Monday, August 14

I still care for you

I cannot recall offhand the last time I wrote about football. But here goes nothing.

Like most anyone, I went through the "passionate fan" phase, donating an enormous amount of wishful prayers up & above to ensure that Manchester United won. The gods, being the smart cookies they undoubtedly are, seem to have spent their time answering prayers of the kind of people who peddle chaos on a daily basis, which is one way of understanding the state of the world today.

But man, was I into the whole EPL scene! Looking back, it seems rather droll that I cared so much, or at all. But, yes, it hurt when MU lost, particularly to Arsenal, Leeds or Liverpool (back then, there weren't too many other teams to worry about). I certainly felt a kick in the teeth when Chelsea won those 2 titles under JM. Watching the team get dismantled so casually in 2 Champions League finals made me sad though the pendulum swung the other way when Owen scored that spine-tingling last minute goal against MC. But, truth be told, I'd stopped caring too much long before Aguero's last minute goal gave MC the title.

Why did that happen? Well, real life takes over, for one. You move cities and countries, prioritise people you know over people who will never know you exist, start working, struggle with how different this phase of life is, and so on and so forth. We grow up and old and our sporting heroes grow old with us. Then, one day, they fade away, leaving us behind with a sackful of memories and the choice of whether to re-enthuse ourselves with yet another generation of athletes. More often than not, we don't.

I also feel like caring about a football team on another continent needs one to be slightly batty. And, after a point in life, one always finds plenty of other things to be batty about. So, it only makes sense to follow teams from a distance, appreciating the wins and not chucking toys out of the pram during defeats. Besides, it's been easy to not bother too much about MU for a while now.

After SAF's retirement and the wasteland of 3 seasons, last year was going nowhere until the Europa League win and Champions League return. Honestly, the team finished 24-freakin-points! behind the leaders. But JM is ruthless and relentless in some ways and has 'spent' the summer putting a good squad together. Losing to Madrid may have been the best thing to happen, not so much for the players, but certainly for the average fan. A reality check is useful particularly thanks to this new, endless footballing brouhaha. I say 'new' because it wasn't like this 10 years ago. When a season was over, things quietened down for 2-3 months, gave people a chance to focus on other areas and got them refreshed and recharged by August. That was a healthy deal.

Now, all one sees on a daily basis, is content. The footballer's uncle's gardener makes an innocuous statement and the media happily devotes 3 days of fraudulent and downright meaningless think pieces to it. It reeks of desperation and does the game no favours. Everything is a rumour or a misquote. The whole carnival of madness may be putting food on the table for countless alleged sports journalists but only serves to turn older fans away even faster.

Anyway, losing to Madrid before the season began helped stave off doom and crisis articles till at least September, I reckon. Though, on the strength of MU's first EPL game, it just could be an interesting season. There are quite a few exciting and attacking options in the team, supported by a bevy of stolid, no-nonsense chaps. If the team can avoid losing their heads over the deluge of hysterical reactions that follow every result, maybe 2017-18 will be a genuinely good season.

Sadly, there are a couple of nutters at the workplace who are serious MU fans. The type who are liable to text at 2:30 am about a potential signing, a win, a loss, an ingrowing toenail, yada, yada, yada. So, while I'm not expending my energies caring about football, I do spend quite a bit of time pretending to. Such it goes.

Song for the moment: Barfly - Ray LaMontagne 

Saturday, August 12

Cracks in the Pavement

When John Denver's voice hits the 'T' of "Take me home...", it's a force of nature coming to life. The melancholic and wistful lilt in that line supported by the lyrics of the song give it some serious flavour.

Why am I blathering on about Denver and country roads? Because I am home again. And while that may no longer bring about even so much as an eyebrow squiggle from you, the thought of being physically present in Pune makes me kind of happy. Seeing as how this world is rolling downhill steadily, I'll take that kind of happiness any day, thank you very much.

I've been making customary trips home since 2009. While the distance between Bombay and Pune is minuscule enough to not warrant much emotional hullabaloo, even I have to admit that the effort needed to get from point to point is increasingly exhausting. It's not as much a function of age as it is one of population. The number of people making the up-down journey on normal Sat-Suns alone is staggering.  So, what happens when it's not normal?

The 3-day weekends, festivals or the end of the year are perfectly horrid times. Never-ending queues, be it at the bus station or amidst the vehicles somewhere between Chembur and the endless horizon, rankle the soul. It's got to a point where I can't wait to get out of the city but it kills me a bit to get on the bus too. The prospect of spending almost 5 hours tolerating the body odour, loud phone conversations and sly seat encroachment of the smarmy, corpulent neighbour is as appealing to me as reading it was to you.

No, trains are not a good fit for me because work timings are uncertain. If anything, MSRTC Shivneri is one of the small blessings in my life because of how reliable the service is, though pricey as heck.

The weariness, sore back, numb feet, dry throat and general irritability fueled my thoughts as I stomped home at 2 am this morning. Of course, I was jolly delighted about the 2 gents who were also walking along my way as they looked like the kind of people whom street dogs would prefer to attack. Elders and betters first, I always say.

And yet, I will never understand how all of that just melts away the moment I step into the silent, slumbering house. I let out a significant sigh of relief, change into comfortable sleepwear, raid the fridge, make the bed and it's finally a good night. There will be real filter coffee waiting in the morning, the chirping of birds entwined with the plants in my window and that wonderful light that's peculiar to Pune in the rains.

Be it ever so painful to reach, there's no place like home I guess.

Song for the moment: Ordinary World - Duran Duran

Monday, July 3

Let her go

Have you noticed how we throw things out a lot more than before? Of course, city-dwellers like us have more, now that disposable incomes are the norm. Does it also allow us to dispose of things so easily? I was the object of much mirth/ridicule at work today because I wanted to get a golf umbrella repaired. One colleague wondered if it was worth the effort, another asked why I did not just buy a different one while others chuckled when they realised neither of these thoughts had occurred to me. I trudged off, wondering if they were right. What exactly was driving me to take the trouble?

I think back to to the 80s and living in my Thatha's (grandpa) house. Today's 'use-and-throw' culture would have shocked him to the core. The man was the epitome of prudence. Since we weren't exactly floating in doubloons, the family followed suit. Thatha wore the same watch for over 50 years. A small umbrella, bought by my mother with her first salary, was well on its way to becoming an heirloom, having seen and survived more than 25 monsoons. There's a clothes cane (you know, to hoist clothes onto a rope strung close to the ceiling in the verandah) which is older than me. I reckon it's in better shape than I am. And don't even get me started on how long those of us who internalised Thatha's spirit of frugality make our clothes last! That's a family disease.  

Anyhow, in Mumbai, a regular umbrella is as effective as an actual fig leaf. So, some years ago I paid up the subscription towards procuring a big piece that meant business. Undoubtedly it was slightly cumbersome to haul around but the protection offered made it worthwhile. Except at airports. In the jolly times we live in, suspicion is more common than sense and umbrellas of this size can no longer pass off as carry-on baggage. Since it does not fit in the check-in bag, it has to be declared separately and gets to travel as a solo piece of luggage. On a return flight from Madras last year, Go Air ensured that one umbrella reached Mumbai in two pieces. That's customer service for you right there.

I should have thrown it out. I mean, there are only so many things that can be salvaged. The canvas, certain anchoring hooks maybe. But the spinal column is asking for too much, right? Wrong, as it turns out. The thing about Mumbai's ridiculous population is that someone, somewhere still seems to be getting stuff refurbished. Cobblers moonlight as umbrella repairers and make a killing at this time of year. But no one was willing or able to mend one this size. Except a dude chilling out in a temporary, ramshackle, tarpaulin-roofed shop on D.N Road, wouldn't you know. 

What I adore about it... and by 'it' I mean the setup, the work, the transaction... is the utter casualness. There are no airs billowing around it, no attempt to project the repair of an umbrella as a cutesy, artisanal, "let's Instagram the shit out of this quaintness" style abomination that the urban world seems to be steeped in. It's absolutely no-nonsense. The man who repaired my umbrella was as phlegmatic as they come. His experienced eye gave it a once-over and he quietly named a price. The sliver of me that is still 80s middle-class did feebly raise an eyebrow but was quelled immediately by my present-day-pragmatic avatar. He rapidly took the umbrella apart, replaced the column, stitched it up and unfurled it a few times. I paid, awash in wonder and appreciation, confident that Thatha would have beamed in approval.

Don't get me wrong. Even I know some things cannot or should not be patched up. Others outlive their usefulness and can safely make their way out of my life. And maybe some therapy would help me get rid of old clothes instead of thinking of ways to turn them into scrap dishcloths. Hoarding is bad. But I am (surely not a minority) perfectly willing to take a bit of trouble if it will result in less nonchalant dumping. It means a perfectly good umbrella is now resting against a desk, ready to face the rains. 

Pity a battered heart isn't as easily mended.

Song for the moment: Do I wanna know? - Arctic Monkeys

Wednesday, June 21

Last of my kind

(This post hasn't come out as well as I wanted. But I'm still pissed off, so.)
 
Why do we have heroes? What is it about someone that triggers a decision to nail our colours to their mast? I don't have a neat answer so what you read from here on is both an explanation and an exploration. In a post-modern world driven by counter-points, certainty is a luxury.

I missed the boat when it came to India's ODI cricket madness. We moved abroad in the late 80s. When I left, my friends and I wanted to be Kapil, Kris or Sunil. When I returned, god was getting comfortable on his heavenly couch and all was right with a world I did not recognise. I had missed Sachin's opening batsman debut against New Zealand, the hullabaloo of the Hero Cup and other notable moments. So, I was interested in cricket, not any particular sportsman. Not even during the '96 World Cup. When India muffed it against Sri Lanka, I hurt for the team, not for a player.

Then came Dravid. And, personally, with him came Kumble. I had found my idols. And the inkwell of my idolatry is endless.

Why them? Why not Tendulkar? Here's the thing. Realise that Sachin is in a rarefied pantheon that cannot be touched. Even if the sun did not shine, no wings would allow any man to touch him. At the most, Sachin triggers a sense of awe. Sachin is salvation. He gave us hope but it would be foolish to hope to be him.

The stories of Dravid and Kumble are human ones. They stand for something simple - work hard, be sincere and stay disciplined. And be ready for the chips to fall in one's favour. Of course this 'simple' is very difficult to emulate. You look at their lives, their examples and understand that two choices exist. Either be defeated by the sheer power of what they stand for OR aspire to what they stand for. Because any human can. You cannot be Dravid but work at your batting long enough and you can hone your technique to a point where you bat like him. You cannot be Kumble but you can forge your inner fire into a bowling technique that will get you wickets.

Dravid and Kumble have gifted people something far more valuable than their feats. Their gift is the QED that talent, fortified by relentless passion, focus, patience and performance can win you a moment in the sun. How long that moment lasts depends on external factors too. But you can become an irresistible force and wait for the immovable object to blink first.

That's what they became you know... Dravid the Immovable fucking Object and Kumble the Irresistible fucking Force.

Think I'm exaggerating? Watch old clips of them batting or bowling. Watch the waltz of physics which, if there were any magic in this world, would scorch the turf as the ball kissed and caressed its way to the ropes. Watch the ball spit, dart and venomously arrow in on middle-and-leg and either york the poor fool in the way or thud into his pads.

Wipe the drool off your face. It's not dignified.

Then look into their eyes. Trace the outline of their set jaws. And take comfort in the fact that Dravid and Kumble played for India in your lifetime. They were great sportsmen. But they were and are inherently Decent men. In India, in the world, you can't put a price on something like that. If controversy is currency, Dravid and Kumble would be paupers. When they retired, I took it personally. When Kumble was forced to give up his NCA post over some wishywashy bullshit, I took it personally. When that m*****f****r Guha cast sneaky aspersions on Dravid's character over a conflict of interest, I took it personally. When the conflict between Kumble and Captain prima donna came to light, I took it personally. So, yea, Kumble being made to quit... you bet it's personal.

Dravid and Kumble's decency angers me. Their stoic dignity and modesty angers me. Their unwillingness to play games as well as they played the game angers me. Sachin was a god on the cricket ground. Dravid and Kumble are gods off it. And it's too much to bear.   

Cricketers of my generation would say they'd do their best. And we believed them. Today, an Indian cricketer says he'll get things done and we believe him. But first, he'll take a selfie. Pah! 

Song for the moment: Cuts like a knife - Bryan Adams

Do read the Puneri's take on this shit-show.  

Saturday, June 17

Wednesday, June 14

Achin' all the time

To live in a city is to exist on a purely man-made plane.
Sure, you can go ahead and say you're still in touch with Mama Nature by visiting the neighbourhood park.
But even you know that's a lie.
Let's face it... as far as the average city-dweller is concerned, "going back to my roots" really means adding more potato, ginger, carrot and maybe a turnip or two to your diet.

To live in a city is to hear it constantly.
Especially in a city like Mumbai, where a lonely wolf-like howl at night is only the local kulfi seller, yodelling his wares like his life depends on it.
Maybe it does too.

Mumbai is an orchestra of human sounds.
Being deftly conducted by an invisible Cacophonix.
Trains. Planes. Cars. Autos.
Hawkers. Pedlars. Hopers. Desperadoes.
People.
And Gujaratis.

The night has no pity to dispense.
In the quietest lanes live the noisiest dishwashers, the sound of clashing steel suggesting a battle is being fought with pots, pans and plates.
Or against them.

You hear children crying.
And do nothing.
You hear adults cussing and arguing.
And wonder if your own domestic disagreements can be heard just as clearly.

Pity the sounds of Love are on mute.

Sometime and somewhere, between the honking, blaring, shouting and murmuring, you go under.
Try to submerge yourself in your inner sea.
Only to discover, it is nothing more than a bathtub.
That is steadily letting your equanimity drain away.
Imagine that sucking sound.

The only revenge or respite you receive is when it rains.
Not the drizzle.
The all-silencing, roaring torrent of a Mumbai Monsoon.
When the sea becomes sky.
Which is as much a promise as it is a threat.

When you live a rat's life, there's always a chance you'll drown like one.

Song for the moment: Please - Ray Lamontagne

Wednesday, May 24

Gimme Shelter

Take the lid off of an Idli steamer, with a flourish because that's about all the drama there's left in your life, or with a snarled bit of invective which is equally effective when you've forgotten the feeling of hot metal on skin.

A cloud of vapour will rise, desperately seeking the heavens like Icarus on acid, so brave in the moonlight.

As an aside, if you ever wondered how a tree bark curls, now's the time to stick your arm above the vessel and watch your skin pucker, burn, peel and roll over like an obedient dog.

It should ruin the idli but curiosity demands sacrifice.

Anyway, steamed right, the idlis will be cooked perfectly.

Steamed wrong and it's your welcome to Bombay in the summer.

The city is a vessel on a medium flame, trapped within hand-made, self-constructed walls.

People drag themselves out of beds damp with sweat, the pungency an outcome of staleness rather than the spice of an erotic encounter.

Baths are taken, showers are stood under, heads bowed in forced penitence to the uselessness of the act.

The ads lied.

No soap, body-wash, deodorant or perfume can withstand the great sweat cataracts roaring and gushing from every pore and orifice.

Clothes cling to skins with the cloying longing of the one-night stand who does not leave.  

Commutes are simply about destinations where air conditioners, fans or both are hopefully waiting.

Everyone's fantasy involves the Liril Girl; not so much her as the waterfall she's under.

So humanity reaches offices in droves, wistfully wishing to bask in the cool, artificial air.

Together, the city stares listlessly at the day.

And those who can afford to, dream of the monsoon at night.

Song for the moment: Nightland - Droid Bishop