Saturday, 19 March, 2011

Hello again

A lot has happened over the last few months. I've moved jobs, and moved from Chennai to Pune. I spent two weeks in Pune before leaving again on assignment. 
Those two weeks were enough for me to begin to make friends and become a regular at Skips (sensational scrambled eggs, the world's best mango smoothie and tuna sandwiches with bits of apple in them, all of it conceptualised, cooked and served to you by this lady you’ll start calling ‘aunty’ within five minutes of meeting her for the first time) and this other place near office that introduced me to the concept of the bajri wada (or bajra wadi).
And this assignment has kept me in Delhi long enough for me to have become a regular at Changezi Chicken (home of the eponymous dish consisting of bits of slow-cooked chicken in a tangy, thick gravy that contains a host of mystery ingredients – they’re mysterious because I haven't asked anyone or googled, and don't want to for fear of mundanising [yes, that word now exists] the thing) and one of the 316787 (I don’t know the exact number – it’s on the blackboard) people who have wept joyously over (and into) a bowl of khao suey at The Kitchen, and for me to call this hotel room home in Daryaganj ‘home’ in unguarded moments. 
Home, of course, is a place redolent of vazhaithandu vadhakkified with thenga and turmeric and I'm not sure if it's paitham paruppu or ulutham paruppu, tempered with mustard seeds and one magical slit green chilli that makes all the difference. 

Monday, 6 September, 2010

Me? I care too much

In the last couple of months, I have played a lot of football. Not very well, of course. Were we to split teams the way we did as kids, by having two unofficial captains take their pick one after the other, I’d definitely be among the last players chosen. Probably the last.
I’m spared this ignominy, but not the constant reminders of my lowly stature once we kick off. An opponent nutmegs me derisively, a teammate shakes his head with a mixture of disbelief and pity after I mis-control a ball played to my feet, and refuses to pass to me for the rest of the game.
I have little inborn sporting ability - ball sense, hand-eye co-ordination, anticipation, athleticism. Having played a lot of it as a kid, I became a decent enough cricketer to open the batting in unorganised tennis-ball games (and the odd inter-department match in college). This may not sound like much, but had my batting technique remained at the level of my footballing technique, I’d have been one of the kids who batted in the tail and didn’t bowl at all.
With football, which I played little of growing up, it’s different. I often feel I don’t belong, even among portly, chain-smoking chaps a decade older than me.
A lot of bad footballers are in it for a laugh. Me? I care too much. I can’t even countenance the idea of playing in goal, where I won’t be expected to be any good anyway, and where I’d be looked at gratefully for relieving someone else of the need to perform this unwanted task. No, I want to be in the thick of the action. I want to exert my influence on the game. I cannot shut up.
I point at people, point at where I’d like them to be. I holler on about fanciful ideas like playing a high back-line or using the width of the pitch. I yell at teammates to track back, even when I know that I, possessing the turning radius of a beached whale and the first touch of a combine harvester, have no business telling them what to do.
I am ignored. And, I guess, endured. Laughed at when I’m not around, if people talk about me at all.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be good at football. To make the ball bend to your will. To have gotten rid of the fear of having the ball at your feet. To be able to look up and look around the field with the ball at your feet, and make instinctive decisions about what to do with it, unmindful of all the players closing you down, narrowing your field of vision, getting in your face.
I haven’t achieved this state even in my dreams. The only football dreams I have had involve the game bypassing me entirely as I stand frozen in the middle of the pitch, feet flailing about helplessly, failing even once to connect with the ball. I make out indistinct, angry shouts, which I suppose issue from my teammates, and then nothing, as panic shuts down my hearing.
 Motorvoetbal /  Soccer on motorbikes
That's how I feel with the ball at my feet (Soccer on motorbikes on the football pitch of Crystal Palace in London, England 1923. Photo: Nationaal Archief, Flickr)
And because I’m so bad, I remember each of my unexpected successes vividly.
First goal? I am about 11 or 12; I’m playing with my classmates. The ball stops next to me, for some reason, and I have my back to the goal, which is about ten yards away. I turn around, and smack the ball blindly, as hard as I can, and it sort of sneaks between the unsuspecting keeper (who only had to stretch out his left arm a bit to palm it wide) and the near post.
I can explain to you, with aid of a badly drawn diagram, how I once made the most delicate chipped pass over the last defender (in a game of beach football with no goalkeeper) that a teammate ran on to and stroked home gleefully. It was so unexpected that no one believed I intended it. You only have my word - delivered in a whiny, earnestly schoolboyish tone - against the scornful rebuttals of those who witnessed it, if they remember at all.
Why would they? They probably don’t remember their own transcendental moments the way I do. I can remind T of that ludicrous lob he scored with on the school ground in seventh standard, or A of the through-ball he played to B a couple of years ago, with me looking on from outside, unable to play thanks to a twisted ankle. If I ever see him again - I’ve only met this friend of a friend twice, seven years ago - I’ll ask S to demonstrate the kicking technique he used when he smacked in one of those long-range goals that sends Andy Gray tumbling off his chair.
They’ll look at me pityingly and wonder what I’m going on about. For them, it’s a game they happen to be good at. Me? I care too much. I want to be player-manager and implement in our weekly kickabouts the 3-3-1-3 formation Louis van Gaal used at Ajax. 

Thursday, 24 June, 2010

Don't let it end

I remember perusing at work one day a press release that revealed, among other results from an under-14 tennis tournament, that M. Rohit had defeated R. Mohit (or vice-versa). The scoreline I do not remember. The game may have been tight, or one-sided in the extreme.
I imagined at the time that these two boys would grow up forever facing each other in finals of tennis tournaments, and that their lives would culminate in an epic match that would simply refuse to end.
Nicolas Mahut and John Isner may not possess the duality of M. Rohit and R. Mohit, but are  nevertheless tied at 59-all in the fifth set of a first round match on court number 18 at Wimbledon. Play has been suspended for the day. The six-hour final set is already longer than any other match in tennis history.
What happens if this game never ends? Will Wimbledon come to a standstill forever because someone is stuck in eternal wait for a second-round opponent?

Tuesday, 4 May, 2010

A Moment in Time

After the first wave of responses to their photo project, the editors at the New York Times Lens Blog noted that
"Another impulse discernible among the early submissions was domesticity. Rather than looking for broadly symbolic visual emblems, readers concentrated on showing their worlds (and maybe a few more cats, dogs, tulips and coffee cups than we hoped to see, if truth be told)."
Well, that's what happens when you ask people to shoot pictures on a Sunday.
I, however, was at work that evening, from about six to eleven thirty (yes, such is my life). At around 8.20, I walked out of office and onto Anna Salai, and ended up shooting this ice cream cart.
I eagerly await the moment when the picture mosaic goes up on the NYT website. They promise "an interactive display that will allow you to sort them geographically and thematically."
Should be awesome.

Monday, 5 April, 2010

The Carnatic conundrum

Yesterday evening, I was at a concert: Prasanna (guitar), Victor Wooten (bass guitar), Karthik (ghatam) and Bangalore Amrit (kanjira). I loved it. So did the rest of the audience, to judge by their reactions to Prasanna and Wooten's frenetic fretwork, and particularly how they cheered and whistled when Karthik and Amrit engaged in a percussion duel much like a Carnatic tani avartanam.
This caused a question to pop into my head. If they liked that so much, why don't I see them (young people, many carrying guitars which they'd carried to a workshop by Wooten in the afternoon) attending Carnatic concerts in big groups?
What Karthik and Amrit did was pretty much what every percussion duo or trio (one of the best tani avartanams I ever saw was a three-way thing pitting mridangam, ghatam and morsing at an Aruna Sairam concert in December 2008) does at the end of the centrepiece of every Carnatic concert. 
Ironically, a significant section of the mostly silver- or salt-and-pepper-haired crowd that attends these concerts walks out for a snack when the tani avartanam begins; in short, they show far less understanding of and appreciation for the percussionists' talents than the younger crowd at the Wooten-Prasanna show did.
So why?
I got a partial answer just after the concert ended, when I was discussing the experience with a friend, who's from another department of the newspaper I work for. She said she'd enjoyed the show, but thought Prasanna hogged the limelight. 
"I had come to watch Victor Wooten," she said. "I don't think I'd ever attend a Prasanna concert."
"Why not? You should check out one of his Carnatic performances sometime," I said.
"No, I don't really like Carnatic music that much."
How much Carnatic music had she heard in her life? 
Her answer? The instrumental music they play at the canteen and the elevators at the office. It's feeble stuff, flute or violin renditions of done-to-death compositions, with little or no percussive backing and as representative of Carnatic music as a monophonic Fur Elise ringtone is to Beethoven's lifetime output.
Based on that sample, she'd decided she didn't like Carnatic music. If that was my only exposure to Carnatic music, there's no way I'd want to listen either. 
A lot of people carry in their heads this notion that Carnatic music is somehow forbidding, serious, sombre, slow. It's completely untrue. It's usually (when handled by accomplished artistes) full of witty repartee between singer/lead musician and accompanists, or between accompanists, and the people on stage spend a lot of time smiling at each other or making appreciative gestures, trading musical inside jokes. A well-delivered concert usually spans the entire emotional spectrum - much like the Wooten/Prasanna/Karthik/Amrit show. 
And I say this as someone whose Carnatic training lasted less than a month, when I was in the first standard. The lady downstairs, who taught me and this other kid the rudiments, frequently yelled at us when we played cricket outside her window and once even confiscated my bat; how could I possibly learn music from someone like that? What I mean to say is, if I can enjoy Carnatic music, so can anyone with an open mind and the barest ear for music.
Here's Benjamin Zander, saying much the same thing, far more coherently: how anyone can enjoy classical music:

Oh, and do read this as well. It asks the question of what role music plays in our lives, and whether our priorities are all wrong, and is an utterly brilliant piece of journalism. Thanks to Sruthi for mailing me the link.

Tuesday, 2 February, 2010


Today, the right armrest of my office chair is at a higher level than the left armrest.
I don't know how this happened, but it's created a curious situation.
You see, this chair swivels. And I swivel a lot. And now, each time I swivel to my left, the right armrest hovers above the right CTRL key of my keyboard. 
I lean forward when I read stuff on the computer. Under the present circumstances, this causes the armrest to press the CTRL key.
And when I'm reading stuff, I scroll. You do that too, I'd imagine. Only, you don't press CTRL while you scroll. 
Holding CTRL when you scroll causes the text size to either increase or decrease, depending on the direction of the scrolling. This, in short, has been happening all day.

Friday, 29 January, 2010

Pinch me

Not literally, of course. Do, however, check this out. I am delighted beyond anything I can say right now.
Oh, and clicking on the link will finally reveal to you the name that I hide from behind this Ghanshyam facade.