RIP, Arthur Pais

I remember the time Arthur Pais was caught without his trousers.

India Abroad, the Rediff-owned community paper based in New York, had its office on 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth. It shared a floor with a travel agency staffed by pretty young girls who, late into the nights, would sneak out into the corridor for a forbidden smoke. The building also housed the New York office of Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine – more girls, of the pin-up class.

Arthur needed periodic insulin shots, which he administered himself. So late this one night, he crossed the corridor to the washroom, gave himself the shot, came back out and realised the office door had slammed shut behind him.

He had his own set of keys – along with his cell phone (which he could otherwise have used to call his long-suffering wife Betty), it was in the pocket of the trousers he had taken off and left behind in the office.

But why would anyone take off his trousers in the office before going to the loo? The best answer to that is: Arthur Pais. He was like that. He did these things.

The story of that night spent cowering in the shadows, dodging random girls while clad in just a shirt and briefs, has regaled the successive generations of young journalists he mentored and bullied in equal measure – and his laugh was always the first to ring out, and invariably the loudest.

Everyone has an Arthur Pais story. And Arthur had a story about everyone – always original, mostly salacious, often borderline libellous. He loved to gossip. He told his stories in a spirit of impish delight and with a total absence of malice. It was his way of relieving the tedium of endless nights writing and producing India in New York, the free weekly paper, and India Abroad, the flagship community paper.

His was the first name on an editor’s speed dial, and not just because his name began with an ‘A’. Two hours to print deadline, a hole the size of a page to fill, you called him and wailed, “Arthur… HELP!” The inevitable response was, how much do you need and how soon do you need it?

You gave him an impossible ask: a 1,600-word feature for the entertainment page in under two hours. He delivered. Unfailingly, uncomplainingly.

Okay, maybe not ‘uncomplainingly’. There was the time my wife came over to the office one morning to pick up a book she wanted to read. Spotting Arthur in his cabin, she wandered by for a chat, then picked up her book and left. Minutes later, Arthur banged into my office, slammed the latest copy of India Abroad down on my table and went “What the %%%@###@…”

I had cut about 120 words from one of his stories. “You asked for 1,000 words and I gave it to you,” he raged, “so why the @##@@@ did you cut my copy you @##$$$..”

He banged on for a long time, the gist of his tirade being that I wasn’t fit to be editor of a roll of toilet paper, even. And then he slammed out of the office, trailing abuse.

Hours later, he strolled into my room with coffee, doughnuts and a huge smile, and tossed an envelope on the table with “For Raji Plus One” inscribed on it. Inside, I found two tickets for Doubt, the award-winning Broadway play then being staged at the Walter Kerr theatre. “I was telling Raji about this play and she said she’d love to see it,” he said.

Turned out that after yelling at me, he had walked a little over 18 blocks to the TKTS booth in Times Square in blazing summer heat, joined the endless line, and snagged prime tickets at a discount.

What could I say? I knew better than to offer to pay – that would have triggered another rant. All I did say was, “Hey, you know I am Raji’s ‘plus-one’, right?” He gave me a look, said “That’s for Raji to decide”, and walked off, for all the world as if the morning fight had never happened.

That, in a nutshell, was Arthur – irascible, incorrigible, impossible, and impossibly generous, sometimes all in the same moment.

We worked together across many publications: the Singhania-owned Indian Post, the Mumbai-based Mid-Day, the Ambani-owned Sunday Observer, Rediff.com and its sister concern India Abroad. Through those long years — now that I think of it, I’ve known Arthur for almost as long as I have been a journalist — there were times when I thought he was my personal albatross, that I’d never be rid of him. But those times were rare. Most times, I was just glad he was around, that he had my back.

“Arthur, what would I do without you?” Every editor who has ever worked with him has had reason to say that. God knows I have thought that many, many times over the years.

Now, as news that he has met his final deadline comes over the wires, that oft-asked question reshapes itself: Arthur, what are we going to do, how are we going to manage, without you?

Arthur, what are we going to do, how are we going to manage, without you?

Be well wherever you are, friend. Be at peace.

And hey, Arthur? Keep your damn trousers on.

(Arthur J Pais, 66, passed away on Friday, January 8. His long-time editor (and mine), Nikhil Lakshman of Rediff.com and India Abroad, summed up the essence of the man here, as did Arthur’s friend and fellow journalist Aseem Chhabra here. My friend and former colleague Vaihayasi Daniel writes movingly of him here.

My valediction to my departed colleague and friend was first published on Scroll.in)

 

 

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And so it begins…

The question, in the wake of the release of the Lodha Committee report on cricket reform in India, was always going to be: What will the BCCI do now?

‘Lie low for a bit’ seems to be the answer,  judging by the lack of official comment from BCCI honchos. Delay is something the organisation is adept at: ‘We haven’t yet gotten the physical copy of the report’; ‘We are now studying the report’; ‘We have set up a committee to examine the report and make recommendations’; ‘We have put our internal committee’s report before the executive board’; ‘We will consider the exec committee report at our next general body meeting’ — there really is no dearth of ways to drag things out if you want to.

And if the alternative is to accept a set of recommendations that spells the end of the BCCI as we — and they — know it today, then oh yes they want to. So, delay. Which is why it is vital for the Supreme Court, when it considers the report and recommends next steps, to set a time limit for response and/or compliance.

Official silence, however, doesn’t mean total silence — expect, over the coming days/weeks, to find various ‘non-state actors’ begin to pick the Lodha report apart, one little bit at a time on the thousand-cuts model, and build a groundswell of opposition. Thus, via Cricinfo just now:

Pruning the national selection committee from five to three, as the Lodha report has recommended, would be a bad idea given the size of the country and the number of first-class teams involved. That’s the opinion of three former selectors – Dilip Vengsarkar, Kiran More andSanjay Jagdale – who say that the increased workload cannot be offset by the proposed Talent Committee that will do the basic scouting.

Kiran More builds out that argument: India is a vast country, lots of games, how many can three watch? And says four would be better. Which begs the question: how many more can four watch?

“India is a vast country”, ok — so how, by that logic, is even a five-member selection panel capable of covering it all, then?

Fundamental question in my turn: Can the same selectors quantify how many games in a month/year they watched during their tenure? And what proportion that was to the total number of games played?

But debating quibbles aside, here is how the Lodha-recommended structure is supposed to work:

There is a talent scouting team, the members of which are mandated to watch *all* domestic games, and at the end of each, to send in reports about promising players spotted in particular matches.

Over a season — or even part of one — these reports begin to show patterns. For instance, a player may have had one brilliant game, and the talent scouts call it out; he may then fade away in succeeding games, or against better opposition, and the scouts call that out too.

The national selectors (who, in any case, still have the authority to go watch any game(s) at their own discretion, monitor the incoming reports. As they spot patterns — a particular player, for instance, consistently performing in different conditions, against various opposition — they flag him for special attention, and then one or more go to watch him play his next game, to confirm for themselves what the scout reports are telling them.

What’s wrong with that? (Actually, this is how talent scouts are deployed, in major international sports).

According to More, relying on talent scouts was never enough. “Recommendations are fine. But you have to see the player yourself, you have to study the conditions. One guy could score a century but a on a pata (flat) wicket whereas another batsman might score 50 on a difficult wicket.”

Well, duh! Read above. Or better still, read the Lodha report — which does not suggest that selectors go simply by the report of the talent scouts.

“So the player pool has increased now,” Vengsarkar, who is now the director of the National Cricket Academy, said. He pointed out the proposed Talent Committee has already been put in place by the BCCI, with the plan to appoint 30 talent and research development officers (TRDOs) comprising three scouts at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels each, across the five zones.

Again, duh! Firstly, it is just a “plan”, and has been for some time. The BCCI has said they will appoint the scouts — but that is for the age-group levels, not for scouting talent in senior domestic competition.

More importantly, assuming the BCCI is already actively considering a scouting infrastructure, then how is that any different from what the Lodha recommendations suggest?

And so it goes, and so it will go. Expect, next, another group — say, of former someone-or-others — to come up with statements about another part of the recommendations. A nick here, a nick there… it all adds up to “arguments” the BCCI can then present before the court as coming from disinterested parties.

 

 

 

ROFL Lodha

Acerbic. Sweeping. Comprehensive. All apt words to describe the Report on Cricket Reforms released January 4, 2016, by the Supreme Court-mandated Justice Lodha Committee. But “funny”? Yeah, that too — if you like your humor to wear a very thin veil. Some samplers:

From the outset, the Committee has reached out to the administration of the BCCI to offer its comments and interventions on the issues that were being considered. Meetings were arranged with all the office-bearers, and from the first week of April, the Questionnaire was sent to all of them. The then President Mr.Jagmohan Dalmiya and Secretary Mr.Anurag Thakur even sent identical responses to it.

That is to say, the late Mr Dalmiya (before he became late, of course) and Mr Thakur had their responses written by the same hand, didn’t bother to make even cosmetic alterations to the words, and submitted them independently, not allowing for the possibility that the committee would pick up on similarity of response. Then there is this:

We are glad to note that having obtained a broad picture from the Questionnaire about how the Committee intended to proceed, BCCI started taking some action, or at least made some announcements touching upon the contents of the questions. These include statements concerning committees to represent States where associations were in dispute or not formed [Qn.1.6], agent accreditation [Qns.6.10 & 6.13] and conflict of interest [Qns.7.1 – 7.3]. Unfortunately, a closer examination shows that these measures came without any structural modifications, and were done more in an effort to assuage the public.

Translated into undiplomatic English: We sent out a questionnaire, the BCCI honchos figured out from the questions what our areas of concern were, and promptly made some cosmetic announcements to convey the impression that our concerns were already being addressed, even before we had begun our sittings. Unfortunately, all of it was an eyewash.

Immediately following, is this bit about Shashank Manohar, and this is where the humor really bites:

On the 30th of September 2015, the Committee interacted in New Delhi with Mr.Shashank Manohar, who had been the President of the BCCI when amendments were carried out to permit a conflict of interest, which action was eventually quashed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. On the day of the meeting, Mr.Manohar was widely tipped to be the consensus candidate to again be the President of the BCCI in elections to be held on the weekend. During the extensive discussions, the Committee put to Mr.Manohar the various concerns highlighted in the Questionnaire, particularly regarding the wide-ranging powers of the President, the lack of financial oversight over State bodies, the lack of transparency as far as BCCI regulations and processes were concerned, the lack of a Conflict of Interest policy and the need for an Ombudsman. Mr.Manohar fairly conceded that these needed to be addressed. We are again happy to note that that on being elected as President of BCCI within 4 days thereafter, Mr.Manohar, even without waiting for the Committee’s report, adopted and projected the Committee’s views as his roadmap for improving the functioning of the BCCI. He also implemented some of them, i.e. uploading of the Constitution and Bye-Laws on the BCCI website, creating a policy for Conflicts of Interest and appointment of an Ombudsman. While we believe that these proposals are in the right direction, we find that they are not comprehensive and substantive.

Check out the underlined bits.

Shorn of politeness, this bit translates thus: We met Manohar and told him of our chief areas of concern. Within a week of that meeting, Manohar — on whose watch the most egregious case of conflict of interest was rubber-stamped — trotted out a set of “reforms” as coming from himself, but which in reality were attempts to undercut the work of the committee. “He also implemented some of them,” the report says, leaving unsaid the corollary, that much more remained in the realm of ‘statements’.

“We are happy to note…”, the judges say, their expression of delight yielding to disappointment a couple of sentences later as the judges note that Manohar’s reforms were neither comprehensive nor substantive.

And so it goes.

The judges must have been seriously pissed, to call out — repeatedly — the BCCI’s attempts at preempting their report.

FWIW, I had scribbled random thoughts down while reading the report in full. Here is the “annotated” version.

PS: Did you read the full report? What thoughts struck you? What do you like? What do you dislike? Why? Comments in the box, please? Let’s start a dialogue — will be back tomorrow morning to look for your thoughts.