Sunday, 1 January 2012


by Anuranjan Roy
There was the slouch and there was the swagger. The open top button of his cricket playing uniform be it Tests or ODIs, the amulet around his neck he let hang out to watch his 'supple wrists' come into play. The TV commentators' repeated use of the words 'soft hands' when he was batting and 'sharp catch' when he was on the field. The unique all-white helmet he wore and the routine "The boys played really well today..." nature of his post-match presentation talk irrespective of the match's outcome. My first clear memories of watching Indian cricket sometime back in the early 90s didn't feature victory too much. Yet they have staying power as if bound to my psyche with strings of silk.
Then came that dreadful night of 1996. Why? Why would anyone choose to chase under lights at the Eden Gardens, notorious for being the wrong place to chase runs under the lights? Why in the World Cup semi-final? The whispers grew louder. Psssttt... do you know what happens in the Sharjah matches? Psssttt... did you not wonder why so-and-so played in such-and-such manner? The accusations were horrifying, the crimes were unspeakable. Whether that particular match had any undue influences exerted in its sad result will remain a debate quite irresolveable, rearing its head up even recently but the fact was our way of looking at and investing real emotions in Indian cricket would change forever in the next few years to follow.  
I refused to believe. No, no. Not him. I thought of the reluctant ease with which the bat was held, almost unwillingly and the casual flash it took to reach the ball. The unlikely angles created when a fullish delivery outside off stump was dispatched to any of the leg-side boundary boards. I remembered the time when, on his favourite ground of the Eden Gardens, Lance Klusener, taken for five consecutive Hyderabadi fours in the first over after lunch, looked flabbergasted. How he walked up to the youngster  immediately after the over to tousle his hair, smiling and offering his commiserations to the beleagured debutant. Once when he didn't catch Curtly Ambrose cleanly in the slips, even though the batsman had walked, he called him back to the batting crease. He the ever cheerful sportsman, a gentleman cricketer, supremely and dominantly competitive in the arcs traced by his bat but never a trace of ugliness in his on-field behaviour.
Children are creatures of instinct. Swinging conditions or sharp bounce or footwork were fancy terms too much for an immature brain to process. The appreciation of those handling such conditions via technique would come as I grew older. All I understood and appreciated in the beginning was the flair. And that, he had plenty of. Our heroes, sporting and otherwise tend to be put up on high pedestals, especially the ones that drew us in our formative years, aiding the belief that they were not subject to other worldly human flaws. To the unbiased logical mind, the facts of the enquiry were clear-cut and so was the decision. But in a place where there should be searing anger, there is only a dull pain and a lasting refusal to accept reality. No, no. Not him.

Connected World of Cricket

We witness empty stands.

Scattered applause of the precious few echo off the vast acres of vacant seats. Yet Test matches keep being scheduled on weekdays. The prices of the tickets remain ridiculously high, or are perhaps subsidised in some venues on second thought. The facilities for the spectators continue to be farcical, bordering on the insulting.

Which leads me to a perplexing thought: Are administrators really interested in the number of people who turn up for the matches?

The question, on careful scrutiny under the light of the current day, does not seem all that rhetorical.

In the modern times, we have seen electronic and digital communication play havoc with industries worldwide. The fibre optic cables have extended their far reaching tentacles, circumvented the old fashioned establishments one by one – choked them with communication channels that have flattened the earth and connected the Antipodes with the Alaskans at the rate of the instantaneous.

In such a world, are flesh and blood turnouts really important? Are they not just nice to have garnish around the extensive treasure troves that lie for the taking in the connected world?

There are indications of change every way one chooses to look or listen.

The music industry has been turned upside down in ways that have struck jarring chords. Companies dealing with mobile communications are now tuning themselves to the changing beats and leading the score, while the erstwhile behemoths are swaying to their own death knell in loss incurring music stores.

In the world of the fourth estate, newsprint now occupy the backseat as the power, potential and promise of the electronic media rewrite business plans. There is a very fine line now between bylines and blogs, and with the advent of the citizen journalist and fan-speak, with the consumer turning contributor, the news channels are engaging in a mad rush of introspection and innovation. The thud of the rolled up newspaper on the porch is now all but passé, with the world being downloaded without editorial censorship on seven inch laptop screens and even smaller smart phone handsets.

When we look at the publishing world, brick-and-mortar bookstores with limited shelf space and traditional publishers in their own smug, complacent ivory towers have been rocked and jolted by the advent of electronic readers. Amazon now sells many more Kindle versions than hard copies. Borders have disappeared from the map, and similar monopolising bookstores are fast following suit. Readers are growing increasingly used to packing their 3000 book libraries in handy featherweight six by four inch devices. Who needs crates of shop-soiled stuff shipped across the world to be pulped when inventory can be virtual – reproduced and delivered at the click of a button?

In such a world, does it really matter for organisers whether some paltry thousands turn up to watch the cricket in the giant stadiums?

Unlike in the 20th century, now the cricket watching delights are not restricted to the city hosting the match and its suburbs. Millions of viewers across the world tune in to watch on their television sets, interrupted by local advertisements after every over, wicket and pulled hamstring. Tens of thousands of office workers in cookie cutter cubicles click their way to follow each and every ball on the hundreds of cricket websites while banners ads blink away at the top of the screen and Bet365 beckons tantalisingly from the side pane.

The same millions watch and re-watch the action in their respective time zones, live or recorded as suitable, on the hundreds of television channels, streaming web sites and social media applications, after waiting a brief while for the mandatory advertisement to play itself to conclusion.

In light of all this, the sweet timing of the phenomenon of scheduling Test matches on week days synchronising with the launch of seems more than significant. Why target the insignificant thousands in the ground when one can easily capture the market of hundreds of millions across the World Wide Web? Ask yourself, on which days is it fairly certain that more people will follow the action on web sites streaming or reporting the match than live in the ground?

On one side lie the few thousands of prospective diehards, prepared to brave the baking sun and dirty pouches of water supplied at the grounds to catch the action live. On the other hand is the gateway to the infinite – a viewership unbounded by the archaic limitations of time and space, not checked by the turnstile even if they want to enter the virtual arena again and again ad infinitum.

It is the same reason why Harper Collins looks at capturing the Print on Demand market while pulping last year's bestsellers. This is why Sony ties up with Nokia and Apple creates more music applications for the iPhone. This is also why Rupert Murdoch enterprises are more interested in linking their sites to Facebook and Twitter than wooing local newspaper stores with expensive square feet of space.

Looking at it from the other point of view, it cannot be ruled out that maybe the fans of the day want to watch the matches in the comfort of their air-conditioned cubicles, listening to the expert commentary of a battery of celebrity ex-cricketers, sharing their own views in online discussion forums, updating their Facebook status and tweeting opinions with every major and not so major incident.

The times have changed. The audience is global and infinite across space and time. The local few are limited, and therefore, an eminently expendable fraction.

One may argue that a sport cannot exist without live spectators. However, we live in an era when books sell themselves without bookshops, newspapers are distributed without paper and music pours into the ears without being packaged into cassettes and compact discs.

Perhaps in today’s world, the empty stands reflect not the diminishing popularity of the sport, but the evolution of the cricket enthusiast to fit into the demands of the modern times, behind the digital cover of a connected world.

Chaos and Cap'aphony

Feature Column on Chaos Theory 
by Aisoorya Vijayakumar

More chaos, and even more clutter

The persistent Kawphi girl and her hapless faculties are at their game, trying mighty hard to unravel the puzzling complex mysteries of the chaos theory. They are in the midst of fathoming the deep definitions of fractals, and her left brain tries, mostly in vain, to enlighten her right brain on the wondrous possibilities of fractals.

Thud thud thud! Kawphi girl bangs the table with her weary fists in one of her feeble attempts at ensuring that all the information pouring in from the left-brain doesn’t drain out through her ears. One recollection of the memories of the frog-faced exam supervisor sends her faculties – the left-brain, the mind, and the right brain, scurrying off to assemble all their learnings together.

The mind (ever the strict commander): ‘Alrighty fellas! Let’s learn about the fractals. We have four more hours to go before the exam!

Right brain: Woohoo! I’m all set. Left brain, pal, have you learnt to speak human, or do you still resort to speaking incomprehensible gibberish?

Left brain: Right-brain, let’s be serious! This calls for some united defense.

Right brain: Goodness left-brain, pal, can’t you take a joke?! Fine, what’s on our cards?

Mind: What we need to do is stay focused on the subject.

Left-brain: …And not indulge in some mass delusional yapping about substantiating our individual contentions on our apparent preeminence in cognitive capabilities!

Right brain (with a muddled expression): Err… Not indulge in what?

Left brain: It’s tough to be me! Having to deal with retarded other-halves!

Right brain (Advancing menacingly towards the left brain): You speak with an outlandish resolute conviction of a lunatic intent upon using all possible words in your sentences, irrespective of whether they make sense or not, and you have the audacity to call ME a retard?!

Mind: Aww, cut that out you two! I told you! FOCUS!

Left brain: Right! So, fractals, as we were discussing, are, in simple terms, fragmented patterns of similarity. What I have read so far on this is that, Mandelbrot is credited with having brought some illumination and clarity into what most people believed to be amorphous – the mathematical patterns of predictable and unpredictable occurrences in the world.

Mind: Hmmm, and was there any specific science that at least tried to comprehend this before Mandelbrot’s days?

Left brain: Maybe not comprehend per se, but the field of Euclidian geometry encompassed the study of realizing perfections in abstract forms that was nearly non-existent back then. And what Mandelbrot theoretically did was envisage and foster a method for observing and mathematically defining many nebulous natural phenomena.

Right brain: Such as?

Left brain: Such as, for instance, cloud shapes, coastline patterns, and so many more.

Mind: When did all this start?

Left brain: You see, this was one of those serendipity breakthroughs. I read I the Telegraph that Mandelbrot, a research fellow with IBM, started a series of analyses in the 1960s, of electronic "noise." His experiments began because this noise seemingly meddled with IBM’s other electronic transmissions. He and his team noted that the glitches and interferences occurred in clusters, and that these clusters also formed a pattern. Each period of interferences and the periods of smooth transmissions, when enlarged, mimed the overall pattern of the large scale graph as well. They called this a “self-similarity.” Mandelbrot further demonstrated the occurrence of such patterns in other areas such price curves, coastlines , and so on.
In a viewpoint-turning pivotal essay that he called How Long Is the Coast of Britain? (1967), Mandelbrot stated his points and observations on fractals in coastlines.

Right brain: Yaay! The left brain gets this year’s award for non-stop rattling nonsense. Really! Left-brain, did you mug that up all by yourself or did you take a drug?

Mind: You, again!!!

Right brain: Well what the heck am I supposed to gather from that load of lines?
Left brain: Well, let me show you some classic examples of what I mean. I found these in the pages of University of Wisonsin, Madison.

Look at how each of these patterns in nature are self-similar, each smaller fragment being a replica of the overall figure.

The Cantor Set

The Koch Curve

The Sierpinski Gasket

A Dragon

The Cantor Maze

A Twig

A Crystal

A Snowflake

A Tree

The Barnsley Fern

Right brain and Mind (in unision): Wow!!!!

Left brain: That’s not all. You can still see instances of these fractals in the rich offerings of nature everyday. Look what I found in the archives of the WebEcoist Site – Nature's Examples for Fractals.

Mind: This is mind-blowing. What does it mean? The word – “fractal?”

Left brain: Mandelbrot is said to have coined this term from the Latin word frangere which means “to break.”

…. The Kawphi girl faculties would continue to study the chaos theory tirelessly amidst all the din and pandemonium, and all you need to do is visit this column in the next issue to get to know about the progress the team makes…

Movie Review - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Familiar Bright Master
Rating : 7/10
Reviewer: Arunabha Sengupta

Even as the maestro struggles to slow down the inevitable trudge towards old age and oblivion, an addict cannot but perk up at the thought of a Woody Allen flick – especially one dealing with the intricacies of relationships.
Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Husbands and Wives, Crimes and Misdemeanours – in his heydays, late seventies to early nineties, the celebrated filmmaker gave us some of the most poignant portrayals of the maze of emotional connections so common in urban life.
After a handful of pitiable digressions into inanity thereafter (Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Cassandra's Dream), the veteran filmmaker did more than hint at a glorious second coming with the classy Match Point and the sparkling Vicky Christina Barcelona

With You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, he attempts to recreate the magic of his earlier ‘80s experiments with complicated ebb and flow of passion, compromise and betrayal.
Does he succeed?
Ingredient-wise, YWMATDS has all that is required for a Woody Allen relationship caper. Well ... almost.
There is a stellar cast – including some very big names in Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas. There is a more than talented collection of actors – Gemma Jones in a major role, Freida Pinto and Lucy Punch in great cameos, along with the delightful appearance of Anupam Kher in a couple of scenes.
The storyline has enough drama, deceit, dilemma and doubt to keep hardcore Woody fans engaged and enthralled. It is almost as if the entire ensemble of Hannah and her Sisters has been fast forwarded into the noughties of the next century. All these make for a tailored-to-perfection Woody suit for the fan, but for a couple of missing threads.
The movie starts with the life of the demented and disturbed Helena (Jones) seeking solace in shady clairvoyance after the break up of her forty-year marriage.

The focus smoothly embraces the troubled relationship of Helena's daughter Sally (Watts) –  an art gallery executive, and her husband, the struggling novelist Roy (Josh Brolin). We witness the tottering balance of the two as they do their precarious synchronised walk on the narrow rope of fidelity. Sally develops feelings for her suave and successful boss Greg (Banderas). Roy – wrestling with anxiety over the fate of his new novel – succumbs to the sultry charms of the Indian girl across the street, Dia (Pinto), who takes off her clothes with metronomic regularity and without too much deliberation about lowering the blinds.
There is also the additional parallel plot of a ridiculous attempt by Helena's ex-husband Alfie (Hopkins) to regain his youth by marrying a cockney-spouting wannabe actress Charmaine (Punch).
In between the tangles of ardour and adultery, is etched a queer little intricacy involving poker, publishing and plagiarism.
The questions raised and the human frailty displayed amidst flashes of goodness and trust are reminiscent of vintage Woody. The performances are commendable.
Gemma Jones – more universally popular as Madam Pomfrey of the Harry Potter films – excels as Helena, an experience-weary divorcee leaning on pseudoscience for sustenance, superstitious and gullible, yet irritatingly interfering. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Dr., The Ring) gives a controlled performance, and somehow manages to look stunning even during scenes depicting most ugly altercations. Antonio Banderas is restrained, dapper and underplayed. Anthony Hopkins as usual does a great job as the age-battling, delusional and – ultimately – cheated husband. Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) in her brief role looks sexy and exudes promise. However, the best performance is undoubtedly that of Lucy Punch (Bad Teacher) as the fortune hunting ex-escort, with her unabashed colloquial delivery and brilliant rendition of confused self-justification when caught red-handed in her act of infidelity. 

The background chore, as in any Allen film, is peerless, with a plot-relevant Schubert used to excellent effect. The cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond does for London what many of Allen's previous films did for New York – an eloquent ode to the city. In spite of the grey skies normally associated with the metropolis, it is shot almost entirely in bright sunshine - which to some extent mellows the cruelty of the characters to themselves and each other.
However, if the film falls short of the demanding level of Woody Allen's illustrious past, it can be attributed to a couple of incompatible ingredients.
Josh Brolin, overweight and wooden, is unconvincing as the author-husband. It is difficult to imagine such an uncouth voyeur ending up with sympathy and reciprocation from a much younger girl after openly admitting to getting a hard on by watching her undress from his window across the street. Even the gifted ability to recognise a far-off refrain faintly trickling through the same window seems too inadequate a virtue for a sensuous and engaged Freida Pinto to fall for him. Whereas Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters had played a similar role with élan, convincingly devious and yet with enough pathos to extract a semblance of sympathy from the audience, Brolin seems more likely to generate apathy and irritation.
The other shortcoming from a Woody Allen point of view is the absence of the man himself. Earlier, when such complicated equations were played across the screen, Woody would flit across again and again as a pivotal element, a neurotic and often pathetic character, adding a sublime element of comedy in the fray, moving the audience to both pity and laughter through his failed attempts at romance, mania about illness, raising comical yet poignant questions about death and god. It is only in one movie – the superb Bullets over Broadway – that Allen's curious shoes have been adequately filled by someone else, by virtue of a scintillating performance by John Cusack.
However, in the absence of the hilarity and pathos of a signature Woody character, the film is not as funny as one would expect of an Allen offering. There are punch lines and humorous situations, most of them coming from the irresistible Lucy Punch – but a devoted fan of the film maker will leave the show with a tinge of disappointment.
It is probably due to the advancing years of the thespian that the movie deals with the themes of aging and absence of god, apart from the pet Woody topics of betrayal and justice. The message that one can decipher at the end of it all is a reflection of the times – maybe even eternal. Is it a blessing to live in the world of illusion – without the rational intelligence that slices through the pretentions of society and lays bare the most uncomfortable truths?
Perhaps it is the treatment of this one question which makes it more than a worthwhile watch.