Monday, February 20, 2012

Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India's Poorest Districts: P. Sainath

Let me begin with two quotes:
How agonized we are over how people die... how untroubled we are by how they live

- P. Sainath
Behind every great fortune, there is a great crime

- attributed to H. de Balzac
In brief, these two quotes sum up the effect of government-led development on those displaced by it and our attitude towards the plight of those affected by such development.

P. Sainath is a well respected authority on the subject of the economic and social status of the poor rural people, most of whom were either displaced or detached because of the development and industrialisation policies of the government (both central and state). Moreover, from his articles, it seems that the government isn't willing to learn from its mistakes and most of the rectification is finally left to a few brave individuals and local officers (who can be transferred as per the whims of any politician).

Everybody Loves a Good Drought is a collection of articles written by P. Sainath as a work funded by the Times of India fellowship. He toured a lot of districts across states (mainly Orissa, undivided Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh), which were 'backward' according to the government's definition. The book is nicely divided into sections such as the adverse effect of government's development policies, the effect of lack of education, the desperate state of the financially poorest sections of the population and the way the poor are striking back. His research and field experience shows that in district after district, the economically poor and politically unorganised people are the ones most vulnerable to the adverse effects of so-called 'development'. Imagine the plight of people who carry 40-50 kg of coal loaded on a cycle over almost 40 km so that the end up earning hardly Rs. 10-15 per day! Or places where the government organisation has almost decimated the local variety of bull and replaced it with a hybrid one, which yields more milk. Never mind the fact that the hybrid variety was more prone to illness and more expensive to maintain, thereby turning the milk surplus region into a milk deficit one.

There is a place in Orissa, whose official name is 'Cut-off area', as it is so remote, being submerged by a dam, whose water and electricity have ended up darkening and drowning the future of the people in this area. In all places the policies are made at the top and implemented without understanding the implications at ground level. No minister or officer as ever bothered to personally visit some of these areas to get a hands on idea of the problems faced and solutions needed. More often than not, it is the flawed implementation that leads to such disasters. And more often than not, the government prefers to rely on feedback from 'expert groups', rather than the locals who are experiencing problems. The book describes their plight in detail. It also highlights, how the mighty and powerful (and obviously politically well-connected) are trying to crush the few seedlings of dissent and resistance that are rising out of the desperate need for survival.

The fabric of the developed urban India is stained with blood of the tribals and extremely poor rural population who have been hounded out of their traditional homes and lifestyle using draconian laws like the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. This may be because we chose to turn the Nelson's eye towards such issues. The media, which was supposed to be our eyes and ears, has chosen other priorities, thereby losing focus on this beat. India may be shining, but for what percentage of the population? Backward areas, with no access to education, health care and proper legitimate means for earning a livelihood. Some British era views of development are still being perpetrated and thereby forcing many of the population to abandon their traditional ways of living and be forced into oblivion or the clutches of debt and perennial poverty.

The book is a must ready for everybody who keep on harping of the progress India has made. The realisation that a lot still needs to be done, will arise. And a realisation of how it should be done. We wonèt need a Swades movie, to inspire people to work for the country. My feelings are, that this book should be enough for us to do that.
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Monday, February 13, 2012

Why the IPL is going wrong for Indian cricket?

No, this is not to blame for the disastrous tours of England and Australia. But it is got to do with wrong precedents being set and incorrect models being created. Previously too, I have blogged about the kind of culture that the IPL is ending up creating, especially on the franchisee side. But, in itself, IPL is not to be blamed for everything going wrong. It might just turn out to be the proverbial final straw that broke the camel's back, which has followed a series of rather unfortunate events. Some for which the BCCI is to be blamed and some for which we, the society, are to be blamed. The IPL is geared towards making a good business case first, and then an opportunity for players to display their T20 skills. It has been made completely commercial. And the BCCI has managed to get everyone, from ex-players to 'cricketing experts' on its side to tom-tom the benefits of the IPL. Many of these people claim that IPL has benefited fringe players like Swapnil Asnodkar, Paul Valthaty and others, who could get their 'skills' noticed because of the IPL. 

But are the franchisees actually interested in developing domestic cricket? The one which is supposed to feed the lineup for international cricket? None of those who shine at international level have honed their skills in the IPL. They have gone through the gruel of Ranji trophy, Duleep trophy and U-19 levels before being chosen for the test side. Moreover, the way the IPL is handled and organised itself is a huge contradiction, much like the Parliament and legislative assemblies in India. Those framing the rules of business, are themselves competing for the business. N. Srinivasan, the current BCCI secretary and a board member for eons, is the owner of the Chennai Super Kings franchise, through India cements. When the players of the game begin framing the rules, there is always going to be suspicions of not being fair and neutral.

Now, for season 5 of the IPL, Sahara India has begun claiming about unfair treatment. They are right, when they say that a replacement of Yuvraj Singh is needed. But, they go on to say that there is no Indian player of the same marketable value as Yuvraj, so they want a foreign player. Thus, what is more important to Sahara is their RoI, rather than creating a franchise where budding players can display their talent. A player's marketable value is important, than his talent. This is the same case with all other franchisees. How many have played a positive role in developing local cricket? How many have actually taken the pains to take cricket to areas which have good talent, but not enough facilities? Have the franchisees declared any plans to upgrade existing or build new training facilities and/or stadia for budding local cricketers, who might not currently be a part of the IPL? Has the BCCI ever thought of this issue? 

Time and again, comparison is drawn with the football clubs in Europe. These clubs have been built over time and locals have been naturally drawn towards loyalty of their clubs. They act as a talent breeding centre, which feeds into the national teams of each nation. Finally, creating and nurturing the lines that feed the national cricket side is left to the BCCI. So, Saurashtra bears everything it takes to hone Ravindra Jadeja into becoming a strong international cricketer. Only after he has been tested at that level, does he catch the attention of the franchisees who now want to pick him up at all possible costs. This is a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Many states have rightly withdrawn the status of 'sport' to the IPL and have begun collecting entertainment tax on the matches played.

The great Indian media too has had its role in making the IPL larger than life. In an era of breaking news, a flash of 30 runs scored in 16 balls makes more headlines than 150 scored over a day or bowling 30 overs in  a day for getting 5 wickets. When Valthaty became the highest scorer in the IPL, the news anchors were clamouring for his inclusion in the India ODI side. This goes on day-in and day-out, leading the public and layman fans to believe that IPL performances are the benchmark for selection to the international side. Moreover, Valthaty features on the front-page of every newspaper, even if he has scored 45 runs off 20 balls. But a player's photograph rarely appears (even on the sports page) for his heroics in the Ranji trophy. Newspapers allocate a major portion of the sports page for each of the IPL matches, but Ranji trophy games are reported in one column, with the heroics of the players going completely unnoticed. Take up any leading daily in your area and you can see that Ranji scores are presented in brief, whereas IPL score cards are presented in complete detail, with analysis from their regular cricketing experts. Twnty overs per side of cricket is analysed in great detail, but these experts do not sit and analyse the Ranji trophy games.

Not currently, but gradually, this would create a belief and mindset that cricket should be played in a manner so as to come onto the radar of the IPL franchisees. People will subconsciously begin believing that since the media gives prominence to the IPL, compared to the Ranji and Duleep trophies, it is far more important than the latter. All that needs to be done is bang a few balls into the boundaries or limit the score by bowling a few tight overs and you could be netting in far more money that you would have made over your entire career (if you didn't play international cricket).

As a society, we too are to blame for this. We haven't rejected the commercialisation. We have favoured batsmen hitting the balls into the boundaries and have never liked to see the stumps being castled too often. Perhaps because we are more of arm-chair analysts and very few have played the game seriously at any level. So, it isn't much difficult to cheer a ball crashing into the boundary, but requires more knowledge to realise how a few kmph difference in pace can deceive the batsman. Talk to parents of young cricket aspirants, majority would want their ward to become Sachin Tendulkar. Very very few would want him to emulate Anil Kumble or Zaheer Khan or Kapil Dev.

So, finally, whose game is it any way?

Why the IPL is going wrong for Indian cricket?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Secret of The Nagas: Amish

The Secret of the Nagas is the second book of the Shiva Trilogy planned by Amish. The first one is the Immortals of Meluha. A brief review of the plot. Shiva is a tribal residing in the Mansarovar area. He and his tribe have been brought to the ancient land of Meluha as a part of Meluha's quest to find the Mahadev, about whom prophecies said that he will come from outside the SaptaSindhu. The kingdom of Meluha impresses upon him that the kingdom of Swadweep has joined hands with the Naga people (who are the cursed ones) and unleashed a reign of terror and evil. The Mahadev's task is to get rid of the evil. Alternately, Shiva can be proclaimed a Mahadev only if he is able to root out the evil. This is interpreted as subduing Swadweep and forcing them to reveal the location of the Nagas. Shiva sets out on this quest.

One Naga is however, stalking Shiva's wife. Why is he doing that? What does he intend to do with Sati? Moreover, is the Meluhan interpretation of evil being associated with the Nagas, really correct? Everyone seems to insist that the Nagas are evil. But, is this interpretation true? The Neelkanth can become a Mahadev, only when he interprets the true meaning of evil. Shiva, the Neelkanth, has set out on this quest. He has to change his interpretation of evil almost every day. Will he be successful in doing that? Who will help him in his quest? How will he do that? What is the secret that the Naga community guards? Shiva, the Neelkanth, has to find out what is the evil that ails all communities. Who will aid him in this quest?

The Secret of the Nagas tries to answer these questions. Of course, being a part of a trilogy, this will only reveal as much is needed, while keeping the interest and anticipation levels high. The book is fast paced and stylishly written. Amish has an interesting interpretation about the events in the Hindu religion. The books reveal that he has studied the religious events exhaustively and hasn't let the well known tales affect his re-interpretation. The characters and description of various Gods that we have read or heard in mythological stories have been re-cast into human beings. To enjoy the story, you have to first unbelieve in what you believe. So, be prepared to encounter definitions, which might run contrary to your beliefs. This story has action, drama, emotion, love, hate and almost every other emotion. Be prepared for a roller-coaster ride across the ancient Indian lands with the Neelkanth, as he embarks on the quest to fulfil his destiny.
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