Over and out…

…for the weekend, that is. Starting now. 🙂

Be well, all. See you back Monday.

Strike one

For the record: An analysis, with data, of US air strikes on Pakistan soil through September 2009.

The view

Afghan National Police officer trains with a Sig Sauer 9 mm/Boston.com

Afghan National Police officer trains with a Sig Sauer 9 mm/Boston.com

A stunning collection of images from Afghanistan here.

Eye browse

A random collection of reading material, as and when I find them:

1. Last week, the House of Representatives passed by voice vote a Senate bill authorizing the US to provide Pakistan an annual amount of $1.5 billion as part of the strategic partnership between the two countries in the war on terror. So what does Pakistan think of its generous partner? Here you go.

Even as the Obama administration takes pride in the new funds for Pakistan, the increased aid has been criticized in the Pakistani news media and among politicians as too little, one calling it “peanuts.”

2. Continuing from my post of early this morning on the Commonwealth Games, a story in the New York Times has this brilliant wtf line:

“The Commonwealth Games present a problem because the work actually has to get done,” Mr. Mukhopadhyay said. “There are hard deadlines.”

As opposed to? Getting budgetary allocations, misusing/misappropriating the money, leaving the work undone, asking for more money, rinse, repeat.

3. Gore Vidal on a topic that is something of a hobby-horse — the decline and fall of the American empire.

4. Recession watch: The BBC reported that murder is now being outsourced to India. Open magazine reports that recession has hit the Bombay underworld so badly, it can no longer afford to hire and arm hit-men. Possibly related: the company that makes AK-47s is facing bankruptcy.

5. Marie Brenner, in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, revisits 26/11 in Mumbai. [Link courtesy Rahul Bhatia on Twitter]

6. Falling in love, it says here, makes you more creative. Must be a new development — last time I was in love, my creativity began and ended with finding ways to get her into bed.

7. From friend Atanu Dey, a lovely read — oh hey, lookit the byline.

8. Francis Storrs does unto Dan Brown what the author does unto others. Enjoy: the mystery of the mystery writer.

9. The infernal memory of the Internet.


Champions atrophy

Apologies to a friend for stealing the subject line of a common email thread on the subject of India and its premature exit from the Champions’ Trophy — what to do, it is so peculiarly apt.

On that thread, some of the friends brought up the question of the fairness, or lack thereof, of a tournament where a top team exits at the preliminary level because of one match gone west. Sambit Bal also suggests in his column that questions could be asked about such a format.

I’m sorry, but why? The Champions Trophy format is neither new, nor a secret — in fact, one of the best things about it is its crisp, short nature and limited field as opposed to the World Cup which, in the immortal words of one commentator, is “still probably going on in the Caribbean some place.”

Try these names on for size: Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Kenya. Those four teams are ranked full members at ICC’s ODI top table; in other words, in the eyes of the ICC they are the equal — in terms of rights, if not quality — to the eight teams that played the CT in South Africa, and they have good reason to be aggrieved that they have been kept from the tournament.

One of the few good things the ICC has done in recent times is to limit the field, and thus ensure a minimum of dud matches in a crisper, more viewer-friendly format. All participating teams knew, going in, that it was about winning two out of three in the first phase; if they had done their due diligence, they would have known, too, that there was always the possibility of rain spoiling someone’s party.

So, hey, we lost one game, and it turned out the loss was fatal — yeah, well, tough. Suck it up.

Harsha in course of a recent chat made this argument: Within India, there is an economic ecosystem vested in India’s continued success — a group that comprises the BCCI, the players and support staff, the associations, the advertisers, the broadcasters, and even news channels whose talking-head shows rely heavily on cricket and controversy, often twinned naturally or through artful surgery.

Therefore, Harsha said, there is an inordinate focus on the next game, the next tournament, as opposed to taking the long range view. It doesn’t, he pointed out, matter what happens a year from now — what matters is that we do well in the next outing, to keep the hype machine running. And so when we pick teams, we pay lip service to long term vision, to rotation and the need to rest key players, and pick the team that will, in our opinion, give us best returns in the game tomorrow.

He was referring among other things to the reversal of the youth policy and the return of Rahul Dravid to the mix [and no, this piece is not intended to lay the blame for India’s premature exit on Rahul]. And he is bang on the money — the BCCI and those equally invested in the cricket economy operate purely on short term logic unmindful, likely even unaware, that they are defeating themselves in the process.

Never mind the rain — despite MS Dhoni’s words, anyone who was watching the India-Australia game would have said that when the rains came down, the Aussies were odds on to win.  Sure, we might have pulled off a brilliant chase — but ‘might’ and Rs 3 will get you a cutting chai.

Consider instead the game against Pakistan, and India’s bowling effort against Australia. Pundits, the press, and even the captain have pointed, very rightly, at the lines and lengths our bowlers used as the root cause of the malaise. By the time the bowlers got their radar working, it was way too late.

So, why? Why didn’t international players get it? IMHO, a large part of the reason lies in our preparation — a point I bored everyone with while the whateveritis cup was being played for in Sri Lanka. Why did we play that triangular in conditions that were the exact antithesis of the one we would confront in the world tournament? Because the BCCI had a deal. Its hype machine cleverly sold the cup as India’s push for world domination — but the fact is, we played the triangular because the BCCI saw money to be made, not directly in that tournament but in the reciprocal Lankan tour that was part of the deal.

On Lankan pitches, you pitch up if you want to get driven to the dry cleaners — the optimal length is a shade short. We got it right, so did Lanka. The Kiwis, who by nature and inclination bowl fuller and quicker, got it wrong, and exited early — but look where they are now, and look where Sri Lanka and India is. [Consider, also, that England and Australia recently went through seven pointless one day games — but at least they were played in conditions where the fuller length was mandatory, and thus had little or no adjustment to make in SA. On the other hand the South Africans, who know these conditions best, were rusty, coming off a long lay off — and rust manifests first in the shorter length, as Wayne Parnell can tell you; to bowl fuller you need to be in a really good rhythm].

The damage is done, and India now has the dubious record of prematurely exiting three of the last four world level tournaments, to the considerable consternation of the BCCI, the advertisers, broadcasters, media, et cetera.

Lesson learnt? Likely not — but it should be. The next world level competition is a year and a half down the line — the time between now and then is packed with a heap of pointless bilateral ODIs [Oh I know — India and Australia are playing for revenge, for the world number one title, or whatever else the hypemeisters dream up].

There’s two ways we can go from here: Treat each game and each meaningless cup as an end in itself, as Harsha pointed out is the nature of the beast, or treat the interregnum as the ideal preparation for the World Cup, which will be played on home soil.

If you take the latter view, then the result of the Australia-India series and all the other cups and saucers to follow shouldn’t matter — those games are ideally used, initially, to experiment with fresh talent and to rehabilitate those who have recently lost their way, and closer to the WC, to home in on the best squad, and to work on fine tuning their skill sets and moving them towards peak form.

The right way to go is obvious. Unfortunately, it is equally obvious that our administration will go in the exact opposite direction — so I’ll save this particular post someplace; that will save me the effort of writing it out all over again at the end of the WC.

PS: We’re looking to close the week’s edition of India Abroad today, a day ahead of deadline, to sneak a rare three-day weekend; blogging, hence, likely to be erratic at best, more likely non-existent, for the rest of the day.

Begging the question

Take Out The Trash day

Take Out The Trash day

The above is the reaction of my friend and colleague Uttam Ghosh to this story:

The Indian capital will be made beggar free in the run up to next year’s Commonwealth Games, the authorities said on Tuesday while launching two mobile courts to prosecute beggars.

To begin with, citizens who spot beggars can reach the mobile courts through a control room. The courts will reach the spot and take away the beggars, Delhi Social Welfare Minister Mangat Ram Singhal said in New Delhi.

Go away and hide!

Go away and hide!

Make no mistake, this is one determined minister. “Before the 2010 Commonwealth Games,” he says, “we want to finish the problem of beggary from Delhi.” How? By depositing them elsewhere — the suburbs, jails, wherever — as Uttam pertinently suggests?

Garibi Hatao — hamare nazron se seems to be the reworked slogan of the Indian National Congress-Indira.

Elsewhere, P Chidambaram and Sheela Dixit are concerned about New Delhi’s chronic bad behavior.

Delhi’s Chief Minister, Shiela Dixit, readily agreed and said plans are afoot to teach Delhi folks to be “more caring and sharing.” She indicated that a Beijing-style program of civic education, like the one rolled out before last year’s Olympics, would be launched soon.

What fun! Delhi to go to charm school, where La Dixit will play Ms Manners. [Speaking of going to school — this story also on beggars supports my lifelong contention that studying is a waste of time and effort].

Ironically, China was concerned not so much with the behavior of its own citizens as with that of the foreign tourists — but we clearly have our priorities right. Just to be helpful, however, I’ll throw up this link to how foreigners should behave in India — the earlier the better, since some of these moves require long hours of practice. Like, so:

The acceptable way to beckon someone is to hold your hand out, palm downward, and make a scooping motion with fingers.

What baffles me is, why is all this dependent on the Games? One section of the national capital begging while the much larger section behaves like boors is not, apparently, a concern — the problem is someone else catching us at it.

It is interesting that Dixit is looking to China for examples — though clearly, not every Chinese example needs to be rigorously followed; besides, Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun, currently in political ICU, might get a fresh whiff of the oxygen of ‘issues’.

Meanwhile, to return to priorities — I’m sure P Chidambaram will want to take a cue from the Chinese, and ban terrorists for the duration of the Games.

In the run up to the Beijing Games, the world’s media was preoccupied with China’s ‘repressive measures’ [A very small sampling from LA Times, Guardian, US News and dozens more if you do even a cursory search]. Heck, never mind the foreign media, even the Indian press was very upset:

At the same time, Beijing has largely ignored foreign opinion on its human rights records and continued its repression of free of speech, even as it has run a successful Olympics. China’s harsh rule in Tibet has been downplayed, political dissidents locked up, beggars pushed out of Beijing, and journalists covering protests roughed-up.

From that article, more tips for Ms Dixit [And a bonus tip applicable also to this blog]:

Beijing became obsessed by image in the lead-up to the games. Anything unsightly was deemed offensive. Neighbourhood food stalls were covered up by roadside barriers showing pictures of ancient Chinese-style curved rooftops or Olympics motifs.

We will doubtless do all this and more. In fact, we already are, per this story in Open magazine [scroll down]. Here’s the WTF passage from that story on how Delhi will use bamboo screens to keep poverty out of the public gaze:

“We thought of putting up cloth, vinyl or even natural screens like bushes in front of slums. Then we thought, why not bamboo?” says Rakesh Mehta, chief secretary, Delhi. As of now, authorities are sourcing the lathi bamboo from Rajasthan, but talks are also on with the Mizoram and Assam governments.

“We are enlisting the help of National Mission on Bamboo Technology and Trade Development in order to find out whether the varieties from Mizoram would be able to survive in Delhi’s climate or not,” says KK Sharma, principal secretary, PWD Delhi.

That’s more thought and effort — and money — going into hiding poverty than ever went into alleviating it. While on which, I really really loved the ‘bushes’ idea. Take a leaf from Macbeth, do — get the slum dwellers and beggars to squat in front of the unsightly huts; Delhi turned Dunsinane. Solves two problems in one shot, by hiding the slums and their unsightly inhabitants in one shot.

The irony is that China claimed then, and India will claim tomorrow, that this is being done so the foreign visitors can see the ‘true face’ of the country — much like a woman hiding zits and other blemishes under an inch of pancake when the prospective groom comes ‘girl seeing’.

Note the fullness of the swing

Note the fullness of the swing

You will meanwhile be delighted to know that preparations for the Games are in “full swing“. Suresh Kalmadi says so [What does Randhir Singh know?]. Sheela Dixit the schoolmarm for charm says so. So how could it not be so, when Brij Mohan is working his butt off?

Talking of how well work is progressing, did you know that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has stopped work on doing up footpaths, upgrading streetlights etc because of the Games. The Comptroller and Auditor General can’t stop laughing about it. [Search the PDF for Commonwealth Games to jump to the relevant bit].

So work is happening, through commission or omission. Hence ignore, please, the alarmist idiot Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennell and his SOS to the PMO; equally, ignore those panicked idiots the PMO and its calls for an ‘urgent review’. Add to the ignore list carping editorials like this one, and new minted magazines like Open that are out to make a name for rabble-rousing. While on rabble-rousing, trust those perennially rabid folk at Tehelka to add fuel to this needless fire.

As Sports Minister MS Gill so pertinently pointed out:

As you know, I took charge as sports minister last year in April [Editor’s note: But your party-led government was in office the four preceding years, no?] . There were a lot of delays, work had not started on several projects and various things needed to be tied up. But let’s not talk of the past… the fights, the blame game. The decision to hold the Games was taken by the NDA government and was duly endorsed by the UPA government. We are going to ensure that work is completed on time. That’s what I’m fighting for.

As Gill says, forget the past, forget the blame game. Take heart. Shed pessimism. And any time optimism flags, keep this image firmly in mind and you’ll be okay:

In fact, Sheila and I are holding hands and marching forward. We are two sides of the same coin.

If the image of two sides of the same coin holding hands and marching forward doesn’t inspire you with the belief that all will be well that ends, well or ill, then maybe these images below [lots more here] will:

Hard at work by night....

Hard at work by night....

”]”]….”]Hard at work by day....