Apr 30, 2008

May Open Quizzes by the BCQC

Quizzing in these parts never seems to go away. We have two more quizzes coming up on Sunday. First, Niranjan will be presenting a unique Visuals-only quiz, perhaps in riposte to all those quizzes that have celebrated verbosity. It'll be a relief not having to parse metre-long sentences, I can tell you. This is to be followed by a quiz by Abhishek and Aditya, who seem to have quite a few tricks up their sleeves for this offering. They even plan to have an audience-only quiz and a contest for best questions.

Not to mention lots of bookstore vouchers, a few pen drives, friendly banter, and gimlet-like comments. Here're all the details.

Apr 28, 2008

Dare to Bare

"How We're Wrecking Our Feet..." is an interesting article which cites studies and sources to indicate that a life without footwear might actually be the kindest thing one could do for one's feet would be to let them as open as nature intended them. But be warned that it does forlornly conclude that it's unlikely that most of us will chuck our slippers out of the window any soon.

What I didn't quite know until I read the article is that Podiatry Management is an extremely serious vocation for many and that someone has actually written a book on the history of walking. So if you're thinking what to get M.F.Hussain for his next birthday...

Apr 27, 2008

Bertie, the toothless Beast, and the Raves

Bertie and the Beast
In "The Code of the Woosters" by P.G.Wodehouse, Bertie Wooster encounters an unusually confident and strident Gussie Fink Nottle. The newtophile was traditionally the most diffident male in all recorded history, in whom bravado could only be artificially injected via heavily spiked orange juice. Eventually Bertie wheedles out the secret of Gussie's newly acquired spine, finding a rather brilliant stratagem from Jeeves behind it all: Gussie has been surreptitiously maintaining a notebook filled with bold observations about those who would otherwise have caused his knees to knock and melt. For instance, his father-in-law-to-be's soup-slurping skills remind him of the Scottish Express rushing through a tunnel. This drains the enemy of his villainous aura reducing him to a life lower than a debauched salamander, allowing the fish-faced friend to become the 'bossee', so much so that Gussie could emasculate that black-shorted gorilla Roderick Spode as a perfect perisher in footer bags.

Now, the reason why I invoked the honourable Plum is because I have a sneaking feeling that that once obnoxious trundler Sreesanth may have been similarly Roderick-ed. If you are going to strut about providing code-violating malayaalee-accented snorts at your opposition, you cannot be seen to be sobbing as if someone swapped your multi-coloured flannels for Binny shorts. Sreesanth, poor fellow, has defanged himself for life. Anyone who has seen that sorry sight will never ever be able to take a Sreesanth sledge seriously. Even Andre Nel must have been embarassed.

More seriously, I agree almost entirely with Jayaditya Gupta's analysis of the darwaazaa-e-thappaD. This was on the cards and the BCCI is a little lucky that only Indians were involved. Anyone who saw how the under-19 players went about their business a couple of months ago would noted the bad (but condoned) habits of the senior team having rubbed off on them (that some of the juniors were probably seniors themselves is a different but equally disturbing matter).

Shane on you
My IPL viewing depends mainly on whether one person's involved, a certain Shane Warne. On display are the full range of skills - bowling, batting, strategy, and captaincy. It's an absolute treat to watch. I'm sincerely grateful to the IPL for allowing me to watch a little bit of Warne each week. Harish and Aniket would approve.

The shock at the end of the wire
And Aditya Gadre would approve of how much I have followed international club football in the last three months. Each week's EPL has thrown up corkers of matches. Saturday's results were perfect for a neutral. Now, I'd like Man Utd. to go back and claim what is theirs. But for the Champions League (I have dragged myself through part of the night for this as well!), as long as Chelsea lose, I don't care. But a little more of Messi would be nice to see.

And to round off this sports-crazy post, the tennis status quo briefly asserts itself this week, with Federer and Nadal returning for their annual date at the final at Monte Carlo. You know it's been a strange year for Federer when the only title win of the year has been on clay, and it's already April. But he wouldn't quite complain if the topsy-turviness results in wins at Roland Garros and at Beijing - the two most important crowns missing in what must be a massive mantelpiece in his Basel chalet.

Footnote: I was trying to look for some images of the weeping Sreesanth but found it interesting that Google Images turned up nothing. The restrictive media norms by the IPL seem to have resulted in this, so Mr. Modi - your diktat is working!

Apr 23, 2008

Yaara da spotlight

I see a revival of interest in an old post of mine because then, as now, the word 'tashan' was briefly in vogue thanks to one of those cheeky Coca Cola ads featuring Aamir Khan (see storyboard here), complete with tune from "Naya Daur". The ad was so popular that it was even spoofed for Mirinda in a Tamil ad!

So if you're wondering, as I was then, what "Tashan" really means, then some help in this post. However, one worries that a film that I'm likely "to shun" is going to wipe out memories of that really cool (or let's say "thanda") ad.

Apr 22, 2008

Chandamama, circa 2008

The relaunched Chandamama is finally up and running.

Nadir Shah-stri

Ravi Shastri during commentary in the IPL match this recent Sunday:
That ball spun and bounced like a spitting cobra!
If a cobra could do that, it should be in the ballet :-)

Apr 21, 2008

Gaudy, Gaudy Nights

I am perhaps the person Lalit Modi's mom told him to beware of in life: sceptical to the point of cynicism, immune to his well-coffered slick Bollywoodised charms, perhaps just unreasonably biased against messiahs like him. But shrewd man that he is, he would have realised in a jiffy that the yelps from my kind can be easily disregarded :-). Anyway, we both must do what we must, and I must present the following annoyances about the recently rocket-launched Indian Premier League.

Branding So far, the franchises seem to be a branding fiasco. For an event of this size and depth, most of the team names have shown an appalling lack of creativity, typified by the defaulting of two teams to "Kings". Much of the livery seems straight out of a Warhol-Govinda joint venture and the batsmen of the Kolkata Knightriders in particular look as if King Midas ran amok and couldn't keep his hands to himself. Combine it with a fairly tacky TV production and you sometimes wish the floodlights would go out more often. What is also surprising is the inability of marketers to provide a local identity for the teams, given the putative city associations. Even hockey's PHL managed to do a better job, if only with the team names.

Moderation Though to expect any form of moderation in this event is as naive as expecting Ranjeet-of-the-movies to voluntarily ask the hero's sister to tie him a rakhi. All the investors have pumped in money times-multiple in the hope of making it back over a period of time, so it was inevitable that they'd go over the top wooing the cash home. In particular, this leads to an extremely uncomfortable TV viewing experience, with overs snipped off and virtually no time to see the next batsman trot up or to watch what the captains are trying to do. The ads crowding the screen real estate would embarass the local cablewallahs. Why aren't we ever able to strike an efficient balance between class and crass? The tragedy is that the silent viewing millions can be taken for granted. It's a shocker.

The lack of moderation is also evident in the almost frenzied insistence by all commentators and public figures involved that the event "rocks". Also, I find the relentless nature of the games (almost one each day) to be way too much. I'd have found it easier to whip up enthusiasm for a spaced out schedule leading upto big weekend games. The league, otherwise, is in danger of being one big blur over a duration that came in for criticism in a World Cup only last year.

The English news channels have devoted a large chunk of their daily coverage to covering such breaking news items such as the fall of the eight wicket. Lessons of ratio and proportion were last seen only in the 8th standard arithmetics textbook.

Differentiation If you leave aside the cosmopolitan squads, what's different about the cricket being played? I couldn't tell the difference between any ordinary one dayer or T20 match and these IPL matches. It hasn't quite revolutionised the game by itself - the only attempts at 'innovations' are in the marketing. Therefore, the cricket isn't compelling by itself. In addition to my favourite peeve about the fragmented TV coverage, I find myself drifting off very easily. An engrossing football match in comparison keeps you glued, because the action is seamless and momentum shifts can be engineered in seconds. The 4 minute over is a boon to advertisers, but the speed of the game on the field still does not translate well to the living room, with the content being 'filtered' so poorly.

Another reason why the IPL seems all too familiar is because the same band of bumbling commentators can be heard on the air. From Rameez Raja to Ranjit Fernando, it's the same pack of tired cliches and retired insights. The best of the lot seems to be the Zimbabwean Pommie Mbangwa who though mundane, can at least generate some zeal periodically.

What I've also realised that the game desperately needs to maintain its bag of contrasts: the true worth of an Andrew Symonds' muscular hitting can be realised only when set against a Katich driving down the ground; one can appreciate a fighting innings from Dravid only when Sehwag has been unable to stay alive on that spiteful pitch. For everything to disappear over long stop is to paint a picture only in greyscale.

Independent Voices And then there are the likes of the omnipresent Gavaskar and Shastri who seem to be doing everything in the IPL baaraat from organising to commentary to firefighting. The fact that almost everyone we hear opinions from is associated in some way or the other with the IPL hasn't been highlighted very prominently (read this cogent article by Ashok Malik on the topic). That many of these commentators now work directly for the BCCI can be seen to seriously compromise any objectivity they need to bring to their coverage. This may be selective memory, but I couldn't not recall hearing any expressions of shock about that beach of an Eden Gardens pitch by any of the commentators during the match.

It also doesn't augur well that over the last couple of years, Hindi and English news channels have completed some kind of self-identification exercise with cricket: witness the liberal use of "we" and "us" in referring to the Indian team. Granted that the IPL indeed is an event of gargantuan proportions, but what causes unease is a lack of all-round objective scepticism. (As an aside, I have been watching Marathi news channels these days to get my daily dose of news, and would heartily recommend them for old-fashioned current affairs).

All this said, in all fairness, there have been several good points so far: seeing McGrath land his very first ball on the spot, Shane Warne today, the chance to hear about and see the likes of Ojha, Saha, Dinda as well as some of the lesser-known Aussies, to name a few. I do not know if the razzmatazz has at least made proceedings interesting to the spectators at the grounds (perhaps some of these fellows will be able to tell me next week). Perhaps if you could simmer in those three hours without having to repeatedly watch a dog lick stamps every six balls, you might have a different view. The very nature of the form of the game is that teams can also be shut out of the match too easily if the sweet spot (from the audience's pov) of 150-180 runs isn't reached in the first innings. However, from an economic and sociological point of view, the IPL is immensely interesting.

And finally, ever notice how this is turning out to be quite a decade for Modis? You can't guarantee anything in sport or politics, but so far their brand of heavily engineered change, fuelled by self-importance, is on the ascendancy.

Apr 16, 2008

Shortness of breadth

Of narrow interests at home.

Green with disgust

Perhaps they couldn't wait any longer for the IPL. Perhaps they just wanted to get the hell out of Kanpur. Whatever the reasons, the Kanpur pitch allowed India and South Africa to finish their final Test of their recently concluded Test Series in a hurry. However, it wasn't a blink-and-miss affair, and surprisingly turned out to be an interesting match. What I'm not sure is that if anyone really cared about it.

Blame it on the looming spectre of the IPL, whose bosses are firefighting the colossally idiotic decision in restricting how the media can cover the event (more on that later). I did not get NEO (the sports channel which currently owns rights to domestic Test Series) for a while and realised that Doordarshan was not carrying the series. It is a little scary if even the local (not to mention lazily avaricious) dinosaur decides that Test cricket and its ad revenues was not worth the effort. After several years of claiming rights by 'national interest' fatwa, is this a sign of Test cricket dropping down the gutter in a country that claims to now be the biggest shareholder in the game?

As a result, personally, the series seemed to be akin to an umpteenth lunar landing: distant, with enthusiasm having waned, and all the fuss about the surface. Though no memorable (or printable) words must have come out of Graeme Smith's mouth on visiting the middle on the opening day. That said, he must have been relieved not to have sunk in the dust.

The problem is not quite that we shouldn't be having such pitches to play on. It's that each time India trails in a Test series, it has to pull out the powdery nasties from the backshelf, or so it seems. Add to it this completely inappropriate gesture of the debutant home captain sending greetings and money to the pitch curator. Collusion or not, this habit (for I have heard of such 'rewards' in the past) completely undermines the excellent survivorship exhibited by the likes of Ganguly. One is left with a reeking smell of distaste emanating from an already sullied set of team whites.

Why the IPL exists

This blog must admit to a similar distate to IPL Czar Lalit Modi and his methods. At a time when he should be doing all that he can to get everyone (except perhaps Subhash Chandra) on his side, he comes up with these ridiculous media terms. Non-print websites seem to be the hardest hit (see Sambit Bal's latest). It's a pity that some of these agencies are merely protesting when a coordinated boycott would have been sweeter. It's a battle of competing clouts and eventually they will get into the same bed (it would be bad business if they didn't) - it's just a question of how much protection they can agree to.

Nothing the IPL has done so far has pointed out to having any regard for the common paying audience member, and seems to have been born only to further inflate the BCCI's ever-deepening coffers and hubris. Hopefully stadia will at least be friendlier to the bums-on-seats than traditionally seen in India, but with the emphasis being on squeezing each pound out of the game's flesh, it's hard to be optimistic.

A tribute to weirds

In my defence, I must say my hand has been forced. This post by Abhishek asks of me what I think of Avnish's recent crusade against words.

But before that, a correction. The e-steamed Abhishek repeatedly insinuates that self and colleague are computational linguists. Charmed as I am by the honour, I must hasten to add that this is far from the truth: we are not such men of such wordly (sic) pleasures. At best, we are word-counters, miners in hard hats, wading through the lovely mess that is text. XKCD rants are slings at some of the contributors here, while we 49ers sit by the quarry and watch such warfare, wiping stems and lemmas from our brow.

Returning to Mr. Dhondge and his disgust for "lexeme", I must hasten to the defence of that poor token. For "lexeme" was never meant for the popular vocal stage. It serves a very well-defined (as Avnish's gloss amply illustrates) purpose in an academic field. One might as well poke fun at (perhaps these words resonate with Avnish's own chosen field) "thermocouple" or "autocollimator", or think poorly of "Pneumonoultramicro...". It must be said that at least, 'lexeme' - a meta-word, to give it its due - is at least worthy of appearing in a Word of the Day newsletter that seems to cause him so much distress!

Avnish may feel he has struck a blow (or at least a blog) against verbigeration, thus ushering in a golden age of brachylogy. However, isn't more the merrier? And don't forget, we always seem to need more words, and are willing to go as far as Liff to get them. You don't need a dyslexic to spell out that every word is special (except for words like 'leverage' which have been corrupted by an increasingly dissolute society).

With a "St. Pedanticaya Namah", I rest my piece in (lower) case and sign off with Word's funkiest message to creation:

You see, the whole system of the country is juxtapositioned by the haemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity!
:: Anthony Gonsalves
or alternately:
iske ##differential## me.n lafaDaa hai! gaaDii nahii.n chale.Ngaa.
:: James D'Costa

Apr 13, 2008

I think Shivnarine "black-eyed, please" Chanderpaul's recent achievement (he hit a six off the last ball to help the Windies win a one-dayer v Sri Lanka) has been a little underestimated. Naturally, comparisons have been made with the Miandad mauling, what with both resulting in one-wicket wins. Obviously, the Pakistani win was the greater, especially if you consider all the radioactive fall-out that one disappearing ball had on two prickly nations for several years. But Chanderpaul's feat of dispatching 10 runs off the last two balls is quite special (though one is a little surprised that CPUJC [va|w]as bowling that last over given that in recent times, Mahela J has usually bowled him out by the 40th).

There's a nice list here on last ball sixes in one-dayers. Perhaps one of the last sparkles from the dying form of the game.

Howzzat? - modes of dismissal in Mughalese

The film "Jodhaa Akbar" clears up a mystery you didn't even know existed, which goes as follows: if the Urdu phrase for dismissing your inferiors from your presence is "takhliyaa", what is the Hindi equivalent?

The answer, as practised by the likes of Suhasini Mulay in the film, is "ekaant" - a fact confirmed by my trusted Urdu dictionary which similarly defines the Urdu "takhliyaa" in English as "solitude". Perhaps it was the stentorian effect of Prithviraj Kapoor that had led me to believe "takhliyaa" was an active verb - literally, a royal "get out!". "ekaant" sounds extremely PC in comparison, and not what you want in your quiver as "ma badaulat".

Now that a sporting allusion was introduced in the title of this post, one also wonders whether the top-ranking Mughals, users of elegant languages like Persian and Urdu that they were, ever asked people to eff off. "takhliyaa, battamiiz!" should do nicely, methinks.

Apr 2, 2008

The prose of Simon Armitage

I don't know what Simon Armitage writes under the "Occupation" column, but most bios call him a poet. It is therefore ironic that I have hardly read any of his poetry, but have read two books of prose and have heard an adaptation of the Odyssey for the BBC.

Book one was "All Points North": non fiction and personal, rendering life in Northern England (Yorkshire, to be very specific, for they are finicky about these distinctions there, right?) in all its dry humour. This is the England of Boycott and Bird, of the Beiderbecke TV series, of James Herriot and Yorkshire Terriers. I picked it up on a whim and breezed through the tales of Armitage and family, road trips and travelling amateur troupes, of life normal and strange. It also features some samples of Armitage's poems, which I was impressed by.

Book two was "The White Stuff": fiction and funny. The Fentons want to have a child desperately, but can't. Felix (no doubt chiseled from Armitage's social worker life) discovers his wife's true origins. Their neighbour tests fireworks for a living and is occasionally thrown out of his house by his wife. As the story winds towards a conclusion, there's a lot of sadness, a little happiness, loads of wit and wisdom, some clever plotlines, and a very engaging read.

It's time to go find all that poetry he must have written if everyone keeps calling him a poet.

Link to Simon Armitage's website.


Matthew Yglesias asks why someone who is introverted would be so adverse to talking to others on the phone. As someone who is (at least to himself) a classic introvert (I've had several aha! moments reading the popular Jonathan Rauch article that Yglesias also mentions, so I think I am almost a textbook case), I can only attest to this strange phenomenon without offering any useful theories of my own.

I have trouble calling up people and speaking to them. Without doubt, I prefer emailing them. Even meeting them in person is (sometimes!) preferable. There are several theories in the comments of the above article as to why this would be such a common anxiety for introverts. Some seem feasible, some don't. Under rational scrutiny, it seems extremely silly, but I usually end up trying to get others to make calls for me which I could easily make. I sometimes have to practice what I'm going to say, though I do not necessarily lack spontaneity. It's as if each call is like preparing to ask that pretty girl out but anticipating that the burly and over-protective brute of a brother will have to be negotiated first.

When I get down to it, it's not difficult, but it's a relief when done, out of the dentist's door. Thankfully, I'm not totally neurotic and there seem to be others who face this too. Anyway, perhaps a post on life as a practising introvert some day later with special scorn served up for those extroverts around me who can't tolerate the sweet peals of silence :-).

Till then, this super quote from the comments of the afore-mentioned article:

How do you tell if a blogger is extroverted? When he talks with you, he looks at your shoes.
(though I think the popular bloggers are likely to be extroverted)

Apr 1, 2008

Paes Maker?

It's a strange drop volley from India's Davis Cup captain. A superhero based on Leander Paes is reportedly going to feature in a TV cartoon series, who will carry the message of an active and healthy lifestyle to children. I'm not quite convinced Paes has the stature among kids to pull this off (he's no Tendulkar or Dhoni, surely), but the intentions are undoubtedly noble.

Still, it can all get pretty interesting if it turns out that the character is called Ball Boy ("gawky ball-boy turns into shorts-wearing superhero at the call of 'Mine!'") and chest-bumps the evil forces of super-villain Patty Hesh who, along with his roguish henchmen, LightNectarine and BowBrother, manages budding tennis teens into rebellion and weak service actions. Ah, what a smash that would be!

G'mla kaa H'mla

Google's April Fool jokes can sometimes try too hard and end up tired, but this year's effort from Google Australia is quite clever and culturally relevant. G'd on you, lads.