Monday, December 17, 2007

The Great Italian Wall!

And so it's confirmed now. Paolo Maldini is finally retiring at the end of this year to wind up an illustrious career with Milan spanning no less than 23 years (to date) starting from the junior days.

Just thought I'd pay a small tribute to my favourite football player. Have loved watching him play all these years. There's a small video I have with me showing some of his classic tackles and moves. A true champion and an AC Milan legend. One of my happiest moments supporting him and Milan was to see him lift the Champions League last year after Milan beat Liverpool.

Rather than repeating a lot of what has been well documented here, I'll just sum it up with the fact that Milan are going to retire the No. 3 jersey which he has proudly donned for the best part of 23 years now!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Obsession with Centuries!

Mr. X scored his 26th century in 112 balls in his 218th match and it was the 11th time he scored it in the second innings of a match. With this he also completed 7000 runs in international matches with an average of 37.83 per innings.

You might wonder what the heck am I writing about! Well, this is how a lot of our cricket analysts end up trying to prove a point about the quality of a cricketer. We Indians especially have a fascination for numbers over a career instead of bothering about the performance on the field on a particular day. Rather than focusing on whether the team won or lost the match and why, we tend to get carried away by these stats and figures. While these stats may give some idea about how good a player is, it really doesn't matter so long as the team wins. I don't think any of us should care for how many runs any of our batsmen scored in the entire World Cup as long their contributions helped the team win matches. Does anyone really need to bother about how many runs any of the Aussie batsmen have scored in recent years! What the heck, they have been winning next to everything.

This obsession with statistics is not just limited to cricket or sports. No matter what it is in life, numbers always play a big role. Don't we view somebody who scored 97/100 in an exam in 9th standard as better than someone who scores 91/100. Isn't a 9 lakhs per annum salary better than an 8 lakhs package? Isn't a 17% growth in earnings better than a 14% growth managed by some other firm? Why is there always a need to differentiate on the basis of numbers? I daresay it is a sort of security we have that we can't be wrong in our judgment because we have quantified stuff. While I agree that there is some logic in having numbers as a measure to keep things in perspective, we definitely have a tendency to go overboard with numbers.

Coming back to cricket, does any of us really care how many runs were scored or wickets taken any of the Indians during the recently concluded T20 world cup? What really matters is that India won the world cup, playing better cricket than most if not all the other teams. What got me started on this topic was the disappointment I sensed in all my friends here about Sachin Tendulkar on a century yet again. While he played a scintillating knock and helped India win a match, what people were more worried about was his habit of getting out in the 90s. As far as I am concerned, I would rather have him play the way he did today and score 90s or 80s or whatever so long as India wins matches rather than Sachin scoring centuries and India losing matches. It is a simple enough point but somehow always seems to enrage all the Sachin devotees!

Having said all this, I would also like to place on record the successful completion of my century today after two years and nine months of blogging! Yes people, this is my 100th post... You see, I am not so different from those analysts after all!! :P

Friday, November 02, 2007

Of Democracy and Capitalism..

Sensex hits 20K. Mukesh Ambani becomes the richest person in thw world. At the ET awards ceremony, all the top honchos in the industry meet and decide that they feel proud to be Indian in the midst of such a crowd. If you were reading only the headlines in business newspapers, one could forgive you for assuming that India today is on the verge of becoming a developed nation.

One interesting observation was made by one of my professors who has returned from the US for a brief period. According to him, in 16 years that he has spent abroad, he has seen nothing change in India. And these are the 16 years India is said to have moved from a socialist economy to a more capitalistic model. Have things really improved? Yes, software engineers passing straight out of engineering college get paid 5 times the salary a normal engineer used to get in those days. Business graduates earn high packages and one looks down upon any post-grad student earning less than a certain salary figure. More number of High Net Worth Individuals seem to be surfacing everyday. The financial markets attract a lot of attention, perhaps even more than the government policies nowadays.

Amidst all this euphoria, I found this article by Arun Maira very insightful of how we may be losing sight of how things should actually be. While firms are all aiming at beating shareholder expectations and attracting new customers, the term "inclusive growth" seems to be a word best left for politicans to handle. It is very useful to note how the growth patterns have been different in various stages of economic development in the US. From an economic standpoint, even in the Indian perspective, has the change in government really made a huge difference? The BJP and the NDA tried to harp on the India Shining mantra and was voted out of power. As things stand today, will the UPA fare any better in any poll? I doubt it even though the economy is still growing quite aggressively. While I have heard many views of how democracy doesn't work in the Indian context and it is a hindrance rather than a positive influence, I sincerely believe that our democratic credentials are a constant reminder to the people in power that they need to either deliver or perish. And we as a country definitely need to work out a way to make the India Growth story more effective than simply blame the politicians for the inequalities.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Former President APJ Abdul Kalam made a visit to my institute as the chief guest presiding over the 11th Foundation Day celebrations. His presence was of course eagerly anticiapted by one and all in the institute and I daresay he attracted more attention than any other guest speaker has for quite some time here. Personally, this is not the first time I am hearing him talk and I did not find the lecture as inspiring or even interesting as the media reports it.

This post is not about my views on APJ and the substance of his lecture but about a conversation which sprouted as a result of this. When I was talking to one of my friends in the evening, I was told that I may generally seem to be "cocky" and egoistic because I do not really appreciate or applaud things that are commonly treasured by people. There is a tendency to downplay the achievements of others saying - "Ya, Big deal. What's so great about that?". Even if I may be exaggerating that observation a bit, I have had similar hints from others earlier as well.

There are two fairly obvious things involved here. Firstly, this observation has mostly come from people who adore/respect someone who I criticize or argue against at that time. While this may seem a touch defensive, the point I am trying to make is that it is mostly when the difference of opinion comes in that I suddenly get to hear this. Secondly, the criticism itself is true to an extent. I do have a habit of rationalizing and perhaps playing down people I am not majorly fond of in the name of being "reasonable".

The conversation made me think about personalities that I am in awe of. Now, "awe" may be too strong a term in my book but I could pretty easily think of a set of people (in no particular order) for whom I can use this term without a second thought:

1. Sir Garfield Sobers - The best cricketer ever. When it comes to cricket, he is GOD! We talk of fearsome batsmen, great bowlers and brilliant fielders and he's someone who was all that rolled in one and much more. :)

2. Bertrand Russell - I have not yet managed to read a lot of his books but whatever little I have read has made me respect him a lot for his thoughts and philosophy which was way ahead of his time.

3. KR Narayanan - A true statesman and a glowing example of how wrong our notions are about people coming from the "discriminated" sections of the society.

4. Kalpana Sharma - Yes, finally a woman on the list. Love reading her articles in The Hindu and now on

5. Monica Seles - I was never an ardent fan of Seles even after her comeback in the tennis circuit. Perhaps I was too young then to appreciate her ability, resilience and determination.

6. P. Sainath - His articles are an eye-opener for anyone who talks about development and equality in our country. One of my favourite journalists.

7. Paolo Maldini - Personal Favourite, an AC Milan superstar and one of the best defenders in the modern era. There isn't much rationale in this paticular choice except that he has been my idol when it comes to football.

8. Medha Patkar - Iron-willed lady. Even though I may not entirely agree with all her views, she is simply amazing for the effort she puts in for any cause that she truly believes in.

9. Amartya Sen - Yes there had to be an academician there after all. This Nobel Laurate's book 'Identity and Violence' has made determined to read the rest of his works as well.

10. Noam Chomsky - Whenever I have read anything about Chomsky or any of his own works, it has always made me aspire to be like him one day. He is after all one of the best thinkers in todays' world.

I could perhaps go on and on but shall limit the list to these ten names for now. If I think of any more, I'll perhaps mention them in a new post. :) And I have purposely left out names like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa since I am nobody to really comment on such people. Not that the names mentioned above aren't great, but they are definitely discussed lesser in the world. These are indeed people who inspire. They are people who can be cited as examples and role models. And each one of them is great in their own way.

This brings me back to where I started this post from. I do not think I would put in so much effort to listen to Dr. APJ as I would to hear most of the names mentioned in the list above (I'd definitely prefer watching the sporting legends!). So is it simply my ego that refuses to give any importance to the former president's address or is there some sense in what I am writing about! Either way, it doesn't matter because I don't see my views on this topic changing for now.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Marginalization..... or regionalization..

Studying in one of the IIMs ensures one thing.. You get to meet lots of people from different backgrounds.. One might have a neighbour from Kashmir, North-East, Gujarat, Kerala or any other corner of the country for that matter.. For most parts, the different "regionalities" do not really cause any sort of tensions.. In fact one gets to know a lot about other cultures and communities as it should be..

Why am I bringing up this topic? Primarily because there have been some unnecessary questions raised lately on this topic in campus.. Now, there is a tradition we have in our insti where the "Tam" junta of second year introduces a local mess where you get proper home-made tam food to the incoming first year batch.. Naturally the invitees are tams as well.. This is one occasion for the tam junta to get to know each other and freak out together.. And the good part according to me is that the invitation list is never actually limited to only tams.. Since the second years foot the bill, it is normally only a limited set of people whose dinner can be afforded by them.. However, nobody has ever stopped non-tams from joining the group..

It has so happened this time that once the remaining people got to know about this "event", a big hue and cry has been raised about regionalism.. People, for no apparent logic, feel that the tams are trying to introduce regionalism in the insti.. They find the idea of a separate tam treat too hard to digest or accept.. I have had some of my friends argue on these lines as well..

Now, this is what I call blowing things out of proportion.. What is wrong in a set of people going out to eat some place where they get the kind of food that they are used to eating at home.. Its not as if they've ever stopped anyone else from joining them.. In fact, knowing most of the tams here, they'll be the first to invite anyone who may show the least bit of interest.. Moreover, I don't see anything wrong with the tams bonding once in a while.. u get to speak own language even if its for only one day..

I heard that some of the girls were raising questions about this tam dinner thing.. I only have this to ask them - Have we ever questioned the treat that the girls give only to the girls in the senior or junior batch? Have we ever called it a case of sexual discrimination? I wonder what the girls would say if the 160 odd guys had a party on their own not calling any of the girls..! It would be a wonderful example for sexual discrimination and marginalization of women I am sure.. Anyway, I rest my case here..

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

And the debate goes on..

"Three people have been sentenced to death in the trial of those accused of involvement in the 1993 serial bombings in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay). The court ordered that Pervez Sheikh, Abdul Turq and Mohammed Mushtaq Tarani be hanged for planting bombs in India's financial capital." This is the latest piece of news (taken from the BBC site) involving capital punishment in India.

It reminded me of a discussion I had recently with one of my friends about the logic of having death sentence as a punishment. The basis for that discussion was a book called The Chamber by John Grisham which I had just finished reading. After reading the book, I was pretty averse to the idea of capital punishment as I did not feel it really served any purpose. The people involved in the execution never feel good about it, in fact many of them have been known to get affected from the entire process. One of the questions I had was whether we (society, government, judiciary, etc) had the right to take a life based on our judgment of a person's crime. What gives us the right to kill any person? Isn't a life imprisonment a better and more humane way of punishing a criminal?

Of course, there are enough and more counter-arguments. One of the primary ones is the fact that once a person has committed a heinous crime such as rape and murder or serial killing etc, that person no longer has any right to live. His/her fundamental/human rights shall be forfeit in the larger interest of the society. After all, the victims also had a right to live which was taken forcibly from them by the criminal. The issue of terror is also involved. If we keep terrorists imprisoned rather than executing them, their release can be bargained by fellow terrorists as was seen in the case of Kandahar. Thinking from the position of the victim's family, the one thing they would want is the criminal who has caused them grief to be removed. The society would be a much better place without the criminal. And it is simply not worth it to spend so much of the tax-payer's money to keep that person alive. This site for pro-death penalty provides quite an in-depth analysis of why capital punishment is justified.

Having said all this, I managed to dig up a very interesting section on the subject of death penalty specific to India. The Indian law advocates the use of capital punishment in the "rarest of rare" cases. The argument brought forth in the article is that "Paradoxically, it has arguably been the development of the "rarest of rare" doctrine that has helped the death penalty survive as a form of punishment over the years".

The article also points out that most of the people who are executed are from poor and uneducated backgrounds with inadequate procedural safeguards. It is very difficult for such people to get good legal representation. It goes on to state that "The Constitution of India protects the right to life (Article 21), the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one's life (Article 21), and the right to equal protection by law (Article 14). Capital punishment violates all of these."

The time I spent reading on this topic led me to discover two more interesting articles. Both deal with a specific example - the case of Mohammed Afzal. One which presents simplistic arguments about why he should not be hanged. And the other which is an in-depth analysis of the entire case. The first one is a blog post about why Mohammed Afzal should not be hanged. The main points brought forward are that executing a terrorist would make him a martyr in the eyes of other terrorists and hence not solve the purpose of detracting them. Capital punishment in a way ends up legitimizing the use of violence as a means to the end. Moreover, speedy justice is a more effective tool than capital punishment. (I only question the "justice" part because capital punishment is considered a form of justice).

Specific to the case itself, I found it interesting that Arundhati Roy has actually published a book on this topic. I managed to dig the intro of that book here. It requires free registration with the outlook website. For those who can't be bothered to register there, I have just copied a small piece from that article for reference.

"Even the Supreme Court judgement, with all its flaws of logic and leaps of faith, does not accuse Mohammed Afzal of being the mastermind of the attack. So who was the mastermind? If Mohammed Afzal is hanged, we may never know. But L.K. Advani, Leader of the Opposition, wants him hanged at once. Even a day's delay, he says, is against the national interest. Why? What's the hurry? The man is locked up in a high-security cell on death row.

He's not allowed out of his cell for even five minutes a day. What harm can he do? Talk? Write, perhaps? Surely, (even in L.K. Advani's own narrow interpretation of the term) it's in the national interest not to hang Afzal? At least not until there is an inquiry that reveals what the real story is, and who actually attacked Parliament?"

As you can see, she actually questions the appropriateness of the entire trial to the extent of suggesting a conspiracy theory. However, that is a debate which diverts the attention from the main subject of the post.
So having read all that I did, do I believe capital punishment should be abolished? Yes, for the most part. This was the position with which I had started my argument with my friend. And we had signed off on a note where we decided that we need to do more reading on the topic before arriving at any concrete answers.

However I still feel that capital punishment is not necessarily a deterring factor when the actual crime(s) is/are being committed. If perhaps it can be proved that it is a deterrent, it may be considered as an effective tool. Reasons such as economic ones do not seem as relevant to me because we are talking about someone's life here which really cannot be trivialized by talk of economic issues.
A lot of money is anyway spent on trials and legal procedures as a part of the capital punishment process. Moreover, even the accused has a family. No matter how heinous the crime, I don't think the criminal's family should be made to go through a period of torture and anxiety awaiting the execution. Speaking of the victim's family, there are two fairly recent cases where the family members have requested for the criminal's clemency. One involving the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the other was the brutal murder of Graham Staines and his sons. In both cases, the wife of the victim has requested for clemency. Finally, are we really making the world a better place to live in by executing a few criminals? Does the execution of a Dhananjoy Chatterjee really affect anyone outside the families of the victim and the accused himself? I admit I still do not have any concrete answers yet to these questions as well as the many more running in my mind.

It is worth noting that worldwide 120 countries have abolished the death sentence in law or practice. In a briefing pointing out the recent cases of execution from India, Amnesty International further presses the case for the removal of death penalty. While some of the arguments brought forward seem to me to be tilting in favour of the accused, there is good merit in the arguments overall. They are further substantiated in this article bringing out the legal as well as practical aspects from the Indian angle, and presses for the removal of death penalty as a form of punishment.

With all these thoughts put together in a random and arbitrary way, I would just like to sign off this post with my view that
as a part of civilized society, I believe we should progressively work towards the abolishment of death penalty.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The First Citizen(s)

After an eternity, returning to the blogging world with a slightly changed look for my blog. I suppose I should give my brother due credit for reviving the interest, not that I had lost it but had sort of turned from that direction!

This post is mainly about the biggest news of the day - India has finally elected its first woman president. Ms. Pratibha Patil takes over from Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam as the 13th President of India.

It is sad that a historic moment like this has been mired by petty politics which is quite unbecoming for the post of the first citizen of our country. Even though there have been some proclamations in the media about the first woman president, this has largely been overshadowed by the real "motives" behind Ms. Patil's nomination for the post. However, I do not wish to debate on her qualifications and election. What provoked me to write this piece was my brother's post on Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the outgoing president of India.

Even though I am nowhere near as critical of Dr. APJ as my brother, I would say that some of what he has written has substance. No doubt that Dr. Kalam was a favourite with the general people of India but even his election in 2002 was hardly free from issues. Dr. Kalam's simplicity and his "non-political" background have been cited as refreshing changes in the "corrupt political system". The media has as usual gone overboard with their representation of Dr. Kalam as a middle-class superhero. The numerous forwards asking people to sign petitions for Dr. Kalam's re-election are further reflection to the uninformed nature of public opinion.

Personally, I admit I have always had a soft spot for Dr. APJ, mainly because he was a professor in Anna University for a brief period when I was studying there. But that does not really mean that he is the best president that our country can have or has had. In many ways, it is similar to the brief speculation about Mr. NRN of Infosys for the post of president. Mr. NRN may have his own achievements and credentials, especially in building the software giant Infosys, but the proposition of his candidature for the post of president seemed a little naive to me. Similar to Dr. Kalam, the fact that NRN (as he's called in Infosys) does not have a political history appeals to people who are increasingly disillusioned by the current nature of politics in India. However, I feel that the larger picture of having a suitable person with the right credentials and experience for the post was being ignored in these debates and speculations.

One of the things which I found a little unpleasant as I was reading on this topic was the way the late Mr. KR Narayanan had been depicted by some constituents of what was the NDA when he stepped down from his office. I managed to dig up a piece written by P. Sainath on the late former president. One of the finest presidents of our country, reading about some of his achievements was quite a revelation to me. A simple search on wikipedia helped me find this info about him. I was simply amazed at the length and details of his achievements and contributions to society whether as a parliamentarian, academician, diplomat or president. Even though internet was not as prevalent back then in India as it is now, I could not help wondering whether we would have sent such forwards and requests for his re-election. It also makes me think whether people would ever rise above politics and appreciate such people's achievements rather than have a narrow-minded view of them because of their political background.

Having said all this, I would like to wind up this post by appreciating the significance of the election of India's first woman president and hope that her tenure is remembered for all the right reasons.