Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Revisiting my past

Am off to Trichy tomorrow for a bit. Used to visit the town every summer vacation while I was in school. But ever since my maternal grandfather moved out, I've had no occasion to visit Trichy. The last visit was in 1990, I think.
So after a gap of twenty years, I'll be revisiting my birthplace and seeing it with new eyes. Of course, the place itself has changed drastically. It's a veritable 2nd tier city now, with highrises and whatnot.
Should be interesting, more so because I just might end up making a long-due investment.
Ciao, folks. Catch you next week.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A new era in cricket statistics?

This post is a few years delayed. Why? Because the suggestions I mention here are so self-evident that I assumed they would be incorporated by the statisticians serving the game sooner than later. Well, it hasn't happened so far, so here goes.
I think it's high time we measure the following in our players:

1) Weighted Batting Index
This will be the product of a batsman's average and his Strike Rate per ball.

WBI = Average * (Strike Rate/100)

In the era of T20, the WBI is a better indicator of a batsman's performance as compared to the Average. Let's compare two players using the WBI.
Sachin Tendulkar's average in ODIs is 45.12 and his Strike Rate is a healthy (considering the era he debuted in) 86.26.
Virender Sehwag's average in ODIs is 34.25 and his Strike Rate is an awesome 103.51.
Comparing the averages, Sehwag performs at 75.9% of Sachin's benchmark. But comparing the WBI gives a different picture altogether.
Sachin's WBI is 38.9.
Sehwag's WBI is 35.45.
This means that Sehwag actually performs at 91% of Sachin's benchmark. Now that's a very different picture, isn't it?

In summary, the WBI incorporates two parameters of batting - consistency and aggression - to arrive at a new measure of prowess.

2) The Weighted Bowling Index
Exactly the same concept as the WBI, except that this combines Average and Run Rate per ball.

WBoI = Average * Run Rate/6

As an easy corollary, the WBoI incorporates two parameters of bowling - wicket-taking ability and thrift - to arrive at a new measure of prowess.
I daresay that the WBoI will show that we've not given sufficient due to many thrifty bowlers.

3) The All Rounder Index
I've never understood why the two aspects of an all-rounder's game have never been combined together to create an All Rounder Index.

ARI = (Weighted Batting Index) * (1/Weighted Bowling Index)

Self-explanatory, right? An all-rounder, by definition, is one who can claim his place in the team either as a batsman or a bowler (I'm excluding wicket-keeper all-rounders here). So someone who has a reputation as an all-rounder but consistently underperforms in either batting or bowling will be revealed in his true colours. Similarly, an all-rounder who's just good in both aspects will be shown as "better than good" overall.

4) Safe Hands Index

Just when will we start collecting metrics on dropped catches? Why hasn't this been done so far? Is it sufficient to say that a Test player has, over twelve years of slip fielding, taken 130 catches? What about the 45 catches he dropped in the process?
The SHI is a simple percentage formula.

SHI = (1 - (Catches Dropped/Catches Taken))*100
An SHI of 65 means that his hands are safe 65% of the time.

I have more ideas, but I guess this should suffice for now.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

That wispy connection

The past 4 days have been great. First, Vanilla Desires happened. And this morning, we inaugurated our new office off Double Road. Scalers & Victors Innovations Pvt Ltd will now operate out of this 16-seater, right on the fringe of downtown Bangalore. Not having slept last night, I returned home from the pooja feeling dog tired and found an unopened package awaiting me. I knew what it was even before I hurriedly tore it open.
When I did, out tumbled two copies of Chicken Soup for the Indian Spiritual Soul. Every contributor gets two copies gratis and my essay That Wispy Connection had made it into the book. The book has eight sections and my essay is in the eighth section titled "A Matter of Perspective". Well-known names whose essays feature in this section include Arun Shourie, Anita Nair, Shashi Tharoor, William Dalrymple and Resul Pookutty. Of course, other illustrious names like APJ Abdul Kalam, Kiran Bedi, Mother Teresa, K. R. Usha, Jaswant Singh, Rabindranath Tagore, Saeed Mirza, Sudha Murthy, Dr Sonal Mansingh and the Dalai Lama also feature in the book.
What an honour! Somebody please wipe this Cheshire cat grin off my face.

I only wish I could have called Risha and given her the news, even though she wouldn't have understood a thing. One day, a few years from now, I hope she feels proud of me.

P.S: You can view the book here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vanilla Desires

There's usually a story behind every story. My short story Vanilla Desires has one too. A very filmy one.
As 2008 was coming to an end, I was acutely aware that the Unisun-Reliance Timeout short story contest deadline was midnight on the last day of the year. I kept slogging away at my non-writing work even as I promised myself that I will reserve the last week - from Christmas to New Year's Eve - for the short story that I would write for the contest. And sure enough, I finished my chores on the 23rd and went to bed contemplating the opening gambit for Vanilla Desires. On the morning of the 24th, I was awakened by a phone call from Chennai. My brother-in-law had met with an accident. Multiple injuries to his skull. He was in the ICU.
My mother and I packed for ourselves and my incapacitated father and the three of us rushed to Chennai. We reached late at night, despite hiring a car, and found that the situation was dire. The doctors were speaking only in cliches. 50-50 chance, God's watching and all that. My sister looked ashen yet brave. The moment felt surreal, funereal. I looked at my 8-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew and saw their futures disappearing in a mist. It took me a moment to realize that my eyes had welled up.
'Not this,' I muttered, conversing directly with God after ages. 'Everything else is screwed up. My sister's life is the one bright spot left in the family. Don't screw this. Not this, goddamn you!'
Thankfully, I did not have the luxury to become hysterical. There were things to do. Medicines to buy, doctors to consult. And someone had to stay outside the ICU through the night in case something was needed. I, being a creature of the night, was ideally suited to play the role.
So Christmas Eve, a little after midnight, I sat on the landing of the staircase leading up to the ICU and wrote the first sentence of Vanilla Desires. It ran like this:
As she caressed the utensils with soap, Sanaa gazed out of her kitchen window, inviting the afternoon breeze inside with her eyes.
It seemed as good a beginning as any, so I continued writing. I wrote around half the story that night. My subconscious already knew the characters and the story inside out, but it refused to divulge these secrets to my conscious mind.
'You'll know soon enough,' my subconscious said haughtily.
'But,' my conscious mind protested, 'you must keep me in the know. Because we must write something optimistic. We must reaffirm life. There's too little good news out in the world.'
'That really isn't my problem,' my subconscious replied, switching off for the night.
I sat there on the landing till dawn unraveled its day's plans for the city. Soon, my sister returned to the hospital and I went to her home to sleep. A couple of hours later, I was woken up. One of the consulting doctors felt that my brother-in-law must be shifted to Malar Hospital, the best in the city for such cases. So we arranged for an ambulance, waited in suspense for it to arrive and eventually managed the transfer to a bigger, better-equipped ICU.
So it came to pass that on Christmas night, I was sitting outside a different ICU with the same story on my hands. Again, a little after midnight, I resumed writing Vanilla Desires. By 3 am, I was done. I reread it, felt good enough about it and closed my notebook. I think I slept till a janitor rudely awoke me.
The next two days were crucial. CAT scans were performed, even more doctors were consulted. By the 27th, the doctors were willing to offer more hope. He would live, he might even become completely normal again.
So I went to a cyber cafe and typed out the story. I sent it to a select group of long-suffering friends who have always, always, given feedback on my writing. On 31 Dec 2008, I returned to the cyber cafe, corrected a couple of typos and submitted the story, as usual, in the twelfth hour. I then went to T Nagar to get drunk in multiple bars in the company of total strangers.
2009 came with the good news that my brother-in-law's chances of complete recovery were quite high. A month later, I was in Singapore, attending the Asia Journalism Fellowship. The wonderful excitement of the program made me forget all about Chennai and Vanilla Desires. During my first long weekend in Singapore, I went to visit a dear friend in Penang, and while at his home, as I was admiring the view of the bridge from mainland Malaysia into Penang, I saw an email pop into my inbox informing me that Vanilla Desires had been shortlisted in the contest. A while later, I was informed that it had won the first prize.

After a long wait, on 6 March 2010, Unisun launched Vanilla Desires and other stories in the Reliance Timeout outlet on Cunningham Road. It was worth the wait. The book has some wonderful stories by promising new authors and showcases the world-class production and design capabilities of Unisun. The launch event also allowed me to forget my life for a happy couple of hours. I sat in the company of fellow writers, talking literature; we flitted from one literary topic to another like greedy sparrows wanting to empty the granary.

Incidentally, this year's contest deadline is 31 March and I have the vague outlines of a story forming in my mind. I hope the story delivers itself soon enough because, as always, time is running out.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lash, the human tongue

Many headlines this week seem to be bound together by a common theme: what is tolerance?

The first story is that an article written by Taslima Nasrin years ago was translated by a Kannada daily, reading which Muslims in Shimoga and other places in Karnataka turned violent and clashed with cops and Hindus. Lives were lost. In case you haven't read Madam Taslima's article, here it is.
The second story is that of M. F. Hussain accepting Qatari citizenship because he was hounded out of the country by Hindu fundamentalists who opposed his depiction of "Bharathmata" in the nude. This issue, too, is years old. The painting came up for auction more than four years ago and looks like this.
The reason I've provided these links is because our mainstream media believes in talking endlessly about such controversies without showing us what the fuss is all about.

Anyway, the easy parallel between both stories is that two people belonging to creative professions offered viewpoints that supposedly hurt the religious sentiments of Indians. Indian Muslims in the first instance and Indian Hindus in the second. In both cases, the hurt public believed that burning, shrieking, hurling stones and issuing threats were excellent ideas and would certainly bring the artists to their knees.
They, of course, had alternatives:
1) Ignore the works
Indifference is more resounding than a slap and more scalding than fire. An artist fears nothing more.
2) Ask for an explanation
If the anguish by the works was so deep that it needed a response, then can one not demand an explanation from the artist? Are our Gods so weak that we cannot use their wisdom to counter the viewpoint of a mortal artist, assuming that the artist indeed was dreadfully wrong?
For better or for worse, the Constitution is the only holy book in a democracy. We know who wrote it, when and why. And the best part: it's subject to change. We can always reassess this holy book and align it as per the changes occuring in society. Religious books, on the other hand, offer metaphors that define a past era. That they are often profoundly valid in our time is a tribute to writers and visionaries burned and buried long ago.

Extrapolating, I cannot but wonder: can it be ethical or even legal to ban an artist's work? How does one justify that in a democracy? Why can't even rabidly vulgar works be brought out and examined for what they are? Is this because we're a developing country with unenviable literacy rates? Is tolerance a matter of education? If so, how did Gandhiji manage to acquire our Independence by selling his vision to the illiterate millions of India? Aren't we typically smug by suggesting that intellectual debate requires refinement as we understand this word?

I really cannot fathom these expanding fringes in our society, but I wouldn't mind their existence in the very least if they were just rabble-rousing tongue lashers. If only they shunned the easy short-cut: violence. These people probably underestimate the power of the human tongue. It's not just a festering ground for germs and a sensuous barometer of the kiss. It's also a potent weapon. Haven't we all slayed with our tongues? Haven't our dear ones, especially, felt its venomous darts? Perhaps we can argue that the tongue doesn't work half as well when used to lash strangers. Ah! The proper practitioner of this banal - yet dark - art can reduce even strangers to tears. Bertrand Russell and, more recently, Simon Cowell come to mind.

And speaking of lashing tongues, I'd like to ask anybody who'd care to listen: just why is it so unacceptable to criticize Sachin Tendulkar? I think now is the best time to ask this question - when he has made the transition from immortal to divine. I particularly want to ask those former captains of Indian cricket (Mumbaikars, most of them) why they felt it so necessary to crucify Sanjay Manjrekar for making unflattering remarks about Sachin? Again: are our Gods so weak?
Reminds me of 1989. I and my then best friend Stephen Pinto used to sit on our building terrace and discuss Sachin deep into the evening. Any nitwit who has held a cricket bat in his hand could immediately see that the 16-year-old Sachin was a phenomenon like no other. Stevie and I were convinced much before the Indian think-tank that Sachin must open in ODIs. We were also always critical of Sachin. Simply because Gods must save the universe every single day. Because the man who was born Spiderman cannot have the weaknesses of Peter Parker. Sorry, that's how it is. It's cruel, yes, but true nonetheless for puny humans like us. We expected Sachin to play the 1997 Sharjah sandstorm innings every time he went in to bat. And for so many years in between, Sachin heaped the numbers without leaving a lasting impression in my mind. I daresay Stevie would agree.
That changed in March 2008 when he won us the Triseries Down Under. We didn't even have to play the third of the best-of-three finals. Since then, Sachin has been playing the way he was designed to. He's consistently winning us matches and, in the process, pointing us to the gap between him and a Ponting or a Lara. The God himself is putting finishing touches to the temple we're erecting for him in our minds. That's how it should be. And if experts believe that the extraordinarily few criticisms have spurred Sachin to greater heights, then there's all the more reason to lash our tongues.
I think Gods do welcome a little challenge thrown at them by mortals. So Sachin: do you think you have enough gas left in the tank to lift the World Cup? Really? Show me.