Posted by & filed under cricket.

In the latest instance of the excellent Cricket Sadist Hour podcast, the two most important voices covering Aussie cricket today vent freely about the sudden and yet understandable move to replace the coach of Australia’s cricket team mere days before the Ashes. The whole conversation is a must-listen and details very well how varied the opinion of and value seen in coaches in international cricket are. But two moments in the episode stand out to me. At the 30 minute mark, Gideon Haigh talks about how Darren Lehmann has a marginally better chance at reaching the ears and minds of young cricketers as he had once played the game. Two minutes later, he also talks about how team culture in sport cannot be forced into existence by layers and layers of management but is something that is created, built and maintained organically.

mickey arthur 2

No one truly knows how much a coach can do or even should do. It is a job description with few specifics. It is important enough that the person selected is among the best paid in the country. It is also so trivial that the person can be replaced 10 days ahead of his most significant challenge yet.

In the aftermath of the thrilling final last Sunday, tweets, reports, podcasts and Google Hangouts surfaced praising the Indian cricketers, selectors and even the fans for their role in the memorable triumph. I scanned thru 10 different pieces including mine only to find no mention of the Indian coach – Duncan Fletcher anywhere. While the sport today is covered more aggressively, expansively and thoroughly than any time in the past, a definitive profile, interview or analysis of the man who coaches cricket’s most important team are missing. Most comments about Fletcher boil down to some version of “He is good with youngsters” which does not tell me more than that he is someone who yells.

While the very manifestation of selection bias, the situations reveal an interesting contrast. Absolutely no one seems to know what Duncan Fletcher does with this Indian team. Is he a good motivator? Is he responsible for tweaking batsmen’s techniques? Does he bring up the 1983 World cup even more often than the chairman of the Indian selection committee does? No one outside the team seems to have a handle on what exactly Duncan Fletcher does for the team? In a weird turn of events his name was not even mentioned by Dhoni or Jadeja in the post-game ceremony.

Every fan and his/her dog wanted to be rid of Fletcher by the time India wrapped up their second disastrous 0-4 series away from home in early 2012. Since then India have had mostly encouraging results outside of a 1-2 home series loss to the English. While aging greying veterans have been replaced with young blood what else has changed? Has Fletcher tried different techniques or has he just done what he always used to but better?

I find the lack of attention commanded by Duncan Fletcher fascinating. While his most recent predecessors were introverts too, they did speak to the media more often. I cannot remember the last time Duncan Fletcher spoke post-game or gave an interview to a media member. Surely he’d want to say things to the media and fans? He was way more outspoken when he coached England and BCCI diktats aside he’s got to be able to get his message out, right?

Without change in personnel or the bubonic plague hitting the English top order, Australia surely know they have a slender chance of winning the Ashes this year. And yet the cricket board chose to replace the coach with someone who was a player in the IPL not that long ago. Darren Lehmann is only 3 years older than Sachin Tendulkar and is being entrusted the responsibility of guiding the worst Australian team in living memory to an Ashes triumph. His bosses believe he adds value to this goal even if brought on in the 11 and half’th hour. There is no greater sign of faith in the job of a coach than what has just been done to Darren Lehmann.

duncan fletcher

A nation of fans on the other hand do not even acknowledge or seem to understand the existence of their coach and the value he adds to the team. Watching Lehmann guide, motivate and “Australian” his side to get under the skin of the English is going to be fun and educational. In the meantime I hope Duncan Fletcher is covered, interviewed and analyzed. As the bearer of one of the most visible and pivotal roles in sport, precious little is known about him. Someday this team he coaches will lose its way or lose interest in him. He will then be replaced by someone who probably played against and alongside Dhoni. I would like to have known more about Duncan by then.

For now it certainly does look like everyone is just saying – Duncan, who?

Posted by & filed under cricket.

“God is not coming to save us,” Dhoni told his team in the huddle.

Indian team huddle. Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons license terms.

Indian team huddle. Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons license terms.

It might as well have been a message to millions of cricket fans who set aside a large portion of a June Sunday to watch the Champions trophy final from Birmingham between India and England. Following sports as a hardcore fan is thankless a lot of the time. It is an enormous time sink and one that can be torn apart by many rational arguments. Never is it more frustrating than when losing sleep over whether or not a sporting event of interest would even transpire. For much of Sunday, cricket, its governing body and fans had eggs on their faces with the farce of a rained out final looming large. How would we explain to the billions who don’t watch or care that the final and deciding match of the (quadrennial) second most important tournament on the sport’s calendar would not happen because of a few millimeters of rain? What sense did it make for a tournament of this magnitude to neither schedule a reserve day nor have the flexibility to call for one late? Why, in this day and age could the sport not find a way to play around rain?

“God is not coming to save us,” fans might have felt at 10 PM (IST) when the game should have been winding down but instead went in to one of its gazillion rain breaks. God had better things to do than to pay attention to a farce of a cricket match that climaxed a tournament (whose original intent and current iteration are pretty far removed) run by a farce of an administrative body.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

Instead, a game heading to the nether that most one day internationals end up at, found a second wind and turned into a Category 5 sporting event whose result will resonate among fans, players and the history books for a long time to come. Forget the Confederations cup and the exhibition football that is mostly meant to test out Brazil’s readiness for the real deal next year. Forget the tennis majors that are currently 10 day warm-ups for a top-heavy final weekend. Forget the NBA finals whose winner was anointed, predicted and called out 36 months ago. The sporting event of the summer was the most unlikely cricket match of them all!

Here are five reasons why –

a) Context : The Indian team just got done beating 5 different teams on three different grounds in conditions mostly removed from ones they are familiar with. In many ways that makes this Indian cricket’s moment of crowning glory even when ranked against the triumphs in 1983, 1985, 2007 and 2011. Over 17 days India beat South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England. And India did this on the heels of the most controversy the team and sport have faced in a decade. And India did this while replacing doyens of their game with a set of fresh-faced and brash youngsters who have not yet blazed their own trail. And India did this in the eleventh month of an interminable cricket season that would have broken slightly more mortal bodies and minds.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

In the final match of the tournament at Birmingham, they overcame conditions, interruptions and a pitch that would have sapped those a little less tough. They were put into bat at 10 AM and did not get to bat until 4:45 PM. And even then, only for 6 overs before they had to take shelter for another English summer downpour. Interruptions are killers whether to writing a blog post or to bat thru 20 overs against two new balls and a team playing at home. While India got lucky at several stages, they could have sat on ready excuses of chance, luck and the vagaries of interruptions. The fan base would have consoled itself that the final was not their day and the best team didn’t win. Instead the team batted hard and then the bowlers and fielders held their nerves and incidentally their chances to pull off a win that seemed far-fetched right thru the day until 20 were needed off 16 by England with 6 wickets in hand.

In the context of where international cricket, Indian cricket and the game were at that moment, this was a win for the ages. The defining one day international tournament win for the defining team of the year. Period.

b) Captain : Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s post-game interview was the best I have ever seen in any sport.

The video can be located here.

It is not easy for winners to be calm, erudite or even coherent in moments of euphoria. No wise words have been said right after an orgasm. One only needs to listen to or watch Virat Kohli in the moments after the win to see how most of us would react when life gives us champagne lemonade. Dhoni on the other hand was calm, crisp and extremely logical. He called out how he doesn’t think of much more than the next ball or game. He let the youngsters in the team take all the credit and limelight while being quite subdued himself. He spoke of how he values toughness and persistence more than technique and also shared his insecurities on how the game could have been lost at any moment.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

Throughout the game and tournament Dhoni led with the composure and vision that Indian fans are now used to. His field placements, inflexibility with selections and batting order and bowling changes (such as letting Ishant Sharma bowl one over too many) rile many of us up but like a cricketing voice I highly respect told me today,”He deserves the benefit of the doubt. He is Dhoni da!” MS Dhoni has not missed a game for his national team or franchise in a year. He has captained in every one of these games and has faced up to pressure, controversy, volume of cricket and adversity with zero complaints and immense responsibility. He is the leader the passionate universe of fans deserve and nowhere was it more evident than in his cool during the pressure stages of the final and during the post-match interview where lesser mortals would have blabbed about supernatural forces or spouted clichés. India just beat five teams in the course of 17 days. They could not have done it without MS Dhoni.

c) Choke : There are harder things in life than to recover from a painful loss in sports. But not that many :). Like several teams and individuals across sports will tell you and like every India fan who saw Chetan Sharma 1986 and every South African fan who saw Allan Donald 1999 will tell you, painful losses stick for a really long time. And every English cricketer and fan will find the next limited overs tournament win that much tougher. A lot tougher. Painfully hard.

England had the game in the bag. Their best player on the day Ravi Bopara and their best ODI batsman Eoin Morgan had done the hard yards. Ishant Sharma was in a generous mood and the packed house full of India fans were one boundary away from heading to the exits after being rained on for close to 10 hours. England would have been deserving winners on the day. Instead the cruellest C word of them all took over the team ten minutes early to transform a six wicket win into a five run defeat.

d) Celebration: Freedom fighters have appeared less elated than the bulk of the Indian team did after the match. Virat Kohli launched into an incoherent tirade of English-sounding words, Ravindra Jadeja let loose knowing he’d shed the heaviest of baggage, Ishant Sharma walked the walk of a cocky bowling lead and the rest of the team somehow managed to wear and hang on to the most insipid blazers known to man, for a lap around the stadium.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

Image courtesy www.icc-cricket.com under the Creative Commons License.

Forget the win, this was a celebration unlike any other. There was Gangnam style, champagne, a random cellphone call to the captain, blown kisses and a cavalcade free of hangers-on and paparazzi. If there was any sense to the rain, it may have been that it filtered out all but the most deserving and the most die-hard. The video below does not do justice but is somewhat close to the sights and sounds that followed the win.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KdK-5OSAhk&w=420&h=315]

e) Chance: Let us not forget the element of chance and luck that helped the Indian team out. England after all were two overthrows shy of winning this one. India after all got extremely lucky with Ian Bell dismissal. Ishant Sharma got wickets to deliveries that were either extraordinarily well-thought out or acts of random ineptitude by the English. Any of several things could have happened differently and changed the outcome. India will play much better in the future and lose. England may even play worse and win. The line between winning and losing, the line that gives sports especially cricket its very own exclusive tier in the world of entertainment was very thin today. Thinner than on most days in most sports involving most teams. It is why I will remember this day and game forever.

Being a cricket fan brings a lot of pain. There are days when the time sunk into strangers hitting a leather object feels futile and frustrating. And there are days when it is life-changing, rewarding and euphoric. June 23’rd 2013 was one such day.

A champion held up the ICC Champions trophy. And a game quickly took its place as the greatest 20-over game ever. To India and cricket fans everywhere, maybe God did come to save us.

dhoni cup

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Media.

Say you were a sportswriter who had issues with basketball. Say you wrote about most sports and called yourself a sports fan but were extremely queasy about the sport of basketball (for reasons related to your time as a high school athlete). Would you expect to be hired as the editor-in-chief of a basketball magazine targeted at basketballers and basketball fans everywhere?

Say you grew up in America and moved to Cuba as you were uncomfortable with America and what you experienced there. Would you expect to be hired as the editor-in-chief of a magazine about America for Americans that seeks to connect with those who will remain American wherever they are?

Apologies for the redundant questioning to start off the piece, but something similar to these ridiculous hypotheticals has happened at the New York Times this week.

basharat peer

21 months ago, the New York Times started India Ink (a blog that was also The New York Times’ first-ever country-specific site for news, information, culture and conversation. (their words, not mine)). Since then it has existed in a quiet corner of the internet universe failing to influence conversation the way the paper of record usually does. It has also failed to produce any serious, original reporting on the big issues of the day. The content it has churned out has been delayed, bland and uninfluential.

But all of that feedback is my opinion and is subjective. I can deal with that and I have been watching and hoping that the site becomes a go-to for the Indian diaspora struggling to find intelligent and timely content about the country and culture they love and care about. I was hoping it would only be a matter of time before the folks at India Ink figured out what worked and produced compelling content. After all, they belong to the New York Times.

Image courtesy India Ink, New York Times.

Image courtesy India Ink, New York Times.

Instead this week they hired this dude as the head of India Ink. Here’s why hiring this dude is a cruel, funny joke –

Basharat Peer does not even call himself Indian – The blog’s mission statement (You can check it out here or use Google cache search if they change it in the next few days:)) reads “India Ink will provide more in-depth, on-the-ground coverage of the world’s biggest democracy — and of a people who know that no matter how far they roam, their hearts will always be Indian.” (emphasis mine)

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal nearly 3 years ago Basharat Peer calls himself a Kashmiri and sounds queasy and constipated when asked to answer if he is an Indian! Do read the interview yourself! His frustration at being called Indian reeks thru the device you are reading the interview on. The money quote which is used as the headline on the piece reads “My Nationality: a Matter of Dispute.”

Here is another interview with Basharat where he all but says he is not an Indian and dislikes India. Here is a different interview where he expresses shock at Indians refusing to rent to Muslims in the immediate aftermath of 11/17/2008.

So the New York Times has hired someone who doesn’t call himself Indian to lead their blog and manage the content on the blog whose goal is to provide coverage for those whose hearts will always be Indian. I eagerly await the day the Newspaper of record hires a native Palestinian to run their Israel blog. Or vice versa.

The announcement of his hire on Twitter was greeted with rounds of cheers by people whose twitter bios said they were from Pakistan. Many of them have deleted their endorsements since but here’s one who still hasn’t –

Twitter is imperfect and skepticism is the essence of journalism but really ,New York Times? You want to hire someone who is not comfortable calling himself Indian because of grudges he holds against the country and whose hire gets cheers from Pakistanis as the head for an India-centric blog?

Outside of this hire, India Ink has several other issues that make it the out-of-place blog on the institution of the New York Times. In spite of being associated with the New York Times, the blog is unprofessionally managed (try scrolling thru monthly archives), has outdated content and severely lacks balance in the writers and content it publishes. I am all for opinions from the entire rainbow of views that covering an issue related to India will bring but the blog like many Indian institutions fails to see the India that lies below Mumbai.

The original list of contributors to the blog (which has several writers whose work I love and respect) has about 8 times the representation of people from Mumbai and Delhi than it does people from Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Kerala. It reads much more like a list made out of Google searches for famous Indian writers than it does a professional talent gathering operation.

Scroll thru the monthly archives and you will find contributions mostly from people whose by lines and biographies are not available on the site. When issues of national relevance such as the Naxal-led attacks last month or the IPL fixing/betting bubbled up and kept the nation and diaspora engaged, India Ink put out delayed cookie-cutter pieces adding zero original reporting. The New York Times is expected to lead and drive conversation and expose the people in power. Instead the India Ink waddles along taking the country and people it purports to cover, less seriously than a neighborhood colony periodical takes its weekly newsletter.

A lot of what I have written here comes from frustration rather than anger. It frustrates me that there is such little intelligent and influential content on India Ink. It frustrates me that they take their jobs so callously and their audience for granted. I have always wanted to write for the New York Times and more recently for India Ink. I have believed that my perspective and content will resonate in that platform. I have even sent over some of my pieces and pitches only to be rejected at all times. That goes with the territory of writing though and makes me want to work harder at getting something thru. But for the same blog and organization to hire a person who is uncomfortable being called Indian to run their site frustrates me a million times more.

Image courtesy THE HINDU

Image courtesy THE HINDU

I hope the folks at India Ink read this and do some soul-searching. This is a very unique niche market they have access to. They really should be doing better and respecting their audience more. I am all for a bigger audience for Basharat Peer’s obviously troubled life story. If the goal was to advance the plight of the Kashmir Muslims, there are other ways to do it than escalate a voice and let him use the blog to spread his personal agenda. It is not skepticism of the status quo, curiosity for context or balance in coverage to do that. It is attempting to sneakily transmit a minority ideology and an enormous disrespect for India and Indians.

I have subscribed to the Sunday New York Times for the better part of the last six years. I unsubscribed yesterday.

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad, Travel.

d-prager-107

Dave Prager is an American who spent 18 months in New Delhi, India on an advertising job, loved it enough to talk about it a lot. He has talked about his time in India 140 characters at a time here . He has blogged about it here. And most recently he has written a 400+ page book about it and the book can be bought here (There are unauthorized Amazon links for the same that are not this;please ignore them).

I have enjoyed his writing a lot. As an Indian in the US, there were several personal parallels and analogies I saw in Dave’s experiences. On the eve of the book’s release in the US, I had the opportunity to have a wide ranging two-part conversation with him. We talked about everything from the perks of being white in India to the pitfalls of being white in India to vagaries of a Saravana Bhavan menu.

If you have an Apple device you can download our conversation as a podcast via Itunes from here. If you own a non-Apple device, you can also search for No Sacred cows on your podcast app or listen to it in the embedded links below.

The entire conversation has also been transcribed here below. Please do read, listen and most importantly do buy the book. I don’t know Dave personally or have never spoken to him before this conversation and the recommendation is purely as a fan and supporter of intelligent and humorous writing about India.

Part I

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/92354886″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Part II

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/92355921″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Interview with Dave Prager

Shyam: Hello everyone, I’m here with Dave Prager, author and creator of the book, Delirious Delhi and the widely popular Twitter feed that goes by the same name. Hi Dave, welcome to the show.

Dave: Hi, thanks, it’s good to be here.

Shyam: Thank you for making time for this. I know you from the day, popular Twitter user called IR Squared, re-tweeted a bunch of your blog posts and I’ve been following you I think for about two years. I know a lot about you –

Dave: (chuckles)

Shyam: – as someone who spent 18 months in New Delhi after spending the bulk of your early life in Brooklyn, New York. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself so that the people listening to this who may not have heard about you before get to know you a little bit better?

Dave: Sure. So, you’re right I lived in New York for about nine years. I was working in the advertising industry actually on the Madison Avenue which is a pretty cool. So one day HR comes up to me and they say, hey Dave, you’ve been working on this account for a long time. How would you like to work on the exact same account but in the New Delhi office? And I said, well gee, that sounds interesting. You know, I’ve always wanted to go to India, my wife and I had a passion for Indian food, of course we had really, you know, we had a passion for what we thought was Indian food, which is what you get like in Indian restaurants which now we know is nothing like the vast wealth of Indian food that awaited us once we got there. But nevertheless, we were very excited about things like Mulligatawny Soup and Vindaloo Curry –

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: Now we know better. Yeah, so HR said, you want to go to India? I said, for sure. So one week later, this was July of 2007, one week later I was in India getting lost very quickly in the GK2 neighborhood. You know, it’s funny that the first impressions were, my HR lady in India dropped me off in (unintelligible) and said see you Monday. And so I wandered around for about 10 minutes. I was sweating instantly, I was terrified because the auto rickshaws were honking at me and all the people were staring and there were monkeys laughing at me. And I was really, you know, getting sunburned, and I was just lost and I thought this was the most overwhelming place I’d ever been. I can’t believe what a madhouse GK2 in New Delhi is. Eventually I composed myself, I found my home, I had a good night’s rest, got over my jetlag. Next day I went to, took an auto rickshaw, straight to Old Delhi. I experienced Old Delhi and wandered around for hours and came back and realized that GK2 is actually very peaceful and quiet.

Shyam: (laughs) that’s quite a welcome to New Delhi in India.

Dave: Yeah (chuckles).

Shyam: So you spent about 18 months in Delhi, right? 2008-2009?

Dave: That’s correct.

Shyam: Yeah. So yeah, I enjoyed your Twitter feed and then I, thanks to you, I got an early copy of your book that’s coming out in the U.S. in a month or so. It’s already been out in India for a while.

Dave: Hm-hmm.

Shyam: And I read through the entire book. It’s entertaining as heck. And I think the thing I enjoyed most about the book was how self-effacing you were throughout the book and how, not only did you not stick to the same clichés and stereotypes that a lot of Westerners writing about India stick to, you also made fun of them. Was this a conscious choice? I guess I’m trying to understand your writing style a little bit. Was this a conscious choice you made that I am not going to go down that path or did it just end up that way?

Dave: Yeah, you know one of the key things I wanted to do was to avoid – there’s two clichés about India, right? Either India is a spiritual place and everybody there is so peaceful and gets along and the poorest people are so at peace with their poverty, or there’s the other cliché which is, you know, some people say India is disgusting, it’s filthy. I don’t think either of those things are true. I think there are aspects of both that are true and there are aspects of both that are extremely false. So I wanted to avoid the cliché of the guy going down a spiritual journey and I also wanted to avoid the cliché of a Westerner coming in and saying this is how things should be done. So what am I left with? I’m left with the things that I saw and the things that I experienced and the things I figured out for myself. And so that’s the way I tried to approach it, which is, here are the things that I really liked, here are the things that I really hated, and you know, it’s up to you to decide whether I’m right or wrong. And in terms of self-effacing, that’s just kind of how I am. I realize if I want to get a little bit serious for a second, that you know, growing up in America, living in America, I’m a bit more, you know, I’m quite a bit luckier than, you know, the majority of the world and so instantly that places a burden on me to appreciate what I have and appreciate that this isn’t my place where I’m wandering around someone else’s country. And so, you know, people are staring at me and people are laughing at me, that’s kind of part of the fun of it is, you have a lot more fun when you are laughing along with people. That’s kind of the thing. So like I remember, I think it was at a (unintelligible) on (unintelligible), it could be wrong, but I walk in, I’m very proud of myself, I had been in the country for a couple months, I said, I’d like some pani please. And the guy said, excuse me? I said, uh, I’d like some pani please. And he said, I don’t understand. I said, you know, water. He said, oh yes, water. And so I said oh well what was I saying wrong? You know, pani, right? He said, yeah, pani’s correct but I didn’t expect you to say it.

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: And that’s the kind of fun that I just try to bring out. These silly things that happened to me and my wife when we’re there is just how it is. If you walk around with your eyes open and be open to new experiences, things will happen and the philosophy we had going in was, we’re going to say yes to everything that comes up no matter how strange it seems. In retrospect, maybe that was a bad idea sometimes –

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: – but for the most part that’s what we did is we tried to open our minds and just see what happened and let, you know, let life out there, this sounds stupid, let life experience us. I can’t believe I just said that. But that’s kind of the idea. See, already I’m embarrassing myself during this interview as well.

Shyam: No, not at all. I really enjoyed the fact that there wasn’t a chapter on snake charmers or this yoga camp or you know, the things that you expect someone to stereotype India with. I mean, there’s a food chapter that talks a lot about food but you go fairly deep, it’s not just, like you said, Vindaloo Curry and you know Mango Lassi or something like that. You went pretty deep into the cuisine there so I enjoyed that. Reading this book is not like reading most Westerner accounts. So that was, that was really, I thought, well thought out and even better, well executed.

Dave: I appreciate that. So I think that I came in a little bit differently than a lot of Westerners do. I think my experience there would be more common which is, I didn’t come in as the boss of the company, like a lot of Westerners do. I didn’t come in as a volunteer or a student backpacker or somebody married to the boss of the company. I came in as like basically, not even middle management, lower-middle management.

Shyam: Hm-hmm.

Dave: You know, I’d been at my company for a couple years and I had experienced leading a group of copyrighters. So I work in advertising. In advertising the people who write the ads are called the copyrighters. So I always came in to basically oversee the copyrighters in the Delhi agency. But that meant there were still at least two or three people above me who could tell me what to do. And because of that, I think that I wasn’t coming in ordering everyone around, like a lot of Westerners do. I was coming in as just one of the gang. I got to tell people what to do sometimes, but a lot more times people told me what to do and I was working just as hard, well not just as hard, those people work a lot harder than I do out there, but because of that, I had a much different perspective which hopefully makes the book a little bit different.

Shyam: That’s a very good point. Yeah, your background and what you went to India for is very different from I think what most people go for. I think that’s a good point. I didn’t think about that. Awesome. One more question about your writing style because I’m a fan of your Twitter feed, I’m a fan of your blog as well. Was the book a conscious choice from the time you landed there and so did you write the blog and book in parallel, or was the book an afterthought where your blog is more, you know, every day if you feel like a sudden urge to write you wrote it, and the book happened independent of that. What was the writing process for the book like?

Dave: Yeah, that’s really it. So my wife started the blog when we landed. We had a lot of trouble getting settled for the first month or two. And just little things like where do you buy pillows, or where do you buy sheets? Then my wife, Jenny, started the blog basically to collect the things that we learned. And I sound stupid. Where do you buy clothes? Where do you buy sheets? But there’s a certain litera – like let’s call it retail literacy – where I can stand out in front of any supermarket in America and figure out, okay, well if the fruit is over there that means the pharmacy’s probably over there, which means the cereal is probably on this aisle. And even though I’ve never been to this store and this state, I can figure it out. But if I go to Hauz Khas Market for the first time and look around, I see unfamiliar shops, totally unfamiliar. Like, what is this stationary store sell? I didn’t know, we didn’t know. And I remember asking my co-worker, Dipankar, where do you buy superglue? And his answer was, everywhere. And of course everywhere because every market has a stationary store. But when I first – we first got started, we had no idea that a stationary store was a place that was basically where you go to buy office supplies. We didn’t get that. So we got that and we wanted to share this knowledge with everybody. So my wife started the blog to share this knowledge. I quickly took it over because it’s (laughs) what I do. She has a good idea, then I get very excited about it. So I started adding content and then writing just about what it’s like to, the day-to-day, the things that I saw, the pictures that I, that I took, the things that I learned. And the audience kind of shifted. So originally we were writing for future Westerners moving to Delhi, but the people who were commenting and participating were Indians in Delhi and America who were really interested in what we were thinking about the city. So as our audience shifted, the tone of it shifted. So it was less about, hey, if you ever need a good bath mat, go to, you know. It wasn’t that. It shifted to, here’s some observations on Delhi traffic and here’s what we think the root cause of such and such, you know, social whatever it might be. So it got a little bit more, kind of us trying to figure out what was going on around us as opposed to us trying to say, oh here’s this, this and this. A couple months before we left Delhi, a friend of ours, an American, said you should write a book. And I said well, you know what, I might as well. So I wrote a book proposal. I shopped it around, and sure enough, HarperCollins India picked it up. A couple days before we left India, we signed the papers and after India, we moved to Singapore, so I spent the year we were living in Singapore mostly writing the book about Delhi. And then it was published in December of 2011 in India, and then now finally, a year-and-a-half later, in June 2013, the book is coming out in the states.

Shyam: Gotcha. That’s interesting to hear that he book was written after the fact. It doesn’t seem that way when you read it. It feels very much like you got back home that night and you wrote it. So you must have, you know, recounted memories in a lot of places like in forms of pictures and emails or something to have that good a memory of things that happened maybe a year-and-a-half, two years prior.

Dave: Yeah, you know I think that there was, it’s kind of incredible how much, how many little details stuck in, in our minds. Well, you know, 416 pages worth of detail stuck in our minds. So after India we lived in Singapore and Singapore didn’t stick in our minds like that. And everywhere we lived since hasn’t really, these little details don’t jump out at us. There’s something about, maybe because it was so different than anything we’ve ever experienced. All these little things just stayed fresh in our minds. So once we figured out that the book was going to happen, we spent the last couple weeks in India just taking notes on everything we could remember, just writing things down. I had dumped it all into a database just so I would have all the little thoughts and memories kind of collected in some mass thing, and then I just, the book was as much an exercise of sorting out just kind of organizing thoughts, as it was creating it. But yeah, it’s really, it hasn’t happened since. It’s just this incredible visceral recall that we had in India.

Shyam: Interesting. Very interesting. One of the things that I was really intrigued by, which I heard from a lot of people, but you call it out in your book quite a few times, is the treatment that you get when you’re white in India. You talk about your wife’s two jobs, especially the advertising job, where it almost felt like, correct me if I’m wrong, but it almost felt like she was hired because of her skin color more than any other attribute. And you encountered all through your time there. There are a lot of perks to being white in India and, but it’s not an easy thing to deal with. You have your conscience and you have your belief system really challenged by what’s happening about how you can get into a bar or you can evade the metal detectors anywhere whereas your brown friends who are just about as well qualified don’t have that perk. So what’s the, what’s the way to deal with – I’m sure a lot of white people face that when they go to India? What’s your – what was your way of dealing with that?

Dave: Probably lots of guilt.

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: We were definitely aware of it and certainly it didn’t feel right, but at the same time when you’re presented with an opportunity like that, like to jump the cue or to get special treatment, it’s really hard to say no. So there was a lot of guilt. You know, sometimes we could even use it to our selfish advantage, like if I wanted to leave work early I knew I wasn’t going to get in as much trouble as if my colleague left work early or decided to skip out on work. I feel guilty about it but it was, it’s just, and it’s human nature to just take advantage of it. I think the way to cope with it is to be aware of it. If you’re not aware of it – I met a lot of people who almost felt entitled to it. A lot of Westerners who felt like this treatment was something they deserved. And I don’t feel like we deserved it because what makes us different than anyone else so we’re special. Nothing. Of course, I feel that way whenever anyone calls me sir, even here, like at supermarkets, I’m like, please don’t call me sir, first of all, that makes me feel old, but second of all, you know, there’s no reason that I’m any deserving of respect more than you are. So maybe it’s just a personality quirk that I feel kind of uncomfortable with shows of respect that I don’t feel like I’ve earned from somebody. Yeah. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Shyam: It does. It’s just such a unique thing to deal with when you go from here to there because I found – I’ve been in America for over a decade now and I’ve found that, you know, news stories, odd incident aside, if you’re on the coasts, which is where I’ve been in university towns, the people are extremely conscious of treating everyone equally and fairly. Like there’s obviously subtle discrimination and subtle racism everywhere in the world but people go out of their way to make sure everyone’s treated fair. You know, it’s very very hard to jump a restaurant line in most American restaurants because of your skin color or because of your wealth. You can make reservations or – but it’s not easy. It’s not for the middle class or the upper-middle class to take advantage of.

Dave: Hm-hmm.

Shyam: Whereas in India you pretty much can. It’s part of the system. And it’s interesting that you say that you are guilty but it didn’t stop you at that moment from taking short-term advant – which is very human, which is a very human thing to empathize with and deal with. So I think that’s interesting. It’s not that the guilt stops you at the moment of need. I think that’s how most humans are, right?

Dave: Yeah. There were times though. I remember we’d be waiting for an auto and then someone else was there first, an Indian person, and the auto would come up to me and I would say, no, that person was there first. Of course, if I’d been very sweaty and it was raining I probably would have just jumped in, you know, taken the first one anyway. Yeah, it’s, it’s not something I’m entirely proud of but it happens.

Shyam: Yeah.

Dave: I don’t think, a lot of the experiences we have – certainly if you’re walking down the street and you know, people would invite us to come into the wedding. Whether we would or not. I can’t imagine that any Indian person walking down the street is getting invited to the wedding but we do get invited to the wedding and if we do go in we’re going to have an amazing time and an amazing story to tell. Yes, on the one hand we found Indians being incredibly hospitable, but on the other hand, it’s because we are unique and white, so there’s something to feel guilty about a little bit.

Shyam: Did you have a – I think the answer to this is no, but I’ll ask anyways. Did you have a lot of trouble getting used to being treated like everyone else after you moved out of India to Singapore and then to the U.S. or –

Dave: (laughs) in a way, yeah.

Shyam: Oh, you did, oh interesting.

Dave: So at the end of the book I actually talk about this. I say, in Singapore we would see weddings and tents and stuff and we would stand in the periphery and watch and if we’d been in India, people would invite us in and suddenly we’d be having photos with baby on our lap. But in Singapore people would just absolutely ignore us and we would kind of joke to ourselves, hey, you know, Westerners standing here. Invite us in, give us some of that food. As a joke, but also, you get used to certain kind of treatment and, whether you’re proud of it or not, you kind of want it to continue. You know, it’s not, it’s just how it is. You know, you can tell it makes me uncomfortable but it’s true. It’s just – I’m glad we, I’m both glad and saddened that people treated us the way they did.

Shyam: Got it. The second thing I wanted to talk about from your book was something that I experienced in Delhi myself. I was – I’m originally from (unintelligible), but I went to New Delhi last November for about a week and I was extremely surprised by how many parks there were. And you write about this in your book too. Like it’s not common for urban India to have as many pockets of green as New Delhi does, and you write about this in your book too. Have you figured out how they do it because they don’t get enough rain, there is extreme weather most of the year. Do you know the secret to how New Delhi has that many parks? Not only how many parks they have but how green they stay.

Shyam: Yeah.

Dave: The whole year-round they’re always flowery, always beautiful no matter how long it’s been since the last rain. We don’t get it, but actually, the other day we were talking about living here, we’d been in California for about a year now; there’s a good stretch of four or five months where it didn’t rain and yet, you know, the grass got brown but the trees were still pretty and flowery. It wasn’t wilting like, you know, if you go to the desert areas of the American, you know, southwest or whatever, you know when it’s been a couple months since it rained. And something about the – I don’t know, so Delhi has a secret –

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: – a secret greenery. I’m sure that there’s some biologist out there saying, well obviously the answer is blah you idiot. In terms of all the parks, I think that that’s a really nice feature of Delhi. I don’t think we appreciated it as much as we should have, but yeah it’s just wonderful all the little parks that they have and all the big parks that they have too.

Shyam: Do you have a favorite park or two that you can talk about?

Dave: I wouldn’t go running a lot in Gulmohar Park near my place in Hauz Khas Market. It was – you know I know this for a fact that there were orchids growing there, like wild orchids growing on bushes because you can’t mistake orchids. You know, they have the little, little scooper things and the little tongue things, again, I’m clearly not a plant biologist.

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: The little tongue thing. But I wrote about this in an article that I published in some Indian newspaper, and someone commented, well, clearly this guy’s never been to Gulmohar Park because there are absolutely no orchids growing in Gulmohar Park. Sir, if you’re listening, I’m sure those are orchids. If they’re not, they look like orchids and I’m not a plant guy. (laughs)

Shyam: Gotcha. Yeah, in so many ways, New Delhi is typical urban India with a metro, the crowds, the people, the noise, the smog and the pollution, but then you see all these parks and you’re like, how did that happen, that can’t be natural. So yeah, I was – I’m glad you wrote about that in your book because that’s what I was feeling in my head and good to get validation I guess. The last thing I want to ask about your book, I mean there’s so much to talk about, but I wanted to stick to the things that I thought were like very unique and very interesting and I can talk about this topic for probably 10 hours but I’m going to let you introduce the topic to the audience and also talk about it. I enjoyed anything you wrote about Gora Evasion.

Dave: (laughs)

Shyam: It was so wonderful to read and I have so much empathy and I experienced the same thing. I don’t know what brown is in India but brown evasion in day-to-day life and the U.S. So take it away Dave, what is Gora Evasion and whatever you want to say about it. The floor is yours.

Dave: Okay. So when a Westerner goes to India, he doesn’t think he’s traveling to a country where a billion people are living, he thinks he’s going on an Indiana Jones style adventure. And that was what we kind of expected, that we’re going to step off the plane and we’re going to have to hang off the side of a train on the way to our hotel, which will be covered in snakes, or something to that affect. You get there, and suddenly you realize, well hey, there’s a billion people here and they’re all drinking cappuccinos and watching Friends.

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: But let’s ignore that part and let’s focus on the adventure we’re having. And one of the keys to maintaining the illusion of adventure is to not see all the signs that, you know, that guy over there, hey he looks familiar, oh, wasn’t his sister in marching band with you, oh man he’s in India too?

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: So you somehow or other you start ignoring all the other Westerners you see. And it’s literally, if two Westerners pass in an alley in Old Delhi, they don’t make eye contact. They actually look the other way –

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: – to pretend like the other’s not there. We actually, we were at Karim’s Restaurant which is a very famous restaurant in New Delhi, and the guy who sat us, Jenny and I, sat us across from two German guys who spoke English, you know, maybe they didn’t speak English, but the fact is, they didn’t look at us. They didn’t make eye contact even though we were sitting across from them and we didn’t try to engage them because that ruins the adventure of going to Karim’s. So we’d been talking about this after we’ve been there for about a year. We were talking about this theory that we were calling Gora Evasion. And we were in Mumbai and we were walking around, it’s what we do when we go to the cities and we just walk and walk and walk and see what we can see. So we’d walk up to Malabar Hill and then we’re walking down from Malabar Hill, there’s a long road, it’s kind of wooded and desolate, and it was dusk. And I remember there were these giant bats flying around and about a quarter-mile down the road, we saw a Western couple walking towards us. And there was nobody else there, there was just an occasional car and there was no way that they couldn’t notice us. No way that we couldn’t notice them. So I said, Jenny, let’s put it to the test. Let’s try to make eye contact. Let’s try to say hi to these people. So we get closer and closer and closer, and then just at the point where if we were home, out on a hike, our eyes would meet and we would say hi, the guy suddenly points to a bat and they both watch the bat flying by as they pass us to make sure that they could avoid eye contact with us. And then they continue pretending that they were the only Indians, or the only Americans in India.

Shyam: Gotcha. I loved your description of it right now. And I loved reading about it in the book. I think it happens a lot with Indians in the U.S. too. Like if I’m at a, what I think is the most hip vegan brunch place, or if I’m at a clothing store of a, you know, a brand that I think is superior to what most people wear, and if I were to spot people who looked like me there, I try and pretend that they don’t exist because it’s my – it’s my finding. Or if I’ve gone camping or a hike and I see someone else there, and I see this even at work, you know you meet a lot of people who look like you at work and it’s – I’ve noticed that Indians go out of their way to not make eye contact, to look away or – and cell phones have made it easier honestly, like I can look at my phone

Dave: (laughs)

Shyam: – and avoid anyone, I can avoid my best friend if I’m pretending to be engrossed in something really interesting. But to see that that was also something you noticed and you saw, I think we’re on to something huge here. I think Gora Evasion is going to be on urban dictionary in a year or so and I think people are going to make up their own terms for their ethnicities and race. I think, I think that was a great finding. I hope you patent it real quick and get yourself some royalties for that.

Dave: You know what’s happened though, is now that we’re back in the states and we’re very nostalgic for India, we are actually, the opposite, we’re like attracted to people. Whenever we see an Indian we kind of want to start talking to them and mention, oh yeah, we used to live in India. You know, we use to love the food there, we were big fans of the food. Why don’t you invite us over for some home cooking?

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: And so we had some very comical moments since we’ve been back, and especially, so before we moved to the Bay Area, we lived in Denver, and there were no good Indian restaurants in Denver. At least here, you know, there’s incredible Indian food here. Back there there’s no good Indian restaurants. We were desperate for some good Indian food. So we would see – I remember once we were walking around the Botanical Gardens in Denver and we saw and Indian family with the Indian grandma and grandpa and we knew they were from India, we could hear them talking. So we were saddling – or I was saddling up to them, and Jenny was very embarrassed about it but kind of walking very closely, very slowly by, hoping I could hear something that might spark a conversation or maybe they’d ask me to take their photo so that, you know, I could ask where they’re from and, I think actually at one point I did get to take, I offered to take their photo, I took their photo, and then I said something to them in Hindi, and they said excuse me? And I said something else in Hindi. And they said, or are you speaking Hindi? And I said, yeah I’m speaking Hindi. They said, oh, we don’t speak that.

Shyam: Yeah.

Dave: And then they took their phone, or their camera, and walked away.

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: So I did not eat good Indian food that night.

Shyam: (laughs) it’s interesting you mention the quality of Indian food in the Bay Area. I think it’s pretty amazing too how much variety it is and how good it is. Do you want to mention your favorite spot or two, maybe they’re listening and –

Dave: Sure.

Shyam: – want to give you a free meal the next time you go there?

Dave: Oh, I would hope so. We are big fans of Saravana Bhavan. We were –

Shyam: Who isn’t? (laughs)

Dave: Yes. We actually, we were big fans of them when we were in Delhi. That’s where –

Shyam: Do they have one in there?

Dave: They do. They have two branches –

Shyam: Oh.

Dave: – at the time at least, they have two branches in (unintelligible) and we went there and we fell in love. We went to the, their global chain, we went to the one in Singapore when we moved there. We were very excited they had it in Singapore. But it was just awful.

Shyam: Hmm.

Dave: It was surprisingly bad.

Shyam: Wow.

Dave: Which was a big disappointment to us.

Shyam: Everything, not just the (unintelligible), everything was bad?

Dave: First of all, they had North Indian food there, which they shouldn’t have. That’s a South Indian restaurant.

Shaym: Exactly. That’s blasphemous.

Dave: Exactly right. So we had some food there, it just wasn’t good at all. So we gave up on that and then we came here and we thought, okay, we’ll try it again, and sure enough, the one here is just as good as the one – but they don’t have the Aapams and coconut milk.

Shyam: Oh.

Dave: Which the one in Delhi had.

Shyam: Got it.

Dave: And that was our favorite part of it. So if you’re listening, owners of Saravana Bhavan, please add Aapams and coconut milk to your menu and we will come even more often.

Shyam: Got it. Lastly, I just wanted to ask about the book. I finished reading it and I could not recommend it more strongly for anyone who’s interested in an Indian experience. I think it’s in fact more interesting for someone who grew up in India and is now in the U.S. because what you did is exactly the opposite and you kind of see parallels that – it’s very hard to find parallels to this sort of an experience. So can you tell people listening to this if they’re in the U.S. or in the Bay Area or anywhere in the U.S., where can they find it, how can they order it?

Dave: Actually, at this point you can find it in – well, as of June 4th you should be able to order it globally inside and outside of India on Amazon, you know, it will be in bookstores, it will be in Barnes & Noble, if you’re global, it will be on the Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, it’ll be in Singapore, it’ll be in Australia, it’s actually going to be distributed quite widely, so anywhere you could buy books I think you should be able to buy it –

Shyam: After June 4th.

Dave: – After June 4th or given the vagaries of global distribution, sometime within the month of June.

Shyam: Got it.

Dave: Should you have any trouble in your country or your location, go to deliriousdelhi.com and send me an email and I’ll help you figure it out.

Shyam: Got it. Can people get it for e-readers as well or do they have to buy a hard copy?

Dave: Yeah, there will be an e-book. And the cool thing about this version is it’s going to have pictures.

Shyam: Oh, nice.

Dave: The India version did not have pictures. This one has 24 pages of color photos to help you have a richer and more visceral reading experience.

Shyam: Got it. Anything else you want to add about the book or anything else people should know about the book?

Dave: Only that if each Indian in the world buys one, then I’ll make a little bit of money. So, please do.

Shyam: (laughs)

Dave: (laughs)

Shyam: Thank you, Dave. Congratulations on the book. It’s really well written. It’s such a fun read. Best of luck with the sales and the growth of the book in the U.S. Do you have any book tours planned? Are you planning to go to any book stores in the Bay Area or in the U.S.?

Dave: So far the only thing scheduled is in September in Denver at the Tattered Cover, which is the bog book store out there. I am certainly hoping to have something in the Bay Area, but we haven’t put anything together yet.

Shyam: Okay. Thank you very much Dave. It was wonderful talking to you and the best of luck with everything.

Dave: Thank you.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

Posted by & filed under cricket.

sreesanth1

Five initial and quick thoughts on the IPL 6 spot fixing scandal that just broke a few hours ago –

1. Innocent until proven guilty – This needs to be repeated time and again. Three cricketers have been detained and arrested but we do not yet know if any or all of them are guilty. This may be the tip of the iceberg or this may be about 1 wide that each of them delivered at inopportune but well-planned times. We don’t know what yet and so we have to revert back to one of the first tenets of a democracy and consider those arrested as being innocent rather than guilty.

2. The noise:signal ratio on this story will be very high for a few days – Media personalities have a clear stake in this story being alive for as many days as possible. Lecturing about the evils of big money is something the really well-paid media excels in. There will be accusations aplenty, insinuations aplenty and blame for everyone from N Srinivasan to Sachin Tendulkar to the entire country of Pakistan. It will be very important to focus entirely on the news portions of reports from reputed outlets like Cricinfo to avoid the cacophony of a controversial story from overwhelming the truth.

cronje

3. The format and money are not to blame – The easiest thing to do here is to blame the IPL’s riches for this. But that is incorrect in so many ways. If anything, the IPL is safer from match fixing than the median ODI that takes place. One of the countless India vs. Sri Lanka matches that fill days in the monsoon months is a much bigger candidate for match fixing purely because of the much smaller audience and attention involved. At the end of the day, the IPL is a rich guy/girl trying to get talented laborers to help him/her win on the field. I am not saying the IPL is not a candidate for fixing. All I am saying is that with the attention, egos and money involved the IPL is a harder place to fix situations and matches than most ICC approved tests and ODIs.

4. Spot fixing is different from match fixing – All news reports out indicate that the three players detained have been detained so for possible spot fixing. It is important to remember that this is different from fixing a match. While any amount of unethical player behavior is worse than none, spot fixing is still significantly milder than match fixing. Nuance and scales of behavior matter and if the outcome of all this is that a few wides were pre-planned, the IPL is still in better shape than leagues like the NBA and MLB were in 2007 (Tim Donaghy) and 1919 (Black Sox) respectively. I did some research and Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandilia did not bowl a single no-ball all season. Sreesanth bowled just three in all. While spot fixing could mean that the accusations are about a poorly bowled delivery down the leg or a wide and every ball affects the outcome, the scale of crime would still be milder than most other sports fixing scandals.

5. The sport and league will survive – Many a blogger, journalist and ex-cricketer will call this the day that broke cricket’s back and that the sport cannot survive. They will be wrong. Cricket has withstood wars, apartheid, monopolies, match fixing scandals and Chetan Sharma. It will surely survive whatever this and suck us in again very soon. A week after the Hansie Cronje scandal of 2000, fans were out watching South Africa beat Australia 2-1 in an ODI series on the back of some tense and shaky run chases. Ajay Jadeja and Mohammed Azharuddin came out of the worst crimes possible to the sport with lucrative careers that any of us would kill for.

donaghy1

Corruption will happen for as long as humans exist and money exists. While the erosion of trust is hard to overcome instantly, the IPL is only a Tendulkar 50 or Gayle 100 away from becoming most of what it can be for the viewing public. Authorities, leagues and players should all be held accountable and we should be skeptical and cynical of all of them at all times. That is the nature of the fourth estate. But none of that equates with catastrophizing and no amount of scandal can discourage the beautiful game or participants in the beautiful game of cricket forever. Cricket will survive. The league too will survive…..

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

Image courtesy ESPN CRICINFO

Image courtesy ESPN CRICINFO

Several posts and articles have expressed several different concerns about the elevation of BCCI-employed commentator and India Cements employee L Sivaramakrishnan (Siva) to the ICC cricket committee as one of two player representatives. For a primer on what the cricket committee does, do check this out. Like most things that happen behind-the-scenes in the sport where one administration has a virtual monopoly, the details behind L Siva’s election are mysterious and fishy. Certain news reports have called out how Tim May was originally elected but a few captains were nudged by the BCCI to switch their votes while other reports like this tweet suggest this did not happen. A lot of the shenanigans surrounding this including the links above are captured in detail by The Cricket Couch in his expansive piece here.

While everything associated with this episode is unsavory and representative of the frustration (with the BCCI’s monopoly on world cricket and the rest of the ICC’s impotence) that a cricket fan constantly endures, I want to focus solely on Siva and his qualifications for this role. Even assuming everything with the process was fair and Siva is the representative chosen by a majority of active players to represent them on a world cricket committee, why Siva? The reasons behind his selection and their implications on future Indian cricket voices in the media are depressing.

Siva has been an employee of India Cements for over fifteen years and has thus established a close relationship with current BCCI president and owner of the Chennai Super Kings of the IPL – N Srinivasan. In most job and career situations you are only as good as your connections and for Siva, Mr. Srinivasan has proven to be a stellar connection. Being close to N Srinivasan and doing his bidding is one thing and is different from being close to N Srinivasan and doing what is good for Indian cricket.

Image courtesy BCCI web site.

Image courtesy BCCI web site.

Even if it is inevitable that an Indian cricketer will always be one of two player representatives, I imagine there are at least a 100 cricketers (active and retired) who would gladly play the role. What has Siva done or shown in his nearly three decades of being around the game that makes anyone think he will do a good job of representing cricketers? A lot of fans and journalists including Mr. Harsha Bhogle have said or tweeted that this is the way the free market works and those that are powerful like the BCCI is today trample upon the little ones. This is a theory that a lot of people find comfort in and are okay with. But what these people are missing is whether what is good for N Srinivasan is automatically good for Indian cricket?

I have watched and unfortunately listened to L Siva in his role as a commentator for the last 10 years. Siva was lucky to be thrust into commentating for the 2001 Challenger trophy in Chennai as one of the few English-speaking ex-cricketers available and has since survived and advanced into commentating for all forms of the game for over a decade. He has done this just like many Indian ex-cricketers who turned in to commentary do – By saying nothing remotely intelligent, critical or even predictive about Indian cricket or cricketers. Cricket commentary on television is an easy job to survive in once you are hired by/for the BCCI. Graphics, visuals and statistics keep the viewer engaged and educated. As long as you have 8’th grade education and can string together words that describe what the viewer just saw (grammar itself is not a criterion as Rameez Raja’s survival indicates), surviving as a commentator is easy. And that is exactly what Siva has done.

I think this point is key because a large part of Siva’s candidacy is based on the fact that he has been associated with the game for over 3 decades. But for the last decade his association is superficial and loose and not one of a friend or fan of the sport as much as one of obeisance to the corporate body that pays him to not say anything mildly critical. His allegiance to players supposedly comes from him having been one many years ago. His true allegiance since has been to the BCCI to say nothing while occupying one of the 5-6 unique bully pulpits available (as a broadcaster for when India plays matches). In my over 20 years of watching cricket, Siva has not said a single statement or made an observation that was profound, predictive, thoughtful or nuanced. Every piece of analysis from his driven by the outcome. A good ball becomes a bad ball if it goes for four and a bad ball becomes a good ball if it gets a wicket. His analysis is vanilla, devoid of even the minimum amount of insight you would expect from a journalist, ex-player or commentator (whichever hat you think he wears). He has also shown a lack of knowledge on the lbw rule which borders on the comical.

So while most people agree that world cricket is worse off with even more BCCI influence and recommendations than before this election, those who think the BCCI and Indian cricket are not necessarily better off because of this move. Siva is N Srinivasan’s paid hand at the ICC’s table now and is likely to do his master’s bidding devoid of thought or reason into whether it is good for the players he supposedly represents or the country he is from. If tomorrow, N Srinivasan has a recommendation on pitches, Siva will be doing his bidding for him. Even if that recommendation is deleterious to cricket, players and India in the long run, that is what he will likely do.

This and the silence of powerful Indian media voices on this are depressing. Many a cricketer will aspire to be a non-controversial media personality so as to have a chance for an escalation into various BCCI and ICC committees in the future. A game devoid of critical analysis by Indian voices on air will continue to stay so.

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I hope to be completely wrong here and that Laxman Sivaramakrishnan will have the 4 deities in him wake up to the responsibilities he currently holds. Maybe, just maybe this elevation will incite the latent perspective and nuance in him that will make him a ferocious defender of all that is sacred to a majority of active international cricketers. Just maybe he will be the voice that finally brings balance and reason to the influence of Mr. N Srinivasan. I hope, for the sake of cricket.

But nothing in his last decade of association with the sport suggests any of this is likely. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan has been mediocre, devoid of insight and has risen thru the ranks to become very powerful. He is likely to stay and do so.

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad.

chipotle

I love Chipotle. It is my single favorite fast food chain. I eat there at least once a week. I always come back impressed with their quality, consistency in preparation and taste and speed of service. They provide plenty of value for the dollar and while a tad more salty than I’d like, their food is good nutrition and taste for the time spent waiting and the money spent on the food.

They are growing fast and are up to 1400 locations in North America now. They have survived the tough economic times of the last five years and have forced cheaper, less-healthy alternatives like Taco Bell to rethink their menus (Cantina menu anyone?). They have also challenged corporations and restauranteurs dabbling in other cuisines to come up with similar niche chains that combine speed of service, $5-$8 price per entrée and relatively healthy menus. CHOP’t is the only chain that seems to have scaled in a manner remotely close to Chipotle. Matthew Yglesias has written some great posts about the success of Chipotle and its implication for food over the next ten years in posts like this and this.

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Based on all this and the growing Indian population and the popularity of Indian food in the big American cities (a Yelp search of Indian food within 5 miles of San Francisco reveals 120 restaurants), it is not surprising that there are several efforts underway to creat a Chipotle-like model for Indian food. This piece on two entrepreneurs planning to create a Dosa-based Chipotle in the US this year caught my eye.

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While I wish them nothing but the very best and hope for successful scaling of the restaurant they have in mind, I have serious doubts that the dosa is the right vehicle for a South Indian Chipotle. Here below are four thoughts on what I think a successful south Indian Chipotle would look like –

a) Tortillas used in Chipotle burritos do not translate to Dosas. The tortillas get warmed in 5-7 seconds allowing for the lines at the restaurant to move quickly. A pre-prepared Dosa cannot be warmed into action in a similar way. It doesn’t taste or look the same. It does not resonate with how Dosas are meant to be consumed. A dosa can also not be prepared in 5-7 seconds. There is risk of tearing, uncooked batter and lastly inconsistency in quality and taste. Hence I am not sure Dosas are the ideal vehicles to drive this effort with. Can a place where there is a line of 10-20 people (like I see in Chipotle at all times) really get by with 30 second Dosa preparations with risks that one in five or one in ten would tear and have to be redone? Also, the Dosa is the one Indian food item that needs to be eaten right away. Unlike the curries from up North or the Sambar and Rasam from Tamil Nadu, the Dosa cannot get better with time:). This makes the to-go option moot.

b) South Indian food is rich with rice, lentils and vegetables. People like their distinctive flavor and preparation. If this fact can be translated to 1) dishes that can be prepared easily and consistently 2) served fresh thru the day and 3) can carry well for a few hours in a cardboard/paper to-go container the majority of the battle is won. That would be my starting point. Dosas, Idlies, wet curries, Avial, Sambar, Curd and Rasam all fail to check one or all of these boxes. So I would eliminate all of them as vehicles for scaling a fast food South Indian restaurant.

Tomato rice recipe_thumb[2]

c) One of the great things about Chipotle is that the food is never too dry or too wet. With the choices of Salsas the food is also never too mild or too hot. The customer controls the moisture level of the food with the amount of Guacamole, Tofu and beans he or she is comfortable with. The customer controls the spice level with one of three different salsas. This is very hard tp translate to most cuisines but possible with South Indian food. South Indian cuisine especially Tamil Nadu cuisine is full of chutneys and thogayals that can be add-ins to control the spice levels of most entrees. Kootu is a popular dish in most South Indian homes which has the unique semi-liquid property that lends itself perfectly to being the add-on that controls the moisture level of the customer’s food.
The ingredients to make the right Kootu, Thogayal in the US and maintain profit margins while scaling make it a hard problem. But not one that is unsolvable.

d) So my dream South Indian Chipotle would have 2-3 mixed rice dishes which can be prepared in large quantities thru the day, 2 Kootus or kootu-like preparations(both with lentils for proteins but one vegetarian and one meaty), a dry curry (Okra or Potato), 2-3 thogayals of varying spice level and a very Indian beverage like Chai or tender coconut water. Coconut rice, Lemon rice and Tomato rice are hugely popular among Indians and will scale very easily. Having been a vegetarian all my life, I am not sure what the meat based rice dish could be but again it doesn’t strike me as being an impossible problem to solve.

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Will a restaurant like this scale like a Chipotle did? Very likely, not. But I think it can do very well in big coastal cities with large Indian diasporas. A portable entree with flavor that is made fresh and available in a 30 second walk thru a line at the restaurant will be very popular. The food will be non-messy unlike most Indian foods and consistency will be very achievable. It will also offer a very distinct taste to anything out there for the American and international crowds. I am positive taste and flavors can be adjusted as the restaurant evolves.

Here’s hoping the Dosa venture of former bankers Jawahar Chirimar and Sam Subramaniam is successful and I get to eat their food soon. Also, here’s hoping someone else with the time, money and passion to create a South Indian Chipotle for the U.S finds these tips helpful and gives me the opportunity to eat Lemon rice with pudina thogayal, kootu and okra curry some time soon.

What would your South Indian Chipotle look like?

Posted by & filed under cricket, Indian abroad.

During the second “strategic” timeout of the chasing team’s innings in the games at the M.A.Chidambaram stadium the song below is blared for the entirety of the 150 seconds. The lines at the 1:00 minute mark of the song say “Aadama Jeyichom ada” and roughly translate to We win without even showing up. For the Chennai Super Kings of 2013, nothing could be further from the truth. They win because they show up and show up big at the crunch moments of a tense T-20 game.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AekfkA0Ho5A?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

Regression to the mean is a concept as old as statistics itself. It is the reason why so many intelligent sports fans believe a valley in their team’s success follows peaks as though one implies the other. We are conditioned to believe that no team (especially in salary-capped leagues) can be dominant for too long and that a winning streak especially one that is built on close wins should come to an end.

I will introduce you now to the 2013 Chennai Super Kings (CSK).

For a month now they have entertained and won way more than their fair share of close games. While their record may even out in the last three weeks of the tournament with the gods of averages finally playing catch-up, already they have surpassed any rational expectation or explanationfor wins in the tournament.

At 9-2 after 11 games they are clearly the favorites to make the final of IPL 6. They currently hold a seven game winning streak built on incredulous chases atop unreal defenses of totals. Their winning is a testament of course to their talent, belief and a ban of Sri Lankan players in home games. But it is also a statistical oddity that makes their fans question the whole regression to the mean thing. Every run chase gets into whatever comes after the “death” overs. Every time they bat first and make a large score they bowl just badly enough to let the opposition within sniffing distance with an over left.

Picture is BCCI copyrighted and from www.iplt20.com site.

Picture is BCCI copyrighted and from www.iplt20.com site.

Their last 3 run chases were successful chases with a grand total of 8 balls to spare! In their most recent chase, they conceded a 16’th over maiden and scored 15 in the final over. In the chase 3 days prior, they turned 32 needed off 24 into a penultimate ball finish. In the chase at the Eden Gardens they opened with Ravichandran Ashwin, fell way behind the required rate only to score 53 off the last 20 balls they faced. Each of these games had a fork-in-the-road moment when it seemed to all fans that CSK left too much for too late. Three weekends ago, they seemed to have lost the game only to be declared winners as the opposition bowler had overstepped. Each of these games looked lost and fairly so. Each of these games felt like games the opposition just deserved to win.

Last Thursday they were defending a healthy 186 versus the Kings XI Punjab. Punjab looked out of it needing 114 from 54 but somehow did not lose a wicket for the next 48 balls and entered the last over looking like deserved winners. Only for current West Indies captain Mr. Bravo to pick up two wickets in two balls:).

Image courtesy www.iplt20.com

Image courtesy www.iplt20.com

If all of these situations and numbers are a blur, you are just another CSK fan. More than the euphoria of victory or the relief following yet another close win, there has been a sense of deja vu. And the surreal feeling that screams “Oh, my God! No way they defy statistics once again.”

Somehow and some way like the proverbial rope trick, the Chennai Super Kings of 2013 have found a way to win these games. With five league games left, I for one find myself weirdly rooting for a few losses so that the team doesn’t wait until the playoffs to revert to the mean. This sort of thinking is stupid, sacrilegious and also a shade untrue. Am I really going to wake up at 4 AM to root for a loss? Probably not. But that’s what rooting for Chennai in the 2013 IPL is like. It is exhilarating, gratifying, tense, surreal and weird. It is also stats-defying and here’s hoping against logic, odds and math for more of the same.

Posted by & filed under cricket.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07BMrivOzUE?rel=0&w=420&h=315]

Fifteen years ago on this date, Sachin Tendulkar played the most memorable limited overs knock of all time. I am not saying it was the best innings or the greatest knock ever. It wasn’t even a match-winning knock. But it was a surreal batting performance interrupted by a freak dust and sand storm. It was a superlative individual effort while everyone around him was flailing. A large portion of it was described to an audience of 200 million plus by the understated & incomparable Richie Benaud who knew a masterpiece when he saw one. The setting, the situation (India needing to reach a certain score to qualify for the final game two days later) and the enormous delta in class and competence to anyone else on the field that day make it the most memorable individual performance in limited overs cricket.

I watched the knock live in its entirety (and a few hundred times after that) and a few things stay embellished in my memory to this day. Here they are in ascending order of memorable-ness –

It is easy and typical to wax nostalgic about the past for most sports fans. It is easy to look back at the Indian team in 1998 and imagine a batting juggernaut full of hall-of-famers when we peruse the scorecard. But it could not be further from the truth. The Indian ODI team in 1998 in Sharjah was an one-man army. VVS Laxman ended up having a great test career but on this day he could not have been a lesser sideshow if he had streaked thru the ground. Nayan Mongia was for some reason sent in at #3 and unlike his cardinal generation-changing sin nine months later played an insignificant if non-intrusive 46 deliveries for 35 runs as a pinch hitter. Ajay Jadeja was a pale imitation of the ODI player he had been two years earlier and Hrishikesh Kanitkar would not even make an India ‘B’ side today. If the current ODI side got on a time machine and played the ODI side from 1998, the current side would win with overs to spare (no thoughts on which side Harbhajan Singh would play for:)). The overall mediocrity of the side made Sachin’s knock that much more memorable.

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The Australian team on the other hand was full of legends close to or at their prime. This was the fifth ODI meeting between the two sides in a year in which they’d go 4-4 head-to-head (Sachin was Man of the Match in 6 of the 8 games). And it’s fairly remarkable India managed to win four games against a lineup of Gilchirst, the Waughs, Bevan Moody and Warne. The core of this Aussie team would go on to win the World Cup just a year later and would win 22 of 26 games at one point. The nature of the opposition made Sachin Tendulkar’s knock that much more memorable.

The cricket ground at Sharjah is an unremarkable venue. The Indian team visited the stadium annually and sometimes twice a year from 1994-2000. There were too many ODIs played in front of too many sparse crowds for too many questionable results in this period. This match was different though. A packed evening crowd, a rare dust storm and a batsman at the top of his unlimited powers made for a unique cocktail that would never be created again. Titles like desert storm don’t get handed spontaneously and very easily. That’s why this knock was and is so memorable.

Sachin’s placement on the day was incredible. He drove, cut, flicked, pulled and swept into the gaps all night. He has timed the ball better and hit the ball harder before and after that day. But the ease with which he found the gaps in the field made the knock that much more memorable. There is an iconic moment in the game when the fielder at long-off and the fielder at long-on run to within handshaking distance of each other only to see the ball beat both of them to the fence. This is not common. This is beyond the realm of what a batsman should be doing in limited overs’ cricket. That’s why this knock is so memorable.

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Sometimes events need a narration and perspective. Someone with an eye for whatever special or unique event was happening is needed for the event to make the jump from special to memorable. In an era of cookie-cutter TV commentary, 68-year-old Richie Benaud lent his extraordinary story telling skills to the masterpiece that Sachin Tendulkar was creating on the pitch. His comments of the searing strokes on display that day in a tone that was neither hyperbolic nor automated, will stay imprinted in my memory as the role model for all cricket commentary ever. Genius needs to be narrated with perspective that sometimes only another genius can offer. And on that April night, Richie Benaud’s narration made it that much more memorable.

India did not win that night but scored enough runs to make it to the finals two days later when they would win in a chase that was very similar. There was no dust storm that night and the stroke play of India’s greatest ever while incandescent was just a little less memorable. A generation of fans when asked to take just one ODI innings to their death beds would pick out the Sachin desert storm from 15 years ago. ‘Cos that was memorable…..

Posted by & filed under Indian abroad.

immigration-nologo-2

Sweeping immigration reform is a huge priority of American politicians currently in power. I have traced the process of this reform thru its
different stages in the last three months here, here and here. This post is an update for April 2013 and is a deep dive into the Senate’s proposal which is expected to form a sizeable portion of any final law that is passed.

On any other week, the parameters and boundaries of sweeping immigration reform that were announced last week would have taken center-stage. Instead, the events in Boston and Texas overshadowed fairly momentous announcements from U.S Senate. The entire 844 page immigration proposal is up here “136436529-Gang-of-Eight-Immigration-Proposal” for your perusal. While the primary focus of the proposal is to resolve the status of nearly 11 billion undocumented immigrants, it contains clear specifics on the future of the H-1B visa program. The portions regarding H-1B visa holders and F-1 visa holders start on page 658 of the attached document.

Here below are five key takeaways from the proposal –

a) This is not the final bill – While this proposal will be widely discussed as though it is the final immigration bill of 2013, it is not that. This is a proposal made by eight senators (four from each party) who have taken on the responsibility to influence enough members of both parties, public opinion, corporate America and labor workforces towards radical changes in the current immigration system. The Senate is the more powerful legislative body in the U.S Congress and typically a harder place to get a working majority in for most issues. So a bipartisan proposal such as this will tend to be at the very core of a final bill and then law. But it is important to remember that it is not the final bill and ensuing law. So any numbers seen here can change before they are put to vote and other frameworks in place may very well change by the time there is an immigration law in 2013 or 2014. So everything listed in this proposal is not FINAL.

H-1B cap dates graph

b) An increase in H-1B quota – What we know definitively is that the senators want a significant increase to the existing quotas of H-1B visas available. The proposal calls for an immediate increase from 65,000 to 1,10,000 for fiscal year 2015 and a future increase to 1,80,000 visas. But that’s not all :). There are 25,000 other H-1B visas available to immigrants who have earned a master’s degree or above in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). So unlike the last decade when an F-1 visa holder’s career in the U.S lay in doubt because of the shortage of H-1B visas, the next decade promises an easier and more deterministic path to working for a science or technology entity in the US.

Need to say, all of this is great news for immigrants and Indian families thinking of sending children over to the U.S for the pursuit of a Master’s degree.

c) No information yet on if any changes to the Green card process – Mitt Romney wanted to staple a green card to Master’s graduates in science and Math. Barack Obama wanted to make it easier for these immigrants to stay in the US forever. But very surprisingly the proposal glosses over the extremely convoluted H-1B to permanent residency transition. There are no details on this topic and it is shocking that there may not be any changes to the messy and non-deterministic process currently in play.

On the surface this makes sense. Technology corporations and politicians want to ensure that smart people can immigrate to the U.S and work in science, technology, engineering and Math. They are not particularly cognizant of or do not care about the status of these people once they can work legally. As in, it does not matter to the technology companies if you were working for them on an H-1B visa for seven years or on a green card for three of those.

Hence it is very possible that minimal lobbying has been done on this issue thus allowing the senators to skip over this completely.

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d) It is more expensive for employers to hire H-1B now I had mentioned in all of my earlier pieces on this topic that everything will be more expensive for immigrants and employers of immigrants. This has certainly come true in the proposal made by the senators. Like it or not, an immigrant employee is the most exciting source of revenue for any politician because how non-controversial this is.

An H-1B hire could cost a company between $5000 and $20,000 depending on the company’s size, percentage of existing H-1B employees and fiscal year. So if you are applying for a job with a Silicon valley startup, it is likely that they will pay you less than what you may have made prior to the law because of how much more the company will have to pay to the government to get your visa done.

There are also strict caps and wage controls to ensure a company does not have more than 50% of its employees as H-1B holders by 2016 and that non-immigrant wages are not affected by an influx of foreign talent.

e) Visas for startups and investors Finally, there is a new and interesting category of visas (still unnamed) that is available to those who have money to start-up companies in the US and create jobs. The text about this visa looks maddeningly vague and ripe for being taken advantage of by fly-by-night consulting companies. It is basically a way to get more money into the U.S economy but I am not so sure this will end up producing the desired outcomes. I can see a scenario where this visa is abused to hire and staff a fleet of part-time Information Technology (IT) workers.

This proposal will now be discussed and debated in both the public sphere and the House of representatives. The House will likely bring up a similar proposal in the next 60 days after which the proposals will be merged and mashed in to something that can pass both chambers of a divided Congress and be signed into law by President Obama in late 2013. It is possible that there will be hiccups, challenges and opposition to the final passage of this reform but odds are much higher for this proposal to be the gateway to immigration law than they are for similar reforms in gun control or the fiscal crisis. And that is still very good news for all.

Please follow me on twitter at @shyamuw or subscribe to this blog (subscribe button on the right side of this page below my tweets) for timely posts on the impact of immigration reform 2013 on those who hold H-1B and F-1 visas in the US today.