Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Twenty-Three

I've come to realise that sometimes, nineteen things mean more than twenty-two. It's been a surreally peaceful day so far. I really couldn't have wanted more.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Foot Fault

I didn't see the controversial end to the India/Sri Lanka match at Dambulla on Monday night. Since then, however, I wouldn't have been able to get away if I wanted to. So great is the outrage among followers of Indian cricket that I'm absolutely sick of the sight of Virender Sehwag hitting a Suraj Randiv front-foot no-ball for six to finish the 170-run chase in a controversy that has now enveloped Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan as well.

For what it's worth, I don't think anything wrong with the rules of cricket regarding the end of a match. In a completed incident, the current process of run accreditation correctly recognises the primacy of a default such as a wide or a no-ball because such a default goes to the root of the incident, rendering it invalid ab initio. Today's Times quotes the MCC's Neil Priscott, who says:

"...with one run required to win, if Sehwag had been stumped off a wide ball, he would have been given not out since the match is over with the wide being called. The imposition of a penalty run in this case is instant. It doesn't matter what happens next." (italics mine)

However, contrary to what Mr. Priscott says, it is perhaps what happened next that caused the controversy. One, umpire Asad Rauf signalled a six knowing fully well (I hope) that, with one run required, the match was over at the very instant that the no-ball occurred. Two, the stump microphone at Sehwag's end caught Sangakkara saying in Sinhalese, "he's one short of a hundred": a clever statement which has the advantage of being suggestive without being damning. Three, and perhaps most damningly, the side-on cameras caught Randiv overstepping by a huge way: a not-so-clever act which convinced even those willing to believe that Sangakkara's statement was no more than back-chat that the no-ball was intentional.

There is no question that the rules (I've always found calling them 'laws' rather fanciful) do not and cannot judge intention in this situation. Whether they should is a question that must, if answered in the affirmative, satisfy at least two questions. One, what is the basis for reversing the penalty runs rationale for the exclusive purpose of game-winning runs by crediting the batsman with runs that, if they occur at any other point in the game, are meant to be not so much a benefit for the batsman as a docking for the bowler? Two, what would you do if the penalty is intentional [inasmuch as it coincides with and supplies the last run(s) required to finish the match] but is done subtly enough for no one to suspect any intention?

The answer to the first question is always going to be a frowning reconciliation largely because the original rationale is, in essence, a compromise as well. If there was some way of penalising bowlers for erratic line and length that did not involve advantaging the batsmen, then I have a feeling that the MCC would have thought of it by now. However, the choice that has been made ensures that the penalty on the bowler and the largesse to the batting side are reflexive perhaps because of the insufficiency of any other form of punishment [other punishments, of course, do exist - suspending the bowler from bowling for the duration of the innings, for example - but these are rightly reserved for greater offences such as running on the pitch in the follow-through, bowling beamers (interestingly, whether intentional or not) and so on].

However, it is the second question that is infinitely more troublesome, not just because it enables a fairly harsh assessment to be made on the basis of what a young bowler may well have thought, in the moment, to be the cricketing equivalent of a harmless white lie. Indeed, the trouble lies in evaluating the proposed solution of assuming intention (thus reversing the burden of proof) and the license it would give for viewers to call an honest bowler a cheat just because he bowled a wide or a no-ball with the match nearing its end (or, as Indian fans are now calling it, a batsman deserving a hundred). The other possibility - Randiv denying Sehwag a hundred by concealing the no-ball to make it seem unintentional (or, better, a fast bowler going millimetres rather than inches over the bowling crease) is something that would either not be detected or would qualify itself for the "believable accident" category.

And, at the end of the day, that's what's bothering us about this. That the intention was clear but the execution was so hopelessly conspicuous that no condonation was ever possible. In most such cases, if the intention is there, then the bowler, however new to international cricket, is easily capable of making it appear accidental. But, much like Michael Schumacher's ill-judged lunge down Jacques Villeneuve's Williams past Dry Sack corner at Jerez in the 1997 F1 World Championship decider, the panic of a rushed execution (and, very possibly, a rushed debate with his own conscience while he was ambling in to bowl that last ball) produced an error big enough for the world to see, see again and again, judge and call a foul.

Such execution is not always rushed. Indeed, there is a growing mountain of evidence to suggest that Sri Lanka have done this to Indian batsmen at least twice before: Sourav Ganguly being left 98* with India chasing in the fourth innings of a Test at Kandy in 2001 and, more recently, to Sachin Tendulkar in a one-day match (described in hilarious detail by my good friend Varun Rajiv here). However, it is impossible to talk of punishment for something like this because, like I've already said, Randiv might not have executed it well, but others (like Lasith Malinga in the Tendulkar case) may well do. Essentially, this is one of those heat of the moment situations and, go ask Sangakkara or Randiv or Dilshan (if he is, indeed, the one who pushed Randiv to do it) behind the scenes with no cameras and they'll tell you that if there was a chance of getting away with it without getting caught then, in the heat of the moment, they'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Further, if we pursue the punishment-for-arranging-results argument to its logical conclusion, (I know this isn't the most obvious instance but) shouldn't Javagal Srinath have been similarly censured for bowling ball after ball far outside off stump at Waqar Younis so as to enable Anil Kumble to get Wasim Akram out at the other end and so complete his extraordinary 10 for 74 at the Feroz Shah Kotla in 1999? If 'not trying' is an allegation worthy of punishment, then call off the majority of 50 over matches halfway and suspend the team that's losing (or call off any 50 over match involving Bangladesh or any non-Test playing nation!) for 'not trying'. Because, though they'll bound by contract not to admit it, losing hope in cricket is not hard to do.

The pettiness that has emerged as being ingrained in the Sri Lankan team in seeking to deny a batsman a hundred is a judgement that everyone will make, whether they want to or not. And that, I think, is punishment enough.    

Monday, August 09, 2010

Jump

O: You know, you're just so insensitive sometimes. And I know you and it's not because you don't care.
E: You know, that made no sense at all.
O: No, my point is that one moment, you give me the impression that everything's perfect and the next, it's all like you don't even know me.
E: That's not true. It's just that what I'm willing to sacrifice for people depends on who they are and what they're asking for.
O: Does that mean that even if I ask you for something, you'd say no?
E: Well, that depends on what you're asking for.
O (sadly): Haww! So if I said 'jump', you wouldn't say 'how high'?
E: No, if you said 'jump', I'd say 'Van Halen'.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Dedic - Making Amends for 5/26/09

There’s nothing two people can do that will ensure that they will stay close forever but hesitating in doing something that they know is necessary can make failure certain. Last night, I had the toughest of conversations about precisely such a friendship, the future of which has been weighing heavily on my thoughts over the last few days.

Over the last couple of years, I have been extremely, and often unjustly, critical of people around me who become close due to circumstances alone but, looking back at it, it is impossible for me to now see this as a denial of the fact that we too, were brought together by circumstances and it is incredibly unlikely that our story would have played out the way it has if those circumstances had not been present. This (or at least as I saw it) almost involuntary participation in getting to know practically everything worth knowing about her also doubled up as a devious bit of camouflage because it made me blind to the fact that I was much closer to her than I initially realized. I think every bit of friction we have since encountered can be traced back to my refusal to recognize that, even if I did not want it, I meant the world to her.

Since then, however, silent admiration has been pretty much a one way street. Her feelings were made very clear to me in a letter handed to me under high drama outside the exam hall and ended with me walking out clutching the letter and wondering how exactly I had managed to do this to myself. The truth, however, is that I had brought all of it upon myself and my incredulity deserved no more than the sympathy that someone playing with fire deserves when he gets burnt.

There were things about her that infuriated me but, crucially, not too many of them concerned her behaviour towards me. But I really cannot remember ever telling her that. I cannot remember one instance when I provided a “eventually, you decide” caveat to my outbursts against her. And she would listen to me patiently, give my rambling criticisms more thought and attention that I had ever given them and never walked away from what was, I realize now, an utter mess of a situation.

I do not, for a minute, think that she has ever believed in moderation. Unfortunately, moderation is a belief so central to my existence that it interferes with my ability to evaluate what people do. My father has always told me that you should always think in terms of people doing good and bad things and not in terms of good and bad things that people do making them good or bad people. But I have never done that consistently. Tellingly, with her, I have never done that, full stop.

What people often mistake to be her ruthlessness and single mindedness towards personal goals, I have come to understand, is actually just the working world manifestation of fairly wonderful and infectious zest for life and a desire to make the most out of every situation. For someone like me, whose general compatibility with other people is based on painfully narrow and obtuse criteria, her miracle of an attitude presented a huge problem. I wanted her to fit in, of that there could be no doubt now. There had been so many times that she had chosen to stay with me rather than attend to infinitely more important things that even the doubter in me could not question her commitment. Perhaps even more than that, she had demonstrated time and again that it was possible to take her exuberance (our latest description of her attitude) and dedicate it to other people and extract out of them some pretty impossible results.

She was always willing to listen, always willing to learn, always willing to use her superior knowledge of Google to download songs I could not access. I would say and think negative things about her but she would rationalize such things for what they were – useless and ultimately damaging lies about a world I could not bear to see changing. I had no idea of knowing then that she would settle down so quickly into the kind of life she has and I had no idea that she was as fiercely proud of and loyal to her close friends as she has proved to be. Indeed, about a year and a half ago, I was still searching for that damaging bit of knowledge about her life that I needed to prove that she was ordinary.

This search made me lose sight of what our friendship had been about all along and if I had only recognized then that my attraction for her was based on the fact that I was seeking solace with her because she represented this readymade refuge, I would have shown her a lot more honesty and fairness than I have. Far from it, I panicked at the thought of having such influence over someone I thought was no less than an absolute gem of a human being. I could have done any number of things that would have, on any day, been better than my eventual decision of more unwarranted and personal criticism but, most of all, I really wish I had just told her that this kind of responsibility frightened me. I am convinced that she would have known how to react to that situation and that, eventually, she would have seen my feeble attempts at questioning her integrity as the rare but legitimate manifestations of insecurity that they were. But I did not tell her. And that has brought us to today.

We had agreed that, when I wrote this, I would write no more than a thousand words and, seeing as I am fast approaching that mark now, though I could go on and on, I think this is where I will stop. So this is it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Tales from South Africa - Constitutional Hill

Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg is far more significant than it looks at first glance. The main complex houses the active South African Constitutional Court which is located in an inner chamber, to access which one needs to go through a central hallway decorated with South African art and several paintings synonymous with the birth of the European modern art movement in the late 19th century which have been acquired by the South African government at great cost over the last half a century or so. The central hallway also features a hall-of-fame gallery of all the judges who have served at the Constitutional Court and the unbelievably long display aisle down the left side of the central hallway features original documents, statutes, briefs and judgements which the Constitutional Court has passed in the last decade and a half.

The rest of Constitutional Hill consists of the Johannesburg Central Jail used during the Apartheid era. Walking through the Central Jail, my feeling of amazement at the kind of suffering African and Asian prisoners had to suffer gradually turned to disgust and, as I unlocked every passing door to reveal room after room with no ventilation, light or sanitation, eventually to suffocation. As I walked deeper and deeper into these long, dark abysses, I was overcome by the intractable feeling of utter loneliness. The lone windows in the hostage spaces in Cell Block Four (whose inmates included Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi) are located in the southern corner, about eight feet above ground level and are no wider than a wooden two-by-four. Yet the inside, outside and perimeter of each window frame in each cubicle in Cell Block Four is dotted with fingernail marks of the countless thousands who dreamt of escaping, as improbable as the thought was. Or perhaps struggling to hang by the window frames just to see what the world outside looked like.

Discrimination pervades every imaginable aspect of the Central Jail – jail cells, food, showers, work, art, interaction, movement, social cohesion, scheduling of activities, festivals, violence and torture were all marked by differential treatment for native African prisoners and others. The current Central Jail tour dedicates one stop each to every one of these types of discrimination and far from forcing the fact of discrimination down one’s throat, I found these divisive and often devilish practices of the Apartheid regime to be an absolute revelation. The recorded tapes carrying the voices of prisoners who survived to see a new South Africa recounting their experiences at Johannesburg Central add a surreal, echoing presence to every jail courtyard and solitary confinement cell. The words of the prisoners rebound off the walls and are literally everywhere but I was struck by how unnecessary it was for them to recount anything at all. The singular design behind the prison practices was sickeningly obvious already – to extract every bit of hope and belief from the prisoners that there was any point in living. Even those prisoners who weren’t tortured were given compelling reasons to believe in their hearts that their lives had no purpose, that they would never see their families again, that they would be locked in dark rooms with nothing for company except their own thoughts and would be left as such until such time as their thoughts started corroding their own beings and turned cancerous. Indeed, even though the quality of the prison infrastructure was extremely good, the rates of suicide within the four walls of Johannesburg Central were among the highest of any prison in the world at the peak of Apartheid oppression.

It is this imposition of a life without meaning that has had a visible impact on South African rights jurisprudence. Their forms of torture may not have been as infamous, their targets of imprisonment may not have been as politically motivated and their colonial governments may not have been as oppressive but their denial of rights and liberty was demoralizing and soul-shattering in an absolute sense, compared with any colonial regime anywhere in the world. And this realization reflects itself in the understanding the South African Constitutional Court has displayed of the right to life and basic liberties. Stellar judgements in State v. Makwanyane (1995, abolition of death penalty), Hoffman v. South African Airways (2000, HIV/AIDS as an invalid ground of discrimination for employment), Government of the Republic of South Africa v. Grootboom (2000, shelter facilities for slum dwellers– I’ve been fascinated by the subject-matter of the case ever since reading an excellent appraisal of this judgement for Law, Poverty & Development class in third year) and Minister of Health v. Treatment Action Campaign (2002, access to life-saving drugs) reflect a point of view that may be pioneering as far as rights jurisprudence around the world is concerned but, within the South African legal fraternity, is seen a basic minimum duty that every judge at the Constitutional Court swears to uphold when he or she takes the high chair every morning. Analytically, South African rights jurisprudence has been praised by persons much more knowledgeable and articulate than myself for its zero tolerance towards discrimination in any form and the hard line it has taken on ensuring that social and economic rights are strongly allied to civil and political rights however heavy the social and financial burden of guaranteeing such an amalgam to every wronged citizen maybe. Nevertheless, I feel that several nations that look upon South Africa as the beacon for the realization of social, economic and other community rights in the third world, don’t fully appreciate how central a motivation to precisely such a realization historical experiences such as those expressed by Constitutional Hill really are. The highest of highs often spring from the lowest of lows but even countries like India which have experienced lows which easily rival, if not surpass, the South African experience, cannot, hand on heart, claim that the ideal of the independent citizen has been so central to their conception of a free nation. The difference, sadly, lies in the fact that our freedom movement, which is so often seen as an example of the triumphant victory of means over ends, never committed itself to the realization of such a collective ideal – something so widely cherished, nurtured and, indeed, developed over decades of struggle – and tempered by the humble understanding that independence was not a destination but an ever-evolving challenge.

I am more convinced now than ever before that it is only in viewing freedom for all citizens as precisely such a challenge that this nonsense about first- and second-generation rights and their prioritization can be brought to an end. In terms of social and economic rights, the South African story hasn’t, as most people believe, been a success because of some divine conception of rights but more a result of the zeal (or desperation, whichever way you look at it) to ensure that the basis for rights and entitlements is dictator-proof. Predictably, this has proved to be easy to grant but hard to guarantee. Frances, our cab driver during our tour to Constitutional Hill, is one of several million people in South Africa who applied from government accommodation in 1995 but still earns a living for his wife and four kids under the constant threat of being evicted by his white landlord and anyone who has seen urban Soweto first-hand can attest to the fact that the lives of nearly a quarter of South Africa’s 40-50 million population is a daily battle against poverty, disease, drug addiction and prostitution. Yet, the Constitutional Court continues to fight the good fight, even if it is one litigant at a time. It’s one of those rare instances when “nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be so hard” actually rings true.

And so, South Africa continues to straddle the line between global leader as a welfare government and independent nation still haunted by a traumatic past riddled with discrimination. The delusional schemes of long-dead South African freedom fighters – sampled by everything from tanks made out of blankets to patriotic poetry scribbled on the walls of the jail courtyards at Johannesburg Central– live side-by-side with the judicial heroes over at the Constitutional Court, no more than a few metres away. It’s difficult to imagine the Indian Supreme Court being located right next to Kala Pani but, adjusting for magnitude and location, that is precisely the contradiction that South Africa stands for today.

I'm not sure if there's a point to this story but I'm going to tell it again.

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India
I've been wilfully caught up in the self-defeating quest to get to know myself for years. I've never expected anything beneficial to result from such a quest. I tend to evoke extremely polarised reactions from people I get to know in passing. Consequently, only those people who know me inside-out would honestly claim that I'm a person who's just "alright." It's not a coincidence that the description I've laid out above has no fewer than, title included, eleven references to me (make that twelve). I'm affectionately referred to as "Ego." I think that last statement might have given away a tad too much. Welcome Aboard.

IHTRTRS ke pichle episode mein aapne dekha...

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