When in Rome…

  • In Milan it is a legal requirement to smile at all times, except during funerals or hospital visits.
  • In Massachusetts, taxi drivers are prohibited from making love in the front seat of the car during their shifts.
  • In Denmark, people are legally obliged to honk the horn and check for small children underneath the car.
  • In Thailand, it is illegal for anyone to leave a building without wearing their pants.
  • In Michigan, anyone planning on bathing in public must have their swim suit inspected by a police officer.
  • In Florida, any unmarried woman who parachutes on a Sunday could be jailed. Singing while wearing a swimming costume is also prohibited.
  • In Portugal it is unlawful to urinate in the sea.
  • In Hong Kong the wife of a husband who commits adultery is legally entitled to kill the mistress in any manner desired, and the husband with just her bare hands.
  • In Switzerland flushing the lavatory after 10pm is illegal.
  • In Canada if you are arrested and then released from prison, it is a legal requirement that the felon is given a handgun with bullets and a horse, so they can ride safely out of the town.

Just so you know.

Recreating a recreation

These last few days, the media has latched on to another phenomenon: one-time colleague Chindu Sreedharan’s Twitter-based retelling of the Mahabharat from Bhim’s point of view. Mentions in The Hindu, India Today, DNA and Indian Express. Experimentation is fun — the more the merrier.

Here’s Chindu, on the whys and wherefores of his retelling.

You said it

For some reason, this news that Harvard is seeking to trademark phrases like ‘Ask what you can do’ reminded me of this letter Groucho, on behalf of the Marx Brothers, once wrote to the Warner Brothers.

Where will you be September 29, 8 pm?

Sometime in July 2006, the ICC – which, in almost every single instance involving the regulation and governance of the sport it is meant to regulate and govern moves in fits and occasional starts – conducted a ‘survey’ of its full members, in course of which it sought details of each country’s drug-education program.

This, it needs noting, was as a result not of the ICC’s own desire to ensure it presided over a clean game, but because the players association pushed for it.

Some responses were collected – but the ICC admitted that not all the ten member nations had complied. To add to the fun, the ICC refused to hand over to the players’ body the submissions from some of the member nations.

Typically the ICC – a firm votary of cosmetics – produced an ‘educational DVD’ which, it announced, would be presented to the players during the Champions Trophy of later that year, as though the DVD were some kind of award handed out to participants.

Ironically, it was in October 2006, at the start of the Champions Trophy – and before the DVDs were handed out – that Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akthar tested positive for nandrolone [did I mention Pakistan was one of the countries that did not submit the ICC’s ‘survey’?]

A year earlier almost to the day FICA, the professional cricketers’ association, warned that cricketers would be increasingly tempted to use prohibited substances to aid recovery. The response was a howl of outrage from then ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed. I found this quote while delving through the archives of the time: “Remarks like that serve no purpose in a reasoned debate and do FICA no credit at all.”

Moving on: Asif and Akthar were banned and the bans were as promptly reversed, with the appellate committee proceedings turning into a smoke and mirrors show of conflicting jurisdictions – were Asif and Akthar culpable under the PCB’s code, or those of the ICC, or WADA’s [note that Pakistan was a signatory to the Copenhagen Agreement]? Ironically, the committee also ruled that the two players had not been “properly educated” about the substances they could and could not use.

The Court of Arbitration told the World Anti-Doping Agency that it couldn’t interfere as it had no jurisdiction in the matter. [The farce prolonged indefinitely, with Akthar hiding out in London and claiming he had no time to pee into a bottle, at least for as long as it took for him to work the drugs out of his system].

A miffed WADA then told the ICC, which had signed on with WADA in 2006, that it was time it got together some kind of acceptable drug code. Yeah, yeah, the ICC said, it had “learnt its lessons” [again, an exact quote, this time from Faisal Hasnain, then active chief executive of the world body.] “We are working hard with our members to ensure a case like this does not happen again.”

Then, and in subsequent months, the ICC repeatedly harped on the ‘facts’ – that it had implemented drug tests at all major events as early as 2002; that till date, no player had tested positive in an ICC competition [True enough – Asif and Akthar tested positive one day before Pakistan’s opening game, and so it could be claimed its competition hadn’t yet begun].

At some point in the tangled history between then and now, the ICC announced that it would become WADA-compliant by 2010, and then as unilaterally brought its own deadline forward by a year, to 2009.

There was all the time in the world for the ICC to create a timeline towards that goal; for the member boards to then sound the players and seek their opinions; for all concerned to sit down and ensure that there was consensus across the board.

None of that happened. With the ICC, that is pretty much the norm – it goes off on its own tack and, thanks to its chronic inability to sit down with the players it supposedly governs or at least to ensure that its member boards do, lands up in messes that could have been easily avoided [remember the earlier furor about ambush marketing?]

Ergo, the unexpected eruption of this latest, and eminently avoidable, fuss.

The BCCI is backing the players on this one – like, what choice did it have? It is also, in a classic case of ditching the baby along with the bathwater, asking the ICC to now walk away from WADA, in the process completely ignoring the fact that India too is a signatory to the Copenhagen Agreement which is a national commitment – and last anyone checked, the BCCI was very much a part of this country and not, as it likes to believe, a nation state all on its own.

Incidentally, in doing this the BCCI [very George Bush-like, this body] is also now repudiating its own signature – the one it affixed to the ICC resolution of 2008 agreeing to become WADA-complaint this year. Trouble was, the BCCI in typically feudal fashion signed on to a commitment involving its players without once bothering to check with them.

The WADA is bleating on about how 571 sporting bodies have accepted the code, so what’s your problem – sort of like our political parties ‘parading their strength’ before the governor/president. And Ian Chappell in a think piece says drug testing is the price players have to pay in order to keep the sport clean.

When WADA worked on the revised code that came into effect January 1 this year, it said the process was transparent, and democratic. “All stakeholders were encouraged to send in their suggestions,” WADA said in an explicatory Q&A on its site.

“No one ever asked us for our opinion,” a senior member of the national team, who has no horse in this race because he falls outside the short-listed 11 players directly impacted, told me this weekend. [I am not naming him at his request — since he is not part of the group of 11, he said, he’d rather not take a public position on the controversy].

If not the players, did the BCCI advance its own thoughts to WADA as a potential stakeholder? “As far as I am aware, no.”

So when the ICC decided unanimously to implement the code this year, did you guys talk to the BCCI about your concerns? “We’ve had no discussions on this subject as far as I know, till very recently.”

Okay, the hell with all that – would you say dope testing is necessary to keep the sport clean? “Yes, naturally – when have our players ever objected to being tested?”

So then why not just sign on – as “571 sporting bodies” already have?

“I’ll answer that,” he told me, “if you can tell me where you will be at 8 pm October 29.”

As this player argued the case, he and his ilk are not opposed to testing. “I saw some media reports where we players are supposed to have argued that it is an invasion of our privacy. We are also supposed to have pointed at security concerns. All of that is true enough, but none of those concerns are really the crux of our problem.”

How, he asked, is a player supposed to provide a comprehensive three month calendar indicating where he will be at every point of every day?

And it is not just that – having sent in the calendar, he cannot deviate an iota, or at least, that is how he understands it. “What, I think I am going to be at a function two months from now – but then someone falls ill and has to be rushed to hospital and I am supposed to remember what I told these drug guys, and send them an SMS altering my whereabouts? And if I fail, and they come to where I am supposed to be and don’t find me, that is a ‘strike’ against my name; three ‘strikes’, and I am suspended? Who dreamt this crap up?”

None of the players are opposed to random testing per se, this player repeatedly pointed out; what they were objecting to is the clumsy, intrusive, methodology. “Look, what’s the issue here? WADA wants to test us without warning? Sure, go ahead, who’s stopping you? Land up out of the blue, call me, ask that I make myself available for testing inside 12 hours, or 24, and if I don’t for reasons that are not valid, then penalize me…”

Seems a fair suggestion to me. You?

PostScript: A Cricinfo fact file that fleshes this out.

PostScript2: In DNA, Vijay Tagore looks at the what next question.

On Sunday evening, the ICC said “The next step is to be considered by the ICC Board.” But he did not indicate when the Board meeting will be held. The next Board meeting is scheduled for mid-October. A BCCI official told DNA that one possible ICC decision could be to ban or suspend the 11 players (under the IRTP) but stated that any such move could result in a disaster for the ICC as the BCCI then may not take part in the forthcoming Champions Trophy.

The implications of a non-India Champions Trophy could be serious for the world body as it had sold its eight-year broadcast rights for over a billion dollars on the promise of an Indian participation. The broadcaster might well sue the ICC.

So where does the impasse head? It is a premature to guess but some thing can be read in the statement of a highly-ranked ICC official who told this paper: “There will not be a Third World War over this issue.”

PS3: Curioser and curioser: Sports Minister KPS Gill argues that India has signed on to the WADA code and all its players mandatorily need to buy in. What is funny is the reasons he gives:

“We have accepted WADA regulatory testing and we adhere to it,” Gill said.

Okay, we’re with you so far.

“Sportspersons should be clear in one thing that it is not getting into someone’s life.”

That makes it clear as mud — saying it’s so don’t make it so, no?

The sports ministry has a WADA-accredited National Dope Testing Laboratory in Delhi and Gill said it was proud to be associated with the global independent anti-doping watchdog.

Nice. So?

“We have set up a dope testing laboratory next to Nehru Stadium and now Sweden is also sending samples of their players for testing.”

At the risk of repeating myself — nice. So?

The hon’ble minister must be wishing he was still DGP circa the Punjab insurgency — where he said something and you either obeyed or got shot.

Bhimsen: Episode 65

[Episode 64] [PDF Archive]

Sounds of unbridled revelry came to me as I lay in my bed late that night, trying without success to shut out thoughts of all that had happened that day.

Drums thumped and trumpets pealed; balladeers – with an enthusiasm fuelled in equal parts by sura and silver coins – sang incessantly of the greatest archer the world had ever seen. And from the lane outside came the sounds of soldiers celebrating the knowledge that their war was over, that they had escaped death.

Noise is good, I thought as I lay in the dark, staring into the blackness – it anaesthetizes the senses and inhibits thought.

The prevailing mood appeared to have seized even Visokan. When he asked me for the third time in less than an hour if I needed something, I snapped at him. “Go join in the celebrations, get yourself drunk,” I told him. “I don’t need you — I don’t need anyone around me tonight.”

He gave me a strange look, and wandered off into the night. Moments later Arjuna and Dhristadyumna rushed in, and it was hard to tell which was the more boisterous, the more drunk.

“Why are you here by yourself?” Arjuna demanded, grabbing an arm and trying to pull me to my feet. “Come join the fun – Yudhishtira is actually singing and dancing, you must see this!”

What could I say? “You killed our eldest brother today – what is there to celebrate in that?”

I bit down on the thought before it found voice.

The thought had first come to me when, after Visokan left me beside Dushasana’s body, I commandeered an elephant and from its back, surveyed the field.

Off in the distance, I could see the distinctive white horses of Arjuna’s chariot and the golden chestnut ones of Karna’s, whirling in and out of a swirling dust cloud.

Either way, I thought to myself as I guided the elephant in that direction, a brother will die today. Strangely, it didn’t really  matter which one it was — I knew I would feel equally devastated.

From my vantage point the duel seemed to be as much about Krishna and Shalya as it was about my brothers – the two demonstrated unbelievable skill, piloting their chariots in a dazzling series of moves and countermoves, each striving to gain some little advantage over the other.

Karna and Arjuna were evenly matched in strength and, as far as I could see, in skill. As I neared the combat zone, I saw Karna in a brilliant move fire a stream of arrows high up in the air. As they curved through the air and came down towards Arjuna, Karna fired a series of arrows in a straighter line, forcing Arjuna to defend at two levels – the ones coming down from above and the ones coming at him straight.

All those years ago, when we were still young boys learning the art and craft of war and Drona had called for a trial of strength, Arjuna had dazzled the spectators with a trick. At blinding speed, he had shot a stream of arrows high into the air; as they came down, he fired a series of white-painted arrows into their midst to conjure the effect of lightning flashes amidst rain.

What was the point, I thought at the time, of endless hours spent practicing such tricks? After each attempt he had to painstakingly gather up his arrows, re-pack his quiver, and then do it all over again — for what? To amuse people with nothing better to do? What I practiced with the mace, the bow and arrow and in the wrestling pit, had a point to it — the skills I was practicing to perfection were the ones I would some day use in actual combat…

Now I saw the point — the “tricks” that amused crowds at a martial arts exhibition were the very ones that, used in deadly combat as Karna was doing now, could force the enemy to confront different challenges.

As I urged my elephant closer to the scene of the duel, I saw Arjuna do something I had never seen before — firing continuously with his right hand and establishing a line of attack, he switched suddenly, seamlessly to his left and used what seemed to me some special arrows. These must be poison tipped, I thought; they were so thin, almost like needles, that he was able to notch five, six of these arrows onto the string at the same time and fire them simultaneously, multiplying the danger to the enemy.

Around them, the fighting had come to a standstill as everyone in the vicinity gathered to watch the duel of the master archers. With each side cheering on their champion and jeering the opponent, the atmosphere was incongruously festive.

Their battle must have been going on for a long time — Arjuna and Karna were both bathed in sweat and streaked with the dust raised by their chariots.

There was no way I could make a path for my elephant through the milling crowd. I jumped down, hoping to push a way through the crowd – and even as I straightened, a groan of despair went up from the Kaurava ranks.

Over the heads of the crowd, I saw the white horses standing stock still. Arjuna stood on the chariot deck, face grim, bowstring drawn taut. I could see the chestnut horses and the head of Shalya in the charioteer’s seat, but there was no sign of Karna.

Using my arms and lowered shoulders to smash a way through the crowd, I got to the front — and saw Karna down on one knee, desperately trying to lift the wheel of his chariot out of a rut it appeared to have gotten caught in. Shalya was furiously whipping his horses but strain as they would, the wheel refused to budge.

“I am unarmed,” I heard Karna say. “Wait till I free the wheel – kshatriya dharma demands that you allow me that…”

Arjuna looked confused; eyes fixed on Karna, he gradually lowered his bow.

Kshatriya dharma!” Krishna’s voice cut through the hubbub, dripping scorn in every syllable. “This from the man who sneaked behind a sixteen year old boy and cut his bow string from the back!

“Since when did Adhirata’s son, this suta putra, have the right to rank himself with kshatriyas and to invoke our dharma?!” Krishna demanded, turning to Arjuna.

“What are you waiting for? The sworn enemy of the Pandavas, the killer of your son, stands before you – do your duty!”

Just then, a passing cloud obscured the sun, throwing the scene in gloom.

His head tilted to one side and his eye fixed on Arjuna, Karna put his shoulder to the wheel and his hands on the hub, and strained mightily.

I saw despair in his eyes and took a hasty step forward, not quite knowing what it was I intended to do. Help Karna free the wheel of his chariot? Stop Arjuna from killing his eldest brother?

It was all too late – Arjuna’s bow flashed up, an arrow thudded into Karna’s shoulder and, as he turned under the impact, another burst through his breastplate. I saw the sudden gush of blood as the arrow drove deep; an instant later, Karna slumped backwards against the wheel, a third arrow impaling his throat.

A blast from Krishna’s conch was drowned by Arjuna’s triumphant roar; an instant later, Yudhishtira jumped down from his chariot and rushed forward. “Karna is dead,” he yelled, hands thrown up in triumph. “There he lies, the suta putra who caused this war.

“Where are the musicians, the singers?! Let them sing to my beloved brother, to the peerless archer, Arjuna, the equal of Indra himself!!”

Arjuna spotted me and rushed up, arms spread wide. “Brother,” he shouted as he folded me in a hug, “I did it – I’ve killed Karna like I promised I would!”

He danced away into Krishna’s embrace; Dhristadyumna, Nakula and Satyaki all ran forward to add to the acclaim.

The heralds had blown the end of combat. My brothers got in their chariots and drove towards our camp, in a hurry to celebrate; Dhristadyumna, Satyaki, Nakula and others raced to catch up. In their excitement, no one noticed me standing off to one side, eyes fixed on Karna’s lifeless form.

Around me, the dejected Kauravas gradually drifted away, leaving my brother’s body there for the chandalas.

I stood there, not moving, not thinking, not feeling – just waiting until, finally, I was all alone. And then I walked up to where Karna lay.

As gently as I could, I pulled out the arrows that had impaled his shoulder, his chest, his throat. Responding to the promptings of some inner need, I arranged him so he was comfortable — his legs stretched in front of him, the wheel of his chariot supporting his back. With my robe, I wiped the sweat and the blood off his face.

And then I bent low and touched his feet — seeking from him in death the blessings I had never been able to get in life. And even as I did, I cringed at the cowardice that made me glance hastily around to make sure I was alone, that no one had seen this act of mine.

Say what?!

Tot up the points Malcolm Conn makes in this piece of — not to put too fine a point on it — tripe:

1. Rudi Koertzen is a poor umpire.

2. Cricket is all the poorer for having Rudi pottering around out there in the middle.

3. Rudi is not the reason Australia is behind in the ongoing Ashes series.

4. Rudi gave three Australians wrongfully out in the second innings at Lord’s.

5. Koertzen gave Mitchell Johnson out when he wasn’t and Ian Bell not out when he was.

6. Umpiring is such a low priority that bad umpires continue to be tolerated.

7. India makes a lot of money out of cricket.

8. So somehow — let’s not sweat the details, what are you, anal? — it is all India’s fault.