Monday, October 24, 2011

The uncommon man turns 90

It was an emotional moment for R K Laxman. As the small congregation of family, friends and fans at his Pune apartment launched into a cheery chant of Happy Birthday To You and his granddaughter fed him a piece of his favourite Black Forest cake, the grand old man of Indian cartooning broke into sobs. He recovered his composure soon enough, but the tears were never too far away as the function held to celebrate his ninetieth birthday proceeded and speaker after speaker extolled him and his genius.

In a rather apposite twist to the usual celebratory mode, Kailash Bhingare, the organiser of the event, had got seven cartoonists -Vikas Sabnis, S D Fadnis, Mangesh Tendulkar, Vijay Paradkar, Sanjay Mistri, Charuhas Pandit and Ravi Paranjpe-to draw cartoons of Laxman, which were then presented to him. Among the speakers, who included Laxman's wife Kamala and daughter-in law Usha, was Ram Jethmalani, who referred to himself (some might say appropriately) as a "sinner with a balance sheet full of debits" . "The only credit I have is that I have known Laxman for decades," he quipped amid laughter. "And one new credit I have notched up is that I am present at his ninetieth birthday function."

Laxman sat through the proceedings , now calm, now tearyeyed . A frail shadow of his former self, there were, however, glimmers of the old persona when he peered curiously at the television channel mikes lined up on the table and once touched his forehead in a moment of exasperation. One almost expected him to expostulate , 'What is this nonsense, I say!', a Laxman-ism regularly applied to very many situations in the days when he was a revered and slightly feared figure in the Times of India. But speech is impossible for him now-his second major stroke in June last year robbed him of it, and he has been unable to communicate verbally with anyone except his wife. Mrs Laxman, very emotional on this day herself, says that he does "talk" to her "but not before others" .

But whatever his health setbacks , Laxman has forged ahead with uncommon courage. After his first stroke in 2003 which paralysed his left side, he resumed drawing in a day and his daily cartoon for this paper within a couple of months. The stroke he had last June was far more severe, but he has been drawing even after that, as a sketchbook full of ink drawings testifies. The once inimitable brushstrokes are, of course, weaker , but three of his favourite subjects-crows , Ganpatis and the Common Man-make their presence felt even today.

His most favourite subjectpoliticians-seem to be missing from the sketchbook, but Laxman is still hooked to their shenanigans and goes through the newspaper every day, says Mrs Laxman. Now that he no longer draws cartoons , how does he react to the absurd theatre of Indian politics? "With a slap on the forehead," says Mrs Laxman wryly. "A gesture is worth a thousand words."

Laxman's cartoons, needless to say, are sorely missed. The man who held readers in thrall for over six decades with his piquant wit and inimitable brushstrokes, was fondly remembered during a recent cataclysm in Indian politics. "During Anna Hazare's fast and his stand-off with the government, we got hundreds of calls from people ," says Mrs Laxman. "All of them had one thing to say: 'How we wish you were still cartooning!' "

That's a sentiment most of us share. Happy ninetieth birthday, Mr Laxman.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Pakistan: A headache for the rest of the world

This is with reference to Sami Shah’s article of July 28 titled “The Pakistanisation of lunacy”. Apart from the irony, occasional humour and touch of sarcasm in the article, what the writer is saying is generally true. And I say this notwithstanding that our so-called ‘Mullah Brigade’ likes to blame the rest of the world for all the problems that currently ail Pakistan.

If the rest of the world equates Pakistan with terrorism and mayhem, it is for good reason and doesn’t mean that there is worldwide conspiracy to defame our good name, contrary to what our saviours in khaki would have us believe.

Pakistan is reaping the harvest of the past 30 years or so of its cultivation of the forces of bigotry, doublespeak, intolerance and hypocrisy in all aspects of its existence: Religious, social, political as well as intellectual.

Such is our infamy that whenever there is a lunatic who blows himself up in a foreign land, we wait anxiously, our fingers crossed, hoping that the perpetrator is not one of us. Our country accounts for more suicide bombings than Iraq or Afghanistan and has more than its fair share of sectarian and other hate crimes.

We keep blowing up our schools so that our girls don’t get an education, keep silencing our moderates who preach tolerance and keep living in the false belief that the world is out to get us. The fact is that for most of the rest of the world, which in any case is moving ahead, we are not more than a headache that refuses to go away.

Shame on all 180 million of us.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Grant Holt pens new Norwich deal as Canaries eye Daggers' Romain Vincelot and Danny Green

Norwich are keeping tabs on Dagenham and Redbridge duo Romain Vincelot and Danny Green.

Canaries boss Paul Lambert ran the rule over the Daggers' midfield pair in Tuesday night's defeat to Peterborough.

Meanwhile, Canaries' skipper Grant Holt has signed a new three deal at Carrow Road.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Caps boast family ties

Out here, the last name 'Brodt' may not be too familiar.

But in Minnesota, they're synonymous with hockey — especially the women's game.

Four of them — head coach Jack, equipment manager and skating guru Marlene, captain Winny, and younger sister Chelsey — came with the Minnesota Whitecaps to compete in this year's Clarkson Cup, presented by Scotiabank.

Unfortunately, the tournament hasn't gone the way they'd hoped for it to, losing the opener on Thursday to Montreal and being blanked by Toronto 6-0 on Friday.

"It's been a tough weekend so far, to come all of this way and lose both games thus far," Chelsey said. "We're here, having fun playing hockey, but we've been having trouble putting the puck in the net."

A big part of the reason why the defending champs are 0-2 was the play of Toronto goaltender Sami Jo Small, who stopped 40 shots for the shutout on her 35th birthday.

"Sami Jo played spectacular, but we weren't able to finish our opportunities," Jack said. "We had three breakaways in the third period and couldn't score."

Although they've had a difficult go to this point, it's been nice for the family to continue their hockey tradition together.

"I coached them when they were mites," Jack said. "My wife taught them how to skate, but I was coaching them since they were five or six years old."

It's been a while, but now things have come full circle for the girls.

"After I began, I played boys hockey all the way up, so I didn't get the chance to play for my dad until I returned to play for the Minnesota Whitecaps," Winny said.

"It's funny, because he started my career, and he'll be coaching me at the end of it, too."

They've enjoyed it, even when the coach gives them a hard time.

"The truth of the matter is, maybe I expect a little bit more from them," Jack said. "I guess, because of our relationship, I'll be a little harder on them than the other girls."

But as a whole, Jack loves having this opportunity.

"It's cool," he said. "I really enjoy it. It's been interesting, but it's definitely been a good trip so far."

He's coached Winny now for seven years, and a big part of the reason that she's able to keep on going is because of who she's working with.

"Having that family support is one reason why I've been able to play for as long as I have," said Winny, the first woman to win an NCAA hockey title with two different schools.

"If I didn't have them, I don't know if I'd still be playing."

Chelsey and Winny also played a year together at the University of Minnesota, but despite both being defencemen, they don't get a lot of ice together.

"We play a pretty similar game, so we it's not a good idea to stick us out there together," Chelsey said.

To just consider their mom by her official team title of equipment manager would be a great disservice to what she's done for both the girls and hockey in Minnesota.

"I'm a bit of a pioneer and a role model to my girls, because I was playing before there was even women's hockey in Minnesota," Marlene said.

She taught Chelsey, Winny, and older sister Kerry how to skate, and now she's on to the next generation.

"Kerry has given me four granddaughters, and now I'm teaching them how to skate," Marlene said. "It's been a thrill."

Even when Chelsey and Winny's season is over, the hockey calendar doesn't yet end for the family.

"I'll be going to Florida for a tournament for women 50 and over," said Marlene, whose team has won the competition in three of the past four years.

And with four of the Brodts involved with the Whitecaps, things have truly been a family affair.

"It's been a lot of fun, watching my kids go from mites to this," Marlene said. "To have them be able to skate together at this point is great."


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hey, that's my name, too: Popular school names follow national trends

If you were to randomly select a senior, chances are you would pick a “Sarah.”

Of the seven “Sarahs” currently attending (or teaching) at SCDS, five are in the high school and, of those five, four are in the senior class.

That is to say roughly 11 percent of the senior class is named “Sarah.”

This level of popularity follows the trends shown on Social Security Online (S.S.O.), a Website that lists the top 200 names per decade for male and female babies.

“Sarah” was the fourth most popular name for girls born in the 1990s, according to S.S.O., having jumped into the top 20 names for girls in the 1970s.

According to senior Sarah Habbas, having four “Sarahs” in a grade tends to cause some confusion, especially when all four share a class, like junior AP English last year.

“You could never know if someone was talking to you or not,” Habbas said.
Senior Sarah Fleming agrees.

“It can be embarrassing when you react and they aren’t talking to you,” she said.

Fleming and Sarah Mancina, also a senior, are both members of the SCDS piano trio, playing violin and cello respectively.

They avoid confusion by using the nicknames “Big Sarah” for Mancina and “Little Sarah” for Fleming.

These come from both their heights and instrument sizes, as the violin is much smaller than the cello.

While popular in the high school, “Sarah” is all but absent in the faculty and lower grades, following the downward trend reflected by S.S.O.’s rankings.

However, there are currently five “Patricias” on the staff.

This is consistent with the name’s peak in the 1950s and ‘60s as the third and fifth most popular girls’ name, respectively.

After this boom in popularity, the name’s prevalence dropped, and it no longer appears in the top 200 baby names.

Neither English teacher Patricia Fels nor art teacher Patricia Kelly runs into problems with the duplicate names.

Most people call Fels by her last name.

There were multiple “Patricias” in Fels’s elementary school, where she adopted the nickname “Fels.”

“[This] started in fifth grade when I sat in front of a girl named Patti Fenner. So to make it easier, I just became Fels and she was Fenner,” she said.

For Kelly, the solution was her initials.

Most now know her as “Ms. PK,” though some still call her Patricia.

And everyone knows math teacher Patricia Dias as “Mrs. D” (if they remember not to call her
“Ms. J” as they did before she married last year).

Though numerous on the faculty, “Patricia” is missing altogether from the student body.
But other names are on the rise.

There are five girls named Zoe between the middle and lower schools and not a single one in the faculty or upper grades.

This coincides with its appearance in the top 200 baby names of the 1980s, rising from 179 in the 1990s to 54 in the 2000s.

The trends for boy names can also be traced through the school.

“Brandon” is as prominent in the high school as “Sarah,” with five between the four grades.
There are, however, only two in the rest of the school.

“Brandon” peaked in the 1990s at 11 before dropping back down to 21 in the 2000s.

Though there are two “Brandons” in the sophomore class, according to Brandon Pefferle, this doesn’t cause many problems.

“People just call me by my last name, and sometimes [Brandon Mysicka] too,” Pefferle said.

Of the five “Jacobs” in the school, four are in the middle and lower schools, consistent with that name’s rise in popularity in the 2000s.

It has replaced “Michael” as the most popular name for boys.

“Jack” and “Jackson” are two names popular schoolwide, with eight in the student body.

“Jack” has risen from 167 in the 1980s to 40 in the 2000s, while “Jackson” didn’t appear in the top 200 boy names in the 1980s but jumped to 42 in the 2000s.

There has also been a spike in popularity of androgynous names in the middle and lower schools.

There are four “Aidans” and one “Aiden” in the lower and middle schools

These sprang into the 54th and 55th spots for boys respectively in the 2000s after not making the top 200 names for boys or girls any decade prior.

“Sam” is also common throughout the student body for both boys and girls, with six “Sams” and one “Sami.”

“Sam” appears to be consistently popular in all grades, while, according to S.S.O. “Sam” is on the rise for boys, going from 52 in the 1980s to 24 in the 2000s.

High-school teacher Brooke Wells occasionally encounters confusion about his name with people who don’t know him.

“I sometimes get letters addressed to Ms. Brooke Wells, college counselor,” he said.

Though his name does tend to cause confusion, Wells is proud of it.

“I was named after my grandfather, Lt. Colonel Kenneth Brooke,” said Wells. “[Wells’s name] was a token of respect to him.”

Why so many parents choose “Sarah” or “Patricia” at any given time can’t be proven.

In Kelly’s case, she was named after a cousin because her mother liked the name, while Fels
was named after her mother.

Fleming’s cousin’s name inspired her parents to name her “Sarah.”

Mancina’s parents wavered between “Rose” and “Francesca” before finally deciding on “Sarah.”

“They just liked [Sarah] the most,” said Mancina.

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in their book “Freakonomics,” found a correlation between
the financial situation of the parents and their child’s name.

Using the work of Roland G. Fryer Jr., a Harvard professor who examined the birth-certificate information of every child born in California since 1961, they found that parents name their children with names that sound “successful.”

“It is the family just a few blocks over, the one with the bigger house and newer car,” they write in the book.

“Parents are reluctant to poach a name from someone too near—family members or close friends—but many parents, whether they realize it or not, like the sound of names that sound ‘successful.’”

Name trends begin with the elite, they write. When a name becomes popular among the richest or most successful or intelligent, it trickles down through the tiers of society, as all want their children to experience the same success as others.

Eventually, a name becomes so commonplace it is no longer “high-end,” and falls out of common usage as society moves on to the next “it” moniker.

Using this theory, Dubner and Levitt predicted what they believe could be some of the top boys’ and girls’ names of 2015.

For girls: Annika, Eleanora, Isabel, Maya and Philippa. And for boys: Anderson, Bennett, Carter, Sander and Oliver.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bouncer wins battle to clear his name

A BOUNCER who was prosecuted after defending the public against a man armed with a knife has cleared his name.

Sami Lahmadi was working for Dick De Vigne’s in Warrior Square, Southend, when he was threatened by three angry clubbers who had been thrown out of the venue.

Mr Lahmadi, 43, from Southend, stood up to the men and chased them off with a metal pole when he caught sight of a knife.

But Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers decided he had used excessive force, throwing Mr Lahmadi into a year-long battle to overturn the charges.

Mr Lahmadi has now won his appeal in court.

The CPS declined to comment on Mr Lahmadi’s case.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cartoon buff wins animation contest

Watching cartoons can also be academically beneficial.

Teenage cartoon buff Sarviin Ageelan, 14, proved that watching too much cartoon does not hamper success.

The habit instead inspired him in his prize-winning short animation The Shocking Truth! in the 2010 Toon Creator Awards, organised by Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Cartoon Network.

The Form Three student from SMK Taman Inderawasih (SMKTI) here was named Malaysia's winner in the individual category.

He took home the grand prize, a HP Touchsmart 600 personal computer.

His animation, which featured his favourite Cartoon Network characters such as Ben 10, impressed the jury and the public who voted for his work online.

Sarviin, who also won limited edition items from the Ben 10 and Powerpuff Girls collections such as a quad bike, watch, speakers, and walkie-talkie, said he never expected to win the competition.

"This success is not mine alone. It also belongs to my friends T. Arvinthran, S. Ugeesh and Thomas, who helped me with the animation clip, and my school," he said.

He said he took 45 days to complete the production of the animation.

He had to spend a lot of time watching animated films, as well as getting his friends to contribute their ideas.

"I managed to get it done with the help of my friends, using the online interactive programme on HP's website," he said.

SMKTI also won three HP TouchSmart 600 personal computers for being the school with the highest number of participants in the nationwide online animation competition.

The Toon Creator Awards is organised for schoolchildren aged 6 to 14 across the Asia Paafic region.

The competition encouraged children to show their creativity by directing their short animation clips featuring characters from Cartoon Network's popular series such as Ben 10: Alien Force, Chowder and The Powerpuff Girls.

HP marketing and communication manager Kenneth Low, who presented the prizes, said the response from schools in Malaysia was very encouraging, with over 3,000 participants.

He said the competition is expected to continue this year due to the great response from schools and young creators.