When Heroes fall…

Right from the moment #SandpaperGate happened, it was obvious that this was going to be huge. In the aftermath of the ban by ICC and action taken by CA, the opinion is divided on the degree punishment meted out by CA. Is it too harsh to ban the players for a year for an offence which seems to have pseudo legal sanction by the authorities, and carries only minor punishment legally? Why is there such an uproar in the cricketing community if the offence was minor? Bottom-line it sucks that Steve Smith and David Warner are not going to be wearing the baggy greens for over a year, not just for the Australians but for fans of cricket around the globe. Some unfortunately are celebrating the fall of the two of the greatest modern batsmen and one hapless rookie. This grudge comes from a deeper resentment towards the Australian team which has always played with an in-your-face attitude which also shows their impact on the game. Australian team is and will be one of the greatest sporting teams ever and their top players have always had an aura of an invincible heroes around them. Yet when we allow them to get away with taking the hollow path to the moral high ground, when we don’t value virtue enough, that they become victims of their own arrogance and fall.

Sport by its very nature brings out the unknown aspects of human ability and puts it bare on the field. Most often it allows us to breaks the limits of achievement and sets impossible boundaries under tremendous pressure only to be broken nonchalantly by some newcomer. If there is any other pursuit in this world other than religion which can claim to uphold virtue, then it is only Sport. Cricket with whatever limited viewership it has among the other modern sports can still be envied by all the others for the amount of detail, layers and knowledge it is required to follow. There are very few sports where the character of a player and not skill is tested to such a degree that the highest format has been given the epithet, the Test match. No other sport can boast of having reams of pages written over even on the minutest aspects of the game. Nothing of this sort is possible if not for the love and affection of the players as well as the fans towards the great game. But then the game like every precious thing in this world rests on the delicate threads of Honesty and Trust which are reinforced by the love of everyone involved in the game. We realize the value of these threads only when they snap.

It is for this reason that the heart break is so damning, that so many past greats are so gutted for the last week. The anger in Michael Holding’s voice was unmistakably palpable on the 4th morning in Cape Town that he was breathing fire even with the mellowest of voices among the commentators. Like him and other past greats such as Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Smith, Michael Clarke, Shane Warne and a lot many others have been unequivocal in their criticism and have rightly called for the right steps to be taken to uphold the trust in the game. I believe a sportsperson is closer to the game than an average fan. It is a 100% part of their life and would take their word for it rather than interpreting it only as professional rivalry.

People throwing the rule book at this incident, need to step back and look at the larger picture, it is not just about ball tampering. If the leader of the greatest cricketing team can claim to have planned an illegal means of gaining advantage along with his senior teammates, then it breaks the fundamental aspects on which any game rests, Trust. Any act which involves hiding stuff in your jocks and blatantly lying to the authorities shows lack of character and that is a dangerous thing for the game. If the greatest can cheat and get away, what stops the other minnow teams or the kids who look up to these stars and play on the streets and backyards across the world? Just as the game tests our character and limits of skill, it throws up these watershed moments when the rules are not enough. CA has rightly upheld justice in banning its superstar players including the world cup winning captain for a year. Now it is a journey for the Australian cricketers to rebuild the trust of everyone else in the game. For the game is greater than the greatest ever players who have played it.

As per Steve Smith and David Warner as well as the young Bancroft, it is for them to choose whether they want to bounce back as changed people and win back the love to write a new story for themselves or fade away. Because that’s what heroes do when they fall. They pick themselves up and get ready to fight again.

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Mother tongue? What’s that?

Some thoughts on the occasion of International Mother language day.

Thank you twitter for telling me International Mother Language day or Mother tongue as we call it on 21st of Feb, a couple of days ago. Growing up speaking different languages at home and outside I have often tried to grapple with that contrast in experience from the rest of your social circle. At a point in life when you understand that language is the root of your culture and experience, I wonder what my mother tongue really is? Is it the one spoken at home? Is it the one you’re most fluent at? Is it the one you appreciate or is it the one you actually speak the most?

 

Language is the very first art that we absorb as an adolescent and becomes our tool to understand the world. It sorts of becomes a given after a point that a baby starts to speak in the same tone as their parents but we under-appreciate the fact that the human mind latches on to all the varieties of the sounds and intricacies of the language even before we have any clue of what on earth is going on on earth or what we’re doing here.

For most people their mother tongue is spoken by their parents, obviously, but also the extended family, friends and the larger community in general where they grow up. But for a different set of people whose parents had migrated to a place with a different language, it’s often a double bonanza. You get to learn the language spoken at home as well as the one spoken by your friends and teachers in school. My parents, originally Kannadigas moved to Hyderabad before my brother & me were born and we grew up speaking Kannada at home and Telugu with everyone else. South India being so rich in its heritage I consider myself lucky to be able to speak Kannada and Telugu both fluently in addition to learning Hindi and English fluently too I guess, at school. Throw Hyderabadi Hindi into the mix and I can proudly say I speak 4 and half languages.

But then that’s as much fun it gets, to be just proud of the number of languages you can speak.  Because is speaking a language enough? If the purpose of language is just communication, what makes all the poets and writers to experiment with different forms of prose, poetry, grammar and what not? When it comes to appreciating the intricacies of language you realize you’ve been short changed. This might be a strictly personal experience but when you shift and change the language you speak without sticking to one it takes away the fun in learning language for what it actually is, an art form. When you’re only speaking Telugu outside, you learn the tone from friends of your own age which is still underdeveloped. You pick up the fun stuff like idioms, phrases and proverbs in the home language from your parents but you don’t know how and where to use them so they lie uselessly in your arsenal before you end up forgetting them.

Then there are experiences where you are made fun of for not knowing the meanings of simple words in any one of the languages or because you pronounced the word in a different way and it meant totally some else and most likely funny. Try the word helu meaning say or tell in Kannada without rolling the sound la and watch the group roll around in laughter. It is due to these experiences that we lean towards languages like Hindi or English for the comfort they offer in being universal.

All said and done, I consider myself to be privileged enough to know more languages than the usual in India. Languages are the only flowing chain of history to our roots and it is our purpose to carry it as much further as we can.  Fluency is a matter of how much we use it. So in the end it is up to us to ensure we pass on our knowledge to the next generation and keep our existential root culture intact as much as we can when we are trying to be more plural and multicultural every passing day.

P.S. I did try to read a Kannada novel recently and it took me 2 majestic hours to wade through 4 pages. Will do better next time hopefully.

Journalism & the place of ‘What about’ in public discourse.

I have tried and failed to understand the genesis of concept of ‘Whataboutery’. The etymology seems to be a way devised to counter Russian propaganda during the cold war. However my attempt is to understand what it stands for rather than its etymology.

This term is used to counter any point made in a debate that begins with ‘What about X’ and rules of engagement seem to suggest this mode of argument is wrong. I want to discuss a case below and try to argue when such arguments can be valid. But before that i also want to examine how people consume news and information.

Whenever we come across any piece of news or events, our reaction to it is based on many factors. A few as per my understanding and pertinent for this subject are

  • Novelty of information, i.e., when the event is totally new to our sensibilities ex: killing in the name of beef
  • Shock value, ex: grossness or intensity of crime like Nirbhaya
  • Proximity in terms of space and time, i.e., happening now and here

Our reaction to events differ based on the degree on which these factors sort of vary.

So, let’s say i came across a less reported piece of news which is totally new to my sensibilities and shocks only me but the people around me totally let it go. I might ignore the event assuming i read into it too much.

Now in time, if a similar event occurs which impacts the people around me and their reaction skews the discourse to make it appear as if such event happened for the first time, is it not valid to show the previous event with ‘What about..’ argument? Is it not logical to question why the group ignored it the first time? Do questions not arise about agenda especially if the group of people are editors whose job is to keep a tab on news and events?

Reducing the argument to whataboutery when in fact it might be a naive attempt in countering hypocrisy with logic brings us to a dead end in a dialog. It further seems to strengthen the point of view that public discourse is skewed and driven by agenda.

Batman, Ethics and the Slippery Slope.

Joker

There’s a question about the rivalry between Batman and the Joker which mostly concerns diehard Batman fans. However it is also pertinent and i’d say the very first lesson in understanding ethics. Before heading to the question, let me first give a brief primer about Gotham and the Batman universe, a little more than Nolan’s movies. As many of us know, Joker is Batman’s arch-nemesis who’s done many horrible things. In the movie he kills a number of people including Rachel, turns Dent into Two face, blows up a hospital etc. In the universe beyond The Dark Knight, he’s killed a number of people including school kids, tortured Robin, Alfred, Jim Gordon’s wife etc. This is purely the mark of the greatest fictional villains of all time. However, spreading chaos is just a means to an end for him. His simple objective to blow shit up is to get the batman to kill him. The brilliant truck flipping scene in The Dark Knight is followed by him standing in the middle of the road and mocking Batman to kill him, at which point Batman veers off and crashes into a wall.

So the question is, “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” It makes total sense, the person responsible for the death of so many innocent people and having the potential to inflict many more such wounds on Gotham doesn’t deserve to live, right? Wrong according to Batman. Because Batman only has one rule. He doesn’t kill. That’s it. Now, there are so many justifications which say Batman is scared about his own mind as believes him and the joker are the same. That once he kills Joker, he will not stop at it. He would go down the slippery slope and would end up becoming a similar version of the Joker himself. May be, but it has got to do a bit more than just Batman’s psychology. Or us looking at the slippery slope as a linear path of rationalising our judgements.

The important thing here is the rule. Being incorruptible for Batman is to not break the rule at any cost. Because killing Joker means destroying what the idea of Batman stands for. Joker knows this and hence all the attempts, taunts and the mocking. The point here is not whether killing is good or bad. It is about having a rule, and what it takes to stand by it. When we look at it that way, the slippery slope stops being a linear scale and ends up binary where darkness is a void which pulls you like gravity.

When we look at morality in the world, the good and bad, we often wish for more clarity in distinguishing the good from the bad. This is what takes us towards religion or patriotism. But sadly they are often not enough. Easier way to understand morality would by looking at good and bad for what they are, subjectively. Having your own rules, any rules. And once you have them, what does it take for you to stand by them when you encounter your Joker? Will you be immovable when an unstoppable force meets you or will that little push be just enough?

Baahubali 2

The success of Baahubali is not the spectacle within the film but the one outside it.

The genius of Baahubali phenomenon is that it has overtaken Donald Trump in the number of seconds it takes to pop up during a conversation. Thus, Notwithstanding all the brouhaha I see the success of Baahubali as a charade which i thought has to be said because, like the topic of Trump i’ve fucking had enough of this. Let me at the outset be apologetic and say I did enjoy the first film. It was entertaining, with a decent story to tell. I would say it was a good film. Furthermore, i have been looking forward to watch the second one, you know to find out the answer to the now 500 crore over a weekend question. But let me pose some not so expensive but surely important questions. Is it path breaking for cinema? Hell No. Indian cinema? Umm No. Business of Indian cinema? Oh Yes!

So, to understand the success of Baahubali, its charade, what it means to Indian cinema and the schadenfreude of Rajamouli, we need to go beyond celebration of mediocrity as path breaking cinema. Peter Thiel in his book Zero to One about business and entrepreneurship says innovation happens when we go from 0 to 1 and everything that happens after that, the process of going from 1 to n is scale, or merely following a path created by someone else. This I believe applies to every aspect of creativity. Any idea that breaks new ground has to and does go from 0 to 1, Rest is replication.

Baahubali is a period fantasy drama that tells you the story of a bygone era. The characters, the world, the drama is as age-old as many of our epics. In that context, one would not be mistaken to call it an epic film. But certainly not in the literal sense. The idea of fiction is that it fulfills our need to experience a reality that we ourselves hitherto may not be exposed to. To follow the journey of a character in his or her shoes, to feel what they feel. To cry when they are hurt and to feel elated when they succeed. I believe for cinema or for any art to be considered great, it sort of has to transcend the boundaries of time and space. While I agree that the experience and  appreciation of cinema is purely subjective, most artworks that tend to be regarded as great are the ones which have withstood time, so i take it as a barometer and of course there are many parameters to rate art with. A great example for this would be Orwell’s 1984 which was written in the year 1948. Of late you would have definitely come across an article or an op-ed of how eerily relevant it is even in today’s world. There are several such pieces of art which are relevant across generations. The mightiest are what we call our religious epics. The reason it has to transcend the boundaries of time if not space is that, we as humans inherit our values from the stories we are told. Art defines human values in the world by addressing them and inspires change. Many movies that have been hailed as great cinema in Indian history, fall short of this including Lagaan. A few however do, like Deewar, Swades, DCH etc., which while being commercially successful, also tackled the existential or social dilemmas of our everyday lives which hadn’t been touched upon before. It might seem like a reductionist argument, but for the sake of it let us say Baahubali does talk about values and human nature like greed, betrayal that are eternal. But does it address anything new that we can apply to our lives today? Does it go from 0 to 1 in why the story is being told in the first place? In this context, all the hype around the extravaganza of Baahubali is just that. A spectacle, but of mediocrity.

Aristotle in his book Poetics lists out 6 parts to a tragedy. A ‘Spectacle’ he says is very much a part of tragedy, but he ranks it the least in importance. He says a tragedy does not need to be performed to have its intended effect on the audience. While this may be true, let us not go by what Aristotle says. Because cinema is much more than just a story, it is a visual art. Moreover, there have been many movies which have broken new ground in terms of spectacle. Here are some names, big names you might say but let’s see what all they have in common. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Toy Story, Avatar. Each of these movies pioneered a certain new technology in defining visual art. VFX in star wars, CGI in Jurassic park, Animation in Toy story and 3D in Avatar. These are just a few names, each with a visionary at its helm. Lucas, Spielberg, Catmull/Lassetter, Cameron have not been regarded as pioneers in cinema for nothing. Baahubali’s so called spectacle and I am not even commenting on the quality, relies on green screen compositing technology which has been around for decades. These days even the cheapest of the cheap hollywood’s summer films are just made on sound stages with green screens and CGI. Like everything in software outsourcing, Hyderabad and Bangalore have become body shops for such work. Taking that into context, the single biggest achievement of Baahubali, like many of ours in recent times happens to be the cost at which something is being made. Wink wink Mangalyaan. (Alright it takes a lot more to create a freaking satellite that travels to Mars than just throwing money at it, but hey that was how it was sold. Nevertheless, i guess the argument still stands.)

Now to my least favorite part of this bit. I would have liked to refrain from commenting on the individual as I believe it is his prerogative to make what he wants or get inspired from what he likes. If the entire film industry is applauding Rajamouli by calling him a visionary, he might as well be laughing at your expense. Because this entire technology has been around and not a lot of people, except may be Shankar bothered to use it even though it has been affordable. Yet it has to be said and I firmly believe that he is miles away from being an original film maker, which surprisingly seems to be a lot to ask for in a creative field. Most of his works in Telugu cinema before Baahubali have been accused of plagiarism in either parts (Sye, Eega) or whole (Maryada Ramanna). Here is a youtube clip that shows some of his inspirations and compares them with the originals. It is for you to judge. A similar allegation had come up during Baahubali 2 promotions and the reaction to it from Rajamouli was not surprising to say the least. He has often dismissed these accusations and defended himself by using the words “inspirations” or “coincidences”. Such condescending answers indicate an attempt to undermine the intelligence of one’s own audience who call him a master, a genius, a visionary to the extent that it amounts to narcissism.

Having said all this, does Bahubali break any new ground at all? To be honest it does. Like many who have rightly said, it expands the scale of regional cinema as well as bollywood. The master stroke was partnering with a studio such as Yash Raj to give it a pan indian brand appeal. Projects and successes like these create new markets and bring in more money into the business. In short, the success of Bahubali is not the spectacle within the film but the one outside it, the spectacle of Marketing. Studios need such big spectacles to bring people into the theatres so that they can fund the smaller, indie films. So, there it is, finally, the 0 to 1. And the answer if this can be scaled from 1 to n can only be given by the studios. Their willingness to fund big projects which cater to a pan indian audience and use all the tools available and eager to find new ones for film making is what will actually be the takeaway from Baahubali.

Ultimately, it does definitely take something to replace Donald Trump from being the major topic of discussion, unfortunately it is not anything ‘great’.

P.S. I have not watched the second part and any reference to Baahubali should be considered a comment on the entire project 1 & 2. Also awaiting any donations to collect $40 which apparently is the going ticket price in the US.

Paradoxes

Human being, we all believe is a social animal. But what does it mean to be a ‘social’ animal? In that it distinguishes us from other species, that we are able to socialize? Well that is true, but there is more to humans in terms of distinction between us and all other species. And that, is our ability to comprehend logic. To understand the rules of the universe and having the power to manipulate them.

We are the only species in the world, who understand the world and can perceive the world in a way we can use to actually change it. All other species live under natural laws and objective truths. The primal insticts which are inherent to all living biology. Humans on the other hand live in a subjective reality which is projected by the human mind itself. And one that the human mind is entirely capable of changing too, with thought.  So in effect, we are living in a thought originated in a human mind which we can change with our thought. Bottom line, we are living in a paradox. A paradox where objective and subjective realities exist at the same time. The universe, the existence, everything, a beautiful paradox.

Everything that exists, a thought, an idea, an opinion, morality and every single object in the cosmos has a dual nature to it. This dual nature to entities are entirely opposites of each other, but exist for the entity as a state at the same time. To understand this duality, we need to examine what we say when we believe in something or not.

When we say we believe in god for example, we are stating we believe in a power that is higher than us. Indicating the ability of our thought to leap for a higher (or lower) truth with faith. However, we do not know if that god really exists and we are leaping blindly, perceiving god to be there. This phenomena of the belief being true and false at the same time, makes your belief a paradox. Similarly everything that exists in the world as an entity which does not have it’s  own intrinsic characteristics, exists in dual nature. This dual nature is at the heart of the concept of any paradox. The world of polar opposites as we say, Good vs evil, hope vs fear, true vs false, objective vs subjective, existence vs non existence, light vs dark, life vs death are some of the paradoxes that we can clearly perceive and understand.

Considering our existence, which can be a paradox in itself, we can say we also have a state of non-existence. But since the paradox is valid only when it is at the same time, is it possible that we exist as well as do not exist at the same given time? An infinitesimal moment in time between our alternating objective and subjective realities?

If yes, then are we ‘we’ or are we ‘new’ at every moment in time?

We need more Modis!

If you’re wondering who I am, I am not any political pundit. I am just one of those millions of average citizens who voted for BJP & Modi last year. Yeah the one also called as a bhakt by many on social media. For so many of us, Sunday was a disappointing day. Not because BJP lost, but due to the fact that the party couldn’t see the writing on the wall. Now what this writing was; has been explained by many political commentators and analysts, mainly bashing BJP’s much hyped communal politics and anti-beef campaign. This is the second major defeat including the infamous Delhi election after May 2014. When the Delhi results unfolded, I failed to understand why would people so overwhelmingly vote against BJP in 2015 when the party had had a clean sweep just a few months ago. I thought it was an aberration as it was a mix of clever campaigning and basic social arithmetic by the AAP along with rejection of Kiran Bedi perceived as an opportunist. But the Bihar mandate came as a jolt to see this has happened again successfully. A mega defeat yet again, even after the PM campaigned relentlessly to vote for development and shun caste politics. There was also the high voltage campaign by media about intolerance, Dadri murder and #awardwapsi. Everyone I spoke to say the negative campaign of BJP led them to this disaster. Let me add my 2 cents as an amateur analyst about what went wrong in Bihar & how the national politics has changed since the judgement day in May 2014.

The fact that Modi rode a phenomenal wave for lok sabha on the back of a stellar campaign has been accepted even by his harshest critics. But then there were also many insinuations made by the media and chatter class analyzing the mandate about what was said and not said. Most importantly there was one about vote share to point out 69% of people have voted against Modi. This was scoffed at by the party and its supporters together. Even if there were some truth in it, this 69% vote was scattered and the BJP had done its homework to make sure the 31% arithmetic works in its favor. In the euphoria of the victory BJP had forgotten that the other parties have lost humiliatingly. There is one thing about being humiliated so badly, it will make you do hitherto inconceivable things. It was time to sharpen the knives again.

The dangers started when all the opponents started looking at this data and realized that there was a significant number of people who are against Modi and started working towards exploiting it. Enter the Mahagathbandhans. The ability of diametrically opposed political parties to junk their ideologies and come together with the sole motive to defeat BJP is being much underrated. It took time for the opposition parties to come to terms and that’s when BJP picked up victories in Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and J&K to an extent. Delhi, though was ripe with the high-pitched AAP and infighting local BJP and the dagger was well in!

From a distance, Delhi elections look like a landslide victory for Arvind Kejriwal and in fact there was a lot of support for him from the youth. But if he were to ride a wave, he would have won with similar margins in 2012. The 2015 Delhi result was a clever realignment of the Congress vote to AAP where congress quietly took a backseat. It was an invisible alliance.

Mahagathbandhan was formed on this backdrop with data in hand. Vote share of the BJP went down from around 30% in 2010 to 25% based on the initial reports that came in on sunday. The MGB got around 40% of the vote overall including others like the Congress party. I am not of the belief that people are vastly influenced by the news trends of the last 5 weeks or the campaigns while choosing a government for next 5 years based. Media with its arrogance believes it can impact the mandates. In my opinion the vote swings at the max are 2-3% which is significant but not enough to overturn the fortunes.

That the political geography of India is based on deep rooted vote banks is not rocket science. The 30-35% vote share which the BJP gets is mainly urban and upper caste. To expect landslides with barely 1/3rd vote is not practical anymore. If the BJP expects to win more states or defend the mandate in 2019, there is an urgent need for reform in the approach towards elections. By making development visible, by creating local structures of the party and grooming new age leaders. Case in point is the dynamic MP from Mysuru, Mr. Pratap Simha who has built a brand in his constituency as a doer. Now is the time to take such brands beyond the constituency and get noticed within the state. The fringe loud mouths are causing a lot of damage and need to be promptly shunted out if you expect more liberal people to vote for you.

I complimented BJP for providing Kiran Bedi an opportunity as a CM candidate even though it was a done haphazardly at the last minute and she along with the party failed miserably. It was still a forward looking step and should have been continued. Voters today need to identify who they’re voting for, which ironically should have been one of the major learnings of 2014 mandate. They are tired of voting for you Mr. Modi. People with all due respect do not even recognize or remember who are the CMs of Jharkhand, Haryana, Goa or even Gujarat for that matter unless they make harebrained comments in the media. I wonder why the sole reason of rise of brand Modi is being junked when there is a need to create more and more such Narendra Modis. The doers.

And that is only when one can expect over 50% of the vote without any threats from the so called Mahagathbandhans.