Editorial / Soccer rules cricket
Enterprise and cunning
People/ Sourav Ganguly
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

The beautiful cricket grounds of England are poised to undergo an ugly transformation. If the present trend in crowd behaviour continues and grounds continue to be invaded by spectators before a match is over, and if players have to leave the field because of firecrackers being hurled on to the playing arena, then high fencing will have to be erected to separate players from spectators. This will destroy the charm of English cricket grounds. This has already happened in other parts of the world. One has only to think of Calcutta’s Eden Gardens which, before it was made into a concrete monstrosity, was a picturesque ground with tamarisk trees all around and with the wind coming in from the river. Rowdy cricket fans are a new phenomenon in England. Unruly behaviour was previously confined to soccer grounds where passion for the game and over-indulgence in lager led to patterns of behaviour to which one would hesitate to attach the word sportsmanlike. At the heart of this kind of rowdyism is an elemental passion. It is a perverse articulation of loyalty towards one’s club, team or country. Fans want their teams to win and when they do or if they do too badly emotions spill over into irrational behaviour. In cricket, especially in English cricket, this did not happen. A great show of emotion was not something with which one associated English cricket lovers. This situation is changing and changing very fast.

Unruly crowd behaviour has become common in matches in which India or Pakistan is playing. It is facile to be racist about this and say that Indians and Pakistanis are misbehaving. The fact of the matter is that most of the people who are running on to the pitch or bursting firecrackers are as British as Mr Tony Blair or Enoch Powell. Their colour of skin or their surnames cannot take away from the fact that many of them hold British passports and have been born and brought up in Great Britain. The truth of the matter is that the culture of the soccer crowd is invading the English summer game. Soccer has always roused greater passion than any other sport. In Latin America a football match is known to become a matter of life and death. The situation in Old Trafford, Edgbaston or Headingley has not yet come to such a pass. But for the first time security has become a major concern in these venues just as it has in Eden Gardens. One inevitable consequence of this will be the importation of football rules into cricket. Cricket fans may be forced to accept that for their bad behaviour their team can be banned from playing. This may appear too harsh a measure for the unruliness of a handful of spectators but the game is far too precious to be left to the mercy of a few louts.

Unruly behaviour is also related to the changing social composition of spectators in a cricket match. Cricket in England, except perhaps in northern England, was a genteel affair: lazy summer afternoons with lunch hampers; slow handclapping to show appreciation. These were part of the culture of cricket and even those who did not come from the gentry adopted this pattern of behaviour because it was improper — or not cricket — to do otherwise. Unfortunately, in England, thanks to the miserable performance of the home team and to television, the older type of English cricket fan has lost interest in cricket or stays at home to watch a match on the box. In their place have come fans who are either unaware of the traditions of the game or consider such traditions to be too prissy. Cricket is thus caught in the churning of a class revolution. The game itself — as distinct from just crowd behaviour and composition — has already changed in spirit and in character. Now fan response — and because of that some of the prettiest cricket grounds in the world will be forced to alter their appearance. The village green alone will provide a whiff of the ancien regime.


Those who are engaged in shadowboxing over Calcutta’s hawkers must know that the phenomenon is as much an entrenched feature of the city’s landscape as the shrines that are popping up on every pavement. The two are related so that an ostentatious Kali bari seems to be the hallmark of squatters’ markets, almost as if she were the patron goddess of illegal occupation and commerce.

The temples are encroachments and should be demolished. The hawkers — some of them at least — represent effort and initiative and should be rehabilitated. It is not their entrepreneurial skill that is valued here, however, but their weight as a political counter. Temples are not even mentioned because no one, least of all our god-daring Communists who perform puja in the privacy of their homes, dares grasp the nettle of pop religion. Even New Delhi turned a blind eye to Hindu shrines nestling against Hyderabad’s Char Minar long before Ayodhya erupted.

Roadside altars are as much a physical obstruction as vendors and an affront to the sensibilities of discerning citizens and this country’s secular label. Aesthetically unattractive, they attract vagabonds and beggars and make a mess of the surrounding area. The potential is dangerous. I remember the temple at Ballygunge Phanri as no more than a few smooth stones lying under a tree on a trim stretch of green between tramlines. A Bihari bearer of ours who took to opium found refuge under that tree. Now, of course, cars line up outside an established place of worship.

A grimy family of pavement-dwellers might have ritual justification for propping up a cheap framed print of some deity against a boundary wall. But a rich household I know gained a reputation for devotion by studding the outside of their garden wall with gaily coloured tiles depicting scenes from the Hindu pantheon when their only reason was to discourage urinating. The ruse was only partly successful for when the urge came upon them, few drivers, rickshaw-pullers or even bhadralok pedestrians were sensitive enough to place respect for divinity above immediate convenience.

An enterprising official — not Hindu — did not take this duality into account when he proposed many years ago that round stones should be placed in the corners of each stairway landing at Writers’ Buildings to deter people from squirting paan juice all over the walls. When he told me, I thought the action would provoke outrage. Looking back, I think we were both wrong. In the absence of any real devotion, the godless crowd of peons, clerks, vendors and visitors (ministers and officers are excluded only because they don’t trudge up the stairs) would have continued to spit on stones that they do not reverence because they reverence nothing save self-interest. However, the use of an obvious symbol of their religion would also have given them a chance of accusing a non-Hindu of insulting it.

The explanation for most of these sudden shrines lies in superstition laced with cunning. Abuse of religion is more common than its use. We all know of domestic altars that transform property into devattar and its owner into a sevayak, while winning exemption from rates and taxes. We also know of temples that are built overnight, surreptitiously naturally, to lend legality to forcible occupation of someone else’s land. Even if the legitimate owners are able one day to evict squatters, the temples, with daily congregations and ceremonies performed by Brahmin priests, have to remain. God has no compunction about grabbing what is Caesar’s.

Such tactics throw additional light on Calcutta’s estimated 200,000 hawkers. Some are clearly illegal immigrants (presumably Muslim) from Bangladesh who have come here with the connivance of prominent Left Front politicians whose reasons are as much communal as political. Others — Tibetans selling woollens in winter are the most visible example — are employed by mills and agencies that can stake capital and pay wages and commission. The reported value of the stock in some of the stalls, especially those selling brass and furniture, in the now demolished Boulevard Market on the way to Gol Park indicated assets that were beyond the competence of one-man outfits. They were probably outposts of bigger shops elsewhere.

Even if they do not start out as protégés, many hawkers soon acquire patrons, as did the occupants of the air-conditioned building with escalators known as Ballygunge New Market. Their commerce has been legitimized, sending a signal of hope to other adventurers. In turn, they guarantee their mayoral patron a block of votes, organizational support and steady funding. The ground floor boasts what must surely be Calcutta’s smartest Kali bari. A bigger, but less fashionable, Kali bari keeps proprietary vigil behind the more modest Ballygunge Fancy Market.

Imagination boggles at the thought of how much protection money is raised from the most famous Fancy Market of all, in Kidderpore. Hence the bizarre spectacle of Subrata Mukherjee promising to clear 21 thoroughfares of hawkers, a functionary of his own party rejecting that pledge, and the CPI(M) reportedly mopping up the vote. Hawkers are fair game.

Not that all are pampered. There are also struggling individuals outside the magic circle of the protected species. A CMDA study once calculated on the basis of the goods on display and their cash value that even maximum sale would not ensure some vendors a livelihood. They sit on the roadside with their paltry wares for want of anything better to do.

Some do rise above destitution through their own exertions, making the most of the free-for-all of streets that levy no taxes and charge no overheads, except what the police extort. A man who sells agarbatis in the evenings works in an office during the day, while the two ragged urchins in his pay thrust incense sticks into the windows of stalled cars whose owners spend a few rupees partly out of compassion and partly to get rid of the boys. When he goes home at night, the seller leaves his stock free of charge in the stationers’ shop outside which he does business. A refugee sari seller who also started on the pavement is now master of several emporia.

Such initiative should be promoted. Offers of rehabilitation along distant connectors serve no purpose. Neither was a former police chief’s well-meaning scheme for collapsible counters very realistic. Why cannot displaced hawkers be installed in extensions to old bazars like Gariahat Market? Why cannot the government ask the merchants and moneybags with whom it is now hobnobbing to build modern shopping centres for hawkers?

Comparison with Singapore is probably too far-fetched. Yet, it bears repeating that foodsellers there once trudged from door to door throughout the day, carrying the various dishes that Chinese eat for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. Lee Kuan Yew’s government put an end to itinerant peddling by decreeing that cooked food could be sold only where there was running water, laying down kitchen specifications and imposing hygiene standards. It became mandatory for all food workers to wear plastic gloves, exemption being granted only to Indians who make parathas. Parallel with rigorous but honestly enforced stipulations was the provision of hawker centres and more up-market air-conditioned food courts where stalls were sold at subsidized prices, with banks extending easy credit, and common services like electricity, fuel and an army of cleaners to ensure spotless maintenance. The tables are communal so that mee goreng might be consumed next to green prawn curry. The stall owners are by and large a rough lot with little education and no sophistication. But thanks to the government’s rehabilitation policy, they have become so rich that the old money of Singapore’s exclusive clubs is trying to devise ways of keeping them out while hawker centres and food courts are a unique attraction.

That is social progress, possible only under capitalistic concern for the poor.



Weeping Willow

When reports last came in from Chennai, Nagma, the failed Hindi film actress who tried her luck with “hot” roles in southern movies, was completing a course in the art of living. From far-off Harare in Zimbabwe, latest reports quoted Sourav Ganguly saying he is doing much the same — he is on a soul-searching mission. He is looking inward to find out what’s wrong with his form, his Test fortunes, his captaincy and his new image as “international cricket’s version of a spoilt child”. This is bad, bawdyline attack, Sourav would protest, as he has been doing ever since the paparazzi spun webs of scandal worthy of India’s cricket captain over his visit to a temple in Nagma’s company. The two have since gone their own ways — broken hearts in search of strength and solace. In an interview with a women’s magazine, she poured her heart out over the loss of Sourav (“But someday, I am sure he will look back and realise”). He poured out his — to a journo, of all people — over his lack or loss of form that keeps plaguing him, at home or Harare, be it a mighty Mcgrath or a lowly Blignaut.

Sourav’s present story is simple. The prince has suddenly turned a pauper. The “spoilt child” image is of course a kangaroo creation. The Aussies gave him the bad name, obviously taking the side of Steve Waugh in the skippers’ spats. But Stuart Carlisle of Zimbabwe too has cause for complaint. In the just-concluded second test, Sourav kept talking to — and trying to distract — Carlisle as Zimbabwe cruised to victory target. Disgusted, Carlisle moved toward the square leg.

At home, someone like Bishen Singh Bedi who never misses a chance to snipe at Sourav even at better times is out with his Oust Sourav cry again. He is joined by a swelling brigade of critics led by Srikkanth and Ravi Shastri. Generally unsympathetic, Shastri saw his “lack of self-confidence even when he walked in to bat” at Harare. Conservative Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi laments that Sourav was batting like a zombie, not just in Zimbabwe, but in the last few Test innings he played against Australia as well. Even Gavaskar, who has changed tack from critic to a grudging admirer of the offside-strokes wonder, is changing tone again, faulting Sourav as much on captaincy as on batting. The bottomline: captain Sourav fails batsman Sourav, especially in Tests. Failures have brought frustrations and frayed tempers.

It has happened to others — particularly failure as batsman during failed captaincy. The most glaring example is that of Ian Botham. The great England all-rounder had a dismal average of 13.14 runs in 12 matches he skippered England. Even Nasir Hussain, who replaced Atherton as English captain, had a long spell of bad patches as batsman. Yet another England captain Mike Brearley was a predictable disappointment with the bat. But then Brearley was a great success as captain. At home, both Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar had their batting prowess clouded by burdens of captaincy. Both batted better after being replaced as captain. Sachin was twice dropped as captain. In the eight Tests in which he led the Indian side, Sourav’s batting average dropped to 27.17 — a great fall for someone who is still ranked the world’s number two in one-day matches.

Sourav’s malady goes deeper. More and more experts are coming round to the view that it is not a bad patch, but a bad technique that is getting increasingly exposed in his batting failures. He never really got over problems with the movement of his feet, at the wicket or running between the wickets. In one-dayers, he can still wield the willow to his famed drives between cover and extra-cover as the field stays spread. But with close-in fielders forming a ring near body and bat, he looks pitifully vulnerable with the rising ball. Mcgrath knew it and did him in time and again in the last series with Australia at home. Pakistani pace machine Wasim Akram had known it even earlier and got him out repeatedly, making the ball rise high to his ribs and forcing him to sneak it for easy catches at the slips. And, with quick balls coming low, his tardy feet would trap him leg before wicket.

The lack then, not of form, but of technique, is Sourav’s problem which does not get solved with the passing of the bad patch. In the interview given after the second test at Harare, however, he gives no hint that he is aware of the problem. Quite the contrary. He thinks he has no problem with the technique, that he will get over the bad patch “as quickly as possible”.

Probably he needs to get what Sachin and Azhar got — the sack as captain, even if temporarily. It won’t be a great loss to India, but could be a great gain for him. After all, not even the most parochial of his supporters would claim he has been half as great a captain as Brearley. Concentrating on the bat, he could still try to attain technical standards of Rahul Dravid, if not of Sachin. Ian Botham came back with a fury of a century in the very next match he played — Headingley in 1981 — after being dropped as captain. For Geoff Boycott’s pampered “prince of Kulcootta”, the real crown to wear is his bat.



Catching a star

Not very sure and far from confident, political parties in Uttar Pradesh are clutching at straws and stars, whichever comes first, to keep themselves from sinking. The Samajwadi Party has allegedly roped in Big B. So next time you can expect a question on the illustrious career of a former defence minister on KBC. Another attempt to catch a Bollywood character, this time by the BJP. The Ilu Ilu girl, Manisha Koirala, had called on the UP chief, Rajnath Singh, the other day to sort some problems for her mother when she walked right into the star-trap. Rajnath, having obliged Manisha, is supposed to have begun, “What do you think about the BJP?” A-political on Indian soil, the svelte heroine answered, “It is a good party.” Singh, thinking that the star will come in handy in areas of UP bordering Nepal, did not waste time, “How about helping us out in election campaign? We will arrange everything.” Manisha apparently did not say “no”, but one can’t be too sure of what she has in her Mann. Rajnath is however confident that Manisha will ultimately find his charm irresistible and will pitch in. In case she doesn’t, Rajnath probably ought to keep his eyes open for other possibilities as well, for example, stars who can impress voters with their cricketing skills.

Zero tolerance

Non-availability of stars is not the only thing the UP CM, Rajnath Singh, might be concerned with. The infighting in the party is a more serious problem. The bad blood between Rajnath, the state BJP chief, Kalraj Mishra and senior leaders, Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh, is obvious. Rajnath’s writ doesn’t seem to run even within his own cabinet. A recent meeting called by him to review the working of the irrigation and education ministry, headed by Om Prakash, was reportedly given a miss by the minister himself. Being a backward caste leader, Om Prakash has a crucial role to play in the elections. But that is only if there was a little more tolerance among the saffron brothers.

Go backward for now

Forward march. Having launched his brother into politics, backward leader and Union communications minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, seems all set to induct his wife, Rima, into his profession. Mrs Paswan is apparently seen on hubby’s side at every public meeting organized by the Lok Jan Shakti. Brother Paswan however doesn’t seem to like the idea of bhabi overtaking him. A whisper campaign is now on which denies that Rima is a Dalit. Still wondering about its source?

More unbrotherly feelings

If you are wondering why it is taking so long for the Trinamooli didi to get back to where she began, you could turn your attention to Nitish Kumar, now holding additional charge of the railways. This chap is seemingly leaving no stone unturned in thwarting Mamata’s re-entry into the NDA. Though he or even his staff hardly ever come to the Rail Bhawan, Kumar is neatly undoing almost everything that didi tried to do. The day he returned from Calcutta, having declared he has no problems about didi being taken back, he reportedly abolished the Pitroda committee. Those allegedly close to Mamata have also got the rough end of the stick. One officer in the Eastern Railways is supposed to have been penalized for no fault of his. Another officer has apparently been shunted out of the ministry on allegations of corruption.The one who replaced this man is said to be Kumar’s classmate and friend. Laying your lines, Kumar?

You are our man

India’s best known policewoman and the Union minister for information and broadcasting, Sushma Swaraj, is immensely upset by the ongoing criticism of Prasar Bharti. She apparently wants to set the house in order and is supposed to have decided on veteran journalist, B.G. Verghese, to do the housekeeping as head of Prasar Bharti. Incidentally, Verghese is already assisting the ministry of defence. The BJP seems to be in love with this man.

Dance, little baby

At a recent do in the house of a Delhi ad executive, the law minister, Arun Jaitley, was accosted by a pretty young thing in high spirits who poked him in his tummy and asked for a dance. Jaitly politely refused the lady, but turned pink in the cheeks. The eager-beaver, a journalist by living, realized only next morning what she had done and turned a deeper colour than Jaitly. It needed much coaxing by colleagues to convince her that it was a harmless prank. But does Jaitly agree?

Footnote / How to organize the show

It’s the queen’s visit to Uncle Sam and naturally all the queen’s men find themselves in the service of her majesty. The Congress president is scheduled to visit London and Iceland on her way to the US of A. Consequently, the most trusted party general secretary of madam finds himself in London, probably as advance party to create the right atmosphere. Murli Deora, Sonia’s man with links in the White House, is already in Washington to lobby for her. Even Kamal Nath has flown to New York beforehand to receive her there (probably because madam seems to have doubts about Americans’ common sense). The party’s high profile maharaja, Madhavrao Scindia, too, has landed there and is reported to be travelling extensively to get people in the right mood for madam. Arjun Singh was also there last week to build up the fortifications. Accompanying madam will be Manmohan Singh, Jairam Ramesh and Natwar Singh. Although there are no hassles about Singh within the party, other Sonia faithfuls are apparently miffed by the presence of Ramesh and Natwar. But there need to be men here to look after her kingdom.    


Here today, gone tomorrow

Sir — That Mamata Banerjee is a classic case of here-today-there-tomorrow is fairly well known by now. She could have salvaged some of her lost reputation had she stopped short of apologizing to George Fernandes for the remarks she had made about him “in the heat of the moment” (“Mamata unlocks door with sorry”, June 18). The considerable number of people, whose admiration and support she had won by boldly walking out of the National Democratic Alliance, are not going to take her volte-face too kindly. Nor will Congressmen, who had swallowed pride and made peace with her before the assembly elections in West Bengal. Before she knows it, Banerjee may find her vocal strength failing to woo people.

Yours faithfully,
Abirlal Ghosh, Calcutta

Cuban wonders

Sir — The article, “Dangerous questions” (June 20), by Ashok Mitra cites the case of the success of Cuba in spite of being constantly under attack from the United States. What is amazing is the way Mitra has highlighted the success of socialism in the Cuban context. We have seen socialism of various hues all over the world during the last 50 years. India followed several of the restrictive policies preached in socialist textbooks. Does Mitra actually want India to go back to the socialist days of Jawaharlal Nehru? One country’s success, or what Mitra considers success, in implementing certain policies, does not wash away the failures of the same policies all over the world.

India devoutly followed socialism through most of its years as an independent country. What do we have to show for that now? This is not to say that the present government’s policies are the best. But Mitra should try to provide solutions to the country’s economic problems since he is critical of the the present government’s policies.

Yet he is eager to praise an island for following policies which have failed throughout the world.

Yours faithfully,
Anirban Chakrabarti, via email

Sir — Ashok Mitra admits, towards the end of his article, that “maybe, once Fidel Castro passes away, the island-country will not be able to maintain such a magnificent record of performance.” He thus attributes Cuba’s admirable record in healthcare, human rights and education to one man.

Mitra’s article shows up a longstanding problem with the Indian communists. They have looked up to communist leaders of foreign countries for too long, and credited all their achievements to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Communism could never take off properly in India because there was not a strong enough leader to give direction to the movement. It succeeded in states like West Bengal and Kerala with leaders like Jyoti Basu and E.M.S. Namboodiripad. The crux of the matter is that an ideal cannot be made to work at all places, at all times, with the same success. Without leaders who command respect, it is well nigh impossible.

Yours faithfully,
Sukumar Pal, Hooghly

Sir — If Cuba is as great as Ashok Mitra makes it out to be, why don’t even the communist leaders of India send their children there for higher studies? After all, it has made stupendous progress in the field of education, according to none other than the World Bank. And if it indeed is such a human rights paradise, why do thousands of Cubans endanger their lives to flee to the US every year? Do we hear of Americans, or for that matter, Indians, fleeing to Cuba?

Yours faithfully,
Gopi K. Maliwal, via email

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