Big Boss and the Potato Lady

While watching the over-long introductory episode of the new season of Big Boss last night, I was forcibly reminded of these lines from Karl Bartos’ ‘15 Minutes of Fame:

Stars ain’t what they used to be:
They are average people like you and me.

You and me and Jaya Sawant – whose only claim to fame is that she gave birth to the baby who went on to become Rakhi Sawant, and who today finds herself rubbing shoulders with a clutch of B-list ‘celebrities’ in the Big House on the strength of that regrettable accident.

[To make matters worse, the ‘Big B’ – while on which, I didn’t realize till now that the ‘B’ stands for bullshit – suggested repeatedly that we the audience had overwhelmingly voted to chose the inmates of the Big House, a libelous accusation that deserves that we file a PIL against Bachchan and everyone else associated with the show].

First, we had ‘celebrities’ who owed their 15 minutes to having done something or other worth noting.

Then we had ‘celebrities’ who owed their 15 minutes to having done someone or other – think Paris Hilton.

Now we have ‘celebrities’ who – heck, where words fail, a recent example should suffice.

So that’s what we have come to: Potato Lady. Who, because of an aberrantly shaped spud, found herself on Letterman. And because she was on Letterman, everyone else had to have her on their show.

And lo, another ‘celebrity’ was born, and the media managed another 15 minutes of run time.

“…I thank the general public for understanding me. I am confident that I will be able to handle everyone on the show,” Jaya told Bachchan before entering the “Bigg Boss” house.

Incidentally, I’m not singling out Jaya Sawant for dumping on — that House contains as sorry a clutch of non-entities as any you’ll find. And to add insult to gratuitous injury, the people behind the show claim they are there because we want them to be.


I was working for Bombay [Dear MNS, please note: It was Bombay then, and anyway I am no Karan Johar] tabloid Mid-Day when my editor called me to his workspace and told me of Dr Buddhikota Subbarao. He was jailed as a spy, my editor told me while asking me to interview the man, and has been behind bars for over five years.

I went to Subbarao’s Vashi home, early in the morning two days after his release, with a vague idea of the kind of person I’d encounter – a mental image derived from considerable immersion in the works of John le Carre and others.

I expected security, paranoia and, worst case, having to tell my editor I couldn’t get the interview. What I found was a ‘row house’ like any other on that street. There were no guards, no dogs or other obstacles to journalistic endeavor – so I knocked on the door, and a roly-poly man in lungi, frayed shirt and horn-rim spectacles answered my knock.

Subbarao ushered me in, sat me down, brought me a cup of tea and biscuits [both replenished in course of a chat that lasted over an hour], and with no visible hesitation, spoke about his experiences.

That interview, published [with the kind of ‘Exclusive: First ever…’ tag that gave a then newbie journalist a huge high] in a Sunday edition of Mid-Day back in 1991, doesn’t seem to have an online presence – but this story is consonant with the facts as he recounted them then. [Also read this sequel, by Manu Joseph in Outlook nearly a decade later].

Among other things, that encounter forced me to rethink the readiness to accept the “official” view of matters of national security. [And that rethink, in turn, led to the story I filed for Sunday Observer when the national press was all agog over the “ISRO spy scandal” of 1994 – a story that materialized because I went to Thiruvananthapuram unwilling to blindly accept the “official” story [a comment piece I did for Rediff four years later, when the courts ruled on the case].

Back to Subbarao: the jinx on the family continues. There has still been no official resolution of his spy case. And now, a scary sequel: Open magazine reports the case of Subbarao’s son Vikram, now facing the prospect of a 30-year jail term for “threatening” George Bush.

The “right light”

Way back, when I was in school, a class project was to write an essay on Brutus and Cassius, on the basis of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, and to “say which of the two was better”.

My essay argued the case that Cassius was the better of the two. For my trouble, I got an F. After class, I asked the lecturer why. Was the writing bad? No. Were the passages I cited out of context? No. Was it badly argued? No.

What then? “That is not the correct answer, it is Brutus,” I was told then.

I didn’t understand then, and I don’t understand now, how the “right answer” is determined. Who carves it into stone? And why is there no realization that if you prescribe right ways and wrong ways to think about things, you end up freezing thought altogether and perpetuate the culture of by rote regurgitation of “accepted” wisdom?

Leading on from which, how different is this action of the government of India from that of the Gujarat government, when it banned Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah book on the grounds that it does not show Sardar Patel in the “right light”?

Earlier posts on the issue of books and bans here: 1, 2, 3, 4

Bhim, complete and unabridged

For all those who asked — the full Bhim and nothing but the Bhim. All 72 chapters and 124,000 words of it.

In PDF form here. In Word doc form here.

[Many thanks to regular reader and friend Karunakaran for the effort in compiling this.]

Behind the byline

Rajan Bala in his heyday could sit with a man like Sunil Gavaskar and discuss the importance of footwork at a cricket crease, and more than once had he pointed out a tiny chink or two in the otherwise impregnable armour of the legendary opening batsmen, which ordinary journalists, either couldn’t even detect or were afraid to tell.

What’s wrong with sports journalism, asks the blog churumri, that it cannot even find space for the plight of one of its own.

Rajan, like KN Prabhu, R Mohan and Ayaz Memon to name just four, belonged to the generation of cricket writers that preceded mine — in the sense that they had all established their voices, their reputations, before the likes of Cricinfo and Rediff gave space and voice to a different breed.

The first time you stepped into a press box, you knew what Rajan brought to his byline: an integrity that was unquestioned, even when you sometimes disagreed with what he wrote. And it was the one lesson we took away from him — that your byline would be valued as long as you honestly write what you thought rather than serving as the mouthpiece of various special interests.

Spare a moment, a thought, for the man — he has deserved that, and more, from you.

Looking good versus bowling good

In his column in the Hindustan Times, Anil Kumble writes of Ishant Sharma, thus:

What can be controlled is Ishant Sharma’s workload. He may be playing a lot but it is still important for him to get in a lot more overs. Most of the training time is taken up by gym work, which adds strength but you have to include a lot of sprinting as well to ensure that the rhythm is right. The challenge is to get the balance of cricketing skills, strength and cardiovascular training. The skills part is, naturally, most important and it is also necessary to realize that each person is made differently.

Which is why it is paramount that one understands the body quickly. Ishant is a young man but he would do well to understand what works best for him and apply that to his bowling and training. He’s also a thinking bowler and with the right guidance, he should soon be firing again.

Irfan after Pakistan

Irfan after Pakistan

Perhaps, he could have been tried with the new ball but in a short tournament such as this and after you have lost the first game, you don’t want to experiment. Also, the team combination is what decides who gets the new ball. When Praveen Kumar comes in for RP Singh, you have to give him the new ball as he relies on swing.

Ishant is not the only one — a more famous case is that of Irfan Pathan. In Australia and Pakistan, at his peak, he was whippet-lean, and his rhythm was spot on. During the hiatus after that tour, Irfan hit the gym with a vengeance, came back ‘pumped’ — and immediately thereafter, lost his bowling skills and has never regained them since.

The problem with heavy gym work — especially the kind that involves hard core pumping iron — is that it develops exactly the wrong kind of muscles. The shoulders and ‘wings’ develop — and tighten. And with that, the original bowling action is lost; the arm doesn’t come over as fluidly. Pace and control are the first casualties and once those are gone, confidence erodes and even the variations that worked so well for the bowler are, when delivered at half pace, less effective.

If it’s that simple, wouldn’t you reckon the bowler would know? Equally, that the support staff of coach and physio would spot the danger and move the bowler away from heavy iron work and into the kind of exercises that meet his requirements?

Yes — if the bowler will listen. And it is not just the bowlers — the malaise is fairly prevalent among the younger lot of cricketers. A former coach of India once told me that the ‘kids’ were only interested in building what he called “T-shirt muscles” — the kind you can flaunt in tight Ts, but are totally useless on a cricket field.

“They spend hours in the gym pumping iron,” he said, “and then when their game goes to pieces and you tell them they are not fit, they don’t get it — look at the time we spend in the gym, they argue, failing to understand that this is precisely the problem.”

Anil’s been there and seen all that; his advice to Ishant is good. Remains to be seen, though, if the bowler will take it.

Ishant, too, is top of the mind for Harsha in his last column.

But most dramatic, and disappointing for Indian cricket, was the decline of Ishant Sharma and RP Singh. Coming on the heels of similar problems with Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel and Sreesanth, it is a question that requires a very serious assessement. Good bowlers bowl well for ten years with the occasional bad period in between, not for two years or a season here and a season there. Could it be too much cricket? Could it too much in the mind? Could it be too little in it?

Inevitably then, the question will be what next? India cannot afford to lose Ishant and RP Singh but for the moment, a period of contemplation might be right. I wonder if players are encouraged to come up with their own solutions because one of the pitfalls of having too many coaches is that players stop becoming very good at thinking for themselves. As an observer I would love to know what these two think about this decline.

Right, just got back after three days away — and there’s an overflowing in-tray to deal with. Back here much later, folks — random doodles, as always, here.