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Thursday, May 29, 2008


Gosh. I am overwhelmed to receive so many nice and thoughtful suggestions so soon: here and via email. I guess I have bitten off more than I can chew, so dear readers, don’t hold your breath to see me following up on the ideas you have offered! I promise to try and do justice to as many of them as I can in the weeks ahead, but I am slow and lazy, and the summer’s taking its toll, so it’s going to take some time.

Meanwhile, entertain yourselves with this priceless critique of Indian sports, sports officialdom and ‘sports lovers’ written by Mr. Suranjan Roy, learned and senior colleague of my friend Arani who works for Orient Longman Publishers. Many thanks to Mr. Roy for giving me permission to publicise his essay.

This is Olympic year, is it?

Hands up, everybody who knew the Olympics are just about two months away. Good for you! Indian sportsfans are not an oxymoron. A Brazilian, a Nigerian or a German, say, can, however, be excused for thinking that they are – what with India’s near-total absence from the podium of the world’s sports arenas. The lot of the Indian sports lover is hard, for we lose everything, or almost everything. It hurts to see the way sport is treated here.
The physical education teacher of a leading school in Park Circus did not know - till recently - about the Beijing Olympics (they start on 08.08.08, which makes it easy to remember), informs his students that the men’s 100 metres world record is a ridiculous 6:22:03 secs. (whatever that means! – blissfully unaware that no human has run faster than Jamaican Asafa Powell’s 9.74 secs.) and, despite claiming to be a rugby player, has not heard that actor Rahul Bose has played for the country. He is not unique. He epitomizes, in a fairly glaring way, the state of sports awareness in India, or the lack of it. This goes hand in hand with performance. Having followed sport for almost fifty years now, I take no pride in sticking my neck out and proclaiming that of all the major nations (excluding, that is, nations such as Liechtenstein and Tonga, - no slight intended), India is the poorest in sport.
I can visualise a horde making a dash in my direction, of the few who have taken me seriously so far, their eyes spewing venom: ‘What about cricket?’ they scream. Sorry, cricket does not count, for that game is played seriously by ten nations (the world athletics body has 212 members, more than the UN General Assembly!), four of them in South Asia, mostly no-hopers in other games, — and does not qualify as a major international sport. ‘But millions follow the game in India!’ they rant. Sorry, again. Numbers prove nothing. Ibsen had more than a point there when he said that the majority is always wrong. Now let me ask a question of the approaching pack: ‘Which was the last Ranji Trophy match you paid to watch – and how many of you have actually hit a cricket ball with the bat?’ I hear them shout, ‘ We watch international cricket!’ Fair enough. Sure, cricket is popular in India, a ‘religion’ (opium of the masses, more likely), and, hey!- we win sometimes - but by default, and for all the wrong reasons. I will revert to that later.
Sport can’t get bigger than the Olympics, particularly for individual sports such as athletics, gymnastics and swimming. All pretty basic physical activities – athletics, in fact, is the reason why the Olympics still go on, and how! What can be more natural than jumping, running and throwing? We do not lack talent – but Indian sports officialdom is a sick joke. For at least twenty years now the powers that be have been dishing out the same litany – ‘Our target is not the ABC (or XYZ) Games, where we are sending our players for the exposure and experience! Watch our boys and girls at the XYZ (or ABC) Games (eight to twelve years away) when they will shake the world!!’ It would be funny if it were not so sad. This may qualify for the longest lasting serial falsehood in the history of organised sport. The nation has been taken for a merry ride, fed largely on misinformation and no-information by our sports scribes. It has taken all this lying through the teeth lying down.(Meanwhile, get prepared for a blank Indian scorecard, again, this time in the Chinese capital – Dola Banerjee, prove me wrong by hitting the bull’s-eye in archery!) Has anyone ever been held answerable? Never. Because in the rotten clique of Indian sports officials and politicians, each is busy protecting the other’s back to perpetuate a conspiracy of silence- the aim being to get at the loaves and fishes of office. How else do you explain the endless reign of a politician, an ex-police chief and an official at the head of our football, hockey (till recently) and athletics bodies despite zero or no success? The euphoria of a win over an obscure Syrian outfit at home vanished with the thrashing from Lebanon- Lebanon, for god’s sake! –a tiny, war-ravaged nation which started playing football about fifty years after us. Both our men and women hockey players (the men used to reign when few nations played the game) failed to qualify for Beijing. Anju Bobby George’s success in the Paris worlds in 2003, plus a personal and national best at Athens in 2004, were achieved despite the system, on her own steam, and that of her coach-husband’s, so to speak; but her long leap of 6.83metres in 2004 has not been repeated, let alone bettered, in the almost four years since, and only a supreme optimist (like me!) can see her jumping seven metres in Beijing this year, the minimum distance necessary to be within sight of an Olympic medal. I will, however, keep my eyes peeled additionally for Renjith Maheshwari (17 metres-plus in the triple jump), Joseph Abraham (will he break 49.00 seconds in 400 m hurdles?), teenaged swim sensation Veerdhawal Khade (approaching 1: 50.00 s in the 200 free), our archers, shooters, badminton players, and the rest. But, frankly, there is not one sure-shot medal contender (let’s keep our fingers crossed about Dola, or even Rathore for a skeet repeat) – Paes and Bhupathi in the tennis doubles? No way, unless miracles become routine.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I'm back, with changes and requests.

I took a week's break and went off the Net. Now I am back at the keyboard once more. Regular visitors will notice that I have at last got around to labelling my older posts for easier access: just scroll down the right hand side and click on the label that seems interesting to you.
It is good to see that the visitor count keeps climbing steadily. At the same time, it is rather disappointing that so few people take the trouble to comment, or limit their comments to one-liners like 'that's hilarious!'. Twenty years ago, I quit journalism because although theoretically several hundred thousand people were reading my articles/stories every morning, the feedback I received was pathetic in terms of both quantity and quality: I found I got far more personal satisfaction from interacting closely with the couple of dozen students whom I tutored in those days. That, coupled with the fact that teaching paid me more than journalism even in those days, helped me to make up my mind to quit the latter for a full-time teaching career, and I have never regretted it.
However, I have always loved to read, think and write: so when the internet arrived and offered me the facility of putting down my thoughts on everything that interested me from the comfort of my own home as and when I liked (and had the time and energy to spare), I jumped at the opportunity. It's been almost two years since, and I have posted essays long and short on a wide diversity of subjects. I have received a considerable amount of irrelevant abuse, and I have even been plagiarised, but I have not got enough feedback to keep me happily engaged. So now I am requesting my readers (especially those who visit often, read attentively, and have the capacity to comment intelligently) to tell me whether I should carry on, and what sort of things they would like me to write about. Do send in your opinions here or email me at suvro.chatterjee@gmail.com.
I shall be most grateful for all sane and encouraging comments received.
(P.S.: A couple of nerds from one of the google discussion groups I consulted lately told me I need to 'spice up' my blog. I guess that means there ought to be glittering cartoons of Casper the friendly ghost and Spiderman flitting all over my homepage, and funny sounds every now and then, and animated pictures of the likes of Angelina Jolie and Bipasha Basu coyly undressing and one new raw joke every morning. Any comments on that?)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

American rebuttal to John Cleese!

By the way, I am not sure whether John Cleese really wrote that 'open letter' or not: but let the post remain, because I enjoyed the humour, and I hope so will my readers. Now someone has just sent me a witty rebuttal to the former (without telling me who wrote it), and I am reproducing it below. Enjoy!

To the citizens of the United Kingdom:
We welcome your concern about our electoral process. It must be exciting for you to see a real republic in action, even if from a distance. As always we are amused by your quaint belief that you are actually a world power. You guys have a really hard time in accepting that the sun has set on the British Empire, don’t you?
Nevertheless, we regretfully have to reject your offer of intervention. After much deliberation, we have decided to continue our tradition as the longest running democratic republic. Perhaps you haven’t realized this yet, enamored as you are with your colonial past, but switching back to monarchy is in fact considered a backward step in today’s world.
We considered for a while annexing the British Isles as a part of the USA. It is not a bad idea, in the light of your indecision over joining a common European currency, your dissatisfaction and constant bickering with the European Union, and the utter faithfulness that Tony Blair demonstrated as long as he stayed in the office. But we finally decided against it, for two very good reasons: (1) Now that the seventh book of the Harry Potter series has been published, you hardly have anything to offer; (2) And therefore, we refuse to put up with an entire nation that’s soaked in beer and is forever whining about how great they used to be.
To help you rise from your current anachronistic status, we have compiled a series of helpful suggestions that we hope you understand and adopt.
1) Let us begin with your ‘aluminium’ example. Humphrey Davy, an Englishman, invented the name ‘aluminum’ (note the spelling) for the metal. However, in common usage the name evolved into ‘aluminium’ to match the naming conventions of other elements. In 1925, the United States decided to switch back to the original spelling and pronunciation of the word. And we can’t see what’s objectionable about that. Clearly you aren’t able to accept the fact that the usage of language varies from one country to another, depending upon the cultures and preferences of those countries. However, the good old days when you forced half the world to do what you did is long over, so learn to live with ‘aluminum’.
We may also add that we don’t want to be lectured on the pronunciation of that particular word, seeing that it was an American named Charles Martin Hall, alongwith a Frenchman called Paul Heroult, who developed the process of actually producing aluminum. You should thank us (and France), for without us, you would never have had that statue of the Angel of Christian Charity in London.
We, in turn, shall thank you for the Oxford Dictionary. It is an interesting collection, considering that over 10,000 of the words in the original edition were submitted by a crazy American Civil War veteran called Dr. William C. Minor.
2) We see absolutely no need to insert the ‘U’-s in such words as ‘color’ and ‘favor’, seeing that it makes no difference in the pronunciation, that writing an additional letter is not exactly a sign of greater intelligence, and that Ernest Hemingway won praise from Winston Churchill without writing the extra ‘U’-s. The same goes for the suggestion of replacing ‘ize’ with ‘ise’.
3) “Like” and “you know” are keywords used by American teens to gauge parental aggravation. We are not happy about the overuse of these words by our youth, but compared to the British “poppycock” and “I say, old bean”, we consider ourselves lucky. And any American who knows twenty-seven words is a scholar compared to the average Briton, who, by what we understand from our observations on football grounds and British TV serials, can barely proceed beyond “Hey-ya”, “F*** you” and “That rocks.” You aren’t exactly in a position to comment upon the intelligence level of other people, when polls published in your own newspapers routinely report that your youth know far more about David Beckham and Elton John that they do about Shakespeare and Faraday. It’s comforting to us, of course; our children at least know that Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Edison deserve more respect and importance than footballers, pop singers and models.
4) Should you decide to cancel July 4th, we feel obliged to warn you: you would most assuredly be found at every Redneck barbecue on the rotisserie with apples in your mouths. Trust us—you don’t want to mess with Americans when it comes to celebrating their national holiday.
5) You need to learn from Americans how to settle disputes and solve problems with the help of lawyers and therapists — that is, through legal and medical means, rather than through drunken brawls and fistfights in pubs and bars. From what The Times tell us, the London police had a busy time last year: they had to arrest more than 300 people, either for drunken fights in public or for driving under the influence of alcohol. Speaks volumes about the Britons’ regard for laws, too! So, do come over to America to see how much more effective, peaceful and civil lawsuits and therapist sessions are, compared to your method of breaking into a fight to settle scores. Perhaps this is a hangover of the practice of throwing gloves and challenging others to duel at the drop of a hat? Old habits die hard, after all!
P.S. Our lawyers are much like your barristers, only they get to keep a great deal more of their earnings, since we have no Queen to keep in the lap of luxury.
6) While we cannot, and will not, make excuses for the shootings in the college campuses of our country, we do wish to state quite emphatically that not all Americans go around with guns tucked into their belts. There are gun-control laws and organizations here. We do have our share of nutters, but then which country doesn’t? The BBC reports that gun crime rates between UK and the USA are narrowing rapidly, that since the beginning of 2008, there have been 70 shootings (with 22 deaths) in London alone, and that one is now six times more likely to be mugged in London than in New York. So, once again, heal thyself first.
7) Paying $6/US gallon will probably happen when our troops are withdrawn from the Middle East. Sadly, this would cause your gasoline costs to double, unless you can somehow figure out how to convert the oil-covered Thames River into petrol.
8) Those things which you call chips are cholesterol-soaked abominations, and are responsible for turning half of Britain into fattened pigs that dress and walk on hind legs (Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter books is the standard British adolescent today; we congratulate J.K. Rowling for her utter honesty in depicting her countrymen). So, you need to learn to eat fries, light fluffy potato in crisp coating. These contain fat but are deemed far less harmful.
By the way, are you aware that British cuisine is now unanimously regarded as the worst in the world? The best restaurants in your country now are the ones that serve Indian and Chinese food. Learn a little cooking from the French, why don’t you?
9) If you truly want to enjoy beer, have it the American way: cold. The warm, insipid drink you call beer is actually ale, and the FDA have determined it to be unfit for human consumption. We are experimenting to see if we can use it as insecticide.
10) If you want Hollywood to cast English actors, provide us with people who know the difference between acting and buffoonery — or, to be more precise, the difference between sentient beings and puppets. The last great actor you sent us was Anthony Hopkins, and he is long past his prime. As for the guys who came to Hollywood thereafter, the less said the better. Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom can’t act to save their lives. Hugh Grant is so bad that he gives bad actors a bad name. Ralph Fiennes is good only when it comes to playing murderous psychos, and frankly, we are tired of seeing him snarling and stabbing and shooting. So unless you can provide us with another Hopkins (you have become such a decadent nation that we are not even expecting another Laurence Olivier), leave the job of casting to the men in Hollywood.
And speaking of cinema, would you kindly tell your directors to stop depicting all Americans as cowboys, Red Indians, gangsters and Beverley Hills billionaires? Our society is far more diverse and interesting than that. Diversity is a concept that we do not really expect you to understand, seeing that you employ skinhead gangs to hound the Asian and African immigrants out of UK. But we in the USA assimilate the immigrants, with the result that we are the most successful multicultural society in the world. If you want to see a proper representation of America on the celluloid, watch the recent Oscar-winner Crash. It offers a credible depiction of how America, despite occasional clashes and interracial tensions, has succeeded in becoming the melting pot of the world.
11) While we do call our Baseball tournament ‘World Series’, let us assure you that we are perfectly aware of the fact that this game is not played anywhere else in the world. Still, it is certainly a misnomer. But aren’t you guilty of the same? What, for example, is this nonsense about ‘Cricket World Cup’, when that game is played only by you and a few of your former colonies? The five biggest nations in the world—Russia, Canada, China, the USA, and Brazil—are not even aware of the existence of this game. And among the European nations, you alone play it. And still you insist on calling it ‘World Cup.’ Inferiority complex, anyone?
12) Stop advising us on football. We have outperformed you in that game for the last seven years, whether in the Olympics or at the World Cup. Instead of wasting time in trying to teach us football, pay attention to your national squad. And for Pete’s sake, throw out David Beckham. The guy is far better known for his tattoos, hairstyles and extra-marital affairs than for his skill with the ball. Realize how overrated he is, and then search for new players.
13) Stop playing rugby. There is no need for a sport that involves only punching, kicking and thrashing your opponents: we already have boxing, karate and wrestling for that.
14) “Please tell us who killed JFK. It’s driving us mad”—really? You are so interested in American affairs? Good for you, you should be. After all, JFK was a far more significant figure than Princess Diana, in investigating the circumstances of whose death your police wasted years and your newspapers wasted an outrageous amount of paper and ink.
15) We understand why you need the money you would have obtained from us if we had still been your colony: you have a useless royal family to feed and decorate. However, we are not going to pay you any money, and certainly not those ‘taxes’ which date back to 1776. After all, what use is your queen to us, apart from the inspiration she can possibly provide to San Francisco’s cross-dressing community with her ridiculous sense of fashion? So, continue to drain your own taxpayers to get the money for the queen and her bratty ‘princes’.
Thank you for your time and attention. You can now return to watching bad soap operas.
P.S. Regarding WWII: You’re welcome.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Don't be a teacher with a heart!

I deliberately started this day with posting a happy post, because the fact is that I have been living in agony over the last couple of weeks: red hot skewers driven through my innards couldn't have hurt any more - and this is NOT meant for dramatic effect; I have been operated upon without anesthesia.

One of my oldest and most beloved ex-students has let me know just how trivial our relationship always was. He will deny it vehemently, and shout from the rooftops that it's all my fault, I have completely and deliberately misunderstood him and his 'pure' and 'loving' and 'respectful' intentions. If he had just told me to 'f*** off' and get the hell out of his life, he would have been far more honest and no more hurtful. Four months have made him forget two decades, or rather, he has declared unequivocally that if he has to choose between what happened in those four months and what happened over the previous 19 years, he is prepared to forget the 19 years (when nobody even asked him to choose!). Oh, of course, if pushed to the wall, he will exercise all the casuistry at his command to try and convince me and everybody else that this is all an old man's delirium: I have taken umbrage over nothing at all, and it is he who has been really hurt, not me. It has taught me once and for all never to imagine that I have got to know someone well, and that when people say they love and respect you, they usually don't even believe themselves, so I should be all sorts of a fool if I believed them for a minute.

What I have decided to do, after this most distressing episode in my life, is to make up my mind, once and for all, that no pupil will ever be allowed to matter in my life again. They will come, take notes, pay their fees, never to be given a part of my heart, and to be instantly forgotten the moment they leave. There is a limit to how much undeserved pain a man must endure, and I have most certainly reached the end of my tether.

And if my daughter ever becomes a teacher for her sins, I shall ask her to remember that her daddy warned her never to make the mistake of thinking that teachers really matter. Parents yes, spouses yes, children yes, maybe bosses and colleagues and neighbours even, but teachers, NEVER. She must do her work with all the honesty and sincerity at her command, but never forget that she is just doing it for a living, and she must never expect anything but fees from her students. It has taken me all of 27 years to realise that that is the only way a teacher can keep his sanity as well as humanity: I don't want my daughter to suffer like that. I won't wish what I am going through on my worst enemy.

I know now why my beloved Father Gilson did not pay the slightest heed to the boys upto class nine, taught magically the boys of class ten, and forgot them as soon as they passed ICSE. Wisdom does indeed come with nothing other than age, and painful experience. I made a terrible mistake to think that ex-students should be allowed to matter. Well, it won't happen again. I am a slow learner, but I learn my lessons well.

Smile for the day

A good friend has emailed the following ‘open letter’ to me. I found it so hilarious that I couldn’t stop myself from putting it up on my blog. I hope nobody serves a court notice to me for infringing the copyright law!
A Message from John Cleese - British comedian
"To the citizens of the United States of America:

In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).
Your new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.
A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.
To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:
1. You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.
2. Then look up aluminium, and nuclear, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing them.
3. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour', 'favour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise'. Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary').
4. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as 'like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as US English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell- checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize.
5. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
6. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, you are not grown up enough to handle a gun.
7. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
8. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
9. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline)-roughly $6/US gallon. Get used to it.
10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
11. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. South African beer is also acceptable as they are pound for pound the greatest sporting Nationon earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
12. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
13. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies). In the meantime don't try rugby - the South Africans and Kiwis will thrash you, the way they regularly thrash us.
14. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the South Africans first totake the sting out of their deliveries.
15. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
16. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
17. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 pm with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.
God save the Queen!"

Now if only the British themselves had not sunk to a third-rate nation best known for football hooligans, beer gangs, hyper-obese children and creatures who think that Princess Diana should be rated at par with Shakespeare, Newton and Churchill, how wonderful it would have been to see John Cleese’s dream come true!