Wednesday, October 27, 2010

So long, Paul.

While watching the news on NDTV yesterday... I discovered that Paul - the 'oracle extraordinaire' - who made such a splash over the summer by successfully predicting the results of the 2010 FIFA World Cup - had passed away. I guess even he didn't see that coming. But for all we know he might have. Maybe we simply didn't ask him that question...

Facts about Paul's life are hard to truly ascertain... but he was believed to have been hatched from an egg in January 2008 at the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, Dorset, England. Of the genus Octopus vulgaris, there was nothing really vulgar about the young Paul. Infact he derived his name from the title of a poem by the German children's writer Boy Lornsen: Der Tintenfisch Paul Oktopus. Octopuses are the most intelligent of all invertebrates, so it's not a shock that Paul turned out to have such impressive skills. Or should I say talent... ?!!

Like all famous thinkers, Paul faced a backlash from irate opposition fans... unhappy at his accurate judgments. Not long ago... after Germany's heartbreaking 1-0 defeat to Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup semi-finals, angry German fans were calling to kill Paul, who had predicted that Spain would win their last four clash. And how right he was! Germany's heartbreak plus the Dutchmen's plight... became Spain's delight!

German fans had been praying that the two and half-year-old octopus, who was born in Britain and later moved to the German aquarium in Oberhausen, had made a mistake when he chose the Spaniards to triumph. Some sections of the crowd were also singing anti-octopus songs! Wonder what the legendary 007 aka James Bond would have thought of that. I guess he was rather fond of 'Octopussy'! Even the usually vocal and garment-challenged (ahem!) PETA activists maintained their silence. Especially the former Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson... whose heart weeps profusely at the plight of animals... at regular intervals. Necessitating an appearance and photo-shoot... clad in her 'original' designer (and gravity defying) baby suit.

The fans' frustrations spilled onto the networking sites... little blue bird included. A local newspaper reported that... there had been "a host of comments on Facebook, Twitter... suggesting Paul should be fried, barbecued or turned into a seafood salad or paella." Others wanted to throw him into the shark tank. Various Facebook statuses reported as saying, "Paul the Octopus is Sushi tomorrow morning!", "That bloody octopus should be killed, cooked and eaten...!!!!" International Relations demanded its pound of flesh too. And he became the subject of criticism from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who accused him of spreading "western propaganda and superstition." Zen-like and enigmatic, yet surmounting all 'odds'... Paul maintained a 100 percent record.

To his eternal credit, Paul didn't shy away from such threats and continued to make his brave predictions. He correctly identified Germany as likely too strong for Uruguay in the third place playoff, before taking on one final prediction - the final itself. He picked Spain. It would prove to be a masterstroke. After all, it was around this time that Paul faced some unlikely competition, as Singapore's own Mani, 'the psychic parakeet', reportedly correctly predicted five straight results leading up to the final. But the bird was exposed as a fraud after picking the Netherlands to win the final, leaving Paul to assume his rightful place among the animal kingdom's most revered academics. Mani has since become 'Chinta-Money'... !! *wink, wink*

After accusations of betrayal by the German newspaper Westfälische Rundschau, the Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero jokingly said he would send a team of bodyguards to protect Paul, while the environment minister Elena Espinosa said she would give Paul protection under conservation laws so that Germans do not eat him. According to DPA, local businessmen in O Carballiño, a town in Galicia, Spain, collectively raised around €30,000 as a "transfer fee" to have Paul as the main attraction of the local Festa do Polbo festival. Manuel Pazo, a fisherman and head of the local business club made assurances that Paul would be presented alive in a tank and not on the menu. Sea Life Centres rejected the offer nonetheless.

Paul even took 'difficult decisions' against Maradronacharya's side. As for England... Paul refused to be swayed by feelings of jingoistic loyalty and picked Germany to beat his native England in their World Cup second-round match. In the end, of course, Paul was right. Germany thrashed England 4-1 to advance to the next stage. Although there are of course those who might say you didn't need to be a "psychic" octopus to see that particular result coming. "He'd seen Matthew Upson enough to know how that train wreck was going to turn out," his carer reportedly noted. Plus... Paul with his excellent vision would have 'seen' Wayne Rooney's 'wayward bunnies'...

In Pics:
Paul during FIFA World Cup

Paul beat the odds during the World Cup by correctly forecasting all eight games he was asked to predict, including Germany's surprise group stage loss to Serbia and Spain's 1-0 win over the Netherlands in the final. For the prediction, two boxes were lowered into the salty soothsayer's tank, each containing a (tasty, juicy) mussel and a flag of the two opposing teams. Watched by a myriad of reporters, Paul would head to one box, wrench open the lid and gobble the tasty morsel (mussel), with the box he plumped for being deemed the likely winner.

In his short time on Planet Earth, Paul the Octopus showed that if you reach for the stars you may at least land on a mussel. Without any tussle! Paul was thrillingly decisive with his tentacles. Clearly for him the issue was never in any doubt. In many ways this (2010 FIFA World Cup) was the perfect swansong to a predictive career that took off two years earlier at Euro 2008 - his coming out party. Back then... he had correctly predicted the winner in four of Germany's six Euro 2008 matches (only erring for a group game against Croatia and the final against Spain). But Paul himself would admit he was young and naïve in those days - rather like a young Pelé in the 1956 World Cup - and it wasn't until this summer's World Cup in South Africa - effectively Paul's Mexico 1970 or maybe 'Hand of God' 1986 - that he would really make his mark on the wider world.

Fame became too much for Paul, however, who opted for retirement soon after Iker Casillas lifted the famous trophy, but could not extricate himself from the high life he now found himself in. He gorged himself on the mussels that had previously been his main 'muscle', and he became harder and harder to deal with. He turned his back on a lucrative career on the after-dinner speaking circuit, one observer may or may not have bemoaned... Tony Blair and Busharraf excluded. It was like how we imagine watching Elvis in his final years was. Eventually, such excess caught up with him, and Paul suddenly died on October 26... of natural causes. He had reached the octopus old age of two years and nine months. He left no heirs, no one to continue his predicting legacy. Euro 2012 - let alone World Cup 2014 - will be a minefield without him. Afterall, the eardrum-splitting Vuvuzela... that came a close second to the 'real' winner of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is no 'soccer sage'.

But then all may not be lost. As they say 'hope springs eternal'...

Dirty Harry, a saltwater croc who also predicted Spain would win the World Cup, only to be overshadowed by the German mystic Paul... can perhaps now claim his place under the sun. He has some exposure in politics/International Relations too. He made his choice in his enclosure in the nothern city of Darwin... and backed Julia Gillard to win the Australian election... which she did. Methodology: He snatched a chicken carcass dangling beneath a caricature of Ms Gillard. Opposition leader Tony Abbott's chicken was left hanging. Tsk! Tsk! Errr... cluck! cluck! Its a chicken's life!

It comes as no surprise then... the Asian Age headlining Paul's passing as: "Football World Cup hero, Paul the Octupus, is dead"

"Management and staff at the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre were devastated to discover that oracle octopus Paul, who achieved global renown during the recent World Cup, had passed away overnight," his aquarium (in Germany) said in a sombre statement.

"Paul amazed the world by correctly predicting the winners of all Germany's World Cup clashes, and then of the final," said Sea Life manager Stefan Porwoll.

"His success made him almost a bigger story than the World Cup itself... We had all naturally grown very fond of him and he will be sorely missed," said Porwoll.

"He appears to have passed away peacefully during the night, of natural causes, and we are consoled by the knowledge that he enjoyed a good life here and that the care provided to him by our dedicated displays team could not have been bettered."

Paul's body is now in cold storage while the aquarium decides 'how best to mark his passing'. However, Paul's fans need not despair. The aquarium has already been grooming a successor, to be named Paul like his mentor. No dynastic flavour though... mind you!

"We may decide to give Paul his own small burial plot within our grounds and erect a modest permanent shrine," said Porwoll.

"While this may seem a curious thing to do for a sea creature, Paul achieved such popularity during his short life that it may be deemed the most appropriate course of action."

This British-born aquarium dweller and oracle extraordinaire... is a 'true-blue celebrity'... I tell you. Why (?) you may ask.

Well... the hallmarks of a 'real' celebrity are: a series of scandals, controversies, conspiracy theories, paparazzi, a 'thriller' biopic, mis-quotes, wardrobe malfunctions, serial spouses (while remaining 'good friends' with the exes of course!), serial polygamy, sporting a huge rock on the ring fingure (for the female of the species... but a few 'blood diamonds' are even better), 'high' living and simple thinking attitude, being an ardent espouser and follower of 'equal' opportunity, trumpet-blowing philanthropism and above all... leaving behind a mixed legacy. Moreover... a 'real' celebrity must swear by the philosophy of 'live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse'. Whosoever passes the 'agni pariksha' with flying colours... qualify.

In Paul's case... no sooner had death's tentacles slackened their grip on his squidgy body than the first conspiracy theory concerning his demise emerged like a cephalopod from a crevice.

Not everyone, it seems, is prepared to accept the news that the "psychic" octopus passed away on Monday (26th Oct., 2010) in the comfort of the German aquarium he called home. The grandmasters of 'Chinese Chequers' have now stepped in... to 'salvage and reinforce his reputation'.

According to Jiang Xiao, the director of a forthcoming thriller entitled
Who Killed Paul the Octopus?, the creature had really been dead for the last three months. Jiang told the Guardian she was "60 to 70% sure" Paul had died in July and been secretly replaced by his keepers.

Explaining how such a deception could have been perpetrated, she added: "[Octopuses] all look the same. It is impossible to tell the difference."

Jiang said she thought it was "kind of strange" that news of Paul's death had broken not long after the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre in western Germany had contacted her team to say they were keen to co-operate on the international distribution of her film.

"We have been keeping in touch with the German aquarium ever since the beginning [of production] but it seemed to me that they were afraid," she said. "The movie is about unveiling the inside story behind the octopus miracle, so they felt nervous."

"For the movie, we had done quite a lot of investigation and I am 60% to 70% sure that Paul died on 9 July [two days before the World Cup final] and the Germans have been covering up his death and fooling us for a long time."

Jiang declined to explain why she believed Paul had died in July - or to say more about the revelations in the movie. Her allegations of submarine jiggery-pokery met with polite bafflement in Germany today.

"It's certainly not true that Paul died in the summer," said a spokeswoman for the aquarium.

"We can absolutely assure you that he died last night. He was about two and a half, which is the average age for an octopus. He died a simple and straightforward death."

Paul is due to be cremated in the next few days. His ashes will be placed in an urn and displayed in a shrine, along with a portrait and video clips from his life, the spokeswoman added.

"We've already set up a condolence book where people can write their tributes to Paul," she said.

Paul will live on meanwhile as the object of a host of commercial enterprises ranging from special clothing lines to mobile phone applications inspired by his fame.

A lasting legacy of the astonishing global phenomena that was Paul the Octopus is also taking shape on the Greek island of Zakynthos, a permanent sea turtle rescue centre funded in part by donations generated in Paul's name.

But what of the rumours that Paul had pulled off one last magnificent psychic coup by predicting his own death?

"If he did, he kept it to himself," the spokeswoman for the aquarium said.

So long, Paul. You will be sorely missed... by the Spaniards, press, media and the bookies. Crumbling cookies...

P.S. Incidentally one of Russia's most popular newspapers - Komsomolskaya Pravda - said (in July 2010) it had managed to get Paul to forecast who will be Russia's next president. But the newspaper said it was sealing Paul's forecast until 2012. Hmmm. Seems like Iron Curtain II. We demand 'Perestroika' and 'Glasnost' in equal measure! Taking a leaf out of the football World Cup play book, The Sydney Morning Herald unveiled "Cassandra" - its very own "psychic" octopus in July '10. It claimed she had predicted Prime Minister Julia Gillard's poll victory (in Aug 2010). But then Cassandra is obviously no 'cricket sage'! What say VVS... ?!!


Paul the octopus (alt. 'Paul Oktopus', 'Pulpo Paul', 'Paul der Kracke') swimming through his aquarium in Oberhausen, western Germany, during the World Cup. (Pic courtesy: AFP/Getty Images)


  1. Lol!
    That's quite an obituary for our dear Paul! Looking forward to Dirty Harry's predictions!:D

  2. May his soul rest in peace.He did have a following in India as we believe in the non believable.

  3. @ Preeti: Well, he deserves it... after providing so much entertainment to folks around the world... plus incessant fodder for chatter... apart from being the "'Man' of the series" of course! ;)

    As for Dirty Harry... lets hope our feathered friends for cluckidom remains hale and clucky...

  4. @ BK Chowla: Right Chowlaji! He was a celebrity in his own right... with folks around the world hanging onto each and every move of his tentacles... with bated breath!

    P.S. ... Methinks... he just liked bright coloured flags :D

    P.P.S. The zoo folks should have given him eight footballs... and perhaps he will reincarnate as a footie :D

  5. Paul, he is just an octopus! And now he is getting immortality through your blog.

  6. Poor thing :) may his soul rest in peace was surely fun with him around in world cup

  7. RIP Pauk :(

    PS : shubho Bijoya to you too Roshmi :-)

  8. RIP Paul. You gave, us the non-football lovers, their quota for entertainment during the summer hols ;-)

    @Roshmi : Shubho Bijoya to you!

  9. I was already sad over the shocking demise. Now as I type out this comment, I can barely see the screen as tears roll down my eyes. Salty tears. Ohhhh....That somehow just makes it worse. Atleast we still have this post to hold on to. With more than a touch of somber hilarity (yeah. there is no such word). Paul would be so pleased. May he RIP.

  10. For us Indians who believe in astrology, Paul was more interesting, I think! How did he do it, I wonder!

    Some people called me to give the news of his death, he has become that famous. RIP
    We enjoyed you, Paul!

  11. Paul took media by storm this year for sure, bigger than the soccer world cup itself! There has to be an end for all of us and the super power up there has proved the strength once again. RIP Paul.

  12. @ Reema: Yep! Euro 2012 - let alone World Cup 2014 - will be a minefield without this 'soccer sage'...

  13. @ Wrahool: Thats right! Hope Paul II can match up to the legacy... Or maybe Dirty Harry...

  14. @ Choco: Yes... may he RIP.

    P.S. Peace was something he probably craved... and was denied by the legions of paparazzi jumping at the chance to record his every move. Hopefully... they'll leave him alone now...

  15. @ Sandhya: Yes... he was famous alright. And he will be sorely missed. Hopefully Paul II can match up to his legacy...

  16. @ Mohan: Yes... he was the real hero of the football World Cup. May he RIP.