How money changed cricket

My friend Amit Varma, who you should follow for informed libertarian commentary on contemporary affairs, blogs at India Uncut and edits Pragati magazine.

Amit is a two-time winner of the Bastiat Prize for libertarian writing. And, happily, in less than a year of its revamped launch, Pragati has two writers (by a happy coincidence, both good friends) in the shortlist for this year’s Bastiat awards (the only Indian media house of any type to make the shortlist): Devangshu Datta for his series on victimless crimes and Shruti Rajagopalan for an astonishing eight-part series on the right to property.

A brief segue: Besides her writing skills, Shruti is an excellent teacher. The two of us once met up for a pub crawl through New York City. The hours passed, we hopped from pub to pub and finally, well past midnight, came to roost at an Irish pub in midtown Manhattan. That is when I said something incredibly ill-informed about the economy. Shruti went on a tear. She grabbed up a heap of napkins from the bar, borrowed the bar-bloke’s pen, and with sketches and charts, began explaining macro-economic concepts oblivious to the fact that she was collecting something of a crowd around her. It was a magical moment; I ended it stone cold sober and considerably more well-informed, proving the point that you have to lose something to gain something else.

Anyway. Amit also hosts a podcast, The Seen and the Unseen — an always insightful, occasionally quirky series of conversations between Amit and various guests on matters to do with the economy, with polity, and with society. Here are the archives. And here is the latest: a three-way cricket conversation featuring Gideon Haigh, among the best cricket writers of this or any generation, Amit, and me.

And oh yes, apologies for the radio silence. After reading your various inputs  — for which I cannot thank you enough — and also reading what seemed like a rainforest’s worth of commentary on demonetization across websites, I finally managed to figure out what I want to say and how to say it. The finished piece, as of a few moments ago, is with the BuzzFeed editors, and should go up at some point tomorrow. Also tomorrow, I’ll get to my shamefully delayed responses to your inputs and questions, and ease back into daily blogging. Apologies again for the silence, stay well, keep in touch.


Media magic

The advantage of having a friend — in this case, Nakul Shenoy — who is adept at magic (though he, all the while, denies that there is anything called magic) is that you can over time learn to spot the moves even as the magician makes them.

Take cups-and-balls, a trick that dates back over 2000 years. It is one of the most ubiquitous of magic acts. Watch the legendary Penn and Teller perform the act:

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“Minimum governance”

Khichdi, India’s ultimate comfort food, is set to be designated as the national food.

According to a Navbharat Times report, food ministry headed by Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had proposed khichdi’s name for national dish to the Centre, which was duly approved.

Such joy, to see a government that is so decisive and takes such swift action, on matters of national importance.

How naming khichdi the national dish will double the income of farmers is unclear at the time of going to press.

Adios, Ashish, and thanks for the memories

A Twitter mention of Ashish Nehra, who is set to end an 18-year career in international cricket this week at the Firozeshah Kotla, Delhi, produced this gem from a fan:

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Crowd-sourcing a column

So, I need some help.

I’ve been asked to do an essay on demonetization, as we on November 8 mark one year of the announcement.

It is a subject that has produced an endless stream of analysis and opinion, seemingly leaving no room for a fresh take on the topic. I’d appreciate help in thinking through this one, hence this request: could you guys provide your take on demonetization, in the comments field? The pluses, the minuses, your thoughts on how the issue polarized the country and why, how informed you feel on the subject and where you think there is a lack of specificity…

It’s an open thread, so please feel free to post whatever thoughts you have, without feeling the need to adhere to the questions above.

Which reminds me, I owe some of you responses to your comments on the media in response to my question here. I’ll get to those now, before I disappear back into work. (PS: Struggling with a few deadlines, so blogging will be somewhat sporadic for the rest of the week).

On Rahul Dravid, and distortions

On the sidelines of the Bangalore Literature Festival this weekend my friend Amit Varma, who edits the excellent Pragati magazine when he is not commenting on affairs of state through reasoned prose and catchy limericks, talked to me of the bubbles we live in.

To underpin his argument, Amit referenced a book written by Walter Lippmann that feels as fresh and relevant today as when it was first published in 1922. In the opening chapter Lippmann argues, broadly, that our one world is actually many worlds. There is, for instance, a real world; there is a world that our overlords, our rulers, would have us see; and then there is the world we construct in our heads, made up of the bits and pieces of information we collect and force-fit into a highly personal worldview.

Amit brought the book up in context of contemporary problems roiling the media landscape — the media’s role in creating such artificial worlds, the dawning realization that this is leading us into dangerously ill-informed waters, and the increasing difficulty in now penetrating the bubbles and setting records straight.

I then logged into Twitter at some point yesterday and discovered yet another example of Amit’s argument at work. On my timeline, I found considerable angst, neatly split between two contrasting viewpoints. One side of the argument was that Rahul Dravid had criticized Virat Kohli’s in-your-face aggression, and also attacked him for his statements on how Anil Kumble’s tenure as national cricket coach had ended. The other side held that Dravid had been wronged, that the media had misreported both his words and his intent through selective quotation.

What baffled me was this: Dravid spoke with great clarity and nuance; rather than court controversy, he did his best to play them down as largely the confections of the media. There was no ambiguity whatsoever in all that he said in course of a nearly one-hour interaction. So wherefrom the dissonance? How do two sets of people construct two such wildly contrasting worlds for themselves, in one of which Dravid is a villain and in the other he is the wronged figure? Where do they get their basic facts from? Here is a sampling:

The Financial Express ran a story under the bold headline:

Do not follow Virat Kohli blindly, says Rahul Dravid; makes big anti-Virat statement

The Hindustan Times ran its story under the headline: Cricket Controversy: Rahul Dravid says Anil Kumble’s axing was ‘unfortunate’.

A strapline below the main headline says:

“Rahul Dravid, former Indian cricket team captain, has said that Virat Kohli’s statements before the start of a major series are sometimes ‘cringe’worth while the Anil Kumble sacking was a sad affair for the team”

For its part, Times of India front-paged the story under this headline:

Cringe on reading Virat Kohli’s pre-match statements: Rahul Dravid

The organizers estimate that somewhere between 500-600 people were present at the event. These people needed no external agency to tell them what was said, and what the context was. But the vast majority gets its information through the lens of the media — and in this case, the reports I cited above dangerously distort both the statements and the intent, of the speaker.

I use the word ‘dangerously’ with deliberate intent. Never mind political and societal issues where distortions and misinformation can have life or death consequences, during my time covering cricket I have at first hand witnessed the risks inherent in such manipulations of fact. There have been instances of reports that took facts and statements out of context to create a controversy; this, in turn, has led to anger and heartburn in the team dressing room between the person who spoke the words and the person(s) who the media portrayed as targets. Such anger has taken a lot of time and effort to dispel and, in some instances, the conflicts persisted despite the affected player’s best efforts to set the record straight.

And all this for what? A few more clicks that, at the very best, bring in a few rupees — measured not in lakhs and crores but literally in mere hundreds and thousands — to your bottomline? At what point do we ask ourselves if this is really worth it? At what point do we stop bemoaning our vanishing credibility while simultaneously, by our every act, we continue to erode what remains of that credibility?

Or to put it bluntly: The three stories cited above are flat out false. Not in the sense of fakes, but in how the reporters cherry-pick words and thoughts, bowdlerize statements, and create an impression that is at variance with reality.

I know this because I was there. The question in my mind now is, now that I have seen at first hand how grotesquely the media houses in question distort events, how do I believe any report I read in their pages or on their sites?

Here is the full video of the event featuring Rahul Dravid and Rajdeep Sardesai at the Bangalore Lit Fest this Sunday morning. Watch, and make up your own minds:

In passing, here is a lineup of stories that adhered to what was actually said and, in all cases, provided the context necessary to understand the words:

#1. An Anand Vasu report for Cricbuzz

#2. Another piece, also by Anand Vasu, for the Economic Times

#3. A Saurabh Somani piece for Wisden India on the Kumble question, and another on Dravid’s thoughts on the game and on Kohli

#4. An Ashwin Achal piece for the Hindu

#5. Two stories on Cricinfo

#6. A Scroll piece on the event

This is not an exhaustive list, merely an indicative one. And even here, it is interesting to see that every single piece focuses on two statements that came at the very end of an event in course of which Dravid spoke with such clarity on so many contemporary cricketing questions.

In passing, this: At the tail end of our conversation I asked Rahul Dravid when he will write a book on his life as a cricketer. His response was that he knew what would happen if he wrote an honest book, and he didn’t want to put his family through the fallout.

At the time, I thought Rahul was being a bit paranoid, a little bit over the top. I now understand why he said what he did.

Bangalore Lit Fest, and a question for you

The 6th edition of the Bangalore Lit Fest begins tomorrow, at the Lalit Ashok. Here is the full list of speakers and performers, and here is the schedule. If anyone reading this is from Bangalore and attending, do come up and say hi — I’ll be there both days.

This also means that starting now, the blog is on a break till Tuesday morning (I have to record a podcast on Monday). I’ll post snippets from the more interesting sessions on Twitter, though, for those interested.

On my way out the door, this: A couple of conversations yesterday revolved around “the media” and its many sins of omission and commission. Both times, there was considerable dissatisfaction with the way the media functions; both times, however, the dissatisfaction was vague and non-specific; the goalposts kept shifting and it felt to me when trying to respond that I was dancing on quicksand.

So, a specific question for you: What is your take on the state of the media today? When you say “media”, who exactly are you referring to, and what is your specific grouse(s)? What specific examples have you seen that dent a particular media outlet’s credibility? Appreciate your responses, and there is no restriction on length. The reason for asking is, I want to work on an essay-length piece on the current state of the media once I am done with this weekend, and your inputs will help give it a focus and direction.

Thanks much, look forward to your inputs. (I won’t have the space to respond to each individual comment over the next three days, but I’ll find the time to read, and I’ll post considered responses once I am back).

Be well, all.