Archive for September, 1996

Delhi Diary

Wednesday, September 4th, 1996

Sep 04, 1996

Telephonic Loyalty

MR Sukh Ram appears to be in one hell of a soup, but I wonder what the current opinion in his constituency is about his tribulations. One wet and frosty evening last winter in a village near Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, I was standing in the centre of the marketplace—two groceries, a mithai shop and a druggist’s—and watching with amazement as a dozen labourers dredged mud and snow, and dug up the sides of the roads. The ground was infernally slippery, all sleet and mud, and the weather bitterly, clammily cold. “They’re laying telephone lines,” explained a grocer. “Since Sukh Ramji has been minister, all of us have got phones. And an electronic exchange.” I then noticed that all four shops sported shiny new red handsets. “More new lines are coming,” the man went on, positively preening. “Soon I’ll have two phones in my shop.” “But who do you call?” I asked. “This is such a small place.” “Oh, we call one another up in the market and chat. And even if we didn’t ring anyone, so what?” said he, looking at me with equal measures of pity, condescension and irritation. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Mr Sukh Ram received 62.44 per cent of the total votes polled for the Mandi seat.

God Bless The Flies

WILL TV make the print media obsolete? Not to worry. Alfred Hitchcock allayed all my fears many years ago. “Television will never replace print,” he said. “You can’t swat a fly with a TV set, can you?”

Post-modern Plagues

IT’s been a long time since AIDS appeared; clearly some new diseases are in order, what with the accelerating pace of human progress and all that. There are two interesting candidates for the top pestilence slot doing the rounds currently. The first is Information Anxiety. The symptoms are as follows: the patient spends much time every day in sheer agony over his inability to watch the BBC, CNN and Discovery Channel simultaneously (I’m told that picture-in-picture TV sets are no help). He subscribes to too many magazines, fails to finish—in some cases, even begin—reading them before the next tranche arrives, and keeps piling them up, refusing to lend any, or to sell them off as raddi. (Subscribers to The Economist and some Indian magazines which I shall defi-nitely not name are particularly prone to the disease, because they just print so much every issue). If someone does manage to borrow a book or a magazine, the patient spends sleepless nights in the firm conviction that that particular book/magazine contains the only piece of information that can save him from a fate worse than death. Which, usually, is being out-statisticed by some moron on the number of microwave ovens sold in China last year, or the sheep-to-human ratio in Australia.

At parties, the information-anxious is easily spotted by his craven attempts to turn the course of all conversation to some topic which he has read up on last night. In the terminal stages, the patient is unable to concentrate on anything for more than a minute or so, as the thought of hundreds of TV shows hastening through the ether, and thousands of books and magazines rolling off the presses this very minute paralyses him with Sis-yphean dread. Just look around, and you’ll find these living dead.

The other new chic disease, it seems, is the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which afflicts 23 per cent of Americans—that’s the figure as far as I remember; if you’re really information-anxious, you can look it up, I’m too tired to look for the article where I read about it. Symptoms: you haven’t really been doing anything strenuous, but you spend the day plain simple tired—too tired to want to do anything. This is a deadly disease, and ever since I read about it, I can feel the symptoms sort of seeping over me slowly like some vile, viscous liquid. My wife, however, thinks she’s got a simpler term for CFS: laziness.

The Cricketing Caste

WITH Imran Khan winning the case against Ian Botham and Allan Lamb, the English cricket establishment is no doubt sleeping easier. The Khan is, after all, almost an honorary member of the House of Lords, while Botham and Lamb are clearly working class troublemakers with ideas far above their station. Why couldn’t these two be like Graham Gooch, that nice police constable’s son who knew where he stood in the MCC varna system, and worked his way diligently up into the higher castes? Assimilation was considered complete when he managed to rid the English team of Botham, Lamb, and David Gower, that public school bloke who showed some distressingly East End sort of attitudes. Rum chaps, those, and good riddance and nice come-uppance too. Just desserts also for Don Oslear, the umpire who reported ball tampering in an England-Pakistan Test some years ago and was never again selected to adjudicate a Test match.

But does this mean that lifting the seam of a cricket ball with your nails or a bottle cap is no longer cheating? That was the drift, I thought, of Imran’s argument. That was what, after all, the England captain, Mike Atherton, said unequivocally in the courtroom. Atherton, who was caught red-handed last year carrying loose earth in his pocket and rubbing the ball with it to take the sheen off one side, said ball tampering is quite common and should be accepted as part and parcel of a fast bowler’s armoury. By that logic, since corruption is widespread in the Indian Government, it should be accepted as legal. Presumably, unless you sit in the middle of the pitch and use a hammer and a chisel and sculpt the ball, it’s okay, as far as Atherton is concerned.

Atherton was hand-picked to lead England when Gooch’s sins of omission (he later admitted that maybe he was wrong in keeping Gower out in the cold) caught up with him. They had studied Atherton closely, for they remembered the Derek Pringle fiasco. Peter May, then supremo of English cricket, wanted to develop Pringle as the next England captain, but the Oxbridge all-rounder blew his chances when he appeared for a Test match wearing one gold earring. Atherton did have a worrisome penchant for heavy metal rock, but since becoming captain, he seems to have given enough proof that he’s just the sort of chap the MCC would like to see leading England. Now just imagine what would have happened if Kapil Dev was caught carrying loose soil in his pocket, or Courtney Walsh announced that he saw nothing wrong with lifting the seam with his nails. It’s, of course, another matter that the vilest imagination could not dream of these men behaving that way.