Posts Tagged ‘Performance’

BIPS, Games, and Puzzles

August 5, 2014

By Anjum Altaf

‘BIPS’ refers to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – the most populous countries in South Asia.

‘Games’ refers to the Commonwealth Games, the last of which concluded on the weekend in Glasgow.

‘Puzzles’ refers to the intriguing questions revealed by the Games about BIPS. The specific puzzle we explore in this post is why the performance of Indian women is so much better than that of the other countries when the human development indicators of India are fairly similar to Bangladesh and Pakistan and actually much worse than those of Sri Lanka.

For the sake of reference, the human development indicators as presented by Jean Dreze Amartya Sen are shown in the following table.

Sen Dreze HDI

At one level this post is a straightforward update of two earlier posts that had crafted a narrative from the results of the Commonwealth games up to 2010.

The first, Pakistan: Falling Off a Cliff, contrasted the steadily improving performance by India with the steady deterioration by Pakistan.

The second, The Rise of Indian Women?, highlighted the remarkable improvement by Indian women in comparison with Indian men.

The updated tables are presented below.

CWG Table 1


(For the purpose of this post, the total numbers of medals secured by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in 2014 were one each, respectively.)


CWG Table 2

(The table above is for India. For the purpose of this post, women from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka did not win a single medal.)

The first table shows that while Pakistan’s performance continues to be stagnant, the Indian medal tally is also down sharply from 101 in 2010 to 64 in 2014. This needs to be explored further. My own guess is that this is an artifact of the specific games that are added and dropped in each version of the event. A true indicator of performance should focus only on those core games that remain constant across the years, for example, athletics and boxing.

The second table shows that the relative performance of Indian women continues to improve and by 2014 they have achieved virtual parity with the men. Starting from zero in 1990, Indian women secured close to half (45%) of the total medals won by the Indian contingent.

This is a remarkable achievement by any measure and needs an explanation. In the earlier post, I had ventured this was possibly related to the “transformation of the Indian economy starting in 1989, the rapid increase in the numbers of the middle class, the aspirations of this class for global recognition, the acceptance of global parameters of excellence and equality, the recognition of sports as one of these parameters, the resolve to be globally competitive, and the resulting reaching out for talent beyond the middle class itself.”

This continues to be relevant but the question still remains why women from the other three countries are so completely missing from the picture. Of course, one should normalize for the variation in population, but as the medals table for the Glasgow Games shows, population is not a completely determining variable  – Jamaica with a population less that 3 million has a total of 22 medals with women winning more of them (13) then the men (9).

This then is the puzzle: Why are Indian women forging ahead so much faster than women in the other South Asian countries?

Answers are welcome.

Anjum Altaf is dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

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India: Not Quite There Yet

November 3, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

In this post, I will continue to use data from international games to weave another narrative that employs this particular lens to locate India on the global map. We have already used results from the Asian and Commonwealth Games to establish the fact that India’s performance has been improving steadily and it has been moving up in the rankings. We have also shown that the contribution of women has become a significant contributor to this progress.

We will now use data from the Olympic Games to put this progress in context. The following table shows the performance of India, Pakistan and China, respectively in the Olympic Games competition from 1984 to 2008. The starting point is chosen as it was the year China first participated in the Games.

Year Total Number of Medals
India Pakistan China
1984 0 1 32
1988 0 1 28
1992 0 1 54
1996 1 0 50
2000 1 0 59
2004 1 0 63
2008 3 0 100

One look at table makes the central argument quite apparent: While India has been moving up at the regional level (and Pakistan moving down), at the global level India has barely registered its presence. As far as global standards are concerned, India is very far behind and has a long way to go.

We can flesh out this narrative now. If we look at the total medals obtained by various countries in the 2006 Asian Games, we will see the following ranking (with the number of medals in parentheses): China (294); Japan (191); Korea (181); Kazakhstan (78); Thailand (53); India (51). Thus, in the world of sports, India does not even rank as an Asian power. At this time, it is the dominant South Asian power having clearly moved way beyond its peer countries in its immediate neighborhood.

At the global level, India remains behind countries with much smaller populations. The 2008 Olympic Games medals table shows some of the countries performing better than India (with total number of medals in parentheses): Kenya (14); Kazakhstan (13); Jamaica (11); Turkey (8); Azerbaijan (7); Uzbekistan (6); Zimbabwe (4); Thailand (4); Mongolia (4).

The point of these comparisons is limited. One cannot extrapolate these rankings to make arguments about political importance. The very size of India’s population and its economic potential puts it into a special political category. The point of the narrative is to drive home the point that India has not even begun to leverage its vast human potential. (In this context it is of interest to record that India had two medals as far back as the 1952 Olympic Games and Pakistan had two in 1960.)

One can leave aside countries like China or Cuba that proactively employ sports as indicators of national pride and status, an attitude that I am not a fan of. But one can still make the point that from the perspective of leveraging its human capital, India is effectively a small country at par with countries of the demographic size of Thailand and Turkey.

The reason for this smallness is also quite obvious. Despite the recent growth in the size of its middle class that has enabled India to outpace its South Asian neighbors, the majority of the Indian population still remains outside the modern economy. And while its middle class is giving India the local edge in sheer numbers, the standards attained by it still remain way behind the global benchmarks.

At one level, this is a narrative of neglect; at another, one of latent potential. The message seems quite clear. There is need to be more inclusive; at the same time, the full potential of the included has to be realized.

An economist would conclude that India is operating well within its production possibility frontier. The future can be so bright that perhaps we have been unable to grasp its limits. There are no doubts about what is possible. The only question pertains to how the possible is to be transformed into the actual.

The question for discussion is the following: What social and economic policies need to be pursued to realize the human potential that remains available to be tapped? Alternatively, can India realize its global potential without investing sufficiently in its people? If not, what would this investment comprise of?

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Pakistan: Falling Off a Cliff

October 7, 2010

By Anjum Altaf


At the conclusion of the 2006 Asian Games I had written an article (Pakistan: A Downward Spiral) using performance in sports as an objective indicator of the structural changes that could have been taking place over the years in China, India, and Pakistan, respectively. The indicator pointed to a stunning improvement in China, an upward trend in India after a period of stagnation, and a steep decline in Pakistan.

Readers questioned the validity of the indicator but offered nothing better as an alternative. Given how cavalier people are in their comparisons between India and Pakistan, using broad generalizations of poverty and corruption to dismiss the diverging trends in the two countries, I continue to believe the indicator yields valuable insights to those who wish to face facts rather than deny reality. (more…)

A Modern Introduction to Music – 5

July 31, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

It is time now to venture gingerly to the next stage in this modern introduction to music. I hope by the end of this post it would be clearer why the term ‘modern’ has been employed in the title.

Just as painting is the art of color, music is the art of sound. Painting is a visual art form; it is seen by the eyes. Music is an aural art form; it is heard by the ears. Music and sound are intertwined and so the first step in understanding music is to understand sound.

One thing should be obvious: While all music is sound, not all sound is music. In fact, most sound is not music; it is noise. (more…)

A Modern Introduction to Music – 4

July 30, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

I feel I should explain once again why we are proceeding slowly with this introduction. It is because we are not trying to learn to perform music. We are trying to learn to understand music. This is a difference that people are often impatient with but it is a fine difference. In music, it is possible to learn to perform without understanding the underlying theory. But, quite clearly, understanding becomes severely limited in the absence of knowledge of the basic principles. It is my belief that if we learn to walk right, we will be able to run much faster in the future.

This can seem abstract so let me illustrate with an example. A number of the readers of this series are more familiar with Carnatic music about which I know relatively little. (more…)

A Modern Introduction to Music – 3

July 26, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

This is turning into a quirky introduction to music. Readers are keeping me pegged and, to be honest, I am quite happy to dally. This post too is part of the preamble in which I wish to dispel one myth and talk about one aspect of our musical culture that makes me particularly unhappy.

First, the myth. I hear again and again that music is a divine gift, that musicians are born not made, that good musicians come around once in centuries, and that the focus on knowledge and training is misplaced. I wonder why people are so averse to looking at the evidence. Do we belong to a culture that discounts facts, that believes more in providence and less in science, that is high on rhetoric and low on proof? (more…)

A Modern Introduction to Music – 2

July 24, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

Thanks to the readers I am beginning to enjoy myself and I am not in any hurry. So I am going to take the time refining what I am trying to do and locating the audience I am doing it for. I am going to take full advantage of the interactive format in order to avoid ending up with a product for which there is no market.

I intend to carry the audience with me and to interweave its ideas and suggestions into the text as it evolves. With that in mind, here is a recap of what I am trying to do, why I think it is worth doing, and who I am doing it for.

We started with the proposition that understanding music would heighten its enjoyment. (more…)

A Modern Introduction to Music – 1

July 18, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

This is the first in a series of posts about understanding music. Understanding music is different from learning to become a performer. This is a distinction whose importance is often missed.

But why should one bother to understand music if one can enjoy it without understanding it?

Let me try and provide an answer via an analogy. Would you enjoy watching chess or cricket if you did not know the rules of the games? In all likelihood the answer would be in the negative. Music is obviously much more powerful in its impact compared to chess or cricket because it can be enjoyed without any knowledge of its rules. But the point to ponder is this: How much more does music have to offer? How much more would the enjoyment increase with greater familiarity with its principles, vocabulary, and grammar? (more…)