About: the world this week, 27 March to 2 April 2022, the Butcher, an Economy in the doldrums, reverse swing in politics, and the power of the slap.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is accumulating various degrees of notorious names for his mad ‘loose gun’ adventure war in Ukraine, and over the week he came to be called ‘Butcher’. What next, ‘Terminator’, or perhaps ‘Loser’ in the end?
Reports of another Russian General-in quite a forceful list-being killed in Ukraine came in late last week, making me wonder whether Russia has only Generals in its Army?
Meanwhile, the President of the United States (US), Joe Biden, wrapped up his visit to Europe and meetings with fellow NATO Heads, deciding that it’s time for Vladimir Putin to go: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power”, he thundered. This was in Poland’s capital, in front of Warsaw’s Royal Castle where he opened with words from the Polish Pope John Paul II, “Be not afraid”.
Biden also met Ukrainian refugees in Poland and lifted a few kids into the air-to feel the weight of their suffering.
Soon after the Regime Change comment, the equivocating battle began with the White House clarifying, “The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change”. Wow, we learn something new each day! Twist, bend, cut and paste words and lines-until it doesn’t make any sense?
Ukraine is fighting on, defending their land against the Russian invasion, and there seems to be no let-up in the proceedings or progress in the ongoing peace talks. Russia is definitely faltering in its battle plans and its fighting machine appears to have messed up big time in underestimating the resolve of the people of Ukraine.
Could Ukraine win the war? They better!
Sri Lanka: It’s the Economy, Stupid.
Once upon a time, India was flooded by refugees fleeing the deadly Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) generated internecine war in Sri Lanka. Now, long after that menace was killed and buried in unmarked graves, a new kind of refugee influx into India is happening. Sri Lankans are fleeing a burgeoning economic crisis in their country.
Typically, in the capital Colombo, for a middle-class family, there is no cooking gas; there is a 10 hour power outage every day; people mainly eat frozen bread, using the hot plate occasionally whenever the ‘power visits’; the fuel supply to the Fuel Stations has come down to a trickle, resulting in long queues and even fist-fighting, with the Army having to be called-in to keep the ‘people-fire’ down in ‘Fuel Less Stations’.
How did all this come to be in the island country?
To serve it in one line, Sri Lanka has, no great manufacturing, no high-end services, is heavily dependent on a tourism-led economy-which was killed and masked by the pandemic, imports even essential food items, and has a huge debt with remittance dependency.
Tourism contributes 10% of the country’s GDP and Sri Lanka is highly dependent on imports for essential items.
Digging deeper: The present Government had announced huge tax breaks, a number of tax cuts such as, no capital gains, VAT cut from 15% to 8%, half tax for construction companies etc. This ensured that hardly any cash flowed in to the Government coffers. Even before the pandemic, spending by the government was on the rise. As a percentage of GDP, government spending, which was 18.8% rose to 21.9%. Due to lack of tourism, which is one of the largest forex generators for the country, forex reserves nose-dived. There was just USD 1.6 billion dollars in November. Sri Lanka has to repay over USD 7 billion in the next 12 months in loans alone.
Sri Lanka is deep in Debt – owes over USD 80 billion to various lenders. It owes USD 5 billion dollars to China alone and took an additional loan of 1 billion last year from China to help with the financial crisis. And is struggling to repay these debts.
Due to money printing, Inflation has risen to above 14%. People are finding it difficult to afford even the basic necessities, food, water, rent, electricity, etc. And is using credit lines to buy these and medicines, and fuel from neighbouring countries. There is also a growing Agricultural Crisis. Due to the low forex reserves, the government banned the import of chemicals and fertilisers and announced that it would make agriculture 100% organic, which decision had a negative impact on the economy. Farmers who were reliant on these fertilisers found it difficult to produce healthy crops. Many didn’t plant at all, fearing a bad produce.
Late this week protests heated up after hundreds of protestors tried to storm the home of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa demanding his resignation over handling of country’s worst economic crisis, since independence.
India is out on the Island lending a helping hand, extending an USD 1 billion line of credit and is actively finding ways and means of helping its now ‘poor’ neighbour.
Pakistan: Reverse Swing and The Islamabad Drift
Pakistan’s Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan once led Pakistan to a fabulous first Cricket World Cup victory in 1992. He pioneered the reverse swing bowling technique in cricket fast bowling, and developed all-round skills to emerge as one of the best cricketeers Pakistan has produced. Now in his new innings as PM, since 2018-far away from the world of cricket-he will have to counter every kind of treacherous swing to continue batting as PM. And Pakistan’s infamous Army does the umpiring (and maybe someone remote doing the third umpiring?)
A quick flash back: Imran Khan is the son of a civil engineer in Pakistan. He and his four sisters had a privileged upbringing in Lahore where he was schooled, before studying at London’s Oxford University and finding place and pace in cricket. He went on to join the Pakistan Cricket team and later become its Captain. He had ‘killer’ debonair looks and is said to have a way with women. And it’s a long list of broken hearts! Recall the famous yesteryears ‘Thumbs Up’ advertisement with India’s Sunil Gavaskar: nobody saw Gavaskar or the Thumbs Up cola drink-they only saw Imran Khan.
Imran Khan retired from cricket after the World Cup win and went on to raise millions of dollars to fund a cancer hospital in his mother’s memory. In 1995, at 43, he married British heiress, Jemima Goldsmith, 21-the daughter of one of the world’s richest man at the time, Sir James Goldsmith. The marriage delivered two boys but the match ran-out in 2004. The pitch changed.
About this time, Imran Khan’s foray into philanthropy spawned a career in politics and in April 1996 he founded a Political Party called, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) (Pakistan movement for Justice).
A second marriage in 2015, to journalist Reham Khan, lasted less than a year. The former BBC Weather News Presenter found the climate in the marriage unfavourable -it rained almost every day-and stormed out.
Imran Khan married again, in a low-profile ceremony in 2018. His third wife Bushra Bibi, a mother of five, was and is his spiritual adviser, and the match played well with the public to show his devotion to Islam – a political reverse swing. And the weather always looked good for bowling (and batting). Never mind the pitch.
In July 2018, in the Pakistan General Elections that year, Imran Khan became the first person in the history of Pakistan general elections to win in all five constituencies that he contested. This surpassed former PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s record -he contested in four and won in three constituencies in 1970.
In the 2018 General Elections the PTI won 116 seats of the 270 it contested and won a plurality in the National Assembly. Later with a coalition of parties coming together Imran Khan became the choice of PM of Pakistan. Khan secured 176 votes and became 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan taking oath of office on 18 August 2018 promising to take Pakistan to victory over corruption and make it a humanitarian state based on principles of the first Islamic state of Medina. He has been slogging on in power for over four years now – running between the wickets, but not scoring too well.
During March 2022 a key ally and the main coalition partner Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM), bowled a googly, struck a deal with the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and the ball slipped out of Imran’s Khan’s hands – not that he is a bad fielder!
With the PTI government losing majority a no-confidence motion was called and is being put to vote. The math is against Imran Khan, but will be able to swing it in his favour and continue as PM? He refuses to step down. And I have a story to finish!
The Oscars: The Power Of The Slap
This year the best Actor Winner stole the show in the The Annual Academy Awards with some real action and not the slightest hint of acting. Award presenter Chris Rock was on stage and made fun of Best Actor nominee Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, over her shaven head (with hair lost due to a rare hair-loss disease called alopecia areata). Rock compared Pinkett’s shaved head to Demi Moore’s look in ‘GI Jane’, saying he couldn’t wait to see her in ‘GI Jane 2’.
This caused Will Smith to suddenly walk on to the stage, slap Chris Rock on the cheek and walk back to sit beside his wife (I did it for you, honey) in an apparent case of ‘losing one’s marbles’. Once firmly settled in his chair he shouted out, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f- – – – – g mouth”.
Meanwhile, Chris Rock lived up to the Rock in his name and stood unfazed, brushing it off. On his part, after the incident, when Will Smith was asked by the Academy to leave the Oscars Ceremony, he refused.
I’m awfully disappointed and stunned with Will Smith’s behaviour. After all these years in Hollywood he is unable to shake-off a joke and maybe return it with interest? He has been such a motivational example, but this one incident had brought him down to the depths of rowdiness. Has some pent-up anger found a seam to discharge? Is it the tightness of the pandemic, or the absurdity of the Russia-Ukraine war? We are living in slapping times!
The moment took away the glory of the movies, the actors, the technicians… levelling it down to a slap in the face of the Oscars!
Moving over to the Winners of this year’s Oscars:
The movie, CODA won the best picture award; Will Smith won Best Actor for King Richard; Jessica Chastain – Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Troy Kotsur – Best Supporting Actor for CODA; Ariana DeBose-Best Supporting Actress for Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story; Jane Campion-Best Director for The Power of the Dog. Bille Eilish and Finneas – best original song for James Bond’s, No Time to Die; Greig Fraser – Best Cinematography for the film Dune.
‘Drive My Car’ drove well to be declared best international feature film; ‘Summer of the Soul’ had real soul to win the Best Documentary Feature; Belfast won Best Original Screenplay; CODA won Best Adapted Screen Play.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling went to The Eyes of Tammy Faye; Best Visual effects, and Best Original Score went to Dune. Best Costume Design dressed-up Cruella.
CODA became the first movie from a streaming service-Apple TV-to win film industry’s biggest price. It’s a heartwarming film that tells the story of an aspiring singer who is the only hearing member for a deaf family. CODA is also an acronym of Child Of Deaf Adults.
This year’s Awards -The 94th Annual Academy Awards- was held in the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States, and was hosted by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes. It is marked forever by the Power of the Slap.
More hearing stories coming up in the weeks ahead. Play and swing with World Inthavaaram. And mind the slap.