Saturday, 31 May 2014

SHANKAR PART 7: WICKED-PEDIA AND THE AFTERMATH




Lest this somewhat back-and-forth presentation of the unknown tale of Adrian Shankar’s final week as a professional cricketer has confused the chronology, let’s have a quick recap of the build-up to the final, unequivocal collapse of his fantasy – Adrian’s Gotterdammerung – when the story was broken on ESPNcricinfo on Thursday May 27.

As the endgame of those last days at New Road played out, we have seen that Shankar engaged in various online actions in an absurd attempt to plaster over the widening cracks in his story. First, his Twitter page became restricted access. Then a website appeared, purporting to cover the entirely fabricated Mercantile T20 tournament in Sri Lanka, the success in which won him his deal at Worcestershire. Soon afterward, there was a thread on a Sri Lankan fans’ forum offering apparently independent accounts of these wholly invented rebel T20 leagues, even adding a line to the Wikipedia entry for the defunct ICL. Around the same time, his Cambridge University CC profile was amended, removing news of him having been one of the youngest-ever captains (the story that corroborated his falsified age claims). Russian dolls of bullshit to explain bullshit.

Once the story broke, so did a tidal wave of ridicule and recrimination.

Worcestershire’s initial reaction was to make a press release announcing that “the contract and registration of Adrian Shankar with Worcestershire County Cricket Club has today been terminated by mutual consent. [We] will be making no further comment at this time”.

The day after his sacking, a further press release announced that West Mercia Police were investigating the circumstances surrounding his registration. Eventually, they decided against pressing charges. Worcestershire CCC chief executive, David Leatherdale, confirmed that, with Shankar having no previous criminal convictions, it became a simple employment issue with the club, even though there was an incentive for the club to engage him that wouldn’t have been there had he told them his correct age. With the presentation of falsified documents – a photocopy of his passport in this case – not exactly being hen’s-teeth rare, Shankar would have received only a conditional discharge or, at worst, a small fine. And with finite police resources, it simply wasn’t worth their while pursuing the matter any further.

ESPNcricinfo’s report, posted around 9pm on that Thursday evening (just 16 days after Worcester signed him), was hastily taken down for a couple of hours early on the morning of Friday 28 May while a few mainly cosmetic changes were made to the wording (doubtless at the behest of in-house lawyers rather than from Team Shankar, who was still flat out extinguishing the virtual fires engulfing the tattered shell of his dignity, his alter ego Yperera continuously amending a Wikipedia page that had become something of a sardonic free-for-all). The text has been subsequently modified to its current version, but the initial changes included the excision of the following two paragraphs:

Do you remember Ali Dia? He appeared very briefly for Southampton in the 1996-97 Premier League season after convincing the team’s manager, Graeme Souness, that he was the cousin of former FIFA player of the year, the Liberian George Weah. 

It turned out that Dia’s story wasn't true. Not only that, but he wasn't very good at football. Brought on as a 33rd minute substitute, Dia was subsequently substituted himself 20 minutes later. He never played again. Well, now cricket has its own version.

Also removed was the rhetorical question, apropos the age discrepancies, “Might he have been a youthful prodigy?” as well as the statement: “Shankar, however, has had a good try at re-writing history”. There’s also the line: “Whatever the truth in any of those claims, Shankar isn’t very good at cricket”. And the final paragraph was also taken down:

Shankar’s motivation is also unclear. He graduated from Cambridge with a degree in Law in 2004, so, under normal circumstances, might have been considered to have had the world at his feet. Instead of pursuing a worthwhile career, however, he’s become bogged down in an increasingly unwieldy series of lies.

It was those increasingly unwieldy lies that sparked the lampooning on his Wikipedia page, with the ever more outlandish biographical claims not too much of a departure from the reality he had endeavoured to feed Worcestershire. 


Then the hashtag #shankarfacts appeared on Twitter, the creation of Devanshu Mehta, who later blogged about his creation.

There was the obligatory Parody Twitter account, too, accomplishing much the same satiric objective. 


As has been suggested previously, it is evident that Shankar’s real talent was as a one-man PR machine although, in 2010 he confessed in a vox pop to the Independent that “I don’t buy that many books”: too busy studying International Relations as further corroborated in a below-the-line post by Mike Selvey on the County Cricket Live blog on May 28, 2011. 


In the winter of 2010-11, as he sought a new county deal, Shankar had been trying to generate interest on message boards, sending brochure-style resumes of his career, all excuses and puff, to fans that might then do his bidding. Here is a private message from ‘a Lancs fan’ to another forum user: 

“Player is Adrian Shankar - was in the middle of a 3 year contract with us last year but tragically lost his father and asked to be released from his deal half way through the summer. His family are in the south and he wanted to be closer to them. He had a few offers from other teams (Gloucester, Glamorgan, Middlesex) but said he was thinking of quitting the game. However somewhere along the line he has decided to play again and has just featured in an inter city T20 tournament in Sri Lanka, featuring all the best SL players not in their World Cup squad. He opened the batting and won player of tournament, averaging over 50 with a strike rate over 100 which is fairly incredible. 

He was always seen by Lancs as a future Championship batsman, but I think his personal issues have changed his attitude and now he just tries to belt the ball. Has lightning fast hands and is an excellent player of spin. Impressive to do so well in those conditions with the searing heat and turning pitches. He has now been offered an overseas slot in the Sri Lanka Premier League T20 in August and is being scouted by the Punjab IPL franchise for 2012. 

On the back of all this he has been approached by Gloucester, Glamorgan, Worcester and Hampshire for the English T20. Very good fielder and useful off spinner as well. Not sure what he will do but he is looking like a pretty good T20 prospect now, only 25 with a bright future. Lancs fans were lukewarm towards him because of his casual demeanour but I know that Mal Loye and VVS Laxman both thought he was a future star. Very popular in the dressing room as well, supposed to be a lovely lad. Lancs have actually enquired whether he would be interested in going back. I know that Mark Robinson spoke to him at the end of last season to see if he would consider playing at Sussex.”

As with the Sri Lankan message board, here was a series of characters being conjured into existence to trumpet and coo his merits. Once the game was up and knowing from his deleted Twitter account that he spoke some Portuguese, also that his mother was Brazilian Serendipity posted at the end of that aforementioned thread the verse used as the epigraph to this seven-part series. The cat was out of the bag.


Not only was Serendipity fairly sure sangapump, lavigne and t24 would grasp its relevance (and its meaning). It was also apt that it had been penned by Fernando Pessoa, the poet who gave the world the concept of the heteronym: similar to a pseudonym, only with more intense, almost independent characters or poetic voices although whether or not the three aforementioned wise interlocutors, let alone the aspirant county cricketer (or IPL phenomenon), were fully autonomous psychic entities is for others to decide.     

For all that he was an inordinate and compulsive feigner – and very probably a feigner of pain on the third morning of his County Championship debut, when he absented himself from some first-session Grievous Bodily Harmison – you would be hard pressed (and perhaps so too would he) to claim that Adrian Shankar was a great poet, notwithstanding his eloquent if excruciatingly self-deprecating blog for erstwhile sponsors Mongoose.

In his story ‘The Secret Miracle’, the great Argentine short story writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote of his protagonist: “Like every writer, he measured other men’s virtues by what they had accomplished; yet he asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do.” Well, maybe Shankar took the plunge at Worcestershire believing that, one day, his ability would catch up with his PR, that his body would finally develop the marginal increases in co-ordination, that he could somehow will it into existence. Yet during that innings in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral he must have known the game was up, that Division One of the County Championship was no country for 29-year-old men.

* * *

What he planned some day to do…

The flair for the well confectioned sentence evident in the Mongoose blog resurfaced just nine months after sloping away from professional cricket – enough time, indeed, for a whole new life to gestate. On February 29, a review appeared of the Mayfair restaurant 5 Pollen St scribbled by Shankar for society website Quintessentially – who else? – that is not only unbearably sycophantic, but which again displays the hallmark grandiosity and self-importance the entitlement, the haughtiness, the sense that “he or she is ‘special’ or unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)” of the pathological narcissist. Dripping with it.  


Here is the full text, in all its undoubted, indiluted glory (and please do savour those first two well-marinated sentences after the italicized sell-text):  

Sitting down with Quintessentially Editor Harry Hughes and Diego Bivero-Volpe – dashing connoisseur of the London restaurant scene – writer and sometimes-gastronome Adrian Shankar muses on a bright new offering in the heart of Mayfair. 

Perhaps it would be an uncomfortable experience for some, placed opposite the intimidating figure of the Editor-in-Chief of Quintessentially. But not for me.  Now ensconced in the stylish confines of this Italian eatery - a new restaurant located on an a rather aloof side street in Mayfair - I had been instantly put at ease by the staff. 

The atmosphere dripped with effortless elegance and charm, and my gaze was transfixed on the carefully selected artwork, broken only when the head barman delivered our drinks, combining such energy and delicacy of movement that one felt as if Winter had turned to Spring. 

As the Editor-in-Chief regaled us with anecdotes and tales of yore, we sampled a beetroot ravioli starter. The restaurant hummed with conversation, but there was no doubt that attention now focused on the looming entrance of the signature dish – The Seabass – now sprawled in front of us with delicate élan, as if it had been stripped from the oceans by Poseidon himself. 

Brimming with charisma and foppish hair, the very distinguished figure of Mr Diego Bivero-Volpe has injected the establishment with a verve and style that befits the dashing new player on the scene.  Please note: for those seeking a more intimate experience, he has placed a private room towards the back of the restaurant (here, four men were seen negotiating subtleties long into the afternoon). 

After I refused the recommendation of a passion fruit fondant, the proprietor raised a suspicious eyebrow towards me, as if I had besmirched his honour, stolen his horse, and galloped off into the sunset with his fair maiden in tow. It was hard to imagine that anything could have outdone the lucid and sagacious conversation of the Editor-in-Chief – surely the title of Chief has never been so richly deserved – but the dining experience managed to do just that.  I retreated to the shops of Regent St, simply so I could purchase a hat and return, ready to doff it towards the staff as a mark of respect. AS

Whether the editorial brief specifically requested he bring chivalric affectation to the review will never be known, but the exchange with the proprietor recounted in the final paragraph would not look out of place in Don Quijote.

What he planned some day to do, this “writer and sometime gastronome”…

In the two years since the foregoing text was published, Adrian has focused his attention on making a documentary about one of the most upstanding of all sportsmen, the iconic Brazilian footballer Socrates, a languid, chain-smoking playmaker who captained the insurpassably glamorous Brazil team of the 1982 World Cup – along with the '54 Hungarians and '74 Dutch, arguably the greatest team not to have won the tournament – and, even more impressively, was prime mover in a political experiment called “Corinthian Democracy” at his São Paulo-based club of the same name. The production company is Liberdade Films – one of whose producers, incidentally, is his former Mongoose boss Marcus Codrington-Fernandez – and perhaps this second career will bring him some freedom: freedom, that is, from the gnawing uncertainties and off-beam certainties that pushed him to such ludicrous lengths.

Speaking of which, the Wikipedia page, the Twitter parody, the Luke Sutton blog, even parts of this text are all well and good, but we are not here to ridicule (the brief and delirious window for which has long since passed), only to comprehend what has been, for cricket, a story that, if not sui generis then relatively unusual. And we should try and keep a sense of proportion, right? I mean, it’s hardly crime of the century, even though his response at the time might have been sailing a little too close to the wind, turning up in the garden of a journalist and telling him that he had put his family in danger.

He is just a man whose imaginings got the better of him, a sort of modern, mundane Don Quixote, a man whose idle daydreams were slowly whipped up into a fluffy delirium. Many nations are ruled by such men. Many religions are founded by such men.

Undoubtedly, the medicalised idiom of the previous couple of posts gives everything a hard edge, but then there’s surely a qualitative difference between madness and mental illness: the former swirls around everyone; the latter is the congealing of that flightiness that sweeps us all along through the sunshine and shadow of our days here on planet earth. None of us is quite as hermetically sealed and secure as we are inclined to think (in that adaptive trick of the mind upon the mind that helps keep us relatively stable). Our private selves are formed at the confluence of myriad events and memories and emotions – seeking love, seeking status in a messy world – and can always be knocked off course by a major blow from the outside (a death, burglary, bankruptcy; promotion, seduction), a subtle transition inside, or perhaps even a temporarily altered state: a fever, a daydream, a hallucination, a reverie, a flotation tank. We are porous and precarious, every one of us, as F Scott Fitzgerald knew only too well:

“Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work – the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside – the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within – that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick – the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.”

Is all this mitigation for his actions? No. Is it to say that the future – maybe the documentary, Socrates: Footballer, Revolutionary, Enemy of the State – holds the opportunity for redemption? Yes.

Clearly, Mr Shankar has talent – by most measures, getting into Oxbridge in the first place is testament to that. There are mutual acquaintances of ours – men he played a lot of cricket with at Cambridge and with whom I have played subsequently in the leagues – that still vouch for him as essentially a decent bloke; men of sound judgement who are still loyal to, and protective of him. They bemoan the fact that it has been presented as though he were no good whatsoever – which isn’t true. It isn’t true – by most measures a century in Second XI cricket and Minor Counties cricket is a good level of ability. It is not, however, a good enough level of ability to warrant a two-year county deal at 29-years-old. You were never, ever going to pull it off. 

By most measures, inventing cricket tournaments to help you achieve your dream is a couple of steps beyond the norm. And by most measures, restraining orders and cautions from the police are an indication that you’ve become fixated, lost perspective, that the place in which you have sunk your pullulating passion – the idea of Being-Cricketer – has become a trap. As I say, the time for mockery has long passed and if there are details here that look on derisively agog at events, its tone is shaped largely by Shankar’s refusal to accept responsibility for how things went. Indeed, given his reaction when he was first exposed, I suppose there is a danger that anyone who punctures the self-image could become a target, a vent for the rage that this passage cited in Sam Vaknin’s Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited touches upon:

“When the habitual narcissistic gratifications that come from being adored, given special treatment, and admiring the self are threatened, the results may be depression, hypochondriasis, anxiety, shame, self-destructiveness, or rage directed toward any other person who can be blamed for the troubled situation. The child can learn to avoid these painful emotional states by acquiring a narcissistic mode of information processing.”

Yes, the hard medicalised idiom. But what else to explain the slippage from normal fantasy to abnormal phantasy? Perhaps there has been some poetic licence here, for to quote the Quijote:

“It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth.”

I don’t have too many biographical details to flesh out the theory, so the latter is fairly skeletal in terms of the evidence mobilised. Nor am I inclined to chase the details: a man has the right to a fresh start. But I do have this tidbit, which may or may not be revealing. Brian Carpenter’s comment beneath the legsidefilth blog about meeting Shankar’s father at Lord’s when England played India there in 2007 might be illustrative of someone seemingly obsessed with achievement. And NPD can crystallise through a surfeit of attention or a deficit of the same, from being told that their talents were unlimited, or never being told they had any talent at all. Everything is ambivalent up there in planet Bonce. According to Carpenter, Mr Sambasivan Shankar, an A&E Consultant at Bedford Hospital, was much more interested in talking about Alastair Cook and his exceptional talents than about his own son...


Or there is the datum of Adrian’s entirely unempathetic (and entirely fabricated) pronouncement to his fellow Lancashire Second XI players at the back end of 2009 regarding a new contract offer, as reported by George Dobell:

“[T]owards the end of the 2009 season, other young players at Lancashire reported issues with Shankar. He had been bragging in the pub that he'd been offered a two-year contract extension. And, ridiculously, he claimed that he wasn't going to sign it as he wanted to keep his options open. As a result, another promising youngster who was doing rather better but who had been offered only a one-year deal, went to see John Stanworth (the Lancashire Academy coach) to complain about the inequitable treatment. Even when it transpired that the club had made no such offer to Shankar, still Lancashire didn't act.”

A loss of perspective, a self divorced from the usual checks and balances of reality, floating free as a bubble in his own increasingly delusional and desperate version of the world. And yet, as was suggested, the human self – the psyche – is nomadic, eminently capable of regeneration. Where once he was imprisoned by the idea of Being-Cricketer, perhaps Adrian can enter a becoming-other that lifts the burden of whatever baggage had propelled him into such an absurd cul-de-sac in which the delicate foundations of his fantasy would be exposed and sundered. The first thing to do would be to let go, to free yourself of those past entanglements, to accept and laugh at the sheer lunacy of it all.

A “wandering minstrel”, Adrian’s nomadism might follow his artistic leanings, although what eventually becomes of all that remains to be seen. Whatever, our lusophone filmmaker undoubtedly showed certain attributes of Fernando Pessoa’s poet at Worcester, so perhaps, to finish this yarn, we ought to look at the rest of that short verse, ‘Autopsychography’ (the writing of one’s own psyche), for clues – all the while bearing in mind that there can never be an exact translation of the original, just as there can never be a definitive writing of Adrian’s story:

The poet is a faker.
So completely does he feign
That he ends up feigning as pain,
The pain that he really feels.

And those who read what once he wrote
Feel clearly in the pain they read
Neither of the pains that he felt,
Only a pain they cannot sense.

And so around its track
This thing called the heart winds,
A little clockwork train
To entertain our minds.

---

O poeta é um fingidor.
Finge tão completamente
Que chega a fingir que é dor
A dor que deveras sente.

E os que lêem o que escreve,
Na dor lida sentem bem,
Não as duas que ele teve,
Mas só que éles não têm.

E assim nas calhas de roda
Gira, a entreter a razão
Ésse comboio de corda
Que se chama o coração


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant end to a brilliant series. Thanks for these 7 posts. Lovely reading, lovely writing.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you're aware, but sign up to the Lancs forum http://lancscricket.informe.com

There was a poster 'l4lancs' who posted around the time Shankar was at LCCC. He often posted reports (favourable to AS) on the site from second team games.

It's definately him.

Stacking Chairs said...
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