Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Open magazine and the genius called Akshay Sawai

Akshay Sawai is the writer on the rolls of The Open Magazine who pretends to write on sports. His first few articles were not that painful - just unfunny and mildly irritating. Just sample this -

From an article titled "How to impress your father-in-law"
Inside the circle, things are more intense. Hammocks are prohibited. There is a slip or two, mid-on, mid-wicket, mid-off, cover, point. There is the wicketkeeper, of course, and behind him a helmet that looks like the head of a man buried neck-deep.

Now, seriously - helmet looks like the head of a man buried neck deep. What next, shoes look like the top view of what Bharata (of Ramayana fame) would have carried to Rama when he went to the forest

This one titled " Perks of the job" is even worse. He tries to ridicule Sreesanth very unsuccessfully here

Asking the play­ers even the odd question at the nets is PR sui­cide. When I ask Sreesanth for a comment af­ter he accidentally bowls a beamer at Yuvraj Singh, he raises eyebrows. “I’m still playing the World Cup. You know the rules. Now please don’t write anything,” he says haughtily. I only asked for an answer, not the Louis Vuitton loafers he wears off the field.

Not the Louis Vuitton loafers?, 'answered haughtily'?. Sreesanth is prohibited from talking to journos. As a muppet with a two-digit IQ, AS should know this. He chooses to ignore this, pokes his nose and is politely told off. But still cannot resist a cheap gag at an easy target. In the same piece, he has a poke at Yuvraj Singh as well.

One misses Julian Assange when the Sreesanth-Yuvraj episode happens. How entertaining it would be to employ the investigative chicanery of Assange and find out what exactly Yuvraj said to Sreesanth after being struck by the beamer. But even without Assange around, it is obvious that a full sargam of Punjabi invective has escaped Yuvraj’s mouth. How is this for a new Yuvraj slogan: six sixes in Durban, six gaalis (abusive words) in Bangalore?

One misses Assange? 'Investigative chicanery'?, new absurd slogan - how low can Indian journalism go. Anyone who has played any sport at any level beyond bedroom games with 3-year olds knows that people swear. I played at a level that can be described as "potentially a qualifying level for attempting to be pre-amateur", and I used to swear. A lot. Akshay Sawai goes for another easy target here - Punjabi loudmouth - and comes off wrong. Now, my issue is not that AS goes for these guys. It is that the essays are unfunny. One cannot laugh at these jokes even if one were paid to do so. He probably thinks investigative chicanery is a turn of phrase of which Wodehouse would have been proud of.

Now, even these are mild. What really got me going was this piece on Djokovic. Djokovic was in the middle of a great run when this was published. A writer could have written about Djoker's forehand, Djoker's run which Mcenroe acknowledged was better than his own, Djoker's initial years as a pro, Djoker's imitations of various players, or Djokers life in war-torn Eastern Europe. But our dude starts with this.

Rafael Nadal picks at a certain body part, Jayalalithaa does not. But there is a similarity between the two: beating them on their home turf is hard. If Tamil Nadu is Jayalalithaa’s turf, Nadal’s is clay.

No, seriously. Nadal's posterior and an inaccurate description of Jayalalitha's electoral record are the topics one needs to touch on before getting on with a ( gut-wrenchingly dull) piece on Djoker. The start is absurd, factually inaccurate, absurd and frightfully unfunny. That this has gone past the subs at The Open leads me to think that the writer either knows the editor personally or is sleeping with someone in the subs team. This was the last straw. I thought that post this, someone, somewhere would have written to the Open to tell them about the writer.

Apparently, not. Because this was published this week. Among other things, the article says that Kapil was disappointed that the Indian team won the WC in 2011 as this would take some of the gloss off the 1983 version. The writer is peeved that Kapil Dev gets Rs. 20 lakhs for appearances in TV shows, asked Rs. 3 lakhs per article for writing for the Open.

Darling, you can take your opinion about how much Kapil Dev should demand for a TV show and stick an oar into it. Kapil Dev demands Rs. 20 lakhs because some muppet is willing to pay for it. And because millions are willing to watch it. I think you are not worth Re 1 and The Open should be paying something in the range of 40-42 paise per year. But that does not count. The Open went to Kapil Dev asking him to "contribute" a column, he named a price, you walked away. Now, discussing that deal is cheap. Any muppet in this country can write on cricket. Only one can sign it as Kapil Dev. He named a price for that signature, not the article. You walked away from that deal, good for you. Now, shut up.

Kapil got a lion's share of commercial contracts and deals post 1983, because he was by far the best player that this country had seen till 1992 (when one Mr. SRT started showing some of his stuff). KD was miles ahead of any other player we had ever produced. To date, he is the best all-rounder we have produced and will probably count in the top 10 all-rounders of all time. He won us our first WC and no one is going to take that away from him.

Full of snide comments, unnamed sources (former-great, 1983 winner, industry insider are all descriptions used. These could be my aunt, my great-grandfather and my 2-year old son), and patently unfunny. The article has zero credibility and is written merely to provoke. I am ashamed to say that I could not resist that temptation. I am going to do the bare minimum within my power. Stop the damn subscription.

As I have mentioned here, Open is beginning to resemble a troll. All provocation and no substance. Anyone can write an article that is contrarian and going against the grain. It is important for a magazine to provoke. But provocation cannot be sole aim, and neither can it be done at the cost of honesty and integrity.

I am not sentimental about Kapil Dev. KD be damned, for all I care. But for the love of god, either do it on sound ground, or do it with a lot of wit. This half-cock attempt is just a shame. Jokers.

The Open - Fast turning into a farce

The Open started out as a decent magazine, and with Sandipan Deb and later Manu Joseph as editors, it got positioned as the one 'neutral' magazine on the street. It informed and provoked in equal measure, and was soon way better than the rag that is called 'India today' and the magazine-that-was Outlook.

Then Barkha-gate brought it to the limelight, and in many ways the magazine reveled in this. Even then, the magazine did not come undone. Then Hartosh Singh Bal happened. Smart guy, but usually too smart by half for himself. Magazine increased its 'unconventional' quotient. But in many ways, fell into the trap of being different for the sake of sounding cool. Now, it has become the magazine that writes stuff merely to provoke. There just is not enough substance. If the entire magazine were to be given a virtual nickname, it would have to be 'troll'.

While Manu Joseph wrote provocative (but freakishly well thought-out) pieces on Indian pride and religion (Islam in particular), Hartosh Singh Bal got into a war of words with William Darlymple - Bal and WD's reply. It would have been alright if Bal had stopped it at this. The Open then went on to print a rebuttal of a rebuttal which was completely unnecessary. Pseudo-intellectualism at its worst. As a reader, you were left with the feeling that these morons' sense of self-worth was so screwed that they believe this would interest me. I mean, investment bankers have smaller egos than this. Like Calvin would have said - I deeply resented the editors' assumption that this would amuse me (Calvin is a genius, btw).

This streak in the Open Magazine team to be contrarian is beginning to grate. When the whole country was talking anti-corruption, they ran with a cover story going how the middle-class is hypocritical and how Anna Hazare is a muppet. For the record, Anna Hazare is a figure-head, and most of India knows this. The earlier the Indian media gets this, the better. The magazine also became more pseudo-intellectual. For instance, I cannot even figure out what is being said by Hartosh Singh Bal here .

But all these are pardonable sins. Hartosh Singh Bal is probably like this school bully who has to have the last word and establish his ability to think a lot and think differently. The readers' complete lack of interest in this showcase of Bal's intellectual prowess be damned. There is half a chance that Bal might even be provoked enough to construct a reply to this in his mind rubbishing the credentials of yours truly (that is, in case one of the 4 people who reads this is not more than 3 levels of separation from Mr Bal). But, as I said, these are pardonable sins.

The main reason I am stopping my subscription is the space occupied on the Open Magazine by one Mr. Akshay Sawai. I refuse to fund any institution (in however indirect a way) that facilitates the upkeep of Mr Sawai. Now, I dont know Mr Sawai personally, but what I have read, I can only state that the Guardian's description of one of the football commentators would suit him perfectly. The phrase was - Efforts should be taken to cure Mr. X of his delusions of adequacy (or something to that effect). More on that here.