Sunday 25 November 2007

An Ode to the Word Processor

Staring into a blank Microsoft Word screen, letting my mind wander through realms of profound thought induced by boredom and typing words down with no clue as to what words will follow - pressing the backspace key at regular intervals - is a sequence of events that usually results in me answering ‘no’ to the ‘Do you want to save changes?’ question. Sometimes, however, some strange metaphysical process takes place, and I put down a paragraph of something readable. The keyboard picks up a nice, steady rhythm, and thought begins to flow coherently.
The word processor is a boon to the chronic backspacer. There is so much joy in seeing the jagged ‘spelling and grammar’ line appearing below words like backspacer - words invented on the go. Writing on paper, usually in a depressing scrawl, crossing out words, phrases, and entire sentences, gives rise to the sort of angst that leads to paper being ripped out of notebooks, crumpled, and thrown on the nearest happy-looking person. This angst is at its angstiest when essays in examinations begin to look like what a four-year-old would do if asked to draw barbed wire. A point comes when inelegant sentences are left alone; when all one wants to do is drown one’s sorrows in lime juice. It isn’t just the chap who writes exams who resents pen and paper, but the chap at the other end as well, who has seven million samples of atrocious handwriting to transliterate into English in his head every day. One can imagine him sitting in a funnel-shaped valley formed by mountains of paper, picking up one after another, scrutinizing each in the light of a single incandescent bulb hanging from a dangerously low ceiling, and at regular intervals posing, to no one in particular, rhetorical questions, the commonest being – ‘Why me?’
The shrinking proportion of epic tragedies and tragic epics in bestseller lists worldwide must have something to do with the ubiquitousness of word processors. Lord Ganesh, for all his ability to remove obstacles, must have faced one himself while writing with a piece of broken-off tusk. Add to this the need for Ganesh to write, and for Ved Vyas to dictate, without pausing. Do all of the above - minus the tusk if you don’t happen to possess one, with a friend playing out Ved Vyas’s part - and you’ll see how easy it is to come up with an epic spanning generations of unhappy people fighting their own relatives. Word processors prevent the finer understanding of the nuances of human emotion.
If Mr. Matthew had typed out his Gospel with the aid of a word processor, Herod would have been a kindly old king with a twinkle in his eye, a patron of fancy dress competitions and a distributor of boiled confectionery to all the participants.

I wrote this in the first term as an assignment for Mr. V Ramnarayan, one of the greatest off-break bowlers never to play for India, columnist, blogger and wielder of the pen (or word processor) that wrote Mosquitoes and Other Jolly Rovers. Here's a sample of his writing.


Monday 1 October 2007

Eureka demystified

Thousands of years ago, someone’s back itched. His name was Yajñopavīta Sastrigal. Why his parents named him that will remain a mystery, but we aren’t going into the why. We are going, instead, into the what-happened-to-him-and-how-he-reacted. What happened to him, as has already been mentioned earlier, was that his back itched. This was a problem that had plagued the fellow all his life, so much so that he wondered day and night why a point hadn’t come when the itch would become so normal that he’d forget the state of non-itchiness entirely and not feel anything anymore. Wondering didn’t help at all. Neither did prickly heat powder, since he had had the misfortune of being born a few millennia too early.

What he did, in a moment of unbelievable clarity of thinking, was to say “Ayyo Rekha!!!” – Rekha being his wife’s name – so loudly that it was heard all the way to Syracuse, where one Mr. Archimedes was having a blissful bath.

Ayyo Rekha!!!” Yajñopavīta Sastrigal hollered, “Nool kanda konduvayen,” which, translated roughly into English, would read – “Bring me a spool of thread, pronto!”

Yajñopavīta Sastrigal then proceeded to tie three pieces of coarse thread – all thread was coarse back then – together, and put it over his left shoulder, in a manner that caused it to encircle his upper body diagonally. Grabbing hold of this with both hands placed sufficiently far apart on the thread, he moved it back and forth, along his spine. He had boldly scratched where no man had been double-jointed enough to scratch before.

Very soon, others – whose backs sometimes itched, too – started sporting the thread. Some men thought it was too sissy to give an itch so much importance and disdained the practice. The thread wearing bunch obviously didn’t appreciate being called sissy. They claimed that the thread, which by now had taken on the name Yajñopavītam, after its inventor, had other nifty features too.

They said, for instance, that anyone who wore the thing would be effectively twice-born. The three threads represented the goddesses of mind, word and deed, and the knot tying it all together was the formless Brahman, the all-pervading supreme spirit of the universe.

The non-thready bunch was unimpressed, but the thready bunch was so captivated by its own marketing that they evolved complex rituals that their sons, and their sons’ sons had to undergo before taking on the great responsibilities that come with being able to scratch one’s own back. Women amused themselves by inventing other, less metaphysical things like the dosa, and weren’t affected by this great ferment.

My ancestors happened to be from among the thready lot, which meant that I experienced the uncertain emotions of being born twice.

What it has also meant, however, is that I sometimes wear an insecure look on my face, and glance around furtively, before sticking my right hand into my shirt to tug at that piece of thread, and return it to its highly transient perch on top of my left shoulder. Whatever magical properties it may possess, the Yajñopavītam, or the Poonal, as it’s known in Tamil, simply cannot stay put on a shoulder. It is built to slide down the left arm, and incapacitate that limb until the wearer performs that inelegant and very disturbing manoeuvre described above. I did that, for about the seventeenth time, on Friday, and pop went the top button of my shirt. Why didn’t Mr. Yajñopavīta Sastrigal just grin and bear it?

Wednesday 1 August 2007

Why call a spade a simulacrum of post-modernist consciousness in the cerebral cortex?

The following are examples of extremely profound statements made by the students of the 2004-07 batch of the Department of Visual Communication, DG Vaishnav College, Chennai, chosen at random from a humongously humongous cornucopia of profundity:

A: Dude, I think you stepped on my toe.
B: Dude, that’s your index finger!

X: Dude... do you know what Ramanujam was famous for?
Y: Of course da... Raman Effect!

How do I draw an imaginary line?

Does anyone have a helicopter? I need to race with time.

I am a children!

Dude... I kicked the dumbbell by mistake.

It is equal to inversely proportional.

How many megapickles?

Oye? That was a sky-fi movie?

Am I amoebic?

Who’s going to tick bookets?

Is she your nephew?

We should have been a bunch of girls studying viscom in MOP.

TUP, TUP, TUP! DISHOOM!! DISHOOM!!

Those days, sadly, are behind me. I’m now a student at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai; and well, I have been so forcibly removed from my still recent past that my ears are bombarded daily by words and phrases such as bourgeoisie (the spell check sure helps), sub judice, habeas corpus (well, I knew this word even in the seventh standard, through Perry Mason, but I’m still not sure what on Earth it means), gamut, gambit, simulacrum, existentialism, temporal collective consciousness, post-modernism, structuralism (I’m told this has a post-prefixed cousin as well), Schrödinger’s cat, hegemony and a whole gamut (whoops, there it is again) of evil sounding French and Latin words.

We watched a Chinese film one Saturday (with subtitles, thank God; I’m sure we have some guys in class who can speak two hundred and thirteen languages fluently), and at the end of it all, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about the visual metaphors used by the director to do some rather exciting sounding stuff that when perceived by someone does something to a whole lot of different nodes in the left brain of that someone, which creates a conflict between one thing and another thing: one of which began with a G, if I remember right… anyway, what emerged out of it all was that it was a rather good movie, for most part, and we’ll screen a French Nouvelle Vague film next Saturday.

Friday 6 July 2007

Mor Kali

Mor Kali is a thick, greasy, white substance with deep red tinges here and there, interrupted by small black dots at reasonably regular intervals. You can put it in your mouth, and people with unspoilt, unpretentious tastebuds generally do so a second time, and then a third, and so on. The red comes from dried red chillies, and most of the flavour as well. South Indian cooking is seldom overloaded with too many conflicting flavours, and mor kali is one of the best examples of keeping one predominant flavour, and complementing it with other ingredients.

How does one go about making this stuff?

Firstly, you take a couple of cups of rice flour, and twice that amount of buttermilk. Put them together. Add some salt as well.

In a separate receptacle, splutter some mustard seeds, asafoetida, a handful of dried red chillies and curry leaves in a generous amount of oil.

Put exhibit A and B together, and stir. And then stir some more. And on and on until you end up with something that looks like it will stick to a spoon and refuse to come off, until it hits your mouth.

This should taste quite strongly, but not overpoweringly, of the dried chilli, while retaining the sourness of the buttermilk. The curry leaves and asafoetida should have also made their presence felt.

You can put this on a greased plate, and cut into interesting shapes; or you can put dollops of the stuff on your plate with a greased concave ladle.

It’s one of those things I never tire of eating, until I’m bloody stuffed, that is. Once you’re done eating, you may find cleaning the plate a bother, since this stuff has a tendency to absorb plenty of oil during the cooking process. My mum has been cheating lately, and making this in the microwave, with frighteningly small quantities of oil, but I have to say it tastes just the same.

You can also make another version of this dish, with javvarsi (sago – look up wikipedia if you’re still not sure). I like this even more than the rice flour version, and it looks awesome, with these translucent chewy pearls gleaming amidst chunks of dried chilli and the deep green of fried curry leaves, with mustard seeds dotting the landscape. It glides down your throat, and leaves a nice warm glow on its way down.

Try cooking this stuff sometime, but don’t blame me if the proportions go awry. My mum has perfected this stuff through years of throwing in how much ever she pleases of whatever it is that she’s throwing in. She says the above quantities will result in two well fed adult humans, add or subtract a couple based on appetites and so on. Happy kottifying!

Friday 15 June 2007

The Boss!!!

It is often said that it takes a certain something, referred to, by the people who know these things, as the X-factor, to go from mere stardom to superstardom. With Rajnikanth, however, there is no such unknown quantity. What he has, in abundant measure, is the unique ability to keep his mouth open at a precise aperture regardless of whether he’s walking, talking, chewing gum, dancing (his signature step appears easy, but that’s only until you attempt it – one hand on head, one on hip, and perfect synchronous motion in two parallel arcs) or dodging a bullet and shooting one (to be split into two by means of a strategically placed dagger held at the muzzle, to deal with multiple large men of dubious morals) at the same time. No ordinary mortal can maintain such a delicate distance between upper and lower lip like thalaivar can. Particularly impressive is the nonchalant ease with which he keeps the viewer’s eyes riveted on his mouth even with the added visual treat of peroxide blonde hair.


Friday 1 June 2007

Extremely long, self indulgent post you may want to read if you're as jobless as I am

A great test match has twists, turns, topspinners and elements of tragedy. All these ingredients were thrown together for five enthralling days at the Madhinis’ front driveway and one of history’s finest contests came to a dramatic conclusion on the evening of the 30th. When I said five days, I meant it took five days for the drama to play itself out, with play only being possible on the first and final days, due to unavailability of players on the second, third and fourth days.

The match started off with two players on either side, with Mundhra and I losing the toss to the Madhinis, who, as is inevitable, chose to bat first.

A word on how our test matches are played; one batsman bats at a time, no one is at the other end, since two guys running around in opposite directions in narrow spaces is known to cause collisions. The batting team usually provides the wicketkeeper, in two-on-two matches. This ensures no one is sitting around making witty comments, but when there are more than two people on one side, there is intense competition among the two members of the batting side not at the crease to take up a comfortable position on Raju’s thunderbird. That means there are three players fielding at any given time – the bowler, the wicketkeeper, and the other guy on the fielding side; who is placed close-in or deep on the boundary gate depending on the skill level of the batsman and the bowler, the state of the match, and so on. There are always plenty of bikes around to help the fielding side along the way, but too many can be a hindrance to bowling around the wicket, unless you don’t mind sharp blows to the knuckles. The bikes square on the leg side invite the wristy turn to leg and the gently trotted single as the fielders squeeze themselves between them, performing miraculous contortions to avoid the bumpy bits, and extricate the ball.

We had to go through plenty of this during Raju’s innings, and he rode his luck, with Mundhra in generous catching form, and went on to make a brisk 83, before I showed Mundhra how to wrap fingers around a tennis ball and hold on, taking the ball as it rose, at about chest height, standing at a deepish mid off. We were mighty relieved.

Pavan Madhini is an example of the ‘if-only’ sort of batsman. Few can strike a tennis ball so cleanly, and so morale-damagingly. He is built along physically intimidating lines; the Hayden-Pietersen-Symonds-Flintoff sort, with a little more around the waistline to boot. When he puts his front foot down the pitch, he makes bowlers step back for fear of toes being stepped upon.

The bat, after having described a gigantic arc, usually makes contact with the ball in the region of silly mid off’s solar plexus, and sometimes the ball goes along the ground. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the ball misses the bat entirely, and this is what happened, after he had struck a couple of lusty blows, and the sound of tennis ball hitting broken steel chair heralded the close of their first innings at 96. Mundhra had picked up both the wickets.

We needed 47 to avoid following on, and I went in to open the innings, something I’ve always loved doing. Give me a bat and someone bowling at me, and I’m the happiest person in the world. If I ever have a son or daughter, chances are I’ll be training him or her in my backyard to become a bowler, letting him or her bat occasionally so that he or she doesn’t refuse to play with me again, but mostly having my share of what is known in cricketing circles as OC gaaji, probably telling him or her that he or she has bowled a no ball if he or she gets me out.

My batting style can be described as upright, unhurried and well, elegant; I certainly don’t feel the ungainliness and disjointed wobbliness I feel at most other times while I’m batting. I score runs at a measured rate, with a wristy dab here and a gentle push there, almost exclusively off the back foot, unless it’s pitched right up. I proceeded to do this for a goodish length of time, during which Nair arrived and joined the Madhini side, giving Mundhra a much needed period of lying down on the Thunderbird with a pained expression on his face. A cleverly bowled slow leg break beat me in the air and I offered Raju a simple return catch, which he didn’t drop. My score, and that of my team, at that point, was 70. Mundhra added 8 runs to that and got himself bowled in the span of the next over from Pavan and they had a lead of 18.

Pavan started off for them in his usual cavalier fashion, and fell into the trap of driving early at a well tossed up delivery from me and as Mundhra held on to the chance, his relief was visible. Nair was bowled for a duck in the next over from Mundhra and the score stood at 14.

Rajesh Madhini has the advantage of not having to face himself while batting, and usually makes use of this to the fullest, racking up one ton after the other, always scoring at a brisk, relentless pace. Give him anything remotely pitched up and he’ll drive without restraining his follow through, managing to keep the ball along the ground and usually in the gap. You generally look to keep it tight and not try too many things; and hope that he’ll make an error of judgment somewhere. He was past 30 and looking very threatening when Mundhra decided he couldn’t take the heat any longer and Nair decided he had to leave.

Play resumed after three days; without Nair; with Raju looking like he meant business. I thought to myself that we had to get him out in the first couple of overs or be resigned to waiting for him to throw it away after putting our target into the realms of miracle.

I was left clutching at my head when he was beaten by an off break which narrowly missed leg stump; wondering when the next chance would come; but Mundhra got one to keep low and sneak through in his very next over. Raju had made 50, his team 64, and our target was 83.

Our innings began with Mundhra scoring 4 runs in 7 overs with dour defense and plenty of luck before he lost his patience and slogged at an enticing off break from the elder Madhini, missing completely.

The task ahead of me was difficult, not impossible, but anyone who’s seen how matches have gone in the long history of underarm tests will tell you that I have come close plenty of times under similar circumstances, but seldom close enough.

I told myself to not keep telling myself things and overcomplicate my thinking as I took guard, aware of the fact that runs were going to come at a trickle, and that I’d have to reckon with a close-in fielder at all times, especially with the number of bikes blocking off my favourite route to the boundary - the checked on drive ricocheting off the mid on wall into the gate.

The first few overs were very quiet, with an uncomfortable stillness hanging about the atmosphere; interrupted whenever Raju sprang into the jumble of bikes to rob me of single scoring opportunities, or when Pavan jeered our team for its scoring rate.

Raju is a quite exceptional bowler, coming off a diagonal three step run-up, bowling ripping leg breaks and off breaks without too much change in his wrist action. The amount of turn and bounce he gets increases the area on the pitch which he can pitch on without being clobbered, and as a result the pressure he puts on batsmen is unrelenting.

His not-so-little brother is one of those sneaky buggers who stretch the limits of acceptability when it comes to bowling actions, and he delivers a wide range of deliveries from various angles of release, which can be broadly classified under the forehand and the backhand. Most of his deliveries go straight after pitching, neither troubling the batsman too much nor offering him room to free the arms and pummel him like he deserves to be. His height and blatant defiance of our already relaxed laws on underarm actions allow him to bowl bouncers as well.

It was thus a thoroughly attritional battle, with no square boundaries to add value to my pulls, off which I could only get the occasional single.

The Madhini brothers kept going through over after over, and the target was slowly being whittled down. Their fielding was freakishly good for some strange reason, and full blooded drives were being stopped by thrusting out one hand into which the ball would remarkably stick. I passed my fifty and the singles started flowing a little more frequently.

I was getting into some sort of comfort zone, and I knew this meant I was going to do something injudicious, soon.

Pavan bowled an over of temptingly slow deliveries, and I made sure I patted each one back with exaggerated care.

I should have whacked the bugger, in hindsight, because in the very next over his brother got one to keep low and kiss the edge of the chair after hitting my right shin. I was 18 runs away from the target, and it hurt, badly. Unfortunately I think I’m getting used to it and I’m almost resigned to the fate of coming bloody close and not quite making it. Damn, I need counseling or something. Or one of those self help books I’ve ridiculed all my life. Or maybe write one. ‘Almost there – by Ghanshyam Nair’.

Thursday 24 May 2007

Do you want su-do-ku on the sidebar?

Computers hang, crash and do things that no one with a conscience would do. The need to act antisocial pervades through every molecule of silicon and quite naturally, my computer decided to throw a temper tantrum of biblical proportions a couple of weeks back. My hard drive decided it would cease to function, just like that, without any warning; and I was left watching the ‘one or more of your disks need to be checked for consistency’ thing over and over again, like one of those weird time loop scenarios where you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again with no foreseeable change of scenery in sight.

Having to spend two weeks of my life without such glorious forms of entertainment as Google talking with people, asking them that most puzzling of life’s questions - ‘what’s up?’, bracing myself for the inevitable reply ‘nothing much…’ and so on, was not pleasant. To compound my misery, the Madhini brothers had gone off to scare the inhabitants of Malluland with their hairstyles and scar them for life, and there wouldn’t be any cricket either. There was also a gnawing fear that all my beautiful data would resist being recovered from that defunct hard drive, and I would have to painstakingly look for sources of free downloads of all those beautiful old songs all over again. The weather was acting like a fair weather friend, plunging me deeper into melancholy.

Everywhere else, everyone else seemed to my fevered imagination to be doing great things, forging ahead while I was sitting around cursing the weather and watching reruns of Hell’s Kitchen. I imagined I’d come back online, put a new post on my blog and find all my pals telling me disdainfully, with one raised eyebrow, that blogging is passé (I have friends who say stuff like that) and they’re all into flooping, or quorfing, or something of the sort.

Things turned out okay, however, and the latest innovation in blogville turns out to be putting su-do-ku on the sidebar, which, depending on the response I get from readers, I may or may not do. In response to this post, therefore, I request you all to let me know whether you want su-do-ku on my blog; or, if the case may be, not.

Friday 27 April 2007

What do you call that thing chameleons do with their eyes?

Ah… morning everyone. It has been a while since I’ve put stuff other than peripheral decoration on my blog. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that I had things on my mind; things like examinations, and how to look like I’m studying without actually doing so. My parents didn’t fall for it, and they never do; but there’s no harm trying. Filling in application forms, only one form actually, has also taken away another major chunk of my time; and filling this form involved 100 word essays and plenty of soul searching to find out how best I can sound earnest, sincere and totally focussed on life; which is not something that comes naturally to me. But all that is done, and until the next form filling deadline closes in, I shall try to do what every self respecting blogger does upon finishing college, which is to take a look back with one eye, a look ahead with another, and end up looking like a chameleon or some other reptile with eye muscles independent of each other; I’ll need to ask some of my aspiring biologist friends for the scientific term for it.

Three years of college, three times 365 days, minus all those holidays and suchlike (no, there wasn’t a leap year in that period) – it all went past a little too quick for me to make any sense of it. That clichéd sentence (thank you, Microsoft Word, for having put that curvy diagonal thing on top of the e for me) ‘It seems like yesterday when we were all standing around near those stairs (the three steps and the patio-like thing with a ramp below our department building upon which we have sat so often and got shouted at for doing so by those computer science faculty chaps even more often) for the first time, saying weird things like ‘I’m Karthik; but you can call me KK’’ (how does one do a quoted sentence inside another quoted sentence?) rings very true. We’ve had to cope with not being first year chaps anymore, then second year chaps; and now we are no longer students of the visual communication department of DG Vaishnav College, Arumbakkam, Chennai (I’m not too sure what the pin code is, so we’ll have to do without that). Being part of that place was, for the most part, a period in our lives full of laughter, swearing at each other in a friendly manner, watching tons of movies and playing, at various points in time, football, table tennis, hand tennis and that bizarre ball game ‘puncture’ in the studio; and cricket matches all over the place. All of this has taught us lessons our textbooks would never have been able to teach us, for the simple reason that we never had any. We have travelled; climbed reasonably high peaks on top of caves, trekked uphill and downhill; we have eaten copious amounts of anjeer kulfi, and danced around like crazed maniacs at the Kailash Kher concert in Pune. We played some more cricket, some more football. We have shot some decent films, some lousy documentaries and some awesome ads and had a thoroughly great time doing all that.

There won’t be too much more, if any, of all that anymore. I do not want to sound like I’m about to cry or get all emotional and aloof for two days, because that sort of thing happening doesn’t appear very likely; especially since we are still in the ‘Let’s go play footie on the beach!!! Turn up for cricky tomorrow morning, bum!!! Let’s watch 300 in the afternoon!!!' phase right now. There’ll be a couple of months of that, and then we’ll end up doing something with our lives, and then the inevitable thing will happen – a smooth transition into the next phase of life. It happened to me after school. I missed the place, but DG Vaishnav College, Arumbakkam, seemed like a coolish place as well.

Sunday 8 April 2007

That 50s and 60s show

Ishaaron ishaaron mein dil lene waale… Youtube has loads of old Hindi song videos!!! Wonderful!!! Until now, I had been having amazing aural experiences every day, and now I’m having awesome visual experiences as well!!! Old songs have something that nothing made post-1969 has; I can’t really define it though. Take the above song, as an example. It’s got Shammi Kapoor in his more rotund, double chinned, technicolour avatar wearing saffron and moving around in strange patterns around trees jutting his neck at Sharmila Tagore’s face whenever there’s a two shot of them. Shammi Kapoor looked great in his black and white films like Tumsa Nahin Dekha, but not in Kashmir ki Kali, certainly not in this song. Sharmila Tagore… well, I’m not her biggest fan. But what happens when the above scene is played out with the song in the background? I suddenly want to jut my neck out at Sharmila Tagore, or whoever else is standing there, between tree number 37 and me, and I wouldn’t mind the saffron costume either, although I may shrink away from myself in horror once the song is done.

But while it plays, I will become part of it, and the gloriously silly world of romantic Hindi film (I shall not call it Bollywood) duets.

What makes the era of the 50s and 60s so great?

I guess that era was a freak of nature and the law of averages, when there was great talent in abundance, with geniosical music directors, geniosical (I love that word) lyricists and geniosically geniosical singers coming together in an explosion of beautiful, sweet (dare I say, geniosical?) music; the likes of which hasn’t been heard since, and never will be heard again.

Lording over this kingdom with a smile and a voice to melt hearts with terminally blocked arteries was Mohammad Rafi. It saddens me to think he’s not been posthumously given a Bharat Ratna, because that’s what he was, a jewel in India’s crown. There has been enough written about his songs, his career, the unfortunate period during which Lata Mangeshkar refused to sing duets with him, due to what now appears a silly dispute about royalty payments. Listening to all that glorious music makes me think the world then was filled with peace and harmony, with birds, trees and saffron costumed heroes frolicking in foggy (dry ice vapour, I guess) Kashmir. But that, I guess, wasn’t the case. Guru Dutt died under mysterious circumstances, suicide or an accidental overdose of sleeping pills taken to relieve depression. His wife Geeta Dutt, the voice behind the most wonderful lighthearted songs she’d glide effortlessly through – she died of cirrhosis of the liver, grief and ethanol contributing in equal measure.

Meena Kumari died from precisely the same thing; one would feel that was in tune with the tragic roles she did, but Geeta Dutt – inexplicable.

One hears very little from the people still alive from that era about their contemporaries; Asha Bhosle, who must have had a great time recording ‘ishaaron ishaaron’ with Rafi in OP Nayyar’s studio is still going strong, and has moved seamlessly through the generations. But one would think there could have been a little more credit given to the generation of people who moulded her, people like OP Nayyar, for whom she sang her best songs. There’s a little too much hype around RD Burman, and he was not a tenth as good as his old man. Naushad got spoken about only when Mughal-e-Azam was re-released in colour; and when he died.

But a part of me is thankful for all that, because the masterpieces of that era have generally remained untainted by remixing, which has been mostly focussed on the later, RD Burman dominated era. But I got a shock the other day, when I was in Giordano (getting myself a bag courtesy a gift voucher I won for second place in dumb C) in Ispahani centre, where I heard a remix of that wonderful Geeta Dutt song, Tadbeer se bigdi hui. A couple of songs from CID and Aar Paar have also met a similar fate.

One hopes that there’s a wave, no, a tsunami of nostalgia on the horizon; to bring back some of the glory of that wonderful, sadly bygone age. If not, there’s always youtube…

Monday 2 April 2007

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar. I have no clue what emotions the name inspires among fifteen year olds today. Most of them would’ve been too young to watch his greatest years as they unfolded, and some of them would have started watching cricket seriously only during the last three or four years, during which period he has been a shadow of his former self. A few fifteen year old Indian boys may be wondering what all the fuss is about looking at how the media has reacted to what Ian Chappell has written in an article.

To people in their twenties, including those such as me who refuse to believe that they are no longer eighteen or nineteen, and that most of the Bangladesh team is younger than them; Sachin Tendulkar has been one constant presence in their lives, and someone who was supposed to be forever young. Sachin in my first year of serious watching, 1996, at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, was someone who would punch the ball through the covers while standing as tall as his diminutive frame would allow him to, right on his toes. In 1998, in the Chennai test against Australia, he’d slog sweep Warne mercilessly in a masterful third innings 155, and rock right back, his back foot dangerously close to disturbing the wicket, whenever Warne pitched marginally short and pull him devastatingly. The footwork, the precision, the calculated assault on a great bowler at the peak of his powers – it left everyone astounded. At the time, he was 25. He was in his tenth year as a test cricketer, and I was too young when he made centuries at Old Trafford, the SCG and the WACA as an eighteen year old. All of this made him a legend long before my generation even got round to imitating him on the streets.

He was then, before Rahul Dravid came of age, surrounded by decent batsmen not blessed with great techniques, and Mohammad Azharuddin would play one glorious knock now and then. He therefore ended up as a tragic hero in so many abject displays by Indian batsmen, most notably in Chennai, again, against Pakistan in 1999, when he steered India to within 16 runs of the target with a glorious 136 on a turner against Saqlain at his absolute peak, only to find the tailenders collapsing, like his back did midway through his innings. The Chepauk crowd showed its appreciation of a great test match by giving the Pakistan players a standing ovation as they did a victory lap, something that makes the hair stand up whenever I think of it, a great moment for sport.

He was blamed for not finishing it off, and this has been an albatross round his neck throughout his career.

The emergence of Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly as batsmen who could be counted upon to score runs under most circumstances should logically have lifted a great burden off Tendulkar’s shoulders, and made him bat with much greater freedom, and flamboyance. This, I suspect, would have happened had it not been for the endless injury problems that have plagued him. His back, shoulder, elbow and toe have collectively curtailed the natural flow of his game, and the feet no longer waltz into position, and the bat no longer flows through the arc it used to describe in executing the drive back past the bowler, probably the one stroke which stands out as what can be called his trademark; his feet skipping one step forward after the ball has been dispatched with a mere jab of a perfectly vertical bat.

What has stood out most in all my years of watching him bat, is the ease with which he handles every kind of bowling, making it look like he’s in no trouble whatsoever, until the ball he gets out. I have seen many perfect innings of fourteen and thirty eight from him, where every ball had met the middle of his bat, other than the ones he’d left alone.

Even when he’s not scoring quickly he makes it look like he knows what he’s doing, until he gets out and makes people wonder why he’d been padding away ball after ball from novice left arm spinners on a flat track.

This sort of thing has been happening a lot more frequently these days, and the consistency that marked him out as a special batsman is no longer there.

Does this mean that he should retire? Maybe from one day cricket alone, which there is too much of, and where he has little left to achieve?

Who can say? Certainly I don’t want to watch an Indian team line up without Sachin, although I realise he is much closer to the end of his career than its middle, and that he may not ever be the same again. Do we want to remember him for all those dismissals off the inside edge, going down on his knees to suggest the ball kept low?

I don’t know, and I would leave it to him (as if my opinion matters to him!) to decide what he’s going to do with his cricketing life. Maybe one last shot at captaincy? I don’t see why not; he’s usually brimming with ideas (as can be seen in his bowling, which probably merits another essay), has matured a lot since his first two terms, and it may offer him what he needs most at this moment, a challenge.

Whatever happens, I will always remember the glee on his face that greets some poor batsman’s downfall after he’s done him with a wrong ‘un, the helmet in one raised arm and the MRF in another after yet another hundred; and his inimitable voice as he gives another man of the match interview will play in my mind saying how ‘the ball was coming on to the bat nicely’.

Wednesday 28 March 2007

I had a haircut!!! Woo Hoo!!!

I got my hair cut today, and it feels brilliant having whatever little breeze there is in late March Chennai moving about lazily through parts of my head previously protected from the elements by unruly hair growing in patterns not dissimilar to the fibre of that other glorious creation of nature, the coconut.

Why then, I wonder, do some people want to grow their hair long? Friends of mine, most notably Mr. Rajesh Madhini (see image above), go around with so much excess baggage on their heads that I’m sure some of the grey stuff inside their heads must be quickening its rate of waving goodbye to this world (we are all born with a certain number of neurons in the brain; they do not reproduce, and throughout our lives their number diminishes) to allow the black stuff on the outside to flourish like the green stuff in the Amazon. This possibly explains why, generally, with notable exceptions (don’t ask me for examples); women aren’t as bright or as quick on the uptake as men. Before the flag waving, slogan shouting activist women out there start burning effigies of me, I apologise for what was certainly a politically incorrect statement. But I hasten to add, you lot would be a lot brighter in my eyes if you didn’t walk around willingly bearing the burden of more than a hundred thousand shoulder length hairs. But please do not take this opportunity to emulate my look; not everyone can carry it off the way I do.


Wednesday 21 March 2007

Street Cricket

There is a particular joy in playing cricket at an unorganised level, where you interact with individuals from vastly different backgrounds; each one of whom is a character in the truest sense of the term, possessing uniquely homespun technique. There is a freedom for individuals to experiment, respond naturally to different situations and make mistakes; something that is usually not found at more organised levels of the game. The result is usually hard fought cricket, with plenty of arguments, some of which turn ugly. That, however, is the environment where boys learn to respect differences, sort out issues themselves, and move on to the important business of playing the next match.

A tennis ball in the right hands can do terrifying things. Harmless looking lobs pitching a foot outside leg stump can uproot off stump (which can be anything reasonably off- stump-like) and result in arguments about whether the ball actually hit the stumps, whether the wicketkeeper disturbed the wicket; sometimes batsmen say they weren’t ready. Hitting the ball out of the gate in a certain friend’s house results in the batsman being declared out. I have known batsmen to do so with the cleanest of lofted drives right out of the sweetest part of the bat and say they weren’t ready.

A better argument would be the legitimacy of the bowler’s action. Underarm bowling can be defined in many different ways, and no two people agree upon the same definition. This is largely due to the fact that every bowler breaks some law in some manner. Bent elbows; arms being raised above hip, or sometimes shoulder height; right handed bowlers delivering the ball from a point near their left elbow – there are plenty of ways to get a tennis ball from one roughly drawn crease to another with one point of contact between ball and pitch somewhere in between.

Balls pitching twice are usually called dead ball, with rules changing from one street/apartment compound/backyard to another. The confusion always stems from the second pitch being behind the popping crease. This sort of delivery may or may not be a dead ball, and this sort of delivery has the nasty habit of beating batsmen and hitting the stumps. If only they played with straight bats…

If they all played with straight bats, however, there wouldn’t be any character left. Street cricket is an attractive spectator sport simply because it throws up great contests; which aren’t high quality skirmishes, but comedies of error. I was alarmed by the total lack of quality in a match between two teams of nine and ten year olds a few months back and I found myself thinking how much better my friends and I were at that age. Thinking about it now, though, we were probably as bad, if not worse. All that quality I remembered would have been what I had seen through ten year old eyes; and a ten year old mind would have made sense of what I saw using about five years of cricket knowledge as reference.

That was about the only match I’ve witnessed between kids of that age group in a very long time, and it saddens me to think of all the fun this generation is missing out on. Nobody plays on the streets, nobody sits on the walls, and nobody argues with the guy next door who confiscated the ball and refuses to return it. Some of those arguments were the greatest moments of my life, where the adrenaline would course through my veins, and I’d feel like the king of the entire street (which was a pretty big place for a small kid who wasn’t allowed to take his cycle out into neighbouring streets).

I vividly remember an argument I got into when I was a little older. This guy had chased us away from our pitch, and refused to let us play any longer. My friends had already started removing the stumps from the turf; and I was waging a lone, polite struggle against that chap, who was under the impression that we were out to break his beautiful windows. It went like this:

Me: We don’t intend any harm, sir.

Him: You better intend!!! You BETTER intend!!!

I’d have shown him plenty of intent, and possibly thrown in the meaning of the word as well, if my friends hadn’t disappeared from the spot.

There are too many such people around, all of whom occupy ground floor flats, and take long afternoon naps. The rapidly increasing population of this psychographic coupled with the rapidly dwindling population of kids who care enough for their piece of turf and the sport they play to actually resist being driven out, has probably brought the curtains down on street cricket, at least in the bigger cities with more affluent people. Every kid has a computer now; many have high-end gaming consoles as well. In the old days, a couple of us had 8-bit Nintendo consoles, and a whole bunch of kids would go to one person’s house, and we’d have loads of fun playing Mario, Contra and other simple, addictive games that turned up in plastic cartridges with a chip.

The only ten year olds (in the bigger cities, I reiterate) who play cricket or any other sport these days are the ones who are good at it; at an organised level, with coaches monitoring their every move. Parents don’t encourage their kids to go out and play, unless sport seems like a viable career option; viable career options for fifteen year olds!

There is too much homework, too many textbooks, too much talk of the big, bad, competitive world out there. Tenth and twelfth standard students suddenly stop singing, dancing, painting, playing the tabla and playing on the streets; and decide that the time has come for them to study. Examinations and record work become a priority; and some people reassure their children with this very amusing piece of advice:

‘Two years. Work hard for these two years, be serious; and you can enjoy life after that.’

How can someone who’s been robbed of his vitality during what should have been the most fulfilling phase of his life ever enjoy whatever is left of it? The fellows I saw going around with blank looks and textbooks in their twelfth standard are still doing just that. Their holidays were spent preparing for the next term, the next academic year; and once they’re out of college, they’ll be sitting on a desk somewhere, in front of a computer, putting together stuff other people did, making it look coherent and characterless. They’ll earn fat paychecks, yes, but none of that money will ever bring them the lost pleasures of their childhood, their children will go through the same process; and a generation of kids will grow up not knowing what it feels like to launch a tennis ball into Orbit Apartments.

Thursday 8 March 2007

Onion Oothappam

What can a power cut do to elevate your onion oothappam experience into a higher plane? This is not a question I have pondered a great deal about, but I was given an opportunity to do so the other evening.
I’m a great fan of the dosa and its myriad forms. The onion oothappam is a sublimely beautiful thing, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, with a smattering of molaga podi, if you like it, and finely diced onion embedded into its surface. The process of making one is fascinating to watch, and even more so, to listen to. This uninterrupted listening was made possible by the benevolent souls in the electricity board. No television, no television next door, and so on…
So there I sat, with an emergency lamp sitting next to my plate on the table; my back facing the kitchen where my mum weaved her magic. The batter went on the tawa, the ladle went over it repeatedly in a circular motion, and the whole thing sizzled away until, with a deft motion of her wrist, my mum turned it over. The sizzling became louder, and then a swift scraping noise as the oothappam slid off the tawa onto my plate.
I wasn’t watching her cook, but my ears were being treated to divine music.
As one disappeared down the gullet, another made its way onto my plate; and I began to reflect.
The best food is always found in an environment where there is no insecurity, where everyone knows everyone, and the setting doesn’t overwhelm the food. At home, therefore, the combination of consistently brilliant food and the knowledge that I can eat as clumsily as I want to and no one will mind makes the process of consuming food a real pleasure. I usually eat stretched out on the sofa, with a book in my hand, the remote on the armrest and the plate leaning at a dangerous angle that threatens the equilibrium of its contents. Sitting on an elegant high backed chair, with a frilly tablecloth sitting in front of you, laden with a selection of knives and forks so shiny you don’t want to put fingerprints on them, glasses with fluted stems waiting to upset the candles which seem to be there for the sole purpose of setting the tablecloth on fire; this sort of thing frankly makes me nervous. And the conversations around tables such as these are usually in hushed tones, and forced. The food itself is fussy, with elaborate care taken to make it look like a still life painting. Making food is an art, and it can be kept pure only if it’s allowed to be itself. This won’t happen if some chef too full of his own importance puts the chutney in a squeezy bottle and paints wiggly patterns all over a piece of oothappam cut in the shape of a butterfly with a very prominent proboscis. That chef doesn’t understand food. All he wants to do is to put his signature all over the place; like what I used to do all over my notebooks in school in the days when I used to be this guy with an inflated opinion of himself, seeking attention and seldom getting it.
When the chef begins to think he’s more important than what he’s putting on the plate, he loses sight of the fact that his customers primarily want to eat.
Actually, most of his customers turn up to soak in the ambience, the candlelight, the feeling of being treated like a spoilt crown prince who hasn’t learned to tie his shoelaces yet; eating isn’t quite the priority. That in turn causes the chef to indulge in impressionism, and this sort of thing attracts more of the ‘Look at me, I’ve got Swarovski on my shirt’ crowd. They’re stuck in a mindless vicious cycle.
They have no idea what they’re missing out on, the poor sods.
I laugh at them, a maniacal laugh, distorted slightly by the presence of copious quantities of oothappam in my mouth.

Tuesday 30 January 2007

Skipping

The other day I got myself a skipping rope... this jazzy red transparent thing, with black handgrips. I have no idea whether this thing will aid me in my ambition to look reasonably streamlined, but I can testify that it's a load of fun to twirl your wrists about and skip lightly on your toes, and hear the sonic boom as the rope goes past the speed of sound in its circular path around your momentarily airbone frame (that, provided the right sort of skipper is skipping, will make a great photograph, don't you think?).

The British Rope Skipping Association (first link google came up with) says:

Skipping is good for you, there are a number of health benefits including:

  • Improved cardio vascular fitness
  • Increased muscular strength
  • Better endurance
  • Improved body conditioning
  • Greater Flexibility
  • Improved coordination
  • Stronger bones

Skipping can also improve your skill:

  • Better timing and rhythm
  • Improved balance
  • Improved agility

Skipping may also bring additional benefits including:

  • Increase in social skills through meeting others
  • Opportunities to travel
  • Increase in self esteem through an easy to learn skill
  • Fun and educational
  • Opportunities to be creative
Not too sure how skipping can make me meet others, give me opportunities to travel and so on; but then again, I'm not ruling out any possibilities... if fate has it that skipping is gonna be the catalyst for major, and positive change in my life, then so be it!

Saturday 13 January 2007

Uncomfortably Large Man With Moustaches

Friday 12 January 2007

Do Porpoises Have Arms?

The Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, Pune, will be conducting its culturals from the nineteenth to the twenty first of January. The people at SIMC may have to do without the not inconsiderable prescence of the chaps from the Visual Communication department of DG Vaishnav just because of one incompetent buffoon at a counter in the Central station.
We needed to get a form stamped by someone at that counter. That someone was not to be found at the counter. The closing time for the counter was 1730 hours, and we were there at 1715 hours, IST. Unless these blokes were following time from a totally different time zone, we had every right to assume that we would get the form stamped, and get our tickets to Pune and back. Well, things don't work that way.
Finding nobody at the counter, I went to the door through which all the inner sanctums of the counters are accessed, and stood just outside, wanting to ask someone what to do next. A lady appeared, and I asked her. She said she was new there, and she didn't know. I cursed silently, and stood there, looking like someone with a runny nose who's just discovered his hanky lying underneath the feet of a horde of rampaging rhinoceri.
A surly, miserable looking man appeared out of nowhere, waving his arms about like a drowning porpoise (He may not have looked surly and miserable to me at that point in time, but subsequent events have clouded my ability to state events in an objective manner... and I'm not too sure whether porpoises have any arms to wave about). On closer inspection, he appeared to be saying something to me. He walked up to me, and told me to come back the next day at ten.
I'd got through about half of "But Sir, we need to book these tickets today..." when the surly, miserable man interrupted haughtily and said:
"We do not care about that."
... and shut the door in my face.
Now I do not know how one is supposed to react to that. I suppose people would disapprove of ramming the door open with the left fist, and saying 'fuck you!'.
Well, I did just that.
All I can say is, it was a spur of the moment thing, and all it would have done is make that buffoon firmer in his view that I was just a spoilt kid, too used to having things his own way. Any feeling of guilt (okay, I'm expecting finer emotions from someone unlikely to possess them, but that comes from a belief in the general goodness of the human race, and a feeling that there are way more good people in the world than bad ones) for his insensitive action of shutting that door in my face would have evaporated.
To all the chaps in Symbiosis waiting with bated breath to see us...
"Blame that surly, miserable @#$%^&* if we don't turn up."