a Deoband-run school. He says there is a perennial clash of values at home. He doesn’t want his wife to wear a burqa. Till a few years ago, she agreed. Now she doesn’t. The elder one loves to dress in jeans and other western outfits. The mother doesn’t approve. The younger one, just stepping into her teens, won’t even show the lower half of her legs or even her feet, even when sitting on the ground. I have seen her happily wear a headscarf even as a child.

As someone who does not wear a burqa, I have no firsthand authority to speak on how the women who do wear or are expected to wear, feel. Nor what it means to them.The cultural values we imbibe as we grow and social conditioning makes us decide what we think is right for us.

And sometimes, when we feel threatened and want to emphasise our identity, going back to the folds of religion, culture, tradition, whatever you call it, gives a sense of satisfaction and security. That perhaps explains why the wife chose what she and her daughters should wear.

I can’t make a value judgment. Can’t label it regressive or oppressive. Even if I disapproved of it, I would go with the philosophy behind a quote attributed to Voltaire, a personal favourite : “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Similarly so for what women choose to wear.

So how come the country from where this philosopher hailed, the country that famously immortalised `liberty, equality and fraternity’ as values for the world to celebrate, has chosen to dictate to its women what they can wear and what they cannot?

The intentions are made to sound adequately noble. It is an attempt to save them from “enslavement and debasement”, from a “walking coffin”, a “muzzle” and help them shed their “dark sectarian image”.

The rider being that if the women don’t fall in line with the government’s attempt to ensure their “freedom”, they can be penalised for it. A $185 fine, compulsory citizenship classes. Essentially nullifying their freedom to make choices.

What an irony. Instead of focussing on lifting the veil off the women, wish they would spare a thought on their own veil of prejudice, their own veiled bigotry.

To me it seems that behind the lofty claims of liberating women, there is a thinly veiled unease with the visible signs of Islam in Europe. The claim of overwhelming support to the ban (80 per cent of the French, 70 per cent German voters and 62 per cent British voters, according to a recent poll), to me, reveals the deep-seated fears of the West about Islam and the black of the veil fits in with their underlying dark fears about what could be behind it.

Any liberal would agree that the State has no right to interfere in the religious choices of its people, specially the minorities. Whether the burqa is a religious symbol is of course an altogether different debate. Then again, feminists would argue that women alone should decide what they choose to wear, whether they want to show their face and hair or not.

Am sure, Europe is short of neither liberals nor feminists. But then it is estimated that less than 2000 Muslim women still wear the burqa in France out of a Muslim population of five million to six million. Thats less than 0.0003 per cent of the population.

If we take the case of Belgium that is also mulling a ban, no more than an estimated 215 women in Belgium are said to be fully veiled.

Claims of threat to public security and assertion of national identity and dignity are shallow. If this is an attempt to define French national identity, wouldn’t values of liberty, equality and fraternity define France better? France banned religious symbols, including Islamic headscarves, in schools in 2004. But the important difference was that turbans, crosses and Jewish stars were also banned. So there was in a sense a parity in the imposition of values advocated.

You can discourage wearing veils but bringing a law to impose that is blatantly and patently wrong. Many may view this as an attempt to correct how women are viewed in Islam but I suspect this is much more about how Islam is viewed in the West.

I suspect it is a fallout of judging other cultures and religions by the yardstick of one’s own cultural, religious and moral values. The subjective context in each case is forgotten.

Ideas of modesty and decency considered appropriate for public spaces and religious spaces also differ vastly in the West and the East. Wonder if it would not be scandalous if a streaker or a bikini-clad woman were to walk into a church.

In the attempt to impose what we see as right, we turn into exactly the kind of people we criticise. No more can the claims be made of being upholders of freedom and tolerance, of being evolved and enlightened civilisations. Why then single out and criticise countries like Afghanistan that doesn’t let a woman wear jeans and skirts? Why point fingers at a Saudi Arabia for banning other religious symbols like the Bible and Hindu idols from even being brought into the country and not allowing people to wear religious symbols associated with anything other than Islam? How is a Europe better, that is banning the burqa and doesn’t let a woman decide for herself ?

Not to say that there is only one view about the burqa. I asked a young friend from Pakistan who I have always seen in a burqa (not necessarily with the face-veil though) what the dress meant to her. She said she wore it because it made her family members happy.

“One day I am going to stop wearing it but till then, no two lives. One before the family and one for myself, my friends. So I never step out without it now but one day I will give it up for good.”

My interactions with women from many parts of India, Afghanistan, Maldives and elsewhere leaves me with only one thought. Coercion, whether through legislation, a maulvi’s fatwa or social pressure, doesn’t change attitudes. It may be a garment of oppression but it is not a simple piece of cloth. It has symbolic value. Many see it as a personal, religious and political choice.

That is why women need to be allowed their freedom to make the choice. Banning the burqa is a step backward, not forward.

Bharat to India, 100 km

By Uma Sudhir

In the last week of August, I travelled to `Bharat’, about 100 km from Hyderabad. To a district called Nalgonda. A district that in my journalistic experience has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. I first reported on it in 1994 when I was with `The Times of India’ in Delhi. The story was on human beings so deformed and crooked that they look almost like extraterrestrial beings. The reason : there was fluoride in the groundwater and no government was concerned enough to provide safe drinking water. I feel abashed to say that I won a United Nations award for my report but the story on the ground remains the same even today. Little has changed.

In 1999-2000, when an international baby-selling adoption racket was unearthed in Hyderabad, NDTV traced that the newborn baby girls were being `bought’ for a few hundred rupees from the tribal belt of Nalgonda district to be `sold’ to international clients for a few lakh rupees.

This time I was in Nalgonda, ten days after India celebrated its 63rd birthday. Just in those ten days, three baby girls had been given away as unwanted, just in one cradle set up by the government in one primary health centre in Devarakonda in Nalgonda district. This time the babies were being given to the Government of India.

All three babies were at Nalgonda’s General Hospital, I was told. We sought the permission of the RMO to take in our camera. She obliged. Not that it looked like there would have been anyone to stop us even if we had ventured in without permission. We passed through long, depressing, dirty and stinking corridors that opened into dingy wards that had patients and attendants sprawled all over, on the beds, some on the floor.

The pediatric ward had neither a doctor nor any other paramedical staff. We asked around and found the little babies we were looking for on a single, dirty bed. My cameraperson tried some switches nearby so he could get some light to capture the frail and angelic faces on camera. But the tubelight was defunct. The cobwebs suggested no one had looked that way in several months.

The ayah from the government’s shishu vihar told me the babies had chest congestion, may be pneumonia. Being denied mother’s milk, despite the mother being alive had robbed these newborns a healthy chance to stay alive.

A woman who had followed us into the ward presumed I was a `powerful’ government officer. She told me her sister-in-law was childless and desperate for a baby and sought my help so that one of the orphan babies here could be handed over to her. I told her that was illegal and they would have to apply for adoption. Even as I said that I realised that if someone were to smuggle out one of the babies, no one would have even noticed.

If one of the babies fall off the bed and suffer an injury for life, contract an infection and need tender loving care in addition to medical attention, they probably do not stand a chance. Anything can happen to these babies. No one would be any the wiser. Does anyone really care if they are hungry, lonely, let down, alive or dead?

Two days later, I saw the India of the 21st century that probably inspired BJP’s spin doctors to coin the `India Shining’ campaign in 2004. I had an appointment with an orthopedic at Apollo Hospitals International Block in Hyderabad. I could very well have been in any of the European countries. Plush, neat, elegant. The girls wo-manning the help desk were in attire very similar to Kingfisher airhostesses. Dr Raghava Dutt who I had gone to meet said, indeed this is a wonderful facility.

Outside I saw a familiar Page 3 socialite with a diet coke in hand, being taken around by the hospital staff. He looked every inch mighty impressed with the facility and I am sure, would pitch for it with his international clients during his trips abroad.

I shared with Dr Dutt my anguish at what I had seen in Nalgonda. At what a contrast the two worlds are. Dr Dutt said he would earn just 16000 rupees every month if he worked in a government hospital anywhere in `Bharat’. And this was one of the leading orthopaedics in the country speaking. No wonder, I did not find a single doctor at that hospital in Nalgonda.

As I was leaving the hospital, I found a busy Arabic translation desk, attending to clients from the Middle East. The modern face of medical tourism, always at your service.

Nalgonda district is the `Bharat’ from where Jaipal Reddy got elected to the last Lok Sabha from Miryalguda constituency. This is the `Bharat’ which gave Andhra Pradesh its home minister Jana Reddy in the last government and the IT and sports minister in the present dispensation. Have none of them seen how desperate for attention this `Bharat’ is?

In 1996, some 480 villagers filed nominations for the Lok Sabha elections for the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat. Why? They wanted the government to implement a drinking water project for the fluoride-affected villages. The presence of nearly 500 candidates necessitated a giant-sized ballot paper in the pre-EVM era. Nalgonda made national news. It is 13 years since that election. Not much has changed. And four Lok Sabha polls later, `Bharat’ still remains `Bharat’.

How do I say Mera Bharat is Mahaan?

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