Thursday, January 27

When did you leave heaven

As the faithful reader (ahem, ahem) would know, I was to take a long-delayed family holiday a couple of weeks ago. Well, that holiday happened and our destination was Rajasthan, specifically Jaipur & Jodhpur. Now it'd be easy (and probably consistent with the whine-fest tone of the blog) for me to go on an extended bitching session about travelling with family, why I've never been an ardent fan of such holidays & how the most recent experience reinforced my beliefs. But, I've decided to try and turn over a new leaf and tone the "यह मेरे साथ ज़ुल्म क्यूँ, पर्वत्दिगर ?" down a notch. Instead, I want to try a short description on you, the very suspecting public.

The Jaswant Thada in Jodhpur is a mausoleum built completely of white marble. Further details can be found here. I can't exactly say how beautiful it was because, well... I can't. I'm no authority and I don't believe words can ever do complete justice to a personal experience (aka, I'm not a good enough writer, yet). I will say that the carvings were impressively intricate and the view of the city from the monument was very nice. Inside the building, peace is manifested in an almost physical state. The acute sense of 'hush' is probably not everyone's cup of chai, but I enjoyed it & were I by myself, would have spent more time there than I did.

What the websites & guidebooks failed to mention though, was the man in the traditional court livery of white dress & colourful 'patka' who sat on the right side of the pathway to the monument. Only he knew whether that seat allowed him to escape the fierce sunshine or to allow his dark eyes to rest on the greenish waters of the lake opposite. A thin rug that had definitely seen better days was the only thing between the man and the ground. A lunch box and a thermos probably containing hot chai sustained him throughout the day.

As I started on the path to the monument, he looked up, paused for an instant and then started to play a slow tune on the Sarangi. If you've never heard the instrument, I suggest you look it up on the internet. For me, in that place, at that time, it was like being struck on the face by the lamentations of Grief herself. If Pain, Longing and Comfort were ever to be weaved into a quilt, the thread would have to be drawn from that sound. Wave after wave of melancholy & anguish seemed to crash and ebb darkly around us, the effect heightened by the surreal cheerful blue skies framing the scene.

Jaswant Thada
People hurried past me, and him, anxiously on their way to photograph a mausoleum. I agonized over whether to go over and speak with him, afraid that if I did, the music would stop. I eventually decided not to. I did not take a photo. The picture could only have shown a man holding a bow and a stringed board.

Eventually, he stopped playing, no doubt miffed by the tourists' reluctance to part with any money. I too left for the next stop on the list. All that is left is this post, bereft of both a picture of him and a song. No matter. The effect of the music was much more, but it now reverberates in the deep unknown of my mind.         

Sunday, January 9

Spiral Staircase

The more I introspect & talk to others, the more I realise how much of a hold routine has on people's lives. The vast majority of humanity finds a rhythm to daily life and marches to it. What puzzles me is how we convince ourselves about the advantages of a cyclical life, even if we are unhappy with it.

In the last half of 2007, I was planning a trip to India after 1.5 years. The tickets had been booked as early as August and, as my blog posts reflect, I was eagerly looking forward to coming home. Strangely enough though, a sense of ennui gripped me a few days before I left, not letting go till the flight from Birmingham had taken off. I remember asking myself whether the trip was worth the effort. A voice whispered that I could just as easily carry on working at my 8 am - 5 pm on-campus job; I'd miss the convenience of the squash court at the Rec centre and the easy beer-laced post-dinner banter with my flatmates. For a mad second, I considered cancelling the tickets and unpacking my bags. Of course, I did not; that trip home proved to be a life-changing one. But, as the day of my return to the U.S drew near, that familiar ennui was back. And this time, I viewed the same alluring elements - the job, the evening sports and the flatmates - with mounting dislike.

In the present day, I live and work in Mumbai and come home to Pune on most weekends. Even now, I suffer from the same affliction; even though being at home is nice, there are days I view the Friday evening bus trip with resignation. This is promptly followed by the Sunday evening to Monday morning gloom when I think of the return journey.

In case you're considering calling the nut-house on my behalf, let me assure you that I'm not the only one seemingly seduced by the siren song of an ambiguously natured routine. I have friends who are on similar tracks; people who, in a somnambulist state, push against the whetstone of a daily grind, comforting themselves that the train they are on must eventually reach its journey... shouldn't it ? And right there, I get the strong feeling that we don't know what the end destination is. Are we just hoping there is one ?

Anyway, if you're wondering what brought along this less than cheerful prose, it is simply the fact that I'm soon to take a family holiday for the first time in nearly a decade. Now, my idea of a holiday runs along these lines. But, as I've readily admitted before, thanks to the comfort of routine, I've become more of an arm-chair traveller. Holidaying with family brings stresses and expectations that are thankfully absent when taking vacations with friends. The seed of this post lies in this thought - even keeping the fact that I really do need a break, why am I more apprehensive than anything else ?

Too many questions, very few satisfactory answers.

Song for the moment: The build up - Kings of Convenience

Wednesday, January 5

Breaking the rules

As is evident from excellent articles written here, here, here and here, the 4th of January 2011 was a glorious day for cricket. Truly, the words 'test match' were dissected cleanly and explained with a fierce clarity that should leave no one in doubt - this is the sport of cricket distilled to its finest base elements. However, that day has passed and I will not attempt to add descriptions or superlatives to it. Instead, I wonder about today and tomorrow, the 4th and 5th days of what could be a test for all time.

If India are to have any chance of winning, they have to bowl out the South Africans for less than 200 runs. At the most, 220 - 230. With the SA bowling attack... actually who am I kidding; with Steyn bowling as he is, we cannot chase any more than that. If, by some chance, in the 2nd innings, he repeats or betters (yes, you heard it here first) those two spells from yesterday, we are finished. I believe this completely and utterly. Yes, we have a great batting line-up. It is quite likely one of the few line-ups in world cricket that has the technical competence to stand a remote chance against the SA attack on this pitch at this stage of the game. But GG is pugnacious rather than supremely accomplished, CP has youth and reflexes on his side but no experience and our holy triumvirate must be, for every magical moment they've ever given us, tired.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter - IF we are to stand a chance, I argue that VS cannot play his 'natural game'. I know, I know. He is a game changer. When it comes together, his batting is a joy to behold. To play any other way would be akin to asking a hurricane to be gentle. I accept all of these ideas. I can even see the half-exasperated, half-resigned shake of the head and the wry smile when my idea is voiced.

I'm also getting exhausted hearing these ideas trumpeted every god-damn time he fails. I don't know if his successes are becoming excuses for his failures, but I'm sure that is not how it is supposed to rationalise either. 

He is an opener. Never mind what he is expected to do, what he isn't expected to do is treat the role as if he were the chief guest at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the innings. I'm not asking him to become Chanderpaul (heaven forbid) and grind the opposition into dust. Still, this is his last test outing in SA on this tour and no one can know what the future holds.

So here is what I'm hoping for - he bats, he gives bad deliveries what they deserve and, it being Sehwag, even the good ones get thrashed. But he must recognise that Steyn and the rest are bowling extremely well and that he cannot dominate them from the start. If he sees out the initial bowling partnership, this could be India's game.

Great batsmen like SRT, RD and VVS adapt to the conditions and the situation. VS changes them. In his case though, true greatness would lie in adopting the ways of his senior colleagues just this once. On the strength of their records, it would be no shame.

Its not just a game any more.

Song for the moment: Ecstacy of Gold - Ennio Morricone 

Sunday, January 2

Don't stop the music

Its been almost 4 years since I started writing this blog. A couple of days ago, I was tagged by Atul to list the 12 posts of 2010 that held a special meaning for me. He may be rather surprised to know that this was my first ever tag. Infused with the excitement of trying something new, I went through my posts, relieved to see at least one post a month. Of course, choosing posts that mean a little extra ended up being a lot harder than I thought. But then again, most experiences usually are, no ? Here we go then:

January: Year of tha boomerang - Written the day I resigned from my first job in Bombay. Now and then, I go through a mental closet cleaning exercise, evaluating experiences and the state of my life at that point. Here, I dwelt on what the change would mean to me.

February: After forever - I wrote this the on day of the German Bakery blasts in Pune. Not my best stuff, but it was written in the moment; one where I lost the last vestige of an innocently peaceful image of my home town.

March: Nobody's home - One of the hardest pieces I've ever written; not in terms of effort but what it meant to me. The post was tinged with a bit of everything - humour, friendship, nostalgia and sadness.

April: As I am - My only post of the month. Nevertheless, it was an awakening of sorts; for too long, I'd ignored my beloved books and with this post, I flagged off another chapter in my love affair with the printed word.

May: The memory remains - Cambodia will always have a special place in my heart. I chose to revisit some memories of the place within the context of another favourite - the Indian monsoon.

June: The seeker - A melee of feelings came together in this post. It couldn't have made much sense to the reader, but it was written for me.

July: One more cup of coffee - I returned to Bangalore after 10 years and fell in love with the city all over again. It was just a 2 day visit, but it had a beginning, an end and everything in between.  And much more.

August: The weight of my words - In a Mumbai train, there are a thousand minute meetings and a million untold stories. This just happened to be one of them. One of my favourite ones of the year. And no, I never did see her again.

September: Once upon a time - We think we know all about teenage angst, love and life's slings & arrows. A generation ago, our elders walked the same road. A post from the past.

October: Chug all night - This was the month I went back to Bangalore and saw a test match live for the first time. Much happiness, but I didn't write about those 5 days. But the post that still makes me smile in resignation is one where longing meets reality and I shrug away some looming gloom.

November: Between the lines - I'm pretty much an arm-chair traveller, my head tied down to routine whilst my heart dreams of faraway places. There was a point where I was reading 3 excellent travelogues at once and it was like being given a favourite dessert but having no room for it.

December: All good things - There was a point this year when I almost shut this blog down. For the most part, I need companionship and conversation to find a spark that turns into a post. This piece is about my failings as a blogger, certainly, but also a question to those whose blogs I follow about why they've stopped blogging. 

Okay, so my first ever tag is done! My first instinct was to tag Atul because he writes more frequently than most others I know. Unfortunately, he's off the list. So, more in hope of stimulating more blogging than anything else, I tag the following suspects:

Bhumika - New city, new life, new experiences. More blogging, please ?

The Puneri - Because of the excellence of this post, I'm hoping Saar will take hint and write more this year.

Neha - Someone whose blog output is decent enough to think she'll take this forward. 

Dennis - I know, I know. But it wouldn't hurt to hit that 'publish post' button, right ? No ? Okay.

~Me - The only one I don't know personally. Or at all, for that matter. I'm not even sure she visits this site, but one can always hope. But she hosts an interesting blog and here's looking forward to more unique posts this year.

Also, you, its about time you unfolded a few thoughts this year. A 'mind of the married man' monthly series. And as for you, find stories from somewhere and write.

Considering very few of the people tagged here have actually written 12 posts this year, please choose arbit number but say what was mucho grande especial about it.

Song for the moment: Brand new day - Sting