musing, a little fearfully, about beautiful mornings

I was brought up in a family where we loved to listen to music. Now, half a century later, that love of music remains rampant and unchecked.

The music we listened to came from a limited number of sources: the radio; my father’s original record collection (78rpm lacquer platters, 33rpm 10″ vinyl and 33rpm 12″  LPs); the albums and cassette tapes we acquired as children and teenagers. I didn’t buy my first album till 1972; I was 14 then. It was this one:

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A collection of Beatles oldies. That album summed up many things about the context I grew up in. It related to something English in origin, no longer in existence, packaged for Americans, manufactured locally, by what was then the Gramophone Company of India, in Dumdum of bullet and airport fame.

My father’s tastes were eclectic and so we grew up listening to Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Jelly Roll Morton; we learnt to love Perry Como and Pat Boone; we savoured great orchestral works by Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky. There were a few “modern” albums: A Hard Day’s Night, With the Beatles, Time Out, In the Wind. A few oddballs like Burl Ives and Edmundo Ros.

And a bunch of musicals. My Fair Lady. South Pacific. Carousel. Paint Your Wagon.

And Oklahoma.

For years, whenever I heard that name, my brain, my heart, my memories would all be in this song:

Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’. I still get goose pimples when I hear the song belted out nice and loud, the way it should be heard.

As I grew older, as I read more, as I began to travel (I’d never left India until after my 23rd birthday), I learnt more about Oklahoma. The Sooner State. An edge of the Dust Bowl. Part of Route 66. Cimarron County. The bombing of the Alfred P Murrah building. And the capital of fracking.

Many years ago, I remember reading about the response of the state to the phenomena that created the Dust Bowl, the way those that ran the state took steps to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. Extensive soil and irrigation and conservation strategies. A programme that included building 200 manmade lakes.

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More recently, I read in the New Yorker about fracking and Oklahoma. How manmade earthquakes were becoming exceedingly common. The article referred to some data from the USGS:

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I’m not a geologist.

What the New Yorker wrote, what the USGS had to say, did make me think that such phenomena would make it harder for people to be able to sing “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'”

I hope I’m wrong. If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck.

I hope I’m wrong.

 

“certainly we’re going to see it next week”

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The current weather forecast for Thursday at St Andrews

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The weather forecast for Friday to Sunday next week at St Andrews

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Jordan Spieth’s PGA Tour putting stats this year

Yesterday Jordan Spieth carded a 61 that could have been a 55 if you count his near misses. In doing so he went into the lead at the John Deere Classic, after languishing in 102nd place at the end of the first round. A video of his comments after the 61 is available on the pgatour web site.

It should send a chill down the rest of the field at the Open next week, as he expresses his happiness at staying out and practising in tough conditions as the officials grappled with on-off suspension of play. His thoughts are already on how that could help him at St Andrews.

This, from a man who’s already won the first two Majors of the year. This, from a man who’s shown he can putt and putt well. This, from a man who’s shown he can play links courses well. This, from a man who tends to sharpen his form just as a Major approaches. His three tournament finishes before the Masters were Valspar win via playoff, Valero 2nd, Shell Houston lose in playoff. His preparation for the US Open? Tied 2nd at Crowne Plaza, T30 at Byron Nelson and T3 at the Memorial. Ominous that he goes into round 4 today in the lead.

I was very impressed with Spieth at the Masters last year, how he dealt with losing, how he played in tournaments after that, particularly in the last few months of the year. I had the privilege of following him “live” at the Ryder Cup in September, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. By December my fascination with the man and what he stood for could not be contained, at which point I went public:

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As you would expect, I repeated it before and during the Masters and before and during the US Open. But this post is not about my predictive skills, they’re nothing to write home about.

This is about Jordan Spieth. He may win today, and he may not. I think and hope he will, as do millions of others. He may win the Open this coming week, and he may not. Winning three majors in a row is a hard thing. A very hard thing. But I think and hope he can do it.

Why does it matter so much to me?

It’s for an odd reason. But an important one.

For many years I’ve been told that “nice people don’t win”. That you have to have a really mean streak, a fatal flaw, in order to lead the world at anything. That genius is essentially evil.

Examples abound. Much of the time, in business, in sport, in politics, in show business, in every walk of life, we’re shown how our idols have feet of clay.

And before you know it, feet of clay become not just expected but demanded.

But I’m an idealist, and I keep looking for exceptions to the feet-of-clay rule. I treasure having met and shaken hands with Pele. I treasure having been able to watch Tendulkar in his heyday.

And I treasure watching Jordan Spieth go about his business:

His easy camaraderie with his fellow golfers: yesterday, his playing group passed by Danny Lee’s group, and he went to say hello, warmly, to the man most likely to make it hard for him to win today.

His humble relationship with his caddy, the deep friendship that shows there: after each of his Major triumphs, he quite clearly used words like “we won, we did this, we thought this”. He brought the “we” into singles golf in a way I have never seen before, making the caddy an integral component of his success. The Michael Greller story is in itself a wonderful story, and I hope to learn more.

The way he comports himself on the course, how he interacts with the people around him: so many high fives, so many fingertip touches, that easy smile. This is a young man who’s tasted success and failure and not let either get to him.

The incredible focus he has on what he does on the course: his muttered conversations with Michael as “they” misread a putt, and how quickly he annotates the books with that learning. His aim, almost an expectation, that every putt he hits should go in. The level of concentration he brings in to play. His utter joy when he succeeds, his somewhat calmer acceptance when he doesn’t.

As a child, I was very taken with Gundappa Viswanath, the cricketer. A man known to play each ball on its merits, whose attitude and equanimity on the field was amazing. Legend has it that after a great run of form, Vishy was, surprisingly, out first ball in a match. When asked why, he’s reputed to have replied “The ball deserved it”.

This world needs role models. Examples of people who can succeed without becoming unlivable-with in the process. Jordan Spieth is showing some real potential in this respect.

And that’s why I care so much about Jordan Spieth. Even if he loses today. Even if he never wins another Major.

Who he is, how he acts, what he stands for, matters, in a world of fallen idols.

Go Jordan Spieth!

 

Hingis wins … BBC loses. [Updated]

 

 

 

There was a Women’s Doubles match at Wimbledon yesterday.

And Martina Hingis won it.

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All by herself. No one else involved. So the BBC would have you believe. And it’s true. She did it on her own. As you can see from the photographs above and below.

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Martina Hingis did win. Just not on her own. Which she makes abundantly clear in every part of her attitude in matches she plays with her doubles partner.

Maybe I’m being unfair on the BBC. After all, Hingis is the world number two ranked women’s doubles player.

Except for one thing. The world’s number one ranked women’s doubles player was her partner. The one they left out of the tweet and the headline.

Maybe I’m being unfair on the BBC. After all, this was the first Wimbledon win by Hingis in 17 years, and deserved special treatment.

Except for one thing. This was the first grand slam women’s double win by any Indian, not just in 17 years, but since tennis began.

Hingis won, and deserves every credit. Go Martina! Hingis won with her partner, Sania Mirza, who also deserves every credit. Go Sania! A fairytale partnership. Everybody wins.

Except for the BBC.

Maybe I’m being unfair on the BBC. After all, there’s a mixed doubles final this afternoon at Wimbledon, involving Martina Hingis. And her Indian partner Leander Paes. What will the headline be? Will it be Hingis wins again? Or Hingis loses?

Talking about Indian partners, there’s a third Indian in a doubles final at Wimbledon this year. Sumit Nagal. Playing with Nam Loang Lie of Vietnam. Maybe it’s best that the BBC don’t report on that game at all.

There was a time when the BBC World Service stood for truth. I lived in India from 1957 to 1980, and whenever I wanted to know what really happened I would listen to the BBC. No propaganda, no spin, just truth. There was the occasional mistake: when I was at university, the World Service reported the death of Jayaprakash Narayan. A stalwart freedom fighter and social reformer, I was named after him. [I am told I met him, that he was a friend of my grandfather’s, that he was some sort of godfather to me, but I have neither memory nor proof of any of that].

JP hadn’t died. Not that time anyway. But the World Service had an excuse for being wrong. They were reporting what the Indian intelligence services had said, something the Indian Prime Minister of the time apparently then made public. There are still debates about who first made the news public in March 1979. JP did die, but only later that year, in October.

Curation is important when it comes to news on the web. A global perspective is also important.

Hingis won. Mirza won. But this time around, the BBC lost.

Update: Here’s what the BBC has done since:

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A sincere correction. No defence of the past, no attempt to give excuses or to brush under the carpet. A good thing.

Update 2: Martina Hingis and Leander Paes did win their final. As did Sumit Nagal and Nam Loang Ly. So we had *three* Indians as part of winning doubles teams at Wimbledon this year, women’s doubles, mixed doubles and boys’ doubles. Here’s the Times of India coverage of the Hingis/Paes win: 

http://m.timesofindia.com/sports/tennis/wimbledon-2015/indian-challenge/Leander-Paes-wins-16th-Grand-Slam-title-at-Wimbledon/articleshow/48046068.cms

Saturday in the park

Saturday in the Park. Chicago. 1973. A wonderful song, I’m glad my brother Anant reminded me of it this morning. A serendipitous moment, because I was thinking of green spaces and walking.

I love walking. Those of you who know me would also know I’ve never learnt to drive. So walk I must. And walk I do.

I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, yesterday, with a bunch of people at MIT, discussing how platforms should be built. If you’ve been there, you’ll know it’s a walking city. A city where you can go practically anywhere, starting from anywhere, using your own two feet. Liberating for us non-drivers.

Other cities have that feel as well. For example, Manhattan can be a bit like that: if you have the time and the inclination, walking a hundred and twenty blocks can be an extremely enjoyable and satisfying experience.

I work in the City of London, and it’s the epitome of a walking City. The Square Mile. Compact, full of narrow alleys and almost-hidden places. Places like Postman’s Park, with its Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice (and a well-hidden almost-vintage geocache).

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The City is full of places like Postman’s Park, where we can spend a little time in solitude, when we are least alone.

I’ve had the privilege of travelling extensively, and the city that has unnerved me the most is probably Los Angeles. A place where you feel naked if you’re not behind the wheel of a car, preferably a village-sized one. And yet it wasn’t always like that. I was delighted to read about the secret staircases there, hangovers from a carless past. Not all of them remain accessible, not all of them have been preserved, but enough remain to delight the rare walker.

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A few days ago, I acquired an old map of Calcutta, the place I was born, the place my father was born, the place my family called home till 1980.

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Looking at it, I realised it pretty much defined the locus of my life from 1957 to 1961, and from 1969 to 1980. Where I was born. Where I went to school. My university. Where my dad was born. Where he died. Where his dad died. Where I grew up. Where my family and friends grew up, lived. Where a few have, sadly, died.

The map is not all of Calcutta. But it’s where I walked. Even today I feel I know every street on this map, even the ones you can’t see, especially the ones you can’t see. That’s what nostalgia does to you.

What the map does very well is to depict the Maidan. What we used to consider the living, breathing lung of the city. A vast expanse of green where nothing permanent could be built, but for a few colonial exceptions.

Want to watch the sunrise? Go to the maidan. Walk in solitude? Go to the maidan. Support your football, cricket or hockey team? Same answer. Relax with friends and sample some of the most amazing street treats? Ditto. Somewhere to slink away in twilight? Your wish is my command.

I had the joy of many Saturdays in the park. And I cherish them still. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve wanted to be close to a park and close to a river. Because.

Because I wanted to go for a walk in the park. And I could. And it was enjoyable.

Generations to come may not have those options. Sometimes I’m not sure which will go first, parks or walking. The signs aren’t good for either.

Some of you will remember Joyce Kilmer and Trees. Me, I remember Ogden Nash.

 

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Get on that open road. Walk in solitude, where you are least alone. Spend Saturday in the park.

 

Of Theseus, Trigger and Test cricket

Have you watched Trigger’s Broom? If you haven’t, you’re a lucky person. Just wander over to your old-TV-episodes-watching vehicle of choice and indulge yourself.

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An unforgettable episode from an unforgettable series. RIP Roger Lloyd Pack.

Trigger’s broom. 20 years. 17 new heads. 14 new handles. When does it stop being Trigger’s broom? That’s what John Sullivan wanted us to think about.

It’s been asked before, notably by Plutarch, one or two years before Sullivan. The Ship of Theseus Paradox. It’s worth reading the Wikipedia article to understand how philosophers have dealt with this question: When you replace every component of something, at what point does it stop being the original thing?

There’s a lot I don’t know. But there’s one thing I know.

When Test cricket is played by people wearing coloured pyjamas, I will stop watching.

That day may be coming close. Today I read that Australia and New Zealand have agreed to play a day-night Test this November.

I saw the headline. And went into Marmite mode as I prepared to read further. Day-night? Makes sense. Makes a lot of sense. No more needing to take time off work to attend the match. No more “going off for bad light”. Learning about evening dew rather than its morning equivalent.

Anything that’s alive has its own way of evolving, adjusting, growing, changing. Not just human beings and flora and fauna. But food, language, culture, even ideas.

So I’m all for change in cricket, and I’ve been a big fan of many of the changes. So when the book-length game became available in article form in 60 overs, then 50, I cheered. When the article-length game morphed into the T20 format, I cheered again. And took out debentures at Lord’s and at the Oval.

The late cut and the leg glance haven’t been replaced by the reverse sweep or the overhead paddle; instead, we can savour a greater variety of strokes. As players have become fitter, we see phenomena like the relay catch shown here involving Tim Southee and Karun Nair.

Yes, I’m all for change in cricket. Of course, some changes grate, because they’re still evolving. It’s good to see that umpires can now use technology to assist them in making decisions. It would be better if the blatant nonsense of “umpire’s call” was done away with. And even better still if there was choice in the tools used to track ball flight, bat contact and sound. Similarly, The Duckworth-Lewis Method is a good name for an Irish pop band, but complete codswallop when it comes to dealing with rain-shortened matches. Progress doesn’t come easily.

We’ve been changing Test cricket ever since we starting calling a class of international match a Test. Will there come a time when it’s a change too far, when Test cricket is no longer Test cricket?

I think there will. And sadly it may come soon.

Day-night Tests? Great. Pink balls? Still great.

Pink pyjamas?

Nope.

That’s not cricket.

Not Test cricket.

Right now I feel we’ve been reprieved, the inaugural day-night Test is one where the wearing of whites is stipulated.

I hope it stays that way.