Blog Posts by Prem Panicker

  • A river runs through it

    The story of the Brahmaputra, the mighty river born of The Creator, and the 80 million lives it touches, begins here

    (Photo credit: Arati Kumar Rao)(Photo credit: Arati Kumar Rao)

    The other day, Atlantic magazine featured a story that called out the gulf between what readers read, and what they say they want to read. Here’s what the magazine found:

    Ask audiences what they want, and they'll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they'll mostly eat candy.

    If we asked you what you wanted to see on Yahoo, you’d say ‘More hard news stories, more stories on economics and finance, less of this stupid Bollywood fluff’. And then you’d scroll through the lead carousel on our front page to see what Aradhya Bachchan has been up to lately.

    I don’t mean you. Of course I don’t. You are a good guy – a reader who demands more of his nutritive intake than just popcorn; who demands more of his media intake than just fluff. After all, you did click on this link when there was a tempting Bollywood slideshow immediately adjacent.

    No, you are the good guy here – the Atlantic was talking of all those other fellows. And it is not their fault, either – blame it on neurons. The

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  • A King Is Born

    On this day 50 years ago, Cassius Clay, 22, became world champion. Boxing was never the same again.

    They all fall
    In the round I call


    Fifty years ago today, Cassius Marcellus Clay motor-mouthed himself, quite literally, into the world heavyweight boxing title — or at the least, into the storied title fight, February 25, 1964, against reigning champion Sonny Liston in Miami.

    A good two years before his dancing feet and blinding jabs propelled him to boxing glory, the ‘Louisville Lip’s’ mouthy ways had already drawn the attention of the game’s premier writers. AJ Liebling, who after making his bones as a war correspondent wrote brilliantly of boxing in his later years, watched a young Clay, by then an Olympic champion, train for his debut as a professional. “Clay has a skittering style, like a pebble scaled over water,” Liebling wrote in a piece for the New Yorker (March 3, 1962; subscription required).

    Liebling was ringside, watching Clay train at the Department of Parks gymnasium on West 28th Street, NY, when Clay first gave him a glimpse of his motor-mouth skills. The young boxer

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  • What's the point?!

    Long ago, I read something that stuck in my mind. The quote might be inexact, and its provenance is lost in the mists of memory, but the argument went like this:

    "When Christ was crucified at Calvary, the enduring image of that one man dying for our sins gave birth to a religion that swept the world; when millions of Jews were massacred during the Third Reich, it left us intellectually disturbed but largely emotionally unmoved, because who in the hell can identify with millions?"
    That line came back to me last night while reading some mails people sent in after reading yesterday's post. Some at least argued on these lines: Yes, the Delhi rape is horrific, it is tragic, but why did it take this incident to wake people up? Is it because it happened in Delhi, and hit too close to those who, by virtue of making their home in the national capital, conferred on themselves a special, protected status?

    The argument is analogous to what we heard in the immediate aftermath of 26/11, when a Read More »from What's the point?!
  • The problem is apathy. Not activism.

    News has four cycles.

    There is, first, the child, flapping its arms and legs and yelping in excitement at having been presented with a brand new shiny object, wondering what to do with it: toss it in the air? Kick it? Try and stuff it, whole and entire, into the mouth? (Think of days one and two of the aftermath of the Delhi rape, when 'coverage' was a series of increasingly shrill freeform yelps without coherence or substance but with lots of lung powering it.)

    Then the teen, as volubly excited but with a greater awareness of his peers. (That channel had the Home Minister on the griddle and called for the resignation of the police commissioner? We need to ask for someone's resignation too. Oh and that other media house? It gave the victim a symbolic name - that's so cool; we need to give her a name too!)

    Then the adult, who has outgrown the follies of youth and, cleansed his palate of the metallic aftertaste of adrenalin, discovers maturity, and fairness, and balance. (We reported the

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  • Lalit Modi Unplugged

    Lalit Modi has given an exclusive interview to London-based journalist Mihir Bose on YouTube. Here, below, is the full transcript:

    Mihir Bose

    Lalit, is this strange you're in London and you face some very serious charges in India?  Allegations about your conduct as IPL Commissioner?  India's just celebrated Diwali, what are you doing here?

    Lalit Modi

    Well I'm in London, I'm hoping that the enquiry that is going on in India will come to an end, we are answering all the questions that are required to be answered, we are doing some teleconferencing and we're providing the documentation that is needed to be provided to the authorities and to the different agencies that are conducting the investigation.  And my security agencies have advised me that it's not appropriate time currently to go back till the security situation smoothens out.  And the Indian police have continuously told me yes, that the threat perception continues to be there and as and when I feel comfortable with

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  • Adios, Murali

    He walks to the top of his mark and stands there, the ball a whirring blur as he tosses it from his bowling hand to his left.

    He surveys his field and with shouted word and eloquent gesture repositions them, moving them around in incremental inches until he gets them just so, with all the precision of a master of the geometry of bowling, one who knows exactly what he is going to bowl and precisely how the batsman will react to that delivery.

    A pause, and then his arms swing back, like those of a swimmer launching into a back-stroke; he bounces through his brief run-up and swings into his delivery stride. The images are synonymous with 'effort' — the blurred swing of bowling arm and impossible rotation of the wrist; the mouth opened wide in a rictus of effort and the impossibly bulging eyes as they follow the trajectory of the ball he has just released; the eyes narrowing as they track the batsman's response; the mouth forming smiles that speak volumes — a wry smile when the

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  • To Err is Human, to Stonewall is FIFA

    Ever kicked a football, even for fun? If yes, how would you like to sprain your ankle, perhaps even cause lasting damage to the delicate bones of the foot, kicking the specimen pictured here [Courtesy] — especially after the leather has gotten a good soaking thanks to rain, and attained the weight and general consistency of cast iron?

    This New York Times slideshow is indicative of how much thought and effort has gone into the development of the ball down the years, culminating in today's Jabulani — a design marvel that reduces the number of 3D panels from 14 to eight, thus reducing the number of seams and increasing the striking surface while adding the Aero Grooves technology to improve the ball's aerodynamics to help improve accuracy.

    Or take the boot: When un-fancied Germany upset the Magical Magyars, the two-time unofficial world champion Hungarian side, in the 1954 World Cup final, one of the side stories related to the special boots the Germans used.

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  • Happy Birthday Messi!

    There is only one Pele, one Maradona, and there can be only one Messi! The first two names are synonymous with legends, but Messi has still got a lot to prove to join the list of all-time greats. He is a legend in the making. Today, as Messi turns a year older and a lot dearer, expectations go higher. Barca's super kid's birthday coincides with the World Cup and if Argentina wins the World Cup, there couldn't be a better birthday gift for him. Sadly, Argentina's star player hasn't netted a goal yet; still, Messi fans around the world have faith in him. Though he hasn't able to score so far, Messi made some great assists in Argentina's matches against S Korea and Greece. In the match against Greece, we saw Messi glide past the defenders towards Palermo who was there at the right moment to net the ball as Messi's shot rebounded after touching the bar.

    Fame is a boon and a curse the same time. Off  the field, it earns you stardom. But even stardom comes with its own share of

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  • Federer and the Story of 100,000 Pounds

    Wimbledon, the most famous tennis championship, may see Swiss tennis star Roger Federer lift his record seventh title after a tiring outing at the Roland Garros (and a scary opening match at Wimbledon). While Fedex is determined to net his seventh, Oxfam is eyeing the 100,000 pounds that comes with it.

    In 2003, Nicholas Newlife from Kidlington staked 1,520-pounds with odds of 66/1 for Federer to win seven Wimbledon titles before 2020. Roger has already won six Wimbledon titles, and a seventh will see the bet produce a payout of 101,840 pounds for Oxfam.

    Newlife died in February 2009 leaving the entire estate to Oxfam, which included the outcomes of the series of outstanding bets he had placed with William Hill between 2000 and 2005.

    Legendary Pete Sampras has already suggested that Roger Federer could win 10 Wimbledon titles and going by his strong desire, the prediction cannot be termed unrealistic and many 'Nicholases' can afford to place bigger bets.

    The Swiss player has

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  • My Father’s Son

    The story goes back to when I was very young. Thirty days after I was born, my parents took me to the ancestral home in Calicut, and there I stayed in the care of my grandparents till age eight. That was when my parents figured I was old enough to not be a 'nuisance', a burden to two professionals whose minds were set on developing their respective careers. And so I was taken away from the care of my grandparents, and began living with my parents in Madras.

    Neither mom nor dad had much time for me — both worked crazy hours and when they did get home, they were more intent on catching up with each other. Their interaction was largely restricted to pro forma inquiries about my schoolwork, a pat on the head and an exhortation to 'run along and play' — a parental edict I was only too happy to comply with. We are talking seventies here: a time when life was a lot less complicated. We didn't have psychologists prosing on about how childhood neglect would produce warped adults;

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