Politics / 23.07.2017

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan wants to resume bilateral cricketing ties with India while India refuses to play ball. How would an alien from Mars, unaffected by nationalist biases, assess the situation? It would be hard to dismiss the Indian position outright. Think of it this way: If you live in a community and a neighbour throws his trash over your wall you would be justified in being annoyed. You might go over once for a friendly chat but if the dumping continues you would be well within your rights to protest and break off relations. The neighbour’s invitation to a friendly game of chess will clearly smack of hypocrisy in the circumstances. Extrapolate the analogy to India-Pakistan politics. There seems little doubt that Pakistan has been abetting incidents of terrorism in India - the 2008 attack in Mumbai was the most egregious and the most explicitly linked to...

Behavior / 20.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf First, the result – A disciplined, professional team easily took care of a ragged, mercurial bunch of individuals. Lightning did not strike. No miracles occurred. As we watched the pathetic procession in the first half, lines from Macbeth came flooding back: … a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.  Then, as comments began to circulate, the dissension amongst the faithful was captured by the lines that immediately followed the above: [Enter a Messenger] Macbeth. Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly. Messenger. Gracious my lord, I should report that which I say I saw, But know not how to do it. Macbeth. Well, say, sir. Messenger. As I did stand my watch upon the hill, I look'd toward Birnam, and anon, methought, The wood...

Behavior / 19.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf The India-Bangladesh match ended predictably but in Pakistan its off-field resonance was of greater interest. All the ambivalent feelings about India and Bangladesh that are otherwise submerged bubbled to the surface. It was a rich occasion for some casual explorations in social attitudes. My limited sample revealed two sets of observations – those on which there was relative agreement and those where opinions were more divided. The first set comprised the following: First, a sense of pride that four South Asian teams had made it to the quarter finals of a major world championship. It was encouraging evidence of a South Asian consciousness amongst people many of whom had not seen more than one or two cities in their own country. Second, a fairly objective assessment of the quality of the four teams based purely on their track record. Most people ranked India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan,...

Behavior / 18.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf Sri Lanka took a strategic gamble against South Africa in the first quarter-final of the 2015 Cricket World Cup and were blown away. What surprised me was how misplaced the gamble was and how unexpected from a team known for its ability to think. The nature of the gamble was obvious from the first ball. It was clear that Kusal Perera was sent in to open under instructions to hit the South African attack bowlers off their lengths. The strategy might have paid off but even that would have required some sensible hitting. It was clear as daylight that Perera would not last more than a few balls, and he didn’t. More than throwing away a wicket, it put paid to the Sri Lankan strategy in a hurry and fired up the South Africans instead. The fact that there was a slight chance the strategy...

Reflections / 06.08.2014

By Anjum Altaf It was fall last year that I was teaching the introductory course in economics and had drawn four concentric circles on the board to illustrate how the market was embedded in the economy which was embedded in society which, in turn, was embedded in the extra-terrestrial outerworld.  The objective was to spark a conversation about how the outer spheres limited what could or could not take place in the inner ones as also to point out the fact that while the economy and society had always existed, the market as an institution was a relatively recent phenomenon. From there we moved on to discuss how the reach of the market was expanding and its ambit growing to include aspects that were previously never within its domain to the extent that reading the standard textbooks one could well believe that the market economy was all...

Behavior / 11.03.2014

Kashmiri students in Meerut cheered when the Pakistan cricket team defeated India in the Asia Cup, were suspended, and charged with sedition. Since then madness has prevailed with people taking sides whether the students were right or wrong and whether the charges were justified or not. Pakistan, as usual, takes the cake for stupidity – its hearts and college gates have been thrown wide open for the heroes of the resistance. I don’t know enough about the particular incident to wade into the controversy but there are things about it that seem quite obviously wrong and problematic. What, for starters, is the notion of an own side and why, for another, is one required or obliged to cheer only for it? Why should an accident of birth dictate my emotional attachment and why should I not have the choice to own the team I want? The notion...

Miscellaneous / 09.08.2012

By Hasan Altaf The cards are laid on the table right away in Shehan Karunatilaka's stunning debut novel, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew (Graywolf Press). The narrator, W. G. Karunasena - an aging, alcoholic former sportswriter, who has just been handed what amounts to a death sentence (if he limits himself to two drinks a day he can hope for one or two more years) - takes a moment to respectfully rebut the criticism that sports, in this case cricket, have no use or value: "Left-arm spinners cannot unclog your drains, teach your children or cure you of disease. But once in a while, the very best of them will bowl a ball that will bring an entire nation to its feet. And while there may be no practical use in that, there is most certainly value." Pradeep Mathew is in some ways like the great rock...

Identity / 09.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf Shahid Afridi’s perceptions of Indians and India are now common knowledge. On the way out of the airport returning from Mohali, he said: "I can’t understand the approach of people, why we are against India? Why there is so much hate for India when we have Indian dramas played in every home, our marriage celebrations are done in Indian style, we watch all Indian movies then why to hate them?” A couple of days later, he said: “In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don’t think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us.” Given the short half-life of such episodes much of the hullabaloo has disappeared. It is time now to move beyond scoring points and to see if some more interesting aspects can be uncovered....

Behavior / 03.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf Prayer, superstition, luck, talent, effort, unity, professionalism – what was it that won the Cricket World Cup in the end? I am reasonably convinced it was some combination of the last five; all the more reason for a fascination with the first two that were so visibly on display. What exactly is the role of prayer and superstition in our lives? Why do we resort to these devices? How seriously are we to take them? Are they harmful or harmless? A whole host of questions wait to be asked and addressed. At one level, there is a simple explanation. Any endeavor where the stakes are high and the outcome depends on some element of chance gives rise to nervousness and anxiety. And these feelings need to be assuaged. While participants in the endeavor can focus on the rigors of preparation and the demands of...

Miscellaneous / 26.03.2011

By Anjum Altaf Cricket is emblematic of South Asia. It distinguishes the region qua region from almost anywhere else – East Asia, West Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe. So at this time when three of the four teams in the World Cup semifinals are South Asian, it is opportune to wrap some thoughts about risk, strategy and design in the metaphor of cricket. In an earlier article (Achievement and Risk-taking) written quite some time back, I had used illustrations from cricket to make the point that the propensity of an individual to take risks is not a function of personality but an outcome of strategic calculation. In other words, individuals are not born with a given attitude towards risk; they can decide when it makes sense to be cautious or bold. I have now found an academic presentation of this perspective. In A Primer on Decision Making, James...