Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Homosexuality is a disease: Govt of India

Homosexuality is a Disease: Govt of IndiaThe Union Government of the Republic of India, in circa 2008, officially thinks that "homosexuality is a disease, and if legalized would bring devastation to the society". Can you beat that? Just imagine the Additional Solicitor General of India standing up in court and telling that to the judge!

Thankfully for India's gays, the Delhi High Court is trying its best to ensure that sanity prevails. In response to the Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra's remarks communicating the central government's official views on the said subject, a bench headed by Chief Justice A.P. Shah asked the government to produce a single medical report which stated that 'homosexuality is a disease'. The court was hearing a petition filed by gay right activists seeking legalization of 'same-sex-sex' between consenting adults.

Making things funnier was the advocate for an independent politician B.P. Singhal who endorses the central government's views. This is what he had to say, " If the court allows such acts then it would lead to male prostitution and the epidemic of AIDS would further spread. We would no longer be a country called India if Section 377 is removed and such behaviour (homosexuality) is allowed (in this country)." And here I was thinking that violence and hatred were the only dangers to the integrity of our country - a man loving another man could destroy my country, that thought had somehow never crossed my mind. Silly me.

One of the planks on which the legalization of homosexuality is opposed is that it is one of the biggest accelerators of AIDS. Shouldn't we then at least mull about banning sex altogether? That will also surely take care of our population problem. Now that's what you would call killing two birds with one shot, what say, Mr Singhal?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Reality of an Outsider in the North-East

Human behaviour can be most erratic, fascinating and cruel. I was born in Dibrugarh, a sleepy town (there was the temptation to prefix town with little, but at a population that is hovering around the 3,00,000 figure that may not be the correctest adjective to use) in India's north-east. Now i am a Marwari - it is a trading community that takes its name from the place of its origin, Marwar in Rajasthan, and even as I entered my early teen years, I soon realized that Dibrugarh and for that matter the entire north-eastern region was not the safest place for a Marwari to be living in. In Assam, the dominant Assamese speaking people loathed the non-Assamese communities, with special disdain for Marwaris, Bengalis and Biharis. The same was true, with minor variations, across the north-east. Now the rest of India may think so, but the north-east is no homogeneous belt, and each one of the seven states has its own separate languages, cultures, caste-systems and degrees of disdain for the non-natives. Two states which were the worst for the outsiders (sic) were Nagaland and Meghalaya.

I migrated from Assam to Delhi in the early summer of 1993, a good fourteen years back, and the situation may since then altered, but only slightly and not necessarily for the better. That's why these stories are interesting.

Debojit Saha is one of those outsiders - a Bengali living in Assam. But when he captured popular attention in Zee TV's hugely popular reality show Sa Re Ga Ma in 2005, these same people forgot all their hatred and dislike for Bengalis and voted enmass for Debojit to ensure him a grand victory. This temporary amnesia was not restricted to the common people - even student leaders of the All Assam Student's Union (AASU) who are typically at the fore-front of fanning such anti-outsider hysteria went out of their way to prove that 'this Bengali' was one of their own. In fact, when the victorious Debojit reached Guwhati, the press conference was conference was organised at the AASU office!!

While the press hailed it as a great symbol of Assamese-Bengali unity, nothing really changed at the ground level. The rest of the Bengalis were still outsiders; Marwaris were still disdained and the Biharis would soon be the newest target of this fanatic ire.

Fast forward to circa 2007 - this time it's yet another Bengali boy, this time from Meghalaya who has united the Khasis, Garos and the outsiders - but i guess only for the purpose of voting, SMSing and singing praise of Amit Paul, the hero of Indian Idol, another TV reality show. Communities are being formed in Shillong to ensure victory for Amit in the final round. This time the politicians have joined in in the bandwagon, and with full gusto. On August 29th, Meghalaya Chief Minister DD Lapang along with three cabinet ministers, the chief secretary, additional chief secreatary and two additional DGPS of the state met to chalk out a strategy to ensure the local outsider goes on to become the Indian Idol.

What for Mr. Lapang? You would be better off ensuring the safety and security of every Indian living in your state rather than garnering popular support spending time on such rubbish. Yes, if the citizens of India are safe in your state irrespective of their caste or creed and the basic tasks of the government have been taken care of and you still have time left, please vote for Amit for all i care. Right now, Meghalaya and India would be better served if you shift your attention from the reality shows to the reality of life in Meghalaya.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

India decimate Korea - Win Asia Cup Hockey

indian hockey players
India beat Korea today in the finals of the Asia Cup Hockey at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium in Chennai. In a tense final which saw tempers flaring up on both sides, the resolute Indian side beat Korea by a huge margin of 7-2. The winners were leading 3-1 at half-time.

Shortly after the half-time, a Korean goal was rightly disallowed by the umpire as the ball had been clearly hit from outside the D. However, Korea took their protests to ridiculous proportions with the Korean coach even pulling out the team off the turf. The match was stalled for a few minutes and it looked like India would be awarded the match. However better sense prevailed and the Koreans returned to the turf shortly after.

Prabhjot Singh was the star of the Indian performance with Bimal Lakra also putting in a sterling performance. Mention must also be made of the Indian goalie, Baljit Singh Dhillon who stood rock-solid in front of the Indian goal thwarting the Korean attack time and again.

This has been Indian hockey's best performance in years and should hopefully spur them on to greater heights. However the Indian Hockey Federation led by the almost-insane KPS Gill has been famous for making mess of the team soon after every ascendancy - and it remains to be seen whether they let this wonderful team remain united after this triumph.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CAT 2005: New Wine in Old Bottle

Every winter, the IIMs open a bag full of surprises. It's called the CAT. The Common Admission Test or the CAT as it is popularly called, the joint entrance test for the six IIMs is held on the 3rd Sunday of every November. 20th November was 2005's CAT Sunday and the IIMs stayed true to their reputation. Even while managing to stay within the framework of an unwritten syllabi that they have been following every year, the CAT still managed to fox the hundred and seventy five thousand students who wrote the paper this year. Let's analyze this year's paper and see what was new and what was not.

To notice the first change, the students didn't even have to wait for the alloted 2 hours to begin. It was there, right on top, on your face, in the instructions sheet, written in a mere 6 point type size but with far reaching consequences. The IIMs have finally ended years of suspense. For the first time in its history, the CAT had an explicit negative marking scheme - one/third of the marks alloted to the question. A small matter, you would say, but try telling that to a CAT applicant !

The basic structure of the test was exactly same as the previous year. So we once again had 3 sections: Problem Solving, Data Interpretation & Logical Reasoning and Verbal Ability& Reading Comprehension. But within this broad framework, there were changes and surprises galore. The number of questions were drastically reduced. Against 123 questions last year, 2005 saw just 90 questions. The variable marking scheme introduced only last year, was continued with, but even here minor changes were visible. The 0.5 mark questions were altogether dropped, which effectively meant there were zero very easy questions. Besides that, out of the 150 marks on offer, 120 marks were in the form of 2 mark questions, which implies that effectively, 80 percent of the question paper was in the form of tough questions. These two points clearly indicate that the IIMs once again raised the bar on the toughness level of the questions. Now this is a rare change, because the last time this was done was as way back as in 1999.

If you dissect the individual sections further, you will notice further interesting changes. A process which was started last year has now been taken to its logical conclusion - Calculation based questions have now made an almost complete exit from the D.I. section. Data Sufficiency and Verbal Reasoning questions were conspicuous by their absence. Traditional questions based on logical reasoning were not to be seen either. To compound matters further, the regular FIBs (Fill in the blanks) were presented in all new format. Blanks were substitued by invalid words and you were asked to suggest an appropriate replacement!

What are the inferences that we can draw? One, the CAT is increasingly becoming a reasoning based paper. Two, the shrinking basket of questions outlined the importance of knowledge, and your ability to apply that knowledge accurately.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Full Circle - From Azhar to Azhar

Arresting a decay is mostly difficult because it invariably happens in a very unnoticeable, gradual manner. Corruption, for instance, would never have become as acceptable had it happened all of a sudden. Why it succeeded is because it corroded the system over a very long period of time in a very non-intrusive manner.

Yesterday*, surprisingly, a decay reached one of its early summits and I say surprising because unlike corruption or most other decadence that have been witnessed, this one was surprisingly rapid yet there is hardly much murmur about it. And the surprise is all the more because this latest case of decay is taking place in an area we are quite attached with – emotionally and actually.
It was less than two years back that Indian cricket was riding high on the success of Saurav and Wright’s tactics. What was amazing and heart-warming about the team was not so much the success that they were achieving, but the spirit with which they were playing. On a player-to-player basis, this team was no superior than the previous teams which had represented the country. In fact, the shining star of the previous years, and one of the greatest batsman the game has ever seen, was now evidently past his peak. And I think, the best way to gauge the success of this team is from the position of this great player in the team. Saurav’s team became free of Sachin – Sachin was important, he was arguably still the most important player, but that was it. The team’s performance was no longer proportional to the length of Tendulkar’s stay at the crease. The Indian cricket team became what it was always supposed to be one – a team. Each member became important and no one indispensable. Azhar’s boys had been replaced by Saurav’s men.

Watching the dying moments of the match yesterday was an agonizing experience. I could see my spirits and hopes dying – the clock had completed a full circle all too soon. Rahul’s India had become Azhar’s India: Saurav’s India has been thrown into the dustbin of cricketing history all too soon. While there is enough logic and statistics to back the decision of throwing the player Saurav into the bin, there is no logic, cricketing or scientific, to abandon all the good work that he had done. When five boys (read wickets) fell early in Azhar’s India, the game was given up. Saurav’s men fought it till the very end – and more often than not, succeeded. The idea of giving up had been given up.

An interesting bit of statistic: While chasing an ODI target, if seven or more wickets have fallen, the win record of Ganguly’s team is 1.5 times that of Azhar’s. The importance of this record is realized when you look at a similar record for the Australian team since 1st Jan 1991. Their variance between overall win record and for this filter is less than 20%. For India, it’s close to 35%. Which means, if Australia had a similar record as other team’s for this particular filter, their record for this period, when they have been the unquestioned number one team, would only remain marginally better than the next team

You might think that India didn’t give up yesterday after the first five wickets fell early and you are right about it in a very narrow, unthinking manner. Ganguly’s biggest contribution to the team was not recovery but a more tangible phenomenon called success. Though I have not been able to collect empirical evidence to verify this, India under Ganguly had the best probability of reaching a score of 200 batting first, if the first four wickets fell for less than 50. The idea is that recovering and reaching 150-175, while commendable, did not do much for the end result. The first target for team recovering from a similar position (unless the wicket is a landmine) is invariably 200. Anything less is a defeat – like it happened yesterday. Unlike the paying public’s penchant for close finishes, Ganguly was the kind who would not see a difference between a 16 run loss and a 56 run one. A defeat is a defeat, and it hurts.

Let’s continue the above discussion, with the situation reversing – India defending a total, that is. Except for the odd match, like the Benson & Hedges tie against the West Indies in 1991 at WACA, Azhar’s bowling changes were too defensive and fatal. In this match Azhar did a Ganguly. Defending a meager 126, he went for the jugular – not a single over was given to any irregular bowler though he had only four regular bowlers in his armoury. Tendulkar was brought in to bowl the 41st over only when he had absolutely no choice. But by then the strategy had worked beautifully, with West Indies having lost all but one wicket, and still short by six runs. India won the match, but not before Tendulkar had given away 5 runs. Imagine the result if Azhar had employed his regular strategy. While Kapil, Prabhakar, Srinath and Banerjee had each recorded an economy rate of 3 or under, a few overs by Tendulkar, even if he had scalped a wicket or two, would most probably have been a fatal strategy. But unlike this day of master-captaincy, Azhar was mostly a master at missing the plot. In innumberable cases, when the match was tightly balanced, Azhar’s defensive tactic of getting through with his secondary bowlers first would kill the match long before the spearheads came back into attack.

Ganguly was no genius, just that he was smart enough to learn from Azhar’s mistakes. He didn’t transform the team over night; it was a slow, gradual process. So it is bizarre that the man who thought Dada was next only to God (okay, only in half of the cricket field) should have gone into a complete re-learning mode. Dravid opening the innings would nowhere fit into Dada’s scheme of going for the jugular. Even if we leave Dada aside, a copybook correct Rahul should know that no team puts its best two batsmen at the very top. I am not against innovation or experimentation, but this is plain wrong – cricket is over a hundred years old, one-dayers itself are over a ripe thirty: Certain experiments have already been done and the results well-documented for future reference, you are repeating failed experiments at your own peril.

Saurav succeeded because he learnt from history, he knew the weaknesses that were to be worked on, and the strengths that were to be harnessed. Even he experimented occasionally but never went on an over-drive. Rahul is failing because Chappell seems to have convinced him to start on a blank-canvas. They are following a most weird hit-n-trial strategy. You just need to iron out the wrinkles; a complete plastic surgery may the kill the body.

* Written on the day after the India- Australia match of the DLF Cup 2006, Malaysia