Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ashleigh Barty, confidence personified

Ashleigh Barty. Photo source: Tennis World
There were plenty of sporting action during the past 10 days that kept me hooked to the television. Besides the French Open tennis championship and the Cricket World Cup, the ones that I was following keenly, there was also the Women's Cricket World Cup and Women's Football World Cup.

The biggest takeaway of the tennis tournament was the astounding display of determination and skill by a lady from Australia, named Ashleigh Barty. She is now ranked number two in the world, just behind the Naomi Osaka.

When the tournament started, not many had Barty as a favourite. But she quietly emerged to be in the reckoning and finally walked away with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

The victory of Barty is not just the triumph of her tennis abilities, but also about her supreme confidence. I was looking at her biodata. She trained from childhood in tennis and did impressively in different matches. She turned professional at 14 and got into the Grand Slam circuit a year later.

She began to make her mark in doubles, and in 2012, at the age of 16, she became the youngest finalist in Australian Open since 2004; and as a team, she and  Casey Dellacqua became the first Australian duo to reach an Australian Open women's doubles finals since 1977.


But the best and the most interesting part of her career graph is that in 2014, she quit tennis and took to cricket, and even played in the league games for Brisbane Heat.

In 2016, she thought she was done with cricket and came back to tennis. The point to be noted here is that it's not easy switching from one game to another like this. In spite of doing that to win a Grand Slam tournament like the French Open is truly an amazing feat! 


The World Cup cricket is on, and we have seen some very interesting matches. England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies and India are I guess the favourites.

In a bad coincidence, both the Wimbledon final and World Cup cricket final will be on the same day, July 14. Not the first time. Last year, the tennis finale clashed with World Cup football final.

In a big dampener, the matches yesterday and the day before got washed out because of rain. Nothing like bad weather interrupting an interesting match or tournament. Hope the weather over different match venues clear up and we will have interesting matches.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Beth French: The importance of knowing when to give up

This blog post is a part of the
We Are The World Blogfest
This is an amazing story, one which will make us stop, ponder and introspect.

Some of you might have already read about British swimmer Beth French. Even if you have, her story is so inspirational that it's worth going over it again and again.

At the age of 10, Beth began to feel very weak and tired. It progressively got worse. Finally, at the age of 17, she was diagnosed with ME or myalgic encephalomyelitis, also called chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS.

Beth French in an interview
to ITV's Lorraine 
Things were so bad that she couldn't lift her hand to brush her hair, and a day came when she couldn't even get up to sit on the wheelchair.


The condition ME is a collection of symptoms and there's no proper cure. Her mom took Beth to an alternative therapist to find out if they could find some way to improve things.

Beth had to take a totally new look at herself and her life. Drawing up a bucket list was one way -- achieving each task would give Beth a sense of fulfilment and hope.

Beth loves water
The bucket list helped. She fought against her conditions, both mind and body, and she ticked off one after the other. There was some improvement but things weren't fully okay.

There was one more in the list -- to swim to France. She achieved that by swimming for 15 hours. By the way, as a child Beth liked water, and swimming almost came naturally to her.

She was working and a single mother. She wanted to not only challenge herself with harder tasks but also demonstrate to her child Dylan that anything is possible. The best part was Dylan was always with her not just physically but also emotionally motivating his mother.


She now decided that she would swim the seven of the world's most dangerous ocean channels, called Ocean 7, in one year. She completed four, but things were not okay at home as Dylan, who was then close to eight years, was showing signs of autism.

In a disappointing turnaround, Dylan began telling her mom not to swim. His anxiety levels went up so much that Beth couldn't leave her son even with her mom.

This made Beth think. We are always told never to give up, but she realised that after a point, we all have to make a choice.

Listen to this extraordinary story of Beth French on BBC's Outlook, on the importance of knowing when to give up.

Beth succeeded at first by not giving up and later succeeded by giving up. She chose her son over swimming because she had proved her point, to herself more than to anyone else, what she can achieve. Now there was another challenge.

She realised that she had reached her destination before the finishing line. She says it is so empowering to make a choice -- her choice to take up the challenge and now the choice to give it up.


Beth French's website

Beth French on BBC News Points West (a programme for the West of England)

Beth French on ITV's Lorraine

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Reasons for our likes and dislikes

Image courtesy:
Driver's Handbook
It is interesting to follow different strands of arguments. Someone has half a dozen reasons to do something. Someone else has half a dozen reasons to do something else.

Logic drives our actions, and we find a dozen reasons to justify why we are doing it.

A new logic makes us do something else. And we find another dozen reasons to justify that too.


Henry and Ruby are discussing which car to buy. Henry likes Brand Z and Ruby likes Brand Y. He has his reasons. She has hers. Both aren't able to convince each other. Why?

Because the preference for the brand is preconceived, moulded by some logic, some reason, which both Henry and Ruby are holding firmly to.

It's not just with cars.


Nora prefers to be single and has been ignoring the suggestions of her close friends and family on why she should get married. She has reasons to be single.

But every time her closest friend Lily manages to persuade her to give marriage a thought, Nora has her own reasons to say why all the guys A, B, C, D and E  are simply not the worth the trouble sharing her life with.

Lily is actually finding reasons to push her point of view. And Nora is finding reasons to stay single.

Will Henry ever like Brand Y and will Ruby ever like Brand Z?

Will Nora ever get married?

Not unlikely.


One day, it finally dawns on Henry that his preferred car Brand Z is actually way too expensive and the financial jugglery, which he elaborately planned, will simply not work. He finds merits in Ruby's arguments. They both head to the showroom to buy Brand Y.

What about Nora? She gets married to William.

"William?" wonders Lily. "Why William?"

"Why not? I like him," says Nora. "Moreover, I am tired and bored of being alone. And there are so many other reasons why I thought I must get married."

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Narendra Modi stays as India’s Prime Minister: 5 reasons why

The leads began trickling in some time after 8 am today, and the trend didn’t change at any point during the last 5 hours. The incumbent NDA (National Democratic Alliance, comprising the BJP and its allies) are ahead, and there is no way it will now change.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is back in the Prime Minister’s chair, leading an aggressive campaign of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or Indian people’s party). Their focus areas were corruption-free governance, taking India ahead, the security of the nation, stability of the government, etc.

The BJP faced a spirited fight put up by a galaxy of opposition parties, over 20 of them, all regional parties, except the Congress, the only national party, whose stock had plummeted to a historic low in the previous election. The major opposition alliance was the UPA or the United Progressive Alliance.


It was generally acknowledged that the BJP will be back in power, but considering the intensity and ferocity of the opposition campaign, there were doubts about whether the BJP would get a good majority or not.

The surprise, if at all there is any, is the big lead the NDA has gained over the opposition. Clearly, a good majority of Indians are happy with the way Narendra Modi government has ruled over the past five years, and they want status quo; and they don’t find any reason to give the opposition a chance.


Here are a few reasons why the election results have gone the way it has:

1. No corruption allegations: That was what the BJP promised five years ago when they took on the Congress-led government which faced a spate of corruption charges. The BJP clearly delivered on that promise.

There were allegations of crony capitalism though, which the opposition highlighted very vociferously. Either people didn’t believe in them or they didn’t care.

2. Stability factor: If we look back at the previous elections, Indians don’t like unstable coalition governments at the federal level. There have been a few, and the people have voted them out as quickly as possible and they stayed with stable governments.

In the absence of a strong national opposition party (the Congress today is a pale shadow of what it was once), the opposition is a combination of over 20 parties. It doesn’t look like the people wanted to risk giving them a chance.

3. Strong leadership: India doesn’t elect a prime minister. It elects a party, which then elects a leader who is appointed as the prime minister. But for all practical purposes, the prime ministerial face matters a lot. Modi comes across as a strong leader, who takes bold decisions.

There was no prime ministerial face in the opposition to take on Modi. If the opposition were voted in, there was a risk of at least half a dozen opposition leaders squabbling to become the prime minister. Not worth it.

4. Poor opposition strategy: Their main focus was the removal of Modi as the prime minister. But they didn’t project who could replace him.

Congress party president Rahul Gandhi kept harping on the theme that the “prime minister is a thief”. I think that went against him because he had nothing substantial to back his claim. No money trail or any illegal transaction of funds could be showcased.

It must be said that the BJP was very smart to convert major attacks against them into an advantage.

5. National vision and policy: The incumbent NDA government had enacted a slew of new policies and rolled out many welfare schemes for different sections of people, both in the urban and rural areas. It is all there on the government website

The opposition slammed them as mere misleading claims and numbers but they didn’t have anything concrete as an alternative. I guess people have either been benefited by these government policies or, if they have not been, they have given the government the benefit of doubt.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Election surveys go wrong in Australia

Once again, pollsters have gone wrong, this time in Australia.

Surveys conducted mainly by Newspoll, YouGov/Galaxy, Ipsos, Essential, and Roy Morgan over the past three years, consistently (except on a few occasions) put the Labor Party ahead of the Coalition (Liberal-National Party).

But the results are now just the opposite, with the LNP winning a third time in a row.

This Wikipedia page gives you a good idea of what the opinion polls projected over the past few years, and how it all ended up today.

The result has been aptly summed up by the winner, incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said, "I have always believed in miracles."

Not the first time pollsters have gone wrong, especially in the recent past. The Brexit referendum in June 2016, American presidential elections in November 2016, are the most famous ones.


Surveys, in general, are a tricky game. It's actually a very specialised statistical science. It not just about talking to some people and coming to a conclusion about how the wind is blowing.

The fact that very reputed polling agencies like Gallup in the United States have got it wrong on a few occasions points to how error-prone the whole operation is.

One reason poll results tend to go wrong is that the sample selected is not a "representative" one. One common misconception is that the larger the sample, the more accurate the projection is.

It's not the size, but how representative is the sample determines the accuracy. Of course, when it is representative sample size is proportionately big, the errors get cancelled out providing a more precise result.

Then, of course, there are always possibilities of people saying one thing to the pollster and voting the opposite way. Either because of a perceived fear factor or a desire to sound politically correct, people might not be truthful about sharing their choice with the surveyor.


Today, India votes in the last of the seven phases. Within a few hours, TV news channels will go all out with the results of the exit polls.

In India, publishing of results of opinion polls or exit polls is banned while the election process is on.

The popular perception is that the ruling coalition led by the right-wing BJP will be back in power. But no one is sure of how big or small majority they would get.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Pressing the button - once in five years

Electronic voting machine
Photo credit: Election Commission
While democracy vests in people the right to vote, there are many people who prefer not to exercise their franchise. My father, who was an erudite teacher, was one.

He had contempt for politicians, though he was never vocal about it. He always felt politicians were poor role models for the citizens, especially the youngsters.

There are many who share that view. Even I do. So, I always wondered if I should vote or not. Most politicians are always busy "playing politics" rather than governing.


When I turned 21 and became eligible to vote, I decided to go out and choose the representative of my area. I was in Kerala then. Though I shared the cynism of the democratic process, the reason I cast my ballot was I wanted to know how it was like inside a polling booth and how it felt like having voted.

A few years later, I left the state for the north of the country when I got my first job. After that, I didn't vote for many years, since I never took the trouble to enrol myself as a voter in the places I lived.

The next time I voted was many years later when I moved to Bengaluru. (On November 1, 2014, the city changed its anglicised name of Bangalore to its original name in the local language.)


The reason I voted for the state assembly elections was, I thought voting is the simplest and the easiest way (and probably one of the most important ways) to keep the democratic system of governance alive.

When I accuse the politicians of not having done their job, I should have done mine, is it not?

Especially when it is so easy to actually go to the voting station and make the choice, though choosing whom to vote might not be as easy.

I have exercised my franchise in all the elections since then, including on April 23 when Bengaluru voted in the third phase of the general election that is currently on. One more phase is remaining. That is on May 19.

The process has become easier and simpler over the years, and the Election Commission and the federal government should be given due credit for ensuring that the whole process -- right from enrolling oneself in the voters' list to finding the voting station to actually casting the vote -- is a breeze.


Voting is not compulsory in India, where the votes are cast electronically -- the voter presses the button against the name of the candidate on an electronic voting machine, commonly called here as the EVM.

The once-in-five-years national elections to choose a new parliament is being held in seven phases over one and a half months, considering the enormous scale of the exercise -- there are as many as 900 million voters -- the biggest in the world.

We will know the results on the 23rd of this month. We will know which party will get the majority in parliament and who will be the next prime minister.


Have you voted? Do you always have good candidates to choose from?