Saturday, July 12, 2008

Get ready for nuclear showdown

Governments in developing countries like India are influenced -- in a positive or negative manner -- by popular issues like price rise, corruption, bad infrastructure, etc. On the other hand, in developed nations like the US and those in Europe issues are generally abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, Darwin's theory of evolution, etc.

So the manner in which India's politics is revolving around the Indo-US nuclear deal is as much unusual as it is surprising. India is not -- at least as of now -- a country where such a complicated, technical issue can be considered as one that will vote in or vote out a government.

It's quite some time that the issue has been hogging national media attention. To begin with, it was euphoric riding on the after-effects of George Bush's visit to India. Not much was heard about the Left's opposition then. Gradually, when details of the draft of the safeguard agreement, which has now gone to the IAEA, began to emerge, Left began to see red.

The whole issue has been driven by CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. His and fellow comrades' anti-Americanism is such, it wouldn't be matched by even those in China or Russia. Listening to all the rhetoric, I wonder if the Left would have opposed this deal had it been China or Russia instead of the US. Also my guess is that Karat's predecessor, Harkishen Singh Surjeet would have handled this issue much more realistically than the present leadership.

The Left must remember that India's agreements with the erstwhile Soviet Union were not entirely balanced. During those days we were virtually a puppet of the Soviet Union, though it was never described such. That's not the case today: India is looked upon with respect and admiration.

Little-known issue

I don't think ever in the recent past, an issue that few people have understood has held the nation's politics to ransom. Even all the learned scientists haven't been able to fathom the full import of the complicated deal. When some scientists oppose the deal one doesn't know if they are doing so out of ideological reasons or on technical grounds.

The issue is heading for climax: on July 22 we will know if the Indian government will live to carry the nuclear deal forward. The ridiculous manner in the issue has been bandied about by politicians (like it's anti-Muslim, it's a surrender to the US, BJP is more dangerous than Bush etc), I have my doubts on the standard of debate that will precede the vote.

Finally if the voting on the nuclear deal will be based on whether Bush is better or worse than BJP, then it's going to be truly tragic. The debate should be on the lines of India's energy needs. Incidentally, top news now a days is about the power shortage most states are facing. I don't think we need to be a great scientists to know that our requirements of energy will be huge in the coming years considering the way we are growing.

Get ready for a carpet bombing by the Congress and the Left with information on the deal. I hope it will educate all of us -- most importantly, the MPs.

A chance missed

Ideally, Congress from the beginning should have included the BJP in the discussions. Because issues such as this, which concern our energy needs, are not political or ideological: they impact our very living. In the US there is tradition of getting "bipartisan support". It's the equivalent of what in India we call "across party lines". While in the US this phrase is very often heard, it's equivalent in India is a rarity. Historic agreements like the Indo-US nuclear deals should be collectively steered by the nation's best brains. Had the Congress reached out to the entire political spectrum and nurtured the deal through all-party meetings they could probably have avoided this situation of the deal hanging fire.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nadal gives Federer a taste of clay, runs him out of grass

It's not always one gets to see epic battles, events that get etched in history. One such was last night. What made it all the more memorable was that I was so lucky to witness it. I must thank the weather gods.

When it was time for Roger Federer to take on Rafal Nadal, one wish on my lips was that it should not be a one-sided match, like the French Open when Nadal demolished Federer. Anyway, I was to miss the first portions of the match, since I had an unavoidable personal engagement to attend to. And I wanted the match to drag on so that I could catch up the deciding sets when I am back home.

Around 9.45 pm, I checked the score for the first time. Federer had lost the first two sets: 4-6, 4-6, in the third set the match was poised at 5-4 in favour of Nadal.

Couldn't believe this. Imminent fall of the champion? I wished the rain continued so that by the time the match resumed I would be back home.

When I reached home and switched on the TV, memories went back 28 years, for the channel was showing the epic Bjorn Borg - John McEnroe match. Little did the channel nor I knew what would be played out when rained stopped, that it would surpass what was always talked about as "one of the greatest Centre Court encounters."

Nadal lost the chance in the third set to end the match and lift the cup; Federer had recovered in a tie-break 7-5.

Over to the fourth set. Will Nadal pull it off now, that was the question. Again the Spaniard missed the chance. Federer -- the tiebreak wizard that he is -- pulled it off again, in a much more thrilling manner 10-8. Imagine, he was 2-5 down! Couldn't believe that I was witness to a classic.

Finally, into the fifth set. Once again Nadal and Federer proving that one was better than the other with each successive shots. Every point a beauty. While Nadal packed power, Federer weaved artistry. The rallies that took our breath away, the crosscourt passing shots that made me feel so lucky to be watching them... the centre court had became a theatre of grit, resilience and endurance.

Rain interruption again... and the score: 2 games all, 5th set; 2 sets all.... The light was failing, and everyone was wondering if this would go on to the next day.

And, when covers came off, we were in for the climax. The battle was rejoined and the tennis fans got the treat of a lifetime!  

Somewhere in the deciding set, the match became in the longest ever Gentleman's Singles match ever played. When Nadal broke the serve, there was a faint feeling that the champion might succumb soon. Nadal was seizing the advantage like never before, and he would ensure that it didn't slip away from him at least this time. 6-6, 7-7. He made it 8-7; and finally... Federer played into the net, it was 9-7... and Nadal was ecstatic, after such a long match he could only fall flat....

What a match!

What I liked as much as the tennis was Nadal's humility. He said Federer was still the champion, he had won five times... 

Not only had Nadal put an end to Federer's unbeaten run of 65 matches on grass, Nadal became only the second player after Bjorn Borg to win the French Open and Wimbledon back to back.

Will Federer lose the number one spot too?

BBC Sports videos:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Are reality shows doing more harm than good?

Updated on July 2 at 1 am (new link at the end of the post)

I wish Shinjini Sengupta hit the headlines for some other reason. Unfortunately, we are all saying, 'Let what happened to her not happen to anyone."

This cheerful, bright, immensely talented 16-year-old school student is struggling to get on with her life at Nimhans, after having been laid low by the comments of some judges at a reality show on TV in Kolkata.
How much her participation in the show and judges' comments contributed to her present state is being disputed. But what is 100 percent sure is her chase of a dream has gone horribly wrong.

Only dreams?

Dr Abdul Kalam, as President, used to urge our youth to dream; dream of achievement, dream of success. Going by the phenomenal popularity he enjoyed, I'm sure his exhortations had fired a million dreams; it must still be.

But did he stop at telling our young minds to only dream? Even if not, I'm sure a million minds had just stopped at dreaming, and begun living in those dream castles built on air.

Dreaming is just one small step in the long and arduous journey to reach a goal. When we helped our children fire those dreams, did we also prepare them for the long haul? I doubt.

Dreaming is easy, so also setting goals. But is anyone helping the children in their journey to achieve those goals? I doubt.

Dream, we tell our children, casually, carelessly. Young minds are launched into a roller-coaster. They are then left there all alone.

Shinjini's is just one case which fell out in the open. I am sure there are umpteen other minds and hearts seeking a straw to hold on, a prop to steady themselves.

It's time for a reality check

The show must go on, but not this way. The public stage can't be a cathartic ruse for parents to fulfil their dreams. Young, impressionable minds can't be savagely dragged through promises of cash running into lakhs and crores. Isn't there some limit to torturing children in the name of chasing dreams and success?

School educational boards have done away with the obnoxious practice of ranking. Now what about these talent shows? More than a stage for excellence, have these become pits of humiliation? Failure, not humiliation, helps us to correct ourselves and learn.

What is on stage is for all to see. What happens at homes is a slow killer. Millions of families who tune into the show, might be involuntarily goading their children to perform like the stars on the telly, some might even be making sarcastic remarks comparing their children with the stars, which sound no less than a humiliating nag.

What must be immediately done?

1) The practice of awarding lakhs and crores as prize should be stopped. Children's talents are worth more than that.

2) Competitions are fine, but adequate and foolproof safety net to protect the kids who don't make it in the full glare of the nation must be put in place. Each candidate should have continuous access to a professional counsellor before, during and after the competitions.

3) Every participant should get a valuable gift that would help him or her develop the talent. Recognising talent is as much important as recognising the winner.

4) The organisers should be made accountable, for they are playing with talent, that can't be counted in lakhs or crores. A statutory body to ensure that children aren't made unfortunate pawns in the games of elders must be set up. It can also ensure that quality levels are maintained.

5) Parents should be educated on how to deal with their own children. Multimedia platforms should be leveraged to achieve this.

What is success, failure?

Every life is precious. Let us not ruin it by assigning arbitrary standards of 'success' and 'failure', for these are not absolute but subjective.There is no one final 'success' in life that we are aiming for, nor is a failure the end of everything. Success is every achievement at every moment; failure is a success too, the success of having got a chance to learn, of being on the step that will launch us to greater heights.

UPDATE on July 2 at 1 am