Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tendulkar still teaching lessons

Source: The Hindu

An exceptional performer can recalculate his skills and alter himself, says

There is no weaseling out of this: I was wrong about Sachin Tendulkar. Earlier this year, his struggle painful to watch, I wondered: if he couldn’t mirror the exalted standard of his past, then why play? It was a miscalculation of the rage that courses through the uncommon athlete’s veins.

Even now, across continents, you can hear the hum of Tendulkar’s desire. For just playing. For runs. For winning. He knows that the great athlete has to prove himself, constantly, that we’re not interested in his yesterdays but only his todays.

I first met Tendulkar 20 years ago when he was 14 and have admired him since. Not because he scored runs with a ferocious beauty but because he possessed a powerful sense of duty and met acclaim with serenity. No sportsperson in 20 years has moved me like him except the elastic Michael Jordan, who was like a Michelangelo statue come to athletic life. But the batsman was ours, he was hope tugging at his box and our hearts. Jordan taught us that human flight was possible. Tendulkar is still teaching us.

Like some bonzai schoolmaster holding class, he taught us that don’t judge a kid by his voice. He taught us to sit down and back in our drawing rooms because he was going to hang around the crease for a while. He taught us that champions find the necessary calm amidst the delirium. He taught us that playing for India was fun but also a responsibility. And he taught us he could make grown men cry, sometimes watches, sometimes bowlers.

He taught us that only the exceptional performer can recalculate his skills and alter himself. Haile Gebreselassie, unable to maintain the speed of the 10,000 metres, has morphed into a marathon champion. Tendulkar rearranged his repertoire, and while he was not the greatest anymore, he taught us he could still find a way to be good.

One last lesson

But this year, I began to believe he was declining, and quickly, because he was unconvincing for long periods, wearing an unsurety that looked so foreign on him. The vincible hero. At 34, how do you stop time, and deterioration? But 20 years after first learning from Tendulkar, there was one last lesson he had to teach. About concentration.

If first his getting beaten made me flinch, what made me keep watching was his refusal to flinch. The ball went by and he started again, like a student trying again to solve a problem. Every ball was a new ball to Tendulkar, a new life, a new start, it was like he had cleansed his memory of the previous delivery that hissed past his bat. It was like Jimmy Connors swearing the last point was unimportant, only the next one mattered.

What control of mind does it take to erase the immediate past, to not let doubt fester, to stay alert even as the bowler is exposing your hesitancy? The easy option would be to react, to swish harder. The hard choice was to just stay, to start afresh every ball with hope, to view temptation with priestly detachment. Tendulkar chose well. He taught us in this time that the first rule of sport is not to look good, it is to survive.

Tendulkar’s body may have healed and allowed him a fuller expression of strokes, but it is his confidence in himself, confidence that was shaken and rattled surely but never extinguished, that carried him on. He still gets beaten some days, but he is also more fluent, too, astonishing no less in his ability to rack up scores of 99, 93, 8, 17, 99, 8, 55, 71, 94, 30, 0, 16, 43, 79, 47, 72, 21, 4, 99, 29, 97 in his last 21 one-day innings.

What does Tendulkar play for? Team, himself, pride, records? Maybe he plays because part of him is just a boy who finds himself when bat meets ball. Maybe he plays because of a boy agog in the stands. Maybe he has summoned this last reservoir of energy to show a kid, now old enough to understand, why, for 18 years, the world has made such a fuss about his father.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Alone but not lonely

Source: The Hindu Folio

I cannot live in my son's house and play second fiddle to my daughters-in-law at this stage of my life," declared my 80-year-old grandmother, twenty five years back. The ceremonies following my grandfather's death were just over and my father and his brothers were discussing their mother's immediate future. "I prefer to live independently in my own house and die in it" she continued vehemently. And so she did, firmly brushing aside all protests, confident that she wanted to spend the rest of her life in control of her surroundings. Her sons visited her in turns but that was more for their own peace of mind, as she really made no demands on them. Religion and religious teachings seemed to sustain her and the people around her whom she had cultivated over the years satisfied her social needs.

Used to joint families and sons traditionally looking after ageing parents, many then reacted negatively and found it difficult to accept that an old woman would want to stay alone. That was 25 years ago. India's social pattern has seen many changes since. Yet, confronted with ageing people living on their own, the average Indian continues to react in a similar fashion.

However, social reactions notwithstanding, the numbers of ageing people, many in their 80s and yet maintaining individual establishments, are on the rise, especially in urban areas.

What lies behind this growing trend? Are these people who live alone content with their state of affairs or does the responsibility of running a home at this age and living all alone produce self pity and depression. Meeting a cross section of such senior citizens one felt that irrespective of whether they stayed alone out of choice or out of necessity they do share an outlook that is refreshingly optimistic and comfortingly confident. And quite surprisingly, considering their state of splendid isolation none of them seemed lonely. For as 84-year-old Vaidyanathan put it, "We are not going to be less lonely if we stay with our children for they are all caught up with their own lives."

While varied reasons are responsible for this choice of living on their own, the single most important factor is the break-up of the joint family and the increasing mobility of the Indian. Very few ageing people wish to uproot themselves from their familiar surroundings and move into unfamiliar terrain. This reluctance is most evident when their children are settled abroad.

"We have no friends and have to depend on everything from transport to companionship on our children" said an 80-year-old gentleman from Kotturpuram, Chennai. "I live alone much against my children's wishes but am happier this way. My children in the United States are busy with their lives and with both working I would spend huge chunks of time within four walls. And when my children come back they are too tired to go out. But they are weighed down by this huge feeling of guilt that they are neglecting me. This is not fair on them." he continues.

"Reluctance to burden children with an invalid grandparent or parent is also partly responsible" comments Vaidyanathan who took on the care of his 95-year-old mother-in-law after his wife's death. Kalpana Venkataraman, who, at 81, handles the total nursing and care of her 104-year-mother echoes this statement as does Ramiyengar aged 88 who takes care of his half-paralysed wife. With a sensitivity that belies the common belief that people grow self-centered as they grow older these persons protect their children from stress and in the process give themselves a purpose to their lives.

They run their own establishments, offer physical and emotional support systems if necessary, manage the day-to-day of financial matters and continue with a reasonable amount of social interaction. Going out might not be frequent but in their familiar surroundings there is a greater security of movement. A few do still drive or have access to a car and driver. To the many who cannot afford it, familiar terrain also makes taking autorickshaws or other modes of public transport relatively less mind-boggling. This independence that makes it possible for them to do their own banking and shopping is a boost to their self esteem and makes staying alone more than worthwhile. "It is easier to look after my assets staying on where I am at home, and this saves my children a lot of bother" says Bhagyam Krishnan explaining why she lives alone.

While life does move at a slower pace than in a younger past there is a quiet acceptance of this fact and most of them have learnt to create leisure activities that keep them occupied. "I read a lot and I have been teaching English to a few poor girls" says Pattammal "and this gives me mental stimulation and a feeling of being useful".

Given the limitations of age and money most of those old people seem to manage effectively to create a workable infrastructure that suits their needs. Medicines and grocery are ordered at home, food can be got on a daily basis from the many caterers that have sprung up and neighbours and friends do pitch in, in an emergency if children are not in the same town. Daily help is still available even if it means paying a little extra to hold on to them. Some even hire a companion if they can afford it.But all this self-reliance does not make their decision quite acceptable to their children. Many of them, especially sons, feel a sense of disquietude and a fear that they are not doing their duty to their parents. They worry about their parents' financial needs, their security and their health. "I realise that if I am incapacitated in any way, I shall have to move in with my son," says Kalpana Venkataraman, "but till such time why burden them". An opinion that is shared by most of the others. Emotional security is provided by just the thought that their children care for them and their grandchildren love them and there is no real desire to change the status quo unless failing health finally dictates the change.

It would be too much of a sweeping statement to say that the aged are happy only if they are on their own. There are many who hold diametrically opposite views. Besides, staying alone preconditions a certain attitude, a healthy bank balance and a healthier physical condition. What is needed however is a greater acceptance from society that old people are quite capable of staying alone if they so wish. They need neither sympathy nor fussing over. Rather emotional and if necessary discreet financial help from children and the confidence that they are always there when needed is more vital. We also need more social support systems that will make their living alone easier and do much for their self-esteem in their autumn years. The numbers of ageing people having to or wishing to stay alone will only rise over the years. It is time our society gears up for it.

World without women

Source: The Hindu

Women are being bought as “wives” in certain States because sex-selection has ensured that few local women are available.
Photo: Vivek Bendre

A life of toil: Deep set prejudices against women refuse to go away.
In the late 1980s, when we had the first indications that technology was being used to ensure that girls were not born, a few people made rather prescient predictions about the future. They predicted that women would face much greater violence. They suggested that women would be trafficked.

These campaigners against sex-selective abortions were condemned as scare-mongerers. They were told they were exaggerating to make a point. Fewer women would mean a greater demand for them. That instead of dowry, women could demand a higher price for marriage.

Realities now

We know now that the opposite has happened. Many of the dire predictions made in the 1980s are coming true. In the States where sex selection is most rampant, there are entire villages where the men cannot find women to marry. So they are “buying” women from other States. And in some instances, where the family can afford to buy just one woman, she is expected to “service” all the men in the family.

An increasing number of studies and reports are now revealing that this is happening not just in Punjab and Haryana, the States with the worst sex ratios but also in some districts of Uttar Pradesh. It is possible that such incidents could be occurring in other States as well but have not yet been reported.

The 2001 census was a wake-up call. It exposed the damning Indian reality of falling sex ratios in the 0-6 years age group. The national average stood at 927 girls to 1,000 boys. Since then some efforts have been put in place to implement the law to check sex-selective abortions and to encourage parents with girls. But clearly, so far, the impact of such policies has not made a difference. The Third National Family Health Survey has revealed that five years later, the sex ratio in the age group has fallen to 918.

Meanwhile, according to recent reports, in villages in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, women are being sold as “wives” for as little as Rs. 3,000. Impoverished women from Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand are finding themselves in households where they do not speak the same language as their “husbands” who have paid for them. They are expected to clean, cook and procreate. Ideally, they should bear boys. If they have girls, they have several reasons to worry. For one, girls in these villages are unwelcome. Second, in villages full of men, many of who cannot find women to marry, girls are unsafe. They cannot be sent out of the house alone. And even within the household, they have to be protected.

In some villages in Punjab, however, all the men in a household have access to the bought bride. She has no choice. Even if she is married to one brother, she must be available to all the other brothers in the house. Thus, polyandry exists, particularly in poor households where only one man can “buy” a wife. Studies suggest that this is happening in the cotton growing districts of the State. Once prosperous, crop failures have led to an acute economic crisis for many farming families. Suicides have been reported similar to those witnessed in Vidarbha and Andhra Pradesh. Sex selection has ensured that there are too few local women available. And poverty has dictated that only those with money can “buy” a woman.


How ironical it is that just when Indians are patting themselves on the back on having the richest man in the world in their midst, when the middle classes are celebrating the rising stock market, when the media is openly promoting two Bollywood blockbusters as if they were essential news, girls are being killed, women are being bought and girls and women have to fear for their lives in many parts of this country. This reality should cancel out the euphoria. But it barely makes a dent. It touches our consciences for a moment and then recedes.

What should be done? In the States where the trend of eliminating girls has reached its peak, there is a social emergency. It must be tackled on all fronts. It should be a high priority not just for those State governments but also for the country. For, what happens in Punjab, Haryana and UP today could take place in any other part of India tomorrow.

But more than enforcing laws, and making sure they are effective, we have to work harder on the more intangible and deeper problem of prejudice and perceptions. Some believe that we will be a less biased society, and that caste, gender and communal divisions will be flattened out as we become more prosperous. Yet, sex selection has clearly shown that prosperity enhances and deepens inherent prejudices and provides the resources to act upon them. It is no coincidence that the most prosperous districts have the lowest sex ratios.

Changing perceptions

Can the media do anything to change perceptions? To some extent it can, although the reasons for son-preference are complex. A recent survey of advertisements, for instance, revealed that the majority of ads using a popular icon, like a sports personality or a film star to endorse a product, used little boys. These boys were not chosen on the basis of their looks. They had to be “cute” and “smart”. On the other hand, when little girls appeared in ads, they had to be pretty. You could not find a dark girl or a plump girl in any ad. Furthermore, most family images comprised man, woman, boy or man, woman, boy and girl. Rarely did you see a family with just one girl, or with two girls.

These are subtle normative messages that sit on top of accepted perceptions and reinforce them. You can never prove this because it is imperceptible. But if we have to change perceptions, or at least believe we should, then a deliberate attempt has to be made not to reflect popular perceptions but to try and alter them in some way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Donate rice using your vocab. Amazing site!

Here is a site that tests your vocabulary and for each correct answer for the meaning of the each word.

Check it out:


Saturday, November 03, 2007

'Sound of bat hitting ball is still a special feeling'

Sachin Tendulkar has dismissed speculation that he is thinking of retiring from one-day cricket or cutting down on the amount of ODIs to ensure a longer Test career. In an interview with the Times of India, the 34-year-old Tendulkar discussed a number of issues, from the challenges ahead against Pakistan and Australia to a look at his own fitness and form.

On the question of quitting the one-day game, Tendulkar was emphatic he had no such plans. "I have honestly not thought about the fact that I only need to play one version of the game to play the other longer. I am enjoying whatever I am doing at the moment. The moment I feel I am not enjoying myself, I will start thinking about it.

"I think I still like to do a lot of things on the cricket field. When I am bowling, I would want to do something more, surprise the batsman, beat him with a little bit of extra seam or some spin or whatever I am doing. That excitement is something else. Even today when I do that I feel happy. When you hit a cover drive, a straight drive or a cut, the feeling touches your soul. The sound of bat hitting the ball, even hitting it exactly where you want to do it, those feelings are special. I enjoy that feeling, I live for it."

Plenty has been written about his inability to dominate attacks in the last few years, but Tendulkar saw it differently, saying he is now more adept at shaping his game according to the needs of the situation.

"My batting has changed for the good, I would like to believe. I won't be able to pinpoint but I know when I go out in the middle now I do things a little differently, things I was not able to do earlier. You continue to raise that bar, to get better. I definitely feel there have been a lot of changes; my shot-selection has improved, I have more options now. If somebody is bowling a particular ball, maybe earlier I had only one or two options; now I may have four or even five options. And I am able to pick the best option for that particular moment and I go for it."

He also spoke at length about his battles with James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom during the Tests against England earlier this year to illustrate the fact that he had improved in his ability to mould his batting to suit the needs of the team.

"I thought on both the occasions I went in to bat at the most crucial moments in the Test matches," he said. In the second match at Old Trafford, Tendulkar overcame a terrific spell by Sidebottom, getting beaten several times and hardly scoring a run off him. "If I had lost my wicket at that stage, we would have been on the back foot. Even the result might have been different. I am not saying the batsmen behind me would not have done the job, but we would have been under more pressure. At that particular stage it was important that we didn't lose any wicket. Just play out that spell and gradually start building our innings again." Tendulkar finally fell for 91, but by then India were in command at 342 for 4, and a platform had been set for a huge first-innings lead.

Sachin Tendulkar avoids yet another bouncer on the first day of the Oval Test © Getty Images
In the next game, at The Oval, Anderson tested him with several short deliveries on the first day but Tendulkar refused to be baited into playing the pull or hook and instead took several blows to his body. "That evening spell [by Anderson] was very crucial. I thought if I could just hang in there it would put us in a better position.

"[The body blows] were all intentional. I though that was the best way of playing at that point. He was trying to intimidate me and I said fine, 'try it as long as you want'. I had basically used a different technique, a different approach to overcome it. I don't know how to express this but I was like 'if you are going to do this I will handle it like this'.

Tendulkar also explained why he didn't try to hook. "They had fielders there for that specific shot and if I mistimed even one shot they would have been successful in their plan. And I wasn't going to let that happen. Here it is not a battle between Anderson and me; it is about the team. I was looking at the big picture all the time. I knew he won't be able to go on and on with that line and length. And that's exactly how it worked out. Later on when the other batters came on, the pressure had eased out.

"Probably ten years ago I would have played my strokes, tried to dominate. I didn't mind not doing it that time." Anderson did eventually dismiss Tendulkar, but not before he had made 82 and put India on the road for a sizeable first-innings total.

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