Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dump the crazy Indian Fan

Picture courtesy:

Sport is a very complex animal; it arouses extreme emotions/passions among people which when uncontrolled, can be difficult to handle. Who better than the Indian cricket team can confirm the extent to which this works? From being world beaters and tigers to paper tigers happens all so fast that it requires a realty good psychologist to convince our cricketers to stay cool without worrying too much.

What do we (in India ) do if we win tournaments- we build temples, worship our heroes and when we lose, we demolish houses, burn effigies, stage protests and do what not. Theoretically, all sport is supposed to create a sense of cameraderie among people who play and cherish the higher values of the game but modern sport has consigned all such thoughts to the dustbin. The only thing that matters is winning and we celebrate the victor, irrespective of the means involved.

India lost to Bangladesh fair and square and there’s no doubt who was the better team on that particular day. But do we actually love the game or it’s just India winning that matters? Our love for the game is so much that Ranji trophy and other domestic matches are played amidst empty stands without any involvement by the fans. Cricket has evolved from a sport to a form of entertainment where 22 persons sweat it out and the rest of the world watches. But modern cricket (from an Indian fan’s perspective) has very less to do with cricketing ability; it’s only about winning.

Despite the presence of a few superstars, the Indian cricket team cannot claim to be at the top of the cricketing pyramid but that does not stop the media and the public from looking at us as world beaters. Every tournament is an acid test and as we go through the familiar grind of “snatching a loss from the jaws of victory”, there are thousands of experts who analyze and explain what went wrong and what should have been done. We may not be as bad as the ICC one day rankings show us to be (No. 6) but I really can’t look at India as among the better teams in the tournament. But what the heck? After all the SWOT analysis done, we expect the team to pull off a victory because we want to feel good about ourselves, we want to stand up and tell the world that we are also somebody and the mantle firm rests on the shoulders of Dravid and Co. to perform this miracle.

As a nation, why are we obsessed with this game so much? Despite our eminent economic progress in the world especially in the recent past, we are still looking for a symbol that portrays our growth. Cricket plays that role and considering our rather dismal standing in other sports, there’s no competition from any other discipline by miles. The 2 C’s – cricket and cinema – are two larger than life obsessions that the Indian public cherishes. But cricket merely as a game is losing its appeal, therefore, the need to reinvent it as an entertainment jamboree. Sony is playing this role currently by broadcasting the Caribbean tamasha – incidentally also covering the matches – using the poor Charu Sharma and ‘Noodle’ Mandira as the front end for this. Never mind that there are thousands of us (millions may not want to) who are waiting to press the mute button or change the channel the moment the focus shifts to the two of them.

But even then, the obsession is not with the game despite whatever the media may want us to believe. How can we justify the vandalisation of Kaif’s and Dhoni’s house? If you call that love for the game, then you don’t understand what love is. Cricket has become another tool of nationalism and so if 12 guys come back with a trophy, billions of us go to sleep forgetting all our work because all we care for is that we have won. Where is the fun left in the sport then? I admire Sachin not merely for the thousands of runs he has scored but for his ability to handle the stress of millions of ‘fans’ who do not understand the meaning of silly terms like ‘sport’ and ‘fun‘.

India bowing out of the World Cup is now surely a catastrophe. Just think of the money that is at stake – sources say it’s close to Rs 4000 crore. The West Indies Cricket Board, Sony and advertisers all wait in abated breadth for India to beat Sri Lanka . Not to forget the grotesque world of punters, underworld bookies and nationalist fans all out there hoping for an Indian victory. Was Woolmer a victim of the betting and underworld syndicate? We do not know but we have allowed the cricketing world to become another Greek arena where gladiators need to perform or perish. Just imagine the pressure that the Indian team faces with all these thoughts being drilled into them incessantly by a media, that is constantly waiting to fill the cauldron of expectations with generous dollops of hysteria.

A friendly opinion raised suggested that all good things come in packages and that even though their houses may have been vandalized; they still make a lot of money doing nothing. They get fabulous flats from the Sahara folks, play less and spend most of their time modeling. If only they practiced more, they can surely do better. So, what is the mindless Indian cricket fan? An administrator of justice or a crusader of socialism, who decides what each person deserves to be paid? I know it hurts to see the Coke ad depicting the team as tigers, especially after we crumble to Bangladesh but can we hold their income against them? Do we grudge these players their earnings and feel that they need be treated as human beings? Incidentally, the advertising income made by the players is also based on performance and it does not come cheap with zero performance.

Another opinion hinted at greater accountability saying that the taxpayer’s money is being wasted by the team. Excuse me; the BCCI is not a government body or a limited company that is surviving on public funds. It is a legitimate private entity that raises its own money and the public has no role in it. Yes, the team represents the nation and there needs an accountability. It calls for public outrage when sports betting and match fixing takes over the game but using vandalisation as a tool when the performance or efficiency goes down is really a way over the top attitude.

We want our team to be tough, fight it out and be positive but are we any better? Sitting as couch potatoes in front of TV sets, decorating oneself in blue flannels and war paint is our contribution to the game. Every time there is a discussion, standard sarcastic remarks are made but never anything positive. Difficult to expect the team to be positive without us changing our general outlook.

What would happen if India continues to win this way? Nothing, the expectations continue to spiral and the game becomes no longer something that can be enjoyed by purists like me. I know we live in a very cynical world and all thoughts of treating sports as a form of fun is purely utopian but I’d still like to imagine that we can enjoy it that way in a more unadulterated fashion. Even at the risk of using a cliche, I agree with George Orwell when he says that all sport is “..war minus shooting”.

Just as I’m about to finish this post, I come to know that we have lost to the Lankans and are almost out of the tournament. Welcome to Round 2 of chest beating and team bashing!!! Come back with the trophy or stay in Caribbean , says a poster. Poor Chappell and Dravid would be scared of the prospect of returning to India . This would, effectively, close the Chappell’s stint at the helm of affairs while we may as well be seeing the last World Cup performances of the Holy Indian trio of Sachin, Saurav and Rahul and our old warhouse Kumble. They would have wanted to exit the stage in style but then the world can be a great leveller at times.

Anyway, I am putting my money on New Zealand to lift the trophy - the world needs a new winner...

This article was written just before the India - SL decider match in the World Cup.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Malaysia Diary - Part2

Finally, after 3 weeks of arriving here, I begin to live my karma of being a tourist. It would be blasphemous for a tourist in Kuala Lumpur to return without seeing the Twin Towers of Petronas. And so, I step out in the direction of Petronas, a 10 minute drive from my place to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) with expectations of standing on the largest monuments in the world. Limited tickets are available to view the tower but they are free. So, we arrive at KLCC at about 10 in the morning and are issued tickets for a 2:30 noon viewing of the monument. To kill time, we end up watching The Pursuit of Happyness, a feel-good but genuinely warm Will Smith movie, in of the theatres inside the mall.

Eventually, it’s time to go and we are ready to check in. There’s a brief five minute video presentation on the Petronas, extolling its virtues after which our guide shows us to a lift, post-security checks. We arrive at the 41st floor in less than a second per floor (the elevator moves at 5 m/s) and find ourselves at the sky bridge which connects the Twin Towers. It gives a breathtaking view of the city (just like every other tall monument) and there, unfortunately ends the spectacle. We have ten minutes to ourselves as we spend time busily snapping photos from the place – a 50 m long bridge stretch, which connects the two towers. Above the 41st floors are offices of Petronas where we are not allowed which makes the entire thing so ridiculous. Imagine waiting for such a long time to go to the Petronas and all you get is a 10 min stint at the 41st floor (the Tower has 88 floors). Surely, they could have done much better than merely creating all this hype but no action!!!

Another tourist place which is well-known is the Genting Highlands which houses a set of Theme parks, almost a Malaysian equivalent of the Sentosa in Singapore. It’s a 45 minute drive from Kuala Lumpur city and you can get a bus or a taxi (“texi” in Malay) to the place. There are three bus terminals I know of where you can get the bus – KLCC, Hotel Puduraya or Pasar Rakyat. We take the Go Genting Travels, from the last mentioned place, because it comes as a packaged tour of 39 RM per person, including the bus ride, cable car travel and all outdoor entertainment facilities. The bus leaves every one hour and we hop onto the 10:30 AM bus which covers sufficient ground and reaches the place at about 11:15. From here, there’s a cable car ride to the Genting Theme Park, located high above. This is a long 20 minute ride (about 3.5 km) and gives a scenic, lush picturesque view of the rainforest below.

The Genting theme park has outdoor as well as indoor entertainment facilities. The Outdoor facility comprises a standard set of roller coasters and rides which is no longer a novelty for any of us. But there are two rides which you need to try for sure – the Space Shot and the Flying Coaster. The Space Shot consists of a set of hydraulically operated seats (12 at a time) which takes you to a height of more than 50 m and then they just drop you. It’s a free fall and you hurtle down the entire distance in less than 5 sec and by Jove, it’s an eerie feeling because as you fall, you realize that you are no longer sitting but levitating and falling rapidly. Too awesome a feeling for me to communicate but it’s worth all our gasping and screeching.

The Flying Coaster is not recommended for people with a weak heart as it has an amazing set of twists, turns and swoops, all meant to shake you. Unlike the other rides, you lie down here instead of sitting and the twirling starts. Not only does the roller coaster move but it also rotates 360 degrees on a couple of occasions as you wonder what’s going on, till you are finally delivered back to earth. This signature attraction of the Park is not part of the package and you have to pay 10 RM for it (2 rides) and we experience the coaster twice, one immediate after the other. It also goes without saying that none of these rides are to be tried out in a full stomach, otherwise…

The Indoor facilities are more for kids and do not hold too much of an interest, except for the casino. Having lost money previously in one of my attempts at learning Roulette in a Goa casino, I am not keen on investing money in this venture. But I still find it interesting to see hundreds of people sweating it with tensed faces playing in the slot machines, roulette, tai sai, three pictures, baccarat and a few other casino games- all an example of how people desperately want that shortcut to making a fast buck. The gambling and porno industry remain two industries immune to global industrial cycles and sustain themselves purely on human avarice and lust and what better place to house such a money-spinning venture than a tourist resort like this.

There’s also 4D motion picture, about 5 minute long that costs 8 RM. But trust me, this is worth a clear miss and it’s a total waste, especially if you have experienced this earlier in Sentosa. It can be a scary thing, especially when you feel crabs and insects feeling about you and attacking you in the dark. India does not have a 4D theatre, I think, but if you want to experience it, my advice is to give the Genting one a miss and try out it in Sentosa. This is a pathetic half-3D/half-4D meaningless movie and to think, you need to shell out 8 RM for this!!!

The packaged tour also includes the return trip back to Pasar Rakyat and so, finally, we leave the place by the 8:30 bus. It is a nice experience but you realise that you have'nt experienced anything new and that India's amusement parks do a fairly good job but maybe, we have not marketed it enough. Anyway,one long, tired day comes to an end....

There are a few other places on the standard tourism map which are to be covered but I’m not able to do so because of lack of time. Tourists can check out Malacca and Langkawi – both places known for their beaches. These places can be reached in less than 3 hours from the city and are worth venturing (as per feedback received). Batuk Caves is another known spot known for its Hindu temples and has a special religious significance.

By the end of next week, I’ll be back in India, just in time to catch the World Cup…Time to bid adieu to Malaysia then unless I come back....