Archive for June, 2010

Pizzazz, Please

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Jun 26, 2010

Without the flair of football individuality, this World Cup will only merit a yawn.

The most interesting character in this World Cup is a 49-year-old man in an Italian suit shouting instructions at talented boys. (Photo: AFP)

I’ve been watching the World Cup for nearly two weeks now, and I have a question to ask: where are the characters? Cristiano Ronaldo is cute, Messi surely has heartthrob looks, but so did David Beckham, both cute and heartthrob. But do you remember him being sent off with a red card in the crucial game against Argentina in 2002, or when he was forced to sit out the last 40 minutes of the quarterfinal match against Portugal in 2006 due to an Achilles tendon injury and England lost on penalties? He sat on the bench and wept, openly.  And you wept with him. At the very least, your Adam’s apple bobbed up and down a few times. Would you do that for Messi or Ronaldo?

Is there anyone in this World Cup who can shake his hips like Roger Milla of Cameroon used to do at the corner flag after he scored a goal? Does anyone have the smile of Ronaldinho, which could light up a Mohenjodaro at night? Who has the regal golden mien of Valderamma, which sent out the message that no one should mess with him? Where is Jose Higuita of Colombia, the goalie who was always trying to score goals, trying to dribble past rival players, and actually scored eight goals from 68 international caps, from free-kicks and penalties? He also invented the scorpion kick, a clearance where the keeper jumps forward, arches his legs over his head, and in doing so, kicks the ball away with his heels.

And you do not need to be a madman like Higuita to be a character. You could be the gentle Buddhist Roberto Baggio, or the unflappable Franz Beckenbauer, expressionless and efficient like a machine. You do not need to be a bad boy like Paul Gascoigne, recently found begging, after suffering long bouts of alcoholism and mental illness. But anyone watching TV that day in July 1990, when England played West Germany in the semi-final, will remember Gazza getting a second yellow card, which meant he would not be able to play the final if England went through. His despair and his tears would have touched anyone’s heart, however much you may have hated Gazza’s irresponsible lifestyle. And you don’t need to beat up your wife, like Gazza did, to be a character; you can just be Lothar Matthaus, a pint-sized dynamo who could blow a goalkeeper into the net at 35 yards. And he never smiled.

In the current World Cup, the most interesting event—or rather, expression of individuality—I have seen is Jovanovic of Serbia, after scoring against Germany, pointing to the crowd, running straight at the benches, and jumping over the fences into some sort of what could only be described as a moat-substitute to separate the mad fans from the players, where a large man dressed all in black started beating him up in pure joy.

Diego Maradona won one World Cup through sheer soccer artistry  and almost won another by forcing his rivals into lethargic and resigned submission. If this does not prove that he was the greatest footballer of all time, I don’t know what will. The next time, they caught him taking drugs and sent him off. So, not only was he the greatest footballer of all time, he was also jiving in his spare time.

As for me, if the most interesting character in a World Cup is a 49-year-old man in an Italian suit shouting instructions at talented toyboys, it’s boring.

The Shadow of Shame

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Jun 12, 2010

Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay led with his pen, giving us a revulsion we sorely needed.

He points out that more the depredations piled on women, the more Hindu men proclaimed them as goddesses.

When I read Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s 1917 essay Narir Mulya (The Value of Woman) 25 years ago, I was thunderstruck by the modernity of thought, the sharp logic and the sheer empathy he brought to the subject. Reading it again today, I am still left wondering at how a mind could be so ahead of its times and so free of cultural assumptions, and how relevant the essay remains even today.

Just as Dickens’ novels rail at the legal and social injustices of Victorian England, Sarat Chandra’s works are imbued with a deep sense of the unfairness women face in India. This reaches its apotheosis in Narir Mulya and his novel Shesh Prashno (The Final Question), which remains perhaps the greatest feminist literary text of our times.


In Narir Mulya, Sarat Chandra’s principal thesis is that the status of a civilisation can be judged by the status it accords its women. Drawing from examples from African tribes to Eskimos, from Papua New Guineans to Native Americans, he establishes a horrific history of repression and brutality. When the Dahomey chieftains of West Africa were buried, their wives, numbering upto a hundred, were hanged around the burial site, to accompany him to the next world. ‘Information about the next world is rather vague, so the thinking was: who knows whether the chieftain would have trouble getting enough people to serve him? So be on the safe side, take precautions while there is still time!’ writes Sarat Chandra.


The thinking (ostensibly) was much the same in India’s own unspeakable ritual of sati, in which Hindu men turned the logic round on its head to proclaim proudly that this proved that Hindu women were true goddesses: ‘This is the country where women go and sit on the funeral pyre with smiles on their faces, rest their husbands’ lotus-like feet on their lap, and burn to ashes with a cheerful face!’ If so, asks Sarat Chandra, ‘why was the widow drugged heavily right after the husband’s death?… When she was put on the pyre, she was strapped down in a cage made of raw bamboo, lest the sati decides to escape the pain of getting burned alive! Thick smoke used to be created through the burning of ghee and coir, so no one could see her terrible torture and feel fear! Countless drums would be beaten and conches blown loudly so no one heard her cries, her screams, her pleas for mercy!’


Sarat Chandra points out that more the depredations piled on the woman, the more the Hindu man went about proclaiming her as goddess. After the British outlawed sati, the pundits came up with a new stratagem: every form of hardship was placed on the shoulders of the widow so she could become a devi daily in a little way. No ornaments, only one meal a day, back-breaking work, the coarsest of clothes. ‘But the devi is not allowed to attend weddings… they are not called for any happy ceremony, they are only called to cook the pind after funerals.’ Thus were our goddesses worshipped.


This column space is too short to go into any of Sarat Chandra’s arguments in detail. So I shall continue this next week. Just so we men can hang our heads in shame.