February 20, 2010

The gist of a story:

Widower meets divorcee. Widower is a law enforcement officer and divorcee is new in town. She has relocated to the small town following her parents’ invitation. Widower’s wife was killed in a still unsolved hit and run case. True to form, widower and divorcee fall in love. It turns out that divorcee’s brother was the perpetrator of the “crime” that killed hero’s wife. Brother is traumatised when he realises that his sister is in love with the gentleman’s wife whose death he caused, albeit unintentionally. Brother confesses. Gentleman widower forgives him and the widower and divorcee live happily ever after.

We have a story in less than 100 words. This has been cunningly made into a NYT bestseller by one of the most prolific authors of our times who I am reliably informed has sold more than 10 million copies. I will not reveal identity of the author for fear of invoking the wrath of his legions of fans (and here I am hopefully assuming that at least a few hundreds of them avidly follow my blog).

I go back to my earlier reference in another post on the need to be clever with words. Being precise is not a skill that will always come in handy if one has ambitions of writing a best seller, especially if reputations have already been made. Making do with an anemic plot and then stretching it then will please publishers plenty more. This is what I have come to realise. This reminds me of the way we were advised to approach examinations in subjects like economics and commerce. The idea was to fill up as many sheets of answer paper as possible without paying much heed to what was actually written. And going by the marks awarded, there is reason to believe that this is how students were actually evaluated.

For long, I believed Bollywood’s ability to produce trash was unparalleled in this world. I am increasingly convinced that American publishing will run them close.

Long read in humility

October 10, 2009

“Long Walk to Freedom” was not an easy read. To begin with, 750 pages can be intimidating. However, once begun, it grows on you. It is not a page turner, it demands reflection and on the part of the reader. I realized that the best time to read the book is when the rest of the house is asleep. Peace and quiet still amount to something. Towards the end, you are left with a sense of accomplishment. The sense of having accompanied a great man on his life journey lingers long after the last page has been turned.

It is written with disarming honesty and does not fail to move, deeply and indelibly. Mandela says it as he sees it. Sophistication, which is often times used to make up for lack of depth, is conspicuously absent. The reader believes everything that Mandela has to say. Lack of perspective, which can be galling in autobiographies, is never felt. It is incredible that a man whose life has been almost completely and, to most of us, tragically, circumscribed by the inhuman regulations of apartheid, is able to recount his story without any rancor or bitterness. There are no villains in the book. Notwithstanding the atrocities committed during apartheid, the lay reader is not left with any vengeful feelings. I guess Mandela has seen enough of that in his life to not want to contribute further to its proliferation. More than once in the book, Mandela thoughtfully points out to readers how, even the most ardent enforcer of apartheid, if provided with an opportunity, exhibits his humane side.

There is no attempt to glamourise, romanticise or “sex up” the freedom struggle. It is narrated and explained in a very matter of fact and objective manner. Just another day in the office for Mr. Mandela. Except for the very end, the reader is left with no doubt that that the freedom struggle was directed by Chief Luthuli and Oliver Tambo. Mandela happened to have the baton in his hand when the freedom tape was breasted. Lest we forget, Mandela keeps reiterating that the organisation is much more than the sum total of its members. I think it is a tribute to Mandela’s charisma that he is equated with the freedom struggle in South Africa by the rest of the world.

After skimming through his early days in the Transkei region, references to his personal life in any great detail are minimal. The separations from his wives are handled with sensitivity and dignity. Even public figures have a private side which needs to be respected. There can be no doubt that he has defined himself and his life in the context of his role in the freedom struggle more than anything else. The mask does slip a few times during references to his mother’s and son’s passing away.

For all his commitment to consensual leadership, it were the times when he decided to strike a lonely path that obviously accelerated dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. This is left for the reader to understand. For a man who challenged and ultimately defeated centuries of oppression by the white race, his humility is humbling.

At a time when instant gratification rules the world, it is useful to be reminded that nothing of durable value was ever achieved overnight. In Mandela’s and the ANC’s case it has taken imprisonment of more than 25 years to achieve what he and the organisation set out to do. It is ironical that right now, the Nobel for Obama is being justified as being an “incentive” for him to work towards peace “prospectively”. I guess the day is not far when such perversions will be applied for awarding the Nobel peace to bin Laden.

The reader is gently reminded that there is greatness lurking inside each one of us. We are left wondering if Mandela can do it, why not anyone else. Greatness has not been more simplified.

I am back in Bangalore after about 5 weeks. One of the events that I missed out on during my absence was the launch of Diinesh Kumble’s coffee table book – “Dream Safari – A Pictorial Journey through Africa’s Cradle of Life” which was organised in early June. Not having had a chance to meet with Diinesh since my return I have not yet seen the final product although having known Diinesh for some time now, I have no doubt that the final product will be classy and worthy of possession.

The book is a culmination of the efforts that Diinesh has poured into his passion of nature photography over the last so many years. I am confident that Dream Safari is the first of many that will follow in due course. More than anything else the release of the book by Diinesh is vindication of the fact that it is important for all us to figure out our calling in life and pursue the same with dedication and perseverance. And like most of us, there were digressions along the way and it is to his credit that, unlike most of us, he never stopped listening to his heart.

The book itself is a collection of his own photographs accumulated during safaris to Tanzania and Kenya over the last couple of years. I have seen some of the photographs in isolation and even to my untrained eye, it was obvious that they capture the essence of the wild Africa. I have had the pleasure of making a couple of trips with Diinesh to South Africa (more for work than liesure) and even during these visits, it was apparent that the dark continent had a special place in Diinesh’s heart. Considering this, it is only appropriate that his first book is journey through Africa. To find out more about the book, log onto

Over the last few years, I have been extremely fortunate to have been in the midst of a few people who have chosen to take the road less travelled. They have refused to be dictated to by social mores and societal compulsions. Almost without exception, each one of them has enjoyed a fair degree of success and acclaim. Here is to wishing that this inspires more of us to break traditional norms and chart our own course. Thanks Diinesh for being an inspiration and here is wishing you all the best in your future endeavors.

It takes all sorts

June 23, 2009

I just completed Peter Roebuck’s “It takes all sorts”. It is a collection of various articles that he has published over the years and it makes for a great read. I have always been a huge fan of his writing and reading this collection has only reinforced my desire to read all his published works. There is something very direct and forthright about Roebuck which gives the reader the comfort that he is reading the truth and nothing but the truth. His felicity in exploring the mind of cricketers is remarkable and to the best of my limited opinion, unparalleled, with the possible exception of Gideon Haigh. At the end of the book I almost felt elevated for being a Cricket fan. Giving the great cricketers their due without eulogising them and thereby reiterating the fact that no single player is bigger than the sport itself is something that Roebuck has honed into a fine art.

A few of the articles are about the lesser know purveyors of the craft and these bring out the harsh cruelities and vicissitudes of the game, which could very well reflect life itself. These are aspects of the game which every follower of the game realises over a period of time. But to read the same being articulated by Roebuck is inspirational, to say the least. Especially wonderful is the section on the cricketers from the Carribean. The part which covers aspects of cricket in Southern Africa is poignant and highlights the odds that aspirants need to overcome to pursue their dreams. After reading the pieces about Mike Atherton, Robin Smith, Ben Hollioake and David Gower I was repenting the fact that I did not spend even more time in front of the telly, sharing the torment with these wonderful men, more human that we can ever let them be. For a columnist who appears downright opinionated, Roebuck does not in the least come out as wanting to swing the reader’s opinions to his side. This book, or rather Peter Roebuck, should be in the must read category of any keen student of the exalted game.

A nice little cameo

March 13, 2009

The title for the post is a little presumptuous considering that Aakash Chopra has plenty of time on his hands if he does decide to pursue the next innings of his life as an author. I was reading his “Beyond the Blues” and thoroughly enjoyed doing so for a variety of reasons, and not everything had to do just with the quality of his writing.

For a start, I will read anything that I can lay my hands on which has anything to do with cricket. And to be honest, being in India, outside of Cricinfo and the odd article here and there by Mukul Kesavan, Ram Guha, Rajan Bala or Suresh Menon there is nothing much to lay your hands on. Absence of choice has its own unintended benefits.

The book is a very honest, unpretentious recording of an Indian first class cricketer’s season on the road. It does help that the book is written by “Aakash Chopra” as opposed to “XYZ who turned out for Saurashtra”, as most cricket buffs will fondly recall the brief but effective partnership he forged with Sehwag on the memorable 2003 tour to Australia. In keeping with the title, which incidentally comes out as a nice play on “Beyond a Boundary”, Aakash has resolutely kept away from meandering into the glitzy world of international cricket. Very much like he left deliveries outside the off stump.

For a cricketer, who was dropped and subsequently overlooked inspite of having been one of the better players to pair up with Sehwag during that period, his references to incomprehensible selection policies are without any rancor or malice. Most laudably, he has avoided the temptation of making public the lurid politics which we all know envelopes Indian cricket. An insider’s disclosures of the political or scandalous variety and backroom machinations would have been lapped up by the public and a sure shot route for frenzied sales. The fact that he still harbours ambitions of making a comeback to the national team must have been at the back of his mind.

A daily recording of events that could have ended up being bland and repetitive has been made interesting by juxtaposing the same against similarities to life itself. This ability to think, reflect and analyse, a commendable trait in any human being, is even more valuable in sportspersons who find themselves in competitive and potentially explosive situations all the time. Coming out with a tome that captures what is essentially the daily grind of one’s living and sustain a reader’s interest, cricket fan or otherwise, is not very easily done and this is precisely what Aakash has managed to dowith a fair degree of felicity. Displaying a rare combination of discipline, ability and commitment that is so desperately and consistently required to gather one’s thought at the end of a gruelling day of cricket, to articulate the same and finally commit those thoughts to pen and paper leaves one with a high degree of confidence that Aakash can and will make a fist of whatever he decides to do once he retires from the game. At the same time, as a fan, it is a trifle disappointing that he did not get a chance to represent the country regularly over a longer period. As these are precisely the qualities that a fan likes to see in members of his favorite team. It is a reflection of the extent to which Indian cricket has progressed over the last few years. A little further back in time and it would have been difficult to keep a player of Aakash’s skills and attributes (even more relevant as an opening bat) out of the playing eleven, leave alone the squad.

The book is also inspirational in many ways. It is a definite must read for any young cricketer aspiring for international recognition and glory. It is easy to ignore the agony that precedes ecstasy. The path is arduous and crossing it requires a tremendous amount of grit, determination and, not to forget, lucky breaks. Once having reached the summit, remaining there consumes even higher levels of whatever was required to reach there in the first place. The near-awe with which Aakash describes Ponting, the world’s best all round fielder, sweating it out during a fielding drill in the heat and humidity of Kolkata is testimony to this. The easiest trap to fall into is to rest on one’s laurels.

The fact that the book is written by an active cricketer with legitimate ambitions of representing the country at the highest level, is also a stirring reminder to people that multiple passions can be explored and furthered at the same time. The oft repeated excuse of lack of time is generally a euphemism for pure and simple laziness.

I was left with just one nagging thought as I completed reading the book. At various points, Aakash has made very clear either his admiration, respect and/ or his regard for his Indian team mates like Dravid, Kumble, Sachin (who does not), Laxman, and for his Delhi mates like Gambhir and Sehwag. Why, he has also recorded the immense respect that he has for international players like Ponting, Taibu, David Hussey and the likes. However, and I may be way out of whack here, any mention to Ganguly is very cursory and matter of fact. It is even more surprising considering that it was only under Ganguly that Aakash has ever represented India. Maybe it is my hyper active mind wanting to make more out of it and reading between non existent lines, but it did seem a little weird to me.

Keep them coming Aakash. And all the very best to you in your persevering endeavors in making it back amongst the Men in Blues.