Archive for July, 2013

Vivekananda’s 120-year-old 9/11 speech

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Mint, 18 July 2013

The current issue of Intelligent Life, the culture-technology-lifestyle sibling of The Economist, poses the question “What was the greatest speech ever?” Six writers were asked to give their choices. Mark Tully, BBC’s former bureau chief for India, has chosen Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the first World’s Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893. Picks by the others include Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Nelson Mandela’s speech at his trial in 1964, and Hillary Clinton’s speech on women’s rights at Beijing in 1995.
Most literate Indians are aware of Vivekananda’s speech (I hope), or at least its beginning: “Sisters and brothers of America”. What is less known is that the several thousands of delegates—most of them Christians—were so impressed with this 30-year-old Hindu monk’s words that he was invited to speak five more times over the next fortnight at the congregation. As Tully notes, New York Herald said, “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions.” “He was relevant then and is relevant today for his constant affirmation that all religions are paths to God, and his call for tolerance,” writes Tully.
What was so dazzling about that speech?
It’s just 458 words long, so could not have lasted more than five or six minutes (It was also delivered extempore). Vivekananda speaks on one single theme: what he believes is the core value of Hinduism, and the most precious one. “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance,” he says. “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth… I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’”
To go back a little. The way that Vivekananda arrived at the vast hall of Chicago’s Art Institute is itself quite an incredible story. After the death of his Master, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda had lived the life of a wandering mendicant for nearly seven years, travelling the length and breadth of the country. The more he saw the wretched condition of the Indian masses, the more convinced he was that what they needed was less religion and more spirituality (Don’t be put off by that word, Vivekananda’s version of “spirituality” was pragmatic, robust and even physical). Centuries of oppression, poverty and obscurantism had crushed the Indian spirit. What they needed first and foremost, he decided, was inner strength, a confidence that could help them achieve their potential. God, he felt, need not be worshipped on an empty stomach. Two square meals a day were far more important than a visit to a temple, and those meals could come only when a man realized the power inherent in himself, his own divinity, that God resided inside him, as He did in all Creation (If you take “God” and “divinity” out of this observation, it is fundamentally no different from a humanist/atheist argument).
Money earned literally through begging door to door, and donations from three South Indian kings, enabled Vivekananda to reach Chicago in July 1893. On arrival, he learnt to his dismay that no delegate would be admitted to Parliament without proper credentials from a bona fide organization. Vivekananda was a lone monk representing no organization, and even if he had been, the last date for registration of delegates was past. In addition, the Parliament was two months away. He had neither the money to return to India nor to live for two months in Chicago and take a chance at gate-crashing the convention. Unwilling to accept defeat, and being told that Boston was a cheaper city than Chicago, he boarded a train to that city. On the way, a wealthy lady co-passenger got into a conversation with him, and was impressed enough to invite him to come and stay in her country home. Vivekananda accepted gratefully, and through his hostess, happened to meet J.H. Wright, a professor of Greek at Harvard. The young monk’s calm wisdom astonished him, and he wrote to the chairman of the committee for the selection of delegates, a friend, and bought him a ticket to Chicago. But when he reached Chicago on 9 September, Vivekananda discovered that he had lost the address of the committee.
Walking the streets, he kept asking people about the Parliament, but no one knew anything, and he spent the night in an empty boxcar in a railroad freight yard. Next morning, he started off on his quest again in the richer neighbourhoods of the city. After hours of being shooed away by butlers who saw only a bedraggled foreign beggar when they opened the door, he sat down, exhausted, on the pavement. Miraculously, the door of a mansion across the road opened and the lady of the house appeared, and asked him whether he was a delegate to the Parliament of Religions. Mrs George Hale, whose family would become lifelong friends of Vivekananda, invited him in, and after he had cleaned up and eaten, took him over to the office of the committee and had him registered.
The convention began the next day, 11 September. Yes, it was a 9/11.
As speaker after speaker representing all the major religions of the world gave lengthy speeches from prepared texts, touting the superiority of their particular faiths, the young man from India realized that neither had he ever addressed such a large gathering (nearly four thousand people), nor did he have any written speech. Frightened now, he kept postponing his turn on the stage, till he had no further excuses left, and had to go up and face the audience.
With his very first lines, he established his credentials with a simplicity and pride that must have awed the listeners who would anyway have been intrigued by the looks of this handsome young man in a saffron turban and dress from the East who spoke perfect English. “I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world,” said Vivekananda. “I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” This was a man who had never been out of India, had spent years tending to the poor and the diseased as he searched for the divine, and was speaking entirely off the cuff of his soul. In the next five minutes that he spoke, he electrified the audience—and, one can’t help but surmise, shamed many of the speakers who had preceded him. For he spoke of the validity of every great religion and against all forms of faith-based intolerance. “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth,” he said. “They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.” There is obviously no record of this, but there would have been very few speakers at that grand convention who had shared hovels with lepers and gone without food for days to seek a greater truth.
In his concluding address on the last day of the convention, Vivekananda again stressed harmony and acceptance. “Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if anyone here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, ‘Brother, yours is an impossible hope.’ Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth… Holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world… If anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart.”
Writes Tully in his piece to explain why he chose this speech as the greatest of all time: “Vivekananda’s speeches at Parliament resonate today for the many who claim to be spiritual but not religious, who reject religion based on faith and seek experience of God. He said: ‘The Hindu religion does not consist in struggles and attempts to believe a certain doctrine or dogma, but in realizing—not in believing, but in being and becoming.’ And, looking to the future, he said, ‘It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity… Its whole scope, its whole force will be centred in aiding humanity to realize its own, true, divine nature.’ That is the religion so many seek today.”
Have there ever been truer words spoken about the sheer waste and stupidity of religious schisms than what that fiery young Indian said on that 9/11 day 120 years ago?
To read about Vivekananda today—and what he preached and practised throughout his tragically short life (he passed away at 39)—is to wonder that such a man walked the streets of this nation. Of course he was a Hindu, and he was proud to be one. But his philosophy transcended religions and he had little respect for rituals and ceremonies. His constant focus was on the spirit of Man. “This world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong,” he wrote. “Each individual has to work out his own salvation; there is no other way, and so also with nations… Men in general lay all the blame of life on their fellowmen, or, failing that, on God, or they conjure up a ghost, and say it is fate. Where is fate, and who is fate? We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise. The wind is blowing; and those vessels whose sails are unfurled catch it, and go forward on their way, but those which have their sails furled do not catch the wind. Is that the fault of the wind?”
The year 2013 is his 150th birth anniversary year. It is our duty to make sure that Vivekananda is not appropriated by any polemicist or politician, or even any religion. It is our duty to make sure that his name is not taken in vain (to use a Christian term) and his words are not used to push any agenda other than the greatest good for all men. Let us not deify him either (he never could give up smoking, though he tried hard enough); he would have hated that. He was a man, and a man among men. That is what we owe him.

Chris, not Stuart, Broad has sullied the spirit of cricket

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Mint, 15 July 2013

When the Australians lost the first Ashes Test at Nottingham by 14 runs yesterday, a lot of the players, and their supporters, must have been bitterly cursing one man—Stuart Broad, the England all-rounder. Two days back, Broad had edged an Ashton Agardelivery to Australian captain Michael Clarke in the slips, and even though he knew he was out, did not “walk”, but waited calmly for the umpire’s decision. To the Australians’ dismay—it had been a pretty thick edge—umpire Aleem Dar ruled that Broad was not out. But they could do nothing since they had used up their quota of decision review appeals. Broad was on 37 at that point. He went on to score 28 more runs. So he probably cost Australia the match. Conversely, he possibly won England the game.
The Australian press—and even a section of the British one—was up in arms. That hoary phrase “spirit of the game” was invoked. At the end of it all, though, this Test match, as close-fought and exciting as any Test can get, has been so full of irony, as far as the “spirit” and umpiring go, that one feels compelled to make a few points.
But this is a long piece, and much of what I shall say is perhaps already known and understood by any cricket lover. So if you don’t want to waste your time, go to the last four paragraphs.
OK, the ironies.
• The Australians should be the last ones to complain. No Australian in living memory has ever “walked”, except for Adam Gilchrist, and certainly not Clarke. In the Adelaide Ashes test in January 2011, Clarke, then vice-captain, stood his ground after being caught by Graeme Swann in the slips and left only after the TV umpire gave him marching orders. Clarke later apologized on Twitter, saying that he was “just so disappointed, my emotions got best of me”. However, the day after Broad “sullied” the “spirit of cricket”, Clarke was caught behind, and asked for a review when he was given out. The decision went against him. The irony here is that the bowler was Broad.
The general Australian attitude to “walking”, ingrained from the days of Ian Chappell as captain in the 1970s, is best summed up by Barry Richards who once said: “The only time an Australian walks is when his car runs out of petrol.”
• What are umpires there for? The players’ job is to do their best to win the game. The umpires are there as judge, jury and executioner. They are also the most protected species in the game. The International Cricket Council (ICC) Code of Conduct rules are very tough on any player showing dissent at an umpire’s decision. You could just roll your eyes and let it all sink in for 10 seconds when given out lbw after the ball has practically punched a hole through your bat before hitting the pad, and get fined or suspended (ask Sourav Ganguly about that). So let everyone on the field do their job. If the cricket laws very strongly protect the umpire when he gives absurd decisions against the batsman, it is totally ironical that some of us demand that a batsman should “walk” when he knows he is out, without waiting for the umpire’s call. As Geoffrey Boycott, never a man to mince his words, avers: “The rules say that it’s ‘in the opinion of the umpire’ so it’s above things like ‘The Spirit of the Game’. I don’t see bowlers asking you back when the ball is sliding down leg.”
In the one-off India-England Golden Jubilee Test at Bombay in 1979, England were in dire straits at 58 for five, when Bob Taylor was given out caught behind by umpire Hanumantha Rao, and Indian captain G.R. Vishwanath, in an astonishing display of “the spirit of the game”, called Taylor back. Taylor went on to bat for another three hours, and gave able support to Ian Botham who walloped the hell out of India, took many wickets, and won the Test.
If the ICC Code of Conduct was in place then (it was not), Vishwanath should have been punished severely. Mike Brearley, the England captain, and without doubt one of the greatest thinkers of the game ever, later wrote that he was aghast at Vishwanath’s action. If captains started doing this, it would undermine the umpires’ authority and erode the very foundations of the game,
Today, umpires have access to technology of all sorts, and can easily use it to check any decision they take. If an umpire is so sure of what he has seen and heard that he does not ask for a second opinion, knowing very well that there will be endless TV replays, he is taking full responsibility for his actions. Let him be judged then; he should be ready for that. The players have nothing really to do with this.
• One more irony. In this Nottingham Test match, Jonathan Trott of England was given out lbw, even after England asked for a review. It is now clear that he had an inside edge onto the pad, and the technology did not work! The official explanation is that there was an “operator failure” on Hotspot, the infra-red imaging system used to determine whether the ball has struck the batsman, bat or pad. Trott, who is in current form one of the best batsmen in the world (check his Test and one-day averages, only Hashim Amla of South Africa is perhaps ahead of him in both), was given out wrongfully first ball, in spite of all the technology! Plus, he would possibly have been punished if he, as he walked back, he went from looking disconsolate (which he was) to grumbling and glaring.
• What is this “spirit of the game”? The irony here is that the ICC itself is unclear about it. Certain specifics are mentioned in its Code of Conduct, like dissenting to an umpire’s decision, pointing a dismissed batsman to the pavilion (when was the last time you saw a bowler punished for that?) and abusive language (which is a laugh; the fact that nasty and hurtful sledging is as much a part of the game today as crotch guards is known to everyone). The rest is all lumped together under a catch-all motherhood statement: any act that “is (a) contrary to the spirit of the game; or (b) brings the game into disrepute”.
So, if you condemn a batsman for not “walking”, shouldn’t you also condemn every bowler for appealing for an lbw when he knows that the ball pitched outside the leg stump, and every wicketkeeper for leaping in the air with joyous cries over a snick that never was? Let’s stop this hypocritical waffling and admit that this is a competitive sport and stoical acceptance of the umpire’s decision is what keeps the peace.
• The last irony. Seven or eight minutes into the second session on the fifth day of the Test match, 15 runs way from victory,Brad Haddin, who had played a heroic innings for Australia, was facing James Anderson. Haddin played at the delivery, andMatt Prior, the England wicketkeeper appealed for caught behind. Other English players too added their shouts to Prior’s, but did not look very convinced. Aleem Dar, the umpire, said not out, and England captain, Alastair Cook, who had not used either of the two decision reviews his team was entitled to, asked for one. That was smart thinking; Cook had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Many TV replays, snickometer scrutinies and Hotspot analyses later, Haddin was given out. The batsman looked devastated, but then, that was the unchallengeable immutable end. England had won, with the help of technology that superseded the human umpire on the ground, and—do not forget, which had let them down once, just two days back, in the Trott case.
The ironies are over. Let’s get to something that affects cricket far more than one Stuart Broad’s refusal to “walk”. Just a month ago, Denesh Ramdin of the West Indies was suspended for two ODIs by an ICC match referee in a Champions Trophy match against Pakistan for claiming a catch that TV replays revealed had dropped out of his hands and touched the ground. The ICC referee who punished Ramdin on grounds of “violating the spirit of the game”, was asked about Stuart Broad not walking. He replied that Stuart had done nothing wrong, and he had even texted Stuart jokingly, asking how he could keep such a straight face when he was blatantly out and the umpire didn’t see it. The match referee in question is Chris Broad, Stuart’s father.
Chris Broad played for England in the 1980s, and is remembered chiefly for not walking when the umpire ruled him out in a Test against Pakistan in 1987. Do a Google search, and you will easily find photos of Graham Gooch, the non-striker, with his hand on Broad’s back, urging him to leave the field. In the spirit of the game, Broad also knocked his stumps out of the ground (a very serious offence under the ICC Code of Conduct, which he implements now) after being bowled in the 1988 England-Australia Bicentennial Test. He was fined the maximum permitted £500 by the tour manager. In 1990, he joined the rebel tour to apartheid South Africa, and never played for England again.
The very fact that he is an ICC match referee—by definition a guardian of the morals of the game—and has been so for a decade, is a disgrace. As referee, he has repeatedly been accused of racism (possibly the most grievous offence under the ICC Code) by people ranging from Sunil Gavaskar to Shahid Afridi. Yet he continues to enjoy his powers. As far as one knows, Broad has never charged or punished a single non-Asian player!
This brazen hypocrisy and contemptible double standards from an ICC official—and by extension, ICC itself—is what should disturb, disgust and enrage us. I believe that Stuart Broad was right in not “walking”, but I also believe that his father, through his audaciously shameless reaction to the incident, coming on the heels of his suspension of Ramdin, brings “the game into disrepute”, Chris is the Broad who should be punished, not Stuart. The rest is all irony, which is a part of life—and cricket—that we can accept with a shrug and a muttered oath.