This was the week that was

It was a good week for India. Swine flu [and Baba Ramdev cashed in], Shah Rukh came down to earth [now that would make a great movie, Jon Stewart quipped], and the media jumped over the moon in a mistaken belief that the importance of news is measured in decibels.

The Indian way of doing things was best illustrated by these examples: If you can’t travel by train, it is probably no use to anyone anyway, so burn it. If you can’t make your flight on time, delay it. And if you are confronted with a thought you don’t like, ban it. Hell, even if you are confronted with something you don’t dislike, ban it anyway – we are Hindus, no?

[If banning the Jinnah book shows that Indians – okay, some Indians — don’t like intelligent debate and discussion, what does banning boobs tell you about the French?]

Stay with bans for a beat longer and consider this latest manifestation of intolerance: We can tolerate Ganesha batting and bowling for the cause of Indian cricket; we can picture him with 11 heads symbolizing the Indian team; we can re-imagine him in waste materials in a nod to the environment…

But if an artist shows him holding, among other things, an Oscar, hell – which hath no fury like a fundamentalist looking for a cause – breaks loose. [While on Ganeshas, in the week before Chaturthi the deity figured in Fairfax County police investigations as a burglar magnet].

Still staying close to home, Harpreet Dev has become famous for driving backwards.

My wife would have been, too, only I took the car keys away from her before she could do too much damage. And while on that, check this out – then imagine said better half, who is scared of everything on four or more legs and most things on two, at the wheel of my car.

Oh, and I’d love to let friend Dev lose in Samoa.

Talking of cars and traffic, a bloke snarled traffic in LA when he tossed wads of cash out his car window [intentionally — unlike this incident]. Officials said the man was emotionally disturbed. No shit, Sherlock?!

In science, researchers in Australia are starting a study to find out if dogs can recognize themselves in the mirror. [And I am starting a study to figure out what the f*** we are supposed to do with the answer once we get it]. A study has also discovered that while candlelight dinners could heat up your sex life, it is hell for global warming.

Science also suggests that showing women pictures of rich cake is a good way to get them to stop eating the stuff. On similar lines, you have to wonder if showing monks pictures of naked women is a good way to keep them celibate – in which case Playboy just found a whole new untapped market.

Actually, you might want to experiment with pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy/Onassis in the buff, that just turned up in Andy Warhol’s junk.

From science to the arts, and LeRoy Stevens has put out an album of screams. He was not, confidential sources currently confined to the emergency ward with broken eardrums told me, inspired by Maria Sharapova, whose scream is now a ringtone. Or by So You Think You Can Dance judge Mary Murphy, who hits notes that make Maria’s best efforts seem like a whisper in the wind [while on Murphy, I’m torn: her random yells tempt me to turn off the TV, but then there’s Cat Deeley, and those legs that go all the way down to the ground].

From the police files: A five year old boy masterminded a robbery in, where else, a kindergarten; a man called 911 to complain that his family had hidden his stash of booze [and he was the one who got arrested for it, proving yet again that the law is an ass – a teetotal ass].

Elsewhere, we discover that police in Kissimmee have bad breath and are ignorant, since they can’t differentiate between breath mints and crack. [Speaking of ignorance and the police in the same breath, maybe this will explain why] Still staying with drugs, crime, cops and such, this is what I call progress: an official, full-fledged cocaine bar.

And in continuation of the general crime theme, two employees were fired for tackling an armed shoplifter. Advice to shop assistants: Live and let lift.

So, girls – what do you do if a guy wolf-whistles at you? Beat the bastard up, you say? Absolutely. You go, girlfriend. Only, first catch the right bastard, please. And while on guys doing things to girls the girls don’t like – this bloke invests ‘Whole Foods’ with a whole new layer of meaning.

It wasn’t all bad on the crime front, though – in England, former pickpockets are now committing another kind of crime: putting money back into the pockets of the unwary. And in Pennsylvania, a 72-year-old came up with a whole new use for the six-pack.

Moving on: The Fijian island of Bua, in an attempt to bring its people closer to god, has banned the wearing of pants on Sunday. And while on religion, an existential question: You don’t have to be his girlfriend to get closer to god. Or do you? Oh, and in case you are not in a position to do your own praying, no sweat – just tweet.

In a blow for compassion, it was revealed that several weeks after a woman was killed in an accident on the Pacific Motorway at Worongary on the Gold Coast, her mother was sent a letter from the Department of Main Roads making a claim for the cost of repairs to a damaged guard-rail.

From life to the afterlife: If you are quick and rich, you’ll get a chance to be on top of Marilyn Monroe for all eternity. [If long dead things are your thing, how about a T Rex?]

And finally, sport: As I write this, England is attempting to wrest back the Ashes from the Aussies. And the spearhead of this effort is Freddie Flintoff, whose body is being held together by rubber bands and hope. The media is making a big fuss over the bloke – but this other guy, it seems to me, deserves fussing over far more. After all, Ricky Ponting and company can’t kill you, but a bull can.

Right, so that’s it for the week. This was the previous week. I’ll see you next week. [Damn, all this effort has made me weak].

WTF?!

Saina Nehwal will not be able to play the China Masters because authorities forgot to mail in her entry. Any comment would be superfluous.

9 more to go

I spent 30 minutes this morning staring at one woman and now I’m in trouble — only 13 more minutes on the clock, and 9 more women to go.

What I love most about such research is its pinpoint accuracy.

The average man will spend almost 43 minutes a day staring at 10 different women.

That adds up to 259 hours – almost 11 days – each year, making a total 11 months and 11 days between the ages of 18 and 50.

But researchers found that the males of the species are not the only ones admiring the opposite sex as women sneak a peek at six men for just over 20 minutes a day, on average.

That adds up to almost six months spent admiring men from afar between the ages of 18 and 50.

This whole thing has made me a nervous wreck. For starters, I’m over 50 — so I’ve begun to worry about (a) How much time I am allowed to ogle on an average per day and how many women I have to eye to retain my standing as an average male, since the research is not forthcoming on my age group and (b) More crucially, how many women will likely ogle me, since the research only contains data relating to my under-50 peers.

If that is the quantitative conundrum, there is also the qualitative one. Love is not love, says research, if you don’t hold the woman’s eye for a minimum of 8.2 seconds [We won’t talk of the size of my pupils just now].

Therein, for me, lies the catch. 8.2 seconds is the heck of a long time if you are merely staring into someone else’s eyes.

Try it. Caught my eye? Good, now, on the count of three, hold…

One-rhinoceros, two-rhinoceros, three-rhinoceros, four-rhinoceros, five-rhinoceros…

Looked away already, didn’t you? So see what I mean?

Last time I tried this stunt [which should ideally come with statutory warnings about trained professionals and closed courses], I managed to hold the opposite number’s eye for what felt like an eternity.

Just to be sure, I glanced down at my watch: Elapsed time, 7.9 seconds.

Damn! Missed by less than the gap between Usain Bolt and whatsisface, but it still meant I went home alone — where I spent a long, lonely night trying to figure out how to hold a girl’s eye while simultaneously looking at my watch without developing a pronounced squint.

Yet another buccaneer

Spent some time just now watching a far more interesting cricket match than the one in England — the fascination, right now, being with the way Tillakaratne Dilshan, latest in a gradually lengthening lineup of batsmen blurring the distinctions between Tests, one dayers and T20s, is going.

92 off 72 in the first innings, 71 now off 79 deliveries in the second — performances that would have won high honors in the shorter forms of the game are. Great fun — even granting that the Kiwis have more runs in the loo than on the ground, the sheer command Dilshan brings to the crease is a delight for spectators [and for captains looking to push for a win].

On a related note, Iain O’Brien’s blog has this at the end of day three:

I faced two balls from Murali; I picked them as an offie first and then the doosra. When I got back upstairs to the changing room I re-watched the footage to see if I had got it right. In fact I got them both wrong. It was the other way around. I’ll work had on trying to pick him tomorrow, but more importantly work had with Dan and try to bat for as long as possible. I’ve got a target I’d love to get to, not a run target but a balls faced target. If I get close then I know Dan and I will have put on a partnership of note.

Hmm. This morning he faced 11 more from the offie, got four runs off 10 of those deliveries without ever reading him right, and got out to the 11th — predictably perhaps, by poking uncertainly at a doosra that he thought was coming in, and outer-edging to the keeper. Wonder if he managed to get close to his self-imposed target?

Recently, a group of spin experts in Australia including Shane Warne and his mentor Terry Jenner decided that the doosra would not be taught in Australia.

“There was unanimous agreement that the off-spinner’s ‘other-one’, the doosra, should not be coached in Australia,” Mallett wrote in the Adelaide Review. “I have never seen anyone actually bowl the doosra.

“It has to be a chuck. Until such time as the ICC declares that all manner of chucking is legal in the game of cricket I refuse to coach the doosra. All at the spin summit agreed.”

Australia’s No. 1 spinner Nathan Hauritz has been working on the doosra for a couple of years without perfecting it, while Jason Krejza and Dan Cullen have also attempted to develop the delivery. However, the spin coaches were keen to encourage Australia’s young spinners to bowl aggressively, searching for wickets, rather than becoming too defensive.

With ref that last graf — if it does follow on from the two preceding — I am not too sure how the doosra came to be seen as a defensive weapon, but maybe I’m misreading this story. More to the point, though, the likes of Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa seem to look at the doosra as one of those typical dirty tricks that originate in the East [much like they viewed reverse swing, before they learnt to bowl it].

Raises, in my mind, a question: If you ban it from your vocabulary and won’t learn to bowl it, how exactly do your batsmen hope to learn to counter it?

Arise, Sir Usain!

The Guardian said it best — it is not that Usain Bolt shattered two world records [the second one in a race he says he hadn’t properly trained for, and wasn’t feeling fully up to].

What it is, is that Bolt’s running defeats our powers of description and our stock of adjectives, both.

Carl Lewis in particular might be interested in this little titbit from the IAAF: Bolt’s as clean as the pair of heels he showed the field — and speaking of clean pairs of heels, here’s an interesting visualization of just what Bolt has achieved.

The really scary part of what Bolt accomplished is this:

“Maybe next time I should just run the 200m or the 100m alone. My form was going backwards. I wasn’t running upright. It wasn’t a good race but it was a fast one.”

If this is how he runs while on the recovery track from an accident and while, in his own evaluation, his form is going backward, what the hell can he do when he is fit and really hungry? The man thinks 9.4 seconds; another day, another time, you’d react with a getthefuckoutahere, but with this bloke you begin to wonder if he is understating the case.

Just give him that knighthood already — maybe while he is distracted by the bauble, the rest of the pack can play catch up or at least get to where they are good enough to push him hard.

When words fail, videos might work — so watch these two back to back. And while watching, remember this: the star of the first video said, shortly before Beijing, that the star of the second would never catch up to him because he was yet to master the nuances of 200 meter running.

There are times when seeing is not believing. This is one of those.

On blogs

That Ashes post of earlier today? A classic example of everything a good blog post should not be.

I wrote it on the ‘Ashes is on, have to say something’ lines — not because I had anything particularly original to say about a day’s play I found very boring, and incredibly difficult to focus on. Apropos, this:

Equally, don’t blog just for the sake of it. If you are bored of blogging, your readers will get bored of reading you. You may force yourself to write, but your readers won’t force themselves to read. When the juices aren’t flowing, give it a rest.

That’s a clip from an extended Amit Varma piece the art and craft of blogging, excerpted from a new Penguin book on essential writing skills.

Writing a blog can be the most enjoyable kind of writing you do.

Totally true. Amit then says this:

But if you want to be a widely-read blogger, with regular readers who take time off every day to read your blog, then you need to work hard at it. The reason for this is the nature of the medium.

When readers buy a book, they are mentally prepared to spend a large amount of time with it. When they pick up a magazine or a newspaper, they are less patient, but there is still some commitment there. When readers visit a website, on the other hand, they are probably doing many other things at the same time. They could be chatting with people, sending and receiving emails, perhaps playing a game somewhere — and other websites might also be open, in various windows or tabs. Your blog is competing with all these distractions. If your writing does not grip your readers’ attention and keep them engrossed, they will move away to something else just by clicking their mouse.

To be a successful blogger, thus, there is just one rule you need to remember: Respect your reader’s time. Any advice I can give you on writing a widely-read blog flows from that one rule.

To what is a very well thought out piece, I’d only add one codicil: Don’t blog because you want to be a widely read blogger.

In my very early days as a blogger, I tended to constantly check the stat counter to see if anyone was reading, if so how many — and oh dammit, why so few when the cricket reports and columns I wrote on Rediff drew readers in the several thousands, what am I doing wrong, how do I get it right…

In short, I drove myself nuts — a phase that lasted a good three, four months before sanity, and a modicum of sense, dawned, and I got to where I’d write if and when I wanted to and it didn’t matter if it was read or no. Absent the pressure/distraction of the stat counter, I got to where I began enjoying the process of blogging for its own sake.

So am I widely read now? I don’t know — a search for ‘best Indian blogs’ just now threw up this link.

Thing is though, it doesn’t matter — blogging is fun.

It has helped me find a voice [when you write editorially, for a paper or website, your natural voice is often hedged in by the constraints of style sheets and the particular news outlet’s sensibilities].

It has allowed me to experiment [I won’t embarrass myself by listing the failed ones, suffice to say reader reaction on those occasions quickly helped me identify them as failures, and to jettison them — and you learn much from such failures].

And it has made me many friends in many places around the world, some of whom have gone from being blog readers to people I meet and interact with in the real world.

So – who cares what the numbers say?

I know some of the readers on here are bloggers themselves. Those who are not — start now. Amit’s guide should be inspiration enough.

In passing, a portmanteau question for the hive mind: what blogs do you read, and why?

Addendum: In comments, ‘Jabberwockky’ points to this interview of screenwriter Rex Pickett whose novel Sideways is due out in movie form — with his own script — later this year. Here’s a clip:

DC: Have you tried to write solely for the goal of creating a potentially commercially successful film?

Rex: Yes. And I fail repeatedly. Because it’s so disingenuous coming from me. I would love to write a script and make a million. Who wouldn’t? But I have this famous saying – which I made up – What you’re doing is what you’re becoming; and what you’ve done is what you’ve become.

I have a friend who made millions writing for a successful TV show, but he used to always say to me: “But I want to write something great like Dostoevsky.” Yeah, right, bud.

DC: I’m having a hard time responding to that last in words. It’s like being confronted with, oh, a Zen quote; if you really stop to hear it, it’s hard to respond except on an experiential level.

Rex: Yeah, you might end up ripping me off for years. It’s cool.

But it’s so true. And especially about writers in Hollywood. Because so many of them are doing one thing, but claiming they really want to be doing something else. But they’ll never get back. Because it’s not a leap of will. It’s a life, writing.

DC: I have to say, there’s a lot of pure entertainment that I enjoy, but I understand (at least I think I do) the distinction you’re drawing.

Rex: I think writing as a career comes after writing as a life. But then I’m old-fashioned in the sense that I believe first in the innate need to write – in whatever form – and then whatever happens happens. “Intrinsic need to want to write” maybe is better phraseology.

Perfect.

New wine, old bottle

If I was a young man, say Rohit Sharma whose place Dravid has taken, I’d look in the mirror and ask hard questions of myself. If I represent the future and have just lost my place to someone 14 years older, the outlook couldn’t be too rosy.

Harsha Bhogle on the recall of Dravid, and related issues.