Monday, September 27, 2010

The Importance of Considering a Spherical Cow

In the post — “Don’t believe everything you hear–even on TED” — I instinctively rejected the claim that it takes the energy equivalent of a lump of coal to transport one MB of data on them internets.

First the estimation. Consider a spherical cow. No, scratch that. Let me get serious here for a moment. 

The maintained assumption is that all this is a rough calculation done to estimate something. As long as one is making reasonable estimates, the answer is robust and well within an order of magnitude.

1. One pound of coal has 1 kwh of energy [Source], or 3.6 mega Joules (mJ). One lump of coal is one ounce, say. Its energy content is therefore 225 kilo Joules (kJ).

2. Assume, as claimed in the TED presentation, that it takes the energy equivalent of one lump of coal to move one MB of data across the internet.

3. So combining (1) and (2), we get that it takes 225 kJ to transport one MB.

4. “As of March 2010, the global monthly Internet traffic is estimated to be 21 exabytes.” [Source: Exabyte.] Annual traffic is therefore 250 exabyte (250×10^18 bytes.)

5. Combining (3) and (4), the total energy required to transport bytes annually is 5.63×10^16 kJ.

6. The total annual world energy consumption is 43.7×10^16 kJ. [Source.]

7. Combining (5) and (6), we see that transporting bytes on the Internet takes around 13 percent of the total energy consumed by humanity.

8. World energy consumption by sector:
Industrial users (agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and construction) consume about 37% of the total 15 TW. Personal and commercial transportation consumes 20%; residential heating, lighting, and appliances use 11%; and commercial uses (lighting, heating and cooling of commercial buildings, and provision of water and sewer services) amount to 5% of the total.
9. In light of (8), the fact arrived at in (7) makes no sense at all.

10. Therefore by reductio ad absurdum, (2) is patently untrue. QED.

I have not done the calculations on exactly what percentage of total energy use is used in transporting bits. My sense is that it is of the order of 1 percent or so — which is an order of magnitude lower than the TED presenter’s claim.
Now here’s a more serious point that I want to make. I have noticed that in Indian schools and colleges, they do not teach people how to estimate quantities.

If I were to ask the average engineering graduate, for instance, what is the total market value of cars sold in India, I don’t think they will be able to give me a rough figure. Or say the size of the market for shampoo in India. Or how many pairs of shoes are sold, etc.
Once I asked a bunch of students at a very highly rated MBA school in India these sort of estimation question. Some did not even understand the question. One said, “But how can we know what the answer is without looking it up in the data bases?”
They don’t understand the notion of “order of magnitude” or the importance of “significant digits.” That innumeracy is quite widespread, unfortunately.

I have read stuff like this in newspapers:
“It is estimated that by 2014, the number of NRIs returning to India will be 205,473. How the heck do they know that it will not be 205,472?”
Recently seen on a billboard related to one construction site (weight lifting event site, if I recall correctly) for the CWG in New Delhi:
“Total project cost Rs 65,37,29,452.”
Thoroughly retarded. They don’t understand that the significant bits are just the 65 crores bit, not even the lakhs bit.
(With that kind of brains, is it any surprise that the CWG preparations were a mess.)

Anyhow, I think people should be taught these things. They should be able to consider a spherical cow. Too often we have to quickly decide if what we are reading or hearing is plausible or not. If these things are not taught, society ends up being overrun by gullible people — which of course is a sure recipe for disaster in a democracy. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Darkness at the edge of noon...continue

A project for the Sambhavna Trust and the International Coalition of Justice for Bhopal: We want as many people in India as possible to send postcards to the Prime Minister of India reminding him that he and others have been blind to the sufferings of the victims of the Union Carbide Tragedy. The worst industrial disaster in the history of mankind.This is the launch poster, which has postcards attached to it. You can pick a postcard, if you agree with the message, and post it to the PM.The postcard project will go to schools and colleges and get students to design the postcards. We'll print and sell these postcards to raise funds for the Sambhavna Trust. And get people to post these cards to the PM as well.December marks the anniversary of the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal. This year it will be the 26th year of being blind. We hope that we can open some eyes.

Tell us Prime Minister, did it hurt when they took out your eyes?

They must be gone because things that appal the rest of us, you seem not to see. You are blind to the agonies of 100,000 people who are still sick in Bhopal 25 years after Union Carbide’s gases leaked there.Blind to report after report recording the presence of pesticides and heavy metals in soil and water, and blood, in wombs, and mother’s milk.Blind to the children born blind, lame, limbs twisted or missing, deaf-mute, brain-damaged, with cleft-lips, cleft palates, web fingers, cerebral palsy, tumours where should be eyes – the children of Bhopal. The living children. The stillborn often can’t be recognised as human.

You are blind to the Supreme Court order to provide clean water and the failure of officials to obey it. MP Chief Minister Babulal Gaur said there was no money for clean water, then unveiled a 600 crore plan to beautify Bhopal with ornamental fountains.Where were you when Bhopali women brought their damaged children to your house? You had them arrested. The policewomen who led them away wept, but your blind eyes did not.

When they came to your office to protest, did you shut your curtains and say to yourself, ‘I am the Prime Minister of India. I do not have to see police kicking and beating children.’

Why are you blind to promises you made after the Bhopalis walked to Delhi in 2006 and 2008? Where is the Empowered Commission on Bhopal? When will you take steps against Dow Chemical, the owner of Union Carbide? Why are you blind to the note from India’s justice ministry, holding Dow Chemical liable for contaminating Bhopal? And for paying for a clean-up? Why are you blind to Dow’s admitted bribery of Indian government officials?

You have proved yourself blind to justice, blind to honour, blind to decency, and to the suffering of the poor whom your high office binds you to protect. Blind to everything but foreign dollars.

Prime Minister, can we get our eyes removed too? Because it is becoming extremely difficult to see you ignore the truth and tell us, everything’s ok.

Labels: bhopal 25, Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Sambhavna Trust, union Carbide

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dr Singh has to kick-start the moral renaissance

'Culture' 'DNA' and 'values' have entered the debate on the spot-fixing controversy. Several cricketers have expressed the belief that dishonesty exists not just in Pakistan's cricket, but in the very DNA of the subcontinent. Ricky Ponting believes the values of cricket are simply not upheld in certain 'cultures'. Mathew Hayden remarked that it's not in the Australian DNA to cheat. Michael Atherton said the root of all evil in cricket can be traced to India and Imran Khan stated that when a society says you can get away with all crime, what's a little no-ball. The spot-fixing controversy is not just about Pakistan, it is also about the global assumption that Pakistanis, Indians and subcontinentals in general are a cheating and corrupt people whose level of personal dishonesty is very high.

Are we South Asians a congenitally corrupt people? Do we have no sense of right and wrong? Is our society based on thievery and lies and personal criminality? And is our culture itself uniquely suited to personal dishonesty? There cannot be another society today that shows such textbook characteristics of a pervasive moral and spiritual crisis.

The dishonesty on display at the Commonwealth Games has created shock helplessness and hopelessness. The filthy money deals, the shady crony capitalism, the smooth favours to the few, the willful blindness of those at the top, the numbing, bewildering, indeed horrifying daily scams have left many patriotic Indians facing a sudden loss of self-belief about India.

The government seems powerless to act. Cabinet ministers are accused of systematic dishonesty and still ride around with their Z-plus security. RTI activists, acting on a legislation that is regarded as a showpiece of our democracy, are being murdered. State governments are taking over public land not for public use but to hand over to builders for windfall private profits. As economist Raghuram Rajan writes in his excellent book `Fault Lines', the License Permit Raj has been replaced by the Land Mafia raj. As institutions like health care, judiciary, media and education are in danger of total destruction, the only avenue left for survival is connectivity or the ability to use connections in every situation. The ability to pick up the phone and dial a number and get things done is often the only way a service can be delivered at all levels of society.

If connectivity becomes the only ticket for survival, soon India will be converted into a land controlled by a gang of two thousand plus super-connected warlords, or oligopolists or individuals who combine in their individual personages immense political and money power and rule their individual empires with no truck with the state or the state's arms like judiciary or police. This `profusion of well-connected billionaires' that Rajan alludes to is a neo zamindari system in which ordinary Indian citizens will have to scramble to stay connected to the warlords / oligopolists / neo-zamindars in order to ensure delivery of services and the wherewithal of life. Too cynical? Sample Rajan: "India is a country with the second largest number of billionaires. And the dubious wealth comes from land, natural resources and government contracts or licenses, not from competitive or free entry sectors like software. Thus it is proximity to government that is still the source of enormous profitability in India." The overwhelming bulk of big money is not a product of an open and competitive economy but is secured by government favours which directly influence profitability. Corruption is thus embedded in the current India dream.

The degradation of religion is also one of the reasons why we have become personally dishonest. The founders of modern India were deeply secular and pluralist, yet came from a society which drew strength from an unself-consciousness religiosity. Not religion defined by hatred of others, violence and noisy political ideology, but religion defined as an old quiet traditional faith which provided an unobtrusive moral compass. Today multi-crore events like dahi handi show that religion is a stage-managed artificially euphoric extravaganza that is failing to create role models of passionate honesty and courage.

What can we do to create an Indian moral renaissance and a moral revolution? How can we send a shock treatment through our society to get us to remember our rights and wrongs? Here's a suggestion from your humble columnist. It's a suggestion that begins with the Prime Minister because it is an initiative that must come from the very top. Manmohan Singh, call to your office ten of India's finest most upright officers. Ask them, on the basis of the voluminous insider information that must surely exist, to prepare a list of the hundred most corrupt grandees in the country, that is all top politicians, high ranking officials, tycoons, who have serious corruption charges against them. And once the list is made, summon a press conference and in full public view, name the top offenders (however Very Very Important they may be), shame them in public and by all the powers vested in you by the Constitution, the Tricolour, and the combined spiritual power of a land where the spirit of Brahma, Buddha and the Prophet PBUH once breathed, send the worst offenders to jail. Send them to jail in public view right there and right then and announce your decision to the public.

Your political career could end, Dr Singh. Your government may collapse immediately. But remember how you once risked your government for the nuclear deal? Maybe it's time to risk your government for the real deal. You will lose power, you will be ridiculed but you will win an eternal crown: the hearts of every Indian.You would have struck a lightning blow of moral transformation down the line and you would have brought God back to our blighted land. Summon that press conference, Dr Singh, and kickstart the morality revolution.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IPL: Cause, effect & afterthoughts

So we know now don't we that the IPL parties weren't really to blame for India's premature exit from the T20 World Cup. Anyone with half a mind found the suggestion laughable. It is only when the dust settles that we can sift puerile theorising from actual fact. And let's be honest, that wasn't the excuse Dhoni made in any case. Context is often the sacrificial lamb in the hunt for a headline.

But while we can't lay the blame for the defeat at the doorstep of the IPL, it also is perhaps time now to shatter a few myths. After 3 seasons it is now clear as day that the IPL's claim of being a 'nursery' to Indian cricket, where young talent will be discovered and allowed to prosper is a canard. IPL bosses rambled on about it being a means to an end, where the world's best cricketers played alongside emerging Indian talent. And showed them the route to becoming world beaters.

The IPL does no such thing and is without a shadow of a doubt is really just an end in itself. The means to an end theory was just a smart marketing gimmick we all bought into, but after nearly 200 games over three years, we have to reconsider those positions. The great players become better at the skills of playing T20 cricket while playing the IPL, a la Kevin Pietersen and Mahela Jayawardene. The mediocre simply remained mediocre and under-prepared for the real Test of international cricket.

It is also striking how little of this "nursery" of Indian cricket argument has been branded about by the franchises themselves. And we have barely paid attention. Private ownership of teams has meant there is no compulsion to consider or indeed regard any other goals besides the success of the franchise. Have you ever heard Shah Rukh Khan say, "I have hired Wasim Akram so we can use his expertise to find India's next swing bowling sensation". When Piyush Chawla won a surprise call up to the Indian team for the West Indies did Preity Zinta do a series of interviews exclaiming that indeed was the Kings' XI real goal for the season? Or did you read a press release from Rajasthan Royals congratulating Naman Ojha on his selection for the Indian team to Zimbabwe?

For the sake of argument let's say Sachin Tendulkar was in India's T20 team for the World Cup. On the eve of the final, the medical advice said he can play but risks his participation in the T20 World cup as his injured hand can get worse. Would the Mumbai Indians say to Sachin, sit out of the final because we'd rather ensure you were fit to play for India? I doubt that very much. It is in the nature of private enterprise to only foster its own interests. So if India stars or up and coming players are 'owned' in the period of the IPL by the franchises, they have no larger ambition than to achieve the success of their team. It is how it should be and for not choosing to brandish these tame public relations exercises, the franchises need to be applauded.

This ofcourse puts the BCCI in a bind. Both India's international commitments and this billion dollar league fall under their watch. So how must they respond? Afterall, if two IPLs have been followed by two dismal World T20 performances, its hard not to make the connect. When your national coach sulks about how his players are unfit, unprepared and come too late to him after the IPL then you must pay heed. Because while profiting from the game is not unreasonable, your mandate as India's cricket board is to secure the health of INDIAN cricket.

This is why I am convinced the BCCI needs to be pro-active and be seen to be searching for a way forward. One of those perhaps is the reformatting of the IPL: A reduction in both its playing period and in the number of matches. The 2011 season with 2 new teams is scheduled to go on for 7 weeks and feature 94 games. Even some governing council members, who have thankfully finally found a voice, have described the schedule absurd and unsustainable. So is there a way out? The new teams can't be asked to get out now that they have spent a neat 3000 crores and some loose change to earn the right to be part of the bandwagon.

The answer lies in finding a sensible and less taxing schedule. I am daring to propose one. Divide the league into 2 groups of 2 regions each. North and South. North features Delhi, Punjab, Jaipur, Kolkata and Mumbai. South features Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi and Pune. Teams play the others in their group home and away. The top two make it to the semis from each group.

While the number of games are reduced to 48 or so, it provides the opportunity to schedule more games to be fit into prime time TV schedules. It reduces the number of games each player has to play to 11 each. And it considerably reduces travel between venues. Otherwise imagine Kings XI Punjab playing Kochi in Chandigarh. A day to travel to the venue and another day to travel back. All this to play a 3 hour match. Doesn't add up. If all teams play each other home and away as the schedule for 2011 stands, then the India players will play 18 games each in the heat of April and May across the length and breadth of the country. Don't count then on too many injury free players to board the flight for a full Test and ODI series in England that follows immediately. And you can already predict the excuses if that series ends in defeat!

Some have suggested the number of games a centrally contracted Indian player will be allowed is 14 but will franchise owners accept that? What is their incentive in allowing an Indian player, who they have paid an arm and a leg for, to have his feet up in the dressing room for even one of their matches? If Indian players are allowed only 14, will the Australian, South African, Sri Lankan and West Indies' board let their players to play 18 games each? In the construct of the IPL, I suspect the answers to all those questions is a resounding NO.

Now is the time to put the thinking caps on. The marketing campaigns and the hype need to make way for bold and substantive changes. Because while the critics have relished badgering the IPL only the foolish fail to recognise its impact. Not all of it is negative. City loyalties has created a new culture of supporting sport in India. Stadiums have been filled by eager and enthusiastic fans. Surely being entertained by a sporting spectacle can't be ridiculed? The cricket is sometimes not of the highest standard but evenly matched teams do create an engaging spectacle. The IPL model is being embraced by Tennis and Boxing already and maybe Hockey and Football will also do so one day. But having been knocked off its galloping horse, the IPL will need to find ways to brush the dust off and bandage its wounds. And return to our drawing rooms with humility, not arrogance.

Finding the face of the Kashmiri protestor

Getting to the truth in Kashmir is like the dance of the seven veils. But there are moments that will startle you with their clarity. Like listening to 31-year-old Rafiqa, a housewife, at a protest in Srinagar's Rambagh. Amidst chants of 'Azaadi' Rafiqa said, "Yeh masla goli se nahin, boli se hal hoga," to my surprise. Dialogue not the bullet is the way forward.

It should come as no surprise to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that even after his government's attempt to throw the book at the man who threw the shoe at him, many now believes it was all a PR exercise concocted by his spin doctors. After all, his own officers had three versions of the truth- that Abdul Ahad Jan was mentally unstable, that he was a disgruntled officer with a poor service record, and that he had disrupted the independence day proceedings and aimed his shoe at the behest of Abdullah's political rivals. Despite the overkill on theories, and the very serious charge of sedition against Jan, when Abdullah decided to meet him and "forgive him", the buzz on Srinagar's curfew-silenced street was that Jan was part of a government plot to make the Chief Minister look good. And then Jan resigned and pledged allegiance to the seperatists.

But while Kashmiri reality is understandably clouded by years of violence and fear, New Delhi mustn't use that excuse to remain blind to the true face of the problem that it faces there today. Or fail to recognize the face of the protestor out on the valley's streets. Or continue to believe that success in Kashmir amounts to law, order, and a controlled death toll. So far, most of the interventions made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and his Home Minister P Chidambaram have only indicated how far removed they are from the "hearts and minds" they claim to covet in Srinagar.

To begin with, the government's attempts to paint the protests that began this summer as something that was externally motivated. First it was the Lashkar-e-Toiba that was allegedly coordinating them, then it was the Hurriyat leadership that was purportedly 'caught on tape' ordering the deaths of protestors, and finally the Home Minister's assertion according to "credible intelligence" reports that militants were mingling amongst the protestors and opening fire on the forces.

Each of those theories played out in the valley as indicators the government wants to discredit rather than deal with the protests. The Home Ministry counts 872 'stone pelting incidents' in the valley in June and July this year. But anyone out on the streets knows that stone-pelting protests are just a small part of the story. There are easily thousands of others that don't turn violent- a few dozen people at a time who get together around the clock at street corners - through the day, to well past midnight, shouting slogans of Azaadi.

Ironically the prolific nature of the protests also negates claims made by separatist leaders like Masarat Alam Bhat and Aasiya Andrabi that they 'control and plan' them. In fact to many youngsters I met, Bhat and Andrabi are the equivalent of MNS and Shri Ram Sene leaders- with higher volume than impact. The 'Hurriyat' calendar of protest has certainly been followed religiously by shopkeepers and business-owners, but for Kashmir's gen-next of protestors there has been little by way of coordinated planning. "I just stand on the street and call out for Azaadi," says Rafiqa at the night procession in Rambagh, "And people join." Even at 1 am, more women, accompanied by infants, join the march to chant slogans. There's a sorority here, a feeling of empowerment that these women exude-very different from the years of militancy in Kashmir. None of the women I meet wear stifling, stern black burkhas like Andrabi's ; instead they are a colourful mélange of the popular printed Kashmiri "cheent" muslin. The police will tell you women and children are being used as human shields, that they make it difficult for forces to crack down on mobs. If they are shields, they are voluntary shields- and quite often keep protests from turning more confrontational with the forces. Other protestors tell me that they are trying to keep the agitation on a slow simmer, and not let it boil over: sustainability, not spectacle is the key, they say. At the Bone and Joint Hospital next day, I meet 18-year-old Samreena Jan, whose leg was fractured at a protest in Sopore. Would she go back to protest, I ask. Yes of course she says-with a giggle, but also with resolution that she is in this for the long haul.

If the voices of confident women like Samreena's distinguishes these protests from previous ones in one way, then the other is the lack of regional and religious acrimony between Jammu and Kashmir of the sort witnessed in 2008. Also worth noting is that while thousands of devout protestors were denied permission to pray at big mosques like the curfew-bound Jamia Masjid for six weeks, no protestor attacked the passage of lakhs of Amarnath Yatris who cross the Valley at this time of year. And, despite more than 10 weeks in this round of agitation, the protestors have not been armed with anything more than stones. For a generation born in the early Nineties, that learned "A is for AK-47, B is bomb" long before they went to school, that should be seen as an achievement.

 I realize the other big mistake both the Central and State governments are making in their efforts. By constantly referring to job creation as a solution, leaders are wrongly identifying the protests with unemployed frustration. Of J&K's 65 per cent literate population, nearly 10 per cent are out of work, and for a state so dependent on seasonal tourism, unemployment and underemployment is always a worry. But that isn't what is bringing these people out on the streets. In any case, a large number of those out since June are students. Of the rest: I met doctors, journalists, government workers, and lawyers (all the top functionaries of the Kashmir bar association are in jail at present), otherwise well-settled professionals.

28 year old business consultant and online protestor Sanaa has an unusual question for me. "We always hear that Kashmir is an integral part of India," she says, "If it was so integral, we wouldn't be on these streets alone. Where are the non-Kashmiri activists? Why aren't human rights groups in other parts of the country asking for enquiries into the deaths so far?" The alienation of the Kashmiri protestors from other protestors around the country is perhaps something our leadership is not looking at even remotely!

The alienation of thought became even more apparent after the flash floods washed through Leh this month. While the Chief Minister, the Prime Minister, and the Congress's 'youth icon' Rahul Gandhi's visit to the affected in Choglumsar was heartwarming in its immediacy, it also contrasted starkly with the lack of such gestures for families and friends who lost young boys and girls in the Valley protests. But it is these very faces of protest that the leaders must learn to engage with- not some maniacal mob cornering policemen inside their bunkers, but educated, rational thinking youngsters who shout for Azaadi and yearn for justice and recognition of their very real grievances.

So, while the CM's announcement of 50,000 jobs and the PM's creation of a panel to study the creation of more jobs are worthy efforts, they aren't cutting any ice on Srinagar and Sopore's streets. In any case, those streets are already paved with broken promises the Centre makes every time the situation turns violent, and are shelved when 'normalcy' returns. But here are some promises the government would do well to keep, and they were made only this month- the decision to review AFSPA, announced by Chidambaram in parliament would perhaps be the one with the most immediate impact. At present, the act applies even to areas that don't have an Army presence, and certainly there must be substantial parts of the valley where it can be dispensed with.

The next is the promise made by the Prime Minister at the all-party meeting: to look again at the National Conference's autonomy report. If the government is prepared to accept Mr. Abdullah's Independence Day contention that the people of Kashmir await not an economic package but a political one from New Delhi, then that package must at least consider that report. Finally, it is the promise of dialogue with separatist leaders that must pick up speed. New Delhi has always interspersed talks with leaders like the Mirwaiz, Sajjad and Bilal Lone and Yasin Mallik with long spells of silence. Eventually, it is that silence that scuttles all that is achieved in the talks. It is time for a new envoy to be appointed to continue the dialogue uninterruptedly, and with some degree of flexibility to engage others who reject talks like Mr Geelani as well. It was, after all, the call for calm from Geelani that gave Kashmir its first day of peace in eight weeks on August 6.

What is that flexibility? Given that the government is clear that 'Azaadi' or a separate Kashmir, is not an option, it must be prepared to work with maximum leeway within that red-line. This is no new thought- and Dr. Singh's predecessors have each had their own red-line formulation - from Narasimha Rao's promise of the "sky is the limit" within the Indian constitution, to Vajpayee's "insaniyat ke dayre mein" humanitarian approach. Dr. Singh's ideas like "making borders irrelevant" on the LOC and making the Siachen glacier a "mountain of peace" are all indicators of the kind of creativity that will give dialogue with the separatists a chance too. To those in the opposition who oppose such talks, let's remember that it was the NDA that sent its Home Secretary to talk with the Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the deadliest militant groups exactly a decade ago on August 3, 2000. Also, pro-Pakistan leaders like Geelani are seen as unapproachable, but once were a part of the Indian legislative process. Many of the stated positions that today seem intractable may in the future find similar fluidity.

The one message that the protestors on the streets send out without any flexibility though, is that the status quo is not acceptable to them. Hearing the virulence some of the anti-India slogans at the Eidgah cemetery during one protestor's funeral, my 65 year old taxi driver took me aside. "Tell me, " he asked "Do you think these are the worst protests you've seen so far?" "Well," I said, "Things seemed to be much worse during the years of militancy," His reply was a revelation, like the lifting of several veils all at once: "Each time things get better, " he said "The mind forgets how bad they can get."

The government at the Centre, and Indians as a nation just don't have the luxury of that kind of amnesia.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why I will not Watch “We Are Family”

The world has had the pleasure of two ‘luminaries’ of Indian cinema—Mahesh Bhatt and Amitabh Bachchan reinforce their views on ‘plagiarism’ and ‘originality’. Bhatt saab has long maintained that nobody is original; while the ever gracious Bachchan saab went further “Originality is the art of hiding your source”. With such cocky but effete statements coming from seemingly popular people in the bigger “We are Family” fraternity, it is little wonder that the Sanjay Guptas, the Karan Johars and the rest of the “Adapters” brigade continue to revel in an unoriginal, false bubble-gummy world.

At the outset, I’d like to declare I have nothing against adaptations—Some of the best movies in the world have been brilliant adaptations of earlier movies, novels, plays, what have you. When Marty transported the crime lords of Hong Kong in Infernal Affairs to the Irish mobs of Boston, the result was not only a crackling, intense, yet original interpretation of the original, but also a standout in a genre that had apparently been done to death. As Vishal Bhardwaj transformed the moor of Morocco to the adha-brahman of Saharanpur or Ramesh Sippy re-created the Warring States Period in Sholay, you can’t help but gawk at the screen in absolutely fan-boy adoration. But when a Sanjay Gupta rips off Tarantino and Park Chan-Wook frame by frame or Johar groupie Siddharth P Malhotra directs a bolly take off on a strictly average holly rom-com, it’s hard not to have those claws out.

This week’s We Are Family, its cheesy English title notwithstanding is a case in point— it is supposed to be an ‘Indian’ adaptation of Stepmom, but has its characters based in Australia. Evidently Johar’s bored of New York City and has decided to explore the land Down Under. My first question is, if it is about Indian characters and everything almost seemingly Indian, why can’t it be based in Bombay or New Delhi? What demands that a My Name is Khan be about an autistic Indian living in the USA but not about an average Indian in Dehra Dun or Bangalore? Would a Dostana have been a box office dud if it was based in Bombay? Does Johar think that the Indian setting does not bring in the so called visual allure of the West? The problem with the Dharma-Yash Raj Films (YRF) mindset is that whatever location they choose to base the story in, every second person there is Indian and speaks Hindi, doesn’t matter if it is sunny Palm Beach or chilly Reykjavik. Years ago, Barjatya did the unthinkable—he created an Indian small-town–Sundargarh based somewhere in New Zealand or Continental Europe (can’t figure out where). Johar and co are pretty much the same, just that they don’t change the name of New York City to Sundargarh or Rampur. This is just a minor rant in the midst of a storm.

India, I would like to believe has a treasure trove of stories, situations, pop-culture, movies that are waiting to be adapted or even remade, yet Johar only manages to find a silly Hollywood movie to adapt? I am no one to advise the executives at Dharma or question how Johar spends his money, but as an aficionado, I have every right to wonder if the moneybags of Bollywood have gone creatively bankrupt? Atleast YRF produces something different once in a while, but all that Johar does is come up with “I Hate Luv Storys”. Gee, he can’t even get his spellings right. And here’s a guy, who can de-construct Pedro Almodovar like no other (according to informed sources), watch and appreciate the crème-de-la-crème of Indian as well as World Cinema? Would it have hurt if he voluntarily took up the marketing of Udaan or Antardwand? What’s worse is when A-listers such as Kajol and Kareen Kapoor agree to be part of such monstrosities, without as much as battling an eyelid? And Elvis–well, that I will reserve for another day.

Will Johar and Co realize they can make distinctly original, fun, ‘commercial’, ‘masala’ yet ‘Indian’ movies too? Or will they continue to act as pimps for foreign tourism boards? Of course I am sure they’d like to believe those movies can and will be made by the likes of Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj and Dibakar Bannerjee only. While the Johars, the Guptas, Malhotras and Anands continue to dish out assembly line bumblefudge and somehow, laugh their way to the banks every single time. Until Johar and co alter their creative sensibilities, I for one will not contribute in any form to the bank laughter.

PS: 1. As I write this, Natkhat K must have picked all the stars in the sketch book of a nursery kid to paste in her review. Sadly she can’t do the same for the review as Roger Ebert or A O Scott would most likely have not seen the movie and will most likely not see it.

2. Call RGV whatever you want, atleast his Aag was atleast an original interpretation, its content and commercial fate notwithstanding

3. My personal opinion about Dostana is that it was a terrible terrible movie full of toilet and bawdy humor and reinforced the gay stereotypes. It could have been better off had it been written by a screenwriter and not a groupie and it was based in Bombay.

6 things I hate about the IPL

The facts first: I've not missed a single IPL match this season. I'm a cricket junkie. And I quite like the IPL. However, I've somehow developed a love-hate relationship with Lalit Modi's billion-dollar baby. Here's why...

Aankhon-Dekha (Be)haal
Have you dared to tune into the Hindi commentary? Arun Lal, Atul Wassan, Saba Karim and Co have forced me to use the mute button. To say they are intolerable is putting it very mildly. If you want to speak in Hindi, please go ahead. But don't call a bread-and-butter shot 'nashte ka shot'. I prefer watching the games on YouTube (despite the five-minute delay and my poor wi-fi connection) just to hear the English commentary.

Environmental Tokenism
The IPL has tied up with the UN Environment Programme ostensibly "to become one of the most environmentally-friendly major sports events in the world and bring environmental awareness to millions of sports fans around the world". So, before every match, one of the commentators spells out a simplistic environment protection tip. Three hours later, there's a flurry of hazardous firecrackers to celebrate one team's win over the other. The sky is bright enough for you to be fooled into believing it's New Year's Eve or Diwali. The truth: it's a league match of the environment-conscious IPL. And we're not even getting into facts like how much power could have been saved if the matches weren't played under lights.

Karbonn Footprints
Last time I checked, cricket was about fours, sixes, wickets and catches. Not DLF Maximum, Citi Moment of Success and Karbonn Kamaal Catch and what have you. Marketers can go to any extent to score high on brand recall in their next market research report. But this is pushing it a bit too far. Tweaking the rules of cricket is acceptable, but altering its lexicon is not.

Lalit 'I Am Everywhere' Modi
Yes, he gave birth to the IPL. Thank you very much. But he's like this over-enthusiastic single parent who won't take his eye off his child even for a nanosecond. He's in the stands, he's in the dug-out, he's in the commentary box, he's at the presentation ceremony and then at the after-party. He's also on Twitter. Even if you stop following him, he has enough cronies retweeting his posts. But it's too much to ask for any modi-fication, isn't it?

Dugout Blues
They may have spent precious millions on buying their teams, but the franchise owners have no business sitting in the dugout. It's not a place for cricketers to explain the difference between leg-spin and off-spin to their owners. If you've paid a bomb to hire a coach, let him do his job in peace. And let the players enjoy the guy-talk. You don't see owners chatting with players on the bench or on the sidelines during an EPL game. It's a professional league, not a family picnic. Though I must confess, it's nice to see Preity Zinta giving her boys the high-fives every time there's a, well, Citi Moment of Success.

Aggrieved Party
The cramped international calendar and equally tough IPL schedule leaves players with little time to rest. To make matters worse, the players have to now compulsorily attend after-parties in the company of some dishy women and, of course, ubiquitous team owners. It sure makes for mouthwatering gossip and glossy tabloid photos but it's tough on the players who are anyway under constant media glare. The idea of commentators speaking to players on the ground during the course of a match is equally unreasonable. The trouble is, there's way too much money at stake for anyone to dissent.

I think I've spewed enough venom for the BCCI to hit me for a DLF Maximum. It's time for a Max Mobile Strategic Time-Out.