Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sachin - Part II

Having deliberated on the reasons for Sachin Tendulkar's Numero-Uno standing in Indian cricket in the previous post, let me attempt to answer the question that divides opinion on Sachin in the most damning fashion, the one question that can get fans and critics wound up almost immediately and possibly the one question that gets added importance when the great batsman is in the final lap of his long cricketing career, the eternal - "Is he an All-time great test player or a merely great player of his era". Based on reader feedback, have decided to suspend the writing style that sacrificed brevity. Also suspended would be the (enormous) self-restraint that I placed on myself in order to be objective. Having written a long piece on how the Sachin polarizes opinion among average Indian fans, it would be presumptuous of me to be non-opinionated. God Forbid, No.

In the era where there is a thin line separating freedom of speech from conflict-inciting rhetoric, I will begin my piece with a request to all of the 3 people or so reading this piece to view this piece in the right light and promptly fight off all thoughts of inflicting grievous physical injury on the writer.

To begin with, let us set the context right. What we are trying to ascertain is not a statistical evaluation of the cricketing achievements of Sachin, neither are we trying to see whether he is the most important cricketing icon of the country, nor is this an attempt to compare Sachin with other members of the Indian team and measure his performance. We are not trying to ascertain how fans would evaluate Sachin; we are trying to evaluate how history would. And in order to have a more active discussion on "All-Time" greats, we have limited our context to Test cricket and excluded ODI's. Otherwise, we would be like Americans playing "World Series" Baseball if we discussed the "All time greats" in a version of sport that has had a relevant history of 25 years, in 16 of which the protagonist has played in. The distinction between a contemporary good performer and an All-time great would be thinner than the icy ground I would be standing on once I have slowly veered the reader towards my own prejudices.

In order to evaluate this question seriously while still keeping it simple, I have listed but three criteria to distinguish between the great and the merely good. The first and most simple criteria would be the time-span spent at the top of the pile among contemporary players. Every player hits a purple patch, but consistent performances over a period of time and against varied opposition would only merit a place among all time greats. The obvious extension of this criterion would be that the aspiring-to-be-great player must not have an Achilles Heel. In other words, there must not be a facet of the sportsman that can be considered as an obvious weakness, or stated in more severe terms removing the benefit of doubt away from the player; there must be demonstrated capability for playing on all surfaces, against all opposition in all conditions. Players like Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Carl Hooper would fall at the first hurdle while Ian Botham with his none-too-impressive record against the West Indies and Ricky Ponting with his so-far-not-proven record in India would fall at the second.

The second criteria that I wish to establish is that the player should have the ability to hold center stage in a match and force the direction of play. He should have the ability to dominate the opposition, an ability to have a devastating period of play and therefore impact the entire course of the series. The player should have this intangible presence at the crease that allows fans to dream of possibilities even in dire situations and evokes fear and respect in opposition players who have a constant awareness of the threat posed by that one player; a presence because of which opposition players say "the match isn’t really over until we dismiss him, or, see off his spell". This presence can be brought on by the sheer genius of the player making an impact with his huge talent, a la Vivian Richards, or Keith Miller, or by a presence acquired by the not-so-gifted by sheer weight of performances under trying circumstances, as in the case of the indomitable Stephen Waugh (a quality, that for all his talent, his brother Mark Waugh sadly never did acquire). Notable good players that would fail to make the cut because of not having this "quality" would be Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock. I know that criteria no. 2 seems like a contrived factor through I which I can eliminate players whom I don’t have a particular liking to in the forthcoming (likely) scenario of these three criteria becoming the accepted international benchmarks for assessing greatness, but then I did warn you that I would make my prejudices count.

The third criteria which would distinguish a great career would have to be a series of defining performances, a series of testaments attesting the proof of the pudding, signature knocks, legendary bowling spells, outstanding series, match-winning performances, marks on sporting history that become part of cricketing folklore, a timeless testimony of talent that has found fulfillment. History has a bias towards events that sometimes undeservedly relegates eras to second position; sporting history is no different. Stories of Curtly Ambrose turning in a fiery spell after being irked by Steve Waugh will be retold by generations, while Ambrose's overall statistics will rarely get discussed. Exceptional performances have this happy habit of being retained for posterity, while patient accumulation does not. The obvious caveat for judging greatness based on signature performances would be that they should not be one-off. Graham Gooch's outstanding 154 against West Indies or Mike Atherton's excellent 182 against SA would be noted in cricketing history as a one-off brilliant performance by a steady performer, but not as a signature performance by a great player.

Now, having set the context in which to discuss Sachin Tendulkar's career, we can go to the onerous task of actually ascertaining his position in history. The sheer weight of the runs he has scored and his awe-inspiring presence at the crease make the evaluation along the first 2 criteria a no-brainer. It is in the third criterion that Sachin Tendulkar might fail to make the cut.

My contention is that Sachin has rarely ever played innings that have determined the course of an entire series. In fact, barring a wonderfully belligerent 155* in the Chennai test of the India-Australia series in 1999 where he showed Shane Warne who was boss, there haven’t been any innings that have been series-determining. It is unfortunate that some of his best overseas innings like Perth 1992, Edgbaston 1996(?), Johannesburg 1999(?) and in Wellington 2001(?) have been in lost causes. Though these have been masterclasses in batsmanship, their impact on the course of the series has been minimal. Unfortunate circumstances, a laughable bowling attack and a mediocre support cast have all been contributed in ample measure for this state, but the bottom line remains that there is a clear blot on Sachin's CV which provides ample ammunition for his critics to point at when Cricketing Hall of fame comes beckoning. When history judges Sachin's performances, he could get slotted into that fateful "Special mention" category, instead of marching on as one of the winners. A slot not different from the one occupied by the Dutch Football team in the World cup context or by Ivan Lendl in Wimbledon.

According to me, Sachin Tendulkar seamlessly transformed from a player with extraordinary promise who was set to rule the world to a player who, albeit being past his prime was a great player nevertheless. There was a phase in his career, when every pundit said "If he is this good now, how will he be a few years from now"; a few years later these same pundits were saying "Even at this age, after these many years in international cricket, he is still one of the best in the world". What I find disconcerting is that this promised "peak" of Sachin never came. As a once-die-hard fan of Sachin Tendulkar, I am still awaiting for that one fantastic series, one run of extraordinary innings, one stamp of class that puts distance between him and Number 2. The only difference being that, at the beginning there was an eager expectation before each series of witnessing a defining performance from Sachin; this slowly gave way to desperate hope that he would finally deliver that great innings to silence his critics. Now what remains is just a prayer for that final swansong, a la Marlon Brando in Godfather. That promised "peak" never came. (The heart still says the promised peak "hasn’t come yet", but years of disappointment have made the brain a touch cynical)

Perhaps this is because of the weight of the promise that was made to us Sachin fans at the beginning of his career, or perhaps it was our own fault in building our expectations to such spectacular levels that even Sachin could not achieve, but the truth is that there remains a lack of complete fulfillment when looking back at Sachins career. Too many "could-have-beens" casting their lengthy shadows. Too few instances when the prodigious talent has found expression in a sufficiently forceful manner to impact important series.

Now, for all my smugness at having arrived at the foolproof method of assessing "greatness" in cricketers, I realize that this entire process is merely an exercise to express one side of a long-running debate and attempt (rather feebly) to pass it off as a verdict. Any half-wit can easily evolve a set of criteria for assessing greatness that could contrive to create anomalies. And it would be just as easy to pick holes in any set of criteria presented and discredit the assessment. (The obvious 'hole' in this set of criteria would be the fact that there has been a deliberate super-positioning of team's performance in an individual's assessment. My defense is that context super-cedes statistics in historic assessment, and series outcome is as good a proxy for context as anything else. But this contention is imminently debatable)

This is today's post. Feel free to revile.

Sachin Tendulkar – Numero Uno

I have often wondered why Sachin Tendulkar attracted so much pontification. Why do the most reticent of men get drawn into animated discussions about issues concerning the little master? I myself have been part of numerous road side debates, dinner table discussions, rigorous statistical analysis, and never-ending argument sessions over the Internet dissecting his performances and trying to answer questions of paramount importance like, "Should he be opening the batting because he is best suited to play there, or chaperone a fledgling middle-order by playing lower down the order?” "Has captaincy affected his performance or is he just suffering because he is a great player in a mediocre team" or the eternal "Is he an all-time great, or is he merely a good player of his era?"

Even in a country besotted by cricket, it is perplexing that one single individual should be given so much attention. Even in the current Indian team that had quiet a few personalities, he was still the one batsman millions of fans identify with. Sehwag drew the crowds in and got the adrenalin flowing, Laxman brought a wristy elegance and a subtle grace to batsmanship, Dravid was the perfect blend of classicism of the past and professionalism of the modern, Ganguly chimed in with the passion and controversy, but if there is one person who embodied the heart and soul of Indian cricket, it was Sachin Tendulkar. A fan running out of a train after a 6-hour train journey to check the score of the latest ODI (we Indians tend to do that) would no doubt ask for the score, the context of the match, the batsmen playing right now, the required rate, the odds-of-winning etc. But more often than not, he will follow up with the one question that has been most asked by desperate Indian cricket fans - "How much did Sachin score".

For Indian fans, the match context is never really over until the postscript about Sachin's performance is added. Though the match context is the information we desperately seek, it is this sub-plot about Sachin that quenches our thirst for drama. He is the man that amplifies the vicissitudes of Indian performance. Every Indian victory is sweeter if Sachin had a hand to play, likewise every defeat harder to take when Sachin's efforts go in vain. Even in 2006, when there was a slow realisation that the master is perhaps past his prime and that Indian cricket is going to eventually move on from the "Sachin" era, the focus on his individual performance was enormous. He is Indian cricket's answer to Maradona.

What was it that made Sachin special? Perhaps it was the time of his entry into international cricket, arriving at a moment when the cricketing and media establishment of the nation realised that this near-religious zeal of Indian cricket fans can be monetized -- a realisation stemming from the enormous commercial success of the 1987 Reliance World Cup, and helped in no small measure by the entry of cable TV. Perhaps it was the bewitching combination of a precocious talent swathed in an endearingly humble personality. Or perhaps it was just the sheer drama of a 16-year old man-boy playing the fastest bowlers of the world and taking them on, something the Indian fans had not been accustomed to barring short glimpses during the chequered career of that old warrior, Mohinder Amarnath. Whatever the exact trigger was, Sachin Tendulkar captured the imagination of the entire nation very early in his career and suffice to say that he did not relinquish till his retirement.

His brutal assault of Abdul Qadir in his very first series, a back-to-the-walls innings in his first series against Wasim and Waqar, his first test century in England, his masterpiece at Perth all soon became stories told and retold. He was soon earmarked for greatness; whatever he did on the field seemed to exude confidence. Off the field, he was a huge commercial success. Across the nation, he appeared on Television ads, billboards, hoardings, chat shows, documentaries and what not. But, oddly enough, never suffered from the affliction called "over exposure" that affects the biggies of that "other" entertainment industry in India, Bollywood. People just lapped it up. He was everywhere, but not enough for people to say, "Oh, there he is again". He had become a consummate pro at advertising, but never ceased to have that innocent boyish look on screen. In short, India's first sporting Icon had been born and the nation loved him.

The on field presence of Sachin was due to the fact that he could enthrall laymen and critics alike. If the purists loved the bat arc of his straight drive, and the high elbow in his cover drive, his uninhibited stroke play and an innate desire to dominate bowling attacks made him a darling of the masses. He brought in skill and precision to his batsmanship without sacrificing his instinctive flair. He was calm and composed at the crease, yet there was an air of unpredictability about his batting. Whenever he had a role to play in the match there was an air of anticipation all around. The generous applause afforded by Indian crowds for the fall of the second Indian wicket was not mere appreciation; it was an act of reverence, an involuntary warming up of the crowd in expectation of what was to come. For a number of Indian spectators, the match really started only when India lost two wickets, and the master could come in and display his wares. The openers were merely there to set the stage - like the title song before the action begins.

There was a presence that the man exuded that made grown men suspend rationality temporarily. I have witnessed a few men wishing out aloud that the Indian openers would get out soon so that Sachin could come in. The rationale offered was "This is Sunday afternoon. We cannot watch the match if the openers play out the day" - only that when these people say, "match", they mean Sachin's batting.

It was this presence that to some of his die-hard fans symbolizes the very basis for watching sport- an active distraction from the drudgery of regular life, a few moments of magic and adrenalin that drowns out the monotony of routine. A presence that often transcends the match scenario or context, a presence that consigns the match status to being incidental, a mere prop to the stage on which the master performs. A presence that in some perverse way, would help the fan get solace - even rejoice, on occasions, from a Sachin half-century, even if India ended up losing the match. In as much that the result of the match did not matter so much to the Indian fan as Sachin's performance in the match, this could be called as cricketing Karma.

In many ways, this pre-eminence accorded to Sachin by dint of his precociousness is the principal bone of contention for his critics. To the critics, the subordination of the result of the match to the performance of one individual was a travesty. The critics could not take the fact that Sachin's performance superceded the match result, and more importantly that Sachin was absolved of all blame whenever the team sank to defeat. This elevation of Sachin to demi-god status seemingly shielded him from criticism, which further irked the critics who began laying in wait for every slip of the man where they could bring out the old knives.

The average fan's internal response India's defeats and average performances was to go into a state of denial and distract himself by way of celebrating Sachin's performance. Fans would talk about how Sachin batted admirably and did not receive any support, about how some shots were pure magic. Newspaper columnists would mention India's defeat in passing and dwell on Sachin's performance for pages. The critics, on the other hand, would insist on pointing out that the effort, though admirable, was in vain. To one, the batting was a celebration; to the other it was a pointless exercise, as it did not lead to victory. Reality, as in many such cases of debate, is, perhaps somewhere in the middle.

On occasions when there was a happy correlation between Sachin's and the team's performance - an event that has dotted his entire career if you listen to his fans, an event made remarkable only by its rarity if you listen to his critics - the entire nation was a happier place. The critics would convert for a day and write reams about the brilliance of the individual. The fans would thoroughly savour the moment and relish in pointing out that Sachin's performance was, in fact, crucial to the team's performance; the more pedantic among them would treasure the details to fight another statistical battle. Another day, another match, a Sachin failure and Indian defeat, and we were back to square one, with battle lines redrawn.

And herein lay the reason why the country discussed him so much, everyone aboard celebrated the victory, yet polarisation of opinion was never far away. When things went well, celebration centered around him, when things went badly debate surrounded him. Much like alcohol.

The power of inertia

I have started blogging for the second time in life (Right now, I am mostly recycling old trash). I should manage to hold on to this tradition for 2 more weeks before going the way of most blogs. An ambitious foray into writing, a brilliant outlet for pent up energy, blah blah blah before slowly falling prey to that oldest enemy of them all, Inertia. For the physically uninitiated, (this is not a snide reference to the population that has not 'sinned' thus far), inertia is the tendency of any body at rest or in uniform motion, to continue to stay so. In other words, the tendency of human beings to become addicted to routine.

Inertia is one of the most-important and least-understood facets of existence. It is the reason why you have not gone on a holiday to a great-new place in the past 3 years, why you have spent the major part of the last 4 weekends doing the same things you did in the 4 weekends before that (watching TV), why you shut the alarm clock on Saturday morning and postpone that ambitious jogging plan. It is the gap between the thought process behind a great business idea and the actual execution behind it. Hell, it is one of the main reasons most people continue in their jobs in spite of the lousy boss and the ugly secretary.

At this point, I would like to digress a bit and clearly define inertia. Specifically, differentiate it from the often-confused-with laziness. You are lazy when your body refuses to listen to instructions from your brain; inertia has set in when the brain doesn’t bother to instruct your body. Let me state it clearly with an example. When you skip your first two gym sessions after having paid for the forthcoming 15 sessions, you are being lazy. When you subconsciously train your brain to forget that you paid for the gym-subscription and skip the next 10 sessions, you have got inertia.

People live in a state of denial about inertia. They underestimate this power of inertia and tend to gloss over it and pretend that it is not there. Life would be much better if we acknowledged inertia, and realigned our life. There are two major ways to do this.

The first method is to fight it aggressively. This has to be done very methodically and can be done only when you completely acknowledge that it is there. I will give you an example to illustrate this.

One of my friends had this problem with his alarm clock - in that it would ring and he would switch it off. Not an uncommon problem, but only that he had done this so many times that he had become conditioned to it. The alarm clock never woke him up. Every time it rang, his hand would just trace an arc, lovingly caress the top of the clock and re-occupy its original position - all without his "awareness". And every time he kept the alarm clock in a different position, his hand would just trace a different arc. He came up with this ingenuous solution to tackle the problem. Whenever there was a desperate need to get up - as opposed to generally waking up to attend classes or such - he would place the alarm clock in this tiny slot above his fan and place his chair outside his room. Every time it rang, he would have to get the chair from outside, switch off the fan, wait for it to stop (a good 2 minutes for those old-fashioned hostel fans), climb on the chair, remove the alarm clock and shut the damn thing down. By the end of it he would have the mental state of a serial killer, but would be wide-awake. Job done.

Some other gems for fighting inertia (followed by a few friends of mine): If you have to apply for new jobs and cant get the time to build your CV, call up the HR person and promise her that you will send the CV in 4 hours. If you have an 8-hour window to complete a 4-hour job, play for 4.5 hours and then start the job.

The second method and the method often preferred by me is the very simple - "Accept you have inertia and get on with life". This is extraordinarily effective and simplifies life enormously. Weekend gets planned around TV, there is a small shelf in the loo having a bunch of books, there is a deodorant bottle near your shoe-rack, you forward articles that are titled "10 mins of ogling at women can be as useful as 30 minutes at the gym" (This article was actually published in the TOI - Oh, the powers of journalists who have inertia) to all your friends and think the law of conservation of energy has a more literal meaning. No planning, no pressure, no guilt. Ah, a simpler world. The believers would say God meant it to be this way.

Unfortunately for us, we can not permanently take either of these courses, internal response favors option two, while society (read parents, stupid peers) forces you towards route one. This struggle between these two states has given birth to some beautiful business models. I will discuss a couple of these.

Gyms: Gyms are the best examples of institutions that have cracked the concept of inertia. They run essentially on the assumption that people enroll for Gyms and don’t complete their courses. I will run the economics behind a gym to explain the concept to you clearly. Lets take an example of a gym in a reasonably big city like Chennai. The gym has to be in a very good location, has to have at least 5 treadmills and corresponding gym equipment and a separate room for aerobics and such. Add a few trainers, a mini-refreshment center, the imputed rent for 4000 sq ft of area in a posh location, maintenance of a showering area, a parking lot, a watchman and some basic marketing, and you have got your self a monthly cost base of Rs 200,000 (bare minimum).

At a reasonable rate of Rs 1500 per person per month, that is a required customer base of more than 130 people for just break-even, leave alone return on capital, depreciation on machines, etc etc. Generously allowing for a window of opportunity of 5 hours each day for gymming (2 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening), and assuming peak efficiency in management, this implies that at any point of time there wd be more than 25 people inside the gymming area. If you have been one of the unfortunate people who has got membership for a gym and actually seen one, you will realize that there is no way there can be more than 20 people at a time inside the gym (A good gym wd have 5 treadmills, 3 each of those cycling and SFX things, 4 weird machines, and some area to do weights-training. Of these machines, at least 2 wd be dysfunctional at any point of time. There won’t even be space for 25 people to be in there).

But gyms still make money, and are popular. This can mean only one thing. A lot of people take Gym membership and don’t turn up regularly. If you were an economic geek, you wd call it capture of inertial surplus

Another example that I am big fan of and I must say, fell for comprehensively, is this concept of mobile phone rental in the UK. They have this beautiful concept of half-line rental for post-paid connections. You get a one-year contract for say £40 a month. They give this to you at half rate for the first 9 months of a one-year contract, give you the handset free at the end of the month and give you a return-flight ticket to New York if you complete your contract. This is like money in the pocket. The only catch being that while you get the rental for half the price for the first few months, you actually have to pay the full amount, get the receipt and mail to an address six-months after you have paid your bill, and get half the rental refunded. Pure genius.

The customer thinks he has got a deal for £20 a month for 9 months, the company knows that they retain the remaining half-line rental for 80%+ of the customers (market statistics prove that). And as far as the return ticket to New York is concerned, the customer sales rep will probably explain to the 3 or so people who have sent all 9 of their bills and got the refund and completed the contract that the offer was a co-promotion with the insurance company and wd not be available for the customer because he had cancelled the £15 per month insurance contract in the second month itself. Again, pure genius. These marketing guys make George Costanza seem like a saint.

Less subtle versions of these forms of revenue capture are adding "fault-prevention-charges" on your credit card bill. The brilliantly irritating we-will-cancel-it-if-you-call-up-and-abuse-our-callcenter-guys-but-are-still-giving-it-a-go-because-40%-of-cutomers-dont-bother strategy preferred by Citibank.

One of my friends actually worked in a division called "revenue-enhancement" in a large firm. Is his job description were stripped of fancy management terms it would look like "think up devious methods to extract revenue from customers". Out of respect for the group, I am withholding the name of the company, but if any of you get this weird looking "charges on messages received" entry on your mobile phone which charges up every time you receive a message when on roaming, you can safely assume my friend has earned his salary for that month.

That’s it for the day. Acknowledge Inertia. Eliminate guilt. Enjoy your weekend on the couch.

Elections and Physics

There is a principle called the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. It goes like this “The product of the uncertainties involved in predicting the exact location and velocity of any particle is greater than a constant”. In the arena of Physics, this law has relevance only for sub atomic particles, but the law lends itself to several interpretations and variations.

Stated in English, the law can be taken to mean “Any measuring device that is used to measure any parameter sufficiently distorts that parameter during the process of measurement so as to not make the measurement completely accurate”.

Let me explain the above interpretation with an example (stolen from the stable of my physics professor). Assume that in a particular school, there is a particular noisy corridor occupied by boisterous students. The principal of the school decides to pay a surprise visit to this corridor to find out who the miscreants are and to what extent these students were making noise. Unfortunately for the principal, one particular student notices him walking down the corridor and promptly sounds the warning as a result of which the entire corridor becomes quiet. This is an ideal illustration of an extreme case of the presence of a measuring device altering the measuring parameter sufficiently so as to defeat the entire purpose of the experiment.

Taking the above illustration as a proxy for the Heisenberg principle let me build this theory further and incorporate certain corollaries. To make this process scientific, let us define certain terms; the teacher becomes the “measurer”, the teacher’s walk becomes “measuring process”, the teacher’s cane is the “feedback”, the guy who watches the teacher is the “signal”, the noisy classroom is the “object of observation”, and the entire exercise is the “experiment”.

1. When the experiment is conducted in a finite interval of time, i.e. it is not a continuous function of time (the teacher does not continuously walk up and down the corridor), the single observation made by the measurer often becomes the proxy for the performance of object of observation over a period of time.
2. If the principal walks the corridor once every ‘T’ units of time, it eliminates the necessity for the signal and the object of observation has that much more freedom to misbehave and not get noticed.
3. This implication is perhaps the most important implication in the context of the forthcoming example. Over a period of time “Effectiveness” of the object of observation gets determined solely by its performance in the experiment so much so that the only thing the object of observation does during the entire period is to create scenarios for better performance during the next experiment.

Replace “measurer” with “people”, “measuring process” with “Elections”, “object under observation” with “government” and the “experiment” with “the great democratic way of functioning” and you have uncovered what can be termed as the “Electoral Fallacy”.

The world of Tam-brahm students

Have you met someone who is reasonably tall, fair, with a reasonable build (sometimes frail, but never well-built), a tikka on the forehead, and a self-righteous expression on their faces in your college premises? If you still haven’t placed this species called Tambrahmo Sapien, I will describe further characteristics of this species.

The members of this species perform well academically, are generally religious, are sought after for their views, have an opinion on most things under the sun while simultaneously being non-judgmental, and frequently wear an "I have not been given my due by this world" expression on their faces. They are also consciously self-effacing (aka painfully modest) about their achievements (generally academic)

The members of this species have a strong desire to be with fellow species' members though they are socially 'accepted' in other groups as well. When 2 Tam Brahms meet, they discuss a third, when 3 meet they discuss other species' members, when more than 3 meet, they discuss topics like 'Changes in socio-cultural patterns of urban India fuelling prosperity in rural India' or 'the inherent fallacies in the parliamentary democracy system' with their collective decibel levels of discussion varying in direct proportion to the proximity of non-tam-Brahms, especially those possessing XY chromosome. A lone tambrahm has this brooding intellectual look about him giving an impression that he is trying to mentally divide 233 by 17 while he is actually benchmarking himself vis-à-vis other tambrahms and later on with other homo sapiens as well. This is a favorite pastime of the Tam Brahms.

They are fiercely competitive but are repulsed by the notion of relative benchmarking and frequently proclaim (with a sigh of relief) that they are glad that they didn’t get sucked into this rat race. That the tam-brahm knows the re-evaluated score in the second cycle test of the little known character with whom he has spoken to exactly twice before in his life is pure coincidence.

When tambrahms are locked in conversation, they laugh at jokes like 'Even if you win the rat race you are still a rat' and 'statistics are like Bikini, they show a lot but not what you want to see' but only so much a smile politely at sardar jokes or gujju accent jokes. Not that they mean ill to surds or gujjus, it is just that they have a far more refined taste than that.

They also revel in the knowledge of their own refined taste in art or literary forms and consciously move towards 'better' books rather than wasting time in mundane 'pulp' fiction. They are wont to make statements like 'yeah, I used to read Sidney Sheldon when I was in class IX and X. I don’t know why but I used to like them a lot. Sheldon is pure pulp. You read 3 and you can write the 4th. Now, I am glad that I have graduated to Ayn Rand, PG Wodehouse and The Economist'. All this to a poor soul who has just told him that he liked a Sheldon novel that he had read the previous night. After a pause, the tambrahm follows his speech up with "yeah, I read that book and liked it too. Typical, but ok. If you are a Sheldon fan, it’s a great book". The well-kept secret of Tam Brahms is the fact the Tam brahm himself struggled his way through 985 pages of 'Atlas Shrugged' precisely for deriving the satisfaction of making the above statements.

Now, where is the catch? What is it that this species lacks? They are academically good (some are 'gifted'), socially accepted everywhere, well-sought after for their views on everything, adored by even the girls, are considered smart and sincere, are on the right side of ethics and teacher's favorites.

Wait a second; God isn’t all that kind to anybody. These guys have their share of problems too. In most cases, they are too good for themselves. When it comes to academics, their parochial attitude keeps them on the edge; in sports, upbringing and dietary constraints kill them; in social life, their pseudo-intellectualism does them in, but their biggest problem lies with their performance with girls. They generally get slotted into 'Oh, he is a deeeeeaaaar friend' or 'I can always count on him for a chat after I have had a tough day with my boyfriend(s)', or in really rare and sad cases 'If only I had met him earlier'.

There is also a bunch of lads who slot into the between n and n+1 category, but more on that later.

Friday, May 29, 2009


This is an imaginary conversation between WICB president, ECB chairman and Gayle. This took place after Gayle told them he did not want to play the WI tour of England in May 2009 (the tour which WI went on to lose by a fair margin and gave the impression of not really caring). Post this chat, he decided to take part but not really turn up. For good measure, his team emulated him.

"These are very critical times," the West Indies cricket board president (Hunte?) asserted petulantly from a far corner of the office...
"Hasn't he got any patriotism?"
"Won't you play hard for your country?" Giles Clark (ECB chairman) demanded, emulating Hunte's harsh, self-righteous tone.
"Won't you give up your life/joy for Hunte and me?"
Gayle tensed with alert astonishment when he heard Giles Clark’s concluding words. "What's that?" he exclaimed. "What have you and Hunte got to do with my country? You're not the same."
"How can you separate us?" Giles Clark inquired with ironical tranquillity.
"That's right," Hunte cried emphatically. "You're either for us or against us. There's no two ways about it.
"I'm afraid he's got you," added Giles Clark. You're either for us or against your country. It's as simple as that."
"Oh, no Hunte. I don't buy that."
Giles Clark was unruffled. "Neither do I, frankly, but everyone else will. So there you are."
“Go play this tournament because we have promised a summer series every year to Sky and Natwest. Now, run along”

The original is given below. This is from a timeless book called Catch-22.

"These are very critical times," Colonel Cathcart asserted petulantly from a far corner of the office...
"Hasn't he got any patriotism?"
"Won't you fight for your country?" Colonel Korn demanded, emulating Colonel Cathcart's harsh, self-righteous tone.
"Won't you give up your life for Colonel Cathcart and me?"
Yossarian tensed with alert astonishment when he heard Colonel Korn's concluding words. "What's that?" he exclaimed. "What have you and Colonel Cathcart got to do with my country? You're not the same."
"How can you separate us?" Colonel Korn inquired with ironical tranquillity.
"That's right," Colonel Cathcart cried emphatically. "You're either for us or against us. There's no two ways about it."
I'm afraid he's got you," added Colonel Korn. You're either for us or against your country. It's as simple as that."
"Oh, no Colonel. I don't buy that."
Colonel Korn was unruffled. "Neither do I, frankly, but everyone else will. So there you are."

The context is given in these two articles - Vanesa baksh says it is a sign of the times here -

Gideon Haigh article on Gayle's candour captures the mood before the series well.