Sunday, December 30, 2007

The last day of the year

December 31st – the last day of the year. Every other day of the year stands on its own, except the last , this day is mostly ignored in anticipation of the next day – January 1st - the first day of the new year. The significance of the last day of the year is that it’s the one that takes you to January 1st. It’s kind of like an ordinary person being married to a celebrity – the only claim to fame is his/her close association with the celebrity.

This year, welcome the New Year as usual but stop and look back on the old, and live the last day of the year, give 31st December its importance of a regular day, of the cycle of 24 hrs, of 1440 minutes, of 86400 seconds.
Here’s to you 31st December –
· thanks for being the last in line,
· thanks for closing up a crappy year,
· thanks for closing up a happy year,
· thanks for re-igniting the hope of a better and happier new year,
· thanks for turning off the lights. CHEERS – I will see you “the last day of the year” in a year.

A HEALTHY and Peaceful NEW YEAR TO YOU. Peace!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chotu

It was mid March 2007 and I was visiting the Kanha National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, India. I was traveling with four other 50+ years old friends of my father. How I ended up in a National park with such an elite group of individuals is for another posting. Kanha’s primary attraction is a State protected sanctuary for tigers. As of the census of 2006, the park had 131 adult tigers (the cubs are not counted). This makes Kanha a popular park for spotting a tiger in the wild. Tourists from India and abroad flock to the park to get a glimpse of the majestic Indian Tiger. The State Government’s wildlife department has set up strict rules for controlling the number of visitors and automobiles that enter the park. The department has issued permits to local taxi companies to drive people inside the park during certain hours of the day. These taxi companies own a fleet of the gasoline (petrol) model of the open top Maruti Suzuki Gypsies. They employ local teenagers to drive the tourists around and pay these drivers on a per trip commission basis. This incident is about one such driver.
We reached one of the entrance gates (Kisli gate) of the national park at around 2 PM on a Saturday afternoon. As one of us was enquiring about lodging at the State Dept office, a scrawny teenager of about 15-17 years approached me:
Kid: Namaste Saheb, hotel chahiye kya? Chotu naam hain, hotel yaheen pass hee mein hain. Le chaloon?
(Greetings sir, are you looking for a hotel? I am Chotu and I can take you to a nearby hotel)
He was about 5 and half feet tall, wore a full sleeved beige colored shirt which was tucked out over bell bottomed grey polyester pants. He was wearing dark colored rubber sandals. He was thin, with a pale brown complexion, and had that earnest and unadulterated look which can be seen only on the real village folks of India. (Higher education and urban living washes that look away quite effectively).
I responded:
Haan, lekin hotel acchha hona chahiye. (Sure, but the hotel better be good).
Chotu nodded and asked us to follow him. He hopped in an open top Maruti gypsy and we followed him on a mud road deep into the woods. After driving for about two kilometers through a cloud of dust we entered a driveway of a modest resort. My older fellow travelers checked out the property and haggled over the prices. After about 30 minutes of deliberation we settled in a modest lizard infested room. The bungalow had a nice covered wrap-around porch. The resort was surrounded by tall trees (primarily timber). Chotu had receded in the background and was watching the proceedings. I was wondering what his part in the whole affair was. He probably got some commission from the resort owner for bringing in guests to his property during the off-peak season (March happens to be the end of winter and the mercury slowly rises to an uncomfortable zone in the Central part of India). I noticed that he was not leaving but was observant of all of us. As soon as he noticed that we were all settled in the room, he made his sales pitch:
Chotu: Saheb, aaj sher dikhega, thodee der pehele hi ranger office mein report aayee ki teen sher dekhe gaye. Main le jaoo saheb? Gypsy hain aur permit bhi. 4 ghante ka Rs 750 aur video camera ka upar se Rs 250. Mera nahi, Sarkaari rate hain. (Sir, I guarantee that you will spot a tiger today, a little while ago the ranger’s office got a report of 3 tiger spotting. Can I take you? I have a car and the permit to drive in the park. It’s Rs 750 for 4 hours and Rs 250 extra if you wish to take a video camera. It’s the Govt rate, not mine).

Chotu had spotted the handy cam bag on my shoulder. My company of old men got into a discussion with him about the rates, the time, how he can be so sure of a tiger spotting, the weather, and the condition of his Gypsy etc. I was the silent observer. Chotu answered each question patiently. He showed a surprising knack at fielding these questions for someone his age. (This might not sound like a big deal, but try doing a business deal with four middle aged Indian men - all of them Government employees themselves). The smile on Chotu’s face indicated that he had made a deal.

The five of us settled ourselves in his car and Chotu hit the gas. We arrived at the check post of the park where after paying the fees at the forest department office we were allowed entry into the park. I noticed that Chotu was quite a well known figure; he was waving and talking to a number of the forest department employees and other fellow gypsy drivers. No sooner did we enter the park, we spotted a number of wild animals – flocks of deer grazing in sun-soaked grasslands, peacocks, bisons, the Indian jungle pig, antelopes, the famous and elusive Barasingha (a large deer with huge antlers with 12 branches from the main antler). All of us were quite thrilled by the experience of seeing these animals in their natural setting, minding their business and in tune with their surroundings. While I was busy enjoying and soaking up these sights and capturing them on film, the rest of the group was asking Chotu about his claims of the “tiger spotting”. Chotu was quite confident that he will be able to lead us to a tiger. It was about 4 PM in the evening and all cars were supposed to be out of the park by 6:30 PM. Chotu informed us that the rangers enforce this rule quite strictly and the drivers who are late in leaving the park are made to appear in front of the officer on duty. The taxi company is fined a sum based on how late the driver was. The fine is subsequently passed down to the driver in the form of less commission or no commission at all. This left us with 2 hours to try and spot a tiger. The time was ticking and the pressure mounting. I could see the stress on Chotu’s face; he was sincerely praying and hoping that a tiger crosses our path. It was 6 PM and there was still no sign of a tiger. We were getting a little desperate now – the deer, peacocks, bisons, monkeys were not amusing anymore. At this time Chotu spoke in a disappointed voice: “Saheb, cheh bajj gaye, ab toh wapasi ka rasta pakadna hoga, warna deri ho jayegi aur mujhe peshi deni padegi.” (Sir, its 6 PM and I think we should drive towards the gate since we might get late. If we do get late I will have to appear in front of the Forest Officer)
“Sher toh nahi dikha, par kal subah le jaoonga saheb, kal zaroor dikhega!” (We did not spot a tiger today, but I promise I will take you in the park again tomorrow and I assure you we will spot a tiger). By this time all of us had also given up and resigned to the fact that a trip tomorrow morning was inevitable. My fellow travelers were no longer blaming Chotu for the no-show by a tiger. The sun had set and it was getting dark. Chotu told us that he was not allowed to turn on the headlights inside the park. We were driving in the dusk light and heading towards the exit of the park. Everyone was quiet in the car. All through our drive Chotu was constantly listening to the rustling of the leaves, watching the behavior of the monkeys and the birds in the trees. It was as if he was trying hard to listen to something that we could not. As we were driving back, Chotu suddenly slowed down the Gypsy and was focusing on something in the bushes on our right. I was trying hard to see amongst the thick vegetation but all I could see was more vegetation. Chotu then with restrained excitement asked us to focus in the bushes; he had spotted the royal beast. After a lot of training our eyes to separate the out woods from the animal, we were able to spot it. Each one of us jumped out of our skin. A chill went down my spine. In minutes the tiger crossed the road we were on. His stride was regal, his look was menacing. The evening air was full of excitement and thrill. It is a singular feeling of being in such close quarters with a tiger in the wild. Clich├ęd but true – you have to experience it to understand it.
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7541012846557960277&hl=en

After about 2 minutes the tiger disappeared in the woods and we were all still squealing with joy like little girls. Chotu let out a sigh of relief and his face and eyes wore a perma-smile. He was glad to have satisfied his customers. We drove out of the park. We thanked Chotu, patted his bony back and praised him for his keen eye-sight and intuition. Chotu left after leaving us at our hotel.

We were still talking and re-enacting the tiger encounter. Hunger beckoned and we found ourselves in a roadside dhaba (eatery) not too far from our hotel. The radio was playing some old Hindi movie songs, all kinds of flies were buzzing around every lamp and the monotony was broken by squeal or a shriek of a wild animal deep in the jungle. The smell of the fresh tandoori rotis from the tandoor was making as all salivate. I noticed that Chotu was around the eatery with a couple other kids of his age. One of my fellow travelers also noticed him and wondered whether he is loitering around for some extra cash or a free meal. I got up from my chair and approached them. The group of kids suddenly fell silent as they saw me walking towards them. I said “hello” to Chotu and his friends. I noticed that Chotu was still wearing the same clothes and that he was trying hard not to smile. I asked him if they had dinner or if they would like to join us. Chotu replied – “Haan, khaana toh kha liye hain”. (Yes, we had our dinner). I handed him a 100 rupees note for a job well done. He very respectfully denied saying “Saheb Sher nahi dikhayee deta toh kya main tumhen rupaye deta? Yeh toh mera kaam tha, aur mera commission toh mujhe mil hi jayega kal. Agalee baar aao toh meri hi gypsy mein chalna.” (Sir, had we not seen the tiger would I give you money, it was my job and after all I will get my commission tomorrow. When you come next time, look me up and hire my services again). I did not try to force him into accepting the money and quietly slid the money back in my pocket.
I said that since we spotted a tiger today, we would not need his services the next day and that we will head back to Nagpur after tea early next morning. Chotu just nodded in approval. I noticed his hesitant body language and asked him if he wanted to say or ask something. He grinned and in a very diffident voice said “Saheb, kya aap wo sher ki video shooting mere doston ko dikhaa sakte ho?” I broke into a spontaneous chuckle by this simple request! These boys have probably seen a live wild tiger a number of times and here they were asking to see it again on the tiny LCD screen of the video camera. I asked them to come to our hotel room in an hour. The boys were waiting on the verandah when we returned from our dinner. I got the camera and we sat on the cold floor of the verandah. I replayed the footage on the camera; the boys were struggling to shove their heads in front of the small screen to get a good look. I could tell that they were quite ecstatic. I replayed the scene about 5 times. Chotu was very thankful and a little confident now. He asked me about what I do. I talked to the group of kids about my life in the US. They had many questions for me – “Udhar maruti gypsy hain kya?” (“Do the Americans drive Maruti gypsy?”) I tried to respond to each question with utmost sincerity and the conversation continued with questions from my side about their lives. Chotu said that he used to go to a polytechnic in Seoni to be an electrician but it was hard for his mother to pay for his tuition (I sensed that he did not want to be an electrician and hence probably was using the “fees” excuse). I enquired about his father. His father used to work for the Madhya Pradesh electricity board and had died 4 years ago of a freak road accident. Chotu was the youngest of the three brothers. He was 17 years old. His good name he said is Manish but only his teacher at the polytechnic school called him that. He was Chotu for everyone else. He started driving the tourists in the park about 2 years ago. He made on an average of Rs 3000 per month in the peak season he said. His aspirations were not too high - Chotu talked about going to Jabalpur or Nagpur in a couple of years to work as a driver. He added that he aspired to be a driver in Nagpur and wanted to drive the Indian cricket team from their hotel to the cricket ground someday. Despite these aspirations, he seemed strangely at peace with the life he was leading. We spent quite some time talking about tigers, America and cricket. They left after admiring the video one last time. I sat there on the verandah of our hotel room in the silence of the woods and the faint blue glow of the LCD screen.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Amtrakking

Of all the modes of transports, travelling by trains is my favorite. There is something very appealing about the trains and everything else that comes with travelling by trains - the rhythmic sound, the slow cradelling motion, the ballet of the train tracks when they merge and separete, the views that you see only while travelling by trains. So when it came about that I have to go see a friend in New York, I opted to ride the train instead of driving into the city and thus I found myself on an Amtrak train from Harrisburg to NYC on a cold November morning. I have been travelling by the highly inefficient-overpriced-rarely-on-time Amtrak trains for about 6 years now. I board the train, each time expecting that Amtrak has probably kept pace with the changing times and eliminated the inefficiencies and inconveniences, only to be disappointed and disheartened.

The train announcements remain as mythical and incomprehensible as possible - "Next station is Mchiklakibloeville, doors open on bzzzzzzzz, train will achsghteeeeriin, please be mindful of the gap between the train and the platform. Next station Cghshhhhhiiitotatlerburg".
I make it a point to scan the reaction of the fellow travellers in my coach. Some of them are nonchalant (these are the frequent travellers, they know their stops by now and don't mind the Gaelic announcements). For the uninitiated ones, this announcement sends them in a momentary state of panic and they feverishly start rummaging through their bags/purses to look at the ticket stub or their copy of the "Amtrak in-train announcements for dummies" thinking that there probably lies the answer to the riddle of that message that was just air-waved to them. I cannot help but compare this with my recent experiences of travelling in trains in Switzerland. The names of the towns in the German side of the country are those typical names where they have as few vowels as possible and take a lot to getting used to (Sample these: Lauterbrunnen, Zweiletschunnen, Gruschtalp) , but believe it or not, I was able to clearly understand what the lady in the train was saying when she announced the name of the next station.

Next pet peeve - the sheer number of the ticket checkers. How many ticket checkers does it need for a train ride of three hours and a train with six coaches? I must have noticed at least four distinct homo-sapiens dressed in the Amtrak uniform in my train. None of these protectors of the Amtrak dignity ever carry a single electronic gadget to validate the tickets or to issue a ticket to someone who did the unthinkable of boarding the train thinking that they can buy the ticket on the train. (I must note here that a dehati rail minister in a third world country is soon introducing an electronic hand held ticket validating and issuing machine to its employees.) These four ticket checkers have a very stressful job of taking your ticket, punching two holes in the ticket with their antiquated punching machine, disassociating the stub meant for you from this ticket and returning the stub back to you. Just when you think - "YOU NEED FOUR PEOPLE TO DO THIS?", they make it interesting. At this time, the ticket checker unravels a thin, long green paper stub which has some numbers arranged in the form of a mathematical matrix. This is where all the skills they acquired from the "Amtrak Institute of the Art of Ticket Checking" are applied. He carefully punches more holes in this piece of paper on precisely calculated numbers that he arrived based on some complex mathematical logic. He then slips this piece of paper in a narrow slit on the luggage holder on top of your seat. This green piece of paper (the color of the paper might change depending on what train and which route you are taking - they are not kidding with this stuff - no sir they are not!) indicates what station you boarded and where you will disembark. You are henceforth tied to your seat until your final destination. Try changing the seat in the middle of your journey and don't move the green paper with you. The next time the ticket checker shows up and there is no green paper on top of the seat you are warming, you are in big trouble my friend! You have just yanked Amtrak's chain the wrong way! You have dared to insult the careful research that went into creating this ingenious green-paper-with-punched-numbers system.
You don't believe me -try doing it the next time you ride the Amtrak - just to spice up the routine of watching the dull and boring suburban vistas through the musty windows.

All these ineffeciencies are passed down to the poor traveller in the form of the "put a hole in your pocket" ticket prices. However, the optimist in me is hopeful that someday there will be a mellifluous voice announcing my destination "The next station is Zweiletschunnenville. Thank you for riding Amtrak and have a pleasant day", someday I will not have to worry about the green paper and can nap peacefully or change my seat (just to see the sad malls and the suburban sprawl of the other side). Until that day, this is where I disembark. Happy and safe travels for the holidays.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

18 years ago





Exactly 18 years ago today a gawky sixteen year old from Dadar with funny hair walked on the cricket pitch. Little did the world know that it was witnessing the debut of a cricketing legend and the greatest batsman ever (personal opinion which I think is supported by millions more). His name - SACHIN RAMESH TENDULKAR.

Here's the scorecard from that debut match:

http://content-usa.cricinfo.com/india/engine/match/63513.html

(Note the players - seems another era!)

Today after 18 years, Sachin is still playing and winning matches for India (although not as many as we would like). Today he played in the typical "Sachin" fashion to steer India to a series victory over Pakistan at Gwalior. (Another little trivia: This is India's series victory over Pakistan after 24 years on Indian soil - it was 1983 and Kapil Dev was the captain).

Here's the scorecard from today's match:

http://content-usa.cricinfo.com/indvpak/engine/current/match/297804.html
(Note the players - 21 of the ones from 1989 are not playing now)

Lets do the numbers on the Little Master:
Test Statistics
Matches: 140
Centuries :37
Average: 53
Total Runs: 11150
Highest Score: 248 (not out)

One Day Statistics
Matches: 406
Centuries : 41
Strike Rate: 86
Total Runs: 15932
Highest Score: 186 (not out)



His fans and critics have put him up on a pedestal and worshipped him like a demi-god numerous time. These same fans and critics have maligned him, pulled him down and written him off numerous times. But Sachin has always let his actions with the bat or the ball speak for him. He has taken accolades and criticism with equal humility and modesty. I don't think he ever believed that he is anything more than a human being with a special talent. He is still the little boy from Sharadashram who one fine day held a bat in his hand and carved his and Indian cricket's destiny - one stroke and one ball at a time.




More on Sachin:




http://www.time.com/time/asia/2006/heroes/ae_tendulkar.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sachin_Tendulkar




http://tendulkar.co.in/





Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chak De! India

Alright, I agree I am a little late to watch this movie. The experience did leave me with that happy, warm and fuzzy feeling you get after watching a good sports movie. The movie despite its predictability and been-there-seen-that plot manages to engage you till the end. The performances of SRK and the girls who form the hockey team are spot on. In fact the choice to use non-actresses for the hockey team works for the movie. When it comes to acting these girls are rough around the edges which makes their characters likeable. The movie has the right doses of sportsmanspirit and patriotism without going over the top.
For once a sports movie used the services of a real sportsperson as an advisor. The hockey scenes are well choreographed, thanks to Mir Rajan Negi's involvement. The camera work, editing and the background score work hand in hand to create an adrenaline infused viewing experience.

OK, the praises end here. Now Mr Shimit Amin here's my list of "what could have been better and what could have been avoided":
1) The Hockey federation staff was so one dimensional....come on we are not in the 70s era of black or white characters anymore.
2) The Kabir Khan's mohalla scenes are absolutely tacky.....so much so that they belong in a different movie....they seem to have been directed by another person....I almost feel that the producer (Mr Adi Chopra) forced them down the director's throat..if so, you are acquitted Mr Amin.
3) The Vice-captain proposing the girl publicly and she rejecting the proposal seems like a scene from a Rekha-Dimple "feminist" stereotypical movies...I would have slashed it and burnt that part of the film at the editing table.
4) The background score of Salim-Sulaiman does have the nail-biting effect where needed, but in most places its over the top and drowns every other sound. A little more sync-sound would have created a better effect. In fact using the sound of the sport (hockey sticks clashing, shoes digging the turf, players huffing and puffing) would have created an awesome effect.

All in all, the movie kept me engaged and made me cheer. Its a GOAL.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Equal Opportunity Employment?


I was talking with a friend a couple weeks ago about an article I read in a newsmagazine when I was in India early this year. The article was written by an American pilot working for an Indian airline. The article was about the job postings for receptionists, air hostesses, secretaries, etc. The article was mocking at the way these postings described the requirements for the jobs:

"Tall, Slim, Fair, Handsome, Clear Complexion, Between the ages of 21-27, Height and Weight Proportional". The article was particularly taking pot-shots at the "Fair" part. It was addressing a serious issue in a humorous way. I had never taken much notice of this until someone from a different country pointed out to me. I felt ashamed, I felt low, I felt Sorry for all those "not so tall, not so slim, not so fair, not so handsome with an unclear complexion" population which is probably fully qualified for the job, but cannot even apply.
This friend forwarded the attached job posting from today's TOI. I decided to do an experiment with this - I made an American colleague and Indian colleague read it. These are the reactions I got:
The American colleague said - "This is funny!!" She seriously thought this was a mock posting or a practical joke.
The Indian colleague said - "Had not heard about Indigo airlines, so many new airlines in India"
When I explained to the American colleague that this is a real posting she looked at me like I am on drugs. When I pointed the discriminatory aspect of the posting to the Indian colleague, he got the point and realized the bigotry. So in conclusion, if I have to explain this to an educated working professional Indian, how long would it take make a nation realize this?
Our Government has always pushed reservations down everyones throat (including the private sector soon..) to eliminate discrimination on the basis of caste. Can we have some basic laws for all castes, religions, genders for not allowing corporates to discriminate based on physical appearances?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Death of Honor?

Marion Jones pleaded guilty to have taken performance enhancing drugs. She will be stripped of her 3 gold medals and 2 bronze medals that she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She was proclaimed as the Fastest Woman on Earth, she was the Golden Girl, she was the epitome of dedication, strength and edurance. Today, she remains as a fallen hero, her honor, her honesty has been tarnished.
Some questions that arise in my head:
Are we too harsh on our sportspersons when we who hailed them as our heroes, our inspirations denounce them as soon as we know they used performance enhancing drugs?
Comparing the Individual achievements in other fields:
Do we take the Oscars away from the film stars when we know they underwent a cosmetic surgery, took god-knows-what to enhance their assets?
Do we not think Cobain was a creative force even though we knew of his addictions? Do we think he could have created that music if he was not high most of the time?
Do Da Vinci's masterpieces become any lesser in our eyes knowing that he was also high most of the times when he was at his creative best?
Could Viriginia Woolf's writing be as creative as it is today if she was not a regular pot smoker?
Most (not all) of the major artists - musicians, artists, performers - were or are regular users of some form of contraband drugs, or have resorted to artificial physical boosters (botox, cosmetic surgeries, silicone implants, etc)

I know I am comparing Apples to Oranges, Sports and Arts - not the same deal? Right? But then how do you measure Individual Achievements? Why is it OK in one and not in the other?

Mind you I am not advocating use of these drugs, I am just questioning why do we punish the baseball stars, the runners, the boxers, the swimmers or any other athletes? Why do we not give the same treatment to individuals from other fields? Why these double standards?
Aren't they all equally possesed with ambition , aren't they all equally driven to achieve or create or push those limits (creative, mental or physical) that were established by someone else?
I cannot answer this, can you?

Monday, September 24, 2007

That forgotten feeling!

Ohh, how does it feel to win! Today, I was haunted by the ghost of Javed Miandad hitting Chetan Sharma for a sixer on the last ball at Sharjah in 1985. Today Joginder Sharma and the rest of the Dhoni gang helped drive that ghost away. Team India deserved this victory, they have proven that the dismal performance in the World Cup early this year was just a passing bad phase. They beat South Africa (threw them out of the tournament), Australia (what effect this has on the Ozzie egos remains to be seen) and then Pakistan!! And they beat all of them in STYLE...no Duckworth-Lewis crap!! It does not get better than this.

This victory will do a great deal for the team and the nation as a whole. We had all forgotten the feeling of a thumping "Victory". Soak up this feeling India, bask in its Glory.

There was no one hero in the final - Gambhir and Sharma did it with the bat, Irfan Pathan and Joginder Sharma did it with the ball. CONGRATULATIONS to all of these young winners. What makes the joy of winning a million times better is defeating Pakistan in the finals. I remember the 1996 Hero Cup match when India defeated Pakistan in an absolute "stop-your-heart" match in Bangalore under the lights at Chinnaswamy (Jadeja hitting a Waqar Younis yorker for a cracking Six is still fresh in my memory). After that delicious victory, the whole of Nagpur had spontaneously gathered on West Hight Court Road for an impromptu celebration.
I missed being in "Hindustan" today....what I did not miss was how it feels to WIN.
Thank you Team India for the feeling....Thanks for an early Diwali....Here's to more such victories.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

David and Goliath

Today's victory over Australia should be a huge boost to the Indian cricket team's psyche. This team played with a "Nothing to loose" attitude, a trait rarely seen in the recent times from any Indian sporting side. Yuvi, Dhoni, Sreesanth, Utthappa and company are all young bloods who do not have the weight of expectations that the Sachins, Souravs and Dravids drag with them. Resting these thespians for the 20/20 series turned out to be a good thing eventually.

The real stress test of the temperament is in the India-Pakistan final of Monday. Good luck to Dhoni and his boys.

The fall of the "Wall"

No its not the Berlin Wall, I am talking about. Its Rahul Dravid. Dravid's resignation as the captain of the Indian cricket team was as quiet an affair as his captainship itself. From the day he took over from Sourav, he has been criticized for his "no grit" attitude. Captaining the Indian team in today's "Cricket is a religion" India is as stressful a job as being the Prime Minister of India (probably more so). He was a captain who was burdened by the idiomatic phrase - 'lead by example'. You could see the strain it was causing on him on his face.

I guess he realized the toll this was taking on his life and his cricket. Its time to pass the baton and enjoy the pleasure of being on that pitch and building a wall - one ball and one run at a time. Good luck Rahul, and thanks for your sincere services. You did not let us down, 'we' let you down. You still make me feel assured of a good innings when you walk from that dressing room to the pitch.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Independence Day

Here's a song for 60 years of our Independence. It was written by Sahir for a movie named "Phir Subah Hogee" from the year 1958. The song effectively conveyed the ethos of the young generation of the Nehruvian India barely 10 years after the Independence. Khayyam's haunting melody and Mukesh and Asha's rendition takes this gem of a poem to a whole another level. Sadly the words of this poem are true almost half a century after they were penned. Hope 60 years from today this song is remembered just for its melody and poetry! Hoping a better "subah" does not have to wait for 6 more decades.

wo subah kabhee to aayegee, wo subah kabhee to aayegee
in kaalee sadiyon ke sar se, jab raat kaa aanchal dhalakegaa
jab dukh ke baadal pighalenge, jab sukh kaa saagar chhalakegaa
jab ambar zoom ke naachegaa, jab dharatee nagmei gaayegee
wo subah kabhee to aayegee

jis subah kee khaatir jug jug se, hum sab mar mar kar jite hain
jis subah ke amariat kee boond mein, hum jahar ke pyaale pite hain
in bhookhee pyaasee ruhon par, yek din to karam faramaayegee
wo subah kabhee to aayegee

maanaa ke abhee tere mere aramaanon kee kimat kuchh bhee naheen
mittee kaa bhee hain kuchh mol magar, insaanon kee kimat kuchh bhee naheen
insaanon kee ijjat jab zoothhen sikkon mein naa tolee jaayegee
wo subah kabhee to aayegee

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lawrence of Arabia





Finally after avoiding it for years, I watched Lawrence of Arabia in its entirety. I watched it on my 52” Toshiba HDTV. This movie will not work on a small screen – it has to be experienced on a large screen – the larger the better. I cannot imagine the effect it would have watching it on a 70 mm cinema screen. This is an epic movie and I must say the Columbia was quite brave in investing all that money in making a movie which is about a queer guy, 4 hours long, shot in a desert, no love story, no women and little action scenes. It’s David Lean’s imagination and vision which made this movie. The cinematography is actually instrumental in making you feel the vastness, the emptiness and the harshness of the desert. I cannot begin to imagine the logistics of the production of this classic. There couldn’t have been a better person to portray T.E.Lawrence than Peter O’Toole. He brings the necessary quirkiness to this mysterious person. I cannot think of Marlon Brando (who was approached for the role) as Lawrence. Although Dilip Kumar would have made a good Ali, Omar Sherif does an excellent job. It was a pleasant surprise to I.S. Johar as Gaasim.
If Lawrence of Arabia is ever shown on the big screen again, I have my 10 dollars set aside to experience it the way Lean intended it to be.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dada & Me

"Dada" - This is what we would call my grandfather. He was "Dada" to all - to his sons (my father and two uncles), to his daugther-in-laws (my mother and two aunts), to his friends, to my friends, to my father's friends, to the gardener, to the maid. This made him equal to all, yet each had his or her own "Dada" just for him/herself. He was very religious (although never fanatic about it), disciplined yet warm. He was about 5 ft 8 inches tall, lean (not an ounce of fat on his 75 yr old body), long face with strong features, a thin sharp nose, grey eye brows, grey moustache and long ears. He had thin grey hair which covered most of his scalp. He would walk with long confident strides with his long cherry wood walking stick. We kids used to run with him or slightly behind him when we would accompany him in on his walks. He was only slightly bent in the back. The walking stick was more of an accessory than a tool for support. He had false teeth and thick glasses. He had no other ailments of old age other than these two. Dada would wake up before sunrise each day, every day (until he became really sick). The first thing he would do before opening his eyes: would place his palms in front of his closed eyes like a book and would recite the “Hand Shloka” –
Karaagre Wasate Lakshmi
Kar Madhye Saraswati
Kar Moole tu Govindam
Prabhate Kar Darshanam.
(Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, resides at the tip of the hands
Saraswati, the goddess of Knowledge, in the centre
Govind resides at the base of the hands
Look at your hands first thing in the morning (and you have seen all Gods))

After reciting these magical words, he would open his eyes and touch his face lightly with his palms. Sometimes when I slept besides him, he would touch my face in the same manner in my sleep, waking me up slightly. After his morning ablutions, he would eat two soaked almonds that my mother had kept on his night-stand the night before. Dada would then proceed for his morning visit to the dairy for fetching milk. I could hear the front door open and him walking out with the rhythmic tik-tok of his walking stick. The opening of the door coincided with the waking up of grandma and mom. By the time Dada was back with the milk bottles, mom would be awake and in the kitchen. She would boil the milk and make tea for Dada, grandmother and herself. The newspaper boy would have delivered his goods by then and Dada would be all set with his hot cup of tea, and the newspaper on the verandah. This was the time when me, my brother and father would be waking up slowly and getting ready for our day at school and work respectively. After his tea, Dada would proceed to do his Suryanamaskaar (Sun salutations) and Pranayama ritual. He taught me and my brother these techniques and their importance, benefits and purpose. Little did I know that in the 21st century even Hollywood would be practicing these and there would be a multi-million dollar industry built around these simple techniques that Dada practiced? His tools were very simple compared to the ones marketed today - an old rug, a loin cloth, and the fresh early morning air.

Until I was in my 3rd standard, Dada would drop me and pick me up from school. My school was less than a kilometer away and so it we would always walk this distance. I guess my fondness of walking has its roots here. Dada was never late to pick me up at the school – rain or shine. In fact he was never late for any commitments he made. I believe when a 60 year old man can be on time for a 8 year old kid every day, there is no reason for anyone to be late for their commitments. I think my obsession with timeliness and punctuality can find its roots with those years when Dada picked me up from school. It annoys me when people commit to a time to me and are not able to keep it up purely because they assume that they can be late (genuine reasons is a different story, sheer tardiness is unforgivable in my world - courtesy Dada).

Dada taught me and brother the very few shlokas and prayers that I know today. “Shubham Karoti Kalyanam”, “Shantakaram” etc were our daily evening prayers. He would light an oil lamp and an incese stick (agarbatti) in our poojaghar after sunset and we brothers would chant these shlokas. This ritual would end with us touching his feet and then pushing our right cheeks for his peck.

During the scorching hot months of the Nagpur summer, we would all sleep on the terrace of our house. Dada was the only one who would sleep in our front yard. I had the duty of keeping a copper flask full of cold water next to his metal framed bed. My father would ensure that his mosquito net was installed properly. The rest of the family would sleep on the terrace. These were the late 1980s. We were growing up and Dada was getting really old. He had trouble reading for more than 5 minutes. I would read to him the newspaper articles that he would point me to. I noticed most of the articles that he would ask me to read were about the Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Dada would remark that India was better off when it was governed by the British. He was always very angry with the current state of the Nation (especially with the pseudo secular politicians). I think he believed that the RSS, VHP and BJP will change the course of the country. I did not much understand his anger or disgust about everything then, but thinking about it today, it all makes sense and sadly very little has changed.

Dada passed away in September 1993 on the last day of Ganesh Pooja. I was in my first year of engineering in Karad and was visiting home for the Ganesh Festival. Dada was hospitalized. He was never a believer of modern medicine. He always treated all his ailments – sprains, cuts, wounds, fevers, colds and any other illnesses using traditional Ayurvedic means. It was sad to see him laying on a hospital bed with IV drips and syringes next to him. I am sure he did not cooperate with the treatment. He knew it was his time and there was nothing that modern medicine could do to stop him from leaving this world. He was deeply spiritual and believed in Karma and Moksha. When he breathed his last I was at the hospital in the waiting room. The doctors informed me and asked me to call home and tell the rest of the family. Thankfully, an older relative walked into the hospital and took charge of the situation. I sat next to Dada, looking at his lifeless form, knowing positively that he has attained his Moksha. This was the first time I was experiencing the emotions of “Death of a loved one”. I was sad although I do not remember crying that day or at his funeral. I don’t think he meant for anyone to cry when he passed away, because he truly believed that dying is just as normal as living. I am yet to meet a human being who was so OK with “death”. I think his extensive practice of yoga, pranayama and meditation was instrumental in this. He used to say “If you live with the fear of death you die every day”.

It will be 14 years since Dada left, this September. The ten days of Ganesh Festival is cut down to three in my household. The day of Ganesh Visarjan (when the Ganesha idol is immersed) is marked as Dada’s Shraddha (death Anniversary). Dada continues to live with us in many ways – when we come across the old wooden trunk in the attic, his cherry wood walking stick, when I see Arnav (my brother’s 3 year old son) recite “Shubham Karoti”, when I do the Suryanamaskars or when I see an old man and an 8 year old walking down a street.