Thursday, September 29, 2011


About sixty years ago, in my boyhood days I used to read the food related lines in the almanac, which I liked reading, and which, I suspect, were probably the only part of an entry about a day in the almanac that I understood. Born into a family in which the elders were believers in soft astrology and were amateur practitioners of it, I was familiar with the almanac at from early age. These lines about food were always in the nature of restrictions and they were never about cooked food or non-indigenous fruits and vegetables: adya alaabu bhakshaana nishedha (today, eating alaabu, i.e., bottle gourd, is prohibited), adya kusmaanda bhakshana nishedha (today, eating pumkin is prohibited), etc. I used to find the words very funny. Bottle gourd and pumpkin – of any variety – popularly known as laau and kakhaaru were looked upon as the ordinary among the ordinary vegetables, and it was hilarious the way these were distanced by being referred to in the text in Sanskritized terms in Sanskritized sentences. Incidentally these days in the almanac these are referred to in their popular names and the sentences are in colloquial Odia. The almanac never mentioned any particular vegetable or fruit to be consumed on some particular day, such as the following: adya alaabu bhakshana vidheya (today, eating bottle gourd is recommended). This is interesting; generally speaking, the prohibition strategy is the most economical form of stating the characteristics of a good life. “Economical”, because otherwise one ends up giving, for all practical purposes, an endless list!

In brata kathaas too food is a part of the discourse on moral life. A brata kathaa is a tale that depicts the glory of a god or a goddess, more often a goddess, and more often a local god or goddess. Part of it deals with how to worship the goddess, what benefits come to one who worships her in the proper way and what sufferings await one who offends her by not worshipping her duly. And built into all these are statements about how to lead a moral life. These are a series of prohibitions, many of these women-centric, concerning many domains of day-to-day living, including that of food. A brata kathaaa shares one characteristic with a proverb, which is that it is really concerned more with a comfortable life in this world than progress in the other world.

In Lakshmi Purana (which is indeed a brata kathaa and not a purana), an immensely popular tale throughout Odisha, the following are among the prohibitions listed with respect to food. On a Thursday which is dedicated to goddesss Lakshmi, a woman must not eat curd rice at night, non-vegetarian food, remains of the food from someone’s plate, roasted food, burnt food and non-vegetarian food cooked with bottle gourd. This last one may constitute a bit of careless writing, but popular tales are not free from this blemish. On Thursdays, amaabasyaas and sankraantis, one must not eat at night. There are other food-related restrictions pertaining to the manner of cooking, the mode of eating, etc. For instance, a woman must not fry uncooked rice grains on Thursdays.

Sometimes Puranas and often brata kathaas describe good meals – in fact, define what a good meal is, and a good meal is always a sumptuous meal. What is the point of a good dish if three quarters of the dish is empty? – the meal that goddess Parvati cooked for Lord Shiva or the meal that the guests in Draupadi’s wedding were served, for example. Both these occur in the fifteenth century Odia poet, Sarala Dasa’s Mahabharata. Another example is the meal that goddess Lakshmi cooked for her consort Jagannatha and her elder brother-in-law, Balabhadra in Balarama Dasa’s Lakshmi Purana, a sixteenth century composition. In each case, the items are many: different types of rice preparations, pancakes, vegetable preparations, sweets made of milk, such as khirs and the like. Each has a name. Incidentally, Lakshmi’s meal has a distinct identity from the others’, if not in terms of the dishes, in the manner of her serving them. At the end, she serves poda pithaa, a salted pancake roasted in embers.

Now, what explains this preoccupation with food in these cultural texts? There are well known, traditional explanations for the food-oriented prohibitions in our culture. Broadly speaking, our tradition postulated a connection between food and attitudes, inclinations and mental states; tamasik food was believed to create a negative attitude, satwik food, a positive mindset - this is just one aspect of the impact of food on personality, other aspects involving quantity of intake, etc. need not detain us here. So certain foods which were believed to arouse inappropriate inclinations and desires were forbidden on auspicious days, although it is entirely unclear to us today how bottle gourds, brinjals and pumpkins could matter in the relevant respect.

Such elaborate descriptions of food served in the weddings and other occasions, both festive and auspicious, might have a different explanation. My own understanding is as follows: a food loving people wanted to talk about food. Smelling food is half-eating it, as the saying in Sanskritized Odia goes: aaghraana ardha bhojana. In the same way, talking about a dish is like relishing that dish. It is commonplace to hear utterances like maacha bhajaa kathaa sunile taa paatiru laala gade (if he just hears about fish fry, his mouth salivates”). It suggests the power of talk. The food narratives could also be, partly at least, an expression of longing for some grand dishes that one almost never gets to eat at home or at others’ places even on festive occasions. One indulges in the pleasures of the palate by talking (or even writing) about the dishes of one’s desire.


Recently Mr. N.R.Narayana Murthy is reported to have said that the IITs have "lost their sheen” and are no more the Institutes they were in the sixties and the seventies. Talking about the PhD students in the Electrical Engineering department of IIT Kanpur, he said that their number has gone down rather drastically in the last two or three decades. China produces a much larger number of PhD’s in Computer Science than India does in a year, he said. I have not seen responses to his views in either the print or the electronic media. Incidentally, some members of the faculty of IIT Kanpur do not agree with his observation about the number of PhD students in the Electrical Engineering department some two or three decades ago and now, but it is essentially a minor matter in view of the total context of Narayana Murthy’s observations. The contrast with China in terms of qualified manpower that India has is glaring indeed.

However it is unclear how IITs have lost their sheen. Do students in India prefer other institutes of technology for their undergraduate education? How many who qualify for admission to the IITs go or even prefer to go abroad for their undergraduate education? Don’t the post-graduate students of engineering in our country choose IITs as their first preference, in case they decide to do their post-graduation in India? Are the IIT students doing their post-graduation abroad performing unsatisfactorily there in comparison to students of other nationalities? In the absence of reliable data one can have only intuitive answers to these. What one is relatively sure of is that in terms of research IITs do not figure among the top hundred or even two hundred institutions in the world. However, I do not know where they figure in a list of the institutes or universities of technology alone. As for Bhatnagar (setting aside the familiar scepticism of the relevant academic community about such recognition for the present) and similar awards, more came to the IIT faculty some twenty five or thirty years ago than today, but there are more research institutes now with better research facilities than the IITs have than was the case three decades ago. And then the IITs have never been pure research institutes; they were not intended to be. In any case, the very fact that going abroad, especially to US, for PhD has, always been the preferred choice of the IIT students (there are exceptions, though), shows that the IITs do not have a global reputation as centres of doctoral and post-doctoral research. But is research the “sheen” Narayana Murthy had in mind? Does he believe that the IITs were once the world class research institutes which they are not today?

Educational institutions, like other institutions, flourish and wane, and if nothing is done to arrest the decline, they effectively die - some faster than others. Some might appear to be flourishing, in which case, it might take time for the outsiders to know that they are actually on the decline. It is possible that those on the downward path might include some that one has valued, has cared for and has been committed to. One’s expression of concern is entirely justifiable and understandable.

Bringing one’s concerns to the people at large and making financial contributions to the institute are important, but there is more to do. One has to carefully study the situation and arrive at a sound explanation for the unsatisfactory performance of the relevant institutions - in the present case, the IITs, and place the same in the public domain. In the eighties the duration of the academic programmes including the research programmes was reduced by the government. In those IITs where research programmes had a course work component, like IIT Kanpur, the number of courses the post-graduate students had to do was reduced. Did the reduction of the duration of the research programmes affect the quality of the research output? More recently the student intake at the undergraduate level was considerably increased in order to implement a social justice initiative of the government. But there was the problem of the paucity of faculty. The undergraduate work load of the faculty went up considerably. Did the research programmes suffer as a consequence? How good are the M.Tech programmes at the institutes that work as feeders to the IITs’ doctoral research programmes? Apart from these, why don’t the IIT undergraduates return to do research in appreciable numbers? Many M.Tech students also do not seem to return to the IITs for their PhD. They go for jobs. What is the situation in China in this respect? The Chinese too go abroad for research. But then surely there are a number of students who come to do their doctoral research in Chinese universities. Narayana Murthy mentioned the students of Computer Science. Where do the IIT B.Techs in Computer Science go? Not all, not even the majority of them go abroad for their PhD. Where do the M.Techs of NIITs go? Does a sizable number of all such potential doctoral researchers go for corporate jobs ,for Management studies or non-technical jobs like IAS? How often does it happen in the comparable elsewhere that trained technical manpower is depleted because they migrate to different sectors? In India, it appears that research is not the first option of the Computer Science students. Incidentally, the situation is not very different in other areas of engineering as well.

It is understandable that China enters into this discourse. But it can help if we can have some authentic knowledge of the possible reasons of China’s success. One must try to have an understanding of both the decline and the success stories of the bench mark institutions. It is only then that useful steps can be taken to redeem those on the downward path. From successful, serious-minded, honest intellectuals, who think for the country, one expects a much richer response than the ones under reference, especially when the persons concerned are among the distinguished alumni of their respective institutes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


It may be worthwhile to consider the significance of some of our proverbs and words which have proverbial status. The reason is that proverbs often express significant social attitudes. There is a proverb in Odia (earlier spelling, “Oriya”) which indirectly relates to corruption: caakiri kariba pulisi, maacha khaaiba ilisi a rather literal and rough translation of which is the following: join the police service; eat ilisi (also called hilsa) fish. It means the best service to join is the police service and the best fish to eat is the hilsa fish. ‘Service” here is government service; at the time of the “origin” of this proverb a government job was the best. The proverb is not really about the hilsa fish; it is about what makes a job attractive – an attractive job is the one in which one always has the opportunity to make a little extra money. If there is no upuri (extra money), it is not an attractive job. From the point of view of this proverb, a job that involves frequent tours is better than the one which has no provision for tours because one could always make a little money from one’s travelling allowances – there is nothing terribly wrong if one travels in the sleeper class and charges first class fare. One must not get caught: nei aani thoi jaanile cori bidyaa bhala – if one can manage things, a bit of stealing is good. One is considered a bit dull if one can’t manage a little extra money. More than forty five years ago, when I got my first job, perfectly well meaning and affectionate elderly people in my village asked me whether my job had upuri. When I said I had a teaching job at a college, they almost consoled me saying I could offer tuition and earn something. There are equivalents of upuri in Odia: di paisaa (two-pice) and antaa gunjaa (money tied at the waist in the dhoti one is wearing), to name two. These occur in informal speech and writing and are not negative terms; these are neutral, even slightly positive in certain contexts of use. Of course no proverb or wise saying openly advocates bribery, but proverbs are not part of niti shastras; they only mirror social realities. Now upuri which legitimizes bribery is not about amassing millions but about just a little to make the day-to-day life of oneself and one’s family a little comfortable. The word can be qualified by bhala (good) - bhala upuri - but it is still not about millions and crores; it is about a few hundreds. Collecting big money is theft, a crime. The term upuri is self-oriented, in the sense that there is nothing like upuri for one’s institution or political party or business.

The “pulis” proverb is less than two hundred years old, but the “cori vidya” one is much older. In fact, there are some folktales that embody this latter idea. Now it is common knowledge that proverbs express the accumulated experience of a linguistic community and that they are about day-to-day life, telling us about how to live a trouble free life, not how to live a virtuous life. In fact one who tries to help others at the cost of self is looked down upon in the world of proverbs as a simpleton. For example, consider this one: aapanaa kapadaa paraku dei, siba paleile langalaa hoi (giving away his own clothes to the other, Lord Shiva went away naked). Here Lord Shiva’s generosity is not celebrated, his naivety is frowned upon. One who lives a virtuous life and suffers privations or discomfort in the process is not taken seriously and is generally called a bicaraa (poor fellow). Cleverness is admired. The linguist Aditi Ghosh assures me that Odia is not the only Indian language which has such words, proverbs or wise sayings that in a way endorse a pragmatic attitude towards life and a bit of dishonesty as a consequence.

This attitude of ignoring, in fact condoning, a bit of bribery may be the primary reason for the rampant corruption at the grass root level that we notice in our society. A decent and well-intentioned friend of mine once described bribing as service charge for getting work done and with that euphemism legitimized bribing. Some years ago, the bearer of the income tax refunds document sometimes demanded a tip for doing his job and got paid too. One cursed the fellow but parted with a little money, consoling oneself that one had the evidence, delivered at the door step, that the tax had been paid. The telephone workers often ask for and are given a tip at the time of the installation of the landline phone at one’s residence. All these are in the spirit of the expressions mentioned above. It is this kind of societal corruption that is difficult to fight. Therefore there seems to be a point in legitimizing bribing, at least of a certain sort, namely, upuri.

The only problem is that a bribery-oriented society is very unfair to its poor. They do not have anything to offer as bribe, and as a result get excluded from everything: medical facilities, educational opportunities, access to basic amenities for a dignified living, etc. It is for their sake that the fight against corruption must be directed not just against money stored in some foreign banks, but also against this upuri-culture.

Monday, August 15, 2011


The story of English in India is interesting. It is the only foreign language against the continuance of which there have been agitations from time to time in post-independence India, till at least the nineteen nineties. Yet its continuance has never really been threatened in the least. In fact, ways have been found to explain and justify, although only indirectly, its place in India. In Nehru’s words, it is a language “of importance to India”. It is the Associate Official language of the Indian State. Because it was not an Indian language, it was not included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution but was not excluded from the Sahitya Akademi list of languages. In 1958, Central Institute of English (CIE) was set up – interestingly, Central Institute of Hindi and Central Institute of Indian Languages were set up in 1961 and 1969 respectively - to improve the quality of the teaching of English in India. Pandit Nehru is said to have specified even the model to be promoted at CIE, and by implication, in the country: British English. In the early sixties, English was accorded the status of a “library language” in India. Probably because linking English with education directly was to be avoided in public discourse on the subject, this rather curious phrase was coined and thereby a terminological contribution to educational linguistics made by the UGC, although this sub-discipline of linguistics does not seem to have been thankful for it. Among the academicians, whereas some called English the language of opportunity in India, some others called it the language of the elite in the country. In fact, most of them were indeed of the elite class, a fact they preferred to forget in their public utterances. By the nineties, such discourses on the status of English in India had become more or less a thing of the past. In the meantime, the so-called English medium schools had come up like mushrooms, to use a really stale, but apt metaphor, in the by-lanes of the cities, and in small towns, where more often than not, bad English was taught.

There are some interesting contradictions concerning English. The most popular one is that most of those who opposed English sent their children to the English medium schools. Then many of our scholars who talk most loudly and write with much conviction and a good deal of jargon about the decolonization of our attitudes and modes of thinking use English, not an Indian language, to articulate this idea. For the modernization of the Indian languages, resources of Sanskrit and of the Indian languages themselves are to be used, according to a directive of the Constitution of India. The implicit message here is to avoid English for the purpose. But in reality, both the lexical repertoire and the forms and the styles of discourse of our languages have been enriched through interaction with English, which brings out the hollowness of the argument that English has adversely affected the growth of our languages. The Constitutional directive has been generally followed in the preparation of the glossaries of technical terms, but these glossaries have largely remained confined to the libraries. Despite a rather apologetic attitude towards English by the government, the language education policy of the Union Government has made Indians multilingual, one of the languages of their multilingualism being English. Today the English-knowing population in India is said to be quite large, their number exceeded by only the Hindi-knowing population. Thus English has emerged as one of the two link languages in urban India. One of the familiar arguments against English has been that it is the language of exploitation; now the deprived and the marginalized population of our country are demanding that they be taught English, the language that has been effectively denied to them by the hypocrisy of the privileged population, who, they say, have earned their privilege because of their knowledge of this language.

Now with this has effectively ended the rhetoric about English being the colonizer’s language. The generation of the nineties, who read from their text books about India being under the British rule for about two hundred years seems to have noted that this so-called foreign language had become probably the most important language of opportunity for the Indians. Globalization might have contributed to this understanding but is certainly is not its main cause.

In India English has been Indianized as the Indian languages have been Englishized. Our pronunciation of English is pretty Indianized. A bit of the syntax is Indianized too. We use expressions like “where are you coming from”, “I am having three houses in this very city”, unaware that these are Indianisms. We don’t care, even when told that these are Indianisms. Many say, if these are un-English or are errors, they are so only in our English teacher’s English. Four O’clock is not evening for us, it is “afternoon”. Two A.M. is not wee hours in the morning for us, it is “night”. The school name is the “good name” for us. But the ultimate Indianization of English is its transformation into an icon, a goddess, for whom a temple has been built in Uttar Pradesh.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Barcelona and Manchester United played the Champions League 2011 final. Now where does Mourinho come into this? In a way perhaps here: the MU Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, is said to have consulted him telephonically about how to contain Barcelona. A huge compliment really to the one who calls himself the “special one” (and not without justification, by the way). One wonders whether the Real Madrid Manager, whose team had played Barcelona five times in the 2010-11 football season, had advised him to adopt a strongly defence-oriented approach; if he had, his advice was obviously not implemented. Sir Ferguson is not a manager of the “kill joy” kind.

In any case, what Mourinho said about Barca’s victory in the match or about the match itself one does not know. Did he murmur a reluctant word of praise for Barca, or more likely, did he trash Barca for having unfairly defeated his team in the semi-final? “Unfairly” in his view of course. Or did he say as his team was not playing, the match was none of his business? Whatever he did does not seem to have been given coverage enough by the media for one to take note of.

As for the final, it was good both from the point of view of the match itself and the healthy respect that the managers and players showed for each other. Hardly had any aggressive observations by either team been made before the match and there was no cynical attempt to demoralize the opponent in a manner that is euphemistically called “mind game”. And Ferguson’s words and conduct after the match set an example, worth emulating, of how dignified and graceful one could be in defeat. Both his captain and he himself paid compliments in controlled words to the team they had lost to. On the field both teams played open football, and both played to win. Although after Barca’s second goal MU might have sensed that the odds were clearly against them, they did not give up attacking; neither did, at any stage, Barca stop playing attacking football and go defensive to save their lead. There were no cynical fouls, no play-acting, and no ugliness. The game was pleasing. It was not a one-nil kind of final, the goal coming from a penalty kick or being the result of some terrible defensive error, rather than of some creativity on the part of the striker. Four goals were scored and the goals were good; one could only argue about which was the next best. The best was Messi’s for the element of surprise that it had. Barca won the match, but from another point of view, by no means inconsequential, both teams won as they played good, clean, positive football.

The match invited attention to the fact that there aren’t just two options in football, namely, (a) play attractive football and lose, and (b) play unattractive football and win. There is a third option: (c) play good, pleasing football and win. At the club level in Spain and England, Barca, Real Madrid, MU, and Arsenal, among others are known for playing interesting football, as are Brazil, Holland, Portugal and Spain, to name some, at the international level. In fact only a few teams implement the idea of winning at the cost of quality football. At the international level, it is Italy in the recent years that has done it more often than not, and at the club level any club where Mourinho has been the manager. This is not to say that he is the creator of uninteresting, defensive football; he is merely the most articulate exponent of it today. And quite importantly, he is unapologetic about it, almost unabashedly so.

We know the arguments for defensive football as we do the context in which this is seen as a need. We also know that winning is intoxicating and that it has a way of legitimizing or at least condoning the sins resorted to in the process. But at the same time we can hardly afford to forget that a healthy society cannot uphold success at any cost in any domain as a value.

We must not ignore the fact that neither the “bus in front of the goal” kind of football nor the open kind always brings success. However, when the former does, it always brings with it a sense of disappointment for football audiences. Fans might rejoice a soulless victory, but it must be remembered that a great football match or tournament today is no more a local event; it’s a global one, and the global audience looks forward to see aesthetically appealing football.

Mourinho is in charge of an excellent team with many world class players. We, who think highly of him, would look forward to his team playing bright, positive football. Mourinho is young and highly talented. We would not like him to be known as a killer of the beauty of this beautiful game.

Friday, May 27, 2011


On May 24, 11 The Hindu published the Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s remark that the quality of research at the IITs is not world class, neither is its faculty. He may not be the only minister in the Central government who holds this view. Earlier, the then Finance Minister P.Chidambaram seems to have said something to the effect that whereas IITs are very good institutions, they are not world class. In fact, all those like the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal who have expressed the need for India to have world class institutions can be said to have entertained more or less the same view. One difference is that Jairam Ramesh has said it so blatantly. His ministry in collaboration with Reliance Industries wants to set up a research facility for the study of Marine Diversity, which by implication would be world class. Given this context, the minister’s views are entirely understandable; it is a standard strategy that one must condemn what exists in order to emphasize that there is a need for something different.

Incidentally, what I find difficult to understand is why the IITs (and the IIMs, about which I wish to say nothing here) are cited so very prominently by the people who matter in the government when they speak about the quality of research in our country. The government has set up a number of research institutes which may not have as high visibility as the IITs, but for the relevant purpose visibility can hardly be a significant consideration. On the other hand the IITs are not pure research institutes; these are teaching institutes too with strong undergraduate programmes. In the context of informed and useful observations on the issue in question, our research institutes must not be ignored, especially by the members of the Union cabinet.

It is quite obvious that in today’s context, if India has to make an impact at the global level, it must be an innovator in research, a creator of knowledge rather than a disseminator of existing knowledge in the class room. It seems an opinion is emerging at the top level that the existing institutions are incapable of delivering in terms of quality research, and further that the situation will not improve by giving them more funds, better infrastructural facilities, etc. Therefore one must think in different terms; most importantly, one must not think in terms of government institutions. And to me this is the real content of Jairam Ramesh’s observations. He has said what in all probability no minister had ever said before in public, namely that when it comes to quality and inventiveness, government institutions simply cannot deliver. “The governmental set-up can never attract young talent, so we have got to think differently”, the minister is supposed to have said. A very categorical and a very strong statement indeed. Why it is so the minister surely knows. He will make a great contribution to the cause of higher education and research in this country if he shares his views on this question as forthrightly as he has opined on the quality of IIT faculty. It is surprising that the reactions so far to the remarks of the minister in the print and electronic media have been unrelated to this assertion of his.

“Thinking differently” for Jairam Ramesh is thinking in terms of partnership between the corporate sector and the government. The logic is unclear. If the government is incapable of attracting and nurturing young talent, and ensuring quality research, then why must it think in terms of partnership? Should it not think instead in terms of withdrawing itself from research and development altogether and leave it in the hands of, say, the private sector? It is difficult to understand how partnership with the corporate sector will help the government to overcome its limitation in the relevant respects. In fact, going by the strong statement of the minister one might be genuinely apprehensive of the possibility that the virus would spread and adversely affect the collaboration itself! In any case, does the minister want to involve the corporate sector for reasons of funding? If so, partnership with the corporate sector may not be really all that necessary; the latter can be encouraged through helpful tax structure (for instance) to donate funds generously for innovative research.

Now, as for leaving research and innovative problem solving to the corporate sector, it may be useful to keep in mind that the one who pays would effectively, although more often than not unobtrusively, decide what it would be paying for. The corporate sector would pay for research that would benefit it, if not in the short term, in the long term. One knows about the pharmaceutical industry. One also knows that it is not the only one!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Like millions and millions I have no doubt that Messi is the best footballer in the world today. No one comes anywhere near him as far as creativity, grace and elegance are concerned. He is a pure delight to watch. I agree with Barca coach Pep Guardiola’s assessment of him: “He is the best player in the world by some distance from the rest.” But The World Player of the Year 2010? In my view, no.

There is no contradiction in the above really. Just as the best team in a tournament does not always win the trophy, the best player need not be the best player award winner in a particular year. When his team knocked out Barcelona in the semi finals of the Champions League last year, Jose Mourinho observed that Inter Milan had defeated the best team in the world. When Arsenal defeated Barcelona in the first leg of the pre-quarter finals of the same tournament this year, its coach Arsene Wenger said virtually the same thing. Was Italy the best team in the 1982 edition of the World Cup? Certainly not; it was almost indisputably Brazil, but Brazil was eliminated in the second round. With Maradona maturing, Zico was arguably the best player in the world then, but in 1982, it was Rossi, who received the best player award. He played well only from the second round stage of the finals (not a mean achievement really). In the year of the World Cup, performance in the World Cup must matter. Although Messi did not play badly, unlike the much (in fact too much!) hyped Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo in the last World Cup finals and Ronaldinho in the 2006 World Cup finals, he did not play up to expectations. He did not impact a match, and did not score a single goal. And it was not just in the finals; his performance in the earlier matches for that World Cup was nothing much to write home about.

World Cup finals is the ultimate stage where a player must demonstrate his class. Many outstanding players do not get a chance to play in the finals. The brilliant Samuel Eto’o is a case in point. More often than not, a player’s career is made or marred here. After his disappointing performance in the 2006 World Cup finals, Ronaldinho was never as highly rated as he was before. These apart, at that stage one plays for one’s country - one plays for both an abstraction with so much meaning and a living reality in the form of real humans. There is quite something at stake. Sometimes a victory enlivens a day or two of a cheerless people, giving them something to celebrate. Dealing with people’s hopes, fears and expectations can be tough and can affect one’s performance. In brief, doing well at the World Cup finals is the supreme test of a player’s talent, skill and character. This is why World Cup finals is so special.

Some are excellent club level players, but they do not do very well in their respective national teams. Rooney, Christiano Ronaldo, etc. – the list is long. There may be genuine reasons: at the club level the coordination among players is far better than at the national level, sometimes at the national level a player has to play in a position where he normally does not at the club level, which is how Ronaldinho tried to explain his failure in the 2006 World cup finals, and then one like Drogba plays with many more talented players in his club team than in the national team, etc. These apart, there are conspiracy stories, always spicy- there was a rumour that Maradona did not want Messi to do well at the world stage out of jealousy! Not having the resource to separate fiction from fact, if at all it is doable in the conspiracy stories, we have little to do with such things. In any case, there are players too who have done very well at both levels: more recently, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho (despite 2006), Zinedine Zidane, Ballack, Klose, Nesta and Luis Figo, among many others.

So I am uncomfortable when in the year of the World Cup the World Player of the Year award goes to someone who did not impact any match he played in the finals and did not score a goal. Notwithstanding the fact that that someone is the best player of the world today!