Remember the TITAN

The Lord’s match was expected to be an explosion of statistics – 2000th test match, 100th between India and England and the long expected 100th 100 by the God of cricket. But as is usual with gods, disappointment was doled out instead of deliverance.

What no one remembered was that Rahul Dravid was set to become the 2nd highest run scorer in the history of the game. As is the way with his centuries and fifties, Dravid reached this landmark in his unassuming style. He is also on way to surpassing (or at least equalling) Gavaskar to clinch 2nd highest number of centuries for India if his love for British conditions is anything to go by.

Sadly he is unlikely to go further than this 2nd highest landmarks. Because at top, sits the God. Dravid will never replace Him, nor will he ever become a God in his own right. He was chosen by destiny to be something more important – a Titan!

Like Titans, his achievements are overshadowed by those of the God. Like Titans, his myth for a few aficionados while the God is worshipped by all and sundry.

Like Atlas he is called upon to shoulder the weight that no one else wants – weight of a crumbling top order, weight of wicket keeping, weight of being a stand-in opener. Like Sisyphus he puts all his effort to roll the boulder of Indian batting uphill by day and as soon as he turns his back the boulder comes tumbling back. Most unfortunate of all like Prometheus, despite his numerous contributions, vultures come after his flesh every time he scores less than fifty.

Worship your God all you want, but remember the Titan!!

The one who cannot be bullied with short balls and who will not bend his knees against insurmountable totals. The one who will dig his heels and fight till the last ball or last wicket remains at the other end. The one who will stand tall when all else succumbs!

Remember the Titan!

Statistic Bite – While Sachin has scored more runs and more centuries than Dravid, chew on this – of the 32 times that Dravid had scored a century before this match, India has lost only 1. 11 of Sachin’s 51 centuries were in matches that India lost.

Cast the First Stone

Assuming that Anna Hazare (by various accounts – Anna Hazard, Anna Bizarre etc.) is again able to arm-twist government with Twitter and Facebook campaigns, we can expect Jan Lokpal Bill to come in force at the earliest. Anna can ask for an aggressive time line and when government doesn’t abide by it, he can go for another fast unto death (if Baba Ramdev joins in then Baba’s fast will be unto he-feels-really-uncomfortable).

Now as soon as this bill comes in to force and Lokpal gets set up I want to propose three culprits, who in my view, are most corrupt (by being all-pervasive in nature) and impacting our economy adversely.

All three culprits accept bribes for starting from school admissions to better percentage through-out schools and colleges, to obtaining aspired jobs, influencing court cases in favor of one or the other etc.

The list of their influence is considered endless and people pay bribes to all of them or anyone of them.

These three along with many others run a kind of syndicate with innumerable agents spread across country who work on commission basis. They accept bribes in cash or kind depending on the channel one uses for paying these bribes.

For example-

Culprit 1 famously accepts bribes in tons of milk products across the country in addition to other similar materials.

Culprit 2 also accepts the bribes in various formats but most blatantly, in a few particular cities people are encouraged to actually pay for tiles and bricks for his houses which somehow remain under construction indefinitely. Also, in true blue CWG spirit, these bricks and tiles cost way more than a truckload of tiles/bricks available in the market.

Culprit 3 trumps almost everyone in the genre with style. Not only does he charge probably the most money but even taking an appointment for a closer discussion costs loads of money. Those who approach his offices without paying large sums of money can only get a tiny glimpse of him and agree on bribes with various agents.

While of all the three have high influence across the country put together, their individual influence is high or low based on particular regions. Other culprits do exert higher influence in particular regions or for particular groups of people, but it has been long suspected that in the end they are all part of the same syndicate.

Undoubtedly it will be very difficult to catch them. They are of illusive nature and as a poet explains – they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. To paraphrase a line from Usual Suspects ‘the greatest trick they ever pulled, was to convince the world that they existed’!

Also, there is no way that I know of with which we can prove these culprits are influencing the results on any of these nor is there a guarantee of 100% success. But their agents do spread the rumors of their influence in various arenas. Also, agents accept all kind and manner of bribes in their name so I think it still makes as good a case as any to prosecute these three culprits first and later others from their ilk.

So, I hereby charge Culprit 1 – Mahadev Shankar (not to be confused with Shankar Mahadevan), Culprit 2 – Srikrishna Yadav and Culprit 3 – Tirupathi Balaji for propagating corruption for centuries in the country and serving as a sink for money in a country where this money could be put to much better use.

In true spirit of taking up cases of Indian Janta, I hope Jan Lokpal and various Lokayuktas will take up the cases in earnest and provide judgments in the favor of people of India.

Note 1 – the three culprits named here are just used as examples, if you believe in any particular deity more you can replace their name wherever required and read the article again.

Note 2 – If your religious sentiments are hurt due to this article, believe me my intention is not to hurt you personally but to urge you to re-think your belief systems. Any entity that bestows favors in return of prayers or offerings as against efforts and skills is surely working in the same spirit of that of A Raja and Suresh Kalmadi.

Note 3 – If you are a religious fanatic, my wordpress account has been hacked and this was not written by me. Please burn someone else at the stake.

Singhasan Chhupa ke Rakhkho ke Dhobi Aata Hai (Hide the throne, washer-man is lurking around)

Current situation reminds of the story of a king who wanted to go hunting. He asked his prime minister if it was a good day to be out in the wilderness. Seeing that the sky was clear, the wise man said it seems to be as good a day as any. On the way to woods, the king chanced up on a washer-man going with his donkey. The washer-man (Dhobi) suggested to king’s riders that it was going to rain and they should go back to the castle. The king ignored the advice and went to the jungle anyway. By mid-day it started raining heavily and the king had to abandon hunt and rush back to the castle. On returning the king called on washer-man and made him the prime minster because he was able to make a better weather prediction.

The kings and queens of Indian democracy are going through a similar situation here. Our deep disgust of all things political have convinced us that elected are unfit for the job by definition. (to channel Douglas Adam – anyone who is capable of getting himself/herself elected should not be allowed to rule.) Our disappointment in the existing systems is leading us to believe that we would be better off building alternate systems to support us. The feeling is especially strong in case of judiciary.

Judiciary has disappointed on more counts than one. There is no denying that. Powerful accused get acquitted. Cases go on for ages without conclusion. Honorable judges come under corruption scanner and lawyers have been unscrupulous butts of all jokes for ages. On top of all this, the inscrutability of legalese does nothing to improve the people’s opinion of the system.

So we seek a keystone that can restore our faith in justice. A group of certified social workers (certified by international awards that is) offer us solutions in terms of alternate judiciary – Lokpal (through Jan Lokpal Bill) and NAC (through Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence). These systems (at least in the mind of supporters) are committed to make the culprits pay.

Personally, I am not too eager to have this animal in the tent. I do not think this will be an improvement over the existing systems and here are my reasons-

  1. Accountability (lack thereof) – thou art a female canine! Our unrestrained babus are answerable to government eventually. Governments are answerable to Janta every five years. By extension, judges appointed by presidents are also answerable in a very indirect way to populace of the country. Lokpal and NAC are accountable to a coterie of an autonomous body of social workers and that body in turn is not accountable to anyone else.So all the problems and frustrations we have with our government and bureaucracy being unaccountable will only increase in this new system. The argument would be that these are people with good intentions, the same material that paves way to hell. Mind you, Jan Lokpal Bill is requesting for powers similar to those of regular court.
  2. Professional Expertise – we clamor for educated politicians. The idea that education improves your decision making or your ethics is not valid. But in case of legal decisions, a thorough understanding of the law of land and objectivity of mind is a pre-requisite for judges. Not being swayed by popular opinions is also a critical part of the job. Will Lokpal and NAC employ retired judges to these roles or will they appoint social workers for these very important roles? I think it will be a mix of both. A social worker taking important judicial decisions is akin to alternate medicine enthusiast performing complex brain surgery on critical patients. I wouldn’t bet on patient (justice here) making through the day.
  3. Objectivity – these institutions are being built by and will mostly be run by activists. Activists who are committed to a cause. Do we expect these judgments to be impartial? Will an Arundhati Roy even listen to what Narendra Modi has to say? Will Kanimozhi get a fair treatment from people who brought 2G scam to fore? Don’t get me wrong. I respect activists and the important role they play in functioning of democracy. But I fear activists playing judges. They will hand out retributions not justice. They will be guided by what they have believed to be the truth of culprits rather than look at the evidence. The basic tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” is at stake here. That is the tenet that allows all of us the very freedom dear to us. Let’s not give it up so easily.
  4. More heads to a hydra – I do not put much store by status quo. I am as disappointed as anyone when criminal politicians go scot-free. Admittedly, the vested interests control or at least very heavily influence the existing systems. Here’s the pickle though! How do we ensure the new system will be immune to this evil? It will still be run by people. Just because these people write in more refined language or give fiery speeches does not mean they will be more honest. So instead of creating a better system we are only creating a different system which eventually (and sooner than we would like) start mirroring the existing system. We just have one more avenue to hand our hopes on and see them crumble.

In the same breath, let me also accept that our judiciary needs some revolutionary changes. Justice by default is delayed and hence denied in most cases. That needs to change. Fast track courts focused on issues like corruption and targeted violence would definitely be a good idea. But that should be with-in the existing framework and umbrella. With qualified judges being responsible for unbiased and swift justice. And a well-defined accountability structure.

Social Activists play a much needed role of representing the marginalized. Their passion and commitment to causes they support is well spent on advocacy. Advocacy is where they belong.

My main contention is this. It is easy to build a new system. How will we ensure the new system is temper-proof, sacrosanct and objective?

Masjid to bana di shab-bhar me, imaan ki haraarat waalon ne,

Man apna puraana paapi hai, barso me namaazi ban na saka!

(Guardians of religion raised a mosque with in a night, but sinner that my soul is, could not become pious in ages.)

The Death of a Profession!!

I love ridicule on principle and “Peepli Live”, which mocks sensation-hungry journalism of Indian new channels, was a wonderfully-made movie in its own right. So yes, I did like the movie and appreciated both its humor and its pathos.

Then recently I stumbled across an article on “Antyoday” written by an esteemed colleague and friend Abhishek Joshi. While I wouldn’t go so far as calling the movie insensitive towards the plight of the farmers, I believe the movie’s main focus was mockery of all-pervasive journalistic shallowness rather than representation of the more pervasive and far more lamentable state of rural economy and apathy towards agrarian priorities.

The most unreal part of the portrayal of Natha is his reluctance towards committing suicide. 200,000 families can vouch for that fact for whom Natha’s counterparts have consistently filled up Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti’s log of Farmer suicides in last 10 years. In a way, Peepli Live also becomes guilty of crime of apathy by not exploring / covering this side of the story at all. Allusion to Godaan’s protagonist (Hori Mahto) notwithstanding.

Stranger than fiction part of reality is – farmers have very little hope of Government paying up their families. The record of government on this front is horrifyingly inadequate. Case in point being the story of a farmer notarizing his suicide note on a 100 rupee stamp paper (again, Antyoday covers the story). His family has still not received the aid from the government. Neither have other thousands of families because our bureaucracy needs more documentation I suppose. Government thinks in Vidarbha, the most troubled region, only 18% suicides are genuine.

Are we waiting for that stamp paper to become a gun? Do we need another Naxalite strong-hold? Are we waiting for India shining to become India burning?

A couplet comes to mind-

पेड़ के कांटने वालो को ये मालूम तो था
जिस्म जल जायंगे जब सर पे न साया होगा
Kaifi Azmi

Tribute to a Mathemagician

A frail frame, precariously supported by a walking stick, held in wrists almost as thin as the walking stick. Thinned out hair, eyes peeking from behind the thick large glasses, slightly bent back.

Young students are positively worried whether the old gentleman will be able to make it to the front benches, we think he’s someone’s over enthusiastic grandfather dropping in. But instead of going towards the bench he slowly ambles up to the blackboard, holds on to a nearby chair and gingerly picks up a chalk.

And we see a transformation happen in front of our eyes. Back is straightened. Face lit up. Eyes start twinkling behind those glasses. Professor A R Rao launches in to what he does the best – teaching Mathematics.

Admittedly, all of us were chosen to be the part of this group because of our interest and aptitude for Mathematics. I can confidently say none of us found it drab or insurmountably difficult subject. But Mathematics is largely a conceptual and theoretical subject with very little scope for visualization – for example understanding that the number of points on 2 cm line-segment and those on 6 cm line-segment are same. The impressive simplicity of the explanation for this counter-intuitive result is followed up with an ability to expand this example to discuss general properties of infinite sets.

With Prof Rao in the classroom, there was never a dull moment and no concept was too difficult. His utter enthusiasm and passion for the subject (and teaching) was infectious. The man we did not trust to reach to the front desk will go on talking for 2-3 hour long sessions and will seem invigorated at the end of it.

Whenever I hear the words job satisfaction or success – I can’t help but think of this old man holding chalk and leaning against blackboard with a satisfied smile jumps to my mind. Those few sessions of studying under Prof Rao are some of the best hours I have spent on wrong side of a classroom. Problem solving sessions became an experience in awe as Prof Rao pulled out proofs and solutions using simplest of methods.

This Mathemagician passed away April 12, 2011 at ripe age of 103. Gujarat Mathematics is the poorer.

Even after retirement in 1976 he kept teaching for close to 3 more decades. Gujarat will always be grateful to him for that wonderful Mathematics Lab at VAS CSC, Ahmedabad.

Euclid, it is said*, had told his underperforming royal charge that “My lord, there is no Royal Highway to Geometry!” But then, Euclid never met Prof Rao!!

* Commentary on Euclid’s Elements I. Proclus Diadochus. 410 – 485