Saturday, October 30

Winter winds

Copyright: Bill Watterson
There are times a strong case could be made for one of my theories of life. In brief, I feel like the pet project of a malevolent universe or a vengeful god. Smirk if you will, but I ask that you consider the following example from early this morning.

The task was simple. The pride of Punjab (PoP) aka KS, was making his way up-country from Hyderabad. Mercifully for all concerned, he chose to bus it rather than fly in. Whether his decision had more to do with economics than benevolence, is up for debate. What it did mean though was that he'd have to be picked up from Bremen Chouk, rather than the airport. From the chauffeur's point of view, in terms of distance and effort, this was more like being asked to journey to the temple around the corner instead of Pandharpur.

For a man on a 10 day visit, KS didn't have a lot of baggage. At least, not physically. He did sound ominous warnings about travelling with 1 big bag (an entry for many jokes, but we're civilized folks), which meant that a bike pick-up was out of the picture. Tempting the fates, I volunteered to show up at the rendezvous point in my car. Between KS & I, our propensity for misfortune over the years can and has out-Murphied Murphy. Still, it was a very simple drive, so what could go wrong, right ?

The car refused to start. I unlocked the door, sat, waited the appropriate minute and turned the key. Nothing. At first, it teased me, making a feeble neighing sound more appropriate for an old mare than an engine. Then it almost started. And did not. Now, I'm not exactly full of beans at 5 am. Between swearing vehemently & volubly at the car and taking calls from KS, the metaphorical cup overflowed with woes rather than coffee.

There was nothing to do. Or rather, I did what I should have done at the start. I fished out the Kinetic keys, revved up without any trouble and raced off. This dependability, by the way, is further proof of why I love my bike.

On that note, its been 5 years since I experienced the delicious Pune cool of a dawn bike ride. That, along with being able to snuggle back into my quilt after, made the whole thing worth it.

Song for the moment: There goes the fear - The Doves

Saturday, October 23

Chug all night

The place and time doesn't seem to matter. You could be perched on a barstool, seated at a table, sunk into a couch or standing in a nook. At some point, you're staring intently into the mug. The tiny bubbles take on a life of their own. The white foam is now only a thin circle around the edges. Using the palm of your hand, you gently massage your eyes and take another sip. Then, without fail, you look into the bottom of the mug, through the beer & the glass; scrying your way down the drinker's rabbit-hole. What usually follows is this. 
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The Searing Synopsis:

A: Umm... so what do you guys talk about ?
B: Hmm... random stuff man. I mean, there's so much...
C: Yea right! We meet, we drink beer & whine "we don't have girlfriends"
B: *Bastard*
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The Multifarious Motif: 

A: So, what's the scene with her dude?
B: I donno... doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
C: Meaning ?
B: Its hard to say... I donno... confusing. Don't know if I like her enough.
A & C: *Mental face-palm*
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The Recurring Regret:

A: You guys broke up, why exactly ?
B: I donno... it wasn't going anywhere.
A: Uhuh.
B: I figured I'd meet someone else.
C: How long ago was this ?
*Silence*
B: Umm... it's been a few years.
A & C: *Mental face-palm*
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The Perennial Puzzle:

A: So, if you had to choose - hook up with someone you were fond of, or wait to meet someone you're in love with.
B & C (and 99% of those asked): I'd wait for love. Yea, definitely.
A: And cheers to that. *Glasses clink*

1 very arid year later -

A, B, C: Wow, love is never going to happen is it ?

*The whooshing sound of an empty social cupboard*
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The Toothless Totem:

A & B: So, you made a move yet ?
C: She sees us more as friends, dude. We've become really good friends.
A & B: *Mental face-palm* 
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The Fact:

A: You know... we're washouts.
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Song for the Moment: Desperado - The Eagles

Monday, October 18

On a plain

 Someone once asked me to think about whether I actually liked the people who supposedly liked me. It was one of the most insightful questions I'd ever heard; it felt like being shot, but also being grazed rather than injured. Back then, I somehow dodged pondering its implied veracity. Nowadays, its becoming difficult to avoid answering it.

The thing about having a beautiful dream is that you wake up... and reality is way more harsh, dull and lacking.

Song for the moment: 17 - Jethro Tull

Thursday, October 7

Elevation

There's one thing you have to envy the Western world for. Most of the people there have actually seen their sporting heroes in action on the field of play. Be it cricket, baseball, American football, the game the rest of the planet knows is really football or rugby, the stadia are by and large conveniently accessible, the tickets more so and the facilities in arenas are at the least, decent. Contrast this with India where you'd need to have crossed the realms of passion and entered those of masochism to actually go watch a cricket match in a stadium. To enjoy a game comfortably the Indian cricket fan needs to be both loaded with money and know some bloke who may just have an uncle who knows an official who has passes to the good seats for the match. 1 seat.

If the recent test match in Mohali is any indicator, one should be able to easily saunter into any venue hosting tests (barring the 5 main centres, the 4 metros and Bangalore), tickets be damned. A lot of comments have been directed at the poor turnout, but what is one to expect ? The PCA stadium is the home of the Kings XI, which means the audiences have been brought up on a strict diet of "slam-bam-thank you ma'am" cricket. The nuances (or whatever is left of them) of test cricket must bore the living daylights out of the average bloke at these smaller grounds. Not that the 5 biggies have too much to crow about. In this day and age, one can't afford to swarm to watch test matches unless its the weekend. Stories of diabolical schemes to go watch the game successfully executed or sympathetic bosses turning a blind eye are an modern myth too. Besides, with tv so accessible, who's going to take that extra effort ? Especially when spectators run the risk of being treated like dirt anyway.

When I see videos of tests from the past, I thoroughly admire the passion and patience of the throngs cheering (or raising Cain) in the stands. To actually not mind being treated worse than an animal, to allow yourself to be subjected to the Indian heat and the humiliation, to mildly grumble about being packed in the cheap seats like sardines and to fork out the criminally astronomical amounts of money for what pretends to be food and water. And all this, knowing that players with Sanjay Manjrekar's approach to 'attacking' cricket are definitely going to play too. Mind-boggling, I tell you.  

So, while I've prattled on and on about my love of test cricket, I've never developed the courage to flagellate myself by watching a game live. There are only 3 cricketers I've ever wanted to watch in a live game and I have, as of today, not seen any in a test match. SRT, obviously. I was fortunate to see Kumble bowl in an ODI in Pune but I'll never get to see him bowl in a 5-day game. And frustratingly enough, I have yet to see that epitome of pure batting grace, play the game - Rahul Dravid.

However, the Aussies are in India no ? India almost lost the 1st test but VVS and Ishant Sharma hadn't read the script clearly, apparently. No matter. The next one is in Bangalore. At some point in the day, one of the Indian openers will lose their wicket. He will begin the walk back to the pavilion as India's greatest number 3 will stroll to the wicket on his home ground, air-practising the straight drive. I hope to be in the stands watching.

I guess some moments are worth waiting 28 years for.   

Song for the moment: Knockin' on heaven's door - Bob Dylan

Monday, October 4

Shooting star

An early induction into the game of cricket is all well and good but the kid who enrolled in Loyola High School, Pune in May 93 didn't have a clue about the nuances of the game. This lack of knowledge can be explained by the fact that my family packed bags and hauled me off to Abu Dhabi in 1989. While undoubtedly a nice place, the U.A.E was no cricket Mecca, preferring to broadcast local club football games and camel races on the telly. The Arabic commentators for the football games were a bunch of loonies. On the pitch, the defender would be calmly passing the ball to another guy in his own half or the midfielder would cross the ball to the winger. It really didn't matter what innocuous move was being made because the commentators would risk a haemorrhage from minute 0:01, shrieking excitedly in Arabic about everything.

You literally could not understand what the big deal was about something even as plain as a throw-in. Was the chap about to do something acrobatic ? Was there a lot of money riding on how far he could throw it ? And what about the defender passing the ball ? Was he a major star ? Was the commentator being gruesomely murdered live on air ? Who knew ? So, not understanding a word, I'd watch as they worked themselves into a frenzy, until the forward took pity on them and scored a goal. This was the culmination of the commentators' lives. They'd shriek "Walla, walla, walla, walla.... gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooallllllllll." And then pass out for lack of oxygen, I suppose.

So anyway, while this was hilariously exciting, I gradually forgot what little I knew about cricket. Then, the family did a U-turn and we pitched tent in Pune. During that first P.T period in school, I watched enviously as my classmates batted with elan and bowled fast and furious. Tendulkar and Kapil Dev's names came up a lot. Fielding positions, thankfully still involved pointing and waving to different parts of the ground rather than the actual names. I mean, if someone had told me to field at deep backward square leg, I'd have quietly left the field, hoping no one noticed. So, while batting was not a bother, it took me a while to figure out overarm bowling and adjust the radar. Not being the most robust chap even then, I soon cottoned on to the fact that fast bowling was not for me. Everyone and his uncle wanted to bat and some of these guys were actually good at it, so I didn't chance my luck there. So, slow bowling was the only thing left.

Some moments are frozen in time, no ? The sequence that day goes like this. A sad, medium pace delivery was dispatched with contempt by the batsman who then proceeded with whatever passed for verbal jousting in 5th standard. For the next ball, I gave up the pointlessly long run-up, and decided on a 4 step approach to the wicket. I jogged in, gripping the ball across the seam and... honestly, I don't know exactly what I did next. My ring finger flicked across the seam even as my wrist translated the irritation of the previous shot into a whiplash moment. The ball arched gently to my right while the chap with the bat raised it for the customary Indian hoick. The ball bounced on leg and I winced in anticipation of the 6 that would surely follow. The middle stump was on the ground a second later as the ball spun viciously across the batsman and bowled him.

The wicket itself, I don't remember fondly. No, what I still enjoy is the disbelieving silence that followed it; the batsman because he'd been clean bowled, the fielders because the new kid had actually taken a wicket and I, because I'd finally figured out my calling as a cricketer - Legspin bowling. Now, all I needed was a few bowlers to emulate.

That year was 1993, remember ? In June, Shane Warne bowled his first ball of the Ashes series to Mike Gatting. In November, a bespectacled Indian called Anil Kumble bowled against the West Indies in the final of the Bengal Jubilee Cricket LOI series.

The universe doesn't give any more indications than it has to.

Song for the moment: I feel free - Cream     

Sunday, October 3

Up to my neck in you

My earliest recollection of cricket on TV is from my grandparents house in Bombay. The house and the building were typical of the city; woefully inadequate in terms of space, inclined to suspect construction but packed to the rafters with people and raucousness. Across 3 floors and 15 flats, everyone knew everyone else. One house on the 3rd floor had a telephone so all incoming calls for many of the other flats were directed there. The buying of first car in the building, a white Fiat Premier Padmini was a grand occasion; the adults stood around trying to look important and making what they hoped were shrewd observations about its features. The kids queued up, hoping for a ride, thanking their lucky stars that they were still friends with the son of the car's owner. The Sunday Ramayan phenomenon meant default hosting for whoever owned a telly, oldies and young 'uns dutifully huddled around the screen. Everything we take for granted now was an occasion back then. Early 80s Bombay was just that kind of place in time.

The b/w tv at my grandparents' place was a real collector's item. Thanks to my grandpa's reluctance to discard anything, one could safely assume the tv was as old as the hills. It was one of those stand-models complete with 5 glorious channels, a giant tuning dial, dangerously flimsy table and a wooden cabinet with shutters that could be locked, a useful tool with which to blackmail pestilential grandsons into good behaviour. When the West Indies visited India in 1987 - 88 for 4 tests, I don't recall those shutters being closed at all. My grandad, uncles and assorted neighbours were a fiercely obsessive tribe when it came to Test cricket. A plethora of cheers, anguished howls, blood-oaths and unique snorts of disdain would rent the air when the matches were on. At the time, I was too young to understand the nuances of the game. But even then, I was not immune to the creeping anxiety of watching an ominous West Indian bloke charging to the wicket while his team mates crouched in anticipation in the slips. The batsman looked so tiny and forlorn, I thought.

To avoid being disturbed by an irritating little hellion, the elders would vote that I spend my time perched on the window ledge (we were on the ground floor), 'guarding' the grains that had been placed out in the sun to dry. The gravity with which this honour would be bestowed on me, one would think an assorted collection of villains were waiting in the wings to pounce on the family food. Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, for the longest time, I did not make the connection between the timing of the matches and the need to dry grain.

As I said earlier, my earliest recollection of cricket was from my grandpa's house; I'll never forget the pain of having to constantly twist around to watch the flickering screen while supposedly scaring away the crows and sparrows. When I watch tests today, lounging around on the sofa, something just doesn't feel right. I wonder why.

Song for the moment: New Sensation - INXS