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)

The Fantastic Voyage

The InfoTech revolution has come here to stay and threatens to change the face of the Earth. We are all speeding on Al Gore’s information superhighway. But the development of all this has not been overnight. Its development can be traced centuries back. At first, computing started slowly, picked up and since then it has been accelerating.

Early Developments: One of the important inventions, which helped in the history of computing, was the ancient abacus, which is still widely popular in Japan in the 20th century. Other developments were the slide rule in 1622, the mechanical calculator in 1647 and the automated loom in 1820. The latter used punched cards and this was the first form of primitive programming.

The 19th Century: But it was Charles Babbage who really laid the foundation for the computer, as we know it today. He made great breakthroughs in the 1830s on his analytical engine with this regard.

In 1876 came the telephone. The foundation for communication lines all over the world was laid. One 20th century invention, the modem, united the computer and telephone to unleash a monster.

The Fifties to the Seventies: During this period in the 20th century came a spate on inventions and ideas in rapid succession. The coming of the microchip in 1959, the minicomputer in 1968 which subsequently helped man to go to the moon, the microprocessor in 1970, the microcomputer in 1974 and the floppy disk in 1975.

The Eighties. PC Magic Everywhere: Perhaps this was the final stage and the most important development, the coming of the computer to the masses. A computer became a necessity for everyone in the West, Steve Jobs quit the Apple scene, but not before leaving his impact on the world and Bill Gates became a billionaire. In 1980, IBM came out with the first commercial personal computer, which incidentally was also the year of the supercomputer. In 1981 came the same computer with Microsoft Desk Operating System (MS DOS), which ensured that computer handling became much more simpler and Gates all the more richer. At that time we had modems with a speed of 300 bits per second, which looked as if they would fulfill future requirements. After that came the Compact Disc and then a spate of PCs, each better than the predecessor—the 286, 386 and 486.

The Nineties. The Coming of the Net: If everyone thought the PC revolution wouldn’t be bettered, then they were mistaken when the Internet took the whole world by storm. In 1991, Gopher, the precursor of the Web was designed to help students find information quickly. In 1992, the World Wide Web was formed thanks to researcher Tim Berners-Lee and the world was finally united on a scale never seen before. The global village seems to be shrinking and shrinking. Then in 1993, Marc Andreessen came out with Mosaic thanks to which we had graphics on the net and in 1994 came the commercial Netscape Navigator, aptly named. Now the setting was complete and anyone in the world and get information at speeds unimaginable just a few years ago. And talking of speeds, in 1996 the Optical Carrier (OC-3) came at a speed of 122 megabits per second, a far cry from the 1981 modem speed of just 300bps.

On the PC front came the Pentium for greater speeds and a larger memory and Windows 95, the real user-friendly operating system.

The 21st Century. Unpredictable: And one shudders to think what the next century is capable of. We have Virtual Reality, which creates a virtual world inside the mind. Computer aided design, medical research, writing—you name it, we’ll have Computer Aided Everything! Entire global business may be done on the Net. And then there’s artificial intelligence. Will the computer finally outwit man in all departments?

(This article appeared in the Hindustan Times newspaper in 1998)

Sworn AD-Versaries

Man is under attack from advertisements from all sides. Sometimes it’s a visual attack and sometimes aural. Through the TV or in print. And sometimes a gigantic hoarding stares at you from the bus as you stop at a red light.

Advertisements are becoming more and more aggressive and treading directly into enemy territory. From Look at what we have got, the focus has clearly shifted to Look at what they haven’t. The best example in this is the Pepsi-Coke global war—especially the chimpanzee ad. The ad showed two chimps under observation. One drank Coke. The other Pepsi. The ad begins with the Coke-drinking chimp making great progress in educational blocks and the Pepsi chimp running away. The Pepsi chimp is then shown partying around town with a jeep full of girls. Coke took Pepsi to a South American court and lost the case. But two wrongs made a right in the end when a local soft drink manufacturer made an ad with a Pepsi chimp look-alike showing him throw away Pepsi and taking to the local brand.

When Pepsi endorser Michael Jackson got dehydrated on his Asia tour, hoardings with the caption, Dehydrated? Have a Coke came all over. But this campaign had to be aborted. The opposition did not come from the enemies of unethical advertising, but from Jackson’s fans.

So when Pepsi came to India, no one was surprised that it took Thums Up head on. An ad showed a Pepsi van going along a highway and passing three signs. The first was the Thumbs Up sign. The second was the same sign sideways making it a hitchhiking sign. In the third, it appeared upside down to become a thumbs down. Burger King also unleashed its series of digs against McDonalds. These included punchlines like Have it your own way (an attack on McDonalds mass production methods) and the Whopper beats Big Mac. Polo and Minto, Exide and Standard are some of the companies in India who have taken each other head on. The Telegraph came out with an ad showing the difference between it and the Statesman, calling it the generation gap. The counter ad was captioned (what else?) the degeneration gap.

But negative advertising isn’t more pronounced than it is in America, especially the presidential elections. There a candidate wouldn’t be able to speak much about his strengths, but able to produce a thesis on his opponent’s faults. Clinton won his first term on a blatantly anti-Bush campaign and even made an MTV-type jingle titled Read My Lips. He won his second term not on merit, but due to Dole’s inability. In UK, the Tories began their election campaign by showing a photo of Tony Blair on which were superimposed the eyes of the devil. The greatest opposition came only from the Church.

But this whole process is irreversible. Such a form of advertising has spread far and wide and threatens to spill over into the 21st century with a vengeance.

(This article appeared in the Hindustan Times newspaper in 1998)