Saturday, October 31, 2009

And now to download something completely different.

The Internet and Monty Python turn 40 this year. An appreciation of both.

Anand ramachandran

It's funny, really. How Monty Python and the Internet were both born in the same year, forty years ago.

It was 1969, the year Jimi Hendrix played 'The Star Spangled Banner' at Max Yasgur's farm, the year the Beatles broke up, the year man landed on the freakin' moon. It was the year Honduras and El Salvador went to war over a football game, the year the Boeing 747 first took to the skies, the year Led Zeppelin burst onto the scene and changed Rock n Roll forever.

In the midst of all this excitement, John Cleese thought it would be a good idea to invite Michael Palin to join Graham Chapman and himself to create a brand new television series for the BBC. Across the pond, US defense scientists used a cool new technology called 'packet-switching' to establish a network connection (They called it ARPANET. Scientists. You'd think they'd have come up with something cooler) between computers located at the UCLA, the Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah.

As a result of these two seemingly unrelated events, today we watch episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus on YouTube, excitedly send the link to our friends over e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, and waste the rest of our working day LOLing at the antics of the greatest comedy team in history. It's a complete #WIN.

Today, forty years later, it's almost impossible to wrap our minds around the impact that the Internet has had on our lives. It's like trying to describe how our lives have been affected by the invention of the wheel, or language, or processed food. Today, most of us live in a dizzying swirl of instant, always-on connections that criss-cross so many aspects of our daily lives, it's hard to imagine what life was like before the Internet.

One way to try and define the impact of the Internet is to look at the situations that it has made extinct. When was the last time you spent days trying to remember the lyrics to a song on the tip of your tongue, or the author of a book, or the winner of a sporting event? When was the last time you pored over old newspapers to find the advertisement you suddenly want to respond to? When was the last time that getting information from a college meant writing a letter to them and hoping for the best?

Yes, we don't receive warm, personal greeting cards on our birthdays anymore. But we do get hundreds of wishes from friends we haven't seen for years, and that's pretty nice. Yes, the excitement of finally finding a rare music album or movie is a thing of the past. But we do get to watch or listen to anything we want to, whenever we choose, and that's pretty cool. Suddenly feel the urge to watch Monty Python's famous 'dead parrot' sketch? No need to scour video stores, wait hopefully for TV reruns, or badger relatives in the UK. You can't tell me that's a bad thing.

We find jobs without having to leave our homes, reach hundreds of people instantly when we need help during a medical emergency, quickly verify the truth in rumours and don't have to risk buying products without learning what the world thinks of them first.

If you have any sense of wonder at all, you can't help but marvel at the amazing sci-fi-ness of it all. Science fiction writers teased us with tales of vid-phones (skype), mass broadcasting of thought streams (twitter), virtual avatars engaging in gladiatoral combat (multiplayer games) and all-knowing computer oracles (the world wide web). But they didn't warn us that it would all happen in our lifetimes. Guess they didn't know.

And those of us born in the sixties and seventies, we caught the crest of the wave. We're the ones who are old enough to remember what it was like before, and are young enough to be in the thick of what it's like now. And I hazard that we're the ones having the most fun, grinning like idiots as we live out what were merely fantasies when we were kids.

Even as I write this column in my home office, in my immediate vicinity there are eight devices which are connected to the Internet (two computers, three videogame consoles, two handheld gaming units and a smartphone) – I can almost see a John Cleese sketch called 'the Needlessly Overconnected Man', in which Eric Idle smugly explains to an increasingly stressed-out Cleese how he uses one broadband connection merely to check if the other one is working properly. Cleese then downloads a pistol and shoots Idle in the head, saying “What a senseless waste of human life.” Sounds far-fetched? Wait another twenty years, mate.

Until then, Happy 40th Anniversay, Internet. It's nice to have you around. And you too, Pythons.

This piece first appeared in the 31st October edition of The Financial Express

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Kalmadi - Hooper Papers

By Anand Ramachandran. Some of you will recognize the inspiration for the title, some of you won't. That's fine, right?

The Suresh Kalmadi - Mike Hooper spat has degenerated into 'beyond ridiculous'. Kalmadi has always been a great source of entertainment over the years (anyone remember the Afro-Asian games, and the speech he gave there?), but this time, he's got some competition from one of his colleagues, A.K.Kesri. Here's a scan of a letter Mr.Kesri wrote to the chairman of the OCCWG, from today's INdian Express. (Thanks to @abithaanandh for the keen spot. She has an eye for this kind of thing, she's the one who discovered Hungama for us.) Do click on the image for a full-size version. Trust me, it's worth it.

Among my favourite parts are "fortunately I escaped from damage to my spectacles" and "always whistling during his movements in the office building", but you will surely find many others to your tastes. Stunning stuff.

Actually, the whole affair seems to be an adult version of a 'Miss! He's taking my pencil box, miss!' type of incident so commonly experienced during the primary school years. To be fair to Hooper, however, I must admit that it is Senor Kalmadi, Herr Bhanot and others who are leading the childishness sweepstakes at the moment.

The reasons given by Mr.Kalmadi calling for Hooper's ouster have been, in a nutshell, that Hooper has been of no use, he has been rude to OC personnel, demoralizing them with negative feedback and that he has been an impediment to work on the games.

This can be roughly reworded as follows :

"Miss! He's useless boy miss!"

"Miss! He's talking bad of me and using bad words, miss."

"Miss! he's not letting me do my work, miss."

But since the gentlemen, and I use the term very loosely, who are involved in this unsightly brouhaha are only corresponding through letters and press-releases, I think it would perhaps be more appropriate to look at the issue from that POV.

My dear Mr.Hooper,,

You are useless. You are spoiling my birthday party. So please leave our school. Go back to your old school.


Suresh Kalmadi.


I'm not useless. You're only useless. You always make things very late. Your party will be late and boring.


Mike Hooper


Shut up. You always tell bad things to my friends and use bad language. You're a bad boy. I tell to principal.


Su-su boy,

You shut up. Principal is my uncle, so you can't do anything. I'll tell him you're stupid and you're always late for everything everytime.

Fuck off.



Hooper, mein su-su karoonga thumhare sar ke ooper.


And so on. I think all of them should be sent to detention, and the party cancelled.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Uncle Premier League.

There's nothing quite like watching cricket with grumpy old men for company.

by Anand Ramachandran

I've watched a lot of cricket over the past few years, sometimes alone, sometimes with knowledgeable cricket-analyzing friends who will spend the time between overs discussing the biomechanics of the square cut or the quality of top-soil required for a track that will spin on day four. I love it.

But nothing even comes close to my childhood cricket-watching experiences, when watching a game meant watching it with my dad and a group of uncles whose love for the game was matched only by the depth of their collective bias.

This was during the mid-eighties, when India, buoyed by a world cup victory followed by a few successive tournament wins, suddenly gave their fans cause for optimism. Hey – finally, despite the presence of Madan Lal and Ashok Malhotra in the team, we believed we could win cricket matches against the very best teams, except the West Indies. My uncles were probably a part of the first generation of the 'we must win every game, take a wicket every over, hit every ball for four – otherwise we suck' category of Indian cricket fan that is so commonly found today.

They were an imposing bunch – bank managers, insurance company head honchos, and NRIs of uncertain occupation (oh, he is with some big company in Muscat). You couldn't disagree with them, unless you were one of them. Their wives would grumpily serve coffee, mutter under their breaths and retreat to the safety of the kitchen. The kids would never dare to admit they liked Craig McDermott or Carl Hooper or Richard Hadlee if that specific player was out of favour with the 'grand council'. Deep down, you suspected that they didn't know all that much about cricket and were sure that they had no actual say in team selection or match scheduling. But I don't think they had any such doubts – they gathered, snacked, and let fly with some of the most colourful, memorable, and sometimes downright bizarre cricket-based utterances of all time.

Most of them seemed to pull off the rather impressive feat of believing that India was simultaneously the best and the worst team in the world. “Useless fellows!”, someone would thunder after a heartbreaking loss. “They should stop playing cricket altogether for a few years” - as though depriving the team of international competition would somehow ensure that they would suddenly discover a winning formula. Yet, despite this evident negativity, they expected India to win every single game, in the manner of devoted parents sincerely believing that their dullish son would one day achieve exam scores that were disproportionate to his skill levels, and prove that he was better than Sanjay Dugar, or whoever was the designated 'first-rank' boy in class. This expectation of non-stop success from team India is about as fair as expecting Harbhajan Singh to rack up a test match batting average in the low fifties, yet, thanks to the efforts of the early fans, the thought process continues unabated to this day.

One of the uncles, a particularly opinionated gent, (he was senior management at TVS or some other South Indian business giant, and was probably used to every single one of his opinions being enthusiastically agreed with by an army of safari-suit clad subordinates) was known for his impulsive and emotional responses to events on the pitch. A misfield would result in “Amarnath should be sacked immediately”, causing my young mind to conjure up pictures of BCCI officials hurriedly running on to the field to convey the bad news to Jimmy, who would then sadly trot off, and play no further part in the match. A good catch would result in “He is the only fellow who is playing for the team. Sack everyone else and make him the captain.”, a suggestion that essentially meant that the athletic fielder would be skipper of a team that had no other players. I can only hope that my uncle's management style at work did not reflect his cricket team selection views – it would have resulted in a number of junior managers at TVS losing their jobs because they had forgotten to bring their pens, or neglected to berate the peon over his shoddy footwear.

Their favourite players were also expected to be granted immunity from being dismissed leg-before. If my father's opinion of every single lbw decision given against Sachin Tendulkar is to be taken seriously, then his (Sachin's, not my father's) test average would be 66.87. Include close run-out calls, dodgy caught-behinds, and catches close to the ground, and it inches closer to 75. If my dad could figure out a way to somehow introduce an element of doubt to the times Tendulkar has been out clean bowled, his average would probably be around 3269.53. Well above that pesky Bradman, who only played against mediocre attacks, anyway.

But despite believing that K.Srikkanth was better than Sunil Gavaskar, despite insisting that umpires from Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and England (other than Dickie Bird) were cheats, despite claiming that Hindi commentary has dismissed more Indian batsmen than Wasim Akram has, these were men who loved their cricket, and made sure that a bunch of us youngsters inherited that love. Thank you gentlemen – watching the games with you was a blast.

Right, time to go now. Need to find a way to blame Atul Wassan for India's early exit from the Champion's Trophy.