The Lost Years of Shah Rukh Khan

The Lost Years of Shah Rukh KhanSRK is India’s ultimate superstar. Self-made. A Man of Destiny. A Game Changer. He made the transition from TV star to Bollywood superstar seamlessly. He ruled the 1990s and peaked in the 2000s. He virtually created the NRI market. He had a slump in the late 2010s and now he’s back, at least at the box office. This is a collection of columns that take a look at those lost years.


Techceleration!!!A collection of articles on the technological acceleration in the post-pandemic era. Saluting Indians from all walks of life who dug down, fought, innovated, upgraded and did whatever jugaad they could to get through the pandemic crisis and ended up laying the foundations for a great future. Small businesses embraced technology. Large enterprises went fully into Digital Transformation mode. Digital Government became a reality and not just a mantra. There was one common theme in all of this: Technological acceleration or techceleration, which will continue in the decades to come.

Ban The Punter

Former Australian captain Steve Waugh started the mental disintegration of international cricket a decade ago with his brand of sledging, a strategy that has been taken to the very depths of dirt by his successor Ricky Ponting. For years the Aussies have been abusing players and intimidating umpires. Strangely the ICC has kept mum. Very few Aussie players have been banned or even warned. It gets even curiouser with the fact other players doing a fraction of the same get summarily banned, Harbhajan Singh being the latest victim.
The Sydney Test fiasco was just waiting to happen, a result of years of bad blood. The only way to end this sordid saga which threatens to get worse and worse is to issue a warning to Cricket Australia to rein in it’s “pack of wild dogs” and ban Ponting for life.

Here’s why Ponting should be banned based on the Sydney Test alone.

1. He broke the captains’ agreement with Anil Kumble
Before this tour, Ponting and Kumble agreed that in clase of a doubtful catch, the fielders word would be taken. Despite giving that in writing, Ponting still backed Michael Clarke’s controversial catch against Sourav Ganguly. Worse still, he was later shown vociferously claiming a clearly grounded catch. Pakistan captain Rashid Latif was banned for five matches for claiming a catch he didn’t take. The match referee then was, surprise surprise, Mike Procter. Why didn’t Procter ban Ponting for doing worse?

2. He has been proved a liar
You can argue that a lot of things happen on the field in the heat of the moment. But if you stick to your lies and argue with everyone (including a senior Indian journalist at a Press Conference) long after the end of play when the TV replays have shown you a liar, then where does that leave your integrity? The result is that no international player trusts or respects Ponting anymore and the least Cricket Australia can do is remove him from captaincy.

3. The sledging stalwarts can’t take sledging themselves
By Ponting’s own admission, if Harbhajan called his player a monkey he deserved the three-match ban. Then what about all the F*** and other swear words that the Aussies have been using for ages? In the last couple of years they’ve used words more offensive than monkey hundreds of times. By the same logic, all Aussie players deserve bans of atleast 10-20 matches. How can you sit and qualify a swear word? This is less offensive and that is more so? Or maybe ICC should come out with a dictionary of swear words and define which are acceptable on a field and which are not. Any swear word can be deemed racial or non-racial depending on how you judge it. The whole issue smacks of sickening double standards.

4. Bringing disrepute to the game
One image stands out in the Sydney, that of Ricky Ponting raising his finger arrogantly to the umpire to claim the dubious catch. If any Indian player had done the same, he would have been banned for sure. Coupled that with his refusal to walk and Andrew Symonds brazen public admission that he knew he was out on 30, their final celebrations without even waiting for the umpire and many others. What kind of a trigger-happy team is Ponting leading?

5. Take a look at Ponting’s past
Ponting has used an illegal graphite bat, hurled abuses at the England dressing room in Trent Bridge, been fined for dissent many times and rudely told BCCI chief Sharad Pawar to leave a victory podium. How much more can the cricket world take? The Sydney Test was the last straw. His personal life has been no different. He has brawled outside a pub and been thrown out of a night club.
Look at legacy that Ponting is sitting on. Who can forget Michael Slater’s showdown with Indian umpire Venkatraghavan over a catch he didn’t take cleanly? Or Justin Langer’s tipping of the bails of Hashan Tillekratne and then appealing. (He was amazingly cleared of the charge) Aussie greats have called sledging a cultural issue, but which individual likes to be sweared at in the first place? It’s high time Australia was shown its place starting with the ban on Ponting.

(This article appeared in Metro Now newspaper on January 11, 2008)

India yet to tap the versatility of jute

It’s eco-friendly, economical, amazingly versatile and highly under-rated. It could be India’s answer to plastic bags and has its uses even in soil conservation. Jute, the Cinderella of textile fibres, is just waiting to be rescued from the anonymity of research centres.

“Jute has been able to withstand the onslaught of synthetic fibres and plastic,” says Dr SK Bhattacharyya of the National Institute of Research on Jute and Allied Fibre Technology (NIRJAFT) in Calcutta.

“But all that was in the past,” he adds. With plastic bags posing a big environmental hazard, the search is on for alternatives.

And this search should stop at jute, feels DR Bhattacharyya. For NIRJAFT has already come out with cheap disposable carrybags made from biodegradable jute fibres. The price of an average-sized bag could be as low as 20 paise, he claims. He says that the manufacture of these bags could be taken up by existing plastic bag making units with minimal extra investment.

NIRJAFT has come out with clothes, woolens, bedsheets, blankets and wall hangings—all made of jute. Sadly, the prototypes of most of these products are languishing in the research labs for want of better marketing.

In fact, handmade paper can be made from jute waste. This can give employment to thousands of people in the villages with very little investment.

But of special interest, say scientists, is the use f soil in soil conservation. Special blankets made of jute called ‘geotextiles’, are laid beneath a layer of soil. They have a great ability to conserve moisture, moderate soil temperature and stimulate rapid root development. They keep the soil and fertilisers together. They can even be used in canal linings to prevent soil erosion, says Dr BB Sarcar.

In fact nurseries can have jute bags for saplings instead of plastic bags. These can be buried straight into the ground and the bags will degrade into the soil in a matter of time.

Jute is cultivated in humid tropical countries only and India has a world market share of 41.8 per cent. In 1995-96, jute exports were worth Rs 234 crore. If we manage to carve out a niche market in jute products, this figure can only increase.

(This article appeared in the Hindustan Times newspaper on May 17, 2000)

Here, wastewater is food for fish, fertiliser for crops

What do you do with 15,000 million litres of wastewater dumped into rivers by towns and cities every day? If you’re in the Government, you set up a committee; if you’re an environmentalist, you cry foul; if you’re a cynical citizen, you call it a lot of plain muck.

But the Rahara farm near Barrackpore in West Bengal has embarked on a mission, which, if adopted throughout the country, could prove revolutionary in treating polluted water. Set up by the Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture, it looks rather like any other green, picturesque farm. Rahara, however, breeds fish in and grows vegetables with untreated wastewater.

What’s more, the costs at Rahara are a fraction of what commercial farming requires. The products are as safe and tasty as any conventionally irrigated farm.

Wastewater is actually rich in nutrients and highly favourable for phytoplankton (fish food). Water hyacinths are employed to bring down toxicity levels of the water.

The farm has successfully bred Bengali staples such as Rohu, Catla, Bata and even freshwater prawns in wastewater. The fish also rids the water of its polluting elements and renders it safe for release into rivers.

Scientists also that wastewater can be used to grow foodgrain, flowers as well as breed fish. Sewage water proves to be an alterative fertilizer for paddy. Medicinal crops like turmeric, ginger and garlic can also be produced.

It is a symbiotic system where the byproducts of growing vegetables can be again used for growing vegetables can be again used for production of fishes.
“In fact,” says Dr Maniranjan Sinha, Director of the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute in Barrackpore, “water pollution is the least of our problems.”

However what does worry them is that the water level of most Indian rivers is going down. This has severely affected the supply of fish needed from rivers from time to time to avoid the consequence of chronic inbreeding. “At this rate, there will be no rivers in 20 years,” says Dr Sinha.

The institute is also working on air breathing fish that do not need freshwater to survive, such as Singhi, Magur, Koi and Murrels. They keep coming up to the surface to breathe and can survive in sewage water.

Surprisingly, they also have great nutritional value and are recommended by doctor for people recovering from illness.

Dr Sinha points out that such varieties of fish would be ideal for breeding in polluted rivers like Delhi’s own Yamuna, where there is hardly any freshwater left.

The river Ganga has become cleaner, though the decrease in the water level has resulted in the decrease in the number of fish in the river, says Dr Sinha.

CIFA claims that fish culture through sewage water is in practice in Russia, a number of Asian countries and many parts of Europe.

(This article appeared in the Hindustan Times newspaper on May 14, 2000)

Barren Island rich with wild goats

Meet Billy, the goat. Resident of Barren Island in the Andamans. (Barren Island is home to the only active volcano in the country). Billy has survived the volcano’s eruptions by migrating to the unaffected side of the island, feeding on its sparse foliage and surviving, no, thriving, on seawater. Yes, seawater.

Generically, Billy is a feral goat—nomadic, untamed—in barren Barren Island.

Dr SPS Ahlawat, Director of the Central Agricultural Research Institute in Port Blair, says few other animals have been known to withstand the vagaries of such harsh environment. And research on the feral goat could have wide reaching implications for the world in general and India in particular.

For one, the feral goat could be the answer to the livestock problems of drought-affected regions, where fresh water is in short supply. Secondly, research work on its kidney, which has adapted to the highly saline seawater, could yield rich results. (Drinking saline water can kill a human being in a matter of days). Finally, Dr Ahlawat says feral goats like Billy could be bred in “zero management farms” that can provide enormous quantities of mutton at next to no cost.

But how did Billy get on Barren Island in the first place? Some say his caprine ancestors were shipwrecked, circa 1800. Those with a more fertile imagination say Charles Darwin relocated Billy here for one of his experiments!

But if Billy is such hot property, why isn’t he world-famous yet? Dr Ahlawat sighs and says something that many scientists cite throughout the country: bureaucratic hurdles.

Thanks to the strict wildlife laws of the Andamans, it has taken him two years to get permission to take just one pair of goats off the island into port Blair. And the institute hasn’t made much headway with the limited progeny it has worked on. So, it will be quite some time before maverick Billy finds his way to dinner tables.


(This article appeared in the Hindustan Times newspaper on May 10, 2000)