Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Perfect 20

The 20-20 World Cup is over and against all odds, India actually pulled off an amazing victory. The triumph was well deserved and we beat all the teams in the competition to emerge victorious. This is something that Dhoni and the boys can be clearly proud of; after all, 20-20 or 50-50, a World Cup is a World Cup.

There have been many cynics of this format (me included). My father used to call it the Gilli Danda version of cricket and we both cursed the administrators for coming up with another slam bang idea. But far from being a slogger's game, the game has actually shown bowlers in better light.

After all, victories were pulled off by teams due to the bowling prowess of Umar Gul, R P Singh, Clarke and the rest, dispelling all the notions of this being a Batsman's game. Even, somebody like Afridi did so much more with the ball than the bat!!!!

There is no doubt that cricket won more than anything else. Spectator patience is low and producing a result in three hours is definitely a great USP for the format. The game is not very different from the regular ODI format, except for the free hit rule, possibly.

Nor are the boundaries any shorter, as it was assumed it might be before the tournament began. The only thing that has actually changed is the ability to take risk, which increases dramatically in this version.

The 20-20 version has seen the most accurate bowling in recent times and yorkers being bowled regularly (Recollect the number of batsmen bowled in the tournament). It requires greater accuracy from the bowlers and many of them have shown the ability to deliver.

The overall strategy has not changed much; the Indian strategy remained keeping wickets within the first 5-6 overs and slogging at the end. The best team still won the tournament and it did not result in any bunny cricket.

Will this affect the other forms of the game? I don't think so. A three hour format is a greater threat to movies than to the one day form. Test cricket has a niche audience and they will not be weaned away by this. One day cricket is exciting and still remains a sponsor's dream, with the large number of advertising spots available.

What this could do is to increase the chances that cricketers get to play the game. How about 3 different sets of teams now? There have been other experiments with the game like double wicket which have faded but 20-20 is clearly to stay, primarily because it does not interfere with the actual fabric of the game.

The one day format when introduced in the early 70s was scoffed at but it has survived all the criticism. Gavaskar may have scored 36* in 60 overs but just before retiring he scored one the fastest hundreds in the World Cup (of 82 balls, a far cry from Afridi's record of 37 balls,of course). Even, the traditionalists can come around if the game provides all the thrills which seems to be the case, as initial evidence shows.

Yes, we have won and the country is celebrating - well almost, except for the hockey team. The BCCI can provide $3 million to the cricketers but should the state generously award these cricketers from the money we pay in taxes. With the funds there in the game and outside it, does it actually have to splurge it on cricketers?

No wonder the hockey team is upset to receive this form of state sponsored neglect. Also upset are the people who were stuck in the traffic jam on Thursday because the team was dancing its way to glory!!!

One thought on the finals - Shoaib Malik's comments during the awards ceremony was in bad taste. I don't believe he actually said - Sorry to all Pakistanis and Muslims in the world for losing the match. I did not realise even the current Pakistani generation is so short-sighted, considering the team as a representative of Muslims worldwide.

So what should Irfan Pathan have said when he won the Man of the Match - I am thankful to all Indian Muslims for supporting me??? That one second, I felt so glad that we remain Indians at heart and that victory for Dhoni is not a Hindu victory, whatever Malik may think...

We have a tough Australian series coming up and I hope the audience and the media support them just as they did now. It does not take much of an effort for a fickle audience to change its feelings; Dhoni would do well to recollect that his house was stoned and effigy was burnt when we crashed out the 50-50 World Cup.....

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In The Name of Ram

Religion’s a funny business, alright. My site meter tells me that my posts on Religion have traditionally done a better job than my other poorly performing posts. So, just to liven up things here and boost the sagging fortunes of this blog, I am posting one on religion.

Watch any news channel now and you know who are the attention grabbers currently - Ram Sethu, DMK and the BJP and their stallions, the VHP and other rag tags. Wonder how come Shiv Sena has not entered the fray- after all; it is the Madrasi Dravidian Karunanidhi who has been making these anti-Hindu comments.

It all started with the ASI making an ass of itself with its uncalled remarks, in a petition to the courts hearing the Ram Sethu issue. The affidavit claims that there was no historical evidence that Rama and Ramayana ever existed.

There is a lot of literary work that talks about the Ram Sethu and its origins. Should we conveniently ignore all that because the ASI thinks it is unscientific to consider literature as a source for historical veracity?

I am not questioning the ability of the ASI to judge these issues but surely, they could have stuck to plain engineering and economics for their stand, instead of bringing Rama into the picture.

Judging the evidence of the Sethusamudram bridge is fine but questioning the very existence of Rama is not their prerogative. Why would the ASI make such a claim and create a controversy when none existed, atleast from a historical angle? Beats me.

Whether we like it or not, religion is an integral part of all our lives and plays an important role in moulding us. It is a sensitive issue and the government could have shown greater tact. Sonia or Ambika may think that Rama is a figment of our dreams and there is nothing wrong if they think that way.

After all, this is a matter of faith and everyone has his or her set of beliefs which needs to be respected by others. But to put that in a government affidavit and make a fool of oneself is a simple case of committing political hara kiri.

Karunanidhi’s arguments do not even merit a discussion but they do make for decent juvenile reading.

Does Rama have an engineering degree and where did he graduate from???

Did the Tamil Nadu CM actually make such a remark? Imagine asking what Kamban’s authority on Ramayana is; after all, has he done his BA in Tamil from any college?

This is no atheist blogger venting out his spleen against religion and God but the Chief Minister of a State. Is it acceptable for a public figure and that too the head of a state to make such comments? Surely, there are better things to argue about rather than the veracity of Rama’s existence? Matters of faith anyway cannot be decided by logic and are best left to the people who care about it.

DMK cannot raise the bogey of freedom of speech here. After all, you could scarcely imagine them questioning the existence of Jesus and the marine engineering skills of Moses in splitting the sea or probing through the Koran for any non-scientific material?

There are many Hindus who are not too particular about religion but even they are bothered when their religion is selectively mocked at by the highest leadership but in the same breath, nothing is mentioned against the other religions because of the fear of being branded “communal”.

Shouldn’t the political class think that their comments may alienate a certain set of people, simply because of religious bias while taking potshots at religion? Of course, my point is not that they should rant against all religions and thus prove their secular credentials.

India is a religious cauldron and there are people waiting for an excuse to go berserk with their beliefs. What is the need to vitiate such an atmosphere by coming up sensitive remarks that would offend any community?

I do not have any issue if such a feeling were expressed by someone in his personal capacity but public figures must be sensitive to other’s feelings and not just scream over roof tops to claim a point.

What happened after all this mud-slinging is ofcourse highly deplorable. A bus of the Tamil Nadu State Transport was torched (killing 2 persons) and Selvi, Karunanidhi’s daughter, was attacked – all in the name of Ram. There are thousands who are willing to die and kill for religion but no one it seems who wants to live for religion.

Such acts of vandalism have no place in any civilized setup and it is extremely painful to see such acts of democratic hijacks. There are so many of us asking this question repeatedly Is our faith so narrow that one person’s statements can make us behave like barbarians?

To me, the entire issue is a debate of ecology and economics. There will be always be conflict in this area but we need to sit across a table, discuss this out and close it. There is always a solution but it can happen only when there is a give and take and tolerance and acceptance of different sets of values.

As a democracy, we are making rapid strides but where we seem to be caught in a time wrap is our level of intolerance. Forget it, it is not even a time wrap; I’m sure we have been more liberal in the past but as we progress we just don’t care what someone else wants to say.

Considering the complexities of running this nation where the only uniting point is nationalism, we must tread very carefully. A small scratch and the entire fabric holding this idea will tear apart.

I strongly believe that religion divides people but it can also be a great unifier. It teaches us to forgive and forget; the true value of our religions has been conveniently forgotten in the din of intolerance that we have come to practice.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Do we have a Transport policy???

A few days back, I came across Karan Thapar’s interview with Ratan Tata in CNBC TV-18. Among the various issues that were discussed, one of them was the Tata’s 1 lakh car. Ratan Tata was confident that they would be able to deliver the Rs 1 lakh car by mid-2008; a few more months to go before the world’s cheapest car hits the roads.

The showroom price may not be one lakh but somewhere in the range of 1.2-1.3 lakh, nevertheless, it still beats the lowest price in India by a huge margin. The Maruti 800 sells at about 2.3 lakhs while even its second hand model (with 2 years usage) comes at about 1.5 at least.

As a business model, it makes perfect sense to launch such a low priced car targeting a segment waiting to indulge itself. The Indian car industry is growing at more than 15 percent compounded annually since 2001 and we are expected to be one of the top 10 countries in terms of vehicle sales by 2015.

Anyway, I’m looking at this post not in terms of the business strategy of Tata Motors but in terms of the larger picture of how we commute in urban centres. Whenever I try to picture city life, the first images that strike my mind are traffic congestion, pollution and chaos.

When I moved out of Mumbai (16 months back) and came to Hyderabad, I was expecting a saner city but now, I have given up on that idea. The idea of a clean, organized city remains a mirage – sometimes, it takes me more than 2.5 hrs in the evening to commute from my office to home by the company bus (the distance to be covered is about 32 km).

Everyday, as I sit in the bus and look out at the ever bludgeoning traffic, I feel so relieved that I am not subject to the torture of driving to and fro for my work. But imagine, what a 1 lakh car will do – two wheeler houses will start investing in it and you will have many households with multiple cars at home. Can our roads and environment sustain all this?

There are two primary ways that the government can look at handling road congestion – expanding the scope of the public transportation or increasing the roadways in the country. Most governments are hell bent upon ignoring the first strategy (at least in most cases) and are going full throttle on the latter one. While expansion of road infrastructure is required, will it solve the problem?

More roads will mean more automobiles on the road, strangling whatever public space is still available. Ask a Hyderabadi the pain involved in navigating through Ameerpet and finding parking space there.

Funnily, the only solution that a government can think of is towing vehicles instead of regulating uncontrolled construction. Public transportation as a policy is notoriously under debated, primarily because we live under the fallacy that everything that is private is perfect and government should be avoided as much as possible. To ensure free flow of traffic, we need to evolve a combination of strategies, including discouraging citizens from using their own vehicles.

What can an efficient public transportation system do? Very clearly, reduce the traffic congestion problem and lower the health hazards that we face after being dumped with tons of carbon monoxide – a visible manifestation of the booming economy. The system should provide a credible alternative that encourages people to move from the comfort and convenience of their vehicles to the public transportation system.

The Hyderabad MMTS provides the comfort but no convenience (very few trains and poor connectivity to the city) while it works the other way for the Mumbai local trains (good connectivity and frequency but zero passenger comfort). From whatever I have heard, Delhi, has got this balance right.

The concept of a Metro Rail that a few governments in India are floating is a step in the right direction. It is a non-polluting medium and can help immensely reducing traffic (Thailand has seen a 4% reduction in traffic after introducing trains in the city).

Hopefully, the gestation time of the projects will not be too high otherwise by the time the first train rolls out; our traffic would have seen a quantum leap. Moreover, during the entire period of the project, the traffic could be badly affected; the Project mangers would have to tread carefully to prevent the chaos from spurting further out of bounds.

One very important thing that needs to be done is to have an integrated transportation policy and not just a rail policy. One of the main criticisms of the MMTS system in Hyderabad is its poor connectivity with the state’s road transport system – something that could have been learned from the successful model in Mumbai.

I take a train from Secunderabad to Lingampally station (to commute to my office) but there is hardly any connectivity from the station to the rest of the city. Why would people want to pay hefty rates and travel by autos from the station when bus transport is so much easier?

The AP government is finally implementing a long delayed proposal of having a combined pass for railways and buses in the city. This would clearly help passengers who have to otherwise take a ticket separately for the MMTS system. But there is more required to be done in terms of infrastructure building. Frequency needs to be increased and connectivity issues need to be addressed to enable more and more people to use these systems.

Any traveller who arrives in Singapore the first time will be able to commute his way through easily because of the user-friendly approach of the government in having clear signals, sign boards everywhere. Contrast this with the confusion in Dadar in determining on which platforms the Western and Central Line trains arrive. This might seem a pretty innocuous point but these small steps do go a long way in easing congestion.

There could be other ways to tackle commutation woes as tried out in London and Singapore. London has tried a harsh £8 congestion charge for motoring through some areas such as Central London while Singapore has not only a peak-hour tax but also a surcharge on the sale of automobiles (a step clearly out of favour with the automobile industry and other ancillary industries). However, the point to be noted is that they have a robust rail network to get the city moving and no such measure can be taken in isolation.

Our consumption rates are increasing dramatically but can the Indian infrastructure handle all this???