Justice A.P. Shah’s M.N. Roy Memorial Lecture

A good friend had forwarded me the full text of Shri. A.P. Shah’s M.N. Roy Memorial Lecture. You can find it here. The PDF of the speech is here.

Overall, it is a good lecture. I understand the need for someone of his stature to raise his voice against nascent signs of intolerance and suppression of dissent in insidious ways. That is very much needed too.

However,  I do have some differences – big and small.

How then did M.N. Roy understand nationalism? In Roy’s view, nationalism was representative of the desires and ambitions of a group of people within a certain geographical area, as opposed to people uniting on the basis of class. Nationalism thus emphasised the placing of one’s country’s interest over the interest of the rest of the world. There was a time in the 19th century, when countries were still isolated from each other, when nationalism was a historic necessity, under whose banner people came together and humanity progressed. However, he believed, it had now become a selfish, narrow-minded “antiquated cult”, and the world should progress towards internationalism and international cooperation.

Nationalism in the context of the rise of China and Pakistan, the manner of their rise, their systematic and persistent hostility to India combined with their use of the social media and other pecuniary motivations, is not outmoded. Unfortunately, that is also going to give rise to inevitable restrictions on the concept of ‘benefit of doubt’ to spontaneous, agenda-less dissent.

In other words, Indians have to accept certain (that can be defined) restrictions in their exercise of fundamental liberties. The State machinery will try to take advantage of the situation to place restrictions on domestic political dissent. But, Courts, civil society and the media should and would play the role of ‘checks and balance’. In any case, Justice A.P. Shah seems alive to that risk.

While discussing the declaration made by the President of the Hindu Maha Sabha that “the majority is the nation”, Roy said that it sounds quite in “tune with formal democracy”, but in reality “particularly in the prevailing atmosphere of Indian politics, it means that in a nationally free India the Muslims, constituting nearly 1/3rd of the population, will have no freedom”.

​If some sections constituted one-third and hence had to be accepted as an integral part of India – a very fair point – then it is not consistent with preferential treatment as minorities. The State cannot mandate that they shall have the first claim on India and that they be exempt from RTE provisions, for example. One cannot have the cake and eat it too.

But, the speech does leave a feeling of deliberate incompleteness when it talks of how a group of twenty-something students of a University could be tried for charges of sedition for doing what the students in a campus would do:

More than 90 years later, however, we are still grappling with the fact that the crime of sedition was invoked against a group of 20-something University students for doing what students in a campus should feel entitled to do – raise slogans, debate, disagree, and challenge each other on complex, political issues that face the nation today.

Clearly, the State should have had the nous to separate slogan-shouting from explicit anti-national activities. At the same time, the learned Justice should have noted that the shoe is on the other foot too when it comes to the charge of intolerance. The students prevented and still do prevent alternate points of view.

If nationalism cannot be compelled – and I agree with that without qualification – then is it justifiable that anti-nationalism can be compelled on national soil as some sections of the society want?

If voluntary groups of people – like students – can resort to violence (in America, now left-liberal students even consider words as violence) to stop alternative points of view, then it becomes that much more untenable for critics to blame the State alone for resorting to violence on which it is supposed to have a monopoly!

The speech would have been more complete had he also acknowledged the special circumstances that India finds itself in – an assertive and threatening China and its poodle Pakistan, the global rise of Islamic terrorism, Naxals and Maoists and the exploitation of these fissiparous tendencies by Christian Missionaries – that places the State and the army in a uniquely difficult position, etc.

Some law and order excesses would be inevitable in such situations and they should be redressed and addressed. That said, they do not negate nor nullify the need for vigilance by the State. That would be a very naive call.

Kamal Hassan in his movie, ‘Nayakan’ asks the question of who should stop first. That applies here.

M.N. Roy’s so-called and apparent context-free commitment to certain ideals definitely had a context. Anyone who claims that they were not influenced by the context in which they lived is lying. Similarly, any message that does not take into account the context in delivering eternal homilies is an incomplete one.

Indeed, all those who speak pejoratively of nationalism are able to do so only within the sanctuary offered by certain nations. That they cannot do so in all nations is a comprehensive rejection of their rejection of nationalism.

Finally, both at a micro-level – families, small groups and communities – and at the national level, compulsion is usually counter-productive. So, I agree with this part of the speech fully:

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out, the order fails to understand a distinction fundamental to liberal democracy – everything that is desirable or makes for a better citizen does not, and should not, be made compulsory. In fact, making something compulsory undermines the very meaning of that action and the respect that is normally accorded to it.

When speech is violence

Jonathan Haidt has a great interview with WSJ on April 1, 2017. But, the matter was anything but a matter of ‘Fool’s Day’.’

Some extracts from his interview:

People older than 30 think that ‘violence’ generally involves some sort of physical threat or harm. But as students are using the word today, ‘violence’ is words that have a negative effect on members of the sacred victim groups. And so even silence can be violence.” It follows that if offensive speech is “violence,” then actual violence can be a form of self-defense.

What are the causes for this shift. He names political polarisation as one of the causes. Campuses in the United States have become overwhelmingly left-leaning. There is no room for Right/Conservative professors on campus except, perhaps in Economics?

The second cause, he mentions, is that justice means equal outcomes now. That is very dangerous. Many developing societies have made that mistake and are now trying, with great difficulty and little success, to move away from equal outcomes to equal opportunity. But, if America is now moving towards or has moved towards equal outcomes, then that is one irreversible downhill slippery road to mediocrity and oblivion, if unchecked.

Jonathan Haidt points to that in his own, understated way:

Mr. Haidt argues, what happens on campus affects the “health of our nation.” Ideological and political homogeneity endangers the quality of social science research, which informs public policy. “Understanding the impacts of immigration, understanding the causes of poverty—these are all absolutely vital,” he says. “If there’s an atmosphere of intimidation around politicized issues, it clearly influences the research.”

Then, there are other causes – not necessarily minor. He points to ‘hyper-parenting’ although he does not use that phrase. Second is the attitude of Universities and colleges that treat students as customers and that customers are always right, in that great language of commerce. I am not sure if centres of leaning and knowledge should treat students as customers or just as students – with a mixture of compassion, understanding, justice and, importantly, discipline.

That is a great finish to the interview:

“People are sick and tired of being called racist for innocent things they’ve said or done,” Mr. Haidt observes. “The response to being called a racist unfairly is never to say, ‘Gee, what did I do that led to me being called this? I should be more careful.’ The response is almost always, ‘[Expletive] you!’ ”

He offers this real world example: “I think that the ‘deplorables’ comment could well have changed the course of human history.”

Well, after the last one week of President Trump’s audacious, unprecedented and dramatic somersaults, we do not know if history is merely continuing or is changing. That is an aside.

Back to Haidt and his ‘Heterodox Academy’. How big his challenge and how long the road ahead is, is underscored by these two stories. In case you had not watched this video, please do so (ht Harikiran). It is downright scary. It is from Australia. The disease is prevalent in all affluent societies. Perhaps, this is how the wheels of societies turn.

In the final analysis, one has to wish Haidt well. He is performing a very important task here with his Heterodox Academy. It is impossible to exaggerate its necessity in these times.

Chennai music season 2016 – final missive

December 29, 2016 was the last day of the season for me and for my wife. We were returning to Singapore on December 30. We had packed the day with programmes to attend. It ended up as a day of attending lecture-demonstrations rather than performances. Overall, no complaints about the programmes but about the venues, yes.

First, thanks to light traffic, we reached Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha earlier than we thought. So, we caught more than half of Dr. Radha Baskar’s lec.-dem. On Thiagarajar compositions. She was assisted by two good and young singers. Dr. Baskar was an accomplished speaker.

From my notes, I find three interesting things to mention here:

(1) On ‘Sankatis’ – note the difference between ‘Ada Modi Galade’ vs. Marukelara, O! Raghava. Her singer Sangita did a good job of differentiating the Sankatis in both the kritis.

(2) Entharo Mahanubhavulu – begins in the little finger (not that I know the significance)

(3) Saint Thiagaraja composed one Notu Swara based Kriti – just to show that he was capable of doing so, too.

She kept saying that one should not belittle Shri. Thiagaraja Swamigal by calling him a saint?!! She wanted to say that he had a very good aesthetic and artistic sense and that he had not renounced those as saints do. One gets the point. But, to say that one should not belittle him by calling him a saint is a bit ludicrous. ‘Sainthood’ is not a demotion. It is an exalted state. One should prepare the script carefully to avoid such bizarre statements.

Next, in the same venue, was the topic, ‘Vainava Abhimana Sthalangal’, jointly presented by Dr. Sudha Seshaiyan and Ms. Vasundhara Rajagopal. Last season (December 2015), the singer, Vasundara Rajagopal had offered a great programme ‘Nava Vidha Ramanayanam’ with Sri Srinidhi Swamigal. It was a memorable programme.

Dr. Sudha Seshaiyan is very knowledgeable, thorough and accomplished. Her diction and delivery are flawless. But, she lacked a bit of life. The programme was about Vaishnava Temples not sung by the Azhwaars. The duo took us through Bhadrachalam, Udupi, Guruvayoor, Mannargudi, Puri and Pandaripuram.

Most of us know of only the Sri Udupi Krishnan Temple. Well, I was referring to myself. Dr. Seshaiyan told us about the Sri Chandramowliswarar Temple and the Sri Anantheshwarar Temple there.

About Mannargudi, she mentioned that the temple had an area of 36 acres of which 23 acres was the area of the Temple tank! The Temple has 16 towers, 18 Gopurams, 7 Praharams and 24 Sannidhis.

Then, we had the choice of attending Shertalai Shri. Ranganatha Sharma at the same venue at 4 and Sri. Ramakrishnan Murthy at the Music Academy at 6:45. These were the two musicians who impressed me in the 2016 season and it would have been an apt finish to the season for me. But, we chose to attend the three-hour long lecture-demonstration by Shri. R.K. Shriramkumar on those who inspired saint Thiagaraja. 2017 is the 250th year of his birth.

Shriramkumar had done meticulous research. He was assisted by three good singers – Amrita Murali, Nisha Rajagopal and K. Gayatri (was there a fourth one?) and Arun Prakash on the Mrdangam.

I may not have taken down notes meticulously. But, this is what I have. The songs that accompanied the commentary are in brackets:

  • St. Thiagarja considered sage Narada as his Guru. (Shri Narada- Kanada – Rupaka Talam)
  • His second influence was sage Valmiki (Maa Janaki – Khamboji)
  • His third inspiration was Bodhana who translated/re-composed Bhagavatam in Telugu. A copy is available in the Sourashtra Library in Madurai.
  • His inspiration came from Tulsi Das Ramayana (Giripai – Sahana)
  • Influence of Sri Purandaradasa on Thiagaraja (esp. for Nindastuti)
  • Influence of Bhadrachala Ramadas was substantial. He praises Ramadas in several compositions.
  • The influence of Sri Narayana Theerthar (the author of the Sanskrit opera, ‘Krishna Leela Tharangini’) was evident in the two operas that Saint Thiagaraja composed – Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitam.
  • Next, Shriramkumar mentioned Sri. Upanishad Brahman also known as Sri Ramachandreswara Saraswati. He was a close associate of Sri. Thiagaraja’s father.
  • I do not know if Shriramkumar said that he was the inspiration for Saint Thiagaraja to compose Divyanama Sankeertanams for congregational singing. But, it is there in my notes!
  • RKS mentioned that ‘Rama-ashtapati’ of Upanishad Brahman was set to tune by Sri. Muthuswami Dikshitar but that the tune was lost.

I found this on the web:

One of the oldest Mutts in TamilNadu is the Upanishad Brahman Mutt in Kanchipuram, near the Sri Kailasanathar temple. The Mutt derives its name from Upanishad Brahmayogin or Upanishad Brahmendral or Sri Ramachandrandra Saraswathi. He is called by the name of Upanishad Brahmayogin since he wrote commentaries on all the 108 upanishads of Hinduism in deference to the wishes of his father. The commentaries are now preserved in the Chennai Adayar Manuscripts Library. He had written close to 45,000 granthas and two other books covering various aspects of Advaita Vedanta and Bhakti.

(Ref: http://www.columbuslost.com/temples/Upanishad-Brahmendra-Mutt-and-Maha-Samadhi-Temple-in-Kanchipuram/info).

Incidentally, just as Columbus discovered the land of America, I discovered the site, ‘Columbuslost.com’. Check it out!

  • Kshetraiya Padams influenced many Sankatis in O’ Rangasayee and Pakkala Nilapadi.
  • Naada Thanum Anisham is the essence of the Mangala Shloka in Sangeeta Ratnakara.

By 8:30 PM, it had commenced at 5:30 PM, the programme had not ended. We had to leave. RKS has done tremendous work for this programme. His hard work and sincerity were amply evident. With some editing, it would be a good programme to repeat.

Back in Singapore, I listened to V. Sriram’s lecture on Saint Thiagaraja given in May 2016. Naturally, it had many common elements with RKS’ programme. It is available in Charsur.

After listening to that lecture, one could not help thinking that any other country would have nourished and cherished Tanjore city as the cultural capital of Southern India. It would and should have been made the destination city for cultural connoisseurs from all over the world. V. Sriram spends a few minutes on the Tippu Sultan invasion and the havoc and harm it wrought on the Tanjore region, including on art and culture.

Something has to be said about the NGS Mini hall. It is one of the most unsuitable halls for performance. It has only one door to enter and exit.

Our Rasikas are mostly impatient. They keep moving constantly. There is no stillness. Music is for stillness, mostly. The doors make noise. Chatting is going on in the corridor. When the door opens, the chatting drowns out the performance. The air-conditioning is either too cold, when it is on, and it feels too warm, when it is turned off, because there is no natural ventilation. The audio system is too loud if one sits in the front and if one stays back, then these swinging doors and conversations mar the experience.

The experience in most concert halls is more or less similar. There is no satisfying musical experience. From the manner in which the tickets are sold (or, not sold) and Rasikas checked in to the audio systems to the toilet facilities to temperature control in the halls, etc., there is a lot of scope for improvement. I am being polite here.

There is no concept of enhancing the Rasikas’ experience. Despite this, if we are able to glimpse divinity here and there, it speaks to the innate energy and divinity of the art and some of the artists who have imbibed the spirit of the art. The Sabhas can take no credit for it.

But, all that being said, for us, Chennai and its music season remain the biggest draw in December. We cannot conceive of being in any other place at that time of the year. After 12 concerts and 10 lecture-demonstrations, we are still hungry and insatiate. God willing, we will be back for more next year.

Banana and Jackfruit ragas

In Carnatic Classical Music, there are so-called light Ragas and heavy Ragas. At one level, the classification is right. The former don’t require much effort on the part of the singer or the instrumentalist and the latter more so. But, that distinction misses a crucial point. It is more appropriate to call them ‘banana’ ragas and ‘jackfruit’ ragas respectively.

I owe this analogy to Shri. So.So. Meenakshi Sundaram Aiyaa who is a renowned Tamil scholar living in Madurai. He used that distinction to suggest that some of the 3000+ verses of ‘Thirumanthiram’ by Thirumoolar could be called banana verses and some jackfruit verses. The former are a lot easier to understand. The latter have deep philosophical meaning. Interpretations can vary.

Some ragas – Ritigowla, Ananda Bhairavi, Sahana, Sindhu Bhairavi, Hamir Kalyani, Darbari Kanada and even Dwijavanti (a favourite raga of Shri. Muthuswami Dikshitar) could be considered ‘banana’ ragas. Their beauty is on the surface. It does not take much effort to savour them, just as it is with eating a banana. Just peel one layer and swallow. Satisfaction is at hand. All that the artist has to do is not to spoil them. In the case of such ragas, he or she is just a postman, delivering the raga and its beauty to the listener. The artist does not really have to try too hard to embellish it. Their intrinsic beauty is bubbling on the surface. It is enough if the artist does not spoil it. The workload in that sense is ‘light’ and hence the nomer, ‘light’ raga.

With the so-called heavy ragas – Todi, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Sankarabharanam – they are technical and intricate. They are like jackfruit. The artist has to help the rasika by peeling off the thick external layer before the rasika can savour the delight. The artist is not a postman here. He or she is actually a cook. The raw material is there. But, one needs to be an expert cook to create the everlasting taste, the bliss and the delight, etc.

That is the difference between the light Ragas and the heavy Ragas.

Objections welcome!

Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous Mind’- a review

When I met my friend Nitin Pai in July in his office at Takshashila Institution on a Sunday evening, at the end of the conversation, he recommended the book, ‘The Righteous Mind’ by Jonathan Haidt who teaches at the New York University (NYU). I read some reviews. Ordered it on Kindle then and finished it recently. I am glad I read it. I am thankful to Nitin for recommending it. He has done a very good job. I wrote an article based on the book for MINT last Tuesday. You can find it here. This blog post is largely based on that.

Why are the Indians still supportive of the decision of the Indian government’s decision to demonetize currency notes without replacement as Prof. Indira Rajaraman had called it, despite their inconvenience and hardship?

Why is it likely that Ms. Merkel’s decision to contest for an unprecedented fourth term after her liberal decision on refugees could turn out to be a crowning failure on her illustrious career?

Why is ‘unity in diversity’ not a slogan that has only one conventional interpretation that diversity is to be celebrated, unquestioningly? Put differently, why the case for federalism and devolution in a country as large and diverse as India from a governance perspective has its limits too?

If you want answers to these questions and more, the best place to start would be Jonathan Haidt’ book, ‘The Righteous Mind’.  The book is an important read for many, especially those who believe that they are liberals and are open-minded. But, that is an oxymoron.

That is what the author, a self-confessed lifelong liberal, atheist and scientist, establishes. He had equated conservatism with orthodoxy, religion, faith and rejection of science. But, he sees things somewhat differently now. His open mind and the spirit of inquiry disqualifies him from being admitted to the ranks of modern-day ‘Liberal’.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part shows that reason is not the one that drives intuition but it is the other way around. That portion must sound familiar to those who have read the works of behavioural science researchers such as Professor Daniel Kahneman, for example. Without the heart, the head drops dead. Jonathan Haidt writes:

Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason. Reason is not fit to rule; it was designed to seek justification, not truth. As an intuitionist, I’d say that the worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion.

The belief in the infallibility and the primacy of reason – in the tradition of Socrates, Plato, Kant and Kohlberg – leads to the primacy of the individual over groups. All human beings are capable of reason and hence all are equal. Anything that harms the individual or is unfair to the individual is not acceptable; is immoral. There is no morality beyond harm or inequality. Social norms and groups do not matter.

The second part of the book prepares the ground for the third part that exposes the limitations and the societal consequences of the mindless application of the above ‘liberal’ principles or concerns. There is more to fairness than equality. The theory of karma is about fairness as proportionality, rewards and consequences consistent with efforts and actions or the lack thereof. Emphasis on equality encourages free riders and severs the link between effort and reward. Sustained over time, it causes societies and economies to weaken and eventually collapse. Thus, what is happening in Indian school education systems across States has dangerous portents. The link between effort and reward must be restored.

Similarly, there is more to morality than merely not causing harm. With the demonetisation move, clearly some people have been caused hardship or harmed. That has raised many a liberal’s hackle. But, even those who are affected are still supportive because they place the immorality of black money above the harm and hardship caused to them. Of course, there are thresholds and trade-offs beyond which the prioritisation can shift. For now, it is possible to explain this dichotomy using Haidt’s framework.

Groups that are cohesive easily defeat those that are not and are fragmented. Group rituals that are dismissed as irrational and inefficient bind members of the group. Think of the Sabarimala pilgrimage. It demands a 45-day preparation from the devotees. It demands abstinence from meat, alcohol and other physical comforts. The more sacrifices that a group demands of its members, the longer the group lasts and better it coheres. That is why externally imposed interference in group norms and rituals are guaranteed to destroy group coherence and identity.

Haidt channels Emile Durkheim to warn that “societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic societies have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades.”

Recognising and respecting differences is, in general, the right thing to do. But, it is a fine line. In principle, federalism is desirable and is effective. But, there are lines in the sand that cannot be crossed and nor should the principle of federalism be invoked to promote differences in all and sundry aspects. Then, unity would slowly unravel. “The process of converting Pluribus (diverse people) into Unum (a nation) is a miracle that occurs in every successful nation on Earth. Nations decline or divide when they stop performing this miracle.”

The question is whether Germany has abruptly halted that miracle with its policy on refugees, not to mention the veritable mess that it has created in international politics too. “In a paper revealingly titled “E Pluribus Unum,” Putnam examined the level of social capital in hundreds of American communities and discovered that high levels of immigration and ethnic diversity seem to cause a reduction in social capital. We need groups, we love groups, and we develop our virtues in groups, even though those groups necessarily exclude nonmembers. If you destroy all groups and dissolve all internal structure, you destroy your moral capital.” Vielen dank, Frau Merkel.

Jonathan Haidt is walking the talk. With likeminded professors, he has now set up the Heterodox Academy with the goal of promoting viewpoint diversity in the academy, primarily in the United States. He is clearly striving to be open minded. Something that most liberals lack. Indeed, certitude is the hallmark of self-styled ‘liberals’. In my view, there is something inherently contradictory about a liberal’s certitudes.

Some important quotes from the book:

The process of converting pluribus (diverse people) into unum (a nation) is a miracle that occurs in every successful nation on Earth. Nations decline or divide when they stop performing this miracle.

When everyone in a group began to share a common understanding of how things were supposed to be done, and then felt a flash of negativity when any individual violated those expectations, the first moral matrix was born. 57 (Remember that a matrix is a consensual hallucination.) That, I believe, was our Rubicon crossing.

Institutions emerge gradually as social facts, which we then respect and even sacralize, but if we strip these institutions of authority and treat them as arbitrary contrivances that exist only for our benefit, we render them less effective.

Moral communities are fragile things, hard to build and easy to destroy. If you don’t value moral capital, then you won’t foster values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that increase it.

It is the reason I believe that liberalism—which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity—is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently. Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital, they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change.

John Lennon captured a common liberal dream in his haunting song “Imagine.” Imagine if there were no countries, and no religion too. If we could just erase the borders and boundaries that divide us, then the world would “be as one.” It’s a vision of heaven for liberals, but conservatives believe it would quickly descend into hell. I think conservatives are on to something.

Virat Kohli

There are occasions when it sinks slowly into our consciousness that we are watching something special, something that happens rarely, extraordinary and beyond normal human effort and that we are simply lucky to be watching it.

Those who watched Virat Kohli carry India to victory, almost single-handedly, on Sunday night at Mohali would have had that feeling.

At the end of fifteen overs, the match was as good as last because the ‘asking rate’ had climbed to two runs off every ball. I remember seeing on the screen that the quotient was 55 runs off 27 balls.

At that time, it appeared that India’s generosity with wides (eleven of them) and the last two balls would prove decisive.

How he managed to tame both James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile in two overs with mostly cricketing shots would be talked about for a very long time. He almost made them bowl where and how he wanted them to and he found gaps in the field at will. It was almost as though Australian players had vacated the arena leaving an empty ground for Virat to score at will, which he did.

His self-belief was staggering and frightening.

Shikhar Dhawan had perished to a pre-determined shot. He wanted to hit another six in the square-leg region regardless of the ball. Rohit’s dismissal was a consequence of a pre-meditated charge down the wicket. Suresh Raina succumbed to his old weakness. Yuvraj hobbled and that must have been both a distracting influence and a negative influence on energy levels.

It did appear that Kohli would suffer a lapse in concentration in his Thirties and perish. He appeared frustrated and distracted then. Luckily for him and for India, he regrouped and how!

Amidst all the well-deserved praise being heaped on Virat Kohli, we should not forget the excellent bowling spell by Ashish Nehra and by Ravinder Jadeja until his last over. Nehra delivered just when his captain desperately needed him, he kept his cool when all those around him were losing theirs. He is 37. He bent his back. Ravi Jadeja stands and delivers. It would be nice if he did bend his back, at least once in a while.

As Steve Smith told Sanjay Manjrekar, 160 was a par total although Australia looked set for bigger things at the beginning. It was a good last match for Shane Watson. He would have been happier with a better finish to his international career but one diminutive man stood in the way.

The professional satisfaction that comes from your adversaries’ acknowledgement is something special. Virat will savour some of these tweets for a long time.

T-20 World Cup – some personal reflections

The sixth edition of the T-20 Cricket World Cup Tournament is underway in India. I did not expect to be watching this tournament. I had lost interest in following all cricket there is, simply because there is too much of it.

But, because this one is beamed late in the night into Singapore homes and a good way to unwind somewhat mindlessly, I decided to follow them. I must happily concede that I have been enjoying the matches.

First, I loved Chris Gayle’s 11 sixes against England and their new dance of celebration.

Then, came the low-scoring nail-biter between Australia and New Zealand. Happy to see NZ win, no doubt.

I am not a big fan of England. I do not root (pun intended) for them. I am being polite here. But, the way they beat South Africa by scoring 237 runs was truly magnificent. Joe Root was special. They thoroughly deserved it.

As I was watching this match, my mind wandered back to 2005, the year of a memorable Ashes Cricket Series between Australia and England. I could not immediately recall the names of the English pacers including that of their famous all-rounder at that time. Thanks to the Internet, it was no issue. I was struggling to recall the names of Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.

I then came across as the series of articles ‘Daily Mail’ had done on Flintoff last October. I read only one of them. I found it fascinating. Here are some sentences from that:

‘When you search for things you are not always happy with what you find,’ he said. ‘In the early years of retirement that was what drove me. It was escapism. 

‘The mask became the man and it was exhausting,’ he writes. 

The India-Pakistan match was, well, the show of the tournament for India. Mamata Banerjee’s screaming at the top of her voice, as she opened the match, in her own English was somewhat hard to take.

Quite why and how Afridi let the pressure slip after having India reeling at 23/3 is somewhat hard to explain.

On that day, Kohli was in a different zone. That should have helped him to erase the memories of his 11-ball inglorious stay at the crease in the World Cup ODI finals in Melbourne last year.

Sri Lanka – West Indies match was a bummer. Sri Lanka was way below par. They are missing good leadership, perhaps. Something is missing.

New Zealand vs. Pakistan – it was a match that I could not complete watching. When I went to sleep, Pakistan were, in reply to NZ, at 24/0 in two overs. Good start. But, they had gone on to lose the match. If Australia beat them, they are out of the tournament. Then, it will be up to Australia and India to slug it out for the second spot. Hard to pick the eventual winner of that contest. Both teams are playing below par.

In a way, the slower pitches that this tournament has featured are useful for the game of cricket. They have elevated the status of the bowlers from being mere whipping boys for the batsmen. They are no longer passengers. They have played a key role in matches.

The ‘dumbification’ of cricket with too much pre-eminence and leeway given to batsmen is par for the course in modern times where anything is nothing if it is not a viewing spectacle that provides cheap thrills.

These times are about superficial over the subliminal in everything we so. There should be no surprises that cricket has not been exempt from this trend.

Was at a book launch function last evening in Singapore. A research fellow at ISAS, Ronojoy Sen, was releasing his book, ‘A Nation at Play – India’s sporting history’. He came across as an unassuming, thoughtful and a good researcher.

One Mr. Manu Sawhney formerly of ESPN-Star, current CEO of Singapore Sports Hub, was the keynote speaker. It was interesting to listen to him about how the fees had changed. From USD8mn for a four-year right in the early 1990s, now it is USD17mn per match, regardless of the form of cricket – test, 50-over ODI or T-20.

No surprises that TV, instead of telecasting the cricket that is played, dictates how the game should be played. We, humans, are always good at elevating the ‘means’ to ‘ends’ and reducing the ‘ends’ to irrelevance. These are, btw, not comments on him. Perhaps, it is not just cricket that has been afflicted.

Of course, while I view IPL T-20 cricket league phenomenon with disdain, I must concede that the copycats it has spawned in other sports in India has been welcome. Many livelihoods have been improved beyond imagination and a sporting culture is taking root in the country. Whether it is Kabaddi, Badminton, Football or Hockey league, all these games have been granted new leases of life in India. Especially, Kabaddi. Very welcome indeed.

In this context, I came across this wonderful article from ‘The Week’ on the revival of board games in India. These are subtle but extremely effective ways to maintain and preserve our traditions and civilisations. When we play these games with children, we bond and we share other stories about age-old customs, practices and other Puranic stories too.

Pl. read the article and support those who have found a way to pursue these besides their other avocations. My Namaskarams to them.

Now, we come to the final (as of now) match that I watched: India vs. Bangladesh. Quite how and why Bangladesh lost the match would take some explanation. They had done everything right even right into the last over of their innings. They never allowed any Indian batsman to get away with the game. They took a stunning catch when Pandya looked like he would take India beyond 160.

Then, they chased well. What was the turning point? Was it Bumrah’s comeback overs? Should Bumrah have been named the ‘Man of The Match’? Or, was it Dhoni’s lightning stumping? Or, was it the masterstroke that made him keep a slip fielder for Ashwin? Was it Yuvraj’s save of a certain four? For my money, the player of the match should have been Ravinder Jadeja or Dhoni. Jadeja scored 12 runs, took two wickets and took a very good catch in the final over.

It was hard not to feel for Bangladesh. They had played very well, planned and executed well. They deserved to win. It was sad to see some spectators crying and one player too, as he walked off the field. Could the Indian players have commiserated more with them? I do not know. I think they should have tried.

Perhaps, this comment in Cricinfo reflects some justifiable frustration at their loss.

Two days later, I watched the South Africa – West Indies match. West Indies made heavy weather of the modest target that South Africa had set. In fact, they made such a meal of it that the equation came down to 20 runs off the last two overs. South Africa could not contain the West Indies. The latter won. As I watched the final overs of the West Indies batting, a thought came to my head. Do these tense situations help to bring out the worst or the best in players?

Very few appear capable of handling the pressure without losing their intrinsic composure. Others want to brazen it out by closing their eyes to the situation and simply lashing out at the ball, hoping that it would somehow connect and relieve them of their troubles. There is hope and denial in that; not so much planning. Joe Root, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni seem the honourable exceptions. Of course, AB de Villiers is one of them too. When he was around, Steve Waugh of Australia was another. In the past, Australian Michael Bevan stood out for his calmness in challenging circumstances. I would reckon that it played a big role in him helping Australia win out of impossible situations.

Lest someone think a cool and collected head writes these lines, perish the thought. It is easier to be a critic than a doer.

Enjoy the rest of the tournament.