Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sardar Kushwant Singh

Sardar Kushwanth Singh turned 93 few weeks ago. I am one of his unashamed admirers and have been so for many years. What endeared me to him was the celebrated spat he had with that egocentric, difficult to suffer Krishna Menon who was the Indian high commissioner in the UK some 50 years ago. I had then and now a gut dislike for Krishna Menon and his acerbic ways of speech and behaviour. To our naïve prime minister then, Jawaharlal Nehru, Krishna Menon could no wrong. History now reveals that Krishna Menon was an unmitigated disaster as far as this country is concerned. His tenure as defense minister saw us suffer humiliation at the hands of the Chinese in the 1962 war. He like Nehru had a coterie of sycophants and one of them was general Kaul who had no idea of what was happening to our soldiers who were facing the Chinese. Krishna Menon gave the order to throw the Chinese out which ended utter tout of our ill prepared and equipped army.

Some old timers will remember his tenure as our representative in the UN and his marathon verbal battles with Sir Zafarulla Khan and later with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan on the question of Kashmir. He would put the most admirers of his debating skills to sleep and when they are not his admirers, like the other members of the UN one can imagine how effective he must have been in putting our case across.

Very few had the guts to take on this powerful man and Kushwanth Singh was one of them. He held the important post of press attaché[?] and had to deal with this man day in and day out and on one such frustrating occasion [I have read the juicy details in some book] he seems to have thrown the papers at him and told Mr. Menon to stuff them up his----.and quit the post!
For many years he was the editor of the Illustrated weekly of India. During this period, he saw the weekly’s circulation soar by adopting methods which annoyed many purists but delighted the readers. Gossip with rancour, interspersed with a liberal dose of exposed female sex was his recipe for success. Even now he makes no bones as to his liking for wine and women and bemoans his old age because he no longer can enjoy these. In his long carrier as a newspaper man he hobnobbed with the rich, influential and famous but never became anyone’s laky. One can with some justification accuse him, in hindsight, of being close to becoming one of late Sanjay Gandhi. I remember a picture showing him at the wheels of the prototype of Maruti car which was Sanjay’s brain child. Sanjay Gandhi had clear ideas which appealed to lot of us. He was no taken in by the then popular ideology socialistic secularism. He believed that the country’s escape from poverty depended upon compulsory family planning, aforestation, slum removal and beatification and private enterprise. This has been proved right but the way he want about doing it was draconian and large sections of the population went against him and his mother as the elections results then showed. But Sardar Kushwanth defended Sanjay even when it was not the in thing to do so.

One would, by reading the above lines, say that he is a crass person. Far from it. He is well red, learned person who has delved deeply into the history of Sikh religion and written books. Though steeped in religion, he has been an agnostic and doesn’t believe in the existence of a formed god. His newspaper columns frequently lampoon god men and women.

Lastly his humour. In addition to being a ready wit, he is also a collector of fun and has published these in a book form a one of these I have given below.

Santa Singh and Banta Singh ran an engineering contracting company. When the British and the French floated tenders for the construction of the under the British channel tunnel, the lowest quotation was from this Santa and Banta firm located in Jallandar. It was so ridiculously low that they were about to dismiss it altogether as impossible. But the tender rules did not permit this and the brothers were duly called to appear before the committee. The brothers appeared dressed in their new suits. They were asked, ‘how can you do it this cheap?’ Simple, they said. ‘I Santa will dig from this end and he Banta will dig from the other end, we meet at the centre and there you have your tunnel’. Taken aback by this simple logic they were queried further, ‘Mr. Santa, it needs great engineering skill and very expensive equipment to meet at the exact place, what will happen if you both miss?’ Santa laughed and said,’ why you worry, you get two tunnels at the cost of one’.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Apathy, indifference or irresponsibility?

On Thursday, the 23rd of this month, the citizens of Bangalore went to vote, only 45% of them. This is supposed to be a city populated by intelligent, educated citizens. Why was this low turnout despite appeals almost daily by sportspersons, film personalities, social workers and politicians reminding the citizenry to go and vote.

Are the people that dumb? Don’t they know that it is important to vote? If they know, then, why did they not vote? There are many explanations. One is that past experience has taught them that it is a waste of their time because the elected representative has failed them so far and will this time too. The other is that most political parties select candidates not based on merit but based on caste, religion and ability to mobilize money and muscle.

In the present elections like in the past, this to some extent was true. Money, liquor and gifts were given to poorer voters to entice them to come and vote. Pockets of poverty and concentration of voters is present in urban slums and these are the people who turned out in large numbers to vote adding credence to the belief that Indian voter can be bought and the democracy in this country is a sham.

So like in the past this time too it was another great Indian thamasha and we will get another set of buffoons who will rule us.

Such a pity.

Golf memorabilia. Part 3

Another danger is the possibility of carrying different kinds of vermin in the golf bags, as it happened to one of the golfers, who to his horror found a snake slithering out of his bag when he reached home. Witness to this sight of a snake coming uninvited to her home, will you blame the wife for not liking the game? Golfers by and large are not fastidious about their mud covered shoes and stockings and don’t wash and clean their gloves. Often these small objects are left forgotten in some nook and will come to light only later, sometimes, long after the golfer is dead and gone as happened in the incident described above.

After so many years of playing and competing in assorted tournaments, a golfer tends to collect a fair number of trophies. Most of these look great to the eyes of the golfer. A plate with the engraved figure of the golfer with the club held aloft is considered a nice piece for display in the living room. The arduous circumstances and the fierce battle preceding its win are memories that he winner will cherish for life. Naturally he will loathe seeing this prized trophy being removed from the prominent place it now occupies. Neither will he tire of telling the heroic story of the historic win to all the visitors who come to his home golfers and non golfers alike. That the wife thinks the object and the story repulsive, is another matter altogether. Adding insult to injury, the golfer husband periodically reminds her to clean and polish the offensive object. A collection of such offensive brick a brac is enough to ruin any marriage. That it doesn’t happen more frequently than it is happening now, speaks volumes on the sagacity and forgiving nature of wives of golfers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Golf Memorabalia.Part 2

I knew an elderly gofer [who as he wished died on the golf course] who had an inordinate attachment to an ancient set of golf clubs and would play all the club tournaments with this set. He was a wealthy man and processed several swanky sets, but his first live was this old set. I was told that he found this set when he went to the local scrap merchant looking for a spare part for his antique Morris sports car. Tucked away in one corner sat this set and the scrap yard owner, who didn’t know what it was, was happy to sell it for a song and see the last of it. Like a mongrel who became the favorite pet and watch dog, this someone’s discard served the new master so well that he would use it in preference to the others who had a better pedigree.

Putter which is used on the greens of the golf course is the most valuable of all the golf clubs all the fourteen of them. This is one club which can make or mar your game. A golfer I know broke his valued and favorite putter. He was grief and panic stricken. This bereaved golfer took the shaft and the blade to several workshops and found to his dismay that getting the two pieces together was no easy task. Finally he did succeed but the resultant club, at the end where the two pieces were welded together, Looked as though it had grown some malignant tumour. When this putter with the attached tumour was in use, it distracted other playing partners so much that they offered to replace the club with similar new one at their own cost! Our friend the golfer in question vehemently refused. A compromise was arrived at and the tumour was camouflaged with white tape which then became less distracting! The problem was ultimately solved when the putter gave away once more and the golfer had to find a replacement much to the delight of his friends. Needless to say the new putter did not enjoy the same favour as the old one.

Every golfer believes that his wife does not like the game. He is under the impression that the long hours he spends away from home leaves his wife pining for him. I know for certain that his is not the reason. As a matter of fact most wives are happy to see their crazed husbands out of their way. The likely reason is the havoc the equipment plays on their well appointed homes. A golf bag may be the most beautiful object in the world in the jaundiced eyes of the golfer, but not the wife’s. Unfortunately the golf bag gets placed on turf treated with offensive smelling manure and water. This smelly bag far from being clean and often muddy is brought into the home as a prized procession and which woman would tolerate this despite her professed love towards the owner. If you have a collection of these bags as golfers wont to have imagine what it does to marital harmony. [To be continued]

Bobby Jones

Robert Tyre Jones, popularly known as Bobby Jones is a legend in the world of golf. He was born in 1902 and died in 1971. As a child he was sickly and had to be spoon fed and showed no promise of the great physical ability, grace and poise that came to be associated with him in later life. He took to golf virtually like a fish taking to water and at a tender age of six started winning tournaments. And at the age of fourteen became the youngest player to have played in the US amateur championship.

Despite the great talent and promise success did not come easily to the yougman. This is because of his fiery temper. He once, while playing an important match in the UK, picked the ball out of frustration knowing full well that he will be disqualified. Only when he learnt to keep his emotions under control, he began to bloom and in the ten years that he ruled the golf world he was the undisputed king winning several major tournaments in the US and the UK, making the sports writers of his time and since then, call him as the greatest champion the game has ever seen. In 2000, Golf Digest magazine listed his Grand Slam win as the greatest achievement of the century.

But Bobby is remembered more for his character, courage and honesty.

Once while playing in an important tournament he felt that after he had addressed the ball the ball had moved. He called the marshals who made enquiries with the spectators and players who disagreed with Jones and they refused to award the penalty. Undaunted, Bobby awarded two penalty strokes on himself and proceeded to lose the match by one stroke! No wonder then that New Yorkers gave him ticker tape parade when he won both the US and British open championship in 1926, the only amateur to do so in golfing history.

Between 1923 and 1930, Jones dominated the game of golf, winning at least one national championship every year and 13 of 21 major championships he entered. His preeminence during that period was so complete that his two primary rivals, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, never won any U.S. or British Open in which Jones played. In 1927, Jones returned to St. Andrews to defend his open title. Declaring that the trophy would remain in St. Andrews if he should win, Jones endeared himself to the people of St. Andrews, forming a kindred spirit with the birthplace of golf that would flourish for all time. In 1930, Jones accomplished the unthinkable by winning the U.S. and British Open and Amateur Championships all in the same year.

Amazingly, Jones amassed his incredible record while playing no more frequently than the average weekend golfer, about 80 rounds per year. He typically spent no more than three months out of the year traveling to, and playing in, tournaments. Consequently, he played almost exclusively in national championships, viewing other tournaments as a sideline used only as a tune up for the majors after a long layoff. Surprisingly this extraordinarily gifted golfer, at the height of carrier, at the young age of 28 announced his retirement. Why did he retire? There are many versions. One which is attributed to him is probably true. He appears to have said that success in golf is like entering a golden cage and it is difficult to get out. One should get out when one can. This is what he did to escape the pressure.

After retirement till he went as an officer when America went to war, he was associated with teaching golf and refining the art of making golf clubs. It was he who s replaced the Hickory shaft with steel. He also spent time writing syndicated newspaper columns on golf, teaching golf and writing instruction books, all of which were hugely popular. Not many know that he had an engineering degree and also a degree in law and certification in golf course design and architecture. Perhaps Bobby Jones’ greatest legacy to the game of golf was his design of the Augusta National Golf Club and Course. Still considered one of the finest golf courses in the world, Augusta opened in 1933 and is home to the Masters, one of the four major tournaments played today.

In 1942, at the age of 40, Jones was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps, intent on doing his part to support the war effort. He later served as an intelligence officer with the U.S. 9th Air Corps, but his unit was converted to infantry and landed at Normandy on D–Day plus one. After spending two days under intense enemy fire, Jones remained in Europe for several months before returning from the war as a Lieutenant Colonel. Later in life, Jones would speak little about his experiences in the war, deflecting the subject in much the same way as he deflected people’s efforts to get him to talk about his exploits in golf.

In 1948, Jones would come face to face with the greatest challenge of his life. Suffering from severe back and neck pain which were later diagnosed to be due to Syringomyelia, a rare and degenerative disease of the central nervous system. Paralysis first required Jones to use a cane, then leg braces, and finally a wheelchair. At first glance, Jones’ fate might appear a cruel irony, as the author of one of golf’s most graceful and powerful swings lived out his days crippled by a deadly disease. But those who knew him would disagree. While known primarily for his unmatched skill on the golf course, the true measure of Bobby Jones was his character. One story passed down through the years has Jones responding to a question about his disease late in life with the statement, ‘We all have to play the ball as it lies.’ And play it he did, enduring tremendous pain with stoic bravery for some 22 years. As a young man, wrote Herbert Warren Wind, ‘he was able to stand up to just about the best that life can offer, which is not easy, and later he stood up with equal grace to just about the worst.’

On December 18, 1971, golfers on the old course at St. Andrews stopped play as the flag on the clubhouse in front of the 18th hole was lowered to half-mast. The legendary Bobby Jones had died at the age of 69.

Just how great was Bobby Jones? ‘Down the years people have wondered whether Jones was the greatest of all golfers,’ British golf writer Pat Ward–Thomas said of Jones, ‘Comparison is invidious, for no man can do more than win and Jones won more often within a given period than anyone else has ever done. In his time, Jones was supreme, at match and medal play, to a greater extent than Hogan or Nicklaus have been in theirs, and even the great Tiger Woods. For many [like me], Robert Tyre Jones Jr, of Atlanta, Georgia was, quite simply, the greatest of them all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Golf Memorabalia

This is part of a story I wrote many years ago which was published in a golf journal.

Attachment to inanimate objects is not uncommon. I know of people who are attached to their cars and motor cycles and their homes. But attachment to equipment with which they played a sport is uncommon. But one sport where such attachment is common is golf.

Teachers and philosophers, past and present, stress that the best way to happiness is to remain detached. Something akin to our government’ minimum needs programme! The less you have better off you are or to put it another way, the minimum are your needs, happier you will be. So they believe. This may be true for many aspects in real life but it certainly doesn’t apply to the unique breed of golfers and their game.

Golfers by and large believe that more they have the better and happier golfers they will be. Like a magpie, the golfer is born with an instinct to collect and hoard objects and looking at these periodically, he derives great pleasure. Here are some examples that I know of.

A golfer who recently passed away, left behind a stock of 2000 golf balls, 30 pairs of gloves, 10 golf sets, 20 golf bags, 2 small bags which contained an assortment of ball markers, cleaners, cleats, spike removers and tighteners, and ten pairs of golf shoes with tins of special polish, not to speak of the several dozens of caps and hats. Also found, neatly bound, an assortment of odd clubs, quite rusty, all of which rightfully belonged to the nearest scrap yard, but lovingly kept by the owner. Never very sympathetic to the husband’s attachment to the game, the widow was hard put to dispose of this life long collection of the golfing paraphernalia.

Another widow discovered in the attic, a foul smelling bag full of used gloves. She wasted no time in getting rid of the offensive material. She however recalled her late husband spending considerable time looking for this beloved bag of used gloves when he was alive.

An elderly golfer, long retired from playing the game, wanted to dispose of his 1950 vintage golf set. The word got around and I knew a beginner who wanted to buy an old set and I told him about this sale. He went to have a look. He found the old golfer in a mood of extreme sorrow at having to part with his collection of mashie, spoon, niblick etc [old names for golf clubs], names, the new golfer was unfamiliar with and therefore unable to appreciate. He had to sit through a narration of the history and exploits of the set. He returned disappointed with what was on offer, not being interested in the antique value of the set. What was surprising was that the the old man had kept the set for over twenty years after he stopped playing! He just couldn’t part with the set which had given him such good time in the past, and had very reluctantly agreed to part with it, only because it had occupied much needed space in the house. He appeared very pleased when my friend declined to buy the set!

A golfer I know keeps a hideous looking old golf bag in the corner of his living room. To make it look less conspicuous, his wife has ingenuously converted it into a sort of flower holder with the fond hope that visitors to her house will look at the flowers and ignore the bag. The poor woman is unaware that she has only succeeded in drawing attention to the unwanted object and the inevitable unpleasant questions related to the bag. The bag had a history. It had belonged to the golfer’s father who too was an avid golfer and the son had a lot of sentimental value attached to it. This kind of attachment some of us who are golfers may appreciate but certainly not his wife who is heard to openly comment that the set [the game] had ruined her father in law’s family life and now their lives. There is an element of truth in it as the avid golfer husband is to be found on the golf course almost daily and people tell me that his business is not doing all that well. Real chip of the old block don’t you agree?

[To be continued in the next posting.]

A four ball was playing a match [four ball means four golfers].They were all square at the fourteenth and the match had reached a very crucial stage when one of the gofers whom we will call Joe, received a call on the cell phone. The caller told Joe that his wife had taken suddenly ill. Joe said,’ take her to doc John, I will be there soon’ and continued the play. Thirty minutes later, when they were at the 16nth green, the call came that Doc John had sent her to the hospital and would Joe please go there? Joe said he will and continued the game. They reached the seventeenth with the game all square with the last and crucial hole remaining. And the call came informing Joe that his wife had passed away and would he please come. Joe appeared none too unhappy, he said to his partner,’ now she has passed away, I don’t have to hurry, l can relax and play the last hole and we will win the match’

Only a golfer can see Joe’s point.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The great Indian tamasha

Every fifth year India goes through a huge convulsion called general elections. This is when we select 500 odd members to our parliament and allow them to rule us for the next five years. If you want to become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer you have to have a minimum qualification, but to contest elections to Indian Parliament you don’t have to have any qualification. There is no upper age restriction either. Though the voters are largely below the 40 age group the contentstants are generally in the age group of 60 and above! Of the two prime ministerial prospects, one is 82 and the other is 78!

But some qualifications are absolute necessities. One is you must have money. If you don’t have money there is a slim chance of getting elected. There is another necessity. You must belong to a party. This helps as the party gives you the muscle power [volunteers who come at a price] to help you out with the voters. If you have the additional qualification of belonging to a known political family it helps. The political families have already established names with which the people are familiar. Many years ago there lived a sage who went by the name of M.K.Gandhi who earned the name of Mahatma from his countrymen and who gave us our freedom. Gandhi is a common sir name in the north and there was a politician called Feroz Gandhi who married Indira Priyadarshini who was Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter. So she came to be called Indira Gandhi! Though no relation to Mahatma, many Indians of that generation thought so and I know some who voted for her thinking she is Mahatma’s relation! That she came to rule this country and what happened to us during her rule is common knowledge. Having family and political connections, in addition to money helps.

Next in importance to family connections is the caste to which you belong. If you happen to belong to a caste which has poor representation in the constituency, you have no hopes of success. We, in India, still have this caste consciousness and this plays a huge role in the decision making. Why have you voted for so and so? I did because he belongs to my caste will be the answer. There is a caste called Yadavs. They form a sizeable percentage of population in the Hindi belt [where this is the language of communication]. So you have got be a Yadav to win in some constituencies. Some of these Yadavs who have contested have criminal backgrounds is unimportant. What is important is winnability and being a yadav contributes to your winnability.
Another quality that helps is glamour. A film star who has no pretentions to social service or experience in politics will get elected because a large number of people have seen him on the tinsel screen. There is a state in south India now called Tamil Nadu .This is also the state which has supplied the largest number of computer professionals to the US! This state’s electorate simply loves film stars. If not film stars, persons who have something to do with cinema. They elected a cinema hero called MGR and after him a lady who played heroine roles with him called Jayalalitha as the chief ministers of the state. Even in the present elections there are any number of them in the fray in all parts of the country and I am sure many of them will get elected and decorate their respective chairs in the parliament.

Are there no candidates who have overcome these caste, community, family, money connections? Yes there have been an occasional few. One of them I thought till recently was George Fernandez, Initially a trade unionist, socialist, then a minister in the central government, well known for his simple living and austere ways. He would get elected from a place called Muzaffernagar and he being from south of India, and a Christian to add! He would get elected from there consistently and once even when he was in jail! Such was his charisma! But I was sadly disappointed to know that this simple austere man has declared a wealth of 8 crores when he went to file his nomination papers! Another disappointment is Mr. Jaswanth Sigh, a highly respected parliamentarian and our ex foreign minister, who was found distributing currency notes during an election rally!

So, if one were to look for the so called honest candidate who is above all these considerations one has a real struggle cut out. If you know one please let me know.

These are the people who come June, will sit in our parliament and rule us for the next five years. Are you wondering like I do, how we have survived as a democracy with this kind of representation? We are a perfect example that democracy, despite such severe limitations, is still a better bet than any other form of governance!