Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Slapping fields and the pre frontal cortex

Brain-stem for brain-stem we are no different than our predecessors in the Darwinian scheme of things. Where we are supposed to be superior, is in the development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Simply put, this means that while the brain stem is the source of all the primal and instinctive reactions in us, a decently developed prefrontal cerebral cortex, allows us to reason and react, and envelopes our psyche with some sober thinking.

Dr Shamsah Sonawalla , consultant to Mumbai's Jaslok Hospital and associated with Harvard Medical School, , in an India Today article on why more and more youth are committing suicides these days, states that a study of today's maladjusted youth (including teenagers), has shown up a lack of sufficient development in their brains' prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that introduces a sober aspect into our behaviour, something that allows us to reason out our impulses and thoughts, and discourages us from doing rash and aggressive and dangerous things.

The recent happenings on the cricket fields of Mohali, throw up several questions. And it all has to do with the status of development of the cerebral cortex, not just of the players involved, but also of the BCCI, if you think of it as a person, with, of course, brains.

It is well known that economic well being related to sport has changed very fast over the last 10-15 years. The RATE of change is so big ,that it primarily affects the mindset of those players who (a) have come into the game in the last 6-7 years and (b) are likely to have a relatively underdeveloped prefrontal cortex, for a variety of non cricketing reasons.

Take two players with markedly underdeveloped prefrontal cortices. Observe their rise and their perceived successes. Harbhajan, post Australia, and with the euphoria of having a nation stand behind him, still could not reason himself into putting a stop to his brain stem reactions on the field. Observe Sreesanth, in an interview prior to the Australian series , replying to a question saying "I am Sreesanth", not in answer to a name query, but as an answer that shouted "whatever i do, is OK, because I AM Sreesanth".....and notice his uncontrolled weeping subsequent to the slap, a desperate instinctive reaction.

The slap was just waiting to happen. If not Harbhajan to Sreesanth, then maybe the umpires. Why is it that we have never seen Tendulkar shaking his fist at someone from the opposition ? Or Rahul Dravid, mouthing bad words and glaring at players ? Kumble, I am sure, swears at troublesome cricketers, inaudibly. There are some younger players who seethe with anger but prefer not to let off steam on the field.

There is a reason. Discipline while growing up, coupled with discipline in their sport. It means taking the worst with the best. Controlling outbursts. Channelising emotions and energies. Their parents are to be applauded.

The BCCI, if it was a person, would certainly have a severely underdeveloped pre frontal cortex. Here is an organization, wallowing in funds, with world level clout. And what does it do? Goes overboard supporting Harbhajan in Australia, by foolish actions like threatening to pull out . Then faced with an ICL offering fortunes for cricketers to play with them, it reacts, with a remarkable lack of concern for the effects of all this glitter on young cricketing minds, and suddenly throws up the IPL. In highly publicised scenes reminiscent of corporate takeovers and auctions (with money no problem), grand purchases and buying of cricketer loyalty takes place. These are not well thought out reactions of an individual or organization , that plans for the future, comprising , say of the next 10 years. It is the gut reaction of an organization drunk on power, money, and an adoring audience of, what in India , are referred to as cutlery.

Kerry Packer tried something similar years ago. A lot of the cricket associations were still "middle class" then, and relied on the mental strengths of their cricketers to stay away from it. Many years later, Kerry Packer's set up merged seamless with world cricket, or vice versa.

The slap was incidental. Tomorrow something else other than palms may be used. There is no end to abusive words. Their use has to be restricted. Slap dash reactions from the parent organization encourage slap dash reactions from the players , with weak pre frontal cortices, conditioned by insufficient parental guidance.

Violence was always there in sport. The ability to curb it needs to be present.

Many years ago, our wicket keeper Farroukh Engineer(who fined Harbhajan), himself raised bats with Abid Ali the bowler, after an on field disagreement. However, this was taken to its rightful end, inside the dressing room, where both raised bats, but ended up throwing water on each other, and their disgusted manager, G.S.Ramchand. Slightly better pre frontal cortices, conditioned by stricter bringing up and a thought for their playing future.

Rashid Patel, a left arm bowler, chased the late Raman Lamba to the boundary with a stump raised in his hand, during a West Zone-North Zone Duleep Trophy game in 1991. North Zone had piled up 700 runs and this frustrated Patel. He was banned for 13 months by a BCCI, (which was not yet hobnobbing with the world's latest four Indian billionaires, and selling them cricketers).

The Slapping was just waiting to happen.

Will the BCCI, use its "rich" cerebral cortex, and look into some counselling for these two bowlers ? Monetary fines will not work. Thanks to IPL , they have more than enough.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Flying over

In most countries of the world, driving a car is an exact science. There are some folks who try and defy that, but by and large everyone tries to follow non controversial, low-tech rules like keeping to a lane, showing signals, and so on. In India, driving has been elevated to an art form. And woe betide anyone who thinks otherwise.

I learnt driving in Pune and Mumbai in the late 60's, in what may be called the golden age of driving, with the lumbering Ambassadors and pesky Fiats, and my trial by fire, so to speak, was successfully driving through the Khandala Ghats and navigating the 30 degree turn with a gradient of 60 degrees , without frothing at the mouth, while a truck kept accelerating and breathing behind me. Graduate school in the US introduced me to the science of systematic driving. When you overtook someone in the next lane at 65 mph on the freeway, the possibility of him veering suddenly a centimeter next to you was almost nil.

Notwithstanding all this scientific driving training, on my return, I took to driving in Mumbai, like certain law enforcement people take to paperwork from drivers pockets.

The biggest quantum change in driving in Mumbai has been after 4 things entered the picture. Fancy ,faster, more powerful cars, autorickshaws, flyovers, and the cell phone. The smallest quantum change has been in the road infrastructure offered to the citizens.

Recently, over a month, I had occasion to make daily east-west trips across the same set of roads. A new aspect of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation was visible. It endeavours to train its citizenry to face the unexpected.

The Mumbai Metroploitan Developement Authority (MMRDA) is besotted with flyovers. The whole idea is to modify the mindset of the hassled drivers of Mumbai, as they accelerate over strange gradients without lanes, and zoom to the top in a very cheerful mood, amazed at how wonderful the MMRDA can be.

One of the flyovers I frequent often is one that starts off in the midst of an area with slums , disorganized construction debris and buffalo yards and then kind of zooms across, giving you a lamppost view of the whole of Larsen and Toubro establishment, and then suddenly deposits you where you watch stunned as the Powai lake with its extinct crocodiles, construction debris, silt, the Hiranandani Complex with its upper middle class ethos and style, and the ravaged hills, unfold in a wide angled panorama in front of you.

Don't let all this fool you. Life has not changed for the better. The MMRDA, has for several months, presumably for educative purposes, scrupulously maintained a huge heap of debris at an unlighted spot in the left most lane as you descend the flyover. It impresses the hell out of me when I realise that keeping the rubble heap on the ascending part of the flyover would have made it visible from a distance and destroyed the surprise element , that the MMRDA is at pains to introduce, in an effort to keep motorists down to earth (in more ways than one).

And so there are stoppages. While most vehicles screech to a stop , and then , with a mixture of anger,frustration and despair, kind of push their way right, in a orchestra of ticking indicators, there are some people who make creative use of these places, in a way the MMRDA bosses never imagined.

Late evenings, often find couples on two wheelers parked on either side of the heap, occupying what they think is a choice place for enjoying some interesting moments, with a great view of the silting lake, as various diesel trucks, and container trucks grumpily shuffle,sneeze , agitate, and manoeuvre in the next lane , worried about the unavoidable traffic jam at the end of the lake.

For a country that drives on the left, rules and normal thinking demands that one overtakes from the right. However, maybe as a tribute to the MTV Roadies show, and as an expression of the awareness of the selective myopic vision of the law and order set-up, today the two wheeler non-easy riders. charge in from the left, regardless of buses at bus stops, alighting passengers, embarking passengers, and basically, anybody. It is not unknown for alighting passengers to alight from the front of the bus, with a pose reminiscent of bharat natyam, one hand outstretched, palm facing the motorcycles, the other hand clutching the bus rod, one foot stretched in the front .......with a pleading expression on their tired faces.

The MMRDA also shows great creativity in placing barriers in the middle of a road where some digging is being done. On the same road that I frequented on my trips, one encountered amorphously dug deep ditches of undefined shapes and sizes, surrounded by easily movable metal barriers resembling clothes dryers. Not one for losing an opportunity to make money through advertisements , these barriers were emblazoned with the word "SUVIDHA" . (Faciility). Out of all the things that they could advertise , like cellphones, nearby malls and the like, the choice here was particularly apt. (SUVIDHA is a well known department store in Dadar , a suburb 20 kilometers away). Should you miss noticing the dug ditch, this would be a SUVIDHA(facility) for descending into the nether regions of the earth below Mumbai.

And what can you say about cellphones ? Never has something been used so well to deceive people. Extreme left lanes of flyovers are used today to stop your two wheeler, and attend to calls , telling someone you are twenty miles away from where you actually are. " Hands free " facilitated phones have given a new meaning to speaking to yourself, and i have often marvelled at the sudden profusion of people on two wheelers seriously talking with
elves on the highest point of flyovers (great connectivity), as 500 vehicles whizz past in an hour next to them.

But I deeply admire the autorickshawallah, who parked his axle damaged vehicle next to the heap pf debris on the flyover peak, and napped away amidst the rubble, enjoying the cool night breezes from the lake. The heap was a wonderful barrier from other vehicles, he slept in the sort of fresh air he never inhaled where he lived, and he must have , after the repairs, been tickled to trundle down the slope of the flyover in a natural attempt at starting the autorickshaw, sitting double-seat with his mechanic friend, as they made their way early morning to a wayside stall for cutting chai, quite close to one of the sophisticated star hotels in the area.

This is just a single flyover. It has shape. It has character. And like for any character, it has its flaws. And it continues to be used heavily, heaps, rubble, and all.

It just occurred to me that the ultimate objective of the managers of the city is to make it like say, Shanghai, HongKong, or even Singapore. With its intricate history and successful use of "flyovers, I just hope no one here is thinking about becoming Los Angeles. The overpasses, underpasses, networks, ramps and the like offer unlimited scope for MMRDA's czars who are bent on educating the citizenry with their innovative objects on flyovers.

I shudder at the impending and looming disaster.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chronic Croritis****

Words fail. Mouth agape. ( In keeping with the shape of zero. The key to converting nothing to crores).

But the finger types on. We have become a nation of extremes.

Another nation twitches its eyebrow over one of our border states, and our PM puts off his trip there. The same nation goes into a frenzied tirade about a torch related to their forthcoming Olympics, and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs , sits back, eyebrows arched in importance , with eyes closed, as the Chinese Ambassador, in an unprecedented breach of protocol creates history , by being the first high level diplomat to tangle with a overly eager-to-please New Delhi Police.

The Indian Olympic Association, which specializes in sending more officials than athletes to the Games, year after year, decides to run a torch relay for itself, and the public be damned. Barricades, barbed wires, rod wielding, 18,000 police and 50 national security personnel (in a cordon around each runner) , guarding the route of 2.5 kilometres.

A chosen lot of 70 runners will do the torch relay, swearing eternal allegiance to Samsung, Lenovo, CocaCola, and maybe, just maybe, the Indian Olympic Association and Olympic Movement . From a torch relay run of 32 kilometers in 2004, watched and applauded by men, women and children, this will be like doing a sophisticated passing-the-parcel every 30-40 metres or so. With tens of thousands of securitymen dressed in track suits lining the path, applauding as ordered....(while another tens of thousands of securitymen, chase the Tibetan protesters, who are simply having a torch relay of their own, some distance away, in what I thought was a free and democratic country)

Who pays for this ? Well, don't ask. National Prestige is involved.

When the government has no funds to improve the abysmal living conditions for policemen, no funds to enhance the living conditions in our highest security overcrowded jails, no funds to buy ammunition for the Olympic shooters for practice, no funds for badminton shuttlecocks for the national team, and no funds to give airfare to a champion woman carom player representing the country abroad, we need to redefine National Prestige as National Shame.

Crores are allowed to flow through without any results or accountability. Meetings, flights, ostentatious displays, expenditures for individual offices , security for laughable relays. At one time, one hesitantly talked about lakhs. Today, everything is in crores; costs, rewards, people, fees, contracts..... Stupid me.

Is it a complete coincidence that the other travesty in Crores, IPL, otherwise called Itna Pakad Lo, is to begin the next day in Bangalore.

Every single cricketer "who counts" (as a player, not money), is injured or close to it, thanks to the factory type slogging playing schedule the BCCI sets up , in a cruel effort at shoring up the crores. Cricketers who made weedy comments, cricketers who spat into their hands and discussed their integrity, are now, thanks to the shining crores, talking about the sportsmen from various countries getting closer. Discussions of the Simian variety take a back seat, as the crores blind some.

While stock markets fall, inflation rises, industrial production falls, I wonder if this has to do with industrial houses dealing in cement,telecommunication, liquor, textile yarn, construction etc finding enough crores in their pockets, not only to pay crores to expert flingers and hitters of the red cherry, but also to import a bunch of dancers to teach us Indians how to enjoy a sport. (The BCCI filled its coffers till today, thanks to the Indian audience that braved badly designed , infrastructureless, unorthopaedically and unergonomically designed stadiums; as the just imported Washington Redskins cheerleaders would (never) say, "man, we don't need no dancers....").

As if this is not enough, everyone who acts in Hindi movies is now being paid, what else, crores, to depict improbable personalities in unreal situations, with dances in minimal clothes thrown in. In case you think that's a saving, the costumes actually cost a crore.

Do we have a lack of entertainment in this country ? We produce the largest number of movies, play cricket for maximum number of days a year resulting in the richest cricket association in the world, we have the largest number of impoverished sport associations in the country, we are probably the largest set of mobile phone users in the world. While we bask in the glory of 3 more IIT's and how it has become a brand across the world, we are probably the backbenchers, when childhood and women's literacy levels across the country are concerned.

What to do. There is a crunch.
Of money.
In some places.
We are like that only.

In other places, money is today being flung around in a frenzy, as if it is going out of fashion. What this will do, is affect the psyche of those who still , well entrenched in the middle class , correlate efforts with rewards, in daily life , that is.

Not under lights, not under police protection, not on television, not on any kind of show.

Maybe these folks know something Richard Armour once said

That money talks

I'll not deny,

I heard it once:

It said, "Goodbye."

****P.S. Apr 18, 2008. Read Mini T20 at North Pole to know how some people are still immune t0 the epidemic of croritis. Way to go, Indian Navy !

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Torch runs of a different kind....

Ten thousand and more moons ago, when we were still the "next generation" (currently, we belong to the older variety), running was associated with stuff like running for buses, running from a herd of sneezing bulls or a pack of mad dogs, running to catch trains which had suddenly altered departure timings, running to catch forgotten school stuff which our brethren flung at us from a first floor balcony, and such mundane stuff. The most wildly exciting form of running, which was practiced in dramatic style in movies, was running away from home. For square and gutless folks like me, that was never an option.

Today running is a political statement. Allowing an unhindered Olympic torch relay to happen is a political statement. Allowing protest regarding the torch relay , is another political statement.

It has nothing to do with the sport of "running" per se.

In the original ancient Olympics, there was a flame, but there was NO torch relay. In its original form, the Olympic flame was lit at the beginning of the Games, and it continued to burn throughout the games. It was doused at the conclusion of the games. Any kind of running with torches, was actually a public relations event, where capable chaps ran through cities in Greece announcing the games, and inviting the populace. While there were Gods-of-honor, like Zeus associated with the games, it isn't clear if the games had an entry fee, whether the public paid to get in, whether the temple staff went in free, etc etc.

The first torch relay was held in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where a person called Carl Diem, decided to organize a relay transport of the Olympic torch from the site in Greece, to the Berlin Stadium. Hitler was to preside, and his minions convinced him about the games being THE place to highlight German and Aryan supremacy. A German (Aryan) athlete ran with the flame. The country went all out and "Jews not wanted" signs were ordered to be removed from tourist attractions. The Ministry of the Interior directed the Berlin Police to arrest all the gypsies and keep them in special camps; the clean, white, superior Aryan games would not be sullied with visions of impure gypsies.

In these modern times, the Torch travels by various modes of transport, like planes, ships, cars , buses and human runners. Governments give high priority to this trip of the torch. A few symbolic athletes are involved. In some countries like ours, it is a place for political games and oneupmanship, as you stand on a dias, high-up, applauding the carefully selected favoured runners, chortling to yourself as you pose next to the current powers that be, thinking about the event organization and commercial profits-to-be.....

Tibetan people have used this occasion to highlight their plight . Amidst varying opinions about whether this way of protesting is acceptable, one cannot help think of what would have happened if the imprisoned gypsies in Hitler's Olympics had protested, or been allowed to have their say. But Germany then was NOT a real democracy; Hitler dictated. Today, China is NOT a democracy, and communists rule, with as iron a fist as any, particularly when it comes to the religious Tibetans. History appears to be repeating itself. Maybe we need a Tibetan Jesse Owens.

But. There is another kind of Torch Relay happening.

Special Olympics are held throughout the world, to encourage differently abled people to participate in sports. A sports festival where participating is as important and as much applauded as winning, the torch relay here has been used as a fund raiser in the form of a The Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Initiated in 1981, by
Richard LaMunyon, Police Chief of Wichita, Kansas(USA), who foresaw an urgent need to raise funds for the success and awareness of the Special Olympics (for very special people), the Torch Run was soon adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Across the world, this is the largest grassroots fundraiser, as well as a public awareness event , and they have raised up to 30 million dollars in 2007,

Close to
85,000 law enforcement officers/police carried the torch as the "Flame of Hope" across 35 nations, raising awareness and funds for Special Olympics.
Police officers and Special athletes participate in torch runs, wherever Special Olympic local events are held, leading up to the main Special Olympics. Funds are generated through various things like a "adopt-a-cop" runner sponsorship, Special Torch Run T-shirt sales, corporate sponsorships, golf tournaments , pledges for running policemen, and every two years, law enforcement officers from around the world gather to carry the "Flame of Hope" in a Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg in honor of the Special Olympics World Summer or World Winter Games.

India does send athletes to these Olympics , and does very well, medals and all

. We never hear of a hue and cry being made . by the powers-that-be, over these "torch runs" . Maybe that's because its never about making or winning points, but all about participation. And about rejoicing in the win of your fellow athlete. No Pepsi, no Cocacola, no Samsung, no scheming, no politics , no announcing rewards in parliament ,no nothing.

We have politicized the Olympics. Like in Cricket, money dictates attitudes. You cow-tow to countries smitten by trade agreements, price of oil, their support at the UN; all , with a fine myopic blink at their country maps, where they claim a part of your country as theirs......

All this thoughtless running. For reasons of power. Not what Olympics is all about.

Shakespeare probably never did sprints or marathons. But he anticipated things when he said:

We may outrun

By violent swiftness that which we run at,

And lose by over-running.