Tuesday, July 15

One life's enough

In 1 week's time, the Indian Test team will commence battle in Sri Lanka. I specify 'test' team because the plethora of players in the Indian Cricket merry-go-round forces me to do so. I do not see any point in adding my two-paisa's worth to the debate on changing cricket trends. That literary heap has long surpassed the molehill to mountain route and does not indicate a pause in growth any time soon. Neither does the popularity of 20-20, for that matter. Or the money involved in it. That spectacle and everything associated with it is only being mentioned in passing. The focus here is Test cricket, of which I am a fan.

There are some who maintain that publicly favouring test cricket in this day and age will only result in pointed remarks about Puritanism, being old-fashioned, behind the times or anything else in the thesaurus that is in similar vein. Vulgar verbal brawls concerning which version of cricket is better are tiring and distasteful so I'll avoid anything like that. Instead, I'd simply like to point out the fact that I'm looking forward to what I think is the only true test of technique and strategy in the game. The prospect of a five-day game is likely to induce more yawns than interest, but it fascinates me. Assuredly, there are places in the world (coincidentally enough, Sri Lanka) where the pitiless heat and somnambulistic nature of the pitch can reduce the player to wonder whether the money is worth this experience. The spectator, all jolly and enthusiastic during the first hour of the first day's play, begins to throw longing glances at the exit as the day progresses. Certainly, when faced with evidence involving a 952 run inning over 4 days, I have no option but to shrug.

But these are one-off incidents, even if draws are not. I choose not to think of them. Instead, I like to remember the 1st day of a test in England. It was cloudy and windy. The pitch definitely had plenty of life in it and England had 4 bowlers who can never be described as slow. India had pulled the usual card trick and shuffled the openers, fielding a new pair. Predictably enough, the established opener, becoming rather attached to the comforts of the pavilion, departed early leaving the greenhorn to face the music in the company of someone who's career I was privileged enough to follow. At 15 for 1, anything was possible.

What did happen was the stringing together of a superb 170 run partnership for the 2nd wicket. Followed by a 150 run jaunt for the 3rd. Faithfully trumped by a 249 run trip for the 4th. At one point in the late evening, when Messrs. Tendulkar and Ganguly were gleefully dispatching the cherry to all parts of the ground, Boycott in the commentary box dryly described the proceedings as Agatha Christie's next book – Murder in the Dark. There has to be some pity for the English bowlers, I have to admit. You get Sehwag early, only to see Dravid walk in and proceed to gracefully slaughter you. Bangar's wicket sees Tendulkar make his way to the middle. Dravid's wicket has Ganguly saunter in. He heads back to the pavilion only to cross paths with Laxman waltzing by. No wonder the umpires took pity on England and ended the day's play after Ganguly's wicket. The sight of Laxman grinning as he came out to bat no doubt tipped things in England's favour. Does the result even matter?

I remember India being made to follow on by Australia. You know the one I'm talking about… Eden Gardens. The Series. Even the die-hard optimists among the Indian fans must have contemplated agony when Laxman and Dravid walked back to the dressing room at the end of day 3. I remember day 4 alright. Remember it, not because Laxman and Dravid walked out in the morning and did not feel the need to part company for the whole day. No, why I remember that day so vividly is because we did not have lights and/or cable the whole day. Thank heavens for the radio is all I can say now.

I have some amazing memories of test matches. India winning at Adelaide, winning at Perth, losing at Sydney (2007), losing in Madras, winning in South Africa, winning a series in the West Indies and England… the list can go on. Is there any way to erase the memories of two two-crushing yorkers delivered at searing pace by a rookie resulting in the wickets of two titans? How could one ignore performances like Kumble's perfect 10 or his bowling with a broken jaw? Laxman's 281 or his 167, Dravid's 4 centuries in a row, Ganguly's captain's-inning century at Adelaide… again, an endless list.

The series about to be played in Sri Lanka is of great interest to me because I want to see Ajanta Mendis come up against Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman. I desperately want to see this supposed spin-sensation bowl against what can only be adequately called a batting juggernaut. I want to see them gently remind Mr. Mendis that the Asia Cup final was played against batsmen of undoubtedly inferior technique. A test match exposes faults and weaknesses with absolute ruthlessness and without mercy. Kumble as captain of the team is probably the first remotely intelligent thing the BCCI has done in a while. The number of tests the Fab Five of India has collectively played stands at 590. Mendis is making his debut.

In passing, does any one else get the feeling that we are and were incredibly lucky to be growing up watching the cricket and cricketers of our time?

LOI's and even shorter formats of the game thrill the majority of the watching public today. The stadiums and coffers are filled because of these games. That is undeniable. I rejoiced with the rest when India were crowned as the best in the world, simply because I've followed the game long enough to recognize a praiseworthy feat when I see one, no matter who's playing and what.

But I'm happiest when a test match is on. There is nothing quite like the first ball of a match. The umpire yells "Play", the batsman takes his final stance, the bowler charges in, the roar of the crowd swells and…

Song for the moment: Acres Wild - Jethro Tull

Friday, July 11

The man who sold the world

All this history.
All this commitment.
All these wonderful personalities.

And now, one has to be subjected to the melodrama surrounding :

Read comments about 'slavery' from a doddering old has-been ?

And have this one-season wonder concur ?

Really ?

Do the fans a favour. Stop pottering around, beating around the bush and whatnot. If you want to leave that badly, well...

Even you should have figured out where the exit is by now.

Song for the moment:
Disposable Heroes - Metallica

Wednesday, July 9

Travelin' light

In the midst of this hermity existence, I have been involved in incidents that have left me bemused and muttering "Only in Cambodia can...". One such act in the drama or rather the chorus in this comedic opera is the process of exchanging traveller's cheques.

In my defence I have to point out that I was hot-footing it to this part of the world for a considerable period of time. A little over 4 months of living (and more importantly, dining) must and does call for a considerable outlay of doubloons. Thankfully, the issue I was facing on the 1st of May (a portent, perhaps ?) involved the transfer of required moolah rather than it's procurement. I did not fancy the prospect of making the journey with thick wads of dollar notes stuffed in my pockets. Apart from the fact that I'd probably look like I was afflicted with some horrible medical condition, this sort of appearance practically begs to be waylaid and robbed. Judicious placement of the money among assorted clothes and paraphernalia in the suitcases was out of the question because of the distinct possibility that I'd land in Phnom Penh while some lucky sod would be going through my luggage in Timbuktu. The only option left was Traveller's cheques.

Now, as far as I know, TCs are prefectly safe and convenient as long as you are headed to a place where they are accepted. Looking it up on the internet, I verified that they were not treated like pariahs in Cambodia. Problem solved then, right ? Right.

I got the first inkling of the Govinda film-style hoopla that was about to ensue when I visited the local branch of Acleda Bank, located at the intersection of Monivong & Mao Tse Tung Boulevards. I was dressed respectably enough that morning but got the distinct impression that I was being given the old microscopic treatment... you know, the ones exclusively reserved for the more dubious specimen of West Nile virus. After a while, one of the cashiers reluctantly asked me what I wanted. When I mentioned tc's, she smiled in the way that was probably Dracula's wont. Or the lions, the day Daniel came calling. I was directed to one of the numbered booths where another employee proceeded to display the pearly-whites and asked me for the cheques.

I was then treated to an exhibition of paper-molestation. There really is no other adequate phrase to describe how each of the cheques was touched, rubbed, peered at, smelled (I kid you not!!) and generally roughed up. The Gestapo could have taken some pointers that day. After the above ritual, they were handed back to me for my signature after which I handed them back for further scrutiny. Apparently they were under the impression that I could very well have pulled some unsavoury stunt while signing them. After doing practically all that was doable to a 3x6 bit of paper, I was asked to provide some other information while the money was being counted. And recounted. And counted again. And again. They counted that money 6 times and each time, the amount obstinately remained the same.

I'd handed over 5 cheques for $100 each. The dollar bills I was about to be given certainly did not seem to add up to $500. I noticed a 10, a 5 and even a few 1's and wondered what was going on and was to find out presently. Ahem... apparently, the local practice in Cambodia (about which the blasted websites conveniently remained reticent) is to charge 2% on such transactions. Even with my admittedly poor math skills, I calculated that there would be $10 missing from the pile that I was being handed over. The cashier also helpfully reminded me that this would happen every time I wanted to exchange tc's and was a common practice carried out by every bank in the city. I expect that molesting the cheques required time, effort and extensive training and therfore carried a service charge.

Even though they recognise me by now, I go through the same 45 minute ritual every time I want to exchange tc's & am faithfully and efficiently short-changed for committing that heinous sin.

Like I said, only in Cambodia...

Song for the moment: Money for nothing - Dire Straits

Monday, July 7

Wait and see

The mango tree in the verandah at work has been loaded with fruit for the past 3 months. Nothing diabolical or sinister, if you think about the fact that it is, or rather, was the correct season for such activity anyway.

The reason I drag that fact into this post is because the mangoes that were a brilliant shade of green in May have obstinately remained the same colour till today. Got me thinking about how my time here so far, parallels the mangoes rather nicely. Sure, work goes on every day and when I leave Cambodia, I'll no doubt come up with the right phrases for the curriculum vitae... you know, the kind of spin that will leave the reader in no doubt that I was personal advisor to the UN Secretary-General, or something in the vicinity of that idea.

So far though, I do not feel like I've seen or experienced anything new. Culturally, of course. No matter how much I kid myself, I cannot help but think about how similar this country is to India. It robs me of any culture shock that may have existed. Initially, I resented it. Now, I've come around to the idea that maybe I was a tad mentally over-prepared to welcome new experiences. I blame the internet, where I read plenty about this country without pausing to consider that the literary soliloquies and/or condemnations were being written by people from the West. To them, Cambodia, with it's chaotic traffic, street stalls, colourful local markets and streets swarming with an eclectic mix of people, animals and vehicles, probably is an 'experience'. It is diametrically opposite to everything they have known about the world. To me, these factors are not new. And I'm still working on whether it's a good or a bad thing.

One thing I have come to realize is that I'm thankful for the people I consider friends. Someone I know maintains that there's a cut-off time by which we find the people who will be important in our lives... as family or as friends. I'd say that the cut-off exists for us identifying what qualities we value in people. Either way, there have been way too many days here where I have found myself in a battle of wills with the television in my room. I'd rather not depend on it for entertainment, but the kind of people I'd like to meet are in extremely short supply. Not being the chatty type & an introvert also contributes to my seemingly monastic lifestyle, I'll admit. But, I'd rather be me and live with it. I've now got a taste of what one babu went through in Boston and empathise.

Like India, Cambodia has superb potential as a country to be seen exclusively by motorbike. Unlike India, it seems a bit hard for me work even a short trip somewhere into the schedule. And I'd like to do that, if just for the insanely hilarious motorbike laws they have in this country. For various, extremely pertinent reasons though, I will not. Chief reason - the idea of biking it across this place alone is not appealing. For another, Mammon generally halts my flights of fancy by clearing his throat rather disapprovingly and pointing out the various similarities between moi and the proverbial church-mouse.

However, I will be travelling in a few weeks time... Angkor Wat is on the agenda. So is Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. As for the rest... well, you've seen one beach, you've seen them all. Or so I like to tell myself. I'll say this for Cambodia though. It's a great place to visit for 2 - 3 weeks. The people are generally friendly, the food is relatively cheap and the alcohol, definitely so. In 3 weeks, you can see all there is to be seen here. After that, you just might feel jaded. A feeling I'm definitely feeling.

Yet, during my Mexican stand-offs with the tv, I've come to grips with a few ideas. Firstly, I'm way more nonchalant about things and events that would have come under the 'catastrophe' category some years ago. Secondly, I now know that there is a difference between being a true traveller and being fond of the idea of travelling. People in the former category actually do so & those in the latter one... well, they subscribe 'exclusively' to the idea of perusing the Lonely Planet and working with Google Earth. Thirdly, even with all it's crap, there's no place like home. And if I am one of the lucky people out of 1.6 billion who can afford to say that, well...

Even a mango, given enough time, begins to get the idea.

Song for the moment: It's good to be king - Tom Petty