The champ

They all fall

In the round I call

Fifty years ago today, Cassius Marcellus Clay motor-mouthed himself, quite literally, into the world heavyweight boxing title — or at the least, into the storied title fight, February 25, 1964, against reigning champion Sonny Liston in Miami.

A good two years before his dancing feet and blinding jabs propelled him to boxing glory, the ‘Louisville Lip’s’ mouthy ways had already drawn the attention of the game’s premier writers. AJ Liebling, who after making his bones as a war correspondent wrote brilliantly of boxing in his later years, watched a young Clay, by then an Olympic champion, train for his debut as a professional. “Clay has a skittering style, like a pebble scaled over water,” Liebling wrote in a piece for the New Yorker (March 3, 1962; subscription required).

Liebling was ringside, watching Clay train at the Department of Parks gymnasium on West 28th Street, NY, when Clay first game him a glimpse of his motor-mouth skills. The young boxer was doing sit ups when his trainer, the legendary Angelo Dundee, mentioned that Clay wrote poems, and had just done one on Floyd Patterson. Here is what happened next:

“I’ll say it for you,” the poet [Clay] announced, without waiting to be wheedled or breaking cadence. He began on a rise:

You may talk about Sweden

[Down and up again]

You may talk about Rome

[Down and up again]

But Rockville Center is Floyd Patterson’s home

[Down]

And so on, Clay’s verse and the rhythm of his sit-ups in perfect sync, till he gets to the punch line:

“He cut up his eyes and mussed up his face

And that last left hook knocked his head out of place!”

As the title fight neared, Clay’s lippy style shifted in tone from the playfully admiring to the abusive, and its focus from the once-great Patterson to the reigning champion, Liston.

This is the legend of Cassius Clay

The most beautiful fighter in the world today.

He talks a great deal and brags indeedy

Of a muscular punch that is incredibly speedy

The fistic world was dull and weary

With a champ like Liston things had to be dreary

Then someone with color, someone with dash

Brought fight fans a-running with cash

This brash young boxer is something to see

The heavyweight championship is his destiny.

From thus brashly announcing himself to the world, well before the world was ready for him, Clay began to escalate the venom of his taunts as the fight grew closer. His preferred epithet for Liston was ‘the ugly bear'; his carefully-scripted ‘impromptu’ riffs  including lines like “You so ugly, when you cry the tears run down the back of your head. You so ugly, you have to sneak up on the mirror so it won’t run off the wall. ” (Part of an extended monologue, quoted by Tom Wolfe in his superb 1963 Esquire piece The Marvelous Mouth).

“He even smells like a bear,” Clay told reporters. “When I beat him, I am going to donate him to the zoo.”

Some interpreted his rants as the product of fear; others, as unbridled arrogance. Clay knew precisely what he was up to. While the media, shocked by his brashness, eagerly awaited the young pretender’s moment of hubris (43 of 46 boxing reporters at ringside, in pre-match predictions, said Liston would win with humiliating ease), Clay continued with his clear-eyed strategy — and explained why, in a first person piece in Sports Illustrated, one day before the fight that was to change boxing history:

Where do you think I would be next week if I didn’t know how to shout and holler and make the public sit up and take notice? I would be poor, for one thing, and I would probably be down in Louisville, Ky., my home town, washing windows or running an elevator and saying “yes suh” and “no suh” and knowing my place. Instead of that, I’m saying I’m one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, which is true, and that I’m the greatest fighter in the world, which I hope and pray is true. Now the public has heard me talk enough and they’re saying to me, “Put up or shut up.” This fight with Liston is truly a command performance. And that’s exactly the way I planned it.

Part of my plan to get the fight has made me say some pretty insulting things about Sonny Liston, but I might as well tell you I’ve done that mostly to get people to talking about the fight and to build up the gate. I actually have a certain amount of respect for Liston; he’s the champion, isn’t he? That doesn’t mean I think he’s going to stay champion. I have too much confidence in my own ability to think I’m beaten before we start. I do mean he is a strong, hard puncher, and he’s not a fighter anybody can laugh at. When I walk into a room where he is and see him staring at me with that mean, hateful look, I want to laugh, but then I think maybe it’s not so funny. I’m pretty sure the way he acts is just a pose, the same way I have a pose, but that look of his still shakes me. I wonder what’s really going on in that head of his, and I wonder what poor, humble Floyd Patterson was thinking when he had to climb into the ring with Liston.

But I am not fooled by what Liston did to Patterson once they started to fight. Liston didn’t do anything except hit Floyd while he stood there and took it. Now don’t think for even a little bit I’m going to stand around for Liston to do with as he pleases. The way I plan for things to go is to stay out of his way during the early rounds, and I count on him to wear himself out chasing me. I’ll circle him and jab him and stick and fake, dogging him most of the time and tying him up when he gets too close. He won’t be able to hurt what he can’t even hit.

Liston had decimated former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, via two first-round knockouts, in the run-up to the Miami bout, while Clay’s own preparation included underwhelming wins against two never-will-be heavyweights (Doug Jones and Henry Cooper). Veteran fight reporters previewed the February 25 title fight as a match up between Liston’s brutal punching power and Clay’s penchant for back-pedaling and relying more on foot speed than his fists.

Clay agreed — only, he had a characteristically pithy turn of phrase to describe his strategy: “Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.”

On the day of the fight, Clay and his team strutted to the ringside, premiering a chant that was to redefine a sport:

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! Rumble, young man, rumble!

The slogan, now inextricably linked with the Clay/Ali mythos, was the creation of Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown, the assistant trainer Sugar Ray Robinson recommended to Clay. Bundini (here’s a cute story of how Drew Brown became Bundini Brown — in India), who went on to become one of Clay’s best friends, and who came up with that exhortation to gee up the fighter during his progress to the ring, died broken, and broke — just another of the sad footnotes the history of the sport is littered with.

The fight itself has by now acquired the panoply of legend; here is a typical Wiki description, long on detail, short on drama. And from among contemporaneous chronicles, here is Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, one of the correspondents who had written Clay off as a blow-hard before the fight and predicted a brutal comeuppance, wonderingly recanting.

A more poignant description, one that sums up all that Clay/Ali was, and continues to be, is contained in David Remnick’s King of the World. Remnick and Ali, the latter by then in the quivering, debilitating grasp of full-blown Parkinson’s, are in the latter’s home, reviewing his life and watching the iconic fight on videotape. Excerpt:

“SEE THAT? SEE ME?”

Muhammad Ali sat in an overstuffed chair watching himself on the television screen. The voice came in a swallowed whisper and his finger waggled as it pointed toward his younger self, his self preserved on videotape: twenty-two years old, getting warm in his corner, his gloved hands dangling at his hips. Ali lives in a farmhouse in southern Michigan. The rumor has always been that Al Capone owned the farm in the twenties. One of Ali’s dearest friends, his cornerman Drew “Bundini” Brown, had once searched the property hoping to find Capone’s buried treasure. In 1987, while living in a cheap motel on Olympia Avenue in Los Angeles, Bundini fell down a flight of stairs. A maid finally found him, paralyzed, on the floor; he died three weeks later.

Now Ali was whispering again, “See me? You see me?” And there he was, surrounded by his trainer, Angelo Dundee, and Bundini, moon-faced and young and whispering hoodoo inspiration in Ali’s ears: “All night! All night! Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee! Rumble, young man, rumble!” “That’s the only time I was ever scared in the ring,” Ali said. “Sonny Liston. First time. First round. Said he was gonna kill me.”

The fight began. In black and white, Cassius Clay came bounding out of his corner and right away started circling the square, dancing, moving around and around the ring, moving in and out, his head twitching side to side, as if freeing himself from a neck crick early in the morning, easy and fluid—and then Liston, a great bull whose shoulders seemed to cut off access to half the ring, lunged with a left jab. Liston missed by two feet.

At that moment, Clay hinted not only at what was to come that night in Miami, but at what he was about to introduce to boxing and to sports in general—the marriage of mass and velocity. A big man no longer had to lumber along and slug, he could punch like a heavyweight and move like Ray Robinson.

“It’s sweet, isn’t it?” Ali smiled. With great effort, he smiled. Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that stiffens the muscles and freezes the face into a stolid mask. Motor control degenerates. Speech degenerates. Some people hallucinate or suffer nightmares. As the disease progresses, even swallowing can become a terrible trial. Parkinson’s comes on the victim erratically. Ali still walked well. He was still powerful in the arms and across the chest; it was obvious, just from shaking his hand, that he still possessed a knockout punch. No, for him the special torture was speech and expression, as if the disease had intended to strike first at what had once pleased him, and pleased (or annoyed) the world, most. He hated the effort that speech now cost him. (“Sometimes you won’t understand me,” he said when we first met. “But that’s okay. I’ll say it again.”) He rarely risked a word in front of a camera. And usually it was an enormous effort to show a smile. I said I knew what he was talking about. My father has Parkinson’s. He can no longer walk more than a few steps, and his speech, depending on the time of day, can be a trial. So I knew. What I couldn’t tell him was that my father is over seventy. His speech is better than Ali’s. But my father had not spent decades getting hit hundreds, thousands of times, by the best heavyweight fighters of his era.

Ali was smiling now as his younger self, Cassius Clay, flicked a nasty left jab into Liston’s brow. “You watchin’ this? Sooo fast! Sooo pretty!” Liston seemed hurt and confused. He had no answer to this new species of athlete.

This “new species of athlete” would go on to define the tumultuous sixties become its lightning rod and standard-bearer, as Jimmy Cannon said:

He is all that the sixties were. It is as though he were created to represent them. In him is the trouble and the wildness and the hysterical gladness and the nonsense and the rebellion and the conflicts of race and the yearning for bizarre religions and the cult of the put-on ad the changed values that altered the world and the feeling about Vietnam in the generation that ridicules what their parents cherish.

Having defined his sport and through it his decade, he would go on to be enshrined Sportsman of the Century by both Sports Illustrated and the BBC. The man who was once vilified for his religious and political beliefs and had his gloves, and his livelihood, snatched from him now lives on to see the gloves he wore in that storied fight against Liston go under the auctioneer’s hammer — and fetch a fortune. And it all began fifty years ago, when a brash young man with a quick mouth and quicker fists announced himself to the world.

Twit wit…

An occasional series starts here, now:

Dear ICC: Your move. Love, Supreme Court of India

Not to be a nag, ICC — I know there are more pressing matters for you to attend to just now — but still. I’m mildly curious about a couple of things. Like, so:

#Is it true that per your rules, the president of a national cricket body is the one who gets inducted into the ICC’s board of directors? If yes, could you let us know who the BCCI president is? None of us here in India seem to know — but you should, since you do have an individual occupying that seat on your board, no?

#On September 29, 2013, a BCCI meeting decided “by oral consensus” that N Srinivasan would be the BCCI representative on the ICC executive board. The board’s natural life-span ended in September 2014. So who is India’s representative on your executive board just now? How? Why?

#Clause 2.1 of your Code of Ethics (by the way, just this morning I read of your determination to be very strict on enforcing the code — I presume you meant it to include officials as well? — says “Directors shall not engage in any conduct that in any way denigrates the ICC or harms its public image.” Arising from which: The Supreme Court of India ruled today that N Srinivasan (I believe he is your chairman?) can not contest the much-delayed BCCI elections. Some niggling thing about “conflict of interest” appears to have pissed off our Supremes. So the question is: Do you think a director deemed by the court to be unfit to hold office of BCCI president, and further, one barred from contesting the upcoming election, should be on your executive board, let alone be your chairman? If yes, why? If not, what do you propose to do about it?

#Clause 4.11 (F) of your constitution says that the Executive Board can remove any director if, among other things, he indulges in any act that brings the Council into disrepute. Would you say that Srinivasan, by (a) Being at the receiving end of court strictures about egregious conflicts of interest; (b) Being told by the Supreme Court that his presence at the head of the BCCI is “nauseating”; (c) Being told that he cannot office as president due to conflict of interest, and is barred from contesting any future elections until and unless he clears himself of that conflict, has possibly brought disrepute to your council? If so, do you intend to review his position in your executive board, and at its helm? If not, could you let us know what will bring your esteemed council into disrepute?

#justasking #don’tmindme

Cogito, ergo sum confusion

Cogito, ergo sum, says Iain O’Brien in the latest issue of The Cricket Monthly. He thinks, therefore he is.

What he is thinking about is David Warner — who, Iain says, is not just a serial offender, but an escalating offender.

That’s a neat way of putting it. Shorn of polysyllables, what it means is: Warner’s behaviour is getting worse. He says:

I have seen the regularity of Warner drawing fire, the growing frequency and the level of these indiscretions, increasing since late last year. Is it wrong to try to find a reason for this? Is it wrong to possibly suggest that the tragic death of his good mate Phillip Hughes – Warner was on the field when Hughes was fatally hit – is having an unwanted affect on the decisions he makes, and contributing to his involvement in conflicts?

From that jumping off point, the writer transitions to the death of Philip Hughes on the field of play, and the possibility that Warner — who was at the other end when his mate died — suffers from PTSD.

Perhaps it is fair to say that Warner has had similar demons to deal with since the death of his very good friend. Perhaps it isn’t. It may be that it is still worth discussing. Maybe we can just rule out any form of PTSD and simply justify Warner’s actions saying, “He has always been like that”, and say they might also be a result of the laxity in efforts to curb certain forms of on-field behaviour. I get the feeling there’s a little more to his recent behaviour than can be explained by the flighty application of fines and limited consequences for his actions.

I read a lot of crime fiction, particularly the courtroom types. And when someone says “PTSD” I am all over him like a rash — I know PTSD like only readers of Shane Stevens and Scott Turow and Richard North Patterson and such can. Seems to me — my view is probably colored, even jaundiced, by too much of this stuff — that there is no case that comes to the courtrooms of America where the anatomy of some horrendous crime cannot be explained merely by whether it is right or wrong to rape and kill; it needs a battery of experts to speak with polysyllabic profundity to child abuse or adult trauma and its effects on the individual’s id.

It is all supposed to lead to a verdict of Not Guilty By Reason of <insert your favourite trauma here>.

Hold that thought, while you follow some of these narratives:

Australian coach Darren Lehmann says he knows there are lines drawn, but Australia is always going to push as close to the edge of acceptable behaviour as it thinks it can get away with:

“If the ICC decide it’s not in the spirit of the game or we cross the line, they’ll come down on us. We all know that. So we’ve got to make sure: we’re always going to teeter pretty close to it, that’s the way we play, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t cross it. David’s an aggressive character and we support that. It’s just making sure he does the right things on the ground, and he knows that more than most. We’ll work with him with that.”

Australia’s almost-was-captain Brad Haddin believes this is the “brand of cricket” Australia should be playing (Inset, James Anderson believes sledging “done right” can be “entertaining”. He doesn’t say for who.)

Haddin said Australia would not be changing the way they play and he said they always respected their opponents and the game.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting — famous, among other things, for a spirited discussion with umpire Aleem Dar during the 2010 Ashes series — believes the problem is not with what happens on the field, but with how it all looks when magnified by the TV cameras.

Darren Lehmann has said publicly that David is an aggressive character, and the Australian public love the way he bats, which goes hand in hand with the sort of confrontational approach he sometimes takes in the field. What David needs be aware of is how animated that can look through the lens of a television camera.

When I was captain I often had to control how things looked when I was talking to opponents or umpires. The incidents that got me into trouble often had little to do with what I was saying but how it could appear when I started moving my hands around, pointing fingers or taking on an assertive posture. That would leave me open to different interpretations from people about what might have been going on, and invariably cause the match referee to have a word. I also had a few hearings in my time.

That has been true of this episode for David, where his 50% match fee fine has come about largely because of how it played on television and came across to fans around the world. Whether misplaced or not, Australian anger that a run was taken after the possible deflection of a return to Brad Haddin was genuine. I could count a few instances where I’ve seen opposition teams take another run when the ball deflected in this way. As minor as it sounds, that convention is about as well understood as that of not running out a non-striker backing up without a warning. So I can understand some anger in the belief it had not been followed.

That is a very good argument to do away with not mayhem, but with the cameras that might be in a position to record that mayhem and amplify it via YouTube and other social megaphones. “The problem is not that the cops strangled the black guy, the issue is really how it all looks when that irresponsible idiot with the cellphone camera…”

In those same courtroom novels I referred to, I’ve come across another phrase: enabling behaviour. Like, when someone does something that is clearly wrong, and the officials excuse it on specious grounds (“It is only a first offence… Level 2.1 (a) (ii)…)? Like, when people of stature and authority don’t call out an act for what it is — unacceptable — but obfuscate, justify, condone?

I’ve no quarrel with Iain’s cogitations. Merely, that I did some of my own — and I wonder if it is fair to say this: Excuses — even legitimate ones — may help us understand the nature of the offender. But they should have no bearing on the offence. Or the consequences.

BTW? Try searching for “David Warner sledging”. You might find a couple of instances if you look hard enough. And if you care to notice the dates, you might find that the odd example pre-dates any PTSD.

PS: Warner and Australia are merely the peg of this argument, not the sole targets. Bad behaviour is just that — no matter who the culprit is, or which team he belongs to. Oh, and to Anderson’s point about all this being “entertaining” — if the quality of your cricket was good enough, why would you need an item number?

Additional reading:

Martin Crowe wrote recently about the need for cricket to take bad behaviour seriously, and mooted the concept of red and yellow cards.

The sad part? Back in 2002, the same concept was briefly discussed by cricket’s lawmakers. And dropped. And I remember writing about the need for it, in 2003. Can’t seem to find the link, but I did find this discussion I was part of, where the theme was developed on. Here, read.

“A unique archive of our shared humanity”

Why would Paul Salopek — anyone, actually — bother to walk some 21000 miles, across a seven-year period, telling stories as you go? There is no real “answer” to that, unless it is Salopek’s own words from his December 2013 piece To Walk The World:

Walking is falling forward.

Each step we take is an arrested plunge, a collapse averted, a disaster braked. In this way, to walk becomes an act of faith. We perform it daily: a two-beat miracle—an iambic teetering, a holding on and letting go. For the next seven years I will plummet across the world.

I am on a journey. I am in pursuit of an idea, a story, a chimera, perhaps a folly. I am chasing ghosts. Starting in humanity’s birthplace in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, I am retracing, on foot, the pathways of the ancestors who first discovered the Earth at least 60,000 years ago. This remains by far our greatest voyage. Not because it delivered us the planet. No. But because the early Homo sapiens who first roamed beyond the mother continent—these pioneer nomads numbered, in total, as few as a couple of hundred people—also bequeathed us the subtlest qualities we now associate with being fully human: complex language, abstract thinking, a compulsion to make art, a genius for technological innovation, and the continuum of today’s many races. We know so little about them. They straddled the strait called Bab el Mandeb—the “gate of grief” that cleaves Africa from Arabia—and then exploded, in just 2,500 generations, a geological heartbeat, to the remotest habitable fringe of the globe.

Millennia behind, I follow.

Paul Salopek and his mule in southeastern Anatolia, Turkey

Paul Salopek and his mule in southeastern Anatolia, Turkey (Courtesy: Out of Eden Walk)

Newseum organised a Digital Campfire last week around the concept of “slow journalism” in general and, specifically, National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s seven-year walk that seeks to retrace the migratory path of early Man.

A stellar four-member panel — New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos (whose Age of Ambition is, for me, the book of 2014 — a perfect coming together of immersive craft and brilliant narrative technique) , Nat Geo editor in chief Susan Goldberg, and Ann Marie Lipinksi of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, with Frank Sesno of the School of Media & Public Affairs at George Washington University moderating — was articulate, on point, engaging and, occasionally, inspiring.

Salopek Skype-d in from Tbilisi, Georgia, where he is waiting out the winter snow, and using the pause to write and to research the path ahead of him.

And yet, the moment that stayed with me came after the panel discussion was done, and the floor was opened to the audience for questions. A lady whose name I couldn’t catch took the mike and, with a circumlocution, a hesitancy, that spoke to her distress at having to pose the question in the first place, asked:

“Do you think there is a future to journalism at all?”

That she had to ask is itself the sadness of the timeA time — probably the first time in its history — that the media has begun to doubt its own raison d’être, which is to tell stories. A time when the newsroom tip-sheet has been replaced by the data analyst’s spreadsheet. A time when ‘What stories must we tell today?’ has been jettisoned in favour of ‘What is buzzing that we can leverage and make the audience click on today?’.

The lady’s question, her distress, is finding echoes across the media space. And in a sense, the Digital Campfire was an anecdote.

In addressing the how and why of what he does, Salopek spoke of “missing the linkages between the big stories of our time.”

Out of Eden Walk is, he said, a quest story. By definition, you don’t start out knowing what the story is, you begin with a blank canvas on which you paint whatever the story turns out to be. Walking, said Salopek, is “amazingly good” for such in-depth storytelling because “you are moving through stories at three miles an hour.”

“If I had to cast a really broad eye over the last two years of walking, I think there really are two phases,” Salopek reflected. “The first year was really about early history, about human origin, about identity, and why you should care about that. Questions about race, questions about what are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are – which is actually one definition of the news…”

The second year, he said, has been a story about human dislocation — forced migrations caused by conflict, by institutional violence. “So I think the story that most interested me and the one most in sync with the flow of this project is the extraordinary refugee flow of people in the Middle East.”

Salopek was careful to emphasise that he is not advocating his model as the right one — merely that it is one tool among many that journalists can use to inform and educate. There is no point, he said, in “indulging in a boutique pursuit for a diminishing audience” — but given how the world is changing, “we need nuanced information, not just binary information.”

Slow journalism, Osnos said in his turn, is about pausing that extra minute before we write. “What we do when we are rushed is we resort to cliche, we resort to type, instead of rendering people as people.”

None of it is easy to pull off — and the hurdles begin with investment. Or rather, the pressure on news organisations to focus all available resources on churn, on rapid stories rushed through the assembly line. Lipinski spoke of the obvious, overt pressures on news organisations to stay rooted in the here and the now, to tell it fast. But that requirement is not in conflict with the slower, more thoughtful storytelling advocated by the likes of Salopek and Osnos, she pointed out — the trick is to not reduce it to an either/or binary, but to find the balance between quick, accurate capture of a zeitgeist with the slow-burn narratives that are told, that need to be told, because story-telling is what, finally, all this is about.

Hanging over this phase of the discussion was a question I’ve been hearing for sometime now: Is this worth investing in?

I don’t know — how do you define “worth”? Is it a simple calculus — maximum stories at the expenditure of minimum resources? Is “worth” defined in clicks, or does the quality of the story, and the fact of there being a story to be told, have a column entry in this spreadsheet? If the former, why not convert the site into one giant, constantly updated slide-show?

People do want more, the panel argued — and they signal this need by consuming the good content the media choses to provide. Osnos spoke of how, last year, the New Yorker staff was surprised that the most “successful” story was a 20,000-word piece on Scientology — success being measured in terms of how many read, and how it was shared, and further transmitted, on social media. Which, after all, seems to be the holy grail for media organisations today.

Lipinski underlined this tendency of the audience to engage with quality, when she pointed out that the message boards below each of Salopek’s posts were arguably the best on the internet today. She spoke of how the quality, the thoughtfulness of the messages posted by readers was indicative of how Salopek had managed to create this huge community, this “gathering force” of people following his work: an audience isolated by time and space but united by the love of a good story well told. And not just listening to the stories Salopek tells, but also reacting to them, having conversations around them.

We are as a tribe habituated to tell stories around campfires — including the new, digital campfires that are Facebook and Twitter and What’sApp and all the other apps and tools we now use to communicate. And for me, Salopek’s project has been just that — a digital campfire that is now drawing listeners from around the world; an audience that comes to bathe in what he has seen and heard and smelt and felt in course of his walk.

The 1:12 hour discussion is totally worth your while (scroll down to the end of the report. And here’s a Storify of the live chat.)

Post-Script: Adding a gratuitous layer of unintended irony is the fact that I followed this discussion over the weekend — which is precisely when Yahoo India terminated its investment in two slow narratives we had begun during my tenure there: Arati Kumar-Rao’s River Diaries and Rahul Bhatia’s The Noble Mansion.

That’s an end of something. And the beginning of something else.

Arati, Rahul, Kalyan Varma and I have decided to do this on our own. To this end, we are building a site that permits all three — Arati, Kalyan and Rahul — to tell the stories they want to, with all the immersive experiences and digital tools they need to tell those stories with.

In parallel, we are raising our own funding from among those who are interested in such narratives, and willing to put their money where we mouth platitudes about how journalism is becoming increasingly click-bait. And between end-February/early-March, we will have one platform into which three story-streams flow:

Kalyan Varma: Man knew how to live with Nature and to share its spaces with its wilder citizens. In time, that inbred ability to live with the wild faded; laws and regulations sought to confine Nature in boxes of our creation while Man, once a part, was now apart. The delicate, value-based balance cracked, fault-lines developed, coexistence gave way to conflict. Kalyan will report from the emerging front-lines of this conflict.

Arati Kumar-Rao: Water — and equally, common lands — sustain millions around the world but increasingly, these are ground zero for competing interests. As traditional lifestyles and the industrialised world lock horns, it is turning into a battle where everyone loses. Arati will report from that space, and document how this battle between the old and the new, fought over common land and water resources, unfolds.

Rahul BhatiaA country decides what to give its people and what to take from them; what to make and sell, what to buy and distribute. In making these decisions, it arrives at a definition of development. The path has weight, for it forges the character of its citizens, leaving them with hope, or fear, or an upheaval felt for generations. Rahul will chronicle this process through the lived experiences of businessmen and bureaucrats, villagers and city dwellers across India as it renews itself.

Once the site is up, and Arati, Kalyan and Rahul get their narratives flowing, we will look to expand into other topics, other unreported/under-reported areas — the state of our children and the fate of our women, to name just two.

ADDITIONAL LINKS:

Paul Salopek:

Out of Eden Walk — Salopek’s ongoing despatches from the field

To Walk The World — A brilliantly articulated take on the walk — the how, the why

The Glorious Boneyard — A report from the start of the journey, which opens with a thought I remember verbatim over one and a half years later.

A Long Walk Through — And Around — The Headlines — Salopek on slowing down and seeing more

The Bride Was 7 — A Chicago Tribune story referred to in the discussion, whose style and structure foreshadows what Paul is doing now

Ways of Dying in New Mexico — On being kidnapped while reporting from the Sudan

Evan Osnos: If you read one book this week/month, make it Age of Ambition — for its intensely human portraits that fuse into the larger story of a China on the cusp of change; for the patient reporting that allows his subjects the space to speak for themselves; for the superb craft that shows how to see a world through a grain of sand.

Lift me out of my skin and put me inside another’s…

Where one bucket of wheat equals one candy bar

Where one bucket of wheat equals one candy bar

Paul Salopek’s (Twitter — do yourself a favor and follow along) latest post is, per usual, a gem; a brilliant-cut diamond of a piece:

Salopek is currently in Turkey. At Yelkovan Koyü, Turkey, 37°48’16” N, 38°32’28” E, to be accurate. He is at a bakal, an oasis. He writes of the man he meets there, and of the lives he encounters in this outpost that time forgot:

“We are poor here,” Karadoğan acknowledges. He is a kind man. He himself is poor. “Not everybody has money in their pockets all the time,” he says. “I buy the grain and resell it in Kâhta for a small profit.”

In exchange, the Kurdish farmers in the village obtain soap or salt. Batteries or cigarettes. Notebooks and other schools supplies. There is a brisk trade in candy—in sweets.

“It is the children’s job to clean the grain,” Karadoğan explains. “This is their reward.”

In this world that is part of our world and yet apart, one bucket of wheat = one bar of candy — the title of Salopek’s latest post. And as with much of his work, it is not the travelogue that strikes you, though his project is a travelogue spanning 21000 miles and seven years. What grips you and won’t let go is the stories he tells of the lives and of the peoples he encounters along the way. Stories that lift you out of your skin and put you inside another’s — and in doing that, both diminish you and enhances you at the same time.

Consider this lead-in to his previous post, Mother Rivers:

Coban Ali Ayhan sings like a human being in pain—like a man pouring salt into the open wound of his heart.

He bounces a wounded cry down into the canyons of the Tigris River: a blade of rusty water that saws its way through the bedrock of time. Ali’s song is a hymn to true love, which is to say, to love unrequited. It is the tale of a beautiful woman who remains blind to the longings of the singer. It is a lyric of loneliness. Of waiting. Of resignation—a form of acceptance. It is the perfect ballad for this antique river and this doomed, haunted town.

Through his posts I’ve met Coban Ali Ayhan. And Murat Yazar, who walked with Paul into what looked like certain death but turned out to be a shared cup of tea. Muhammed Sadiq Demir, the tailor who mourns a world where people no longer repair their clothes, preferring to just junk them and buy new. Ismail, who with gun in hand attempted to oppose the armoured tanks of the ISIS. Yuval Ben-Ami, Paul’s trekking partner through Israel, who would rather walk (and sing as he walked) than anything else, and who was not above leading Paul to Nazareth because there is a good hummus shop there.

“Strangers are friends you are yet to meet”

Each post in the series introduces me to strangers. And thanks to the art of the narrator, they become friends, people whose fate I am now invested in; people I care about.

There is something I print and hand out to journalism students during my infrequent lectures on narrative. It is from the introduction to The DC Comics Guide To Writing Comics. I tell the students it is the best definition there is of story, of why we write:

Here’s what I would like you to do for me: Make me laugh. Make me cry.

Show me my place in this world. Show me the world’s place in my life.

Lift me out of my skin and put me inside another’s, and show me how to live there.

Show me places I have never been to. Carry me to the ends of time and space.

Give my demons names, give my fears a face, and show me how to confront them.

Present before me heroes who will give me courage and hope.

Demonstrate for me possibilities I had never thought of.

Ease my sorrows, increase my joy.

Teach me compassion. Entertain me, enchant me, enlighten me.

Above all, tell me a story.

Those words could have been written for, and about, Paul Salopek and his Out of Eden Walk.