Thursday, December 19, 2013

I want a bully in my backyard

Finally, a genius and I have something in common. We made the same stupid (since we’re talking about a certified genius –no, not me, duh- I must clarify that I’m using the word loosely, and in place of the far more appropriate but far less zingy ‘ignorant’) mistake.

Dr. Carl Semencic, a Mensa member, and I, we both wrote a few words (in his case a best-selling book or three and a 1000 word article from your truly, but hey, so what?) about canis lupus familiaris, or the dog to non-Mensa or similar such riffraff, and ended up with a bit of a gaffe. Finding the cross of which too much to bear, on behalf of our shared intelligence, let me right that wrong here and now…

Dr. Semencic wrote a book titled ‘Gladiator Dogs’ (and two others – The World of Fighting Dogs and Pit Bulls and Tenacious Guard Dogs) that celebrated the undeniable prowess that lurks in the folds of muscle, sinew and jowl of the fighting breeds. And a few years later, and incidentally just about a few weeks ago, I happened to write about Indian dog breeds. And in both our accounts, a breed that should have rightfully taken its place at the head of the pack was forgotten, ignored, insulted and got passed over…

I can’t speak for Dr. Carl, but let me fix my error of omission in this very piece, so ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and say a little high-pitched prayer, for you will soon be in the company of the ‘Beast from the East’, the redoubtable champion of the blood-soaked pit, the pride of fighting dog-men, and one of the most formidable canines in the country and the planet – the Bully Kutta.

Before I go further, and before you self-righteous sorts begin howling like a wolf-pack at moonrise, let me soothe your hackles by taking a leaf out of Dr. Carl’s methods and announce that I do not approve of or support the idea of pitting one dog against another in a battle that inflicts pain or draws blood. I’m a vegetarian, for Christ’s sake! However, no book about canine gladiators can be complete without paying homage to this magnificent and brave beast, and nor can a listing of Indian breeds be complete without the Bully Kutta being given the bone (no not dog bone – a nylabone) of honour.

So what is this bully kutta? Chances are, you wouldn’t have seen one. They are rather rare and you wouldn’t find them in pet stores or most dog shows. They are a bit like erotic paintings – neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride; they feign outrage and so we pretend to hide.

But these dogs aren’t easy to hide. The easiest way to describe them would be to show you a Great Dane and ask you to add about 20 lbs of muscle and take away a couple of inches in height. But the bigger difference is on the inside. These dogs have the courage of a lion, the stamina of a wild ass, the power of a diesel truck and the tenacity of a Navy SEAL. In any other country, a dog of such impressive proportions and character would have been feted as our national dog but the Bully is popular only in pockets in this country and mostly with those involved with dog fighting, an illegal blood sport in India.

Er…here I should clarify that the Bully is often called the Pakistani Bully, but that isn’t necessarily so because the breed was created in Pakistan. In ancient India, in the high Himalayas, large wolf like dogs bred for protecting livestock from predators and thieves, fanned out along the mountains with their nomadic masters and into the steppes and plains and valleys of Asia Minor, Europe and Central Asia. From here, over the centuries, some dogs returned with the flocks through the cold and hot deserts out west of the subcontinent. Here, they mixed with the sleek and fast sighthounds that hunted antelope and gazelle on the hot plains of peninsular India and evolved into a formidable breed that was the combination of the muscle and moods of the mastiff and the speed and predatory instinct of the hounds. And to this mix was added terrier tenacity when the Brits and their game dogs took over the country.

It was this formidable combination that has made the Bully a champion fighting dog. And this canine heritage is the subcontinent’s to claim, irrespective of borders. However it is true that the Bully is far more common in Pakistan than India, but that is only because dogfights are still a part of Pakistan’s rural culture while stricter governance has pushed dog fighting into the armpits of the hinterland in India.

By the way, before I go, I must answer that question in your head. Is the Bully (pronounced like the word pulley with a little lingering on the ‘l’) called so because it is a bully of a dog, or is it because of the bully-breed (as in the bulldog of old, or the bull-terriers) influence? Neither actually! The Bully kutta got its name from the North-Indian word ‘bohli’, meaning wrinkled-kutta, and that’s of course hindi for dog.

 Next week I am scheduled to meet a traditional Bully owner. Following the meeting, I hope to be able to share some insights from the world of dog fighting, the men and dogs that mind it and perhaps discuss a way to keep the wonderful physiological and temperament markers in the Bully intact, without having to resort to the barbaric practice of dog fighting.

Meanwhile, you could take a stroll in the winter sun and take pride in walking on the land that was both mother and midwife to one of the most magnificent breeds to mark its territory  on this planet.


Thursday, December 12, 2013


Ubuntu – we are because you are; I am because you are… and a lot of what is, or could be, good in us, is because of you, Madiba!

Your long walk to freedom, freedom… from all that you owed us, from all the lessons you had to teach us, from more of the acid rain of hate we keep pouring on ourselves and would have been drenched to the bone with, if not for you and your compassionate example, Madiba…!

Farewell ye, oh greatest of fragments of The Great Spirit. The ocean of humanity that walks in your wake will miss you, but the nation that your vision fathered will miss you most of all.

The long walk to freedom may have finally ended for Nelson  Rolhilahla Mandela. But it has only just begun for the people of South Africa. It is now more than ever that their resolve to live by the tenets of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation will be truly tested, with the fading of the towering figure of Madiba who will no longer be walking by their side, holding the young fingers of the rainbow nation and guiding them away from every perilous prism lurking in the corners of history.

A lot of people who know a lot more than I will ever understand have eulogized the unparalleled greatness of Nelson Mandela for the world to get to know this great life and its lessons better. So I write these words, not because Mandela needs  yet another requiem nor because you might have the stomach for yet another obituary, but because like so many other unread authors, I too, on this occasion, have this irrepressible desire to speak of this man to the winds for it take them where it will…

If you walk across the hall of heroes from the beginning of time, you will be hard pressed to come across a name more luminous than Madiba’s. Mahatma Gandhi, the man Mandela had claimed as an inspiration, awash in the romance of another time, was a great man indeed. But compare the fractured and blood splattered legacy of partition with the unified harmony of the rainbow nation and you will have to acknowledge that the pupil has improved tremendously on the master’s design.

But let’s not belittle our heroes by pitching them against each other for that is not the point of this piece.
Instead, let us light a candle in our hearts to the examples that Mandela set. He said he is no saint but he performed miracles that merit canonization. Many saints have spoken of love and forgiveness. But tell me how many do we remember who have been born of men and had the heart to embrace their own oppressors and welcome them into their hearts with open arms and unconditional forgiveness? There would be some, though it would be tough to tell where legend meets logic, but admittedly there indeed would be a few… But tell me where would you find such a leader of men who not only forgave and embraced those who sought to hurt, harm, destroy and subjugate both him and his people, but did so without for a moment hurting their dignity and pride? And now I ask you, show me a leader of men who not only managed to forgive and win the hearts of his oppressors but inspired an entire nation of oppressed people to set aside their anger and hurt and embrace their former oppressors as brothers. Madiba indeed was a rare one…

During my time in B-school, I was taught about the roles and responsibilities of an ideal leader. And I grew up to understand that an ideal leader is one who knows who to, when and how to command, motivate, inspire and delegate. And for a long while, I felt that that alone was all one needed. And perhaps for most leaders in most scenarios, indeed little else is needed to meet goals at work and straddle the gap between wants and demands at home. But the extraordinary circumstances of Nelson Mandela’s life demanded extraordinary leadership skills. And it is only when I began reading about how he led his people and his country - blacks, browns and whites, together beyond the rainbow that I began to realize that truly great leadership, in any sphere – from sports to religion and even that swampland called politics, is not possible without spiritual awareness and integrity.

Next  week, the sendoff prayers for Madiba would have grown quieter and perhaps that would be the time to delve a little less into the man and to focus a little more on his methods. And until such a time as that Madiba, when we’ll invoke your undying spirit again, may you rest in comfort and peace. God bless…


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Gambhir Conundrum

Impressed?!! Well, you better be… A week ago, in this very space, I had suggested that out of favour opener, Gautam Gambhir had to make the team if India is to rule the cricketing roost in the half decade to come. Days later, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man many believe was responsible for the southpaw’s ouster, has suggested that the team to South Africa might have been better served with Gambhir’s presence than without.

To understand why Gautam Gambhir’s return to the team is inevitable, we’ll have to understand the whys and hows of his expulsion from the team. How did an opener who has proven the mettle of his skills and his character with commanding performances at home and abroad, in Tests, ODIs and T20s, lose his way and go from being the vice-captain to a non-starter?

When Gauti was dropped for the home series against Australia earlier this year, the story doing the rounds was his run of bad form since the series in England had led to his banishment. But the cold truth of statistics would tell you that Gambhir, with two 50s and some near half-centuries, was well on the mend if not back to his blazing best. Then why the boot?

Hidden under the ominous clouds of successive series losses at home and abroad was the darkening mood in the dressing room. The captain had publicly berated his once-upon-a-time deputy for his self-centred approach and then there was that infamous run-in with the man who usurped him as the vice-captain and the crown prince of Indian cricket – Virat Kohli. His success as the captain of the Knight Riders would have added impetus to the clash, intensifying his usually frothing-at-the-rim competitive confidence and also set alarm bells ringing in the Royal Challengers and Super Kings  lockers at the time.  Mahi of course has been a devoted team man and hasn’t shied away from taking a tough stand for what he believes is best for the team. And to his credit, his decisions have always been impersonal and purely professional as far as the world can tell. So Gautam’s time in the wilderness wasn’t only about him finding form but also reining in his attitude and aggression and channelizing it through his batting rather than letting it fracture the team spirit. And now that he seems to have both found form and also perhaps tempered his approach off the field, Dhoni seems to have no qualms about bringing the pocket dynamite back into the mix.

And it must be said that at that time, it was in the interest of the team for gambhir to take a break. Otherwise, in the wake of those losses to England and Australia, cracks of the kind that surfaced during the Waseem-Waqar tug of war in Pakistan and clipped the air-borne wings of what was then the most talented team in world cricket could have divided the Indian team as well and pushed it off the course to the greatness that is now within kissing distance for this team.
But now, gambhir’s return is inevitable. After all, good though he may be, Murali Vijay isn’t a patch yet on Gambhir’s championship caliber skills and mind-set. It is only a matter of time before Gambhir comes back into the Test side for another good run as the senior statesman in a very young team. And his replacement, when it is his turn to retire, would be another Delhi bat, Unmukt Chand. The 20 year old has the brains and the batting to make it big on the biggest stage, his poor showing in last season’s IPL notwithstanding.

What of the others? Virat Kohli has proven himself and has reminded of Sachin Tendulkar in more ways than one. The most striking comparison is the way in which Virat stood tall in Australia amongst the rubble of his team during a whitewash, just the way a young Sachin had done in 1992 with that legendary hundred at Perth.

Cheteshwar Pujara should be cementing his impressive credentials on the South African pitches while Shikhar Dhawan and the resurgent Rohit Sharma should be looking to convert their ODI successes on foreign soil into Test triumphs as well.

At this stage in the debate comes in the question of the sixth batsman. Should he be a pure batsman or an all-rounder. And who are the men most likely to battle for this spot?
Next week, I will offer my two bit to try and settle an issue which has needled selectors ever since the great Dev of Indian cricket decided to hang up his well worn boots.

But before I go, an apology to Ajinkya Rahane. How easy it is for us scribes to write off a man and all his future with a few callous punches of the keyboard. I thought nothing of all your sweat, toil, tons and dreams before dismissing your chances to living all those bathed in blue dreams of yours and binning them with my predictions. For your sake and for the sake of Indian cricket, I hope you prove me wrong and inundate us with greater riches than we on the side-lines have dared to imagine for Indian cricket. And until then do forgive me for calling it like I see it, that though your talents are undeniable, those that stand before you have proven hungrier and stronger so far…

Anyway, the curtains are about part and the first act of this epic contest shall soon be underway. May our hopes, and our horses, live up to their billing. Amen!