When Lajo and Rani push the boundaries of their relationship beyond friendship and into the no-woman’s-land of sensual exploration, at least for the oppressed women they represent, it marks the point where Parched begins the journey to places you haven’t been before. The scene itself is erotic, healing, nourishing and as Linaa Yadav says later in the directors Q&A at the BFI, it’s every relationship between women. It’s mother-daughter, it’s siblings, friends and lovers. From that point on in the movie, you know that you’re on the edge of a great, soaring expression of self-affirmation.
Disclosure: I knowLinaa Yadav personally.
In very recent times, 600 people died in Quito following the earthquake. 27 were killed in the flyover collapse in Kolkata. 69 people were reported killed in Pakistan following a terror blast in a childrens’ park. And hundreds of people are killed every month in Syria. For differing reasons, some tragedies affect us more. Either because we have a connection with the place or people – the Kolkata flyover collapse saddened me a lot more than the Equador earthquake, or because in some way the tragedy affects us more directly. But in the main, I think we note the number in our heads and move on, having registered the scoreboard of the disaster.
I remember very clearly an incident from the early 1980s when during the Punjab insurgency, a bus was stopped, some passengers pulled out and shot. It was stark. It felt scary, we hadn’t had anything so terrible happen in my living memory. (I was too young to remember the Naxalbari movement and it’s death toll). For me, it brought terrorism home in many ways – perhaps because I’d traveled in buses in Punjab and Himachal on family holidays. And yet, over the next few weeks and months, such incidents became so commonplace – to be repeated in Kashmir, that they too became just numbers.
Some part of this must be a natural defense mechanism – the way our brain protects us, by tuning out the horrors of the individual events, so we don’t become overloaded with grief. But also, thanks to the Internet, we’re now also exposed to every tragedy wherever in the world it occurs. To the toddler who accidentally shoots his mother somewhere in the gun belt of the US to the latest rumblings of the earth’s Pacific rim in Japan. We’re connected by just a couple of clicks to all these disasters. 30 years ago, depending on how far away they were, many disasters would just be column inches in a newspaper, and perhaps a brief few seconds on the television news. Today, we have cameras that linger on every tragedy and every strand of emotion is laid bare for our consumption by hyper-connected news and social media channels. Over time, we’ve been emotionally inoculated against the grief of each event unless they truly impact us personally.
Because, strangely, the opposite is happening to us, in our personal lives. A generation ago, you would start losing touch with school and college friends soon after graduation. And proximity would reshape your social connections. The limited access would mean that you would really know about the big and small events in the lives of a very limited set of people. Today, we’re hyper-connected to about a much larger number of people. On average this is probably an order of magnitude higher, or 10x the number of connections.
One of the side effects of this is that we are now exposed to many more points of both agony and ecstasy. If we have direct access to over a thousand people who roughly form a cohort, then on any given day there will be significant news of some kind about somebody, whether good or bad. A macabre thought crossed my mind recently – as my generation of mid-to-late forty-somethings grows older, we are hitting a distribution curve of life expectancy. And the spooky reality is that every year, an increasing number of people ‘of my age’ will lose their lives, or encounter serious illness. Not to mention everybody we know from the earlier generation.
So it is that every other day we wake up to sad news that comes from lives very close to us – even if we haven’t met them physically for years. I don’t know if there’s a connection between this heightened tax on our personal emotions that is borne out of a larger and always-on social circle; and our increasing numbness to global disasters. Some days, I feel that we have a limited amount of emotional capacity, and that is getting maxed out with more stories of personal grief from those we know, leaving us bereft and unable to feel for the every increasing stories of larger human tragedies – be they the effect of war, disease or natural disasters. Paradoxically, therefore, the Internet is making us simultaneously feel more and feel less.
Now take a step back and think about how today’s terrorism works. An attack on innocent people leads to intense and irreparable loss and damage to the immediate victims and their families. But then the media and the politicians naturally magnify the event and create giant ripples of emotion – fear, loathing and often hatred. Many politicians use these events to practice a divisive diatribe. Which sustains localised discrimination in some communities. Which in turn creates alienation of some individuals for whom joining the extremist movement becomes a response. I’m not suggesting that all terrorism or terrorists are the result of this alienation but even if a small percentage are, that itself creates another symbiotic ecosystem between the terrorist ideology and the reaction of the world.
In a nutshell, the symbiotic nature of Darwinian cooperation and the platformisation that terrorist organisations provide are two of the pillars on which terrorism works today. Both of these are also at play in our worlds of business, and used for progress and growth. We understand how they work. So why are we continuing to fight them using more traditional tools? Remember, the reason the Internet was invented, back in the cold war years, was to create a network that didn’t have a hub. So you couldn’t bomb any one part and bring the network down. Now we’re trying to bomb some other part of the world hoping to bring down what is clearly a similar distributed network.
Anyway, I digress. It seems to me that this polarisation is what’s happening in politics as well. In most countries we now have boiled election down to 2 viewpoints or political philosophies, broadly identified as the left and the right. And from being left-of-centre or right-of-centre, over the past few decades, they have marched along, increasingly polarising each other to the point where they are starting to resemble their caricatures. Just look at Donald Trump. If you created a satirised and demonic version of an conservative nut job, you could not go as far as the real Trump has gone. He has crossed lines you didn’t even know existed, and uttered words you didn’t think you’d ever hear since Adolf Hitler.
The scary thing of course is that he’s not a fringe lunatic howling at the moon. His message is resonating with millions of people. In the cold light of day, you would think that the only thing any opposing candidate needs to be, to defeat him, is alive. But the truth is, Trump is reaching those parts of republican voters that other politicians can’t reach. Which suggests that deep down, these ideas exist, in the very societies we live in. And Trump may just be the tinderbox that sparks the bigotry that has never really gone away from our so called civilisation.
And Trump isn’t really as much of an outlier as his pantomime villainy suggests. Consider the recent success of Marine Le Pen in France. You can’t really compare France with the US without offending both countries, but this polarisation of the electorate is apparent there as well.
And it’s not even just the far right, Britain, with Corbyn, now also has the loony left. Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the labour party represents just the other side of the coin of polarised electorates. It seems that to lead either the right or the left you increasingly have to represent their most extreme and unreal forms.
Why is this? Is it because of the hyper-blare of social media fuelled opinion making that moderate values have no reach, simply because they have no news value? Is it that because of the precipitation of what seems like word war 3, between jihadists and the free world, that taking sides dramatically is what people have come to expect? As though, if you don’t stand for an extreme view, you don’t stand for anything at all? So if you’re not a toupee wearing, muslim bashing fundamentalist, you have to be a placard waving, tree hugging pacifist?
It’s probably more correct to say that if you can’t occupy the central ground of sanity, your best bet is to take a very extreme position. David Cameron, Hilary Clinton or Francois Hollande don’t represent extreme points of view but their political opposition clearly does.
This video from the TED talks and delivered by Kenneth Kukier from the Economist, throws up the excellent example of apple pie, which is America’s favourite pie. That is, until you change the sizes they are sold in. It turns out apple pie is the favourite as long as you have family sized pies, but if you make individual pies, other flavours win. So apple pie is really everybody’s second favourite and wins on consensus. Looking at these extreme politicians, I can’t help wonder if we need an apple pie solution.
As a thought experiment, imagine what would happen if everybody cast two votes, and not one, with their primary and secondary choices. Let’s say we gave 1/2 a point for everybody’s second vote, and 1 point for the primary. Would that change election results and choices? What if we just counted every vote as the same, whether primary or secondary? I suspect we’d see a lot of centrist leaders. In a way, the current electoral system nudges you away from compromise to intransigency. Which then reflects in parliaments that can’t pass laws, because every victory for one side is a loss for the other, and the common man loses the most.
While we’re on thought experiments, consider that democracy as we know it, is by and large two centuries old, across the world. A lot has changed since we enshrined the basic rules of democracy. Isn’t it time to reconsider how we could upgrade the system? One of the most obvious flaws in the system is of course, that nobody wants to kick the proverbial ladder, so the very people who are entrusted to run and upgrade the systems, have no interest in doing so.
But if you could redesign democracy today, would you? For a start, consider that the electoral cycle means most long term and infrastructure projects get the short shift in many parts of the world because the effects are not felt within the incumbents’ term in office. Or consider that the current system assumes that once you elect somebody, even at a local level, you also agree to support them in every decision they make, unless you actually move to depose them. What if you could actually vote on everyday issues? After all, we can, at reasonably low costs, nowadays. It may not be too far in the future where everybody could have a vote button at home. You could vote every other day on issues ranging from investment choices in your local council to referendums about staying in the EU. To reiterate, I’m not suggesting we vote every day on matters of national importance, or even that we might be qualified or informed enough to achieve better results. But this is a thought experiment, so bear with me. The constraints on which democracy were built have changed – shouldn’t we upgrade democracy to take advantage?
What are the other ways in which you would redesign democracy?
So I was thinking about the nature of football managers, especially in such a topsy turvy season where it’s hard to find a single ‘big club’ who are actually happy with their manager. I’m sure Leicester City, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Everton are all in thrall to their respective managers. Liverpool (yes, still a big club) are also currently infatuated by Klopp but to be scientific, we need more time to lapse. Spurs (almost a big club) are pretty chuffed with Pochettino, too. But Chelsea, Man City, Man United, Arsenal – the traditional big four of recent years are all at various stages of dissatisfaction with their bosses.
The shadow of Ferguson hangs very long over Manchester United, and that’s not just because of the stand named after him. Until United have won a few more trophies, people will be harking back to Ferguson’s days. The Man United board seem more than happy with Van Gaal’s methods. But on reflection, the difference between the two managers is vast. They represent the very chalk and cheese of football management. Ferguson – the firebrand, man manager and media manipulator, whose decades of success was built on long stints at two clubs, is in football terms a very different person from Van Gaal, the wanderer, who has won much, across countries, but never stayed on to build a dynasty. Van Gaal’s honesty with the media is as refreshing as his ego is occasionally jarring. Ferguson would bludgeon a probing question from a media person with the wrath of indignation and perceived audacity. Van Gaal dismisses it with candour and disarms people with straight talk.
But in football terms, there are two key axes along which they differ. Van Gaal is a theorist. A man who believes in the process. If you play football a certain way, the results will come. In this, he is like Wenger, Guardiola and Martinez. There is great focus on style of play. And consequently, there is great focus on retention and use of the ball. Or getting it back when it’s lost. Ferguson on the other hand was a thoroughbred pragmatist. His success was built on the ability to focus on what counted – i.e. results. This is why his teams over the years looked and played differently. But also why he packed his teams with great goal-scorers. A Ferguson team might play well, or badly, but they would almost always score. Other pragmatists include Ranieri, Pellegrini, Mourinho, Alardyce and Benitez.
I can already see your brows furrowing in disagreement. Ferguson like Benitez? Or Allardyce? Surely some mistake? Not really. They are all pragmatists, who eschew style for results. But there is another axis, so you can relax and exhale.
The second axis is offensive versus defensive focus. Once again, Van Gaal and Ferguson are at the poles. Van Gaal is a ‘build from defence’ manager. Who likes to get his team organised from back to front. Other defence first managers include Mourinho, Moyes, Allardyce and Benitez. Nigel Pearson even. Ferguson was clearly a ‘build from attack’ manager, like Wenger, Ancelotti, Pellegrini and Martinez. Given that Ferguson gave us the Bruce-Pallister-Schmeichel defence and also the Vidic-Ferdinand-Van Der Saar one, it may seem off the mark to suggest he didn’t ‘get’ defending, but I think it would be fair to say he saw defence as a necessity, not a priority. The same cannot be said for Louis Van Gaal. Similarly, Mourinho had great attackers at his disposal at Madrid, but the ultimate driver was the necessity of competing with Barcelona, rather than his priority.
So there you have it, the 2×2 matrix of theorist vs pragmatist on the one axis and attack first vs defend first on the other axis. And in my humble opinion, this is where these managers sit.
Wenger / Guardiola/
Martinez / Klopp
Ferguson / Ranieri/
Pellegrini / Ancelotti
Van Gaal / Moyes
Mourinho / Pearson /
If you’re with me so far, we can move on to some interesting further observations. The attack oriented managers tend to be popular at top clubs. Because obviously, they bring entertainment and goals. Pragmatists are revered at relegation threatened clubs because they find a way to get to the results. The attack minded theorists can really come unstuck at small clubs facing relegation. You would not want Wenger (of today) in charge of Aston Villa, for example. And let’s not forget Martinez took Wigan down. Guardiola has only managed at clubs which were massively successful before and after him, so it’s hard to say how he would if he were to manage (say) Getafe or Hoffenheim. But given resources, and a demand for flair he still seems top of the pile. So any top club with funds could do well to get him. Pragmatists tend to do better at Cup Competitions. Yes Guardiola has been very successful in the Champions league but he has arguably been with the 2 best teams of the decade. The other winners all tend to hail from the Pragmatist church. Note, it’s not that pragmatists don’t have an established style of play but they are not wedded to that style, especially across teams and timelines. So you may not find stylistic similarities between Heyncke’s CL winning Bayern (2013) side and his CL winning Madrid side (98) but it’s likely you’ll see similarities across any side managed by Van Gaal or Guardiola.
But my most interesting observation looking at this is this: clubs get the best results by following a ‘build from back’ manager to a ‘build from front manager’. Local examples of this abound – from Leicester (Pearson to Ranieri), Everton (Moyes – Martinez), West Ham (Allardyce – Bilic), and Crystal Palace (Pulis – Pardew). Or even consider the trajectories of clubs post Van Gaal – both Barcelona and Bayern fall into this category. And do you remember the flair and style of Ancelloti’s Chelsea?
Bypassing the defensive organisation isn’t a good idea as it leads to chaos – think of all the years of Madrid’s obsession with the Galacticos. La Decima duly arrived when Mourinho’s defensive organisation was built on, by Ancelotti’s attack minded freedom. What this means is that United would do well to find an attack minded manager to follow Van Gaal – such as Guardiola or Ancelloti. If push came to shove, Martinez would be a better option than, say, Mourinho (who may well be available in 2017). Not because Mourinho would not be successful but because the pattern suggests that the offence-centric style is likely to lead to explosive success!