One day in Madras

“A North Indian family that I know is coming to Chennai tomorrow. Their train is coming in at ten in the morning and they have until about 8 in the night. They want to see Chennai. Suggest some places, no?”
It is always a welcome distraction — questions like this from a colleague — on a Thursday afternoon when, as most Thursdays go, the morning has been less than, er, good. More onThursdays at a later point in time perhaps. Back to the now. The Thursday afternoon, I mean.

“Dai! That’s hardly 10 hours! What do they expect to see?”
“Can you tell me or should I ask someone else?”

The old pride was wounded. A consummate Chennaivasi (for all you millenials out there; Madrasi for all of you, Anna Nagar and north), is a creature of supreme pride in the city of Chennai (formerly, and probably still should be, known as Madras). He/ she is also a creature of an thin film of sweat on the person at all times but let’s not get into the metaphysical definition here.
Being one of the aforementioned species of Madrasis, I was half tempted to say, ”Take them to Sowcarpet; it’ll be like they never left home. Ha!” However, the threat of “asking someone else” loomed large and, hey, one must be of service when one can, what? Thus began the plan of a day in Madras.

“They come in at 10 AM. Right. So, breakfast then. Ratna Cafe. Perfect. Central Station to Triplicane (Thiruvallikeni, if you are so inclined) is not that far. Plus, there is sambhar in jugs. That is what they are known for” (Notice the ‘h’)
“Wait, what?! Sambhar in jugs, ah?” (Again, notice the ‘h’; we are hip like that.)
“Yes.” (Mild pride.)
“So, will they give only the sambhar or will it come with idli or dosai as well?” (Sly.)
“Well, generally, they charge for the idlis but if your salary is delayed, you could possibly go just for the sambhar.” (Ha!)

“Anyway, Ratna Cafe. Breakfast. Set. Next, Parthasarathy temple. Right next to Ratna Cafe only. Not too far. Coming all the way here. Might as well get some prasadam, I mean, punyam. But prasadam is quite good. So, would not necessarily not go for that. If you know what I mean”
I was met with a not-too-amused look. Ha! These non-Madras types. Don’t get the humour only.
“Anyway, the temple closes by noon, I think, so, they should be just in time.”
“OK. Then?!”

“Then, Marina beach. Noon sun. Good sunbathing. No, wait.”  (snigger)
“Dai!”
“More seriously, Tere mere beach mein…” (more snigger)
“Dai nonsense!”
 “Alright alright. No beach. Too hot. No lighthouse also. That also too hot. Best. Santhome Basilica. It is old. It is historic. Most importantly, it will also be cool. “
“Right. Seems fair.”
“So, by the time they are done with this, time for lunch. Let’s see. Madras. Lunch. Definitely elai-saapaadu. Santhome, no? So, nearby… Yes. Cathedral Road. So, Saravana Bhavan or Woodlands. Although Woodlands, strictly, is Udupi but still it is a cult of Madras so, I guess that is acceptable. However, be warned. These are both light ah fraud elai-saapaadu. Because, well, technically, you do eat on an elai (banana leaf) but that is placed inside a steel plate. But then again, speaking most technically, it is indeed an elai so, we’re good there.”
“Are you done?”
“Not really; I do have strong feelings about leaves on steel plates masquerading as the real thing but I am guessing, from the look on your face, that you are not really interested in my opinion. So, final decision: Saravana Bhavan. Lunch. Full meals.” (Satisfied look on face; not unlike the look one has after demolishing a full meal)

“OK. So, it will become 2 by the time they have eaten. Let me get this straight. They have been in Chennai for a whole 4 hours and what they have done is this — drink sambhar, eat prasadam, eat lunch, and in between these meals, visited a temple that may or may not be open, and an age old basilica to keep cool.”
“Yep.” 
“Thoo!”

Uncalled for. Pride hurt. Yet, one must soldier on. Time to step it up a gear.

“Fine. Be that way. I will continue. Afternoon. Too hot to do anything outdoor. Semmozhi poonga perhaps. If any outdoor place is mildly tolerable, it should be this but then again, no outdoor. Ah! Best. Sathyam theatre. Middle of the week. Afternoon show. Ten rupee ticket also should be available. Tamil movie.”
“Dai!”
“Alright. No movie then. Egmore Museum?”
Quizzical look.
“Birla Planetarium?”
Menacing look.
“Cafe Coffee Day?”
Murderous look.
“What? Did you know that there is a Cafe Coffee Day in Prague’s oldest station? No? Don’t care. Alright. Let me think, then. Fort St. George. History of Madras and all that. Done.”
“That is probably the first decent suggestion I have heard from you all day.”
“That’s probably because you are not listening properly. All my suggestions are excellent. Ha! Besides, what I actually wanted to suggest was that Agarwal chaat place in Parry’s but, er, thought better of it and stopped a couple of kilometres short of it.”
“Right.”

“Anyway, that should take take care of the afternoon. They should be done by 4:30 or so. Even if they are not, well, they’ll probably shut the museum and they’ll have to be done, anyway.” (Snigger)
Clearly, slapstick comedy is not appreciated. Sigh.
“OK then. They still have about two and a half hours. What next?”
“Marina beach. Bajji! Always. No, wait. On the way, evening coffee needs to be put. Since they are in the vicinity, they might as well go to Ratna Cafe. And while they’re at it, slyly put a couple of idlis as well, what? No? Idli only once a day? Have it your way. Only coffee. Then beach. Then bajji. I would still have had the idli but, well, suit yourself.”

I could see that there was much grimacing. Finally words emanated.

“Right. Marina beach. They will do the gun shooting and the sundry. And yes. Don’t remind me. THEY WILL EAT BAJJI. Then what?”
“Well, it will probably be time for them to traverse the city and go to Egmore station. They might just have time to slip in a dinner at Mathsya.”
“Right. Because they will be famished, no?”
“Well, I am not so sure of that but they need one for the road, no? Or, in this case, one for the tracks.” (Snigger)

“Of course, they will. Well, thank you so much for all that. I shall keep that in mind.”
“No, you need do no such thing. Here, this is for you.”

Unbeknownst to him, when he was grimacing and sighing and doing all of that, I had put the entire itinerary neatly on a piece of paper. I handed this to him with a flourish.
It was still Thursday afternoon but at least I had that good-samaritan-glow on me — the one that comes when one does a good turn for a fellow human.

It was Thursday evening. I was still pretty pleased as punch. After all, it is not everyday that one does not necessarily get to plan a family’s day-long itinerary, carefully craft it on a piece of paper and hand it over in the knowledge that the aforesaid artefact would be duly handed over to the tourists. I found a piece of paper that looked strikingly similar to the artefact in question. It was crumpled and on the floor. Men of weaker constitutions might well have despaired. I simply took one look at it, and headed off to Ratna Cafe. The evening sambhar actually is better than the morning sambhar is my theory, and the proof of the sambhar, as they say, is in the jugging. Or is that chugging?

4152 words.

The office had moved. A new TV had been installed. This was two months ago.  The TV was a prop, essentially. No one turned it on. Ever. There was no set top box attached to it. Neither was there a PS3 or and Xbox or a blu-ray player. Like I said, it was a prop. What a waste, I often thought when I walked past, for, to get to my seat from the entrance, I always needed to pass that central bay that housed the TV.

And then there was two weeks ago. The Tata Sky HD box appeared, as if right on cue. I wondered why. The West Indies test series – the one that I was vehemently in denial over – was to begin the next day. ‘Ha!’, I remarked, to myself. What a farce.

I was opposed to this series. I do not know what I am using the past tense here. I still am opposed to this series. Actually, I am not so sure now. When this series was announced, I genuinely was pissed off. Not so much that there was this dummy-obligatory-Sri-Lanka-esque series that was being held but more that the South Africa series – one that I had, after a very long time – actually been looking forward to, was being shortened.

I, as I am sure countless others, was really looking forward to seeing how this new Indian team actually handled themselves when properly tested. Bah! At any rate, I was not really ticked off by fact that this whole new series was being created so that Sachin could play his 200th in Mumbai. That was alright. After all, he deserves that much, at least.

What really really irked me was that he announced his retirement close on the heels of the announcement of this series. Now, this was pathetic. It really was. No, not because this whole farce of a series was being scheduled to commemorate him but because my only thought was that he was, surely, beyond this. Wasn’t he? Sigh.

I was angrier that he opted to play these two tests. Let me make one thing clear – I still think Sachin can cut it in South Africa. I still think Sachin is needed. Just his presence makes a difference. It really does. So when this is the case, I was so god damn angry that he decided to retire after Mumbai. I mean, this was, almost admission of the fact that he was not good enough. Really? Sachin, you’re not good enough? Your body has really had that much that you cannot play two tests in South Africa? I refuse to believe that.

That is the reason that I believe that this retirement and all the hoopla that surrounds it is not his choice. I think that it is being forced onto him. I really do. Yes, he has not been the Sachin of old and maybe he should’ve retired a while ago but this, surely, is not right. No, not in my eyes.

So all this being said, I decided to ignore all before me. As far as I was concerned, this test series was like the moon landing. It never happened. I did not read any tribute. I had the Cricinfo Sachin page open as a tab for two weeks but did not once read anything in it. Why did I not just close the tab then? Honestly, how could I?

The party rolled in to Kolkata. India bowled. Predictably, West Indies failed miserably. India began batting. A couple of wickets fell. Sachin came in to bat. I wanted to watch. No, I did not. Yes, I did. I’m fickle that way. In any case, I did not. Not even a replay. I heard that the LBW decision was a dodgy one. I did not care. Or so I thought. I watched one stray replay of that LBW – in real time, not in slo-mo – on a news channel. I knew that it was not out. I did not care. Only, not.

The only two moments I witnessed of that entire first test were Rohit Sharma bringing up his century and then Ashwin bringing up his. India would win. Of that, I had no doubt. Hence, I did not care. I learnt from somewhere that they were planning all sorts of things with 199. Someone told me that it was 199 million rose petals or something of the sort. I knew that that would never happen but this is India and in India, and when it comes to going over the top, one cannot discount anything. Ever. (Later on, I learnt that the plan was some 199 kg of rose petals which, if still absurd, was a lot more plausible.)

And so the lull in between the two tests. We now, of course, had two extra days of ‘Sachiiiiiiiiiin…… Sachin’ and the whatnot to bear on TV. To compound that, there was no football either, so nothing else on TV. I really did not want to watch any of those tributes and stories and histories. I really did not. Bloody hell, man! Why should I? Inevitably, however, I did end up watching a stroke when flipping through the channels. Of course, when I was on channel 202 on Tata Sky, surely, I could comfortably skip past 403,404,405,406,413 and the whatnot that showed the Sachin shows. Of course, I could just keep pressing the right arrow for when I did, I would still remain on 202 but would know precisely what was coming on the other channels and hence could avoid ‘inadvertently’ watching those shows. And yet, I ended up putting on one of those shows. For no more than a couple of seconds. But those couple of seconds would yield one stroke. Just the one. I could bear to watch no more. I scanned the other channels for anything else. There was nothing else that I wanted to watch. I still would not let myself tune into those channels. I’d rather switch the TV off. I did.

The second test approached. There were even fewer tickets for the public in Mumbai that in Kolkata. This was another of my several reasons for hating the very idea of this series. I was determined to boycott the test. This was just wrong. And then the test became ever closer. The tab still lay open. Chrome installed some update. The browser restarted. With it, refreshed all the tabs. The Cricinfo20 tab that lay dormant was now updated. I had to steal a glance. I did. I saw the range on the page. I read the Osman piece on Tendulkar vs Pakistan. Secretly, I outraged. I read another couple. Something stirred. I was embarrassed with myself. I was a hypocrite. No question, now. The strange thing, however, is that I simply did not care any longer. I am a hypocrite. So be it.

And so, it slowly dawned. Sachin was really going. That part of me, that non-hypocritical one, still asked the most fundamental of questions – so what? And so, the test started. Dhoni won the toss. He chose to bowl. Good. Or not. I did not care. The West Indies started well. That was good. I always have had a soft spot for them. I really hoped that they put up a fight. It looked like they would. And then the inevitable happened. They collapsed. I walked by the TV on my way to pick up some coffee. The only ball I saw of that West Indies innings was the second ball that Sammy faced. That was enough to disgust me no end. Walk away.

And then India started batting. Vijay and Dhawan were going along quite well. I saw one straight drive that Dhawan played. It went straight to the fielder but it was a thing of beauty. He then punched one brilliantly through the covers. Vijay then came on strike. A couple of outstanding shots. Good. The pair would bat through the day, I hoped and went back to my seat. Even the Cricinfo match tab that is usually open was closed. I had  no access to the score. I couldn’t care less.

There was, suddenly, this noise building up next to the TV. Maybe one of these chaps had reached a fifty. No. it was not that. It was not a noise of applause. It was not one of appreciation. There was something else in the air. It was anticipation. I quickly opened the Cricinfo tab. It said that India were two down. Sachin was heading down the stairs. I rose from the chair. I sat down again. These moments, literally, were excruciating. Sachin. Mumbai. One last time. Me. Hypocrisy. The sham of the series. My pride. All those pent up feelings. I could not let myself down. Sachin. One last time. Mumbai. Adidas. MRF. Power. Whites. Helmet. Crotch adjustment. Looking up at the sun.

I was in front of the television. There are some things that are bigger than you or your ego. Sachin is one of them. I looked around. There was a smile on so many faces. I looked at the TV. He was taking guard. They cut to the guard of honour that the Windies had formed. What was that feeling inside? Emotion? Sentiment? No. Pride. Yes, that’s what it was. How was it that I could take any pride in his success, I wondered later on, on reflection. I did not have an answer. I still don’t. however, I did take pride. Immense pride.

I looked at the scene. There were, perhaps, 50 people there. There were 3 chairs, only one occupied. All the others had just come to watch Sachin bat for a ball, maybe an over. And then they had to get back. After all, the world does not really stop for Sachin, although, briefly, it did. So there was no one on those chairs. In retrospect, more of the standing, I think, was the tension. I believe that people could not bear to sit. I know that I could not. And then there was that first ball.

A wild slog. Under edge. A single. No duck. A huge sigh of relief. I could feel the tension lifting all around me. As for me, no. I did not breathe a sigh of relief. I smiled. I knew what that was. It was a release. It was evident. The first one was out of the way. It was a signal. This was not going to be a builder’s innings. This was going to be an innings that was Sachin’s alone. It was for Sachin. This was an innings that was less for the country and more for him. It was for everyone who ever mattered to him. It was for everyone who did not matter to him. It was an innings. That’s all it was.

He was off the mark. People started going back to work. I did not really have work to do but then the righteous self that was still a small part of me wanted me to go for I could, maybe, still claim some moral high ground later on. I decided to watch for a few balls. I still stood. I stood more in fear of sitting for, sitting would mean not getting up; not until Sachin got out. So I stood.

And so I watched. Nine sedate balls. And then the tenth. Shillingford bowls. Off the pads. No chance. Tendulkar takes guard again. Short. Back foot. Point. Four. This was excruciating. Last ball of the over. Pitched up. Driven past mid off. Four. I sat down.

Then Gabriel bowled. Sachin leant into it. Cover drive. Four. South Africa popped into the head. India were 36 for 5. Or so I think. It was Azhar and it was Tendulkar. It was Donald and then it was Pollock. Or so I think. I usually am above average at remembering these things but maybe I’m just growing old. I do remember a Tendulkar century. I remember a cover drive that was an echo of this shot. I don’t remember how much Azhar got that day; I don’t remember how much Sachin got. I don’t remember how much he struggled. I don’t remember when he played that cover drive. I don’t even remember if it was the same one. However, the cover drive brought back memories. It just did.

Sedateness. Singles. Dots. More singles. Samuels fires it in. Down the leg side. It is helped on by that oh so deft turn of the writs, the bat and the whole being. Fine leg. Four. A lap sweep. That’s what came into the head. Not one. The many. I could not remember the bowler or the opposition. All I remembered were all those sweeps.

Another punch through point. Another four. More memories. Bowlers of much more calibre – not offence meant to Samuels – being dispatched. Simply. With the minimum of fuss. Rocking back onto the back foot and the ball sailing past point. Sydney. The lack of the cover drive. Contrapuntal.

And then it came. It had to. Sammy bowled. A poor delivery. An immaculate on drive. Sharjah. Desert storm. Only, not. Captain’s trophy. That’s what. Captain’s trophy was Jaga’s invention. A two wicket tournament that pitted the captains of countries against each other in a world cup format. Each captain was, of course, given two chances. India’s captain at the time was Ganguly. Only, in Jaga’s book, and in mine, it was Sachin. It always was. Captain’s trophy was the T20 of book cricket, so to speak.

Jaga was the most amazing cricket fan that I knew at the time. Age has mellowed him but I do not have a greater cricketing friend than him. He had this cricket book. In fact, he had many. Every game of every tournament was neatly detailed. Whole hosts of cricket world cups were played. Every game had a page of its own. The page was neatly divided down the middle. We used small notebooks, for the sole reason that carrying a 15cm ruler was much less cumbersome than a 30cm one. Each side had the opposing squads. All the names, including the initials (for the space crunch meant that the whole name could not be fit) and then empty space next to them to write down the score. Only once all this was done did the game really start.

Captain’s trophy had only the captains competing but it was properly and meticulously detailed. Sachin was the only one who could captain India. Of course all sense of fairness and propriety went out of the window. It had to be Sachin. It just had to be. And so, I shamelessly copied Jaga and played captain’s trophy after captain’s trophy. And I shamelessly cheated when Sachin got out. Those of you familiar with book cricket will know that if a page open was such that a page came loose in your hand, it did not count (we even counted them as no-balls and awarded runs, well it is a batsman’s game, what?) and, more importantly, a batsman would not be out if that happened on a ‘0’ page. I do not know how but Sachin had the uncanny knack of getting out off no-balls. More than any other batsman. I wonder if I had anything to do with that. On second thought, perhaps not. Of course I believe that. Ha!

That one on-drive reminded me of that one on-drive took me back to class 5 and class 6. Of all those atrocities committed in his name. When it came to Sachin, fair play did not exist. In my book. Literally. I even remember how, when playing India games, if a wicket fell and Sachin came in (he was always at 2 down for me for the fear of him getting out too soon and the team losing morale as a result) and the resulting page open resulted in a ‘0’, Sachin would be neatly side stepped and the next batsman would have a 0 nicely written against his name. Sachin, it was said, came in at three down in that game. I really wish Jaga has one of his many many cricket books with him. It really would make for interesting reading. Unfortunately, I do not have a single one of mine. Sigh.

Stumps. 38 not out. I waited until he was safely back in the dressing room lest someone run him out or do something of the sort. Of course that is not possible for the rules of the game don’t allow it but this was the last innings. One could not afford not to be too careful.

The next day’s play started. I was in office early. This time, I took my seat. I was, however, full of dread. We have the daily call with the person on-site at 10 AM. Sachin survived a couple of overs. When I say survived, I mean negotiated with relative ease. This was not going well. I was going to miss the action. And then whatsapp – god bless that! Tanay, the chap who is at the client’s end and with who we have the call everyday pinged me. ‘Let’s have the call at lunch. Or after Sachin is out.’ God bless Tanay.

And so it continued. 39 not out. Four. Four. Just like that, 47 not out. Single. Dot. Dot. Something. Didn’t matter. And then, four. Straight drive. Apt. Nothing else. Just apt. everyone around me clapped. I could not. No. I could not allow myself to. My heart, however, did skip a few beats.

And then it continued. Another couple of fours. It was becoming routine. Tino did his Best to try and ruffle Sachin with short ones. He glared at him. Sachin playfully brushed him away. The mind went back. Caddick. That six. Shoaib. That four. McGrath. All those hits. Olonga. Ha! What happened on the field with Tino was nothing. What happened in the mind with history was something else.

And then there was another on-drive. Again, one from the past. Perhaps one for the past. At that time, I did not know it; no one did. It was to be the last.

And then it came. Big stroke. Slip. Gone. Silence. Sammy could scarcely believe what he had done. And just like that, it was over. I wish I could describe the feeling but saying anything at all will be disgracing it. That, ladies and gentlemen, was that.

Everyone on the ground applauded. I could not bring myself to. Upon reflection, I now see myself. Sitting, slumped on that chair, grasping both ends tightly for support. I saw that entire walk all the way into the dressing room. Someone walked into bat. I think it was Virat Kohli. The mind did not really register. It cut to the picture of Sachin condemning himself and practicing that stroke over again.

I looked around me. Some people had left. There were still about 5 people around the TV. They had that look of anticipation on their faces. They were genuinely excited to see Virat bat. They wanted to see Pujara reach a century and then go beyond. They were genuinely looking forward to an Indian cricketing future – a future sans Tendulkar. The times, they are a changing. I got up and walked to my seat. I couldn’t help but think that if I were watching at home, I would’ve switched the TV off. Somethings, I believe, never change.

And so I went back to my desk and sat there. I did not know what to make of it all. I took out my phone and sent a text to Jaga, ‘What happens now, da?’ ‘Don’t know machi. Still dazed… not able to think about what next,’ was the reply.

I’m in a terrible rut. I have not been able to write – even by my very mediocre standards – anything at all for a few months now. A few bits of a 140 characters but even those, few and far between. Jaga has been too. He hasn’t written much over the past couple of years himself. We made a pact. I would write one on Tendulkar. He would write one on Tendulkar. This rather rambling, long-winded and pointless account is my end of the deal. I do hope he fulfils his end of the deal for that will make for some fantastic reading. I promise you that.

I did not watch a single ball of the match after that. India would win, I knew. Tendulkar would not bat again. I knew. I saw the score sporadically on Saturday morning. 5 down. 8 down. All out. India had won. Post match presentation.

Ravi Shastri’s booming voice, ‘… India have won but, more importantly, a great career has come to an end.’ That one line encapsulated all that I found wrong with the series. I was angry once again. I did not care who the god damn man of the match was. I did not care what Dhoni said or what Sammy did. I walked away into the kitchen to look at something that I had left on the stove. And then Shastri announced that Sachin would now talk. All that anger, all that pissed-off-ness was gone. The crowd went beserk and then Sachin started talking. I sat down on the floor. And then I listened; listened as he thanked his father; his mother; his sister; his brothers; his wife; his children. And then the power went off.

Anger. Frustration. Pure and raw emotion. A couple of swear words. The power did not come on. I went back into the kitchen. I was numb. And then the power came back, 15 minutes later. And then Sachin came on the TV. He was still talking. I could not listen. I did not want to. I decided to catch the entire thing online at some point in the future. I still have not watched it.

In retrospect, I think that that speech represented my Sachin; my personal Tendulkar. At first, I watched, riveted to the screen just as I had done as a lad. And then as I grew older, football replaced cricket and I began ignoring cricket (though I always did see Tendulkar bat whenever I could but not with the fervour of yore) and then as the years rolled on and bowlers who had no right to get him out began to do just that, it became too excruciating to watch.

The speech ended. I missed a good deal of it. Sachin was standing there and talking to a motley crew. And then they carried him on that lap of honour. And then he again stood there, all the time guarded by a security detail. And then he shed that detail. He walked. He walked towards that Wankhede pitch. He reached it. I thought that they were showing a replay of him inspecting the pitch before the start of play. He reached that pitch and then he bent down. I still thought it was a shot of how committed he was until his last day. And then he touched the crease and then got back up again, doing a ritual reserved for a temple. A lump formed in the throat. That, was it. That, right there, that little gesture, was, is, and will always be Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Cricketer.

Epilogue:

In about 70 years time, in a post apocalyptical world, long after the Earth and all Earthlings are long gone, an alien race will, by some chance, happen to land on Earth. They will scan the planet for signs of life. They will find none. They will, by chance, stumble upon a computer terminal. Miraculously, that terminal will be connected to what we know today as the internet. In that terminal, the Google homepage will be open. The cursor will be on ‘I’m feeling Lucky.’ The alien clicks on that cursor. A page of google results (all 4 billion pages) of Sachin will be thrown up. The aliens carefully read every one of those pages.

They read about his batsmanship – not that they understand what that is – , his humility, his grace, his elegance and how he gave hope to an entire country, an entire race, and how he became more than just a human being, how he became a demi-god and then a God.

They read all this and then they come to the inescapable conclusion – Sachin Tendulkar is an urban myth. It was a myth that was concocted by the oppressed world to give it hope. No one, they – the aliens – believe could be this good. No one man could mean this much to these many. It simply is impossible. It was a myth. It had to be. The aliens leave. In denial. Many of us live today. In denial.

Elvis might have left the building. Sachin has not. I don’t think he ever will.

“Vishwaroopam is only a trailer”

‘Vishwaroopam is not a movie at all. It is merely a trailer.’ This was the startling revelation, by a group of hoax slayers calling themselves The Grand Hoax Slayers Organization.

The spokesperson, Mr. Guna, said, ‘The whole thing is one big hoax perpetrated by Mr. Kamal Haasan  to keep his fans happy. It is a universal hoax; a grand larceny even.’ He continued, ‘see, the thing is quite clear, actually. We first heard of this mega movie of Mr. Haasan, Vishwaroopam, some time a couple of years ago. This came hot on the heels of two big mega movies called Marudhanayagam and Marmayogi that never were, as well. So, we here at the The Grand Hoax Slayers Organization were naturally piqued.

‘Upon digging deeper, we found that perhaps our fears were unfounded as we saw Vishwaroopam posters periodically but then again, this being Mr. Haasan, we were still very ginger. Then came the trailer with all the dancing and the bullets and we  really thought that a corner had been turned. We saw trailer 2 and more and more of our fears were allayed.

‘However, then came the whole skype-based trailer. That jump at the beginning of the video itself set all alarm bells ringing. That, along with the familiar thooya-tamil-in-New-Jersey-accent claims of Auro 3-D really set the cat amongst the pigeons for us. Then came the video of the making of the trailer. Very soon, there was one trailer of making as well.

“Once all this business was over, he then came up with this whole DTH business where he ruffled more than a few feathers. In retrospect, looking at how it played out, we believe that is was all stage-managed. There was no tie-up with DTH or anyone else. Once that had dies down, the first proposed release date had come and gone.

‘Now, people wanted to see the film and when the next release date loomed, the other controversy came up and now, the release has be re-postponed. Now, once is OK. Twice is acceptable but thrice? We smell a hoax. We believe that Mr. Haasan is strongly yearning for a hat-trick after the successful hoaxes that were Marudanayakam and Marmayogi (that filler – movie where the highlight was the popcorn at the interval – Manmadhan Ambu is not to be counted).

‘Seeing the trailer, we now know that Mr. Haasan is both a hero and a villain and that everyone in the movie has a double role. If you carefully look, the first trailer focussed more on the ‘hero’ Kamal Haasan and the second on the villain. The double role is thus justified. So too, the hero and villain part. 

‘Having seen all this conclusive evidence, all we can say that Vishwaroopam is nothing but a trailer and we at The Grand Hoax Slayers Organization have successfully slayed yet another hoax. On top of this, Mr. Haasan says that he has already started work on Vishwaroopam 2 as well. Ha!’

When Mr. Haasan was approached for comment, he said that he was considering renaming the film ‘summa.’

The book house

I don’t particularly like work. Work on a Saturday, I detest even more. If that theory held good, yesterday should’ve been a day I detested. I, however, ended up enjoying myself very much indeed. I made the trip to the book house.

I had not, in all honesty, done too much work on my 8 week long internship and well, when it is coming to an end, one must work, what? Unfortunately, yes. That was the premise of why I was working on Saturday.

I had to do some groups as part of the project I was working on; market research and all that. I made my way to this house which was the venue. I entered and there was a large sitting room, a dining room, a kitchen and a couple of rooms on one side. There was one small passageway leading into a huge drawing room on the other. I went into the drawing room and instinctively looked up.

There were bookshelves everywhere! Wow! There were old leather-bound volumes of encyclopedias and whatnot. Immediately, my eyes that have been so attuned to the single minded pursuit of one thing and one thing only, started the scan. And what I found led to the old jaw dropping. Oh good God! Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, in all his glory. There were about forty titles, some of them I had never heard of let alone seen anywhere at all.

I had some initial set-up work to do and this, I did hurriedly. Now, I did not really know if it was right to go and talk to the people who owned the house for we were only there on a temporary basis and I did not really know what the protocol was re interacting with the house owners. I peeped from the hall. I looked at the books again. I did not dare touch the books. I peeped again. Still unsure of whether I ought to go ask the owner about it, I mustered up the courage, so to speak.

He was putting on his shoes, evidently to go out.

‘Excuse me sir but would you mind if I took a look at those books? There are some there that are out of print and are absolutely treasures and I would like to see them.’

You have read that? Now imagine taping that and playing it back at 1.5x speed. That was how fast I was talking.

He looked at me, perplexed. Fortunately, his wife seemed to understand what I said and said, ‘yes. No problem. But only seeing, eh?’

‘Yes ma’am.’

I hurried off and slid the glass door and started looking. Well, if you could ever use the word ogle with books, well, I was pretty much doing just that. And then he came in.

‘What are you looking at?’ he asked.

‘Wodehouse, sir.’

Notice who holds the copyright in 1970.

‘Oh! You like Wodehouse, is it? I have 72 out of the ninety odd titles.’

Words did not really come out but I think I managed an ‘oh!’

An edition I did not know existed and a title I had never seen in print

‘Have you read other English authors as well? Because my collection is predominantly English.’

‘Like Tom Sharpe, sir?’

‘Bah!’ In that one word, he dismissed him. Easy as that. He reeled off another few names but I had not really heard of any of them. ‘Yes, I have the Herbert-Jenkins collection as well,’ he said. I had no idea what he was talking about. He pointed to the shelf. If one’s eyes can grow bigger that one could possibly imagine, it would not be wrong to say that mine did.

There was a whole row of neatly stacked, almost nondescript, hardbound editions with no paper jackets on them. They had the Herbert-Jenkins crest on then and lettering in gold that was faded over time but what must have been brilliant and lustrous once upon a time. The lettering was, of course, the name of the titles.

Herbert Jenkins edition. Bought in 1950.

I picked one up, almost too scared to damage it, however slightly. The book was in fantastic condition; well, as fantastic as a book that was 62 years old can be. I was mesmerized. He looked at me and decided that the time had come to go off on the errand he was running until I interrupted him.

The inside of the book.

So as the day wore on, I stole time away between sessions of work and even during sessions to go talk to sir and ma’am. He is an utterly fascinating man and to write about all that we talked about would be rambling on a little too much.

One incident, however, I must quote. He was telling me about his grandfather being the Diwan of Mysore and from there it veered into Indian history and somehow I brought up Ram Guha.

‘One of my favourite authors is a Bangalorean, sir; Ramachandra Guha.’

‘Ah! Of course, Ram Guha.’

‘If you’re interested in cricket…’

‘What do you mean, by are you interested in cricket? I played for Karnataka. I still draw a pension from them.’ There was no scorn. It was only a kids-these-days look.

‘I… I did not know, sir,’ I bumbled, most apologetically and red-faced.

He smiled and walked off. I thought I had ticked him off. Apparently, it was nothing of the sort. He just went to do some work. He did come back after a while and said, ‘you were saying something about Guha?’

‘Yes sir. He wrote a wonderful book on Indian cricket. You must read it.’

‘Yes. He is primarily a cricket historian.’

‘Well, sir, I met him once and he said that he would not really write too much about cricket any more. He said that there were more interesting things to write about.’

He laughed.

I did talk to him and his wife about a whole lot of stuff and it was very very fascinating, to say the least. There was an old TV in the sitting room. Apparently, the TV was bought before the 1983 world cup and they have watched the 1983 and the 2011 final on the same TV. Whatay!

Among the other treasures, there is also a whole set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica published in the year 1911. A set of books that are a hundred and one years old. Holy cow!

The encyclopedia Britannica. 1911.

And so, it was time to go. I went to say goodbye. Mr. Sadashivan was out. I spoke to ma’am.

‘Thank you for everything ma’am. I have taken pictures and I am sure I am going to be the envy of a few people. Thanks for the coffee as well.’

I turned to leave and then turned back.

‘If you ever ever decide to give those books away, please do let me know first.’

‘Hahaha! As long as he is there, he will never let even a paper go out of the house.’

‘I know that, ma’am and I don’t expect to get anything any time soon but if ever, please do let me know.’

‘But how will I contact you?’

My contact details are now safely lodged with them. I will, hopefully, have right of first refusal on those books. Not a bad day’s work, what?

P.S ‘This house is, in your market research parlance, called the book house. It is quite a popular venue for conducting groups/interviews etc.’, she said to me very early on in the day. The name is apt, I think.

Samarpan

This was the first concert that I went to after the Remember Shakti one in Feb. I got in full what I got a glimpse of in the Shakti show. Vikku in full flight.

The line up was fantastic. There was Shankar Mahadevan. There was Shrinivas. There was Vikku. There was Ranjit Barot. There was Aditya Kalyanpur. There was, of course, my personal favourite – Selvaganesh. As Jeeves would put it, ‘Capital!

Now, I must confess that I had not really heard of Aditya Kalyanpur before. I had heard the name Ranjit Barot but had not really heard his music. The concert was scheduled to start at 7. I reached about 10 minutes before that. I took my seat. I waited. The clock struck seven. No sign of the show getting underway. It then became 7 10. Still no sign. An announcement: ‘We apologize for the delay. People are stuck in traffic and hence we are waiting for the audience to come in. We are sorry for the inconvenience but we will be starting shortly.’ The show started 15 minutes hence.

A small thing that I have noticed off late. Too many shows starting late. Not a healthy trend at all. Just a personal remark, that’s all.

So they came on stage. Shankar, Selva, Shrinivas, Aditya and Ranjit. There were 4 ghatams on stage. I was piqued. Vikku, however, abstained. I was disappointed.

My disappointment, however, did not last very long. Shankar took off in Hamsaswani and the piece was quite fantastic. I did, somehow, find the drum to be at odds with every other instrument on stage but after a while, I got used to it. The thing that took me back most about this piece was that there was a very very loud bass beat that ended every rhythm cycle. I thought that the drum kit was louder than necessary. It was only towards the end of the piece that I realized that it was not the drum but Selva on the kanjira. Mind = blown. I could’ve sworn that it was the sound of a drum. I did not really know that a kanjira was capable of sounds thus. More on that later.

The next piece was one in atTAna and was quite beautiful as well. Shankar was, as ever, in his element and the jugalbandi that he and Shrinivas did was something to behold. he, with the swarams, Shrinivas with his mandolin. Brilliant.

Then, at long last, the moment I had been waiting for. Vikku came on stage. He was accompanied by his grandson, Swaminathan, Selva’s son. Incidentally, Swami also plays the kanjira and is quite brilliant himself. I saw him perform in Pune along with Selva, Vikku and Zakir among others and even in that stellar company, he managed to hold his own; so much so that even Zakir was visibly impressed.

Anyway, Swami chanted the Ganapati tAnam and Vikku played it on the ghatam. Ghatams, I should say. There were four of them andhe went on to illustrate the difference in sounds of the four. He then went on an epic solo in which, at one point in time, he was playing all four simultaneously, that it sounded exactly like a jaltarang. Whatay!

Shankar, Selva, Vikku and Aditya then left the stage for Shrinivas and Ranjit to take over. This was, perhaps, the part of the show that I liked the least. Shrinivas was epic, as ever but somehow, I did not care too much for the drumming. Perhaps because I am not really a big fan of the huge drum kits. Perhaps because I prefer a tabla or a mridangam or a kanjira to a Western drum kit. Then again, that’s just my opinion. Judging by the applause, the audience did indeed enjoy the drum solo.

The artistes (barring Vikku) then came back on stage and Shankar sang a beautiful Krishna bhajan. As a prologue, he told the audience the story of how he learnt this bhajan. Many years ago, it was Ranjit who gave Shankar his first break in ad jingles. It was on one such occasion when Shankar was jamming with Ranjit at his house that Ranjit’s aunt, Tara Devi, called Shankar and asked him, ‘gana seekhoge?’ Shankar hesitantly said yes and this was what she taught him. He said that this one bhajan gave him material enough for ten years of performing. Such was the depth.

So we had had a ghatam solo first and then a drum solo.  It was time for the tabla. Before Aditya started off, Shankar introduced him thus. ‘Do you people remember the Taj Mahal ad many years ago? The one that Zakir bhai composed? He was there  in front of the Taj with a small kid and the both of them were playing the tabla? Well, this is that kid. Of course, he is no longer a kid. He almost has a kid now.’ Interesting bit of trivia there. The tabla solo was brilliant too.

So, what was left then? Of course. Selvaganesh. The kanjira solo. Good god was this epic. I have said this before and I will say it again. The range of sounds that that man produces with that small frame drum is quite unimaginable. This time, he replicated the sound of a train amongst other sounds but the highlight was when he actually mimiced the bass guitar on the kanjira. Mind = blown. Again.

Vikku then came back on stage and there was a piece in kalyani to finish the evening off. The piece was going on when, out of nowhere, it suddenly started sounding extremely familiar, and bang! Out of nowhere, Shankar started off breathless. Accompanied by the kanjira, the mandolin, the tabla, the ghatam and the drum, the superfast rendition of breathless was mesmeric. Absolute genius.

The show ended. The usual ponnAdais were pothified. Parity was restored. They called it a night. An epic night.

P.S Something that I was cribbing about before the Shakti concert, viz, the ticket pricing, these chaps got spot on. The entire balcony was priced at 200 which was very well played, I think.