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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ode to the humble rose

From the day you first see light
From when you breathe as a bud
You know it’s a matter of time
‘Fore you lie crushed in mud

To bloom is to surely die
Ripe for an eager pluck
Yet bloom you certainly must
It’s a fate you cannot buck

A lady’s hair you adorn
Or to a bouquet you belong
Or, into a garland you go
You know you can never do wrong

Even as petals, you serve
To the Lord, they offer you so
Or, you lie on a person’s grave
On his last journey, with him you go

So short though your life may be
You have no grouse, grief or ire
For a rose lives not for its own sake
It lives for another’s desire.

This post is written as part of the write tribe initiative.

Monday, May 27, 2013

RIP Cricket (1877-2013)

Once upon a time
Not so long ago
There was a sport called cricket
That I loved to follow.

With bat and ball
And stumps and bails
Runs and wickets
And legends and tales.

The Ashes and Bradman
Sobers, and games tied
I read up on them all
With eyes ever wide.

Marshall to Gavaskar
Chandra to Richards
The magic, sheer magic
Of contests revered.

Was simpler back then
Little money, less support
Players, made but a bit
The game, much a sport.

Then along came the merchants
With dollars in their eyes
One mantra on their lips
Monetize, monetize, monetize.

Fair game indeed, why not
For the times were not the same
And he, who goes not with the flow
Has only himself to blame.

But then, alas, disaster
For it all went just too far
The greed, it killed the sport
A million cuts, many a scar.

So died the game called cricket
A business now in its place
In the quest for money and more
The game died, nary a trace.

R.I.P, cricket (as I knew it).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

You Only Live Once (YOLO)

“You only live once”. YOLO.

This is something you hear a LOT nowadays.

For many people, this immediately triggers their imagination into doing all sorts of things with a sense of urgency. Mostly fun things.

For many, very high on their to-do list (if not right at the top) would be travelling around the world – to a lot of exotic places on this earth. And, increasingly, maybe space travel too.

And that’s understandable. This earth has SO much beauty – and so much mystery about it – that one could spend a lifetime discovering it. Just watching National Geographic (or Discovery Channel) on TV is such a rewarding experience for me – imagine if I could actually BE in all those exotic places! How awesome would THAT be! And I know I’m not alone with this mindset – I speak for millions.

And yet, it isn’t top of my to-do list. It’s at best, a nice-to-have.

True, my life would be incredibly enriched if I could do it. But somehow I wouldn’t consider it incredibly impoverished, if I couldn’t.

On the other hand, I WOULD consider my life considerably impoverished if I couldn’t put it to use for the benefit of others.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pretending to be a saint – I am no saint. And charity begins at home, so one needs to keep that in mind too.

But different things appeal to different people – and what really makes ME very happy is to see others happy. That does more for me than any material acquisition.

So it is entirely in my selfish interest – of seeing others happy – that I choose others’ happiness as my goal. I am happy if they are happy. And it bothers me if they're not. Especially if it is for no fault of theirs.

This world isn’t fair. It isn’t a level playing field. Millions are deprived opportunities right at birth – purely because of where they are born, or what race or class or caste or gender (or other discriminatory stamp on their forehead) ensures they are deprived, or discriminated against, all their lives.

I’m acutely aware of having had a privileged life compared to these many millions – and no, I’m certainly not feeling guilty about it. But I’m not comfortable looking the other way either.  I’m not that desensitized yet. Thankfully.

So for me, “You Only Live Once” means I have only ONE opportunity to make a positive difference to others’ lives. Again, because it makes me happy.

Happier than travelling all around the world to the most exotic places there are to see and experience. 

And if that means that for most people in this world, I’m a fool, so be it!

I’m reminded of a couple of lines from an old Hindi film song (Sanyasi – 1975):

Kya maar sakegi maut usey, auron ke liye jo jeeta hai
Milta hai jahaan ka pyar usey, auron ke jo aansoo peeta hai

(What will death take away from him
He who lives to serve others
Rather, he has the love of the entire world with him
He who wipes tears off others’ faces)

So I’m not alone with this thought process. J

Ideally of course, I’d have it all – but we don’t live in an ideal world, and I DON’T have it all. Life’s about choices – and this is my choice. Another person might well have a different choice – and I fully respect that. To each his own, I always say.

So what is YOUR take on “You Only Live Once”?

This post is written as part of the write tribe initiative.

To be honest, my thoughts on this subject are much deeper than a 500-word blogpost limit (which I've already exceeded :-)) allows me to express.

As a result, this post may come across to some as patronizing. It is certainly not intended to be so. All I can say is, those who know me personally will, I think, understand my thought process better. :-)

Monday, May 20, 2013

On Spot-fixing, the IPL and the BCCI

It’s been a while since I’ve written on cricket.

Not because there hasn’t been anything to write about – but because most of my own thoughts have been expressed, far more eloquently than I could have managed, by a host of far more knowledgeable writers. I’ve therefore restricted myself to enjoying reading those articles, instead of sharing my own little wisdom on them. I see no point in just amplifying the noise on a subject for the sake of contributing sound bytes.

Having said that, why then this article? That’s because, on the recent spot-fixing drama, there are some elements that I didn't quite find sufficiently (if at all) discussed in all the material that I came across. Of course, it's possible that I've missed something out there.

I’ve read a fair number of articles on the subject. And heard some other views too. They range from the extremes of “ban the IPL” (Sharad Yadav) to “it’s just three dirty men” (BCCI chairman, N. Srinivasan). In between, there are a whole host of views.

What I do notice – and very unsurprisingly – is a lot of IPL-bashing. And a lot of BCCI-bashing. For many, the IPL and the BCCI almost seem to be interchangeable, such has become the IPL’s influence on Indian cricket.

Before I go on, I think I must first state unambiguously where I stand on the IPL.

I do have some issues with the IPL. I don’t like the excessive commercialism, the loud commentary, the hype, the artificiality around it. And I must be honest – I find it difficult to respect batting when mishits and top edges go for a six. It is the worst form of an unequal contest between bat and ball that you can imagine. That both sides in the match operate within the same framework, isn’t exactly compensatory consolation. In the forty years that I’ve been following the game, the contest between bat and ball has always been holy.

But I’ve made my peace with the IPL over the years. And now, during IPL season, I enjoy it for what it is. I don’t compare it with other forms of cricket. And, if I manage to ignore all its irritants, I do often enjoy its thrills and tension. Test cricket will always be special for me – but the IPL has found its relevance too in my cricket following pursuits.

Now, onto spot-fixing and the IPL.

I think it is a bit unfair to make the IPL THE villain of the piece. It has its weaknesses but it is not THE reason we’re having spot-fixing. The IPL is just a tournament – and now the world’s most popular cricket tournament. So what do we want to do – ban it? We need to realize that cricket is competing with other sports (and other forms of entertainment) for eyeballs. The IPL, for a few weeks every year, attracts millions of followers of other sports/entertainment options to cricket. How is that not good for the game?

The problem lies elsewhere. It lies in not realizing significant underlying fundamental weakness in a system. Let me give an example.

Think of an unhygienic kitchen. If the hottest-selling item is soup – and  a large number of customers who’re complaining of food poisoning happen to be soup customers - just removing the soup from the menu isn’t going to help. The complaints will continue – they will just come from customers of other products. The soup was never the problem. The problem was the unhygienic kitchen.

The soup is the IPL. The BCCI is the kitchen. And the food poisoning is the fixing.

Let’s admit that there was spot-fixing before the IPL. And there will be spot-fixing after the IPL, if nothing else changes.

What needs to be done is to build strength in the system to prevent food poisoning.

For its part, sadly, the BCCI’s reactions to the whole drama have been entirely predictable. Starting with “expressing shock”, then soundbytes like “strictest action will be taken against the three involved” (at that time there were three known perpetrators, amongst the players). Of course the BCCI is “fully co-operating with the police”.

The overriding tone of the BCCI has been to defend the IPL, protect its image, to blame everything on “these three dirty men”, to play the age-old game of stating the problem to be way too complex - “we do our best but we cannot possibly monitor 200 players”.

All oh-so-predictable, anybody could have written the script and given it to the media, without their bothering the BCCI bigwigs at all.

What I'd have liked to have seen discussed more is some of the following: 

1)  The system and the players

It says a lot about what I think about cricket and cricketer ethics in today’s day and age, that the news of the spot-fixing scandal broke out a few days ago, I didn’t have the slightest sense of shock or surprise. Contrast this with April 2000. When the Cronje story began unraveling (and Indian players, including one of my then-favourites, captain Azharuddin, began getting named), I remember being STUNNED. In denial. Sick in the stomach. Depressed for months.

This time, with the Sreesanth episode? Nothing!

At the most, I can only say that I was disappointed that Sree had done this. I rated him as one of the better opening bowlers we’ve had in Test cricket in recent times – and would have been happy to see him back in the Test side. So I was disappointed that he chose to take this short-cut route to riches.

But I wasn’t surprised.

The IPL had got him good money - but when your aspirations exceed your ability to support them through legitimate means, you seek other means.

Sree had got used to the fast lane - money, fame, celebrity status, an expensive lifestyle. And on the cricketing front, life was going in exactly the opposite direction. The more he “needed” that wealth, the less his chances of getting it through normal cricketing efforts. His chances of getting back to the Indian side were fast receding. Not only for performance reasons but also because of his “terribly difficult person” image. And he was 30.

Imagine, then somebody comes along and tells him “Why do you worry? Bowl one bad over, and I’ll give you 50 lakhs”.

Come on! It’s the IPL – matches are played daily at such a frenzied pace. Where games are totally loaded in favour of batsmen, with short boundaries and a lot more. Where even the best of bowlers often go for sixes and fours.

Who’s going to notice an over going for 15 runs? So many overs go for much more than that.

And once the game’s over, it’s time to move on to the next. Nobody even remembers yesterday’s game. Yesterday’s gone.

All you see is the 50 lakhs in front of your eyes. That’s real – everything else is make-believe.

And hey, you don’t have to feel ashamed or awkward. It’s happening all the time – happened last year too. It’s so easy to do, it’s almost a no-brainer.. Think about YOUR future. If you don’t secure it NOW, when you can – when are you going to do it? You think your franchise cares about where you are in 5 years’ time? You think anybody cares?

So THIS is the player dilemma.

What would I do if I were in Sreesanth’s position?

Speaking purely for myself, I know I wouldn’t have gone with the offer (I say this because I HAVE refused very attractive financial deals in the past purely because they would have troubled my conscience). But that’s me – and I don’t have material aspirations like a Sreesanth does. So instead of using myself personally as a yardstick, I’m going to generalize a bit.

I cannot help feeling that many people – especially those with aspirations far outstripping ability - would probably do what Sreesanth did. It is JUST SO EASY to do. And there’s SO MUCH MONEY to make.

No, I’m not defending Sreesanth here. I’m just trying to be a little more realistic than some of those moral policemen out there. Suddenly Sreesanth has become devil incarnate – all I’m trying to say is it could just have been any A, B or C.

It is the SYSTEM that has weaknesses. An individual – while having his own mind – can easily fall prey to this system if he is not strong enough.

We keep talking about Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Kumble and Laxman as examples of cricketers who didn’t fall for the bait. We need to realize that these are successful, secure cricketers with long careers. They have received affection from millions of fans, for years – and have internalized this love. That has also made them strong – and relatively less vulnerable to being manipulated by devious third parties.

But that’s just five cricketers. There are many more out there – and many in domestic cricket – who do not enjoy this luxury. Of financial success. Of love. Some have an early sense of rejection. What’s to say they don’t have aspirations? In today’s India, aspirations seem to be everything – just look around you at the advertisements in the media.

THESE are the people most vulnerable to manipulation. Cricket can be cruel. Only eleven can make a team. You feel like a reject if you aren’t in that eleven. Especially if that happens on a consistent basis.

The IPL just happens to have many players in this category. They wouldn’t make it to the national team – but they enjoy recognition and fame for a few weeks every year, thanks to the IPL. And of course they make good money, better than they’d otherwise have made. But that may just fuel their aspirations to a different level altogether.

So I repeat – when legitimate means are insufficient to bridge the aspiration-ability gap, in many cases, illegitimate means will be resorted to, if they come with acceptably low (in this case near-zero) risk. The ends will justify the means.

2) Corrective measures

a) Be realistic about effectiveness of “mentoring”: After this broke out, the first thing I heard from some BCCI campists was “we need to improve mentoring”. I yawned. Had this been the year 2000, I might have bought this. At that time, there might have been a genuine case of fixing - and the shady-bookie menace - catching everybody on the wrong foot. The whole concept might have been new for some.

Today, in 2013, it is known to one and all involved with the game that this is THE biggest menace in the game. If a player is smart enough to win an IPL contract, he is smart enough to understand what is right and wrong. So now we need to “educate" a cricketer that if you don’t bowl like a bowler normally would, it is a wrong thing to do?

Yes, there are some cricketers out there who are suddenly thrown into the world of riches and glamour. Yes, they need to be cautioned about its negative side too. That they may have undesirable people trying to associate with them. And these may try to make them do things that go against the grain of the game that has made them what they are.

So let's have THIS level of mentoring. But we don’t need to make it sound any more effective than it really is. Repeated emphasis on it only tells me that the BCCI is trying to avoid other, more difficult to implement, solutions to address the issue.

Look at it this way. If a Rahul Dravid, considered THE role-model for one and all to uphold the spirit of the sport, can have his own team mates selling their souls behind his back, what chance does some “mentor” have? The intoxication of money, coupled with the near zero-risk, will drown any well-meaning mentor’s words in an instant. Maybe I’m being a bit skeptical here but I don’t think players quite have as much respect for other players and officials as is often made out by the romanticists. Of course, everything is hunky-dory in public. But in private, each person has to fight his own battle.

b) Be realistic about Anti-Corruption Units:  I would have found this laughable if the emotion of anger did not overwhelmingly dominate my mixed emotions. The ICC’s solution to prevent corruption in the game is its “Anti-Corruption and Security Unit” (ACSU). Never mind that their track record in uncovering corruption has been laughable, but the ICC still offered the services of this unit to the BCCI for IPL2. At a price of course.

The BCCI politely (or maybe not so politely) refused the offer, saying it was setting up its own ACSU unit. Interestingly, it’s been almost four years now – and this ACSU seems to be competing with the ICC’s ACSU in the ineffectiveness race.

To me – and maybe I’m being harsh here – setting up this ACSU was never really going to solve anything. It sounds good on paper, it’s one of those ISO9000 type things. You do it because it then “looks” like “you’ve got the processes in place” and therefore things should be under control.

In reality, what are the ACSU’s powers? Can they tap phone messages or other types of communications between players and others? Or is it that they are just present at matches and keep a look-out for suspicious characters? Like in an old-fashioned detective novel.

Let’s accept that the few culprits that have been caught so far, have been caught, not by an ACSU, but by another entity.

It was the Delhi police who stumbled upon Hansie Cronje’s activities  by accident.

It was a sting operation by the media that exposed Salman Butt and two of his team-mates in England in 2010.

It was the Delhi police again who stumbled upon Sreesanth and co’s activities this time, while looking for something completely different.

What has the BCCI’s ACSU been doing?  Why did it not pick up any signals? From the communication the Delhi police have, it is clear that there was fixing involved in IPL5 as well. This lends credence to the feeling that the three who got caught are the unlucky ones – there are others out there who’ve got away.

So much for the BCCI setting up an Anti-Corruption Unit!

And now, at its latest meeting, the BCCI has said it will be setting up ACSUs for each franchise! Great! Another great initiative on paper. But please excuse me if I’m not exactly holding my breath on expecting more cases to be caught and booked.

The point is – this is all INTERNAL. The players are contracted to the BCCI, they are the marketable property of the BCCI, the IPL is the BCCI’s most valuable property. So there is naturally going to be a conflict of interest for the BCCI to take strict action against any of these “properties”. At the most, the BCCI may sacrifice a lesser player as a scapegoat, to build credibility about its processes. Other than that, it is unlikely to rock its boat too much.

And that is why what we need is EXTERNAL.

The ACSU is like internal audit. It is important to have – it sets up processes with checks and balances, it does audits – and it reports deviations it comes across to management. And thereafter it’s upto management’s discretion whether to take further action or not. (I think in practice the ACSU isn’t even doing so much, but I’ll give it credit for now).

What we need is an external auditor-like authority. One who doesn’t care about the BCCI. Who isn’t paid by the BCCI. Who is empowered to do what it takes to check compliance. And who will objectively report its findings - not to the BCCI  -but to a third party.

And who has the skills to do so.

In effect, we are talking about a policing function. Much like what the Delhi police have done now.

I don’t think the ACSU quite cuts it. Not one ACSU, not ten ACSUs. I’m afraid the nefarious world of illegal betting and bookies is much too smart for the administrative type, watchdog type entity that the ACSU is. And extremely ruthless. I understand that a cop who filed an FIR in this matter was killed a few days ago.

I know the police is short of resources already but if the figure of Rs.40,000 crores being talked about as the value of illegal betting business in India is true, then it seems to be well worth dedicating police resources to this. It is not just about individual cricketers – it is about cleaning up the muck in the entire system.

c) Have more “sting operations”:  In India, the media has largely been reactive. Yet, there have been stories broken by the media that have been key to keeping politicians on their toes, and keeping the public aware of happenings. I know “sting operations” tend to have a negative connotation about them, but I believe, if the purpose isn’t unethical, they are great to expose crime and malpractice.

Last year, during the IPL, a sting operation by a TV channel exposed a few cricketers for wrongdoing. It was roundly criticized initially but the evidence was irrefutable and the cricketers were finally given due punishment. We need more of this to happen. If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to worry about. The “sting operation” can even be conducted by a private party and then shared with the media.

These are some of the corrective measures I can think about. This is by no means an exhaustive list. And I think we need every measure out there that helps reduce (I’m realistic enough not to say “eliminate”) this scourge of fixing. I see it as THE biggest menace in the game of cricket today.

What’s very frustrating is that the BCCI just does not seem to recognize the magnitude of the issue. It does some tinkering here and there, hoping that things will sort themselves out, in due course of time. We all know that’s not how these things work.

It is OUR game. The game for the fans of cricket. And for me personally, it is a game that I’ve been passionately following for the last 40 years. I’m damned if I’m going to just sit quiet and see it dying in front of my eyes. Even if I can’t stop it, I’m at least going to make a noise about it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Moving on!

I hear tales
Of lands, far and near
From people who’ve lived
Across oceans, without fear

Tales, rich with fabric
Of discoveries new
Sounding ever so often                   
Just too good to be true

My schoolmates from days gone
Now miles and miles away
Scattered around the world
Australia, Europe, USA

But I’ve stayed put here
This same home since birth
Sometimes when I reflect
I wonder what it’s worth

Yes, seeds I once sowed
Are now fully grown trees
I look at them with pride
When they sway in the breeze

But not all’s been good
There’s been sadness too
There’ve been losses along the way
That I have had to rue

My friendly grocer’s no more
I do so miss his smile
He used to give me goodies
And compliment my style

The library’s gone as well
There’s a gaming club instead
What was once a regular haunt
Is now a place I dread

The field where once I played
Now all bricks and mortar
The sky, once bright and clear
Now more and more a blur

I fear if I’m here longer
I’ll be a relic of the past
The body’s not quite itself now
And the mind’s losing it fast

True, where you grow up is special
And fond memories do remain
But it’s time for new pastures now
Else life’s too mundane.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The ultimate reality-check

Relativity, best explained
Perspective, best obtained
Brittleness, redefined
White cloak, cloak of God
Nurses, high alert
Every second, pregnant
Tension, knife-cuttable
Atheists, momentary theists
Looks in eyes, desperation-hope mingled
The unthinkable, gaining mindspace
Memories, flashing by at jetspeed
Regrets, lots
Jokes, unfunny
Fingers, crossed
Sleep, alien.

The Emergency ward of a hospital.

Where life gets its ultimate reality-check.

 (Pic courtesy morguefile ). 

This post has been written as part of the write tribe initiative.

In the ultimate analysis

You come into this world with nothin’
And with absolutely nothin’ you go
Twixt this first instant and last
You live the life you know

At first a life as a baby
Face shining with a peaceful glow
Crying, eating, sleeping
One day, into a child you grow

As a child, your world’s a wonder
Every day you feel a hero
Playing games, indoors and outdoors
Into a teenager you grow

As a teen, your mind’s restless
And so tantrums you throw
Everyone’s now on your back
Till into an adult you grow

As an adult, your world’s very different
Work, and a family in tow
It’s a long and arduous journey at times
Till into old age you go

As an old man, you’re counting the years
Your mind and body now slow
Much of your journey’s a flashback
Till one day, it’s time to go

Lying still, bones and flesh
At best, in a suit and a bow
You’re finally back to where you began
With neither friend nor foe

This is the simple truth, my friend
This is all we have to show
In the ultimate analysis, we’re all the same
So please, can we shed that ego?

Saturday, May 04, 2013

This crazy mind

This crazy mind
Grabbing at the air
The air laughing mischievously
As if saying
Catch me if you can.

All that’s left
Is a clenched fist.
Open it,
And it’s empty.
Nothingness stares back.

This crazy mind
Needs to pick its battles.
Not the air.
Or the space without.
But the space within.

Its adversary
Or ally, seen another way
Is, but of its own making.
For it is itself
One, or the other.

This crazy mind
Oh, the complexity!
Or the beauty, seen another way.
For it is both,
The one, and the other.

This crazy mind
What it sees, thinks...
Does it see roses?
Or the thorns, seen another way?
For it is both,
The one, and the other.

You are what you think.