Wednesday, August 31, 2011

West Bengal or Paschimbanga ?

Paschimbanga. I should have no problem with this name for our state. Nor would have an average Bengali . After all, we use this name often enough in Bengali correspondence or in our conversation though 'Paschim Bangla' is used at times.
The name also contains the historical as well as the geographical memories of Bengalis. It reminds us that Bengal was once undivided and there was an eastern part and western part each with some distinctiveness - within the overall cultural umbrella there were differences, in dialects and food habits. We had the 'Bangals' of East Bengal or Purbabanga and 'Ghotis' from the west or Paschimbanga.
And of course, the name also reminds us that there was a partition, a traumatic event in the life of Bengalis associated with the birth pangs of the new nation, India, that is, Bharat. A name like 'Banga' or 'Bangabhumi'  would have ignored this history and might have led future generations to forget the historical perspective.
Some of the objections raised by non- Bengalis of the state, as I find from articles in the newspapers, are not really valid. Paschim is not an exclusively Bengali word, it is in fact Sanskrit and used in Hindi as well. To say that Non-Bengalis will not be able to pronounce this word is unacceptable. They can very well pronounce Uttar of Uttar Pradesh. Why not Paschim of Paschimbanga ? As regards 'Banga', the word 'Bong' (rhymes with Bond) has often been used by non-Bengalis to refer to Bengalis in their conversations. In fact, I came across this word about thirty years back when a public school product, in the instant case a Bengali, used this in a derogatory sense to refer to a Bengali not well versed in the english manners i.e not very sophisticated with forks and spoons and in the dance floor. Now however the word has been brought mainstream by Anjan Dutta in his film 'Bong Connection'. Well, Anjan might have also picked up the expression in his own Darjeeling public school and later at the Park Street restaurants. Be that as it may, Bong is easily pronounced, so Bong-o should not be difficult.
Some one, now settled in the States, wrote about the emotional disconnect she will feel if the name of the State she grew up in was changed from ' West Bengal' to Paschim Banga'. I don't know what she would have felt if she had grown up in Bangalore or Bombay. I think this emotional thing is a bit exaggerated.
If some one talks about Bengali chauvinism in this name change game, I am not prepared to accept that either. Bengalis are undoubtedly chauvinistic in the sense that they are proud of their language, literature , culture and heritage but this chauvinism has never spilled out on the streets and has not affected their secular and cosmopolitan outlook. We should remember that an'Amra Bangali' movement someone tried to start years back in Kolkata never could take off.
Do I then support this proposal to change the name of the state from West Bengal to Paschimbanga? No, I don't. I don't because West Bengal as a name has the same connotations as Paschimbanga has. May be the words are in English, but so is the name of country.  I don't think the change is necessary and will serve any useful purpose. On the other hand it will entail  some the senseless work and expenditure involved in this change of name game - in changing govt. stationeries, car registration numbers, even the drop down lists of online forms and who knows what else. The justification being given for this proposal has no basis in reality. Going up two three steps in the alphabetical list of the states of the country will not fetch extra central assitance for this state not alter its economy in any way as some newspaper reports have shown. By changing the name of the state, you don't change the wretched condition the state is in. Why do it then? That is not the 'Change' people voted for and brought the new government in with a such a massive mandate.
While I hope there is a reconsideration when the proposal is placed in the Assembly, I find it interesting that this proposal got the blessings of an all party meeting. All party meetings are a rarity in this state torn so long by political rivalries and conflict. Should not such meetings take place more often and come to some consensus on the real and intricate developmental issues confronting the state ? If the Chief Minister succeeds in bringing that about, she will indeed be ushering in some real change.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Political roller coaster

Cricket is a game of uncertainty, so is politics.
The roller coaster ride that Mamata Banerjee had in her political career amply demonstrates the point. So does the nosedive that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's  political fortune took in recent times.
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, Mamata was the only one from her party to be elected to the Loksabha. The poor showing of her party in the polls did marginalise  it to some extent, more so after the Left Front strode to a convincing victory in the ensuing Assembly elections. She continued to make headlines however and kept herself politically relevant through protests and agitations against the government  but at least at that stage she could not attract many adherents except for her die-hard supporters. Nobody could foresee what was to happen in a few years time and in fact, there were many who thought her politics were merely disruptive, as the CPM's had been in the sixties and seventies of the last century, stalling the progress and development of the state.
Meanwhile, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's star was rising. He was seen as a man of refinement and culture,  talking of development and industrialisation in the state and of creating an environment conducive to achieve that goal. He spoke against gheraos and trade union militancy which many considered as root causes of the state's industrial decline and flight of capital from it. His govt. was seen as investor-friendly and his sincerity was not doubted, though doubts remained in some quarters about his ability to carry his party along with him given the party's past antagonism to big businesses and its culture of dictating terms in every sphere of activity.
People were optimistic by and large. In Kolkata they saw flyovers coming up, roads being widened, shopping malls proping up here and there and lot of construction activity going on. They felt something was happening, for a change, in this state.
In 2006 Assembly election, the highly organised, well oiled party apparatus, adept at electoral battles, no doubt did its bit, but this feeling of optimism and Buddhadebbabu's reformist and liberal image contributed to a great extent to the resounding victory that the Left Front had.
The euphoria did not last long though. The turning point came with the fiasco at Nandigram, the block in East Medinipur chosen for a Special Economic Zone ( SEZ ) and a chemical hub where the resistance of the villagers to the proposed acquisition of farm lands under the Land Acquisition Act was sought to be suppressed and crushed by the joint efforts of the police and the CPM's cadres. This area was known to be dominated by the CPM  which possibly never anticipated such  a strong resistance from the villagers and reacted viciously, using terror tactics to force them into submission. Some of the pitched battles that ensued at different parts of Nandigram were beamed on different TV channels. Then came the fateful day in March 2007 when  14 villagers ( official estimate ) were killed in police firing. The incident caused wide spread outrage not only in the state but all across the nation. Even left leaning intellectuals came out on the street in a protest march in Kolkata to condemn the incident which shattered the pro people image of the government and  the CPM and revealed the ugly face of a cadre raj that Mamata Banerjee was all along complaining about.
Mamata was already agitating against forcible acquisition of land at Singur where the Tatas had been granted a lease to set up their automobile factory to manufacture a small car Nano - the newest kid on the block - advertised as the cheapest car in the world. She had gone on a hunger strike on this issue, but her agitations did not have much of an impact till then. On the contrary, many in the urban middle class thought that, in her strident opposition to any project of the CPM led government, she was only destroying a chance that the state was getting for economic regeneration. It was generally accepted that in a land starved state like West Bengal, agricultural land needed to be taken over in any industrialisation drive but the plight of the evicted farmers who may not have known any other form of livelihood, as a consequence of any forcible take over by the government under an archaic law had not really penetrated the consciousness of many in the urban educated classes but after the Nandigram episode they realised that the land vs industry was a complex and sensitive  issue which needed greater attention and consideration to the interests of the affected farmers and could not and should not be resolved by brute force alone in a democratic and politically aware society. The episode caused widespread resentment against the government and gave Mamata's agitation a new lease of life. With an expanded  support base now, she launched a demonstration blocking the national highway outside Singur for ten days or so, a discredited government remaining a mute spectator. The government did not concede to her uncompromising demand that the lands of the unwilling farmers were to be returned but the Tatas had no option but to pull out from Singur though their factory was nearing completion.
Singur was a dream that never came true, not only for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee but many others  in the state who were not necessarily CPM sympathisers, but Mamata was already on the road to achieve her dreams which seemed nearly impossibly only a few months back.
The downward slide in the CPM's as well as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's political fortune which started then was only helped by the party's obdurate behaviour at the national level and was reflected in successive elections thereafter culminating in the Left's defeat in the Assembly elections which changed the power structure in the state after 34 years and made Mamata Banerjee the newest CM of West Bengal.
These ups and downs will remain an important chapter in the history of West Bengal. Much has been written about it, more will be. Not only about the rise of Mamata Banerjee as a phenomenon in West Bengal and Indian politics but also about the rise and fall of the CPM dominated Left and their 34 years of rule which also is a phenomenon of sorts in the context of a democracy which allows people to exercise their options for a change every five years.
While looking back, one may feel happy about a democracy which allows opposition to operate and take up causes of interest to the people, a democracy that allows a free and independent media capable of bringing under scrutiny and debate every action of the government or a party, and finally about the people generally docile, mostly silent, sometimes even dumb, but who can at times say - this far, and no further. But a doubt lingers. Will our politicians as a class continue to rely on street agitations and blockades as the only forms of political action or shift the emphasis to well argued and informed debates in the Assembly of elected representatives ? Further, in these days of the electronic media whose reach is far and wide, even in the rural areas, and which is ever ready to take up controversial issues for a debate and panel discussions involving not only politicians, but also civil society members, a political message can be sent out to a wider audience than can be done in a rally to influence people in general and  thereby the government if need be. It is not that politicians have not learnt to do that, they are doing it already and had to do it during the period rallies and processions were not allowed before the last election. Why not make it the general practice, instead of flexing muscles at mass meetings to put pressure on a democratically elected government?


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Friday for all

Friday is a lucky day for Mamata Banerjee. Apparently it has always been so, as the Newspapers say. 13 has turned out to be a lucky number for her too. It is the 13th year after she broke away from Congress to form her own party and continue her struggle against the CPM and the Left Front which ruled the state.
And on Friday, the13th May,2011 she achieved what she set out to do. She defeated the CPM led Left Front in the Assembly election convincingly. Her party, Trinamul Congress, and the allies got an overwhelming majority and ousted the CPM from power after a prolonged rule of 34 years.
She is undoubtedly the architect of this victory. People rallied around her, they responded to her call for 'change' and voted for her, her party and her allies. Even her detractors could not but admire her courage, her determination, her uncompromising and determined struggle against the CPM and as she never failed to point out, its misrule.
Now as the Chief Minister of West Bengal , a position she assumed last Friday (Friday again !), she has many challenges ahead, many expectations to fulfill but if one starts with the basics, she has to  deliver on the promise she has made to the people of restoration of the rule of law and peoples' faith in it and to run a government on the basis of policies and programmes framed, initiated and implemented by it in a transparent manner and not a government run by the party's diktats at all levels. She has repeatedly said  'Dalatantra noi, Ganatantra chai' . That is the 'change' she has talked of and if she has to bring that about, she has to ensure that her party functionaries at different levels do not fall prey to the lures of the same ' Dalatantra' that she opposed so vehemently, for power can be too tempting and leads easily to its abuse.
In a meeting with district police chiefs, the new CM has sent this message as reported in today's papers. She has asked them to maintain law and order at all costs and act impartially without bowing to any political pressure.She has also asked his party colleagues to ensure that there is no political interference in the work of the police and the administration. She is reportedly proposing a citizen's committee of eminent people for every police station to act as an interface between the police and the people of the area.
This, no doubt, is a good beginning but I hope she is talking not only of tackling political clashes and violence which is of course essential, but also of law and order in the broader sense encompassing such matters as regulating processions and rallies so that they do not block the flow of traffic, ensuring observance of traffic rules by both pedestrians and vehicular traffic, taking errant buses, minibuses and autos to task, not allowing organised groups to stop work or block roads on the slightest pretext or indulge in vandalism on roads, hospitals or educational institutions. There are many such things ( one can go on enlarging the list ) where a 'few' dictate terms to 'many', which are assumed to be and accepted as exercise of democratic rights in our culture but are really antithetical to true and proper democracy and they need to be set right.
It is a tall order and can not happen overnight but any visible steps in controlling the chaos that we witness  on a day-to day basis will go a long way in ushering in the 'change' that we believe she has been talking about and pave the way for development in the state. She is the unquestioned leader of her party and is already attaining an iconic status in the minds of the people which is evident from the frenzy of the crowd that collects wherever she goes - she can possibly take the tough, mostly non-populist decisions required to bring in this transformation.
History has given her the opportunity.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday, the 13th

( I posted this on 12th, but Blogger went into maintenance and the post vanished. I have reposted it from a copy which I kept because of the Blogger's uncertain behaviour )

Friday, the 13th has ominous connotations in the Western culture. Many believe it is an inauspicious day, a day on which one does not undertake a journey or start a new venture. The superstition, it is said, dates back to Friday, the 13th October, 1307 - the day on which king Philip of France arrested, in a sweeping and simultaneous action, all members of the Knights Templar in France and subsequently tortured them to extract false confessions and burned them at stakes. He also pressurised the then Pope to take similar action on the Knights Templar  all over Europe virtually eliminating a highly respected christian military order which had existed for two centuries and served as the main fighting units in the Crusades.
(In his best selling novel Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown resurrected the Knights Templar as a secret organisation which continued through the efforts of the survivors of that onslaught and helped preserve the Holy Grail. But that is   fiction, though Friday, the 13th October,1307 is part of Europe's history which led to many legends and myths and gave rise to the superstition associated with the day and date.)
Nearer home, on Friday, the 13th May, the results of the Assembly election will be declared in West Bengal and if the analysts and the pre and post poll surveys are to be believed, the Party in power for the last 34 years, no Knights Templar though, will be routed in the hustings. Not with the help of the sword but through a democratic exercise of power.
If that happens, it will be a 'change', a great 'change' undoubtedly which many people have been talking about for sometime, but will it mean a change in the political and economic culture in the state ? It is hard to tell.
The polls had to be spaced out in six phases and conducted under the watchful eyes of security forces to ensure they are free and fair. It is common knowledge that without those security forces there could be rigging, intimidation, booth capturing and in many places people would not have felt free to exercise their choices.  But this happens in most of the states in this country, not only in West Bengal, even though we never tire of proclaiming our democratic credentials and their reaffirmation every time there is an election.
What is special here is the culture of protests and of rallies,strikes and bandhs which bring public life and economy to a standstill pretty often . What is worrisome is the possibility of continuation of a state of war between contending  political parties both inside and outside the legislature and the resulting turf war to gain political control of geographical areas as well as social, cultural and educational institutions.
With a stagnating economy, finances in poor shape, high level of unemployment, infrastructural bottlenecks for industrial development accentuated by land acquisition problems ( which probably is most important cause that turned the tide against the ruling regime ),education and healthcare needing attention and volatile interest groups ready to be mobilised on the streets, any new government will have a lot on its plate.
Mamata Banerjee has unquestionable qualities of leadership. She has built a party almost singlehandedly and has become a symbol of resistance which has drawn people from all walks of life under her banner to fight against the might of a highly organised CPM in power. She is a great fighter and has shown considerable political acumen and savoir faire in her long and sustained battle against the CPM and the Left Front, but if her party wins tomorrow, which seems most likely, she will need to show an additional quality, that of statesmanship, to steer the unstable ship that West Bengal is, if she has to succeed in implementing the road map for development her party manifesto promises for the State.     
To start with, what people need is a functioning democracy which allows them freedom of speech and dissent, provides them dignity, and opportunities regardless of party affiliation, where opposition is accommodated and listened to and most importantly which brings about a rule of law people respect and follow, on the streets, in schools and colleges, in their places of employment and in voicing their grievances. That would presuppose a responsive bureaucratic and law enforcing machinery free from political interference.
According to all reports, Nitish Kumar has turned the tide in Bihar. There is no reason why it can't happen in West Bengal. I hope  Friday, the 13th May, 2011 turns out lucky for the State else we have to be content with a democracy that only comes into existence every five years (it could be less ) at the voting time under increasingly heavier armed guard.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the wonderland of computers

My love affair with the computer started a little over twenty years back.
IBM's PC, though a wonder child, was still in its infancy and the model that had recently entered the market in our country was called the PC AT. Though AT stood for 'advanced technology - an improvement on the earlier versions of PC XTs - with its processing power of about 8 mhz and 1 MB of memory, it would really be considered primitive by today's standards. Computers have evolved so fast in the last twenty odd years that kids toying with powerful PCs or laptops today won't give the AT a second look and would rather be amused at the word 'advanced' applied to its configuration.
Let me put this in the historical context. IBM came out with the PC in 1981. It took a few years for the PCs to reach our shore. Though the PC was a personal computer, very few were thinking of using it at home - it was too expensive ! Moreover, there was not much you could do with it at home unless you were into programming. You had to learn at least the commands of DOS ( disk operating system ). The 'user friendly' graphic user interface - GUI - ushered in by Windows 3.1 was still somewhat away and the 'mouse' was safely hidden in the corner of a room behind the cupboard ! There were some earlier versions of Windows, but I have not come across any.
Some of the foreign banks at that time were trying to introduce computers to simplify their operations in Calcutta, but were facing stiff resistance from the trade unions apprehensive of  job losses. One or two tea companies were also facing similar problems in their tea gardens in the Dooars. I was involved in negotiations with some of the trade unions to try and persuade them to accept computerisation in the interested tea gardens. I had only a vague idea of what the computers did, but was a firm believer in new technology and knew, from whatever little I had read, that computers held a great promise. In discussing with the unions I was not merely doing a job, I was doing so out of conviction.
We were then executing a ILO-UNFPA project for the welfare of the families of tea garden workers in the Dooars. Our office soon got a computer, a dot-matrix printer and a photocopier on the project's account. The computer was meant for preparing a database of the tea gardens and for processing information relating to  various  project activities. There was a catch though. Nobody knew how to operate the computer ! The desktop remained on top of the desk with its black and white monitor gazing idly at the horizon and if someone thought of switching it on, after some irritating noise and few letters flitting by on the screen, it showed a cursor blinking invitingly against the letter C in capital.
We were in a place known as Binnaguri in the middle of the Dooars, in the back of the beyond so to say, about 100 kms from Siliguri - the nearest city where one could hope to get someone who knew about PCs and programming, though programmers those days were hard to come across. I was meanwhile going through the DOS manuals which came with the PC  and trying to familiarise myself with its commands, but it did not take me far. I was yet to understand that we needed a programming language to develop our database and an interpreter or compiler on our computer for the purpose.
Our project director got in touch with a professor of physics heading the newly formed computer centre at the North Bengal University near Siliguri. He agreed to help and came over to our office one day. He told us candidly that he was new to a PC and its programming though he had some experience with mainframe computers, but he would be able to prepare a database management system with dBase III plus, a software  he had brought along in a floppy to install  in our computer. I was fascinated as I watched him make a new directory and transfer the files from the floppy. But when he started giving a brief outline about how to go about dbase programming, my attention was riveted to the book he had brought along. It was a book on dbase III plus. With his consent, I got the book photocopied, all 200 odd pages of it - thanks to the copier we got for the project, this was no problem !
Armed with the DOS manuals and the book on dbase, and with a computer at my disposal, I got neck deep into my own project - to understand the computer, its operating system and dbase III plus programming.  I would be in the computer room every day in the evening after office hours. Every one knew where I could be found in the evenings those days. Since  my bungalow was in the same compound, there was no problem about getting a cup of tea or any other beverage for that matter, to keep me going. It finally paid dividends- I created the database system for the project and the professor did not have to come again.
When I was able to generate a report for the first time after all the inputs had been given, I felt an exhilaration which I thought could be compared to the feeling of a farmer at harvest time when he watches his fully grown crop that he has so painstakingly planted and nurtured.
This was the beginning of an affair that continues, an affair that has gone through many phases - firstly, it was learning some of the languages like Basic and C and making simple programs with them till I realised that the computer world was moving too fast for an amateur like me dependent solely on books and his own methods of trial and error, then flirting with newer and newer application programmes that I could get hold of freely thanks to my subscription to PC Quest, a magazine which I think did the most to popularise computers and the internet in this country in their early stages ( by this time I had shifted to Calcutta and had my own computer, a 66 mhz 486, my costliest purchase till then i.e end 1994 ), and finally the internet and the World Wide Web.
The internet when it came, provided three options. The graphic option which is commonplace today was very expensive, the shell account which allowed text based access was only slightly less so, but there was a concessional shell option for students. I took the third one of course in the name of my son who had just been admitted to the degree course in Electronic Engineering. Incidentally, my son was taking some interest in programming those days and learning pretty fast. He has gone on to become a software professional and possibly my old 486 had some contribution to it !
In the text based internet access, you could not see the images in any website, but you could know their locations and download any if you wanted to view the same with a picture viewer or imaging software some of which you could get free from the net itself. Still surfing was not a pleasant chore. It was at this time I came across a program called 'shellsock' floated by some young men in Bangalore. I downloaded and installed it in my computer. A bit of tweaking was necessary with the Internet Explorer or Netscape and I had graphic access to the net ! And had no problems thereafter. Except that access was always slow and frequently interrupted.
I still marvel at how two youngsters who came out with the 'shellsock' beat the system. VSNL, the only provider those days and wholly Govt.controlled then, soon started lowering the access charges and though graphic access charge was still moderately high, I switched over soon.
Today of course the net is almost a lifeline. It not only helps me pay my bills, book my tickets, speak to my son in UK and write this post, it remains a vast reservoir of information which I can tap whenever I need. I was just checking with the net when Microsoft came out with Windows 3.1 and found it was in 1992. I started out on my journey into the wonderland of computers a year or so before that. I think I am one of the few oldies to do so.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

English and me

I think it was in one of the episodes of Dadagiri hosted by Sourav Ganguly which I happened to watch. A well known Bengali film actress was an invitee in this episode. She was giving forthright answers to the questions she was being asked and when asked if she had any regrets in life she said yes ; one of her regrets was not studying in an English medium school.
Her answer struck a chord in me. She did not explain or elaborate, but I felt I understood what she meant. From whatever I knew of her from the newspapers I knew she was a smart and educated person. Someone who lived in Mumbai for long periods in different spells, has attended numerous International Film festivals and must have had interactions with people in English over the years and from the few expressions of English that she used in the episode while talking, I could see that she knew English well. Then why this regret ?
We are a country with many regional languages. Though Hindi has been and continues to be promoted as an official language, English retains its importance as a link language, a language you need to know to pursue higher education and to have better job opportunities and greater career options. More importantly, in the common perception all over the country, anyone who knows English well is considered an educated person and in fact some amount of 'superiority' is attributed to a him if he speaks and writes in English with some amount of fluency - this may be a legacy of 200 hundred years of British rule which we have not been able to shed off yet.
As a result, someone with just a smattering of English learnt through indifferent schooling may find it hard to move up - in careers or in social circles. He may have to do a lot of hard work to brush up his English to be able to belong, and till then suffer from a feeling of inadequacy for no fault of his.It could be a he or she, but the position remains the same and a regret is quite possible.
I faced some problems myself. English literature was one of the subjects we had in our Intermediate Science years in the college. I used to feel quite uncomfortable in the class of one our English professors who taught us English poetry. I did not have much of a problem in following his lectures even though they were at times in quite a flowery language and had too much T.S.Eliot thrown in for a first year student to comprehend, but he had this habit of asking one of the students to stand up and narrate in his own language some points he had been explaining. Being unable to speak in English, I used to be afraid of being called up. More so because, branded as a good student, I dreaded being exposed as one who could not express himself in that language. Instead of facing up to this challenge- after all a bit of broken English would not have mattered that much and in any case, most of the other students were facing a similar situation   - I chose an easier route, a psychologically weaker one I must admit, I started skipping his classes.
The problem lay in the way we were taught English at our Bengali medium schools. We learnt the letters of the English alphabet more or less at the same time we learnt those of our own language and English was a major subject we were taught in school. In our time in the fifties out of eight papers in the School Final, two and a half were of English. But no classes were there even at the senior level on spoken English nor were there classes to teach you how to write in the language on your own. Some schools or some teachers might have been exceptions, but what I am saying was generally true. There was some emphasis on grammar, rightly so, but otherwise we had to answer question from texts, prose or poetry, which the teachers more or less explained in a class. We prepared the the answers either from some notes given by the teacher in school, or from a private tutor (for those who could afford) or from the numerous books- the so called 'notebooks' - that were available in the market with suggested questions and answers. So, it finally came down to memorising some of these answers and hoping for the best in the final exams.
The situation may not have changed much over the years. In fact with 'objective' questions where you have to choose from multiple answers and less emphasis on composition, the situation could have only got worse. When the Left Front came into power in 1977, it banned teaching of English in primary schools and the primary sections of the Govt. or Govt. aided schools. There was a lot of uproar about this at that time and a section of the intelligentsia came out strongly against this policy. I thought at that time that the debate missed the main point. It is not when you start teaching a student a language, but how you you teach him is more important.
My own experience is quite illustrative in this regard. When we were in class VII, we were for the first time required to answer questions from English texts in English only. Our English teacher would come to the class, write out a question from a prose or poetry piece on the blackboard and then its answer from a notebook he kept for the purpose. We used to copy whatever he wrote and memorise the same. That is how we were being taught the language. I wish he had acted differently and taught us in those preparatory years to write on simple and familiar topics, including those in the textbook  and tried to develop our speaking and writing skills, but I realise now that he was just a product of  a system, an exam oriented mindset and a syllabus that did not leave him any time or inclination or for that matter much of a scope to do so.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The gentleman's game

I felt I didn't have much of an option. When the whole country would be glued to the TV to watch the match, I could not afford to be the odd man out. An unprecedented hype had been generated in the week before with all the newspapers devoting their first pages to its possible outcome, analysing the past history of clashes between the two teams and their current strengths and weaknesses. Someone even went into a hyperbole and wrote that it was the game of the century which, of course, was a tall claim considering that the century is as yet too young. But then, it was not just a World Cup semi final played by India, it was a semi final between India and Pakistan. And that makes it different. It was not only two highly skilled teams meeting in the cricket field, but two nations born twins in 1947 and having a long tradition of rivalry clashing metaphorically, in a simulated war - a Kurukshetra of cricket in which national prides get involved.
I watched the game and was glad that I did. What happened is now history. India won though there were times when it looked like they wouldn't. The game went almost through a roller coaster and there were occasions when you could bet either way. It was undoubtedly enjoyable cricket with some good batting, some good bowling and fielding, some goof ups and some miraculous escapes.
Any way much has already been written on this game and on individual performances by better experts than me. I don't intend to cover the same grounds here. I will leave it to the political analysts to speculate over the outcome of our Prime Minister's diplomatic initiative in inviting the Pakistan PM to watch the match and having a cosy chat with him during the game and then at the official dinner hosted in his honour. It is better left to them to speculate on the political significance of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi's presence amongst the aam admi in the stands at Mohali and of course on her smile which is indeed rare and the jubilation expressed by her after the Indian victory.  For me, this only indicates the significance of this game and also shows how much cricket has become part of our popular culture.
Oh, well, I forgot to mention Sourav Ganguly who seems to have added another feather to his cap by debuting as a commentator in this match. His was the sole Bengali presence, if not in the field, at least associated with it.
Those things apart, what I felt and I am sure everyone else who watched the game did too, was the palpable tension all through and the strain on the nerves individual players must have undergone with the burden of expectations they were carrying from their respective countries. What really was praiseworthy was the total absence of any foulmouthed abuses or lack of decency during the game which is not very uncommon these days. Even in this war of nerves, the teams kept their cool and played like gentlemen.