Monday, April 30, 2007

From our correspondent in middle age

It’s depressing, but I feel like a paedophile if I find myself leching at any woman under 40. Even more depressing - very few women seem lechworthy any more. The general female population can’t be getting significantly more homely, so it must be me. Ah well.

There are, however, some good things about growing old. I am no longer disappointed by thermostats in hotel rooms. I now KNOW that they’re a kind of logistical placebo and no matter how much I fiddle with them, I will wake up in the middle of the night with frostbite in my toes. Either that, or I'll be soaked in sweat.

**** ****

Monday, April 23, 2007

Memories, Madrid

Sentences float through my head, but vanish from the screen. Just opening the lid of my laptop seems to kill them off.

So, memories.

Catedral Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena. The Bourbons have the exclusive privilege of entering through the front door. So I didn't go in. (I prefer the chocolate variety by Britannia)

The little square past the Goo-roo's pad. And the view looking the other way.

The Bear and the Madrono Tree in the Puerta del Sol, the heart of Madrid.
Apparently this is the usual spot for lover's assignations.
All I saw was formidable mamaquitas. Well, almost all.

And the Plaza Mayor as dusk deepens and the lights gleam.
Rather magical.

Line forms to the left ... The Cafe Patas before the performance.

Cerveceria Cervantes - the tapas bar where we met Maria and said goodbye, all in five minutes.

Snacking in style in le maison Goo-roo

And dining at leisure. Paella. Very good.

Where our Goo-roo awakes.

The morning wash. A lane near the Goo-roo's pad.

And the Goo-roo's dining room.

The Goo-roo steps out to meet the day.

Which (for him) usually ends some place like this.

Last night in Madrid, walking back through (I think) the Plaza de Cesar

**** ****

Thursday, April 19, 2007

High maintenance

Stretched in a huge tub, after a long walk on the beach. A large glass of wine at my elbow, a cigarillo drawing nicely, a bowl of kiwi slices within reach. Very nice. Then the jacuzzi kicks in. Mmmm.

But I don’t really like reds. Especially Sula red.

**** ****

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Every breath you take

(Op-ed in the Hindustan Times, Mumbai edition, Friday the 13th. A benediction on the Hale Queen Rose and the Token!)

India’s patron saint? Kafka. Or maybe Arthur Dent.

I’d go with Dent. Or perhaps Murphy with his Law.

Every day, working for the government (please do NOT point out the oxymoron, it’s been done) seems a sane option. My employers have framed rules governing my service. They’ve set up independent adjudicating bodies to decide disputes within that framework. Outside my professional commitments, they pretty much let me do my own thing. Blogging? Who cares? (What’s a blog anyway?) Getting published in the press? There’s even a rule that says, pretty much, “we don’t give a big rat’s ass”. Partying five nights a week? They don’t own my booty once it’s out the office door, I can shake it where I like. They’ll even pay me a pension if I stick around for another couple of years. (They don’t pay me much, but then one can’t have everything)

Now if I played cricket for India – correction, if I played cricket for the BCCI, where would I be? No fixed salary, I’d be paid on a project basis. No assured income, my livelihood is linked to my performance. If I’m not good enough to be selected for the Bangladesh tour, I don’t get paid for those two months. Mind you, it wouldn’t be enough to be good at what I do. I’d have to make sure that there’s nobody better than me. So the performance parameters aren’t fixed, they’re floating.

So far, it makes some kind of sense. The Board is paying for the best, they’re recruiting/deploying on a case-to-case, best-available basis. Like insurance salesmen getting the annual bonus, sport is about competition.

Move on now. Who decides what is good enough? The selectors. Are they qualified to judge me? Have they been through the same grind? Well, the Board is getting there. Vengsarkar’s credentials can’t be questioned, Venkatapathy “Muscles” Raju has played enough international cricket. But Sanjay Jagdale? Bhupinder Singh Sr.? And Ranjib gerswoggling Biswal? Check out their records, please. In first-class cricket, these last three have between them 5602 runs and 398 wickets in 155 matches. Their international record is 6 runs and 3 wickets (Bhupinder Paaji) in 2 matches in Sharjah in April 1994. To put that in perspective, Irfan Pathan, who is not good enough to be in the current side, has 1841 runs and 206 wickets from 98 international matches alone; his first-class tally would mean a further 1812 runs and 209 wickets from another 64 matches. A jury of my peers? Give me a break!

So the Board has woken up and decided to appoint professional selectors on the basis of qualifications, pay them and send them round India to scout talent. Like pro sport in the USA. Good show. Except that the Board itself is not the most professional or transparent body around. The selectors could end up toeing the party line. For the time being, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But limiting the number of sponsorships? Come off it! Where does the Board make its money? Television. Where do the sponsors show off their contracted players? Television. So what is the Board saying, in effect? That THEY can make money from television but their indentured slaves cannot. Is that fair? I think not.

Do the players tell the Board to improve playing conditions? Presumably not. They’re labour, not management, and they don’t have an effective union to put pressure on the top brass. Does the public make a big fuss about stadia with no shade, no drinking water, no loos and broken seats? Hardly. At best, they stay away from the matches and watch them on television instead.

What does the public want to see? Not cricket per se, but India winning at cricket. What pays for their entertainment? The ads. What drives the ads? India winning. It’s a symbiotic relationship. The players are big boys and realize that their market value depends on winning. So why should the players be deprived of their cut of the take? Search me. If a player does not perform, his sponsorships will dry up. Therefore, for his own good, he has to perform. What business is it of the Board’s whether he has three sponsorships or thirty? Is it because the Board has not developed enough bench strength to find another set of players if the present bunch does not perform? Ha!

The average player has an effective international career of about 5 years. Sachin’s 18 years at the top level so far, or Kapil Dev’s (not THIS guy’s) 16-year career, are aberrations. What happens to a player after he’s dropped for the last time? If he’s lucky, he gets a benefit match. How much he takes away from that match is a matter of luck and conjecture. The Board’s accounts are still in a mess and they don’t like to be held accountable. Thereafter, if the player is reasonably articulate – or like Srikkanth or Sidhu, suffers from terminal logorrhaea – he gets another lease as a motormouth on television. (See? Television again) The Board does not give him a pension. The Board does not have a rehab scheme for the player to pick up other skills.

So why should the Board come in the way of players making some money while they still can? If Dhoni or Kaif or Rahul want to put away a nest egg, is it right for the Board to stand in their way?

The players should be judged on performance. Perhaps even on fitness levels. Not on whether they make money because they look good in ads (or not – “Palmolive ­da jawaab nahin­­” became a national catch-phrase, but what about Rapidex English-speaking courses?) You know, this entire issue seems to be fuelled more by envy than by rationality – “do you know how much Yuvraj makes from those ads?!”. Doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a juvenile and short-sighted attitude. It could even be counter-productive – the lure of sponsorships could drive players to perform, taking away the contracts certainly doesn’t add to their motivation.

The Board makes money from television, leverages the demand in the market. Sometimes it even uses government arm-twisting to make extra money, as in the recent row over the telecast rights. Now it wants to limit the players’ entry to the same market. I think it’s not fair. It goes against the principles of the free market. Who’s going to stand up to them? Not the players, but perhaps the sponsors will. In one sense, they are the paymasters. More power to them, I say (though Shah Rukh Khan may not agree). What do YOU say?