May 08, 2008


Tuesday, May 6 2008, at the Mulund Toll Naka, Eastern Express Highway

September 01, 2007

BCCI's Bodyline Bowling: Attack of a Monopolist

Update [7 Sep] -
The anti-monopoly watchdog in India, the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC), has initiated an investigation against the Indian board over its reported threat of a life ban to players joining the Indian Cricket League (ICL).
See BCCI faces monopoly investigation

The rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) has been grabbing headlines for a while, and the war of words between ICL and the BCCI has been escalating. Courts have given verdicts, current and former cricketers have taken sides and the media has played its part in sensationalizing the story.

The discussion so far appears to have focused mainly on the ICL's role as an unlicensed, unaffiliated body that is promoting itself without knowing exactly what it wants to be - is it a complete alternate cricketing structure? Is is a 20-20 cricket league? Is it an opportunity for players long on the fringes of the BCCI's national team, forever ignored by the selectors?

From an economics perspective, it is none of these. In pure economic terms, ICL is a competitor challenging what looks like an established monopoly. It is instructive to identify the market that the monopoly operates in and conduct a proper analysis.

The BCCI's "business interests" are mainly in selling broadcast rights (television, radio) of live cricketing events, selling official merchandise, tickets at the grounds and so on. Of these, the broadcast rights are the major revenue earner and the most contentious issue. The ICL's chief sponsor, Subhash Chandra, started it only after failing to match or exceed a bid for the rights to telecast BCCI events on his channel, Zee Television. Let us focus therefore on the "broadcast rights" issue, the main revenue source for the BCCI and the bone of contention in this debate.

Starting with the antitrust basics, what is the "market" that the BCCI has allegedly monopolized? How can it be properly defined? How can antitrust economics be properly applied to determine whether the BCCI possesses or is attempting to illegally maintain a monopoly?

"Broadcast rights" are a revenue source because they in turn enable television, radio or other media that acquire these rights to sell "advertising slots" to advertisers. Thus, in essence, the BCCI is merely a "content provider" that enables advertisers to show messages to a specific audience (one that is interested in cricket matches). Thus, the right economic analysis is NOT "control over cricket played in India" - but rather, the sale of "advertising slots".

Any analysis of monopoly must begin with a proper market definition. The next question then is whether an alleged monopolist has "monopoly power" in this properly defined market. The usual analysis begins with the "narrowest" market definition and applies the "Small but Significant Non-transitory Increase in Price" (SSNIP) test. The central question is: can an alleged monopolist in the properly defined market "profitably" implement a SSNIP? If the answer is yes, the analysis proceeds by expanding the market definition until a SSNIP becomes unprofitable. If the SSNIP is profitable only in a very narrowly-defined market, the "market power" held by the alleged monopolist is negligible, and thus, does not satisfy the "monopoly" criterion. [Note: If the market is already monopolized, a SSNIP may not be profitable since substitutes may be relevant at the monopoly price. The correct analysis however is to consider demand substitution at the "competitive price". See SSNIP and cellophane fallacy].

Let us consider the smallest market that the BCCI operates in - this may be defined as the "advertising slots" for a single match involving a BCCI-approved team (India, India A etc.). Can the BCCI profitably implement a SSNIP in this market? It is possible - especially if it is a match that has few substitutes (e.g. a world-cup final involving India, an India-Pakistan match of importance etc.). However, defining a market as a "single match" does not permit analysis of any increase in price as "non-transitory" and is more akin a one-time event, a single round of a multi-round game.

Broadening the definition, let us consider advertising slots for "matches involving the official BCCI India team" over a substantial length period of time. At present, BCCI has a monopoly over these advertising slots, through its ability to control the broadcast of these matches. Given that BCCI's team is widely acknowledged as the "Indian National Team", it is clear that there is no perfect substitute. Now consider some of the substitutes available to the advertisers:

  • International cricket matches not involving India - Given an advertiser that is attempting to promote her product in India, these appear to place no constraint on the BCCI's ability to profitably implement a SSNIP. A SSNIP in BCCI's charges for broadcast rights will not result in the advertisers taking their business to an Australia-Pakistan match (the quality of cricket played may be better - but from a pure economic perspective, the advertiser cannot substitute the size of the audience for an India match by advertising in such matches).
  • Cricket matches involving other "India" teams - These are also under BCCI's control and therefore not valid substitutes.
  • International sports events involving Indian teams or individuals - No other sport in India matches the popularity of cricket. The prices for advertising slots for non-cricket team sports- football, hockey, or other team events or individual sports - tennis, billiards, chess - etc. are "much below" than those for cricket. A SSNIP in cricket advertising slots may push some advertisers towards these other sports - however, the SSNIP will still likely be profitable.
  • Other advertising slots - "sporting events" attract a certain audience - and advertising for with other content (e.g. television soaps, sponsored television shows, reality television or game shows, live concert telecasts, movies) is an imperfect substitute for cricket advertising. The per-second rates of some of these events may be comparable (e.g. the Filmfare awards) - however, the target audience reached by cricket is not duplicated by these events.
  • Not advertising through these media - clearly, no advertiser will "fully withdraw" advertising from television or other media in response to a SSNIP by the BCCI.
It is apparent that the BCCI wields "monopoly power" in the "advertising slots for cricket featuring Team India". In fact, an even broader market comprising "advertising slots for cricket featuring teams from India" may be monopolized by the BCCI.

The effects of a monopoly can be seen along dimensions - increased price (already seen in the advertising prices), reduced consumer choice (variety) and reduced quality.

The reduction of variety is obvious in world cricket, especially in comparison with other team sports. Unlike other sports such as soccer or basketball, cricket does not have "club teams" that are composed of talented players drawn from the various countries that play the sport. Unlike basketball - in which the NBA, US College Basketball and international basketball - all follow different rules and therefore, provide variety, cricket is confined to the ICC's rules. The pace of innovation has been slow (e.g. 20-20 or fielding restrictions in ODI cricket etc.), and has often been a response to challengers (e.g. The Kerry Packer alternative is credited with several innovations such as coloured clothing, day-night matches, limited overs cricket etc.). The number of international stars in cricket is capped by the number of international teams playing the sport and also the strength of his team. Thus, many high quality Aussies, Indians, Pakistanis etc. must wait their turn (sometimes for over a decade) to play for their teams while lesser players get the opportunity to compete internationally for teams such as Bangladesh, Bermuda or Zimbabwe.

The reduced quality came to the fore during the most recent cricket world cup. By including several fringe team (under the presumed goal of "developing the sport"), the world body permitted teams that wouldn't be competitive at the club-level in Australia, England or India, to compete with much superior teams, resulting in a large percentage of one-sided games (of reduced quality to consumers interested in watching a keenly contested match). Such mismatched contests are omnipresent in the present structure of cricket.

[One must acknowledge here that the pride of seeing a "national" team compete may not be substituted by city, county or club teams. However, the soccer example - with its immensely popular club teams - and a world cup every four years - proves that alternate structures that preserve international teams while allowing club teams to prosper are feasible.]

The BCCI's pronouncements after the announcement of the ICL and the unveiling of its initial list of players may then be seen as efforts to maintain its monopoly. The BCCI raised salaries for its players in domestic teams (as an employer of cricket players, the BCCI possesses "monopsony" power - i.e. it is the sole source of demand for cricketers), it threatened players with a life ban and that they would not be allowed to represent "India" (raising barriers to entry), it declined to make its stadiums available to the ICL (raising barriers to entry) and even roped in the ICC and other boards to prevent their players from joining the rebel league. It also barred coaches and officials joining the ICL from any current or future ties to "official" Indian cricket (e.g. Kapil Dev was removed as the head of the NCA, past-player's pensions were threatened).

The BCCI is bowling a lot of deliveries that would be considered "unfair" competition at a minimum (and "illegal" under several countries' laws). Let us hope that the ICL successfully ducks some, hooks other to the boundary and overcomes this "bodyline" attack to deliver some spectacular cricket!

June 04, 2007

द रिलक्टंट फंडामेंटलिस्ट

सलाम! तुम्हाला काही मदत हवी आहे का? असे दचकू नका! माझी दाढी भरघोस आहे खरी, पण माझं अमेरिकेवर प्रेम आहे. मला वाटले तुम्ही काहीतरी शोधताय. पण खरे तर तुमचा हा शोध साधासुधा नाही, ती एक मोहीमच दिसतेय. ह्या शहराचा माहीतगार रहिवासी आणि तोही तुमची भाषा जाणणारा - मला वाटले मी तुम्हाला ह्या कामात काहीतरी मदत करू शकेन.

तुम्ही बुचकळ्य़ात पडलेले दिसताय - ह्या दाढीवाल्याला कसं कळलं की मी अमेरिकन आहे? छे छे, तुमच्या गोरया चमडीवरून नाही - आमच्या देशातही विविध रंगाची माणसं आहेत, तुम्ही त्यातल्या वायव्य सरहद्द प्रांतातले म्हणून सहज खपाल. तुमच्या कपड्यांवरूनही अंदाज बांधणे मुश्किलच आहे. तुमचा हा रुबाबदार शर्ट आणि त्यावरून चढवलेला हा झकास एक खिशाचा सूट डे मोईन, आयोवा मध्ये कुणा युरोपियन टुरिस्टलाही मिळाला असता. तुमचे बारीक कापलेले केस, आणि त्याहूनही महत्वाचे म्हणजे ही भरदार छाती - तुम्ही नक्कीच रोजचा दंड-बैठकांचा व्यायाम करत असणार - हे एका विशिष्ट प्रकारच्या अमेरिकनाचे लक्षण आहे खरे. पण तेही कारण नव्हेच, सगळयाच देशातले खेळाडू आणि सैनिक साधारणपणे सारखेच दिसतात. नाही, खरे तर मी तुम्हाला तुमच्या "ढंगावरूनच" ओळखले. नाही नाही, असे रागावून पाहू नका - अपमान म्हणून नव्हे, नुसते एक निरीक्षण म्हणून मी हे म्ह्टले.

वरील विलक्षण वाक्यांनी सुरू होणारे मोहसीन हमीद ह्या पाकिस्तानी लेखकाचे "द रिलक्टंट फंडामेंटलिस्ट" हे दुसरे पुस्तक प्रकाशित होण्याआधीपासूनच गाजते आहे. वाचकाला तात्काळ खेचून घेणारे हे पुस्तक सुरुवातीपासून शेवटपर्यंत आणि वाचून संपल्यानंतरही वाचकाच्या मनाचा कब्जा घेते. पाश्चात्य आणि तिसरया जगातील तुटत असणाऱ्या नात्याचा वेध ह्या पुस्तकात घेतला आहे.

लाहोरमधील गल्ली-बोळांतील एका छोट्याशा हॉटेलमध्ये दोन व्यक्तींची गाठ पडते. गोष्ट सांगणारा दाढीवाला मनुष्य म्हणजे चंगेझ नावाचा एक तरूण पाकिस्तानी. तो ज्याच्याशी बोलतोय ती व्यक्ती कधीच वाचकासमोर येत नाही. त्यामुळे चंगेझ सांगत असलेल्या गोष्टींवरूनच समोरच्या माणसाबद्दल तर्क-वितर्क लढवावे लागतात. अशा काहीशा चमत्कारिक परिस्थितीमध्ये वाचक कायम संभ्रमात पडतो, आणि गोष्टीची एकच बाजू ऎकत असल्यामुळे साहजिकच समोरच्या अमेरिकनाच्या भूमिकेबद्दलही विचार करू लागतो.

अशा अविश्वासात सुरु झालेला हा संवाद मग चंगेझच्या बोलण्यातून उलगडत जातो. चंगेझ अमेरिकेतील प्रथितयश अशा प्रिन्स्टन विद्यापीठाचा पदवीधर आहे. इतर परदेशी विद्यार्थ्यांप्रमाणेच तोही आपल्या वर्गांतील अमेरिकन विद्यार्थ्यांपेक्षा कांकणभर सरसच आहे. प्रिन्स्टन मधून बाहेर पडताना अवघ्या एक-दोघांना मिळणारी अंडरवूड-सॅमसन ह्या प्रथितयश अमेरिकन कंपनीतील नोकरी चंगेझला सहज मिळून जाते. त्याचबरोबर एरिका नावाची एक सुंदर अमेरिकन मुलगीही त्याच्या प्रेमात पडते. न्यू यॉर्क सारख्या जागतिक शहरात राहणारा चंगेझ कामाच्या धबडग्यात आणि एरिकाच्या प्रेमात बुडून जातो. अमेरिकेचा काठ धरणाऱ्या इतर परदेशी तरुणांसारखीच अमेरिकन समृद्धीची स्वप्ने बघू लागतो. ह्या सगळ्यामध्ये त्याच्या मनात मात्र कुठेतरी पाल चुकचुकत राहते.

लाहोरच्या घरची, तिथल्या ताज्या अन्नाची आणि तिथल्या बालपणाची आठवण मधूनच डोके वर काढते, कुठेतरी खुपत राहते. वरवर पाहता अमेरिकेत पूर्णपणे रुळलेला, तिथल्या वातावरणाशी एकजीव झालेला चंगेझ आपल्या देशाचे मागासलेपण आणि दारिद्र्य विसरू शकत नाही. त्याचबरोबर मोहेंजोदारो सारख्या प्रगत संस्कृतीचा वारसा सांगणाऱ्या, हजारो वर्षांचा इतिहास असलेल्या आपल्या संस्कृतीचा अभिमान आणि त्या तुलनेत आजच्या जगातील पाकिस्तानचे स्थान त्याला अस्वस्थ करते. त्याचे हे वेगळेपण आणि संवेदनशीलता इतर कुणाच्याही लक्षात आली नाही तरी एरिका समजून घेते.

एरिकादेखील एका विचित्र परिस्थितीत अडकली आहे - तिचा लहानपणापासूनचा मित्र आणि प्रेमी असलेला ख्रिस काही वर्षांपूर्वीच कॅन्सरने गेला. त्याच्या जाण्यानंतर एकटी पडलेली एरिका आता कुठे त्या धक्क्यातून सावरतेय. पण ती ख्रिसला विसरू शकत नाही. तिचे आणि चंगेझचे संबंध अशा प्रकारे एक विचित्र प्रेमत्रिकोणात बांधले गेले आहेत. भूतकाळात असलेला हा तिसरा कोन चंगेझच्या प्रेमाच्या आड येतो. वैयक्तिक पातळीवर अशा गोष्टींना सामोरा जाणाऱ्या चंगेझच्या मनात एक भलतीच गोष्ट एक वादळ निर्माण करते - सप्टेंबर ११, २००१ !

कामानिमित्त फिलिपाईन्स मध्ये असलेला चंगेझ वर्ल्ड ट्रेड सेंटरची इमारत कोसळताना बघतो. आणि पहिल्याप्रथम त्याच्या चेहऱ्यावर उमटते हास्याची एक लकीर. आपल्याच ह्या प्रतिक्रियेने चंगेझ दचकून जातो. आजवर दडपून ठेवलेले स्वतःबद्दलचे अनेक प्रश्न अचानक उफाळून येतात. अमेरिकेला परतताना विमानतळावर चंगेझची झाडून तपासणी होते. आजवर आपल्याच विचारांत गढून गेलेले न्यू यॉर्कचे लोकल प्रवासी त्याच्याकडे वळून वळून पाहू लागतात. ऑफिसातील इतर लोकांनाही अचानक तो पाकिस्तानी असल्याचा साक्षात्कार होतो.

चंगेझच्या मनातील ही घालमेल सुरु असतानाच एरिकादेखील ख्रिसच्या आठवणींत हरवून त्याच्यापासून दूर जाते. पाकिस्तानच्या सहकार्याने अमेरिका अफगाणिस्तानवर हल्ला चढवते. आजवर टेलेव्हिजनवर फुटबॉल आणि बास्केटबॉलसारखे खेळ बघणारे अमेरिकन्स आता युद्धाचा अमानुष खेळ बघू लागतात. आणि चंगेझ बदलू लागतो. लाहोरला धावती भेट देतो. आपल्याच घरात पाऊल टाकताना चंगेझला विचित्र वाटते. जुनाट घर, पोपडे निघालेल्या भिंती, आजूबाजूची गर्दी हे सर्व काही त्याला अनोळखी आणि स्वतःच्या अमेरिकन जीवनापासून फार दूर आणि विसंगत भासू लागते. चंगेझ पुन्हा दचकतो. आपल्या घरातील ह्या बदलावद्दल विचार करताना अचानक त्याला जाणीव होते - बदल घरात नसून स्वतःतच असल्याची!

लाहोर वास्तव्यात चंगेझला भारत-पाकिस्तानमधील तणावाची परिस्थिती दिसते. आपले आप्त-स्वकीय युध्दाच्या छायेत असताना स्वत: अमेरिकेला परत येणे त्याला कठीण होते. पाकिस्तान आणि अमेरिकेतील हे फरक पाहता-पाहताच चंगेझला आपल्यातीलच विसंगती, दुभंगलेपण दिसून येते. विचारांच्या अशा गर्तेत सापडलेला चंगेझ अमेरिकेला परत येताना दाढी वाढवून येतो.

चंगेझच्या मनात इतिहास आणि वर्तमान तसेच आपलीच स्वप्ने आणि भोवतालच्या जगातील वास्तव ह्यांमधील अंतर वाढत जाते. अमेरिकेला येणाऱ्या लाखो परदेशी तरूणांप्रमाणेच भौतिक सुखाची स्वप्ने बघणारा, अमेरिकन मुक्त संस्कृती - उदारमतवादीपणावर विश्वास ठेवणारा चंगेझ मग काहीशा अनिच्छेनेच अमेरिकाविरोधी विचारांकडे आकर्षित होतो. आजवर स्वतःवर संपूर्ण ताबा असलेला, दोन जगांतील फरकांतूनही आपल्या आयुष्याचा तोल सांभाळून असलेला हा अमेरिकाशिक्षित पाकिस्तानी तरूण हळूह्ळू एक "रिलक्टंट फंडामेंटलिस्ट" बनतो.

आपली गोष्ट सांगताना चंगेझ समोरच्या अमेरिकनाबद्दलही सांगत राहतो, वाचकाला खुणावत राहतो. त्याच्या उजव्या बाहीखाली काय दडले असावे? लाहोरच्या ह्या पुरातन भागात तो काय बरे शोधत असावा? बरोबर तासाच्या ठोक्याला त्याच्या फोनची रिंग का बरे वाजत असावी? आणि, तो सतत संशयाने आजूबाजूला का बघत असावा? अनेक प्रश्न वाचकासमोर उभे राहतात. आणि हा सस्पेन्स पुस्तकाची संपूर्ण दोनशे पानं टिकतो.

अमेरिकेचे आक्रमक स्वरुप जगापुढे येणे आणि चंगेझचा तोल ढळणे ह्या दोन्ही गोष्टी एकापाठोपाठ घडतात. वरवर पाहता साध्यासुध्या वाटणाऱ्या गोष्टीदेखील असाधारण मन:स्थितीत असलेल्या माणसावर चमत्कारिक परिणाम करतात. जगावर आधिपत्य गाजवण्याची सवय झालेल्या अमेरिकन सरकारची सप्टें ११ नंतरची प्रतिक्रिया अशीच प्रमाणाबाहेर आक्रमक झाली. स्वत:च्या भूमीवरचा हल्ला पचविण्याची ताकदच अमेरिकेकडे उरली नाही. "लिबरल" मुक्त विचारसरणीची, आविष्कारस्वातंत्र्य, व्यक्तिस्वातंत्र्य, लोकशाही मूल्यांचे माहेरघर असलेली अमेरिका मागे पडली आणि तिच्या जागी अमेरिकन पद्धतीचा फंडामेंटलिझम - "US" v. "Them" - ची उद्दाम भावना आली.

हल्ल्यांनंतर सगळ्या जगाची साहजिकच मिळालेली सहानुभूती अफगाणिस्तान आणि पाठोपाठ इराकवर हल्ला करून अमेरिका गमवून बसली. ह्या देशांतील लाखो सामान्य नागरिकांचे आयुष्य अमेरिकेच्या अतिरेकी आक्रमक वृत्तीमुळे बदलून गेले. साहजिकच ह्या दोन्ही देशांमध्ये आणि जगभरच्या संवेदनशील नागरिकांमध्ये (त्यामध्ये मोठ्या प्रमाणावर अमेरिकनही आलेच)अमेरिकाविरोध वाढला.

अमेरिकन संस्कृतीच्या वाढत्या प्रभावाखाली येणाऱ्या आणि अमेरिकेच्या चुंबकीय क्षेत्रात सहजी आकर्षित होणाऱ्या आजच्या भारतीय तरुणांसमोरदेखील हे विसंवाद आहेत. वरवर पाहता अमेरिकन पद्धतीच्या श्रीमंतीला, चंगळवादाला रुळावलेल्या लोकांच्या मनातही काहीतरी खदखदते आहे. अमेरिकेची श्रीमंती सहज आपलीशी करणारे अनेक वरकरणी मॉडर्न लोक आविष्कारस्वातंत्र्य आणि व्यक्तिस्वातंत्र्यासारख्या मूल्यांना मात्र स्वीकारु शकलेले नाहीत. दुर्दैवाने अमेरिकादेखील आपले ते स्वरुप विसरू लागली आहे.

दहशतवादी हल्ल्यांनंतर जगाकडे एका वेगळ्या, उद्दाम दृष्टीने बघणाऱ्या अमेरिकेची ही तसबीर चंगेझ त्या निनावी अमेरिकनासमोर उभी करतो. ही तसबीर वाचकालाही विचारप्रवृत्त करते. पौर्वात्य आणि पाश्चिमात्य जगातील मोठे आणि सूक्ष्म फरक ह्या कादंबरीची पार्श्वभूमी आहेत. एकाच वेळी मॉडर्न जगाचे आकर्षण आणि आपल्या परंपरेचा अभिमान असलेल्या तिसऱ्या जगातील नवीन पिढीचे संभ्रम ही कादंबरी मांडते. अमेरिकेचा दुहेरी चेहरा - साम्राज्यवादी, मुजोर, दादा देश आणि बाहेरच्यांना सामावून घेणारा मेल्टिंग पॉट - देखील वाचकासमोर येतो. कादंबरीतील चंगेझ आणि समोरचा अमेरिकन ह्या दोन्ही प्रवृत्तींची प्रतिके आहेत.

प्रत्येक वाचकाला आपापले पूर्वग्रह तपासून पाहायला लावणारी, जगाच्या पटावर उलगडणाऱ्या राजकीय नाट्याला वैयक्तिक पातळीवर आणणारी ही कादंबरी. जरूर वाचा!

मोहसीन हमीद ह्यांचा जन्म लाहोर, पाकिस्तान मध्ये झाला. त्यांनी अमेरिकेतील प्रिन्स्टन आणि हार्वर्ड विद्यापीठात शिक्षण घेतले. "Moth Smoke" ही त्यांची पहिलीच कादंबरी गाजली. ती दहा भाषांमध्ये अनुवादित झाली आहे.

द रिलक्टंट फंडामेंटलिस्ट

लेखक: मोहसीन हमीद
प्रकाशक: पेंग्विन-व्हायकिंग
पृष्ठे: १९२
किंमत: रु. २९५/-

June 02, 2007


My eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness of the theater as I entered. The darkened space also had an invigorating smell - "dhoop" - incense was being burned. I noticed ornate, circular stone vessel at the center of the room, with a narrow platform hanging above it. Spotlights were trained on the vessel which was filled to the brim with water and white flowers. The light reflected off the water and illuminated the platform slightly. A figure draped in a white cloth was sitting at the far end of the platform, leaning against a few steps that separated it from us. That was Rajit Kapoor, the lead - and only - actor performing Girish Karnad' new play, "Flowers".

There were murmurs all around. The small theater was packed to capacity. The stage was surrounded on three sides by the audience, their eagerness apparent as the hour neared 7 pm, the scheduled beginning of the performance. Precisely at that time, the music started. Sparse, serious tones interspersed with the sounds of crickets chirping. The figure in white got up, turned around, carefully climbed down the two steps that separated it from us in the audience, and the performance began.

It is near midnight, the Priest said. He was looking disshevelled, even in a smart dhoti and angavastram. His face seemed weighed down with some great worry, while his tone tried not to betray any of it. The stars were in the sky, and the Scorpio it seems, was about to enter the water.

The priest narrated his story, maintaining a level tone. The platform was an extension of the temple, surrounded by water. It was a Shiva temple, where God takes the form of a Lingum. The priest's story was one of a powerful romance that drew him in and wouldn't let him out. A love that seemingly destroyed his routine life, and brought him to this night, narrating his story as he contemplated his life.

He loved his wife he said, and respected his chieftain. As the temple priest, he worshiped God above all else. He spent hours alone with God - discussing things important and mundane. His many hours of the day were spent decorating the idol with flowers. He conducted every ritual with great attention to detail. His life had a steady rhythm, of devotion, of ritual, of complete devotion. His routine was disturbed in the strangest of ways, when a courtesan visited the temple to seek blessings during a week long celebration. What followed were events unlike anything one could imagine, and brought him to this night of rigorous self-examination.

Girish Karnad's latest play is a monologue. It is a timeless story, set in no particular place. It plays on the themes that have dominated his work - the nature of God and religion, virtue and morality and the dilemmas associated with these. It is the sparsest of his works, distilled to a bare minimum. Yet, it is powerful and unforgettable.

Rajit Kapoor's performance was masterful. The tone of his voice, the strength and fragility it conveyed, the manner of speech - accelerating in excitement and slowing down in love - and the way he crossed and uncrossed his legs all made one forget that it was a play and he was an actor. The audience was mesmerized and transported to this timeless world. The minimal lighting and sound were in keeping with the nature of the play.

An hour and a half later, when the performance finished, the audience was in a trance. It was a theater experience unlike another. I felt fortunate to witness it.

May 12, 2007

The Rockstar Historian

I just returned from the publication event for Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi. Guha gave a wonderful account of his book and its main characters. In style and manner, his speech was nothing short of a rock performance. His eyes, the nervous energy of his movements, rapid speech interspersed with sips of water and a booming voice, combined with a mastery of the subject at hand - Ramachandra Guha is as wonderful a speaker as writer. He conveyed the essence of the book, some of the best stories, and the primary evidence for some of his striking conclusions, and most of all, his command over the subject. All in all, Ramachandra Guha has rockstar appeal coupled with a historian's studiousness.

A rare and valuable combination indeed. Time to read the book!

August 31, 2006

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

The novel is spread over more than a hundred years, in sub-continental settings ranging from Burma, to coastal India (Eastern and Western) and Malaya. Ghosh uses extensively researched facts to create a wonderful, arresting setting for the story. He opens the book with the fall of Burma to the British with this fabulous opening sentence:
There was only one person in the food-stall who knew exactly what that sound was that was rolling in across the plain, along the silver curve of the Irawaddy, to the western wall of Mandalay's fort. His name was Rajkumar and he was an Indian, a boy of eleven - not an authority to be relied upon.
Starting with the subsequent exile of the Burmese royal family to Ratnagiri, Ghosh runs through a century of events and many generations of characters in a book that alternates between the closely pictured personal lives of its characters and wide ranging social and political issues engulfing the sub-continent. He does a great job using such wonderful material to weave a captivating story. The writing is somewhat varying in quality, ranging from mostly sublime to somewhat trite in a few places.

Covering such a large period of time necessarily means that Ghosh picks and chooses the places and periods where his narrative goes into extensive detail. In such places, the book is languorous, describing the setting and emotions in fabulous detail. The visual imagery is striking. The royal palace in Mandalay, and the royal family’s forced removal are captured in such words that one can almost see the events unfold in front of one’s eyes. The teak trade, the dizzying geometry of rubber plantations, and the myriad working class occupations of colonial times are brought forth.

The characters in the first generation, Rajkumar, Dolly, Saya John, Uma and others are fascinating personalities. Born in uncertain times, many to unknown parents, these people without moorings of family find themselves taking whichever opportunities come their way. Yet, rather than be drawn along the stream, each of them stands strong. From Dolly’s dedication to the royal family, to Uma’s independent thinking, and Rajkumar’s entrepreneurship, the reader sees real people whose lives are constructed and change before their eyes. The next generation however, is rendered more as stereotypes – the artistic, liberal minded Dinu, the obedient handsome son Neel, and the innocent soldier Arjun. They appear to be in the novel to represent certain viewpoints or ideas, not as full of surprises as the earlier generation.

Ghosh uses this backdrop and cast of characters to narrate a tale of multiple countries under British colonial rule. The novel expresses the opinions of the rulers and the ruled, conflicting yet each very believable. The role of the British Indian army in the maintenance and expansion of the British empire is well captured, as is the revolt by its soldiers in the WW-II era. Throughout, Ghosh's characters are true to life, and yet represent the larger reality of the world.

A fabulous read.

संतोष प्रोव्हिजन स्टोअर्स

वस्तूंची उपलब्धता जाहीर करणाऱ्या (एकाच दगडी पाटीवरील) दोन सूचना:
येथे सुगंधी मोदक पीठ मिळेल.
येथे रिकाम्या सीडी मिळतील.

August 10, 2006


Saw this film yesterday: very well written and very well made.

Two of the best and well thought out reviews/comments on the movie are on blogs, rather than a conventional medium. Both are wonderfully written, worth a read. Read this for a mostly positive review focused on the movie itself. Read this for a more negative review, focused on the movie's departure from Othello.

My two cents:

- Multiple references to Ramayana, in a Shakespeare adaptation. More than the UP gangland setting, these make the story strongly Indian. Of course, desi gaalis and mannerisms play a part too.
- The "sarat ghodon pe lagaayi jaati hai, sheron pe nahi" (Bets are placed on horses, not lions) has to be one of the most well written lines projecting bravado.
- The film is an exciting fusion of genres, stories, dialog and all other elements, drawn variously from folk culture, great cinema, and bollywood kitsch. The item numbers Beedi and Namak are good examples. Some of the background music doesn't work that well.

Much more could be written, and deserves to be written about one of the best Indian movies of the year. For now, I am content to have watched the film and read the above two reviews.

August 09, 2006

The Indian Dentist and the Holocaust Survivor: Vikram Seth's "Two Lives"

Amardeep Singh has posted a detailed comment on Vikram Seth's new book. It is now on my list of books to buy.

July 25, 2006

The changing face of India...

India is changing, removing layer upon layer of accumulated dust, to reveal a "shining" economy.

Two television advertisements symbolize this change:

1. Lifebuoy for women (from the makers of "tandurustee ki rakshaa karta hai Lifebuoy")
2. Fair and handsome (from the makers of "Fair and Lovely" fairness cream)

Another quote symbolizing the new India:
"India: From self-reliance to Reliance"