Wednesday, 24 September, 2008


I pulled a scab off my shin today. I have no idea how the scab got there, but my shins are notoriously good at scraping themselves unintentionally on protuberant objects. This scab was on my left shin, and not cricket-induced; I haven't played at the Madhini's for ages.
It was most likely caused by my bike’s footrest or some other bike’s footrest in a parking lot, or the helmet lock left in the ‘up’ position by mistake as I threw my leg over to get on the bike, or my computer table. Next to it, incidentally, is where I sat as I pulled the scab off, causing rivulets of blood to flow down my shin, until my handkerchief soaked it all up.
I gave up writing this the day I began, and now, while I don’t remember pulling the scab off, I do remember writing about it; strange.
My handkerchief has soaked up blood on another recent occasion – a few months back, actually, when Rajesh Madhini whacked a straight drive into my nose. It was a tennis ball, mercifully. And in my last blog post, it soaked up coffee.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve carried a hanky around. You’re likelier to see one clutched tightly in my hand as I walk around in my uncoordinated way than not; seldom do they stay in my pocket very long. I also drop them a lot. I have had handkerchiefs trodden on by rampaging feet at football games; that even happened to my spectacles once, in the seventh or eighth standard.
Until about three months ago, I wore spectacles with pink frames. I’m colour blind, you see. And I didn’t have my mum or dad around while ordering the frames. I thought – dude, those brown ones are nicely inconspicuous, just the way you like them.
I like inconspicuousness. I even like the word inconspicuousness. This is the first time I’ve used it, in speech or in writing.
A couple of days back, I used the word aghast in a snooker report I wrote. I don’t know where that popped out from. “At 42-57 in the fifth, Sethi potted the blue at the top right, but watched aghast as the cue ball stopped with black bisecting its line on pink.”
Was he really aghast? I don’t know.
I played table tennis today – the third time in three months, at the Ergo office, only place at The Hindu where table tennis tables exist. The last time I played table tennis regularly was four years ago, or was it five?
It was at Rajesh and Pavan Madhini’s place. Where else?
The table earlier belonged in a house of their relatives, or family friends; I’ve never been sure. They let the Madhinis take it away, since no one was playing at that house any longer, or something of the sort. Pavan and I spent a whole day at that place, thinking of how best to relocate it to their place, a few streets away. We finally managed it; I don’t remember how. I do remember that in the time we were waiting, an old Telugu movie was being watched, and it had N.T. Rama Rao playing Krishna.
I haven’t ever watched a Telugu movie fully, from beginning to end. I have watched chunks, little and big, of a few, all at the Madhini’s. Where else?

Monday, 18 August, 2008

Why you should always carry two hankies

This was 4:30-ish. I was with a bunch of people at Saravana Bhavan (the one ACJ students flock to, in the Shanti theatre complex on Mount Road), and, inexplicably, decided to forgo my customary large watermelon juice (without ice) for a coffee.

The coffee changed direction somewhere in the region of my epiglottis when I happened to burst into laughter. As I held my blue hanky to my face, unable to arrest the coffee’s progress up my nasal passage, Lakshmi – who had made the remark that started it all – was apologising profusely, and Amruta almost collided with a man sitting on a table diagonally opposite ours in an effort to avoid being splattered.

She – and the rest – didn’t get splattered. I managed to get off my chair, turn around, and run to the wash basin – at a mercifully short distance from our table – all the while clutching my hanky against my nose and mouth.

As I spat the liquid into the basin, I heard laughter from the direction of our table while not being able to see too much through watery eyes, and all I could smell was the decoction and – mostly – milk floating around my nostrils.

Smell is a very direct sense. Smellers smell smellees because volatile odour molecules from the smellee bind to hair-like cilia attached to neurons in the nostrils of the smeller. That's right kids, it’s not some passive, formless signal that your nose picks up from that (insert appropriately abhorrent-smelling substance), but molecules possessing mass and physical form floating off the surface of the thing, sticking to hairs in your nostril.

And in my case, it wasn’t merely volatile molecules of milk, but large, viscous droplets clinging to my cilia like Cliffhanger.

What I smelled wasn’t the not unpleasant smell of milk in a glass, but this:

If you, like me, live in a part of the world where milk is delivered to your doorstep every morning in plastic packets, pick one up tomorrow morning and smell your hands. You won’t thank me for this, but it’s the only way I can get the olfactoriness of it all across.

I began typing this two months back, while still an ACJ student. I finished it today, and well, let’s just say it’s a weird tribute to the Shanti Theatre Saravana Bhavan for all the great times we had there.

Monday, 16 June, 2008

Wall cricket, and my non-maavu bat

I played cricket today. Against the wall.

Not ‘The Wall’, I hasten to add. Much as I’d love to have one of my dibbly-dobbly off-cutters sneak through that most unbreachable of defenses, and cart his seldom-seen off-breaks to all points on the compass, the wall I faced up to was one of brick, mortar, white paint and a switchboard put in place by someone with no knowledge of wall cricket. It’s hard to hit a good length if impediments exist on the wall. Pulling short balls was a no-no too, with a grandmother asleep at forward short leg.

The bat I employed was my ancient SG Super Cover. I bought this when I was in the fifth standard. It was then a size 5.

Through years of tapping on concrete and tarmac, and flinging over fences in moments of pique and angst, it has shrunk to a size 3.18 or thereabouts. The sticker says ‘English Willow’ and while it most certainly is an English Willow, it's an English Willow covered with parchment – which is a little short on street-cred, because parchment bats look like well-fed maavu bats. Maavu in Tamil means dough, or batter. Maavu bats are the ones that come – or used to, in pre-Beyblade days – free with Boost at some points in time, and Bournvita at other points in time. Most un-English my willow looks, but maavu it most certainly isn’t.

Mukul Kesavan (read in full here) once said of the parchment bat:

“… there was another kind of bat, which we treated like a dead thing, like an instrument merely: the parchment bat. This was a ready-to-use bat that didn't have to be seasoned: it came with its blade wrapped at intervals in three-inch wide bands of thread and the whole sheathed in a thick membrane. The only reasons to buy it (besides the labour saved on seasoning) were that it was cheaper than a willow bat and seen as more durable because the membrane (probably some kind of intestinal skin) and the bands of thread kept its blade from chipping. But no one bought parchment bats if they could help it, because they were hideous to look at …”

A parchment bat – with over half the membrane peeled off, leaving dull, coarse wood exposed – is perfectly suited to studiously smothering tennis balls bowled with the hand not holding the bat. The wall – usually, but not always – makes off-breaks and chinamen spin away from, and leg breaks and orthodox lefties toward, the (right handed) batsman.

In the past I’d imagine I was playing for India, usually making my test debut. There was this improbable phase in my life when I was a huge fan of Shiv Sundar Das – remember him? – and I’d open the batting with him, and we'd put on a gazillion runs before he fell – someone had to – and then Dravid would walk in, and so on. The unwritten rules I followed through all my test debuts were – always score a century, and always carry your bat.

There were other times when I would not be me, but someone else, and try to bat like them. I distinctly remember the Mark-Waugh-ness coursing through my veins as I gently sent a hip-high ball speeding through mid wicket some years ago.

I couldn’t recapture that today, thanks to my grandmother at short leg.

Thursday, 29 May, 2008

Trials, tribulations and twists

My ankle throbs as I type. Okay, the throbbing stopped in the morning, but what the hell, that was a good opening sentence.

It was a crater that did it, a dent on the surface of the PNT ground in Anna Nagar, as I made an overlapping run down the left flank. One moment, I was calling for the person with the ball at his feet – I forget who exactly – to pass the damn thing to me, the next I was hobbling back towards Pommie in goal.

“This time, it’s the left ankle,” I said with a grimace.

I’ve twisted my right ankle three times.

The first time was at Soma (Somasundaram ground, in T Nagar, behind North Usman Road), when we were kicking the ball back and forth before the match actually began. I landed heavily – I can’t land any other way, built as I am – as I passed to some chap with the outside of my foot, my foot crumpling underneath the rest of me as I fell.

I sat on the ground for a long time, and felt rather faint.

Later that night, my ankle was strapped up in crepe bandages and a painkiller stuck up my backside. The X-rays didn’t show up any damage, even though my ankle had swelled like a bhatura just before the finger-poke.

The next time was at Soma again, a week or so after the first time, when I clumsily stuck my just-recovered foot out to tackle someone flying down the right wing, and ended up landing awkwardly again. This time, I regained my balance as I fell, and it didn’t hurt so much; until the next day.

The third time was at PNT, and this time, I played on after it happened, hobbling about uselessly and getting in everyone's way.

This most recent twist, the left ankle, didn’t hurt after the first couple of minutes. I managed to run around as usual (which equates to a cross between a dodo and an orca, according to The Wats, who has a way with metaphors, or alliterations, or transferred epithets, or whatever else) and made a couple of interceptions, a couple of memorable passes – the best of which went to a chap on the other team who called opportunistically for it – and a few nifty off-the-ball runs which nobody, including my teammates, spotted.

Playing football after nearly a year; it was pretty darn – for lack of a better adjective – awesome. Considering I begin work on Monday, I’m unsure when the next time will be. And I haven’t played cricket for a long time either. Just as I imagined a week-long orgy of underarm matches, Rajesh Madhini tells me his doctor’s barred him from playing sport for two months – thanks to fluid in his knee or the lack of it, I’m not sure which.

At this point, I’d like to end with a little verse about knees and ankles, but since I don’t know any, I request someone else to come up with one, or pilfer someone else’s, and call it their own.

Monday, 21 April, 2008

The selectors were right, in hindsight

That hoarding went up when Ajay Jadeja was not picked in the test squad touring South Africa in 1996-97. Back then, he was my favourite cricketer, the man who came in at the death during the one-dayers and played nerveless, wristy strokes with the batting equivalent of a lazy drawl.

His stance was one-of-a-kind. Most batsmen tap their bats as the bowlers run in. Jadeja, chewing gum as he crouched low, did this with exaggerated motions of loose wrist and elbow, the bat going up and over his shoulder and back down again repeatedly.

Initially, he’d play with soft hands, dropping the ball square on either side of the wicket and turning the strike over, or, if he hit to a sweeper, walk between wickets, chatting with opponents as he did so.

He had the gift of timing, displayed in on-the-up drives through the covers with a diagonal bat-swing, and glides to the leg-side off his toes, as he sauntered across the crease. He often went the other way, giving himself room to slice the ball behind point.

What made him a delight to watch, however, was his six-hitting. He lofted with neither the power and authority of Tendulkar, or the whippy wrists of Azhar or the full, regal follow-through of Ganguly. He seemed merely to chip the ball, having skipped down the track to get to the pitch, and the cameras hurried to follow its parabolic arc. He hit sixes off spinners and fast bowlers, down the ground, over midwicket, and even behind point off full-length deliveries, with insouciant ease.

While facing genuine pace and swing bowlers in tests, with slips backing them up, his jauntiness seemed to disappear, to be replaced by loose, indecisive play. He played just 15 tests, scattered intermittently among his 196 ODIs.

Amul’s opinion of India’s selectors was shared by a 9-year-old boy in 1996. That boy modelled his street/terrace/backyard cricket stance on Ajay Jadeja, chewed a lot of Big Fun bubble gum, and collected the cricket cards, with pictures in front and – usually, ODI – statistics in the back, which came free with the gum.

Jadeja progressed from being a bronze card in early 1996 to a gold card in late 1999. The year after that he was banned due to his alleged nexus with bookies.

I don’t know if Big Fun bubble-gum is still available, or the cards that came with it. The gum was excessively sugary, and the cards full of inappropriate splashes of garish colour; a lot like limited-overs cricket.

I now truly enjoy only test cricket, and find the shorter versions repetitive and tiresome. However, I have to acknowledge that a one-day specialist making his debut, running 20 yards from mid-off and diving full-length to dismiss Allan Border at the 1992 World Cup, kick-started my love for the game.

Friday, 15 February, 2008

Ghanshyam and Radhey Shyam

Ghanshyam was slurping a considerable quantity of noodles up his pursed lips. The noise was getting on Radhey Shyam’s not very tolerant nerves, as he tried to come up with a solution to a tedious calculus problem.
Ghanshyam had no such worries. What he possessed, that Radhey Shyam did not, was the knowledge that no effort on his part would help him solve the differential equation that had been taxing the latter for so long.
Slurp he therefore did – with much enthusiasm too, for he was a boy with a healthy appetite, and a healthier disregard for classroom lunch hour etiquette.
Nearing the bottom of his lunchbox, Ghanshyam’s slurping was reaching a crescendo. To this he added the accompanying scrape of his fork against the insides of his lunchbox. This, decided Radhey Shyam, was the point where looks of exasperation would have to give way to a more direct approach.
The soupier kind of noodle was the kind of noodle Ghanshyam liked most. The last of the soupy liquid, and a single strand of noodle, was all that was left of his lunch, and he tilted his box at an angle to get to its contents easier. Radhey Shyam, with deft use of his right wrist, ensured that the noodle got to Ghanshyam before he could get to it.
Ghanshyam was no exception to the rule that people dislike soupy noodles on their shirtfronts.
There were thirty one students in the classroom at the time this incident took place. No two agree about what exactly happened after this point.
Every version, however, ends with Radhey Shyam’s calculus textbook being rudely interrupted in its Frisbee-like flight across the classroom by the sudden appearance of Mrs. Chitalkar’s bewigged head in its path.
This, I’m sure you’ll all agree, is just about the perfect way to begin a lasting friendship. And for the better part of fifteen years since, Ghanshyam and Radhey Shyam have been the most inseparable of chums, and best man at each others’ weddings.

I wrote this around a year back, and edited it today. This brings back memories of the time Vin and I wanted to illustrate and write, respectively, a graphic novel. It involved Ghanshyam, a water gun, aliens, and Anna Nagar. I actually wrote three disjointed chapters of that, and Vin drew one very detailed panel of a marketplace. Maybe I'll put up an 'excerpt' from that sometime, with that one illustration... Vinny's moved on since - to making graphic novels with real guns.

Wednesday, 13 February, 2008

Merciless editing creates space for blog post

Sculpture faces one inescapable hurdle – gravity. Dennis Lillee’s statue in front of the MCG would be a bronze facsimile of his pre-delivery-stride leap if only its right foot didn’t rest on a shiny cone. Flaming hair frames moustachioed face, which looks over left shoulder at the target 22 yards, a landing, and a long stride away. It’s not hard to imagine the statue coming to life: right foot landing lightly, left foot rising, coming down, and arms whirling in perfectly synchronous motion to give the ball thrust, direction and swerve, and then, just as the follow through ends, turning around, going down on its haunches, spreading its arms wide, and imploring the umpire to point heavenwards.
That was supposed to be the intro for my interview with Dennis Lillee (Yes, you read right - I spoke to the man himself, at the MRF Pace Foundation) for Digantik (ACJ's ezine). It didn't have a thing to do with the content of the interview, however, so it went flying off that page and onto this one. The actual interview is here.

Sunday, 3 February, 2008

Has Ghanshyam nothing to say?

It’s been a while. Two months and eight days, to be precise.

Looking at my shoutbox, I spy three consecutive comments from Vin that read, in chronological order:

  • New blog post man. Type!!!
  • Dei, update!
  • I give up, man. I give up.... bugger

I suspect that Vin wasn’t the first reader of this blog to give up. In fact, I’d commend the lad for coming back repeatedly despite knowing that a new post would be as likely a sight as… well, some very unlikely sight… think of one yourself, for crying out loud!

As you can see, my ability to conjure up similes has evaporated.

Is my blog nearing its sell-by-date? Or is it merely in a period of transition? Will it, like a something, rise from the other thing, and take its place in that thing whose name is on the tip of my tongue?

Has Ghanshyam nothing to say?

Is this a sign that the real Ghanshyam Nairs of this world are not amused by my appropriation of their name? Is the collective angst of the real Ghanshyam community tearing to pieces selective portions of the fabric of space-time, rendering me unable to blog?

Will I always be a pseudo-Ghanshyam; a wannabe-Ghanshyam?

Will I ever again type a sentence that doesn’t end with a question mark?