Wednesday, November 22

Ashes 2017-2018: Preview

And so, after a glut of 3 series within 2 years and then some calm period, a new Ashes has come: the time when Trott and Swanny broke down, when Johnson blew Cook's defences away, that time seems far, far away, though Australia retain wicket-targeting weapons in Starc and Cummins. Though Australia do start as favourites, including in my books, especially if Stokes continues to be unavailable, it is still a difficult Ashes to call. I reckon that this English side's best chance would be the Gabba itself, which is an unusual feeling to have given Gabba's history, and if England start well, that would make the series very interesting. Adelaide and Perth would be good chances for Australia, though Adelaide being a day-nighter, it will be also down to twilight luck. It's difficult to call Melbourne, while Sydney may be a high-scoring draw or an Australia win. My punt is on Australia winning 3-1 or 4-0 the five-match series, but that's a very uncertain punt, and that's also based on current squads (including the fact that Stokes is absent). Australia do need to retain Starc and Cummins fresh and bowling, and Warner injury-free: as for England, they need Root and Bairstow to be injury-free, but otherwise no one is indispensable, not even Cook, in these conditions. Overall, I think, fielding will be the key to this series: if England hold on to all holdable chances that come their way and grab a couple of spectacular ones, then it could be England 3-1! Well, let's get down to the squads then!

While I said just now that Cook is not indispensable, he could make himself so, though: the English side would rely heavily on their opening partnership of Cook and Stoneman. If Cook is in form, England will certainly win or draw: whatever else happens. However, Cook to me lately has not been looking in great nick, so my hopes of a good return have dwindled down. I do hope that Cooky would prove me wrong and have another season like the 2010-2011 one: even a season close to that one would suffice! On the other hand, I do have good hopes from Stoneman, who has not so far distinguished himself much in his England career. Not in the same mould maybe as Cook, I still think his game is well suited to Australia. I am not so sure about Vince: I think Vince a likely candidate for getting out early enough with the modes of dismissal being caught-and-bowled, lbw, and caught at short mid-off or cover. If Hameed were available, I would put him there, but I would now go with Root at 3, though he doesn't seem to prefer it. Or Moeen. In any case, I would not select Vince, even though in this squad, I think, Malan is worse than Vince as a batsman. Yet, Malan might, given luck and if previous batsmen have batted well enough, still get along, given his propensity for attacking shots, which are not that bad an option in Australian conditions (if the Ashes were happening in England, I would say, you could still retain Vince, but not Malan). So, in this team (given the current squad), I would pick either Ballance or Ben Foakes instead of Vince (or both Ballance and Foakes instead of Vince and Malan): I would not ask any of them to bat at 3, though. As for the English bowling attack, I am happy with Anderson, Broad and Ball, but I don't know if selecting both Anderson and Woakes in Australian conditions is wise enough: the attack becomes too unidimensional then. However, since Mark Wood is not in the squad, and Finn also is now out, with only the raw Overton and a promising all-rounder Tom Curran in the ranks, not much is left to choose from, so one can leave as is for the Gabba Test and see how everyone performed. If Anderson bowls well and Woakes does not do enough, I would certainly like to see Curran or Overton in place of Woakes. If one were to look at the Lions squad, which might come in handy later on, though I have not seen all of them, one name that does interest me there is Ben Duckett. The man was miserable against spin, but Lyon, though a decent spinner he is, is of a different type than the ones who terrorised him: in that case, Duckett could be a good bet. He is attacking and can take the game away in a jiffy: if Stokes is not there, one does need someone to do that.

Let's get to the Aussie squad then for the first 2 matches, which has generated a lot of controversy. I like their bowling attack a lot: Starc and Cummins are very good fast bowlers, and Hazlewood and Lyon are able support. If all four of them can remain fit throughout the series, in particular Starc, Cummins and Lyon, then it will be hard for England to take the series. The problem, though, is Australia's inconsistent batting, which consists of some who should not be there. Like the no. 3 Usman Khawaja. He may or may not make runs, but he is not Test material, and certainly not no. 3 material: he is not tough for that. Then there is the captain, Steve Smith: he is in form for a couple of years and more now, incredible really considering that he never seemed such a good batsman. He still does not: one always feels that a wretched season is about to begin for him, for his technique looks awful. His hand-eye coordination might save him often, and this time too as England does not have any very good bowlers in these conditions, but I for one do not repose confidence in him. My confidence is only in Warner, who has matured considerably in recent times and has started to be more than a mere slapdash batsman. He plays proper cricket now, long innings, and can play both defense and offense these days. Warner would be the no. 1 thorn in the flesh for England. I do not know much about the guy to open with him, Bancroft, but I am sad to see Renshaw being dropped: I think he was quite good, and would have been good here as well. Shaun Marsh is a good bat, and might do well in the series: he has to keep his mental toughness going, for that is where he sometimes lacks. I do not rate Maxwell highly, but against England, with no bowlers who are going to blow you away except Broad in some spells, I don't see why not to play Maxwell: he can take the game away fast. I don't know much again about Handscomb, so let's see how that goes. As for their wicketkeeper, I don't see a lot of difference between Paine, Nevill and Wade: I am OK with Paine, as I recall him as a good, fighting cricketer. I also would have dropped Wade for either Paine or Nevill. The more important thing is that there might be a bit of confusion and sore feelings about the squad because of shock selections: if England can boss the first game, or even just win it, then that could make it a festering issue, especially if Smith is found out a bit. If Australia win, especially if that is commandingly, then those things will be forgotten about and papered over. And, hence, England's best chance is the 1st Test, at the Gabba, the ground where it seems to be too difficult to beat Australia. What England have in their favour is that some of their young players should not be awed by the Gabba and Aussie crowds: some of them, like Stoneman, have spent quite a lot of time here. That's a significant advantage in conditions like Australia and the Indian subcontinent: many lose or break down because they are too spooked or awed by being so far from their comfort zone.

Well, then, I hope that the series is played in good and competitive spirit, and no one gets injured, so one can have the pleasure of a contest at full tilt. Root's captaincy, which was very poor this summer, will be a concern for me, but I hope at least he learns on the job and is smarter by the time England travel to the subcontinent (where captaincy skills are very crucial). The series might be fun to watch as it's hard to call. I dream that Cook will again make a mountain of runs. That will be my reward, irrespective of which team lifts the series.

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Thursday, September 7

À bout de souffle

I sometimes rail against what I perceive as the egocentrism of modern-day academic world; I am then often reminded by others that I am being uncharitable, that the academic person is also human. I agree with that: I do not rail anyway against a person, only his or her action. But then, in a world where everything is personified, actions by themselves are hard to judge for many. I am exhorted even to feel repentant, which I sometimes do, when I feel if I got carried too far away in my vehemence. But then, when one comes across such an interview as given on this page, it takes my breath away by the sheer falsehood on which academic world tries to stand. It is interesting that the person interviewed talks about insecurity among teachers who teach a language but are not the native speakers of that language, and yet, at the same time, she also shows her insecurity about her complete being, by following the usual going-over-ground technique drilled into many a European researcher.

I was once told by a researcher that to be considered with any degree of seriousness, I must cite and cite and cite: go over what all has been already done by whom and when and where, and then proceed to the matter at hand (again, keeping on citing). A careful construction, that is born organically from the Western conception of history, and, further deeper, of time. To add to that, a third party (here the interviewee itself) tells you who the person "showcased" is: no, not her smile or diffidence, not her bolting energy or dreams unfulfilled, but a listing of her memberships, professorships, publications, and medals. The buttress of all these achievements then tells the audience that ok, this person is worth listening to: otherwise, why waste time on listening to someone in this world, when anyway there potentially is a crowd of things to attend to? Interestingly, the same Europe poses itself as liberal: meaning that it portrays itself as not caring about hierarchy and other privileges. And yet, it is in Europe that all kinds of credit matter the most: and hence, finally, the academic ends up fulfilling and enacting a mere role. This again is not unexpected: after all, morality and religion got divided when secularism made its advent in Europe. But, to go deeper, in fact, the idea of secularism (the Western concept of secularism, that is) is itself present in Catholicism: confess your sins to the priest, and then you are free. Man was thus already able to separate the ignoble from his or her being, and then it was but a mere one step to the modern world, where everything has become a role. So, without any pangs of conscience, in fact with pride and arrogance, or even conceit, you do one thing and you are another things.

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Tuesday, August 15

Un monde de tous, sauf ...

Dans le petit monde
habitent où des moineaux,
s’enveniment sans cesse
de la cause-conséquence-

il arrive, traverse, erre, monte
un aigle, empereur débonnaire,
l’objet du regard intense, puis jaloux :

là, quand le frappe la foudre,
bien visibles les retentissements du roi tombant,
jaillit une admiration parfaite;

c’est un cri de soulagement,
de tout ceux qui s’aiment de mieux en mieux,
plutôt que le ciel
qu'on ne toutefois regarde plus.

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Wednesday, June 14

The Baahubalian India of today

Knowing the success of Baahubali franchise pains me on many counts; the first of those are cinematic ones. It is difficult to digest that such a poor work can work so well, and, by power of money and regional-national feelings, even lead to some critics praising it; it is far more painful, though, to gauge the future trend of Indian cinema. Special effects sounded the death knell of much of U.S. cinema, especially the big studio Hollywood fare; while Europe has escaped largely unscathed from such temptation, India may not. Already, many Hollywood films are made keeping the China market in mind: which means Hollywood stars, special effects, and brand (franchise) name. A film may even bomb badly at the U.S. box office, but it may try to recoup costs in China, as is happening right now with the new The Mummy. More China specifics even cast an actor from there or set the film there: like the recent The Great Wall. India also will increasingly eye the China pie: with Dangal's success there and the recent casting of a minor Chinese actress in a big-budget, mainstream Hindi film (Tubelight) coming in as handy prompts. While quite a lot of good cinema in China has already died, which continues to make some fine indie films though in the additional backdrop of heavy state censorship, there has been no mourning but simply an obsession with brands, and thus Hollywood cinema; it also signifies the trend that much of Indian cinema will pick up: big, IPL-like tamasha. However, Baahubali also well reflects today's India, and it is no wonder that the film has been so successful. It is today's India that is painful to see, and yet one can only hope that a newly independent land is going through some growing pangs: but, have we seized (any) liberty?

Baahubali furthers the confusion between nation and state, and, even more remarkably, between a kingdom and nation-state: the denizens of the fictional kingdom of Mahishmati even have a national anthem, and everyone good has the "Jai Mahishmati" slogan. It is extremely problematic when kingdoms are painted by the same brush as today's nation-states, when a kingdom's subjects are portrayed as citizens (are they voting?) taking interest in the welfare of the state (oops, kingdom). It is even more problematic when one person takes up the role of messiah, and the rest of the "citizens" are shown as just looking up to him: so much like helpless puppies, as if they were born without an iota of brains. (Watch the scene in Baahubali 2 when the hero is making some fantastic gearings, though Charlie's Chocolate Factory could have done them better.) Baahubali, in fact, is quasi-identified with God himself: from the first part, when he lifts the lingam, through the continued frenzied adoration, to his non-stop exploits of stopping man, beast and armies in their tracks, single-handedly (after all, his name means "the one with strong arms"). A "state" with a leader worshipped like God, who is in fact God and supreme: to self-identify with either Baahubali or the gaping, adoring crowds is but one small step for many Indians, belabouring under grandiose visions of recapturing some glory, that in their imagination is lost and that though in reality may never have existed. For glory lies always in not being conscious of one's gloriousness: the Middle Kingdom (China) was great as long as it conceived itself as the Middle and be-all; today's China, even if it expands and usurps many seas, would not be able to lay claim to that. The U.S., which also in its consciousness is a type of Middle as many are unable or ignorant of all that lies outside the U.S., is however not great, for it is not the same Middle: the U.S. is arrogantly ignorant of the outside, while old and ancient Chinas were ignorant of the outside because of non-interest. Of course, many Indians today are rather more envious of, and knowledgeable about, their erstwhile white-skinned masters: they seek to emulate Europe and the U.S., though all the while also dreaming of their own "past glory". But the West, while committing many crimes, established itself on certain values, with which it did not compromise for a long, long time: Protestantism brought it pragmatism, reduced and even eliminated in many places the Baahubali worship syndrome or expectation of a Baahubali, and sought to progress by finding its own civilisational roots, in the form of the concept of law, more specifically law that applies to every single being, be it a king or a pauper. Today's West is firmly based on this concept: it has its own shortcomings, and current tendencies are trying to dismantle the base, but so far it has chosen a firm base with its own good and bad attributes.

It is not that India does not have its own civilisational roots: any civilisation has. But to reach them, India will have to short-circuit the dreamt-of, the imagined past glory. Those roots are in the value of dharma: and in dharma, you are first your own master, you decide your own obligation, rather than look up dazzled by Baahubali. Or rather, by Baahubali's might, for he (or anyone in the film) does not show a speck of intelligence (not to go as far as wisdom). Is it an indication that today's India worships might? Maybe, for Gandhi is despised by many young Indians; maybe, for belligerent actions by a state towards its own citizens or others are celebrated; maybe, for when you live in India these days, you feel afraid that you might be lynched any time if you utter what you think. After years of colonialism, India has not learnt the lesson: the British ruled over the world thanks to their cunning, not merely their naval forces. More importantly, a game can never be hastened; it can be, though, slowed so that fatigue may set in for the opponent. India is currently playing the hastening game (China has already been playing it since Mao came to power): there is a "rightful place" it wants to occupy. But what, and whose, exactly is this "rightful place"?

I can understand when, say, an intelligent student is not given admission somewhere and then that intelligent student resents, that she is not given her rightful place. But, resentment, if felt, for a truly intelligent student, is only against missing out on a fine opportunity for learning: it is motivated neither by jealousy against another (the one who got admission in her place), nor by thoughts of occupying a station of prestige. If so be the case, can the student be called intelligent, and can there be a case then? It is far more difficult to understand though what a rightful place for India can be: for India is an abstract concept. So, whose? "Every" Indian's? But then, I also come under the label of an Indian, and I am certainly not feeling like this, so certainly, there is no "every". The concept of universal may be absurd. So, "some" Indians'? And where lies their rightful place? They might be well-to-do engineers and bankers, but that rightful place is still not theirs: unless in their imagination, they think they are now respected, kow-towed to, they are "something". They want to be the Orwell, but without of course being handed over the rifle to shoot the elephant. But, then, aren't they dead? This is stagnation: if you imagine you have arrived at some station, what is there left to learn and to live for? Is death then the wished-for rightful place? In the dumb god-worship of Baahubali is reflected death on those ecstatic faces: do we want a land of dead people? Dead, who arise only to lynch others (to shoot elephants, in other words), and thus prove that they can merely serve as border guards, not advancing battalions.

Today's India, caught in the ism of "India" (what is India? is there one of it? or as many as the number of Indians? or more? or less? what is India?), bereft of humanity, given a semblance of poorly understood and misapplied liberty, and trapped by the crassly spectacular, is hurtling towards death: life does not exist in a mass trapped to stand up compulsorily to sing national anthems, but it exists rather in a body of men and women gathered when each one of them reasons, doubts, and then comes to sing a paean, but midway the paean might change tack and start a debate without fear of being lynched. Life exists in dharma, the ever-pulsating one, for at each moment, dharma's dictates may be different or may be even hard to interpret, caught as we are always in the play between rita and our own actions and their counterreactions (which themselves are all part of the rita). The base of today's India is neither law nor dharma: it is jealousy, it is narrow-heartedness. And that is a very weak base. Today's India's is admiring Baahubali because it itself is Bhallaladeva.

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Friday, June 9

auto destruction

When beds are emptied,
sarongs are dried out,
beaches are swept and scorching sun is bottled,
after that, in the dark,
the genie comes out, the zombie, the monster,

the genius,

shaped by the monolithic fun,
the unbearable lightness of a sunny Sunday.

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Friday, December 9

Time of the Outsider: Is France ripe for Macron?

The current era, with a wave of anti-elitism pulsating, is probably the best time for someone like Emmanuel Macron to become the next President of France. Many fear a Le Pen victory: but they forget that the narrative is not necessarily of mindless racism, it is of rather anti-elitism. And while none of the French presidential candidates represent anything which is not elite, which anyway wouldn't work in a country which still swears by blue blood and a blue flag, Macron is the closest compromise between blue and red, the centrist white. Not Pen, certainly. This is not the time for career politicians, or if it is, they must be spontaneous, as Macron is: sometimes, though, he loses temper fast, not an ideal thing in a politican in any age.

A political analysis of the current global mood can easily point to Macron going on to win the French elections: but is the French mood the same? I wonder. The key to this question is: how will Macron communicate? Can he do an Intouchable, speak both to white and non-white audiences? Can he play the role of ambiguity, which his advantage of being a centrist brings, to perfection? Most times in politics, it is well to belong to a certain tradition, a certain party: in today's France, with voters fed up of all seasoned politicians, and every major political party in France quite bankrupt of strategies or ideas, being an independent candidate like Macron is a big advantage. However, France is demographically not all that young: how will Macron attract the older, more entrenched population? Even if Mélenchon is an extremist, many, especially the old, are charmed by his words: can Mélenchon thus attract a significant part of disillusioned socialist vote? If he does so, and assuming the extreme right vote goes to Le Pen, the major vote that remains is the one in the centre and the youth. The primary fight here is a three-cornered one: Macron, Valls and Fillon. Valls will not get much non-white vote out of this portion, and Fillon not as well; however, Valls will have the advantage of getting people off their bums to vote for him, as his rhetoric is sharp and arousing. Macron too has a sharp tongue, but that speaks more on economic terms, not that much emotional. Fillon is the least engaging: he is the typical experienced, shrewd politican. But is that good enough at such a time? If someone is anyway drifting towards Fillon, with some persuasion, they might drift towards Le Pen or Valls. And if the persuasion divides more or less evenly, the net benefit is not much for either of them, though, yes, in that case, Macron stands to lose. What does Macron have to do then? Make sure that only one side's persuasion works: either Le Pen benefits or Valls, not both. Because once—if—Macron is in the last round, I expect him to win: the key is to not let the voter be persuaded away from him in both Valls and Le Pen camps. Usually, vote fragmentation is a good thing: in Macron's case, it will be not, however. Since, vote fragmentation is a good thing when it concerns vote that would anyway go to opposition candidates, not your own potential vote.

Can Macron do it? I think he can. Most French people think Le Pen will definitely be in the last round but won't win: I don't think so. I think the final face-off will be between Macron and Valls. Thus, Macron stands to benefit if any voters that might be drifting away from him, drift towards Valls, rather than Le Pen: otherwise, in the second round it will be Valls and Le Pen, or even Valls and Fillon. (Thus, I see Valls as an extremely strong candidate to make it past the first round, even though PS is so weak currently; however, I see him as a very weak presidential candidate at the same time, as his sell-by date is only the first round.) Once in the second round, Macron will get most left votes, being a centrist, plus the centre and many right votes: any of the three, Valls (even though a socialist, hardly a socialist in deeds), Fillon (right), or Le Pen (extreme right) don't stand a chance if Macron is in the second round. Also, Valls is seen as having betrayed his president for his own ambition: evident upstart-ism is not always seen kindly, not at least in a country like France. So there is much to stoke resentment against Valls: that is something Fillon, if a bit less right, could have used to utmost benefit, but being quite right, how would he? Again, it is only Macron that can benefit, and to some extent Mélenchon. So ...

Work to do, Macron!

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Thursday, November 17

The new akhand danger to India

Even though sheltered quite naturally by geographical forces, India faced two key challenges across its centuries-old history: the multiple Islamic invasions, in particular of those who stayed on to impose taxes such as jizya; and European colonialism, who gave names and concepts such as caste and religion to Indians' understanding of India. Nothing in this life is a gain-gain or a loss-loss: we gain some, we lose some, but it's not a net zero either. We evolve: not into better or worse, but something different. India has evolved: keeping many things, notably its stunning diversity of lifestyles and beliefs, thus enabling experience of an extraordinary amount of freedom for many an individual; losing many things, in particular its groundedness, its contentedness, becoming "ferociously ambitious" as the West teaches it to, and to which new India aspires to. It is this aspiration, where individual colludes with national and religious, that gives rise to the most dangerous challenge for India: the uniformization of India, presently under way since the BJP came into power, is probably the biggest ever attack on the Hindu fabric of India, as I see it. This time again, if the BJP succeeds, there will be gain and there will be loss: India will gain as a nation-state, much stronger, muscular, ambitious, and even leading its people to greater material prosperity; India will, however, lose its freedom that I talked about earlier, and will transform from being the conscience of the world into just another ambitious upstart. This is easily the biggest assault on India's Hindu identity and ethos: when Modi tries to bring a uniform civil code, he takes away India's biggest principle by which even today millions of Indians abide, if not always then sometimes: dharma. When codified law replaces dharma, we undo the very same ancients' work that the BJP is proud to call their own: to avoid this very codification, India chose, by favouring oral transmission of knowledge, to suffer from lack of knowledge transmission and lack of material development, as opposed to, say, ancient China, which saw value early in codification and, thus, law, thus a societal structure less interrupted by craziness. When every Indian is forced to bank, to have an identity card, to come inside a system which they are happy without, we destroy millions of lifestyles, free choices, traditions, and the very feeling of freedom. For, it must be always remembered, freedom comes first from the feeling of freedom, not merely the infrastructure provided: a man left to roam wherever he pleases but having a suspicion that he is being watched does not give the recipe to a free man, whereas a man even in a prison may feel free when he is so mentally developed as to let his fancy fly unhindered when and where he pleases. Freedom is in the mind: it is not enabled by laws. The best example is France, the so-called self-proclaimed land of liberty, and in reality anything but. But when law takes the upper hand, when dharma is banished, the Western distinction between the sacred and the profane, the society and the individual, comes into play: then, schizophrenia comes into play. Already, in times of globalisation and fed by Western, leftist education, not many Indians have the ability to think things from their perspective: the BJP-provided antidote now is much the same thing, but hued saffron. Hued in the old RSS vision of an akhand Bharat. But, is Shankaracharya's akhandness the same as the RSS's akhandness?

I don't think Adi Shankaracharya, when he established the four dhaams in four corners of Indian subcontinent, ever envisioned it as akhand, or used the word, though if he did so, even then that akhand would be very different. The akhandness of India does not come from some geographical realm under one umbrella, nor from some one religious cult holding sway: it comes from the typical character of an Indian. In that way, every land (not every nation-state) is akhand: however, many lands of this world lost this aspect quite early, when they stopped, for example, their animistic practices and were converted on a mass scale to Abrahamic religions. A concept born in one land, that of the Abrahamic religions, thus suddenly was mass-exported quite early in many lands' history, and most of them succumbed to it completely: thus was born a schizophrenia, for the native character often clashed with these imported values. With industrialisation, and people's license to turn their schizophrenia (greed) into profit, things became more unhinged. In India's case, though, it held onto its Hindu identity: simply because it was, and even today is, too difficult to define what or who a Hindu is. How do you define one, at all? How do you break water? Today, though, the water is being frozen: it is being given a shape, an identity. It is done in the name of glorifying it, so that there is an akhand Hindu raashtra, but what it does is only make the water breakable, to finish the last populous land of this world where that original akhandness was surviving. Nationalism is any day an extremely dangerous evil, but when coupled with what is the Western concept of religion, it launches people into a dizzying velocity of feeling self-important and threatened from everywhere: do you expect such a person to develop in an all-round manner?

When Shashi Tharoor wrote in a book about those great Hindu mathematicians and what India did first, it is easy to forgive him: he is but a completely Western-dyed man and he thinks himself too wise. But when the BJP starts to claim ancient airplanes and we did it first, we begin to wonder, does their Indianness, or Hinduness, stop at the sacred thread itself? What's the difference between Tharoor/Congress and the BJP, except that the latter is even more dangerous since it appears to many as the one which will protect dharma? What is first, or biggest, or highest ... such superlatives come from a Western idea of timeline, of history, a history that is organically born from codification, from writing systems. If Indians were so interested in the first and the biggest, they would have written things, not orally transmitted them across centuries. If someone from Italy or Jamaica were to invent something first, does the knowledge become less fascinating, less useful, or less enlightening? Knowledge is gained through thirst: that thirst is a love of knowledge, is an utter fascination with seeking truth; that thirst is not of someone who rushes to get a patent or plant a flag on a mountain. The one who lagged behind to seek himself in the mountain air and seek mountain air in himself is a richer person: though without "proofs" for those who cannot see beyond the flag. We do not love the Ramayana for its BC or AD dates: it is the West's role to call it "mythology". Why should we call it? Do not we meet Ram or Krishna or their aspects in our own lives: what "myth" is there about it? Let those others who see merit in anchoring things on an imaginary time do their own thing; can we not devise our own methods using our own loves and realities?

It is easy to write. So my dharma is now to fight: for dharma. I shudder at the thought that once India falls, which it may soon if no one fights for dharma, the world will enter the Kali Yuga very, very fast indeed.

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Tuesday, August 9

आशा-भ्रम

मेरे मन को मैने फूल समझा,
हर डग लिया महक की ख्वाइश में,
पर मालूम क्या था, छुपते हैं बलों में
ज़िंदगी के सात सबेरे, ख़्वाबों की सिमटन में,

वे आते हैं बिन-बुलाए, दूर-अदूर से
रिश्ता जोड़ते हुए एक पल में ऐसा,
कि बरसों की धूल मैं करता हूँ बरामद,
जैसे हुई हो चकनाचूर रात भर ऐ ओस,

एक कटु व्यंग्य, एक मत में खोई नज़र,
मैं-मैं का मात्र वह एक लघु अस्त्र
निकले जो क्षय-ग्रस्त स्वभाव से, निरुद्देश्य,
पर मुझे याद दिलाए, खिलने का मौसम था ही नहीं|

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Monday, July 11

Brexit: chance for Russia to force open the door?

It is not just the Russian economy that has been suffering post-sanctions: Russia also has been losing clout among the stans, as money means everything and that is in short supply currently in Russia. Kazakhstan and Georgia are building new port terminals, including a dry port on the Kazakh-Chinese border, seeking to strengthen an already-strong relationship with China and bypassing Russia: both traffic-wise and politico-economically. The trend has started to reverse in the past few months, though: parts of Europe, most notably Italy, have started to warm up to Russia. Russia used to be one of Italy's biggest trading partners pre-sanctions: in particular, Gazprom having a strong relationship with Eni. However, the colour of the relationship is changing. As Russia itself needs money now to keep floating, it is the Italians, with companies such as Saipem, investing in Russia: Italians are building and owning stakes in several projects in Russia, ranging from chemicals to hotels. Things are cheaper, and past bonhomie is being raked up, as Italy, probably very wisely, predicts a thawing of relations between the EU-US combine and Russia. The world, except for the US and India, is in a bit of economic doldrums, so to give a helping hand to each other would not go amiss; Ukraine and Crimea can be forgotten for convenience's sake. Russia is also building up some of its mining capacities, most notably in semi-precious and precious metals, even though commodity prices are not helping: the argument being that costs are also down and that a future cycle of growth, especially in Indian and Southeast Asian markets, might lead another world economic rally, though maybe in only a few years' time, not immediately. While pain relief thus might still look far ahead, Russia, through Britain's exit, should be seeing a silver lining in the economic cloud.

Right-wing parties are on the rise in Europe: the effect is a Europe breaking fast. Britain's exit might very well hasten it, unless a strong and charismatic European leader emerges to arrest the explosion. Already, effects of the right on relations with Russia can be seen: as reported here, more and more regional parliaments of Italy, like the right-dominated Ligurian one, are voting to recognize Crimea as part of Russian Federation. The outcast is gaining its way back into Europe slowly: Europe, with the impending exit of the UK, will now require Russia even more. Europe requires places for production, natural resources, and markets: it doesn't have a free trade agreement as yet with India, China or the US. In fact, that is why it might probably be a wise decision for the UK to leave the EU: after all, again due to Italian influence and "all stand for one", regardless of the merits of a case, EU hasn't had an FTA with India because of the Italian marines case. Many countries of the EU would have liked to get that deal, but when you run with another partner with one of your legs tied to theirs, it is difficult to drag yourself all the way to the finish line. And it is this that Russia would exploit, and, in fact, as a wily country, will.

It cannot be ruled out, especially at such a juncture, that Russia might discretely support, financially, if it is not already doing so, Europe's right-wing parties, most of which don't have an easy time raising funds as they occupy the intellectual low ground. That would, in turn, lead to more Ligurian-like resolutions, even at national levels; that may also fulfil Russia's long-held ambitions to see Europe broken up, which gives it again a very powerful, hulking presence, able to hold its own against its strong neighbour, China. More such resolutions would mean further weakening of the pan-European entity: and countries striking their individual trade deals. Some may prefer Russia (like those who like moneybags), some China (like all would want to), some India (like UK should), some US and some Latin America (like Spain, for historical and cultural reasons). In such a scenario, if Trump wins, then US itself would be off the list: and a lot of investment would flee to buy gold and commodities, and then to Russia, China, and Southeast Asia. It would be interesting in such a case to see what policies Trump has in place with regard to South Korea and Japan, in particular: two very strong US allies and trading partners as well as major investors and manufacturers. But, anyway, let's not discuss Trump right now: that's still a bit farther away. Irrespective of Trump, Russia has it good now if the UK leaves: an ageing Europe, crumbling under its leftist and Catholic-influenced burden, needs an anchor. The UK was one, to some degree, though Europe also was an anchor, complementarily, to the UK. Now, they need another: the US won't want to be one (though a Trump-led US might want that, but Europe might not be keen on that in a Trump scenario).

The world politics is in an interesting phase: a kind of final showdown between the inexorable progress of technology, bringing the world closer faster than what many would like, and humankind's abilities of adaptability, especially changeability of culture. A lot of ups and downs might be in the store in the next thirty years: what one must not lose the sight of is that not everything should be monetized, even if money should be recognized as important (and not pooh-poohed in grandiose corporate-hating leftist visions). I don't see a larger role for India or for Africa or for Southeast Asia in the immediate future: many of these countries, notably India, have adopted the old Western model of nationalism. That is always a suspect model, but even more so in the present context, when machines are talking to machines (IoT, and machines don't have a nationality) and people can be in different continents in the same day. Don't be fooled by the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe: it is but foam that will die out, though it will take some time to die out. But countries like India are currently staking their everything on this ephemerality for some short-term advantage and some boasting: the Indian government advisers have not yet realized that by imitating the West's old methods, they will also come to the same, old results: violence, moral corruption and schizophrenia. What is very interesting is how the equation between Russia and China will play out: especially if Russia, as I predict, will become much stronger again in the next seven to ten years. India and Southeast Asia may continue to prosper economically, but it is China and Russia which might hold the key to the world in the future, along with the US. If there can be a rapprochement between China and Taiwan, which I see happening at some point of time not far into the future, that would be a major fillip to China. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea, though economic powerhouses, cannot grow beyond that in the near future, limited by their size and population. Countries like Norway might come into their own after thirty years if the Arctic has melted sufficiently: the Scandinavian countries, Russia, Canada and the US would be immediate, strong beneficiaries of global warming. (Not the fishermen of Norway, though, a major industry for the moment.) The UK, if it plays its cards well, can benefit from Brexit: it needs to invest less in its mega energy projects and more in Asia and the US, and needs to look at new research partnerships (with China, the US and Japan) to replace some European ones. Though, hopefully, Europe won't be so foolish as to cut off a lot of ties with the UK: that would be a bad situation for everyone in the world, except for the European right-wingers (and for Russia).

Note added later: I did not mention Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two giants and who are both in the process of diversifying their economies. I think that they would keep a low profile for the foreseeable future, just silently expanding their reach. The sociological impact in these countries will be interesting to observe now that they are forced to diversify, and hence be more open.

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Tuesday, June 7

मुट्ठी भर आसक्ति

रोशनी का दाना आज मुकाम पे गिरा है
कई साल बाद मन की मैहफ़िल में शरीक़ हुआ है,
मेरे उस रेगिस्तान में आँसू की झड़ी सा आया है
जहाँ पीपल के वृक्ष लहलहाते नहीं, हवा चलती नहीं|

यहाँ मन खोलने के द्वार हैं बंद,
शब्द में फँसे हुए अभिमन्यु हैं सब,
जवाब-सवाल बेशुमार हैं, पहचान का ठप्पा हैं,
पर पहचानने वाला सूरज का घुड़सवार नहीं|

अब जानिए मेरी मेहरबानी, कि इस वीराने में
वह आया है, ज़िंदगी और मौत को एक में समेटे हुए,
वह क्रांति की चिल्लाती मशाल नहीं, जो भस्म करे,
न हवा से लड़ने वाला दीप, जो कवियों का शिकार बने|

सिर्फ़ कहीं चमकता इंसान का आवास है,
जहाँ बारिश का नाच है, मैले मौसम की खुश्बू है,
ज़िंदगी के अथक प्रवासों में मेरी बरक़रार स्मृति है
जो भटकते मुझ को भी देती है उस की चौखट के दर्शन|

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Thursday, January 7

the researchers, the scavengers

A couple of years back or less, I witnessed a very disturbing scene: some field researchers, who had talked over the past three days a lot of poverty of people, decried castes and had vociferously let everyone known that they had very well subscribed to Western vacuity of intellect, sat down, at the end of their workshop, for a very expensive dinner, drinking Indian wine that costed at least 700 Indian rupees per glass or beer, and eating pastas at 300 rupees plus.** Some months back, I assisted a French director in finalizing her documentary's subtitles: she was making it on Indian pollution and healthcare system. When she realized that the guy interviewed was not critical of the government in some of the portions she had shot in India, she just decided to remove them: that wouldn't suit her documentary, after all. I know that no photo, no film is objective: but I thought that it was because of our subconscious dictating, guiding, not our conscious self. In the past couple of months, I have, not very willingly, come into contact with the esoteric, self-congratulating circles of researchers: they go on some itinerary of six months in remote Indian villages, interpret everything through their lens and triumphantly pronounce those results, "building on" past work: for to be considered as an academic, they have to reference, and qualify each of their statements - no, not with feeling, not with emotion, not with intuition - but with previous similarly jaundiced eyes and their visions. They sit so smugly around a table: when they discuss Kabir, they always remind me of the doctor's receptionist. The doctor's receptionist always gives herself so much airs: as if she were wielding the stethoscope, not the guy within. (Some may sniff sexism here: the receptionist is a woman, the doctor is a guy. They can join the other smug ones round that table.) And the doctor himself, Kabir, so humble himself, all absorbed in his craft.

But receptionists do not have much of a value except for a patient to skip a queue. However, academics, unfortunately, do. These receptionists guide people's stereotypes about places and peoples: always pretending to be objective. But I would much love to listen to a song, from heart and so subjective, than to a typewriter, so objective, isn't it? They are bored, they feed on tea and cakes, they flatter you and expect to be flattered, and rarely they get a bone to pick with some other smug companion, and then both tear into each other, while the rest of the world celebrates their "rivalry". I sometimes wonder, during one of their theses or lectures or whatever: can a child speak, interrupt, sing, shout, play? If she cannot, then is it worthwhile, meaningful?

Note: Not all researchers are like that. But many are.

** I was to learn later, through living in the West, that there should have been nothing shocking: that they were thoroughly Westernized (through Indian educational system). The traditional Western culture, a product of Christian Church mentality, has led to people wearing garbs: to put it in more understandable terms, if you have seen Ben Hur, Pontius Pilate admonishes Ben Hur (Heston) that I speak to you as a friend, but once I cross those stairs, I command you as a governor. The same man: two different garbs. This is practically implemented in France: for example, people cannot wear religious symbols to government work, so a professor can wear a turban at home but not to university. Slip off your religion dress; wear the state dress now. More importantly, people's beliefs are taken to be something as "slip-off-able". And hence the story of almost every Western philosopher: they spin esoteric, incomprehensible philosophies at the debating desk, and then they return to their life of philandering and bitching. Hence the Rushdies of this world: write bad, popular prose, then return to lust after women as horrible as that prose.

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Saturday, October 10

Ctrl+C - undo - redo: the cycle

Amid chattering brothels,
like a ghaghra mirrorwork, no one
is at home, but everyone lounges
in blouses of lust and ambition;

smoke and rose floats in the air
making the world a forgetful affair,
lined with avenues to traverse, with
paints to peel, stairs to climb;

no one has company, but like
ping-pong, or ions in excitation,
they rise and decay, swaying hips together,
crossing bloodlines, in utter nakedness;

their I is weak, waiting to be picked up
in amsterdam windows; they nudge
all beauty into bitterness, for
when they fuck, no star moves.

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Friday, September 4

The European migrant crisis: a way forward

I am not writing here to debate the pros and cons of Germany-led encouragement of taking in more migrants: this argument is too murky to have one correct answer. Truth may not be, is often not, unique or universal. There are opinions of all shades: fear or panic among peoples of Europe, further fuelled by extremist right-wing hooligans and their groups and parties that harbour them; and those immature ones who jump onto a picture of a dead child and then demand unconditional opening up of borders and try to bring about a European Spring. In the world of digital media, mass hysteria is easy to generate: not just for a lynching which was traditional, but also for welcoming a new family. Some of the same people who are so enthusiastic for "adopting" a migrant family will not be very kind to another idea of a societal system, though, which they would call as patriarchally patronising. It is all very good and easy to be the humane human when faced with stories of hardship and poverty, but all that often vanishes in more comfortable circumstances, when the migrant you welcomed thinks that girls should not go to school. In modern, educated world, "integration" is usually one-way: to the values of what is thought of as progressive, to whatever is considered as an inviolable human right. So even if a few millions of migrants live in Germany, the result will be a shored-up German-ness: school won't teach you migration histories and lessons, until at least half a century later, when the world's problems will have moved on; in school, you will learn the Prussian empire and the rest, even if you come from Kosovo or the Swat valley. All arguments will be centred on taxpayers: after all, integration is willed by the taxpayers and is done accordingly. It is not the shepherds of the Swat who are paying to keep you free in a school.

And so, I am writing here just to try to understand what could happen with these mass migrations in terms of changes in history, and what Europe could do to alleviate some of the potential consequences that seem concerning. At the same time, this is a time when no one could really predict anything: European and world history is changing at a great pace, but the ramifications are hard to anticipate in their plenitude. Maybe, a hundred years on, hindsight will give better answers.

Parts of Continental Europe, such as the Nordic countries, have traditionally been very homogeneous (and even homogenous) regions. Even southern or eastern Europe, though a bit more diverse, have a dominant Christian, mostly Catholic or Orthodox Christian, past. In the past few decades, this uniformity has already been disturbed quite a lot, especially in the metropolises such as Paris or Milan. The oil politics and rising labour costs (a consequence of Europe's probably failed socialist system of social security) led to the need for cheap labour: France used Algerians and other North Africans, Germany used the Turkish and Eastern Europeans, and so on. In the past decade and a half, Sweden has welcomed many refugees, including many Tamils from Sri Lanka (a wiser investment than the North Africans in terms of returns they would get, because of the differing skill levels). At the same time, none of the mainland European countries has been very open to entry of highly skilled workers, with particular reticence from countries such as France, where nationalism survives very strongly in the form of pride felt over the French Revolution of 1789. This is now changing of course: in the past five years, Europe has woken up to the fact that it has to concede that US continues to reign and Asia is fast catching up with the US and leaving Europe much behind. Ageing populations have led to ever increasing labour costs, and heavy spending on welfare as well as information services such as museums lead to an augmenting expenditure front. (Yes, cities like Paris or Florence earn a lot precisely because of those galleries and museums, but such is not the case for many other regions. The debate as far as incoming tourism is concerned is ages old: high numbers at low margins [i.e., Europe with a cheap cost of living, and hence more tourists and visitors, but hence less profit per customer to the service provider], or low numbers at high margins?)

Increasing migration is breaking up this. While I personally believe that it is any human's right to go wherever he or she pleases without constraints or barriers, such a belief is caught up in the current Westphalian model, an idea whose terror is exacerbated by the ill-advised social security systems, funded through taxpayers, of many European countries. For those who do not understand social security, it is simple enough to understand: keep a man poor and hungry, so that when he falls sick, the doctor can treat him for free. (There are variants of this socialist system, of course: for example, in France, keep a man poor and hungry, so that when someone else falls sick, the doctor can treat him for free; after all, the other man is also being kept poor and hungry for you. A socialist system is much worse than the capitalist system, wherein you eat and drink as you earn, but you do have to pay to the doctor as well. It is however, at least, much better than a consumerist system, where the neighbour is having deer venison, and so you get credit to eat it as well even if you don't earn to afford to eat it: and then you also pay for the doctor after being unable to digest that fine piece of meat.) Europe has unfortunately followed this socialist model of things, something that is now coming to haunt it. For, why do migrants prefer Europe? A key answer is social security: unemployment benefits or allowances, medical cover, provision of minimum wages, etc. The profile of migrants and a country will determine now what will the net effect be: if a country requires cheap labour, then it is good to have some unskilled and semi-skilled immigrants, even if one needs to take into account the social security costs. If a country requires skilled labour, which also leads to large long-term benefits in general (the US is a classic example), then it is good to have skilled migrants (however, the current crisis seems to feature these in much lower numbers). But it is not that simple: such a matching is not possible, and anyway migrants do not come in predefined proportions. Also, they bring wives, give birth to children and later on call relatives to stay: the network spreads. Add to that another religion, another culture: and the fear of losing one's traditions starts preying on people's minds. A foregone conclusion is rise in hooliganism and appeal of right-wing extremist parties, and in its own cycle, later on, the reemergence of socialist parties. Oscillating between the two, with even faster spins spurred on by Facebook and Twitter, the whole screwing-up process sets itself into motion at a dizzying pace.

But now that the migrants are there and are going to be there, what can Europe do? For me, in education lies all the answer. That does not mean asking the migrants to speak German at home, as a Christian party in Germany wanted to. That means something completely opposite: meet migrants halfway, rather than expecting them to "integrate." Change your education curricula to reflect the challenges thrown by globalisation: migration into Europe or any other seemingly attractive region is now inevitable, given how much the world has globalised, and such movements will only intensify in the future. From hunter-gatherers, we became sedentary; now, we again become foragers of a different sort. (We have even many selves now, and maybe in twenty years, our virtual self can deal with some fun in another place than our real self, who may enjoy of course the virtual self's pleasures in real or deferred time, as per choice. But let's not distract ourselves here.) To oppose entry of mass numbers may be a viable point in some countries, but only for now and not for ever: only because they may be unprepared, but not because they have the right to write down some place's culture and religion and beliefs in stone. People have always moved, and will. And hence it is important to teach but also to learn: to give leadership roles to those who come, to change school and university curricula so as to reflect new histories (so that the new arrivals can connect with it) and languages, and to talk a common language of humanity rather than language of country, continent, religion or gender. An other must not be othered, by patronising or teaching him or her the 'European' or the 'socialist' values: maybe, it's also time to have a look again at some of those values. Nothing should be inscribed in stone, including the universal declarations of human rights. Nothing should be left unquestioned.

Some core European pet projects, such as the Schengen zone, will come under pressure now. However, abandoning them will also make Europe very uncompetitive: at this juncture of world affairs and a not very confidence-inspiring euro, Europe can hardly afford to do so. However, not everyone can live in Sweden or West Germany: I assume that after a certain threshold, migrants themselves will look to other areas. Border controls could of course be reestablished, but that would be a dangerous step also in political terms: a borderless Europe has been envisaged to avoid another world war emanating from this continent. If left to fester in isolation behind passports, fences and wooden officers, smaller countries of Europe may give dangerous power in the hands of disgruntled, profiteering elements. And yet, if such an argument holds for Europe, then why not for the world? The best way to demolish your adversary is to understand him or her: because then he or she is not the adversary anymore. The best way to demolish Islamist terrorism, often cited as one of the fears by those who oppose migration, is to understand—and not patronise—who think your values as suspect. No one owns the truth, mostly—neither they, nor you.

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Wednesday, July 8

Ashes 2015 in England: Preview

This Ashes looks quite close to call, even though the media is viewing Australia as clear favourites and even though the final result might be pretty one-sided: this series will basically depend on how Australia will bowl to Cook, and even if they bowl well with the Dukes ball to Cook, can Cook bring his best onto the field? Cook's batting, in short, will define the results: and that is why it is hard to predict. I think, judging from what I saw of him in the New Zealand series, Cook is in close to his best form, so England stand a very good chance: and to convert that chance into some clear winnings in the bank, Cook needs to be a bit smart. No, not about field placements that much: but more about batting order plus bowling changes. The latter is where Cook often misses out.

Cook needs to use the spinners intelligently: Moeen, Root and, if need be, Rashid. I rate Root highly for getting tailenders out, as he bowls wicket to wicket and fast, whereas tailenders tend to be swashbuckling. Wood and Root would be an ideal pair to bowl if conditions are benign and tailenders are there on the crease: for me, that point is important, because it was Haddin and the tailenders of Australia who contrived that 5-0 whitewash Down Under. Unfortunately, Cook seems to use Root as the last resort, and that too for not too long: somehow, he keeps using Stokes in such situations, which only plays in the hands of the opposition, as we saw in both WI and NZ series. Stokes might get a wicket here or there with fast toe-crushers, but he is what the tailenders also like: ball coming fast onto bat to hit it with freedom. No Stokes, no Broad in such situations. I don't think Cook is going to read this, so I don't think much will change on the field. Similarly the other things: even in that famous series in India which Cook won, he used to place a third man from the very start for Virender Sehwag, fearing an out-of-form man even. That he escaped then does not mean that that will keep on happening: Cook places third mans too often and short legs too rarely. Fortunately, he has started getting the knack of keeping some leg slips and some very short covers, so he is progressing. Cook also needs to sort out his batting order; for me, Root should be at 4 or 3, he is their best bat actually. Dropping Ballance to 5 might help as well, because Ballance seems to be a person who feeds on the tone already set: he does not seem to be someone who can set the tone. Root is someone who does that; Cook also does it, even though people deride him for being slow, and as does Lyth. Ideally, Bell and Ballance should not have a place really in this team, for in modern cricket, you cannot be unable to set the tone of the match you want to. You don't want to, that's OK, but not that you cannot. Keep Stokes in the team for all matches but don't give him the ball when Haddin, Johnson and co. are out there: unless he's really in some matchwinning spell. And give him short spells: use him in the Johnson way. I do rate Stokes highly with bat: I would even like to drop Ballance altogether, and move Stokes and Moeen all up by one place (Moeen should come before Buttler), and also have Finn or Rashid as a bowler. Attacking cricket is the best way for England to beat the Aussies.

As for the Aussies, it is not that they are very good: many of them are bits and pieces players, like Mitchell Marsh or Watson, or just flashy blades with hardly anything else, like Warner and Haddin. However, they feed on confidence and bullying: and that is what they will do. Their confidence-damaging tricks compensate easily for the lack of talent in their ranks. They have only two really good players for me in their ranks: Michael Clarke and Nathan Lyon. I have always rated Lyon highly as a spinner, and the English must be careful to not to lose soft wickets to him: especially aggros like Stokes and people suspect against spin like Ballance. They also have an in-form bowler like Starc: he is not top quality for me, as he sprays it too much around as well, a bit of on and off day player, but he is right now in form, so if England can dent his confidence early on, half the contest will be won. For denting Starc means denting Johnson and all others: for me, Ryan Harris was really good, but he's retired. Siddle is large-hearted but not that talented. So Cook is key, as I said at the very beginning: for Cook and Lyth and the no. 3 will have to do that job of denting Starc - and hence I would like to see Root or, if not Root, Bell at no. 3, and not Ballance. For I don't have the confidence that Ballance can dent Starc. Lyth also does not inspire me with great confidence for now, but I'd like him to get the long rope: all 5 matches. Steven Smith is another man in the form of his life: his game has improved highly, but I doubt if he can continue that way in English conditions, especially if Cook makes the right bowling changes. Wood should be key against Smithy. But I like Smith otherwise; he's a nice lad and has talent and youth. When he comes next time to England, he will probably be the most dangerous Australian in their party. Voges is solid and might prove hard to dislodge, and Aussie tailenders all bat quite well and aggressively, so England cannot relent. That is why I would like England to drop Ballance and play a 5-man attack. Broad bowled quite well against NZ, but I still would play Finn rather than Broad if it's going to be a 4-man attack. I think England will just stick with Broad for the first 2 matches, the safely conservative choice, and then see what happened. Both sides' tails in fact play quite well, but Australia's attack is better, especially as they have a good spinner: however, if Cook has blunted the Aussie attack, the English tailenders can also make merry. For that to happen, Broad needs to bat at 11, below Anderson: at least, it will rub Broad's ego the wrong way, and he might want to prove a point, get back to no. 9 or 8 even. These are little, percentage things: but modern cricket is fast-paced, and it is these things that turn a game on its head. It is these things that most English supporters feel Cook is slow to grasp: I hope he proves us wrong. And proves us right by his form with the bat.

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Sunday, May 24

the de beauvoir excuse

Mine and yours
were sold, well weighted
in balances and pans.
The bids were high, and we succumbed
believing in our labeled worth
preening and downcast, or
making deals, saving face, being rentable.

Land, language, mother-
Everything was whored.
A sneer or a smile were powerful,
for paths changed, forgetting all joys.
Remained only the diplomas, the money,
the look of admiration in faces I love not.
For pride and gold trade for God.

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