Editorial / A shattered visage
The Don meets the tide
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / A SHATTERED VISAGE 
 
 
 
 
It is barbarism on a mythic scale. The colossal Buddhas in the Bamiyan valley — northwest of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul — now confront, with the sublime helplessness of beautiful things, a fundamentalism that violently upsets the distinction between medieval and modern. The leader of Afghanistan’s ruling taliban, Mulla Mohammad Omar, has decreed these statues “un-Islamic”, idols of an “infidel” religion. His men are now shelling them with rockets, tanks and automatic rifles. One of the heads had already been blown up by a taliban commander when the Bamiyan valley was seized from a rival faction in 1998. He went on to blacken the other Buddha’s lips by dumping a couple of burning tyres on them. These Buddhas have withstood the ravages of time, and of Genghis Khan. During the civil war in the Nineties, their gigantic feet sheltered ammunition dumps. An unexploded rocket-propelled grenade remains lodged in the larger Buddha’s chest, reportedly fired while battling the Soviets.

Going back to the period between the 2nd and 5th centuries BC, the Bamiyan Buddhas have witnessed the flourishing of an altogether more civilized history. Introduced into this terrain by the emperor, Ashoka, Buddhism flourished in the former Gandhara province — now in Afghanistan and Pakistan — under the Kushan ruler, Kanishka. These Buddhas not only watched over the essentially peaceful and syncretist splendours of the Silk Route between the orient and the occident, but they also embody the blossoming of Gandhara art, bringing together the Hellenic and the oriental. This rich and complicated history is an indelible part of Afghanistan’s modern identity, as are Islam and some of its finest cultural expressions. The blank unreason of the taliban’s interpretation of Islam seeks to eclipse this history in the name of a scripturally sanctioned iconoclasm that perverts every principle of enlightened faith.

The taliban’s zeal against the idols of the infidels is fuelled by less exalted passions as well. Together with international terrorism and the drug trade, the taliban is part of a global nexus of art fraud and smuggling that is denuding Afghanistan of its invaluable artistic resources. After the plunder and looting of the civil war years, there is now a steady drain of Afghan artefacts into the international art and antiques market. This criminal network involves not only taliban leaders and bureaucrats, but also some of the most prominent politicians from the few nations which extend their support to this regime. Widespread illegal excavations and the depletion of the museum at Kabul provide evidence of the taliban’s particular interest in the arts.

India’s denigration of what the prime minister has called “obscurantist regression” is certainly in the best tradition of enlightenment, as is its offer to look after the vandalized Buddhas. But it is comforting to locate humanity’s darkest energies in conveniently distanced and demonized entities. Civilization banks on the otherness of the Nazis and of the taliban. A militia source describes the Afghan fanatics as firing at the Buddhas “out of their own sentiments”. This then is not simply a question of faith; “sentiments” go deeper into human feelings and compulsions, into the heart of the irrational, collective and individual. The question that the Indian polity and society will have to face is whether these “sentiments” are entirely unfamiliar. Perhaps this darkness resides at the heart of most human formations, surfacing — with differences in degree — in such “stray” incidents as the raping of a nun, the burning of a missionary, the plundering of a mosque here or a church there. The principles of beauty and of non-violence are readily claimed as the civilized world’s very own, just as Buddhism and Gandhara art are inextricably part of the origins of Indian civilization. But this other thing of darkness, that erupts in many places and in many guises, is so much more difficult for civilization to acknowledge as its own too.

   

 
 
THE DON MEETS THE TIDE 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
While on his final tour of England in 1948, Don Bradman received an amazing epistle. The unique thing about the letter was the envelope and the address. The envelope had a picture of Bradman showing only his eyes and the baggy cricket cap he always wore in the sun, above the picture was written “To” and below the picture it said “somewhere playing in England”. The letter was delivered to the master at Lord’s. In his autobiography, Farewell to Cricket, Bradman puts this down, modestly, to the efficiency of the English postal authorities.

Today cricketers have become icons, thanks to media publicity, endorsements, sponsorships and suchlike. Batsmen with a limited repertoire of strokes and innumerable technical flaws strut around as if the cricketing world owes them everything. Good luck to them. But one doubts if any one of them would receive a letter which was similarly addressed.

That envelope is only one piece of evidence to demonstrate the legendary status Don Bradman had acquired in his own lifetime. He had become, and remains, one of the principal national treasures “Down Under”.

That legend had been long in the making. Bradman began as an outsider in Australian cricket as he learnt to play the game in the small town of Bowral. His practice consisted of hitting a golf ball with a cricket stump against a brick stand. The ball came back at great speed and hitting it back with a stump was no easy task. For fielding practice, he went to a neighbouring paddock and threw a golf ball at the dividing fence to hit a rounded rail. The ball would come back at various heights and angles and the young lad would try and catch it. This also developed the ability to throw accurately because missing the selected spot would mean a long walk to retrieve the ball.

From Bowral to the Australian team was a long journey and when he made it to the Test side at the age of 20, he and Archie Jackson were two of the youngest players in the side. There were many who held that Bradman’s later aloofness was related to the fact that seniors at the beginning of his career had not treated him as one of the boys. Despite his alleged and cultivated distance, the younger members of the 1948 side, Neil Harvey, Sam Loxton, Ian Johnson and others, always swore by the Don.

Bradman’s career statistics speak for his genius. It is unlikely that the record of 29 hundreds in 52 tests, a test average of 99.94 and a first class average of 95 will ever be surpassed. But the scoreboard is not the true reflection of his genius. As important as the number of runs he made was the way he made them. Bradman was not a plodder. He destroyed all kinds of bowling. His eyesight and his footwork were superb. His technique did not always satisfy the purist but his timing, stroke production and his placements were impeccable. He played every game in the book and played them with lethal power. He brought to batting a new dynamism and a new economy. When asked once about the secret of his batting prowess, he said, “Concentration. Every ball is for me the first ball, whether my score is 0 or 200. And I never visualize the possibility of anybody getting me out.”

Many described him as a run-getting machine but the infinite variety of his stroke play and the incredible speed at which he scored his runs ruled out boredom. There was nothing mechanical about his batting because he adapted and adjusted to all types of bowling. The awe in which he was held by the opposition is illustrated by the story that Wally Hammond, the English captain in that famous timeless test at the Oval in 1938 in which Len Hutton made 364, refused to declare till he had confirmation that Bradman would not be able to take any further part in the match.

Detractors of Bradman — there were quite a few in his playing days and there are a few even now — labour to make the point that he was vulnerable against top class fast bowling. The evidence against this is all drawn from the notorious Bodyline series in which Bradman failed, but only by his own standards. This criticism displays a complete lack of understanding of what bodyline was about. More than the type of bowling, it was the type of field placing that restricted batsmen. Fast short-pitched deliveries aimed at the body under normal field placings could be hooked and pulled by batsmen of the calibre of Bradman, Stan McCabe and Bill Ponsford. What stopped them from doing so was the presence of seven to nine fielders placed on the leg side, close in and in the country.

It needs to be highlighted that when Larwood bowled against Bradman with a normal fast bowler’s field, he made little impact on him. In his first Test series, 1928-29, against Larwood, Bradman had scores of 18, 1, 79, 112, 40, 58, 123 and 37 and was not dismissed by Larwood even once. In his first English season, with Larwood playing, his test scores were 8, 131, 254, 1, 334, 14 and 232. This time Larwood had him caught at the wicket when he had scored 232. It was the field and not the speed of the bowling that made the difference when D.R. Jardine decided not to play cricket in 1932-33.

If the Don was vulnerable, then he was so on a “sticky dog”, a rain affected pitch that was drying fast and on which the ball stopped, popped and turned unpredictably. Commenting on his performances on this kind of surface, he said once, “You might as well expect an Inman [one of the greats of billiards] to play on torn table.” The comparison was unfortunate since no billiard player can be expected to play on a torn table but when Bradman played cricket, “sticky dogs” were not unusual and unique.

A cricketer’s life is invariably brief and Bradman had some of his peak years cut off by World War II. After the war, when he played again, he was 38 years old. Such was the nature of the game in his time, that many aspects of it are lost even in the dusty pages of Wisden. Who remembers now the primitive equipment that Bradman and his contemporaries used? The Sykes bat he used most of the time will not be picked up now by a schoolboy cricketer. The baggy Australian cap was the only thing he wore on his head. Batting was more difficult then: surfaces were unprotected because they were not covered and before 1934 there were no restrictions on field placings. Cricket then was not altogether a batsman’s game as it has become now.

It is also not remembered how much of a serious and astute cricketer Bradman was. His astuteness came out in his captaincy and his seriousness from the fact that while still a player he qualified as an umpire because he felt he “should be fully conversant with the laws.”

He could also be very generous when the occasion demanded. Watching McCabe’s 232 in the Nottingham test in 1938, he called upon the players sitting in the dressing room to come out and watch the innings as they “would never see its like again”. When McCabe returned to the pavilion, Bradman shook his hand and said, “I would give a great deal, Stan, to be able to play an innings like that.” In his autobiography, recalling the innings, he wrote “My eyes filled as I drank in the glory of his shots.”

Bradman played cricket the tough way. But never once did he question an umpire’s decision. When declared out he left the ground invariably with a smile on his face. One imagines that when the final umpire raised his index finger, Bradman departed smiling in his sleep.

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Gift package

There is something in it for everyone. And not merely in didi’s maiden rail budget. Mamata Banerjee also has a jhola full of goodies for Congressmen who dare to try out their luck in the Trinamool Congress. She had the post of mayor in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation for Congress MLA, Subrata Mukherjee. She gave another Congress MLA, Pankaj Banerjee, the honour of being chief of the party’s policy-making body. Now it’s probably the turn of the Congress deputy leader in the West Bengal assembly, Sougata Roy. Mamata has reportedly chosen Roy as the Trinamool nominee for the Midnapore parliamentary seat which fell vacant with the death of the CPI leader, Indrajit Gupta. Roy, it is said, had wanted to contest the Alipore assembly seat on a Trinamool ticket, but didi has other grand plans for him. She apparently believes that Sougatada is the right candidate to represent the party in the Lok Sabha since he was once a minister in the Charan Singh cabinet. In that case, Roy will be locking horns with the CPI leader, Gurudas Dasgupta. But before that happens didi will herself be in the horns of a dilemma. Trinamoolis, especially the veteran ones, have not taken very kindly to didi’s offerings to outsiders. “If this goes on, then a sabotage cannot be ruled out to ensure the defeat of those being offered tickets by Mamata”, is how one of them voiced his threat. Will didi please look into her pink book to see if there is something for them as well?

From the lady with love

The madam in distant 10 Janpath is learning the art of politics, and fast. Supporters of the last dissident, Jitendra Prasada, were feeling terribly lonely after their leader’s death. Then the unthinkable happened. Sonia Gandhi invited Prasada’s widow, Kanta Prasad, and over a cup of tea, offered her the Shahjanpur Lok Sabha seat. Prasada’s brother had earlier unsuccessfully contested the seat when Jitendra had made it to the Rajya Sabha. Kanta nevertheless is moved to tears by her magnanimity. Beginning of a mini-dynasty in Shahjanpur then?

Find her a shelter

A critical situation. The doyenne of media critics, Amita Malik, found herself without a roof over her head last week. Having allowed her to live in a government house for close to three decades, it suddenly dawned on the urban development ministry that she had been occupying the house without proper “authorization”. Journalists who land government accommodation do so under the press information bureau quota. Malik quite obviously was not a part of it, although she assumed that she had been allowed to retain the house out of the culture department’s pool. When the estate department found that the culture department didn’t want to account for Malik’s home, it worked fast to show the lady the door. The house apparently had been allotted to Malik’s late husband as a government servant. Had she converted it into the PIB pool she wouldn’t have been looking for a barsati in south Delhi. But then the world has always been cruel to journos.

A house for Mr Dutt

A house lost is a house gained. While the search for a type VIII ministerial bungalow for actor Dilip Kumar, the nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, is still on, the Lok Sabha housing committee seems to have at last found a house for Sunil Dutt, the film star turned politician. Though the former star apparently isn’t too happy with the house earmarked for him, given Bollywood tastes or perhaps because he was allotted a bigger and better house in his earlier stint as MP, gentleman Dutt isn’t complaining. One has to get used to the fumbling ways of the Indian government especially if one is a part of it.

Enjoy the attention

It’s all smiles in the BJP’s West Bengal unit. The press cannot treat it as a pariah anymore. The unit in fact will have the media eating out of its hands in the next few days. The BJP central leadership has decided to holds its three day executive meeting in the city by the end of this month. As a result of which the state BJP leaders suddenly find themselves in the middle of the spotlight. The leaders were seen with the CPI(M) bigshot, Subhas Chakraborty, the other day, requesting the allotment of any of the major stadia for the bash. The BJP vice-president, Muzaffar Khan, believes the “major event”, after a gap of 12 long years and a month before the assembly elections, will help it connect with the electorate better. Let’s see what it makes of that connection.

Footnote / All tied up in knots

A bachelor brigade led by a bachelor? Not entirely. But the BJP has a substantial collection of people who wish to go it alone, quite apart from its motley of hardcore sadhvis and sanyasis. The party has stationed one collection of such male members close to its party headquarters in 11, Ashoka Road (for strategic reasons, maybe). The house was earlier given to PR Kumaramangalam, but now Arun Jaitley has doled out the house to senior leaders like JP Mathur, Pyarelal Khandelwal, Kailashpati Mishra, Rama Shankar Agnihotri and Jana Krishnamurthy. (Among them, Jana is married, but his family lives in Tamil Nadu.) A couple of days ago, Ashoka Road was seen lit up, and lo and behold, a wedding party arrived in the evening. The surprising development caught most people off guard and many inquired if any of the bachelors had changed his mind. Unfortunately, that was not to be. As it turned out, Jaitley had lent out the premises for the marriage of one of his relatives. The old guards watched the ceremony from their quarters, probably wondering if they had made the right decision after all.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A test of nerves

Sir — The minister for human resources development, Murli Manohar Joshi, has proposed an alternative system of education which, if implemented, will enable students to finish 10 years of school without appearing for examinations (“10 years in school and no exams!”, March 3). It is heartening to know that continuous protests from parents and academicians have forced the government to re-evaluate the existing system of education. Any change that allows children more time to play should have been welcome. Unfortunately, Joshi’s proposal is not only foolhardy, but it is also unacceptable. Joshi should realize that examinations are an indispensible part of assessment and encourage improvement.
Yours faithfully,
Kaushik Ghosh, via email

Glad citizens

Sir — There is an opinion among Calcuttans that the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, like many other bodies, does not do any work. However, the mayor-in-council for water supply has proved everyone wrong by taking prompt action to mitigate the suffering of the people living in ward number 60.

People living in this ward had been inconvenienced by the supply of unclean water. When the situation worsened and many people fell ill, the matter was brought to the notice of the mayor-in-council. He reacted by sending a team of engineers and doctors to the locality and by making special arrangements for the supply of water through an adequate number of tanks to the affected areas.

If the other officials of the CMC are equally cooperative and helpful, they will earn the respect and appreciation of the citizens.

Yours faithfully,
M.S. Qais, Calcutta

Sir — The authorities of the CMC should be more vigilant in ensuring that proper taxes are being levied on taxpayers. Owners of garage spaces in multi-storied buildings have been letting out their garage spaces to car owners in the locality. To evade proper assessment of municipal taxes, they suppress this fact and refrain from issuing rent receipts to their tenants. If and when inspection is carried out for tax purposes, the garage owners claim that the cars belong to them or their relatives.

If the corporation is successful in nabbing these tax evaders, it would be able to utilize this money for various development work held up because of the lack of resources.

Yours faithfully,
S.K Chandra, Calcutta

Sir — The citizens of Chandannagore have been greatly inconvenienced by the presence of innumerable stray dogs in Akunjee Bagan Lane (near Morton Dairy Factory, in Palpara). The dogs are not sterilized and the lane is now a breeding ground for stray dogs.

Even though I have sent written complaints to both the councillor and the mayor of Chandannagar Municipal Corporation, no action has so far been taken. It is disappointing that the people whom we have elected to power do not care about our wellbeing.

Yours faithfully,
Olibarna Ghosh, via email

Parting shot

Sir — The concept of the mahajotis quite feasible and a step in the right direction for the Congress if it wants to defeat the Left Front in West Bengal. Since the Congress is in no position to contest the elections alone, Sonia Gandhi should get off her high horse and consider entering into an alliance with the Trinamool Congress.
Yours faithfully,
N.S Dua, Calcutta

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