Tuesday, December 27

Wrapping paper

After swearing to lay off the sappy stuff on the blog, it was but natural that the last post would be swimming in that tripe. However, it has been shrugged off just as we're about to wrap up another year.

2011 started off at a stagger, collapsed a couple of times, got knocked out once and after a pick-up & dust-off, and a calibration of directions, began a steady jog-trot towards the finish. On the professional front, I gracefully parted ways with my organisation sometime around November. It'd been a decent ride and I would have continued there for a while longer were it not for extenuating circumstances. I took the opportunity to closely examine the idea of plunging into freelance writing, tried my hand at a couple of projects and learned that one needs to be fully committed to the experience and whatever comes along with it. I wasn't ready, so I interviewed and successfully have got another job in Bombay, a city which isn't done with me yet. I'll be starting at the place in January.

On the personal front, its been one of the best years of my life. I met this lovely girl and have been in a wonderfully fulfilling relationship for some time now and I hope to... Screw it. I can't sustain that kind of nonsensical lying, even in text. Status quo this year. Thank heavens for books and BBC Entertainment.

As is par for course, the end of the year balanced the good news about the new job with the bad news about my laptop. Old faithful completed 5 years at the start of the month and promptly crashed a fortnight later, taking all my data with it. I do backups of course, but it'd been a while so I lost a lot of stuff I'd been working on for my projects. Yes, its inconvenient, both for me and others who are depending on my writing. But there's no point crying over spilt milk so I'm picking up the proverbial pieces and trying to put them back together asap. Its kept me away from the internet / computer for a bit, which is not that bad a thing, on the whole.  

I don't want to bother heaping ridiculous expectations on 2012. Suppose I'll do my bit and wait for the dice to roll kindly.

I do want to write more though. Lets see. Good luck with the new year, all.

Song for the moment: Playing for time - Acoustic Alchemy

Thursday, December 15

Reference Point

The next time you hear "there's no use revisiting the past", take note. It is good, solid advice. Let me tell you what could happen, when you choose to ignore it.

I've never been one of those blokes who'd give Charles Atlas or any of his brethren a complex. But the slightly slothful lifestyle brought on by working as a consultant for the last month, mostly spent working and writing at home, has taken its toll. A hint of chubbiness has started suggesting itself again, which is troublesome. The path to hell, or rotundity, is paved with vada pavs and other good intentions, so I haven't engaged in any urgently-required callisthenics. Having shamed myself enough, I decided to go for a jog today at the Pune University track.

The University is where I spent two years at the Anthropology department collecting a degree. They were good years, marked more by normalcy than anything else. At that point in my life, normalcy suited me just fine. I'd been jogging at the track there for a few years, so being on campus made it even easier to be faithful to the regimen. And trust me, considering the condition of the track, serious effort is needed to remain faithful. Laziness and a lack of money and other options helps too.

I understand the University may not be resting on sackfuls of shekels, but they could and sadly, can still make at least a modicum of effort to maintain the facilities. Taking inspiration from some ancient Olympic site, the track was originally constructed entirely of mud, with the hope that regular watering and care would help grass grow on the surface. Well, the cows that pass through the campus had other ideas, and were no doubt delighted with being provided a kilometre long snack bar. The track is popular with Punekars and there's a sizeable crowd of people there, morning or evening.

With the passage of time, some sections began to wear out, but that was not considered a problem. Mud is plentifully available. Some bright bean decided otherwise, filling these sections with the choicest of carefully considered sharp stones and bricks. In one fell stroke, it became one of the most challenging obstacle courses in town and has stayed that way for as long as I can remember. People have adopted a peculiar half-trot, half-stumble style when navigating it which is hilarious when viewed from the sidelines. If you can hack through the many thorny bushes lining the track, that is.

I used to be able to run about 5 km continuously. I fortuitously managed 1 km today, before having to stop and move briskly away from a nasty looking stray dog that had collared (ha!) one section of the track. After a couple of shortened rounds, my lungs began frantically telegraphing a "its us or you" signal, so I stopped the sham. And then challenged the past a second time by paying a visit to my department. Again, I shouldn't have. Sunlight filtered through the trees, bathing the place in a cheerful winter evening glow. Which was good since the management seemed to be on some cost-cutting measure and most of the lights in the place had been turned off.

Unbidden, the ghosts of old scenes began to move across the landscape; the group camaraderie at the end of many tough days, moments of friendship, solitude, celebration and grief. The worst was the memory of failed romance. Feelings of "what might have been" seep through the fabric of all our old memories but stab deepest in the case of lost love and its regrets. I scooted out of there.

And, since I was on a roll, went back to school.

Loyola looked as lovely and serene as always, framed by hills and a beautiful sky palette painted by the setting sun. A lonely jet liner cut across the horizon, white plumes marking its path whilst a group of boys were engaged in a game of football on the playing field. It was a scene guaranteed to have Wordsworth going into paroxysms of delight and start blathering on about daffodils and such. But all I could think about on my years at school was a lot of personal potential and possibilities wasted.

In this kind of wistful & melancholic mood, it is easy to blame people and circumstances from the past for who you are today. Thankfully though, I've just finished Abhinav Bindra's superb autobiography 'A shot at history'. It is a must-read, not only because it is superbly written but also because you get a keen understanding into the amount of desire, hard work, discipline and focus needed to be successful. He took these elements to extraordinary levels, but heck, there was an Olympic gold medal at the end of that road.

So, while there may be some just cause for blaming factors beyond our control for our current lives, I suspect quite a few of us could also direct many of those accusatory arrows at ourselves. At the end of the day, if we can't learn any lessons from our experiences, being stuck in a past soaked with regret is all we'll be left with. Surely we can try to do better?

Song for the moment: Don't stop - Fleetwood Mac     

Monday, December 5

To live is to fly

(Sorry readers. Stuff came up. Lost the thread of the post and then interest. Anyway...)

Part 2:

KS was in mental turmoil. As usual. His team had made it to the quarter-finals of the footy tournament, which made him happy. But, and there's always one of those tripping him up, the quarters, semis and finals would be played on Sunday; the quarters in the morning, the semis around 5 pm and the finals at 9:30 pm. This was the official schedule, which, in India and especially in Pune, can be summarily dismissed. Assuming the Sunday Boys made it to the final, it could safely be said that the game would begin no earlier than 10:30 pm. Therein lay the roots of our hero's turmoil. 

Although he spends a shocking amount of time in Pune, KS is actually based in Hyderabad. Being the pain & discomfort loving bloke that he is, KS makes the torturous 12 - 14 hour bus trip too and fro pretty regularly. This was one such trip and he was to leave for biryani land on the 8 pm bus on Sunday. If the Boys lost. Which was not what KS wanted. Checking Redbus.in for the last available option for Sunday night found some Neeta Volvo horror that skulked out of the city round about midnight. Neeta Volvo services being synonymous with every MC/BC/etc. gaali one could come up with, was not an option at all. So, train options were examined and seats found on the Pune-Hyderabad Shatabdi leaving at 5:50 am. One was booked.

On Sunday morning, I slept in and reached the ground after the quarter final was over to find the team sitting rather silently behind one of the goal-posts. They'd won, but only just. An enormous slice of luck ensured that a hopeful punt up-field by KC had inexplicably bounced over the charging keeper and into the net, giving the Sunday Boys a 1-0 ticket to the semis. I missed this evening game to watch the new Tintin movie with the family. Having followed and cheered the Boys road to the final thus far, I can say with complete honesty that I forgot about the game while the movie was on. At 8 pm, I received a happy text from KS, announcing that the Boys had thrashed their opponents 2-0 (in the shorter form of the game, this was a thrashing) and were in the finals. 

As I parked the bike and walked around the periphery of the field, there was a noticeable buzz in the air. As fate would have it, the final was a repeat of the previous year, in which CF and KS's team had lost. This was, effectively, a grudge match. Once the tomfoolery over the chief guest's appearance had been settled, the players began their warm-ups. The Sunday Boys were calm and cheerful, practising their short passing game before desultorily taking a few practice penalties. Their opponents, United FC, spent the entire time taking penalties, a forewarning of their philosophy of play. Some time later, the field was watered and chalked afresh and the game began. 

From the first whistle, it was obvious that United FC were not going to allow the Boys to settle into their usual rhythm. Every time one of the Boys got the ball, 2 of the opponents would swarm him, forcing him to boot it toward a team mate or commit an error. When United had the ball, they would quickly make their way towards the opposing goal and shoot. Although an ugly style of play, it was effective, since it intimidated the Sunday Boys, both mentally and physically. CF found himself on the receiving end of more than a few tasty tackles and was definitely not his usual commandeering self. After a goalless first half, United FC were awarded a penalty since the Boys had conceded 3 corners (3 corners = 1 penalty, which was the rule). This was a team that got to the finals without scoring even one goal from open play. Penalties were their strength, so the result of the penalty was a foregone conclusion for most of the spectators.

It was a well-taken penalty, I'll give him that. The ball arrowed in towards goal at the right height and in the right direction. But finals are a different ball-game (pun whatever... you decide) altogether. For some reason, the ball hit the inside of the post, but deflected out and into open play. An audible sigh of relief came from my right, where CF's young son was there to see his dad lift the trophy. CF's brother, built like a brick-house, stood next to the kid and also looked about as thankful as a huge, intimidating bloke can. The game went on. A few minutes later, it got ugly. There was a clear hand-ball by one of the United FC players, but the referee signalled for a simple foul rather than a penalty. CF, already rather ragged thanks to the rough treatment he was getting from the opponents, lost his temper and almost marched off the field in protest.

2 minutes before the game was to end, the Sunday Boys got a penalty of their own, through the 'corner' rule. Scoring a goal this close to the final whistle would effectively kill the game and everyone knew it, both on and off the field. As an aside, I would like to inform the readers that the phrase 'could cut the tension with a knife' is both true and in this case, apt. I did not want to watch this penalty being taken but couldn't take my eyes away from the game unlike CF's kid, who'd turned in the opposite direction and was studiously examining an interesting patch of sky. 

What happened next took the game from ugly to uglier. As CF swung his foot to take the shot, a laser light began zagging on the ball. Whether this distracted him we will never know, but the ball came nowhere near the goal post. Once again, Lady Luck ignored the Sunday Boys, who requested a retake of the penalty, which was refused. Over on the sidelines, the owner of the laser was immediately identified and warned by the authorities. But the inherent frustrations of the game bubbled over in CF's brother who confronted the laser guy and began a brawl, which threatened to shift the focus away from the game. At one point, it looked like things could get really bad for the audience as various people began to congregate around the brawlers and cheer them on while loud curses could be heard coming from both camps of supporters. 

Somehow, the melee was stopped and the game went on. However, something had gone out of the Sunday Boys who became indifferent and listless. The final whistle confirmed that the game would be settled by penalties. The rest is history.

Now, I'd love to tell you how the Sunday Boys consolidated all their discipline, focus and accuracy and scored every goal flawlessly. Real life though, takes the piss out of fairytale endings. The Boys could not convert even one of their three penalty attempts and United FC won by converting just one chance. The Sunday Boys had given it their best shot, but it wasn't enough. The final result was not a story of redemption but one of repetition. Prizes were distributed, speeches were made and the crowd dispersed. 

No doubt it would be awesome if this post ended with some inspirational words or uplifting messages. But it doesn't work like that. A glum KS left for Hyderabad the next morning. A few days later, I happened to pass by the ground and found some guys in the middle of a game. Life goes on. 

Song for the moment: The kids are alright - The Who