Why German’s rule the FIFA world cup in last few years ?

There is no doubt that Germany simply dominates world football in recent times when it comes to their national team competing in major tournaments. And when I am referring the term of “recent times”, I am referring to a period of around 10-12 years. The records speak of themselves when it comes to German national team performance from say 2000 onwards:

  • FIFA world cup: Runners up in 2002, Third place in 2006 and 2010, Champions in 2014
  • European Championship: Group stage in 2000 and 2004, Runners up in 2008, Third in 2012 and 2016
  • FIFA Confederations cup: Did not qualify in 2001, did not play in 2003, Third in 2005, did not qualify in 2009 and 2013, Champions in 2017

That made me think on the main reasons behind the phenomenal success of the German national team, when comparing with the other great footballing nations of Italy, France, Spain, England, etc in Europe. I have deliberately kept the Latin American countries out here, because I believe there the supremacy is kind of polarised with Brazil, Argentina when it comes in national team level competitions.

  • If we look at the club level team compositions across the big leagues in Europe, German leagues take the least number of foreign players. Going by 2017 UEFA report, foreign players in Bundesliga accounts for 49.2%, whereas the number is 55.5% in Serie A in Italy and a staggering 69.2% in English Premier League. So, chances of junior players coming up and playing a top league is much high in Germany than say in England or Italy

Now, let’s look at two foundation level parameters specially for junior football – youth football focus and competent coaching staff availability:

  • The focus of German football has been their youth and development at the youth level. Only in that way, you will have a steady supply of quality players who can dominate football at an young age. The Bundesliga clubs spend around £85m (2014 data) annually on their youth academies, which is one of the highest in the world. This focus started sometime in 2000, when they felt that the German team in Euro 2000 was too “old” and hence could not compete
    And the results of the investment was evident before the last world cup of 2014, when they became champions. At that point of time, gifted young players coming out of this system was too plenty. All the now famous players are a result of that focus – just look at the names and their age (as on 2013) – Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Mario Götze (20), Toni Kroos (23) and the list goes on. No wonder, these players played such a vital role in their 2014 world cup win
  • Coming to qualified and competent coaching staff in Germany. There are 34,000+ qualified coaches in Germany now as compared to around 3,000 in England. Hence, the ability to groom, develop and produce quality youth footballers is much high in Germany

Finally comes German precision, logical thinking and having the nationalism feeling rather than individualism traits that are seen in other leagues.

  • During 2010 world cup, the Germans had an average ball possession time of 3.4 seconds. The leadership believed that if they can cut down on this parameter drastically, not only they can put the opposition totally off-guard but will enable a fluent, fast paced football which can prove to be the big differentiation factor. They teamed up with SAP and aided by a product made by SAP for German football, they cut down the possession time from 3.4 seconds to 1.1 seconds. The precision thinking along with technology makes Germans a leader by a big margin when compared to any other team in the world. If you want to read more details on this unique thing they did in 2014 world cup, click on the below link:

SAP helps Germany lift the World Cup

  • The other focus has been on their techniques and no longer great physiques. If you see German team of 2014 world cup, just look at their matches and find out how many times the ball is lost due to a first poor touch or how many unforced errors comes up during passing or how possession is given away cheaply. The numbers will be much lower than what you will see in other big teams in that world cup including Argentina, Brazil, Holland, etc
  • Finally it comes to developing an inclusive culture based on open communications and individual responsibilities. This is possible because German’s do not have big “stars” in their teams like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, etc. I think even the biggest of the stars of German soccer today like Tony Kroos or Ozil do not claim individual showmanship on or off the field. They would rather play as a team and not have big ego’s on individual supremacy within their own teams. In recent times, the German teams have players coming from different origins – Polish, Turkish, Moroccan, etc. However, the emphasis on inclusion within the team and emphasis on community never replaced individual accountability.
    This was best seen in Neuer’s interview after the quarterfinal win against France in 2014 world cup. When he was congratulated by a reporter on an excellent save in stoppage time against a Benzema shot, Neuer first credited his defense mentioning that they narrowed him to the extent that Benzema had no other option but to take a shot on the near post and then he mentioned “and if it goes in there it’s a goalkeeper error”.

No wonder the success stories of Germany is huge in recent years. I would say if growing footballing nations like India would like to work out an overall success model in football that will allow them to taste success in world football in next 10-15 years, they should emulate the German model.

Now we wait to see whether the same Germans can win the 2018 world cup again or at least reach the finals. Well, time will tell ….

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Who is providing maximum number of players in the 2018 World Cup?

It is just less than 7 days left for the kick-off of the FIFA World Cup 2018. The international friendly practice matches are almost done as the last testing zones of the strategies to be adopted in the world cup. The final 23 number squads have been finalised and published to all early this week. Now it’s just the final build-up before the crescendo begins with colour fans, drinks, music and of course, lots of football and action on and off the fields.

Few days ago, I had written a blog (see the link below) wherein I attempted to arrive at a trend of European football as most of the players across continents dream to play in Europe due to more exposure, money and limelight.

European Football trends

Now if we analyse the final teams of each of the countries and try to find out which clubs contribute these players (across all 32 teams), following hypothesis is again reinforced in today’s world soccer arena:

  • Europe attracts world talent undoubtedly than any other continents, including South America
  • Within Europe, it’s mainly the English Premier League (EPL) top teams who contribute the most. No wonder, EPL is the most popular league in the world with most viewing, maximum money inflow, etc. Probably the EPL is not polarised with just 1 or 2 top teams; there are at least 7-8 teams who are close to each other and give strong competition in the leagues. However, what baffles me is that why English Clubs are not so successful in UEFA Champions League in last 8-10 years !
  • Apart from EPL, it’s La Liga in Spain who contributes a lot. Then they are followed by France, Germany and Italy.

Here is the data:

Country Players
England (across 4 clubs) 51
Spain (across 2 clubs, no prizes for guessing which are these clubs !) 29
France (from 1 club – again no prizes for guessing !) 12
Germany (from 1 club – again no prizes for guessing !) 11
Italy (from 1 club – again no prizes for guessing !) 11

If we go deep another level of the above data and look at the club names (arranged in an ascending order based on the number of players coming from the clubs), it’s obvious that there are no surprises coming up. It’s the known big-shots who are shooting again big time :-)

Club Country Players
Manchester City England 16
Real Madrid Spain 15
Barcelona Spain 14
Chelsea England 12
Paris Saint-Germain France 12
Tottenham Hotspur England 12
Bayern Munich Germany 11
Juventus Italy 11
Manchester United England 11

So irrespective of which country lifts the world cup this year, Europe and the listed clubs will take pride on their contribution to Russia World Cup 2018 !!

europe-football-clubs.png

FIFA World Cup : who’s the greatest amongst all ?

To millions of people across the world, the FIFA World Cup is perhaps rated as one of the greatest shows on earth. It has its own quota of romanticism, it has its own ups and downs and yet, the one month-long festival of the “joga bonito” seems to be eagerly awaited by the football crazy fans. Much before the world cup actually starts, the debates often gets heated on the question of “who’s the greatest amongst all countries” ? And coming from a city who is engulfed in either Brazil or Argentina, to have a sane and logical discussion turns out to be next to impossible. When emotions and passion reign high and strong over the logical mind, who cares to evaluate the facts !!

So, let’s evaluate the world cup finals for last 12 world cups – starting from 1970 till date (which will be 2014 world cup). Maybe a period of last ~50 years should indicate a fair bit of time to get evaluated upon. The other good reason being 12 is one of my favourite numbers – so better stick to that. The style of football has changed dramatically in these 48 years and so has the world cup. From a 16 team world cup back in 1970, now the 32 team world cup running from 1998 has been a long journey which probably has increased the toughness of the competition.

The methodology that I have followed to arrive at the conclusion of the best country ever is to first note the first four of each world cup (as I believe that getting into the semi-finals in a world cup is a great achievement that needs to be applauded) and assign scoring points between 4 to 1 – the champions gets 4 points, runners-up gets 3 points, 3rd place gets 2 points and the 4th placed team gets 1 point. Add the points up and voila ! you get a clear indication who gets the crown !!

Some startling facts comes up which shows very few countries have dominated world football actually when it comes to representing country (and not club):

Only 17 unique countries have actually gone into the semi-finals in the last 12 world cups. This is in-spite of football being pursued passionately by so many countries. Probably an introspection is needed why only 17 countries reach that stage and maybe 200+ countries fail to reach there ?

Again more astonishing is that out of these 17 countries, only 6 unique countries have been champions. So, effectively we are saying that 6 countries rule the world in FIFA world cups !!

Capture

Now hold your breath ! Here comes the top 4:

  • In the 4th place is Argentina with a score of 14 – the land of many greats like Kempes, Maradona, Messi, etc. It’s to be seen whether they can pursue their dream this year. However, if they win this year’s world cup, they can potentially climb upto the 3rd place
  • Coming 3rd is Italy with a score of 17. Their tradition and contribution to football has been immense, but in recent times, they are in a downhill mode. It’s quite surprising to see that they could not even qualify to the 2018 world cup
  • Not very far from Italy is Brazil in the 2nd place with a score of 19. They are always one of the favourites in all world cups – but have disappointed in many years. This year again, the hype of Brazil is growing and it remains to be seen whether Neymar and his team can lift the cup
  • The clear winner and the champions in this scoring mechanism is Germany and they lead by quite a margin with the score of 27 points. It’s a team which rarely has big super-stars but plays like a team without depending upon individual brilliance. Add to that the professionalism, the fierce strategy work and calmness.
    The German team has been the best team in modern day football – 3 times champions, 3 times runners-up, 3 times in third place – all out of the last 12 world cups !! Salute !!

UEFA Champions League – searching for the trends

With the curtains down on the 2017-2018 season of UEFA Champions League and the eager wait for the FIFA World Cup 2018, there is a brief lull period where people will catch up their breath and prepare for long nights. So, I thought it will be good to try and find some trends of UEFA Champions League from it’s inception till date. This is more of looking at the finalists and then coming up with certain statements, which hopefully indicates the trends of those times

  • Looking at both winners and runners-up teams, only 3 clubs have a number more than 10 : Real Madrid (16), AC Milan (11) and Bayern Munich (10). Obviously this indicates their dominance – though in different time periods
    • The dominance of Real Madrid was either in the 1950’s or in the decade starting 2011. In the 1950’s the likes of Di Stefano and Puskas were rocking Real Madrid, while in the 2011 decade, the big contributions coming from Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Considering again the finalists (both winners and runners-up) and looking at the country of the clubs, Spain (29 times), Italy (28 times) and England (20 times) contributed the most in the finals. Rest of the countries (including Germany) do not even come to double digits
    • Spanish clubs are currently reigning supreme in this decade. They also had a good run during the 1950’s and 1980’s
    • Italy’s dominance was during the decade starting 1990, even though they had decent run in the 60’s, 80’s and the decade starting 2000
    • England’s legacy started in the 70’s, followed by some level of dominance in the decade starting 2000
  • Now if I look just at these 3 countries of Spain, Italy and England, the spread of the clubs who emerged as the champions indicate the polarisation of club football on most of the cases
    • Spanish clubs have been champions 18 times. But no prizes for guessing which clubs are in this 18 number ? Only Real Madrid (13 times) and Barcelona (5 times). No wonder people say that Spanish club football means only 2 clubs and does not go beyond the two
    • Italian clubs have been champions 12 times. Again the spread has been limited to just 3 clubs here – AC Milan (7 times), Inter Milan (3 times) and Juventus (2 times)
    • When it comes to English clubs, their spread is much better than what we see for Spain or Italy. Out of 12 times champions, we have 5 clubs in the list: Liverpool (5 times), Manchester United (3 times), Nottingham Forest (2 times) and then one each from Chelsea and guess who ? Aston Villa !!
    • In spite of Germany dominating world football for last 25 years, it is surprising that they have managed to win Champions League for just 7 times. Again, the success is quite on a monopoly with Bayern Munich winning 5 out of the 7, with Borussia Dortmund and Hamburg winning once each
  • Finally, if I look at each of the decades starting in the 1950’s and try to see if there was any true dominance by any club (who were the champions), what I can see is:
    • 1950‘s were just the Spanish club of Real Madrid as champions from the first edition of 1955-56 and winning five times consecutively till 1960
    • It was Italy (AC Milan and Inter Milan) who actually won 4 times out of 10 in the 1960‘s and was clearly dominating in that decade
    • 1970 decade was mainly dominated by English clubs (Liverpool and Nottingham Forest followed closely by Netherlands (remember Johan Cryuff and Ajax during those days ?) and Germany (golden days of Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller at Bayern Munich)
    • 1980 decade was again ruled by English clubs and Italian clubs (when Paolo Maldini, Donadoni were playing for AC Milan) who both 6 out of the 10 tournaments
    • The 1990 decade started the re-dominance of Spanish clubs and this trend continued for next few decades. While the Spanish clubs of Real Madrid and Barcelona won 3 times together in this decade, the rest 7 winners were well spread across different countries of Italy, Germany, England, France, Netherlands and erstwhile Yoguslavia
    • The decade starting 2000 was when Spain (3 times) and Italy (3 times) won the Champions league most of the time. By this time, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has arrived big time in club football
    • Perhaps the true dominance of modern day football is in the current decade starting 2010. Out of 8 championship held so far, Spain (Real Madrid and Barcelona) has won 6 times. No wonder, the contributions of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo has been crucial behind the success of the Spanish clubs

Now as we go in the future with more talents / money coming up, perhaps the main question to be asked is “will we see a more spread of top football across Europe, or will it be again Spanish or Italian clubs who will reign on top ?” For the betterment of football, I will definitely wish for more distribution of money and hence better teams across Europe – otherwise soon the interest for club football might start dipping with championship monopolised by just a few !

13th July 1997 – the ultimate demolition in front of 130,000 people !

13th July 1997 – that’s the day remembered fondly by many and hated by equally many. In our generation, that symbolised the passion of football in Kolkata, the eternal rivalry now going 100+ years strong … and of course, the ultimate supremacy of East Bengal over Mohan Bagan, which I hope will continue till my last day.

The frenzy surrounded the match was something that I had listened from my uncles but never witnessed at a mature age. Two things aggravated the situation – the insulting comments of the Late Amal Dutta, the coach of the macha’s and the fact that there was an issue on whether the match will be telecast live on TV – after all, it was the Federation Cup semifinals and a mouth-watering one too.

That season, Mohan Bagan started with a bang – displaying a brand of attacking football that was not seen in last few years, by adopting the so-called diamond system. Such was their initial success that their coach was called Diamond Dutta – till 13th July, when the diamond was crushed to dust. On the other hand, East Bengal was clearly the underdog before the match with some good players on paper – but after that match, the rise of Baichung Bhutia, the empeccable defense of Sammy Omollo, the tactics of counter attacking play against a stronger opponents – all became part of history.

Now, there have been many posts on how the match went, how East Bengal’s Baichung destroyed the myth of the diamond system, etc etc. I don’t want to elaborate on the same thing – but what I want to write is why that day was the most memorable day related to sports till date in my life !

First thing that strikes me was the total frenzy before the game. Tickets to the game was simply not available as they were sold out days before the game. In my locality, fights did happen even before one/two days before the match just because supporters of one club made some bad comments of their opponents. Me and my friends were desperate  for tickets and finally we managed to get through different people. Once we got the tickets, the tension amongst East Bengal fans were just immense – we were subject to taunts, banters and hence we were simply raring to go after them with the hope that a cornered East Bengal club is the most ferocious thing to happen to anyone.

Cometh the Match Day – all lucky shirts (slightly torn), lucky shoes and chappals (worn out with visible holes) were out. And I was stunned when we reached Salt Lake stadium. It was a sea of people with chanting, shouting – the noise outside was tremendous. Rs 10 tickets were being sold in front of me at a price of Rs 800 – 1000 and all those ones were being sold like hot cakes. Never before I saw police jeeps patrolling with portable microphones blaring announcements of “this match will be now telecast live, so for those who don’t have tickets, we beg you all to return back to your homes” !! The entry to Gate-4 was impossible – the queue was at least 2 km long. We had to finally break the queue risking police sticks on our backs and managed to enter the stadium.

Inside it was a hot, noisy cauldron. Stadium packed up even before 1 hour to the start of the match. Even though the official number was 131,000 people in the stadium, unofficially it must have crossed 150,000 as I still remember people standing in the stairs throughout the match – they did not get any space to sit. And the noise when the teams entering the ground – simply unbelievable.

The other thing that I learnt on was the impact of sound waves. Those who are familiar with the Salt Lake stadium layout – we sat in Gate 4, which was just behind one goal. That day, Mohan Bagan managed to score one goal – so while the East Bengal gallery was totally silent, the MB supporters were shouting “GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL”. And we, sitting at the opposite end of them, literally felt the sound wave coming – starting from a feeble rustling sound, then growing exponentially to an ultimate crescendo – all for a period of maybe 8-10 seconds. Unbelievable impact to the ears. And boy, did we not return that impact to MB supporters ? Yes, we did … not just once, by 4 times !!!!!!!!

The most dangerous thing that can happen to any human was if someone, by mistake, sits in their opponents gallery ! As many outstation policemen was deployed inside the stadium, there was one constable from Patna (we came to know later) who was sitting near us. In the first half, when it was 0-0, Cheema Okerie of Mohan Bagan piled on a strong shot which luckily when outside. And this guy, forgetting where he was sitting, jumped up and started shouting and dancing…. by mistake. Oh my God ! Everyone pounced on him and started to give slaps (we call them “chataas”) – but then when it was learnt he was new to the city, etc better sense prevailed. But the story does not end here – when Baichung went on the rampage in the 2nd half, after each goal, everyone forced the poor constable to dance continuously for 5 minutes (per goal) !! It was a hilarious scene for all of us – but must have been a poor ordeal to that guy.

In any East Bengal – Mohan Bagan match, one thing you have to cope up is huge amount of gaali’s and that too innovative ones. There was a father who brought his 9-10 year old son – and he literally tried to close his son’s ears by his both hands everytime someone was shouting some expletives ! Finally he had to give up lamenting “why on hell did I bring my son to this game !!!”. But the funny part was when East Bengal was leading 2-1 in the 2nd half – at that point of time, there was at least 20-25 minutes left. One elderly gentleman suddenly got up, starting shouting expletives towards the referee, when there was absolutely no issue in a mid-field play. People got surprised and someone asked what happened ? (“ki holo, dada” ?). And his reply was unique – “Shourer xxxx referee, referee’r xxxxx, xxxx … etokhon khelaono’r ki aache ???? Amra jitchi 2-1’e – aar referee ekhono kheliye jaache ?????? Shalaaa xxxxx, xxxxxx – ekhunu khela sesh koruk !!” ….. I will not ever forget this incident.

Another thing that will ever be in my mind – it started with a disappointment. We were planning to sit in Gate 3 (where we normally target a fixed place) so that we can see the match better sitting middle of the ground. But we were forced to sit in Gate 4, behind one goal. So, when action happens in the other end of the goal, sometimes you cannot interpret things better. So all of us were grumbling before the start of the match and we were shouting at the policemen who refused to let us go to Gate 3. Boy, did we get compensated at the end of the match ??? Oh yeeeesssssssssssssssssssssssssssss !!! All 3 goals of East Bengal’s in the 2nd half happened at our end, including Baichung’s hat-trick !!! What more could we have asked !!!! And literally I had such a sore throat that day because of the shouting, that I had to bunk office the next day !!!

Let me make three take-way points before I end this post:

  • Nothing is more enjoyable than an East Bengal – Mohan Bagan derby; specially when East Bengal wins. Even when India won the cricket world cups, I was not as happy as I was that day !
  • Atmosphere on the ground in a football match is just electric – even the most advanced dolby sound effects cannot replace that experience
  • Now to the Mohan Bagan fans – you guys simply have to admit we are much superior than you when it comes to the Derby match. I know you will start shouting right now – but again all street dogs bark more than they bite :-)

Finally, as I reminiscence the happiest sporting day in my life, I attach the remnants of that day’s match ticket – which I still carry in my purse wherever I go. Why I do that ? Because it symbolises heavenly happiness, it symbolises good omen and at the end of the day, it symbolises that East Bengal was, is and will be always superior than Mohan Bagan till my last day !

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The end of globalisation and the strengthening of the right wing ?

Let’s see some of the critical incidents that happened in last 3 years. Incidents that are likely to have deep impact on the interconnected world.

  • The tumbling of the unity of the Euro currency within the European Union – with subsequent noises coming from Greece, Italy, Spain, etc that had a promise to break the very existence of the European Union 
  • Clamour for Scottish independence and the subsequent referendum that almost rocked the concept of Great Britian
  • The Brexit decision by the people of the United Kingdom
  • Donald Trump as the President of the United Stated with his radical ideas for America 
  • Noise coming out from countries like Italy

All the above incidents have been dealing blows after blows on united regionalism and globalisation. The very essence of corporate globalisation defined by optimal and low cost sourcing across an unified connected world is now under threat. Organisations can no longer neglect local issues and the impact strength of these local issues have gone stronger and stronger. Profitability at any cost within the legal domains is now being boxed in by forcing organisations to first have a look on addressing local issues first.

Engagement of the local people in terms of economic growth and prosperity was there always – but the power of influence has grown exponentially in last three / four years. Add to that the complexity of geo political situation in various parts of the world where the repurcussions of unstable governments are becoming higher and higher. Both views obviously has their pro’s and cons – hence, there is no correct binary answer. But what is very clear now is that the world has to.recognise and accept the so-called “radical” thinking on the rise across various countries. People can contest the usage of the word radical in this contexy; but I would assume that no one probably will be contesting the fact that the world has changed quite a bit in the last few years.

Therefore if any organisation feels that they can afford to neglect this aspect, then I would think that either they will commit a big mistake by being naive in a delicate situation. Acknowledging the current situation should be the first step, irrespective of whether we like it or not. Once we acknowledge this as a reality, then I am sure different models will evolve to come to a  balanced midway solution between total globalisation and that “radicalisation”. 

Influence of one Mr. Ray

I make it a point of not missing any Felu’da movie, irrespective of the actor who is playing that role. Whether it was Soumitra or Sabyasachi or Abir or anyone, I don’t care. Today was another day when I went to watch Double Feluda movie directed by Sandip Ray. This was a special year as this was the year when Felu’da turned 50 years, even when the creator of the character is no longer present amongst us. More than the two stories depicted in the film, I was sent to direct nostalgia when I saw the end tribute from many of the actors who played immortal characters of the journey of Felu’da captured in celluloid. This made me pause to retrospect the influence one Mr. Satyajit Ray had on my growing up.

When I was a child, I was introduced to story books by my parents and I must have immersed myself in the love of reading; because the moment I can think of my first memories of my life, I saw myself devouring any story book I got hold of. My brother shared the same love towards books and that always created a big problem – there was always a major fight when new books or magazines came to our house – who will read first !! And one of the major attractions, if not the only attraction, was the magazines of Anandamela and Sandesh where the stories of Felu’da and Prof Shanku will come. The order of priority was Felu’da, then Prof Shanku, then TinTin followed by others. Clear priority definition – never had any ambiguity on this aspect as a child.

Actually Sandesh magazine came to our house to stop the fight with my brother on who will read Anandamela first, when that was the only magazine subscribed by my father. I still remember that there was an office near the Triangular Park in South Kolkata from where either Sandesh was re-published or distributed. Back from school, we used to stop there for 5 minutes to buy the latest issue of that magazine and I used to hold that tightly in my hands. Anandamela used to come automatically through the newspaper vendor.


Picture from internet
As any normal child, I used to draw pictures when I was a child. Crayons was a good past time; but what I enjoyed most was drawing pictures using just a normal pencil. Nine out of ten times, it was a picture of Felu’da or Felu’da in action that I tried to copy in my drawing. It was always a great pleasure of growing up when somebody could recognise my drawn picture as something that at least was resembling Satyajit Ray’s drawings even by a poor 10%.

Came the movies of Satyajit Ray for children starting with Goopy Gayne Bagha Bayne. Movies are always enthralling for kids – and it was kind of moving to an ecstasy world by watching Satyajit Ray s movies. The ultimate was when the character that moved me from my childhood days, I could see them in almost real life. Sonar Kella and Joy Baba Felunath – this were the two movies that actually transformed the drawn pictures of Felu’da into someone I could relate to. I still don’t know how many times I must have seen these two movies.

Science fictions never appealed me that much, whether be it in story books or be it in movies. But somehow I was fascinated by the Professor Shanku s stories. I could relate them as very much possible in real world and not just fantasies. Probably that was the reason why Prof Shanku was so much liked to me.

Before I end, I have encountered so many writers through their creations in my life so far. My love towards detective stories or thrillers is quite strong. So starting from Enid Blyton to Pancha Pandab to Kakababu to Kiriti to Byomkesh to Sherlock Holmes to Alistair Maclean to Agatha Christie to Moitrayee Bhaduri – journey has been good and still continuing. But no one has touched me so much as one Mr. Satyajit Ray – he has been a big, major part of my growing up. Later on, I went through his gammot of movies and writing, but the pleasure of growing up with Felu’da, Prof Shanku and Ray’s other stories has been tremendous. Whenever I think of Satyajit Ray, the first image that comes to my mind is that he was my best friend while growing up.

And I still remember the thing that I did with my first every salary I earned – I gave the salary to my mother and she in return gave me some money to buy something that I liked. I then requested my father to take me to College Street as I wanted to buy some books. Everybody thought I would go for some food items – but I pleasantly disappointed them :-) Along with my father, I went to Ananda Publishers office at College Street and bought the complete set of Feluda and Prof Shanku at one shot  !!!!

That thing came naturally to me and probably that only told of the influence of Satyajit Ray in my growing up. Thank you Sir !!!! And my journey still continues when I rush to a movie theatre whenever any story of Satyajit Ray is converted into a movie, irrespective of the actors or director ….

The annual gainless pain …

A typical Bong (Bengali) will always look forward to buy new clothes or other associated things just before the start of the Durga Puja. That’s a tradition that is there for centuries and some of these traditions are good to keep – I don’t have any problem with that. But when this annual thing becomes a big blister on the poor backside of myself, that’s when I feel the pain. Shopping is an activity that is generally loved by all women and absolutely loathed by majority of the men (at least that’s what I have observed over the years). Again, I have no problem with that fact of life. But being induced into “forced shopping” mode is something that can bring in sweat even in the coldest of the winters.

It all starts with the sentimental bombarding of “you need to go as this is a tradition where the entire family buys stuff for the rest of the family”. At times, I give a damn about traditions – and this is definitely the most appropriate timing to exercise that. When that foils, then comes a rapid fire intense round of negotiations with kind of risk-reward scheme of terms and conditions.

“Ok, lets do one thing – we will visit New Market or Gariahat for 2 hours and after that we can still have that mutton biryani, even though your doctor has advised against it”. Never before I have witnessed such Mother Teresa equivalent kindness – this is that historic moment of individual’s life when the Home Minister can overrule the doctor’s years of acquired knowledge and experience. That’s the only time when that elusive “mutton biryani” suddenly becomes devoid of all cholesterol, LDL’s – even though the same biryani is served for the rest 364 days a year. But that’s when lesson’s learnt are applied and I think of the last year when I was butchered like an innocent lamb who just fell for that extra bit of ‘lush green grass’ coming free. So, I stand up tall like Netaji Subhas Bose and counter that satan-like greed for biryani – “You just give some space and I will get freedom for myself”. Normally that statement is followed by a nasal humming of “amake amar moton thaakte dao, aami nijeke nijer moton ghuchiye niyechi”.

But as always, it’s the home minister who passes the law and as a common man, inspite of how much rebellious you can be, its the time of execution. The only hope in all of this is the agreement on three contractual clauses of:
– the ordeal will be not more than 1 hour maximum and limited to one shop only. So the participation will be in the final selection round and not during the initial never-ending rounds of shortlisting things
– playing mobile games are allowed even during the exercise – not because I don’t want to participate, but I claim that I am good at multi-tasking
– this clause is more of a request to be complied on a “best effort basis” – very feebly the petition is raised that if this happens in an non-air-conditioned environment, this poor soul will feel very near to Satan. That always is met with a steely ice-frozen look (without words) – and that’s when you can not only hear the sound of silence, but also realise the power of silence !

Now I enter the shop with a mood that can scare the friendliest of any living being. Because just being dragged out of a half-sitting-half-sleeping stupor while watching a nonsense movie like Housefull-3 is not always energising. Nevertheless the ordeal starts. This is normally accompanied by unique characteristics like:

– running around like a headless chicken with the only rule of “follow thy master”
– pausing to check Facebook or Whatsapp amounts to threatening of “the time spent on these useless activities will be deducted from the 1 hour negotiated time”. Nawaz Sharif will also be looked upon as a toddler, given the intensity of these threats
– hands should be occupied by holding dresses. You will never realise that even after “short listing”, there will be still so many dresses to be tried out
– looking at oddly shaped women in front of trial rooms. 80+ kg women darts out of the trials rooms wearing skin tight dresses only to get a nod from an impatient husband waiting outside the room, who just happened to hide a big yawn before giving a million dollar smile and saying “looking too good” … and then the transition from that smile to a big frown comes in a lightning speed, that will make even Usain Bolt feel proud !
– once the trials are over, then comes a period of intense subjective and objective analysis on which 3 dresses out of 12 are the best. If you try play smart and want to end the ordeal by quickly selecting any 3, then you will be virtually guillotined by the AK47-like spraying of bullets of defending the selected 3
– finally standing alone in the queue with 3 ladies dresses. Why alone ? Well usage of idle time has been recommended by all. The waiting time in the queue can be executed by any dumbass like me while a last minute tour of the remaining store can be utilised.

After all this, when you come home, sip a cuppa on the sofa with a game of football on, and then thank God by saying “thanks for giving me strength this time”, you hear from another room that I need to go again tomorrow as we have forgotten shopping for a loved one !! Why do we have so many loved ones ? Why, why ?

Come on !! Not again !!! “Bidroho aaj, bidroho charidike, bidroho aaj” ….. that’s the only time when the socialistic concept of rebellion comes to life for me

Happy last minute Puja shopping everyone !

 

AI can evolve into something we don’t want to see

The battle for Artificial Intelligence or AI is up for grabs. Already all leading corporations are spending huge money and time to build upon the challenge of AI helping mankind. However the debate on whether AI is ultimately good for human civilization is also hotting up good time. The sci-fi movies on robots evolving and finally establishing supremacy on humans has been there for some years now. That may come to a reality when AI will reach a stage when robots can produce other robots on their own.

Google has predicted that five years from now, AI will reach at a level which will be at the level of human beings. All other AI experts might dispute on the time frame, but I don’t think anybody has disputed that AI has the capability to reach the human being level and hence can then go ahead of humans when it comes to intelligence. So the possibility of the earth being ruled by machines are quite high. Based on media reports, China is building up a huge setup to explore contacts with aliens – and if that happens one day where the so called aliens having higher intelligence gets in touch with earth ruled by AI more than humans, the impact will be huge. But that’s for a longer time horizon we are looking for – a horizon which I am unlikely to witness. Phew!

However the other negative implications are quite imminent as was evident when Microsoft apologized for racist and offensive tweets from its AI engine. Refer to the below news report from the Guardian :

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/mar/26/microsoft-deeply-sorry-for-offensive-tweets-by-ai-chatbot

This leads to many possibilities which are more likely to happen in the near future. Soon, feeding up the AI engines through government organisations and stronger countries are likely to happen which will lead to forced propaganda across big sets of populations. The very concept of free thought, freedom of speech might be under threat if AI is used by government or corporation machinery. Further, if terrorist organizations can access the feeding part effectively, this will lead to justifications and glorification of terror activities, impacting the thought process of  millions of next generation children. Already many such organisations like ISIS are turning out to be tech savvy organisations – hence the possibility of such groups doing a forced molding of AI to defend their sets of actions are quite high.

Now all technologies have their positives and negatives. Einstein’s E=mc2 provoked the atom bomb; the evolution of weapons of mass destruction got accelerated from advancement of technogy; internet has caused a parallel track of hacking, fraud; etc. But AI has the possibility of leading to an area which has never been faced or seen by humans. Therefore the impact of the same can be extremely useful for mankind on one hand and also catastrophic on the extreme.

Only time will tell how we, humans, let AI be used……

‘Fair’ Journalism

When I was in my teens, I remember that the main source of getting information was through a limited number of newspapers and Doordarshan News. The debate that time was on the style of reporting – amongst the English newspapers in my home city of Kolkata, while it was reported that The Statesman did ‘direct’ reporting with a ‘matter of fact’ tone, it was alleged that The Telegraph reported the same incident with more ‘flair’, more in a story-telling mode. However, I don’t remember much controversy on the whether there was distortion of facts or not. And on a lighter node, watching Doordarshan News was a kind of a torture because of lack of visuals – still the incidents were reported on an ‘as is’ basis.

Then came a whiff of fresh air, when Prannoy Roy started with a capsule programme of “World This Week”. We had a glimpse of the world in a 30 minute slot. The whole family used to be riveted in front of the idiot-box watching impacts that happened across the world. That probably gave us an indication of media-starved Indians what journalism and news reporting should be like in the years to come. Immediately, Prannoy Roy became a household name and the making of mega-stars in the news making industry started from that moment of history.

electronic-media-aquarius-media

Next came a barrage of channels that carried out news using the cable television distribution channel. NDTV was the pioneer with 24 x 7 news first time in India probably ? It was still Prannoy Roy who led the show and budding news anchors started to make their marks in the national arena. While NDTV became a household brand, many other breakaways mushroomed in the market and they also became strong brands very soon. All facets of life – politics, international news and dynamics, sports, entertainment – everything started to be covered across channels. Associated with the competition, came the fight to gain TRP which is directly proportional to viewership.

Frankly speaking, I did not even hear the very word of “TRP” and its significance only till recent past. The other word that I learnt in last few years was “paid media”. Initially I was perhaps naïve not to believe in that. Why will an journalist put in a biased view of an incident when his / her job was to report on what happened ? But to my dismay, I soon discovered that different news channels started to portray the same incident differently – imposing their ‘point of view’ on that incident. I don’t know whether that falls under the ethics of journalism, but I did not like that concept at all.

You report on what happened on a ‘matter of fact’ mode – it is upto the individual viewers to make ‘judgement’ on different perspectives. I, as a viewer, am not interested with what a channel thinks, but rather I would prefer that freedom to be given to me. Unfortunately, that became the fashion. Very soon, we could see one incident being portrayed in one way in one channel and the other channel showing the same incident in a totally different way. Coincidentally, the views matched with the biased interests of different political parties. And I could not remove the thought from my mind on whether the media has become “paid media”. This thought started to get deep in my mind when some of the mega-stars of Indian TV channels were “alleged” to be the ‘middleman’ between business houses and political parties, trying to broker some deals.

Now, that has gone to another level. In order to score high on the battlegrounds of TRP, circulating unverified video’s, telecasting so-called “doctored” clips has become the order of the day. Whether the media houses are themselves producing the same or whether the so-called “paid media” channels are just executing orders from their masters – it is not clear to me as a viewer. But the very consequence of all the actions has resulted into an individual doubting each and every news whether that is the truth OR whether that is a lie; whether that is the truth OR whether that is just a biased version of the story !

While the electronic media has evolved drastically in India in last 20 years, I think the deterioration has been drastic as well. You just keep on shuffling the news channels and I can bet, any person can guess whether that channel reports in line with what Congress party wants to say or what BJP wants to say or what Left parties wants to say !

Overall, the trust that was there 20-30 years ago on printed and electronic media has now vanished from the common man. I don’t know whether the media channels feel the same, but as an ordinary Indian citizen, I feel ashamed on how “fair” journalism has fallen so low !

Hope some day better things will prevail in journalism and till that date, I can only keep on hoping !

 

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