Friday, August 1, 2014


In FIFA World Cup 2014 Brazil was the loser in the match for the third place and ended up in the fourth place. After their World Cup victory in 2002, this is the first time they went to the semi-final stage. In 2006 and 2010 they were the losing quarter-finalists. Fourth place in the World cup Finals can hardly be the cause for mourning, even when the team was a pre-match favourite of many to win the World Cup. Yet Brazil mourned, as did its millions of fans all over the world. And for good reason.

At the Group stage this year, 2014, Brazil had led the group, and at the pre-quarter final stage it had defeated Chile (by penalty shoot-out) and at the quarter final stage, Columbia, somewhat more convincingly than it had Chile. Both Columbia and Chile played superb football and each had a World Cup the memories of which should inspire them to reach greater heights in future. With such a record up to the semi-final stage, Brazil became the joker of the pack in the semi-final, surprising everyone, including Germany, who defeated it 7-1. In the history of World Cup no team had lost this badly at that stage. It lost again, in the third place match to Holland 3-0. No team in the history of World Cup had conceded as many goals at that stage as Brazil. For a sincere fan like me, who has been an ardent admirer of Brazil ever since I read about its 1970 World Cup victory, Brazil’s performance in these two matches were too silly, too ridiculous for any strong emotion. I recall how terribly upset I was when Brazil lost its pre-quarter final match to Argentina in 1900; in the next three days I watched the match as many times, almost hoping that I had seen Brazil lose in some other tournament, not World Cup, 1900. This time I had no such feeling. As I said, the loss was too silly to evoke any worthwhile feeling such as anger or sorrow. Those twenty nine or thirty minutes during which Brazil conceded five goals, for a fan like me, it was just farcical. I agree with Maradona who said that with that semi-final defeat Brazil lost face. Pele said Brazil would forget the disaster. We will win the sixth title in the next edition of the World Cup, he is reported to have said. I do not know whether he really believes it will, but even if it does, Brazil is unlikely to recover the image it lost on July 8, 2014. For years to come Brazil will be associated with the semi-final 7-1 defeat; hopefully people will not forget the 4-1 victory in the final in 1970. But like bad ideas in the world of academics, miserable failures have a longer life than spectacular successes.

Brazil’s performance at the Group stage over a period of at least twenty four years or so has been rather subdued, and this year it was no exception. But the team played well enough all these years to top the group. This year one could see that its defence was porous and vulnerable, and would be in trouble in the absence of careful and intelligent planning. Its attack heavily depended on Neymar for both creativity and punch. However Brazil’s defence improved after the group stage and it played well enough in the quarter-final for its supporters to feel somewhat assured that the team would go far. In fact till then quite a few, including sports journalists had thought and some of them hoped, that the final would be between Brazil and Argentina. 

What happened in the final minutes in the match against Columbia everyone knows: Neymar’s injury which ended his World Cup 2014 and yellow card to the in-form defender and captain Silva for a foolish offence. Now most believed that Brazil’s progress would end at the semi-final against Germany, but no one had imagined that the team would disintegrate the way it did. Although Neymar was the inspiring figure in the team, no one had imagined that the team was suffering from Neymardependency so acutely. One would think that Brazil’s shameful show was only a symptom, the cause being its pathetic lack of character.

The Brazilians in a show of solidarity had vowed to play for Neymar in that semi-final match and they ensured that neither Neymar nor the supporters of Brazil, both in that country and outside, would ever forget that match.

Think of the way Germany had handled the absence of Ballack, their inspirational player, in the 2002 final because of a yellow card. Germany played the way a World Cup finalist is expected to play. Incidentally Brazil’s “someone-or-the-otherdependency” problem is not new; it is just that this time it was very alarming. In 1998, most were never in doubt that Brazil would win the World Cup. They had had a great tournament till the final, in contrast to France who had only a good tournament that far - nothing to write home about though - with an excellent defence but an attacking line that had fared poorly. Shortly before the match Ronaldo, the “original one” in Mourinho’s unforgettable terminology, fell sick but the team was doomed to play him for the full duration of the match for reportedly marketing reasons, as was widely believed. In the final one saw a demoralized, disinterested team, which had lost the match before it started. It played with ten men and one unfit man, but even then its performance was not unworthy of a World Cup final in objective terms. The 3-0 score line did not reflect the proceedings.

Quite a few sports journalists have suggested that Brazil suffered because of its arrogance, but such comments were made after the defeat. Brazil was the pre-tournament favourites or one of the two favourites, the other being Argentina for some and Germany for the others. But being the pre-tournament favourite is nothing new for Brazil. This time they were one of the strong favourites partly because of the expectations of strong home crowd support, partly because of their success in the Confederations Cup held in Brazil the previous year. They had defeated Spain, considered then to be undoubtedly the best in the world, by a convincing margin 3-0. In my opinion the two Confederation Cup finalists suffered in the World Cup 2014 for different reasons:  Brazil for taking their success in that tournament too seriously, and Spain, for taking their failure too lightly. Talking about arrogance, both showed arrogance because not taking failure seriously and being complacent constitute a form of arrogance.

Brazil has gone back to Dunga. I hope Dunga will create a better team. At least a team that will not embarrass us again, the steadfast fans of Brazil. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014


For the breaking of convention, this year’s Ratha Yatra, held on June 29, will figure in the annals of this celebrated festival in Puri, mainly because of the attention the media paid to it. Jagadguru Sri Shankaracharya, the head of Govardhana Matha, an institution that was set up by Aadi Shankaracharya in the fifth century– some say, in 483 - BC, did not participate in the Ratha Yatra this year. He did not climb the Rathas and did not have sparsha darshana (seeing and touching) of the Deities there. A convention of many years was broken – no one knows precisely how many. According to some, hundreds of years; according to others, just a few decades. The Administrator of Jagannath Temple is reported to have observed that this practice is not all that old; there is no documentary evidence in support of such a claim.

Another convention was broken – again one doesn’t know when it started. Some say that it is only a few decades old: devotees could climb the Rathas and have sparsha darshana of Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra (and Sudarshana) on their respective Rathas. Devotees do not just touch the Deities, especially Jagannath; they embrace Him, caress Him, and stroke His face, although often servitors on the Rathas tell them not to do so, at least not stroke His face. Apart from foreigners and non-Hindus, no one was forbidden from climbing the Rathas till this year. This year the devotees were not allowed to climb the Rathas; they had to be content with darshana from the ground; no sparsha darshana for them.

There are foreign devotees of Jagannath now, due probably to the spread of the Krishna Consciousness movement. They want to offer worship the same way as the other devotees. There are also foreigners who are Hindus, but even they are not allowed to enter the Jagannath Temple or climb the Rathas. Thus for temple entry, to be a Hindu is not enough, one must not look like a foreigner! This matter was raised at various public forums a couple of years ago, and it seems there was considerable support for the entry into the Temple by the foreigner Hindus. Reportedly the concerned authorities were inclined to do away with this discrimination, but they did not succeed. According to those who opposed the move, the foreigners might be Hindus, but did they really follow the Hindu cultural practices, for instance cleaning themselves with water.

Last year An Italian Odishi dancer, a Padmashree awardee, who lives in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, was allegedly roughed up on the Ratha of Jagannath, allegedly by some servitors. Some say this happened because she was a foreigner but the dancer seems to have said that this happened because she refused to give one thousand rupees that some servitors on the Ratha demanded from her. The year before too, a foreigner had been roughed up on the Ratha. Such reports invite adverse publicity about not merely the servitors but also the Temple administration and the government. Furthermore, it hurts the sensitivities of the people at large.

Presumably, on this account, the Temple authorities sought the advice of the Sri Sankaracharya of Puri regarding whether foreigners could climb the Rathas and have sparsha darsan of the Deities. The advice of Mukti Mandap had probably been sought on this matter before Sankaracharya’s advice was sought, but the media has not projected the views of this priestly body of interpreters of religion and tradition. Conventionally matters relating to the Temple, such as say, observance of rituals, have been referred to this body, which is considered to be the arbitrator on such matters. Whatever are the attitudes and the views of those unconnected with this institution about it, it is part of the Temple organization. The same can hardly be said about the institution of Shankaracharya. The temple authorities might have decided to seek Sri Sankaracharya’s advice probably because of his high status in Hindu religion.

He advised that touching of the Deities on the Rathas by anyone, irrespective of whether he is an Indian or a foreigner, cannot be permitted because it is gravely sinful to do so and only those people must remain on the Rathas who have a seva there, that is, who have to be part of some ritual to be performed on the Rathas. Agreeing with him, the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri, who is the head of the Temple administration, and who is the first among the servitors (prathama sevaka), said on television that it is not just papa (sin) but maha papa (grave sin) to touch the Deities on the Rathas. The Temple administration accepted Sri Shankaracharya’s advice. But a section of the servitors who traditionally conduct the Ratha Yatra did not agree. According to them this would amount to rejecting an important convention and would hurt the devotees’ feelings. The matter went to the High Court of Odisha, the ruling of which, ignoring many subtle details of both the case and the ruling, went in favour of Shankaracharya’s advice and instructed the Government to discharge its responsibility with respect to the maintenance of law and order.

For some reason which is unclear, the core temple administration invited Sri Sankaracharya to come alone to perform his traditional worship on the Rathas. He was invited through a letter – one does not know why no representative of the committee came to invite him in person as well, a courtesy he deserved. He refused to come without his associates. He said on television that this restriction on him was humiliating. When he did not participate in Ratha Yatra, a convention was broken. Later, after the Ratha Yatra was over, the king of Puri, said on television that what had happened was wrong and that he was unaware that such a letter had gone to Sri Shankaracharya. He also said that it was not up to any committee to tell Sri Shankaracharya how he has to perform his worship on the Rathas, i.e., whether alone or with associates, and if the latter, how many of them. One would presume that likewise, he believed, no questions in the same regard could be asked to him as well. Incidentally he too seems to have been requested to take a reduced number of his associates on to the Rathas for the performance of his seva which is known as chera pahanra, which is essentially sweeping of the floors of the Rathas.
Following the Court order, the administration did not allow the devotees to climb the Rathas and have sparsha darshan. Police cordoned off the Rathas with iron barricades and devotees had darshan from outside the cordon. But as it sometimes happens, the implementation of an administrative decision turns out to be more prohibitive than necessary – the devotees could not touch even the Rathas because of the barricades, even when the Deities had gone to Gundicha Ghara where they remain for seven days. Devotees traditionally touch the Rathas and the ropes with which they are pulled, both of which are considered extremely sacred, but they could not touch the Rathas this time, although this was not part of the Court order.

Many devotees expressed great happiness at being able to have clear darshan of the Deities. This did not happen earlier, when scores of devotees climbed on the Rathas and covered the Deities. For those on the ground and there would be thousands of them, it was very difficult to have a clear darshan of the Deities, which was very disappointing for them. This year this did not happen. Many devotees thanked the government for this and were equally thankful to Sri Shankaracharya for making it possible.

There were of course others who said with a touch of sadness and disappointment that they could not have sparsha darshan, they could not embrace and caress the Ones they revered most and loved most. They had come from distances with hopes of this but felt very disappointed. A middle aged woman spoke for many when she said if all this was so sinful, why didn’t he, i.e., Sri Shankaracharya, say so earlier? And why didn’t, we would like to add, the Gajapati Maharaja, who is the foremost among the sevakas of Jagannath, all these years?

Conventions of the Temple have undergone changes and the same thing will continue to happen, which must not surprise us. As times change, conventions are bound to change. Only in 2006 a convention was broken with when responding to the demands of the situation the temple administration put ladders for the devotees to climb the Rathas and another convention was done away with some two decades ago when the dahukas (ritual sarathis of the Rathas) were directed to stop using erotic language, a tantric practice, while ritually exhorting the pullers of the Rathas. 
Now what is curious about the Temple administration’s consulting Sri Shankaracharya is the following: someone hitting the devotees on the Rathas or harassing them there about money, is a law and order problem and is by no means a religious issue. For all concerned about the smooth conduct of the Ratha Yatra festival, it is a challenge to find an effective way to organize the darshan on the Rathas, so that at any point of time only a manageable number of devotees remain on a Ratha. If there is some undesirable happening, the police must act in permissible ways or record the victim’s complaints and initiate inquiry. Incidentally, assault cases are not at all frequent; it is in no one’s interest to assault devotees. Pushing and jostling and shouting are to be expected when there is overcrowding. As for foreigners climbing the Rathas, until a decision is made, they could be dissuaded from doing by the security staff on duty at the Rathas. Such devotees need to be informed about the relevant constraints by an active information dissemination service system of the Temple administration and the government. 

If at all Sri Shankaracharya had to be consulted, why wasn’t he consulted on a number of connected issues rather than a single one? For instance, there is the question of Hindus, who are foreigners, being given discriminatory treatment, such as not being allowed to enter the Temple. It sounds reasonable when they ask for the same religious rights as enjoyed by the Indian Hindus. For some time the issue of the Temple entry for physically challenged and for very old persons who are unable to climb the steps of the Temple has been raised. Some of the people of these categories want wheel chairs to be allowed inside the temple. Sri Shankaracharya could have been consulted on this as well. These are all obviously related issues. Having said this, I must add that these are not merely religious issues; these are very much public issues as well. Not just Jagannath, Jagannath worship too transcends religion.

By the way, there was an interesting fall out of Sri Shankaracharya’s views and the Court decision on sparsha darshan on the Rathas. Going by a newspaper report, some VIPs and others who were inside the temple when the Deities were being brought to the Rathas had sparsha darshana and when a servitor raised the question as to whether it wasn’t gravely sinful to touch the Deities, a young cabinet minister seems to have said that there was no religious prohibition about touching the Deities when they are not on the Rathas.

The Temple administration has erred by looking for a religious solution to an essentially administrative matter. It is undeniably a complex issue but it is one that has to be resolved within the administrative framework with sensitivity.              

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


There was a front page news in The Times of India of July 28, 2012, the title of which was startling for those who were uninformed about Shri N D Tiwari ever since he rather untimely left the Governor’s House in Hyderabad: “N D Tiwari is father at 86”. But isn’t that the age when people ordinarily become grandfathers or even more likely, great grandfathers? It was a help that there was a very short but very informative subtitle: “DNA Test Nails Congress Leader in Paternity Suit”. The news report and Tiwari’s reported reaction said quite a bit about the matter for the uninformed to be informed. Incidentally, the episode reminded us that fatherhood is a social fact, not just a biological one: one is a father when one is socially accepted or legally declared a father. 

The grand old leader seems to have felt wronged. His plea for not making the DNA report public was rejected by the Court. He had reportedly pleaded for the above on the ground of his “right to reputation”. The Court had rejected too his earlier request the he be not pressurized into giving his blood sample for the DNA test. Fate was unkind; it was neither gratifying nor edifying to learn that in a culture that respects the old, he, an eighty six year old person with years of public service at the highest level behind him, was almost forced to give his blood sample. However, his reluctance to give it for the DNA test so that Rohit Shekhar’s paternity suit could be settled had not gone well with either the court or the press. When the decision of the court was announced, media reported the matter in a manner that was surely unflattering for Tiwari. Deccan Herald published a piece under the heading “Genes never lie: H’bad lab nixed Tiwari’s paternity denial”. Consider the phrasing; if genes never lie, then wasn’t Tiwari lying?

Tiwari reportedly said that he “had been framed”. He seems to have said that his problem was “his simplicity”, and that some people he trusted had “hatched a conspiracy” against him. He didn’t disclose who those conspirators were. He acted as a right thinking, generous person would. Such a person does not pay back someone who has harmed him in his own coin. In any case, after all, isn’t identifying the conspirators the job of the police? Wasn’t it sufficient that he had declared himself to be a victim of conspiracy?  About Rohit Shekhar, sounding generous, but still not acknowledging that he is his son, Tiwari said he bore him “no grudge”.  As for simplicity being his problem, we know that  simpletons and simple people have always been taken for a ride in this heartless world. 

Kunti in the Mahabharata was arguably a simple girl when she became the mother of Karna. She could never own her eldest born in public, but not because she did not love him. She in fact underwent a lot of silent suffering for denying her son his due in terms of mother’s love. Likewise one might think that Tiwari may have suffered in private for his refusal to acknowledge Shekhar as his son in public. The world knows that many rulers (including the erstwhile ones) often lead (or are sometimes constrained to lead) at least two lives: a private life and a life for the people. There indeed are some exceptions but as the old adage goes, exceptions only prove that the relevant rule exists.

Tiwari reportedly talked about his rights: right to live as he wanted to live and right to reputation. Besides, the paternity issue was his “personal problem”, and therefore, he advised everyone, he should be left alone. In this world full of problems, one’s fatherhood is certainly one’s personal problem, but in the rather unusual circumstance of contestation of a “fatherhood –denial” assertion, it arguably does not remain one’s personal problem. As for his advice that he be left alone, he might have noted that he indeed has been. Apart from the unnamed conspirators, no one has tried to sully his reputation. Neither the political parties nor the media have brought his delicate situation into the public domain, despite its clear news value and marketability. There may be much insensitivity around, but one has to acknowledge that in our country there surely is consideration for the elderly. 

Occasionally one does find the issue raised and debated in the media of what is personal and for that reason must not be discussed in the public domain, though much of it is unenlightening, which is not unexpected considering the numerous problems in distinguishing between what is personal and what is not in specific instances. Today there may only be a few who would support the idea that for the public figures, at least the eminent ones among them (a category that would certainly include ND Tiwari), their life must be an “open book”, as Mahatma Gandhi said about himself.

Shri Tiwari wears a Gandhi cap, which hardly any public figure does these days, barring of course Anna Hazare and some of his followers, the Gandhian. Tiwari wears a Gandhi cap presumably because he considers himself a follower of Gandhiji, and would like us to note it. And this is precisely what makes his demand that the paternity matter be treated as his personal affair so curious and unintelligible to us since it has hurt at least two persons.

All’s Well That’s Ends Well

The time has come to write the concluding sentences of this piece, which was left unfinished for more than a year. As the newspaper reports say, yesterday on March 3, 2014 Shri Tiwari, now 89, publicly accepted Rohit Shekhar as his biological son.