Uncommon man

I had heard many people talk of him but only fleetingly. I did not really care to listen to too much because they would be talking amongst themselves and I would just pass through.

However, I moved to Pune in 2009 and I went to meet my aunt. This was the first time I was ever going to see her. She is my mom’s cousin and truth be told, I learnt of her existence only a few days before I went to Pune. So, not that close an aunt, as you can imagine.

I went to her place on a Saturday morning and sat down with a cup of coffee. (Filter coffee after a bloody long time. Bliss, already) I started talking to my aunt (who I grew very fond of and who often let me treat her home, and her amazing library, as my own, and who I visited many many times during my stay in Pune) and she was asking me the usual questions of where I studied etc. Out of the blue, she said, ‘your grandfather was a very fine man.’ I was quite taken aback.

A little bit of family history here. My aunt is actually my mom’s mom’s cousin’s daughter. So, my mom’s second cousin from her mom’s side. And here she was talking about my grandfather, who I did not know how many times she had even met. My aunt’s dad (or my grand uncle) moved to Pune well before my aunt was even born and my aunt has been to Madras but only on vacations.

She went on and told me that every time she went to Madras, she used to go to my mum’s place and sit and talk to my grandfather. She said, ‘you know, he was such a cultured man. He used to make us sit around and he spoke to us in such a way that we felt as if we were equals.’

And then I met my grand-uncle (aunt’s dad) and he too said some glowing things about thatha. After that, I started asking my mother for more stories about my thatha and grew ever more fascinated by the man.

I went on a trip to Kerala with my parents and my mama (amma’s brother). My mum grew up in Kerala and we went to Quilon, where she lived for a few years. We met one of her old old friends (one she hadn’t seen for about 40 years!). Quite a reunion that. He had some wonderful things to say about my grandfather as well.

And then my mom told me that in those days, the import of rice into Kerala was not allowed. And in those days, it was almost impossible to get white rice. It was predominantly the par-boiled rice. So my thatha did something quite brilliant. He had an old FIAT. He hollowed the back seat and put rice into it and drove across the border. With my mum and uncle as kids sitting on the seat, no one even bothered to look.

He used to love driving and every trip was fun. Apparently, he was the epitome of the saying that it is the journey that is the point of the journey and not the destination. He used to stop all along the way whenever he saw fresh fruits along the side of the road or when he saw some cashew nuts or dried fruits. Every year, he used to drive to Tirunalvelli (where my uncle was studying in a boarding school), pick up my uncle and then drive on for a holiday somewhere, finishing the trip in Madras before going back to Kerala.

I also learnt some remarkable things about him. I learnt that from 1958 to 1982, he kept a record of the expenses of every single month, right up to the annas and paisas. I learnt that he wrote a diary every single day. I remember seeing him write. He had this wonderful scrawny little font and he wrote every single day, unerringly.

This was a story that will forever stay with me. My mother was born in the end of July. Since everyone thought it was the end of July, her date of birth was entered officially as 31st July. Then, many years later (I think when she was in class ten), an uncle of hers (who was an astrologer) got a doubt. Apparently, another niece of his was born on the 1st of August and she was of another Nakshatram(star). ‘There cannot be a gap of two nakshatrams in one day’, he said. And he was sure that his other niece was born on the first of August.

They checked it in my thatha’s diary and sure enough, the entry for the 30th of July read thus,

‘Am in Bangalore. Have come here for a conference. Got the news. A healthy baby girl was delivered today…’

A remarkable man, my grandfather was; one of those very few people who can truly be called that. He died in 1996. I was barely 9. I wish I had known him better. It’s his birthday today. He would’ve been 89.

Happy birthday thatha.

Guru Greg ‘demystifies’ Tendulkar

With India out to conquer the ‘final frontier’, and the Australians in admittedly patchy form, Cricket Australia have taken the issues very seriously. To ensure that the Border-Gavaskar trophy does indeed stay down under, they have enlisted the services of Greg Chappel to ‘demystify’ Tendulkar who has remained an enigma to Aussies of this generation and the previous. Here is Guru Greg’s address to the team:

‘Right. Welcome, boys. I have been called upon to ‘demystify’ Tendulkar and I intend to do just that. First, you must have all read my book Fierce Focus available for only AUD 7.99 from all leading book stores. You haven’t? Shame on you. You really ought to have. Tell you what, I am going to extend this into a two-day session and your assignment for tonight is to go buy the book and read the Tendulkar-related sections in it. There will be a quiz tomorrow and that will contribute toward your selection for the first XI. Don’t think of cheating for I will get to know when I get my royalty check.’

‘Now that that is cleared up… Pup! Stop kidding around. You’re captain, for crying out loud! Punter, come off it; you’re not the captain any more. Deal with it. Don’t make that PontingFace again. There are enough memes on the internet as it is. Warner, put down those dumbbells. We’re finding it hard to make shirts for you as it is. Yes, Mike. The four hundred and sixty fifth run you scored was indeed a drive through the covers. Now stop it. Fierce Focus, people. Fierce focus.’

‘Now, Sachin. Hmm. Yes. Sachin. Good lad, that. Plays well and all that. A good player indeed but certainly not as good as me of course. But then again, who is? Ha! Anyway, yes. Sachin. McGrath, Warnie, Brett Lee and all those other bowlers tried and failed. You know why? Because they did not bowl to a plan. Fierce focus, people. Fierce focus.’

‘OK. Let’s do an analysis. First off, he is terrific off the front foot. So don’t bowl it pitched up on or just outside the off-stump. Next, he is brilliant off his hips. So don’t bowl it on his pads. Short of a length is most definitely a no-go for he will just punch it through the covers. Hmm. So that does pose a problem, what? Never fear. I do have a solution after all.’

‘As we Aussies say, “when it doubt, pitch it short.” OK, I just made that up but nevertheless, it’s true.  So that’s an area you ought to be looking at. Now again, there is a problem here. He is all of 5 foot 4. So pitch it too short and he is happily going to let it go and don’t pitch it short enough and he’s gonna wallop you through mid-wicket. So you ought to pitch it just about short. Remember, not too short. Not too not-short. Simple, no?’

‘Oh yes. Spinners. Do we even have those? Oh yes. I’m sorry Nathan, I forgot you were here. And while we’re on the subject, if you really want people to call you a lion, you really ought not to confuse people with that spelling of your surname. I’m sorry, pup. You can whine all you want but I’m still not calling you a spinner. But I will call you skipper, so cheer up.’

‘Ah yes. Spin. That lad is quite good playing spin, I must admit. However, there is a way to entrap him. There always is. The offie ought to pitch the ball just outside off and spin it inwards while the ball maintains its trajectory and goes on straight. He will perhaps think that the ball will spin(and you probably thought so as well) but it will hold its line and go straight on. You’ll be as confused as he is. I’ll have a chat with the curator. The leggie? Well, try not to sleep at night. Warnie had nightmares. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.’

‘Ah yes. I think that’s the end of my chat. I’m pretty sure I’ve demystified Tendulkar for you. There’s nothing to it, really. Just bowl in the right areas, get the ball to nip, cut, swing, spin and seam. All at the same time, of course. And, let me see. What did I leave out? Hmmm. Ah yes! Of course. Of course. Get the ball to do all those things and in the meanwhile, get the lads to do one more thing. Pray. But not to the cricket Gods of course. For if cricket is religion, then surely you’re praying to the wrong God for the wrong reason.’

The Island

I’m leaving on a jet plane. Perhaps not. I’m flying though. I don’t exactly know where I am but from what I can make out, it’s somewhere in Gujarat perhaps. I can’t see the coast but I can see water bodies. Large bodies of water that invade the land. They come tantalizingly close to the land and then recede. There are no waves though. The water is calm.

In the midst of one giant water body, there is a mass of land. An island. There is no connectivity to it. I look around. A few meters into the closest land mass, there is a human settlement; farmers, perhaps. But on this island, nothing. Just the island. Detached.

The island looks deserted. I see no vegetation. Perhaps there are shrubs and there is undergrowth on the sandy tracts but there is no significant vegetation. I am sure. Or so I perceive from high up.

So I see this island and am unable to take my eyes off it. I don’t know why, but somehow, it is gripping. Why would no one venture onto it? Has someone tried? Has anyone ever tried? Did they give up? Is there no point to it?

Perhaps life is like that island. An isolated landmass which in itself is, well, alone. Yet, it is part of something bigger; a country, or the world or the universe perhaps. At the crux of it, though, it is alone. It stands alone; it lives alone; it dies alone.

What larger purpose does it serve? Why is it there? The point is that it is there, whether it likes it or not. What does it mean? What does it signify? I don’t know. What is it that attracted me to it? Perhaps just that. That I don’t know.  And that perhaps I never will. Perhaps it symbolizes something. Perhaps not.

I seek it out for answers. I see it no more. The plane has moved.

The hundredth

2nd April 2011, the day that is forever etched in the memory of Indian cricket fans. India won the world cup that day. Now forgotten. 12th March 2011. The day that is most crucial to Indian cricket today. It was the day Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar scored his 99th international century. We are still awaiting 100 number hundred.

He has played 4 ODIs and 6 tests since then. That’s a total of 15 innings and he still hasn’t scored a century. What is going on? Well, if you ask Edward De Bono, he will say that the universe is conspiring against Sachin and preventing him from getting that all elusive hundredth ton. If you ask George W Bush, he is likely to say that it’s all because of those WMDs and if you ask Dhoni, he will say, ‘well of course’.

We, in India, treat cricket as religion and by extrapolation, Sachin as God. There has been no shortage of reasons as to why Sachin has not reached his hundredth. A famous astrologer came on national television and said that according to numerology, Sachin’s name was all wrong. According to the lining up of Mars and Jupiter on Sachin’s horoscope, his name only added up to 99 and not a hundred. He suggested that Sachin change his name to Saachchin to reach that hundred. The slightly wittier public suggested a better alternative – Sachin Tondulkar. Sachin (99) + ‘Ton’dulkar = 100. Voila!

Of course, not everyone is thrilled by this. Of course, any time that Guru Greg feels that he is out of the limelight, he releases a book and disses Sachin or Saurav or both. But never Dravid. Or Pit=yush Chawla. He has come out and said that Sachin lacks the mental toughness to get that elusive hundredth. ‘Sachin is mentally very fragile. He might get 99 hundreds but only when he gets that hundredth will he actually get to a hundred’, he said. Captain obvious, we said.

There has been no shortage of support from all quarters. Sreesanth said, ‘I have graciously agreed to donate my only century in test cricket to Sachin paaji.’ When we looked up the stats, Sreesanth was referring to the inning where he had more than a hundred runs to his name. In his bowling figures. Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh would, of course, gladly do it ‘for Sachin’ but one is approaching his century in kilograms and the other looks like the only century he will be making any time in the near future is in the nets in his backyard. The Indian team seems a long way away.

Not to be left out, the BCCI have also pledged their support and have tried to help the cause. ‘We see that this is a serious problem of national importance and that this mist be dealt with as soon as possible. As a result, we have decided to award one of Dravid’s centuries to Sachin. After all, Dravid is the most loyal servant of the BCCI. We call him up when ever we want to, drop him from the next tour, call him after five years and then promptly drop him again and he never once complains. We’re sure that he will graciously agree to donate his century.’ Dravid was unavailable for comment. He was practicing in the nets.

Even past legends like Shane Warne, Henry Olonga and Andrew Caddick have offered to come out of retirement to offer Sachin incentive to get his all elusive century. Shoaib Akhtar tried to lure him by making his autobiography controversial but Sachin did not fall for it.

Meanwhile, the twitterverse has taken this as some kind of a joke and has even come up with the hashtag #thingsThatWillHappenBeforeSachinGetsHisCentury and were audacious enough to add such comments as ‘Sachin will get his century. LOL’, ‘The Bold and the Beautiful will come to an end’ and the worst of the bunch, ‘Afridi will turn 19.’

There is only one solution to this madness. EA Sports cricket ’97. Hit the pause button (space bar). Put ‘131’. Richie Benaud will say, ‘congratulations. You have cracked the cheat code. Good luck!’ And then play the game. A century. Guaranteed. Put ‘321’ for good measure too. It turns gravity off.

The 10K

So I ran the 10k. Well, not quite. I ran, then walked a bit, and then ran again. Please ignore the previous sentence. Let me start again. I RAN THE 10K! I really did.

I’d really been training hard for this run. I ran and ran and ran. During the race of course. Prior to it, I ran on and off. I ran about 6K in about 35 minutes a few days before the event and I wasn’t even tired! Ha! I was wondering if I made a mistake by not registering for the 21K. Now, in retrospect, as Dell Boy Trotter would’ve said, ‘what a plonker!’ (Just in case you don’t know who Dell Boy Trotter is, Google ‘Only fools and horses’)

So I went to sleep at around 10 30 the night before. So I watched the United game (thank God they scraped a win!) and switched off the light at 10 35. Arun, of course decides to call. He was travelling and didn’t catch the game. I had to, of course, describe it.
‘We played OK, da. Just about won. OK. Bye!’
‘How did the forward line do?’
‘Just about OK da. Pretty disjoint performance. OK. Bye.’
‘..and the midfield? Roo played midfield, no? How was he?’
‘He played pretty OK da. Got frustrated quite a bit but not bad. OK. Bye.’
‘…and Lindergaard? He started, no? How was he?’
‘Had nothing much to do da. OK. Bye.’
‘…and… aan! The defence? Good, eh?’

And at that point I realized that I was going to have to describe a lot more. Well, the natural United-nut in me was aroused as well and, well, when United must be discussed, United must be discussed. And so United was discussed. For about 15 minutes. And then…
‘Seri seri. Mokka podathey. I’m on the bus and am going to sleep. OK. Bye.’
And then he hung up. ‘Whatay!’ I said to myself.
So, it was 10 50 now. Light off. Sleep time.
Climb into bed. Blanket but over eyes. ‘Sleep, pliss to be coming’, I thought to myself. And then I said to myself, ‘Dai! Too much time spending on twitter! Yuvar even thinking in twitter terms.’
Meanwhile, in the background: ‘EA Sports. It’s in the game.’ FIFA! My brother. Room sharing with sibling. Bah! The perils of staying at home. So anyway, time for ‘mind over matter’, I thought and went back to blanket on head position. I went toward sleep, and as luck would have it, sleep decided to not come to the party. This sleep chap is really something else. He taunts and teases you ever so often and when you edge closer to him, he runs away. The most curious thing is that he harasses and hounds you when you want him furthest away from you – when you’re in class. So, there I was, trying to sleep. There sleep was. Well, actually, there he wasn’t. Bah!

It’s 4 30 now. The alarm has rung. I must’ve fallen asleep at some point in time. Good. Groggy-eyed and out of bed. Brush teeth. Still too God-damn sleepy. I did consider going back to sleep but I just decided to let instinct guide me. And guide me, it did. To the kitchen. Two minutes later, I was sitting at the computer with a tumbler of filter coffee (double strong, no sugar) and staring at the computer screen. The feeling when that first sip hits your mouth. Aah! As would be tagged on twitter, #smallJoys.

Cut to the chase. 6 30. Off I go. The marathon begins. And so I run. The first refreshment station. Aah! Gatorade. Immediately the mind goes, ‘machan! OC le kedaikudhu. Kudichidu.’ <Translation: brother in law, you are getting it for free. Drink off.’ But I am, if anything, made of stronger stuff. (You will soon see, however, that I am not ‘if anything’ at all. If anything, I am ‘if anything else’. I ended up drinking Gatorade thrice during the run.)>

So in between Gatorades and water, I managed to do around 6K and suddenly I was pooped! I had barely made it past the past kilometre but after I saw the sign saying ‘6K’, I just stopped. I decided to walk until the next refuelling stop where I would resume. And so I walked. And walked. And walked. All those people who I sneered at as I passed them seemed to be going past me. Rats! Lesson learnt. Don’t sneer at people running. You never know when they will sneer back.

And so I decided that enough was enough and started running and voila! Another refreshment centre. Most. Not. Stop. Ooh! Gatorade. And I stopped. And then started.

8K done now. Again, the urge to slow down. So I did. Walked for a few meters. Now, this was the curious bit. I had my iPod on and was listening to a super mix of Raaja and ARR. Suddenly, I found myself walking and right next to me was this little girl, no more than 4 foot tall. I found that she was walking along. I looked at her a couple of times. Boy! Here I was, puffing and panting my way past 8K and here she was, this little girl, nonchalantly walking along.

So, of course I had to talk to her but my legendary shyness would not let me. As a result, I did not know how to start the conversation. Steve Martin saying ‘it ees louly weather’ in Pink Panther came into mind. Tee hee hee. So I summoned up all the courage in the world and said, ‘Hello!’

One nonchalant gaze and she said, ‘Oh! Hello!’

Aah! I’m not all that bad, I thought.

‘So how old are you?’

‘Eleven.’

Holy cow! The race has almost as many kilometers as old as she is!

‘…and how many years have you been running?’

‘Three. But this is my first marathon’, she said, almost shamefully.

‘My father is the owner of Hyderabad runners and I usually run with him. This is my first race though. You know how far it is?’, she asked.

She was a bit exhausted but still wanted to finish it. Now I was pumped up too! I mean, if an 11 year old girl can finish it, so can I!

So I said to her, ‘Heh! Don’t worry. I’m almost 12 years elder to you and this is my first race too.’

It was supposed to be encouraging. It really was. She looked at me almost asking, ‘So?!’ The words of course, were unspoken but I know a ‘so?!’ look when I see one. I seem to get quite a few of them.

So anyway, I said to her, ‘Right! Let’s sprint to the finish!’

She looked at me and said, ‘No.’

Thank God! In my manic moment of stupidity, I suggested a sprint. I mean! What was I thinking?!

<Note to self: Idiot!>

So then I said, ‘Let’s go then! Run run run!’

And so we ran.

‘How much further?’ she asked.

‘Just around the bend. Come on!’

‘Now?’

‘Come on! No stopping now. Run!’

And so she did. There were people all around as we got nearer to the finish line. All of them looking at this little girl running to the finish. All of them clapping.

…and then we crossed the finish line. And took the medal.

She disappeared. Then I saw her after a few minutes.

‘Oi! Well played!’, I said and held put my hand for a high-five.

She high-fived me back, smiled and went off.

Well done Spruha. Well played indeed.

 

Footnote: Ofiicial finishing time: 70 minutes. Really. I have a certificate to prove it too. Ha!