Travelling With A Star


If you follow Indian tennis, you would have definitely heard of Ankita Raina.

I don’t, so I hadn’t until I had her sitting next to me on a flight to Mumbai.

She walked into the aircraft with an air of quiet, matter-of-fact confidence – lugging a big, bulging sports bag that carried her gear and a small backpack.

She had a mobile phone, an extra charger and a book – all of which she laid out neatly on the seat as she prepared to settle in for the flight while looking around to get a fix on her surroundings.

At first glance, she could have been just another sporty young lady but then she wasn’t, as I realized when I woke up from my usual aircraft-taking-off nap routine. To my embarrassment I found that I was sitting next to a star – India’s top woman tennis player!

She was poised, but yet child-like, happy to engage in a conversation and laughingly share her stories from her travels to play in top tennis tournaments across the world – from the Wimbledon to Flushing Meadows and Roland Garros and Australia, China and even Morocco – mostly travelling alone as she can’t usually afford to carry her coach and family.

As I heard Ankita’s stories, I began to marvel this young lady who started playing tennis in Ahmedabad at the age of four (before moving to Pune for coaching) and has been hopping in out of international flights and checking into hotels in strange cities across the world all by herself since her teens.

With a twinkle in her eyes she told me how at a young age she pulled the chain to stop a train in Morocco, as she feared she had missed her stop as language barrier made it difficult for her figure out whether she had reached her destination.

Everybody on the train spoke French or Arabic, and not English. Helpless bawling helped when she was hauled to the station master and asked to pay a hefty fine, she said.

Or how once the airline staff wouldn’t let her go in Mumbai as she was a minor and her family had to drive up from Pune in the dead of the night to take her home!

And then how she had to show up at a tournament sleepless due to late flight changes for a match in China and still win it in straight sets. Impressive!

She also quietly and earnestly whispered that she had been bumped up into the business class thanks to an upgrade voucher one of her friends had given her.

Down to earth, realistic and supremely confident, the 26-year-old was also keen to get a picture with a well-known singer on the flight.

“Should I ask him,” she asked me.” I really want to get a picture with him.”

Will she put it on her social media handles, I asked. No, she replied, adding that she wanted the picture only because she loved his songs. She did put it on her Instagram page!

Ankita’s story of is one of determination, focus and dedication. It is also one of a young Indian who aspired to reach the top, worked hard and managed to get to there despite many odds.

She was in Mumbai to play in the premier tennis league before going back home to Pune – rest, eat home food (which she said she misses on her travels; the Gujrati thali is her favourite) and allow her mother – who works with an insurance firm – to embrace and pamper her.

She misses her family and coach during her travels, as others on the circuit travel with their parents and support staff, but she said travelling alone from a young age hasn’t made her lonely. It has made her stronger and more focused to achieve what she has set out to.

I wished her best of luck for the 2020 season as we parted ways and told her I would try and follow her journey to more success – breaking into the world top 100.

On my way out from the airport I kicked myself for missing out on a selfie moment. But then, there is always that next time!

You can follow her on @ankita_champ (Twitter) and #ankitaraina_official on Instagram.

Homo Gluttonous


Ten thousand desert rats, 10,000 fish, 14,000 sheep, 1,000 lambs, 1,000 fat oxen and many more creatures slaughtered, cooked and served: that is how Ashurnishabal of Mesopotamia (883-859 BCE) pampered almost 70,000 guests for 10 days. The Archbishop of York’s enthronement feast in 1466 CE required 104 oxen, 2,000 geese, 1,000 capons, 1,000 sheep, 400 swans, 12 porpoises and seals, and a great number of other birds and mammals. In an appropriately grandiose sidebar to his ornate reign as king of France, Louis XIV became incapacitated by overeating at one of his own weddings.

Read Here – Aeon

Was E-mail A Mistake?


As e-mail was taking over the modern office, researchers in the theory of distributed systems—the subfield in which, as a computer scientist, I specialize—were also studying the trade-offs between synchrony and asynchrony. As it happens, the conclusion they reached was exactly the opposite of the prevailing consensus. They became convinced that synchrony was superior and that spreading communication out over time hindered work rather than enabling it.

Read Here – The New Yorker

The Pirate-y Life Of Ferdinand Magellan


From the start, it was hard to know whose side Ferdinand Magellan was on. Born in northern Portugal around 1480, Magellan, an orphaned son of lesser nobles, spent decades serving the Portuguese crown in its wars abroad, in India and Malaysia. One might think Magellan was the epitome of national devotion. But in 1518, after being rejected by the Portuguese authorities, Magellan turned to his country’s greatest rival: Spain.

Read Here – JStor Daily

Twitter Ambassador Trump’s Terrifying Tweets And The Bad New World


By Rahul Sharma

Mr Jack Dorsey might have his political views and Mr Donald Trump might have many twigs to pick with Twitter, but there should not be any argument over who’s the best ambassador and brand builder for the social media platform.

It is the U.S. President – the most powerful man in the world — who has unabashedly taken the Twitter route to push his point of view and policy changes in a way no other global leader has.

His late night tweets may have more to do with him and his place in the sun than for Twitter, but indirectly he has shown the power of an idea that Dorsey introduced to the world and by doing so become its best advertiser.

Sometime after Mr Trump won the US presidency in a victory that left many wondering where the good old world was heading, a friend from New York stated rather eloquently that it was going to soon turn into a bad new world — one which many could see coming, but had chosen to shut their minds to.

The newly installed world’s most powerful leader hadn’t really started his tirades on Twitter by then; he was only beginning to learn the power of this communication tool that he would eventually put to very good use.

Mr Trump, the friend went on to say, would challenge everything that the good old world had to offer – ethics, civility, decency, equality, stability and most of all the status quo of an era that in his view had done no good to America and Americans.

History will begin with him, and he will ensure that it is he — and no one else — who takes the credit for the changes he was about to bring about to the ways the world’s most powerful nation ran, I was told over a long conversation interrupted only by sips of some awesome whiskey.

Mr Trump — despite his shortcomings and lack of political knowledge — would control the narrative thanks to his penchant of jabbing his fingers on the phone to tweet his what was once considered his silly world view late at night after a burger meal in reaction to television news he didn’t agree with.

Indeed, as Mr Trump prepares to contest his second term as the US president, it is clear how he has used Twitter to hugely impact both domestic and foreign policy — forcing many of his opponents, followers and some of the world’s biggest leaders running scared.

Imagine waking up to a tweet from Trump that just changed the course of global trade? Or the fate of a global corporation? Or one spooked that the leader of a neighbouring country? Or, for that matter, one that announced a meeting with the leader of a country the American establishment had bashed around as enemy number one for more than half a century – North Korea.

As a communication tool, Twitter could claim to be the most influential and impactful — allowing world leaders to send out crisp, concise messages that have the ability to change the course of the world, sometimes permanently.

The trade spat with China that Trump triggered through Twitter is a good example.  Gone are the days when subtle, confusing  and sensible messages were sent out of the White House through official leaks or briefings. This president is more direct and he really believes that he alone can make America great again. So be it!

In fact Mr Trump has used Twitter to slam Twitter too. On a day he was to meet Mr Dorsey, he railed against Twitter calling the company “very discriminatory” and said it did not treat him well as a Republican.

He also accused Twitter of playing political games and worried about a supposed non-conservative bias on the platform. The challenge probably works well for Dorsey, as it positions his company as one that is open to hearing from the worst of its critics.

As I said earlier, Mr Trump is possibly the best ambassador for Twitter. The tweeting blue bird that has taken over our lives may or may not be proud of that association, but we could well argue that a lot of its power, visibility and relevance emerges from the fingers of the current U.S. president.

And for those who fear Mr Trump’s so-called inconsistencies and unpredictability, there is hard lesson ahead. If he can do what he doing, there are others who are there to follow — if not already keeping pace.

In fact, there would be very few world leaders who are not on Twitter – reaching to their constituencies and stakeholders directly with messages that leave the middlemen and traditional media dumbfounded and very worried.

The good old world has finally turned into bad new world, one that many are still grappling to come to terms with. All thanks to Mr Trump and Mr Dorsey’s Twitter!

 

 

The Difference Between Open-Minded And Close-Minded People


Why is it that some people seem to make constant progress in their professional and personal lives, while others appear to be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over? While the answer isn’t cut and dry, I’ve noticed an interesting mindset difference between these two groups: they approach obstacles and challenges very differently.

Read Here – Farnam Street

Parched Before The Arriving Rains


This May should also be remembered for its cornucopia of outlandish riches — $900 billion in China’s save-the-world-from-poverty investment, a $350 billion envelope to President Trump to help Muslims defeat each other, and a $250 billion Indian plan to turn its traders into manufacturers of sophisticated weapons.

Read Here – Dawn

Who Names Diseases?


The naming of diseases has always been as much about politics and the human need to identify a scapegoat, as it has been about accurately labelling a new threat to life. Periodic attempts have been made to remove the subjective from the process. Three United Nations agencies – the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health – play a particularly important role when it comes to infectious diseases, which don’t respect borders.

Read Here – Aeon

It’s always long term for China


Pragati

By Rahul Sharma

There is nothing to be excited about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip Pakistan during his forthcoming South Asia tour. Some might argue that it would have been a good time for Xi to land in Islamabad to show support for the country roiled by political uncertainty, but let’s be clear that the call to stay away does not reflect any change in relations between the two long-standing friends.

Xi is due to visit India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives later this month, trips during which he will test prime minister Narendra Modi’s keenness to improve trade ties between the world’s two most populous countries and reaffirm Beijing’s deepening ties with Colombo that has attracted vast amounts of Chinese investments in its infrastructure.

Ties between India and China have always been testy given the border dispute that saw the two go to war back in 1962. Frosty relations have thawed in recent years and trade between the two neighbours has grown, but there is still a long way to go before any degree of mutual trust can be established.

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said this week that while Modi and Xi had established good relations when they met at the BRICs summit in Brazil soon after general elections in India, she also made it clear that Beijing had been delivered a strong message that it had to respect the “one-India policy (which means no claims on Arunachal Pradesh) given that New Delhi recognised Tibet and Taiwan to be part of China.

One thing India and its diplomats can be clear about is that his decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean China is ready to dump Pakistan. Usually Chinese leaders club their visits to India and Pakistan, but all that a de-linking this time around could possibly do is give New Delhi temporary comfort that at this point it figures higher in Beijing’s priority than in the past.

One thing India and its diplomats can be clear about is that his decision to skip Islamabad from his tour does not mean China is ready to dump Pakistan. Usually Chinese leaders club their visits to India and Pakistan, but all that a de-linking this time around could possibly do is give New Delhi temporary comfort that at this point it figures higher in Beijing’s priority than in the past.

China seldom takes a short-term view of the world, and has clearly defined its relations with other nations on the basis of its long-term goals and needs. A recent info graphic in Global Times, a Chinese government-run newspaper, provided a view of how Beijing divides its worldly ties.

China essentially follows four partnership models: creative partnership, comprehensive cooperative partnership, strategic partnership (of cooperation) and comprehensive strategic partnership (of cooperation). The difference, according to the newspaper, is that while cooperative partnerships are formed at a fundamental level, are bilateral in nature and focus mainly on politics, economics, science and technology and culture, the strategic partnerships can be both bilateral or multilateral and are based on benefits of national security.

While one would imagine that diplomacy and foreign relations are usually dynamic in nature and, therefore, likely to change depending on circumstances, in China’s case one can merrily assume that any shift will only be snail paced with little or no change in the foundation. Foreign policy, like so many other things in China, can be rather nuanced and small variations in definition of relationships can mean a lot more than what the world outside may understand.

So it is interesting to see that China clubs the European Union and most large European nations except Germany and Russia as those with which it has a comprehensive strategic partnership. With Germany it has an “all-round strategic partnership” and with Russia it is in a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination”

With India, Afghanistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka, Beijing shares a “strategic cooperative partnership”. That means it sees all of them through the same prism, an idea that may not appeal to India, but might go down well in Kabul and Colombo.

According to the Global Times, China’s ties with ASEAN, central Asian republics, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and some East European countries are seen to be one of “strategic partnership”, while those with Nepal, Congo, Bangladesh and some other key African nations fall under the head “comprehensive cooperative partnership.”

The emerging great power rivalry with the United States and the old, historic unhappiness with Japan has led China to define its relationship with these two very differently than those with other nations of the world.

It calls its engagement with the United States a “new model of major-power relationship”, which means Beijing definitely sees itself in league with Washington, an idea that obviously reflects on its relationships with other capitals. In short that means that while China is willing to engage with all, it doesn’t consider anyone a bigger rival than the United States. Countries such as India are, therefore, mostly marginal to China’s larger cause.

Similarly, its defines ties with Japan as a “strategic relationship of mutual benefit.” Given the huge bilateral trade and Japanese investments in China even as the two battle over a gory past, the definition makes sense.

Pakistan is the only country with which China has an “all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation.” In layman’s terms, it simply means that Beijing considers its relationship with Islamabad over and beyond its ties with all others. The phrase “all-weather” is key; China might be willing to shift gears either way in its relations with other countries, with Pakistan it will always be an even ride just as it has been for the past several decades.

Let’s not forget it was Pakistan that essentially helped Beijing open its door to the world in the 1970s, an event that has now propelled China to almost become the world’s biggest economy. China never forgets its friends and that’s a thought Pakistan can live comfortably with irrespective of whether it has a democratically elected government or army rule.

It’s also a thought India’s new government needs to keep in its mind while dealing with Beijing and Xi, the now all-powerful man in China.

Rahul Sharma, a former newspaper editor, is President, Rediffusion Communications, Mumbai; Secretary, Public Affairs Forum of India, and a keen foreign policy follower. Views are personal.