Good bye, Santa Klaus

June 11, 2010

I lost a dear friend last week. Another one of my class mates called me to convey the news. There is something surreal about a death of a near or dear one. It takes a while to understand the full import. This time was no different. I grieved for a while. Cursed fate’s conspiracy. Pitied. Sulked. Drank. Got drunk. Sobbed. Cried. At the end of it all, realised the selfishness of my grief. Once more. And not for the last time.

The friend who passed away under tragic circumstances, away from his home, was my Santa Claus at school. For a start he looked like one. In a school which appeared to have a disproportionate number of students from parsimonious Tamil middle class families, he was the lone exception. He was always there for me (or us) with the greenbacks. And boy, was he generous. We took shameless toll of his generosity. At that time, it was (and still is for a few of us) easy to pretend that he was buying our friendship. It took us time to erase such felicitous pretensions. Post school, we went our own separate ways. I continued to rely on him as an emotional anchor. He was always there for me. He was the first one to tell me on my face that I was a “demanding” friend to have. But he said that with beguiling sincerity. I loved him even more for that. In the last decade, our relationship ebbed and flowed. Distance sometimes helped, more often hurt. He went through an emotionally wretched phase. Sadly, I was not there for him in his worst of times. I was a fair weather friend. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I found it impossible to understand that a friend who had so much to give would himself be in need. There are no bottomless reservoirs inside a person. Even Santa Klaus needed replenishment.

In my life, I have come across people who epitomize adjectives. I can name various people who are synonymous with words like “self centered”, “selfish”, “professional”, and so on. “Nice” is the word which I shall always associate with my SK. I hope the netherworld understands and treats you better. They will not find a nicer person. May your soul rest in peace.

The Fan

November 4, 2009

I have often wondered about the DNA of the sports fan. Especially in the Indian context. In a country that is starved of a serious sporting culture, being a fan of any sport or sportsman is the closest to attaining sporting nirvana. Notwithstanding the sporadic successes of Indians of late, this is, unfortunately, still the case.

The advent of satellite television has changed things, especially in urban and suburban India. The ability to identify with sporting icons, be it in team or individual sport, has outgrown the narrow confines of national boundaries. Whilst this was always the case, their prevalence and pervasiveness, thanks to the explosion in the media industry, particularly television, is wider and deeper now. In India, with its predominantly young population yearning for sporting success stories to identify and associate with, the absence of national sporting icons worthy of “loyalty allocation”, means that we are a nation of the “undiluted television sporting fan”. I would define a UTSF as anyone with access to view the best of sporting action happening anywhere in the world but who, for a variety of reasons, not the least being his unwillingness to distance himself from the comforts of his arm chair, has precious little working knowledge of the sport that his icon, be it a team or individual is engaged in. Typically, children grow to like a sport by playing it. And they play it by watching older people play in the neighbourhood. This is how I learnt to play cricket and soccer. Physical accessibility to the sport was crucial in defining my interests. My first love was playing cricket and once my eyes were opened to the joys of television, over a very short period of time, Sunil Gavaskar became my favorite cricketer. At least in my case it was not a case of the tail wagging the dog. However irreverent it may sound, and ignoring the perverseness of the underlying logic in the statement, I idolised Gavaskar because I thought he played like I would or I did. And to this day, Gavaskar remains my favorite sportsman, cutting across all sports and generations. Once cricket won my heart over, soccer became the casualty. Much as I would like to say that cricket’s gain was soccer’s loss, subsequent events would belie that statement. But this has never come in the way of my contention that with a little more encouragement (and a lot more ability, which I refuse to disclose), I would have been the Indian Paul Collingwood. However, in my case, what this translated into was an abiding love for these two sports, as opposed to the purveyors of the sport, much more ingrained and a lot less fickle than my allegiance to other sports. Inevitably, in the intervening period cricketers and footballers have come and gone. At various points I had to choose between Zico and Maradona, Socrates and Rummenigge, Rush and Rossi, Sachin and Lara, Mark and Steve Waugh, Warne and Kumble and so on. But the overarching allegiance was to the sport. However cliched it may sound to the rest of the world.

On the other end of the spectrum, I enjoyed watching tennis on television primarily because I enjoyed watching McEnroe. For me, at an impressionable age, tennis WAS McEnroe. I, inexplicably, chose to favor McEnroe over Borg (curious isn’t it, given that Borg was more in the Gavaskar mould). To me, tennis stopped with the retirement of Mac. I did flirt occasionally with the Agassis, Ivanisevics and Brugueras, but it was just not the same. To some extent, Federer, thanks to his pervasiveness, has come to occupy a special place. But to usurp Mac’s place in my pantheon, not even close. To this days, I have not set foot inside a tennis court. Maybe that partially explains the obsession with the players as opposed to the sport itself. Similar was the fate of F1 motorpsort. Being part of a generation that grew up reading (not viewing) Senna’s exploits at the wheel and his legendary rivalry with Prost, the idol equated to the sport. Again, Hakkinen threatened momentarily, especially the way in which he stood up to Schumacher, but it was altogether much too brief to leave any lasting impression.

To put things in perspective, I have to explain the case of my father-in-law’s obsession with, of all things, Indian football. True Goan that he is, he has a genetic predisposition towards soccer. This is understandable. But what makes it weird is his obsession with Indian football. In my own case, once having tasted the elixir of world football, thanks to Brain Glanville and the Sportstar, the affair with Indian soccer was terminated abruptly and decisively. In his case, the affliction with Indian soccer is chronic. To the extent that he refuses to have a Tata Sky connection in his house because they do not offer Z Sports in their bouquet. To this day, he follows the fortunes of Salgaocar, Vasco and Dempo. Although he has never explicitly mentioned this to me, I have a feeling that he considers Churchill Bros to be some kind of upstarts, given their lack of tradition and history. He tries his best to catch live action on the ground whenever possible. No one in the family would have held a grudge against him for that, but for his insistence in analysing ad nauseum the relative performance of the team for the benefit of the few unfortunate enough to be around him on his return from the ground. The unintended consequence of this has been my mother-in-law developing an intense loathing for Indian soccer. Not for my father-in-law, the glitz and glamor of the EPL or the Serie A. The concept of sport as a spectacle does not move him. At best, he may condescend to watch the World Cup Soccer Semi-Finals and Finals.

Is it any wonder that I am left wondering about the DNA of the Sports Fan.

A day in the life …….

October 5, 2009

Cycling in Sinai Bagh

Cycling in Sinai Bagh

When I am in Bangalore, one of the questions that keeps popping up regularly is how I spend my time in Goa. For all those who are still waiting for an answer, here is an indicative list. By no means is it exhaustive. Some of the items are attempted on a best effort basis.

During school days, I try and wake up at around 530 (AM that is). Trusha leaves for school at 615 and it gives me immense pleasure to see her off in the morning. I even manage to rustle up a breakfast for her, which most times, she is happy to wolf down without complaints. Come to think of it, it is difficult to go wrong with milk, apples, bananas, breads and cereal.

My next big task for the day is to try and wake up Tikku. For me, this is the most challenging task of the day. I have to admit that, by and large, Tikku has the measure of me. More often than not, I give up midway and leave this onerous task to Beni.

Tikku is also a lot more discerning when it comes to breakfast. The spread that Trusha unfailingly relishes very rarely meets Tikku’s high culinary standards. Consequently, there is little for me to contribute other than keeping her milk warm and ready.

In the meanwhile, I do get my cup of tea ready. Again, hugely satisfying, considering that I would struggle to boil water back in Bangalore. Seems like a different world. I have come to realise what a big virtue self reliance is. No wonder the Mahatma kept espousing it.

Some days I am so rushed in the mornings that I do not have my first smoke till about 90 minutes after waking up. Considering that smoking was the first thing that I used to do in the morning for about 15 odd years, this is indeed a significant comedown. These days, I make up for the absence of the early morning cigarette by chain smoking a couple after the kids have departed to school. By the way, often times, I drop Tikku in school. This is particularly exhausting considering the school is less than half a kilometre away.

The interval between Tuchi’s and Tikku’s leaving for school affords me the pleasure of going for a cycle ride. This is most definitely one of the high points of living life in Goa. The scenic settings, the crisp morning air with just the hint of the early morning sun is something I really look forward to and something that I miss whenever I am travelling. The well laid out roads here,the abundance of cycling routes and the relative absence of motor traffic makes cycling in Goa a delight.

As you can see, no mention of reading the newspapers. There are no newspaper delivery boys/ girls/ men/ women in Curtorim. Curtorim is almost exclusively a self service economy. If you believe in keeping yourself abreast of what is happening around the world please help yourself by walking to the nearest corner shop and getting the newspapers of your choice. Most days, I do without reading the papers and honestly am none the worse for it.

With the kids in school, the rest of the morning is taken up in matters related to the setting up of the house. Endless chats with the resident plumber, electrician, gardener, tiler (roof tiling is a tedious science and from what I have seen here is more hit and miss, unfortunately for us more misses than hits), painter, well cleaner, electricity board linesman, telephone man …..

To maintain my sanity during these discussions, I escape ever so often to check on my mails (of which there are precious few these days), and mindlessly surf the net. Temporary sanity restored, I go back and continue the discussions with my motley artisans. Another virtue that I have had to exercise has been patience. Patience is one currency that you will need to hoard and bring to Goa.

By this time the kids would be back from school, then it’s time for lunch followed by a siesta. When in Goa, do as Goans do. The first time I saw the gardeners taking their post lunch nap, I was shocked and at the same time hugely relieved to know that their communal nap had nothing to do with the swine flu threat that the whole state was worried about.

Post afternoon, the cerebral discussions continue and I am almost thankful when the time comes for the sundry workers to call it a day. It is only after their departure that I realise that actually not much progress has been made towards making the house a little more habitable. But worse is to follow as I gallantly take on the task of helping Tikku complete her homework. The less said about this the better. It all ends very tragically with me losing my temper and not for the life of me able to figure out why she cannot remember M for Mug or K for Kite. She infuriates me further by insisting that K is for Fruit and F is for onion. I leave Beni to clean up the mess after me and thankfully pick up A Long Walk to Freedom by Mandela.

I hope this satisfies the curioisity of those keen to know my daily routine in Goa.

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 www.wildlifebeat.com.

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.

Rewind

March 23, 2009

Two things happened last week that prompted this post. Coincidentally, both events happened on the same day and this kind of reinforced my resolve to put pen to paper.

I have a very strong aversion to visiting the shopping malls that have cropped up all over Bangalore. I am told by shopaholic friends that, thanks to the slowdown, the crowds in these malls have been dwindling. Fortified by this observation, the other day, when one of my colleagues from out of town was looking to buy a digital camera, I volunteered to take him to one of these malls and soon enough I realised first hand that the place was indeed relatively people free. Anyways, my friend quickly decided on what he wanted, bought it and we proceeded to make a hasty exit. On the way out, a music store caught my eye and on impulse we decided to stroll in and take a look. It was not that we were looking for anything in particular. Mercifully it was a small little store and the choice was limited. After browsing for a few minutes, my trained middle class eye sought out and gravitated towards the bargain section. I saw a few Hindi music CDs which were going at a 50% discount. Given that we were running out of time (my colleague had to make his way out of Bangalore the same evening) I quickly decided on a CD which claimed something to the effect that it was a selection of Hits of the 90s by the “discerning” editorial team of Filmfare.

The same evening, after dropping off my friend, I had occasion to spend some time in one of Bangalore’s more popular watering holes. Again, it was after a fairly long hiatus that I was visiting one of these trendy upmarket places. The place, by itself, has very little character (not a patch on my Carvalho’s Nest in South Goa), the patrons are typical cosmopolitan Bangaloreans and the snatches of conversation that you are forced to listen to, given the way people are packed into the limited space (slowdown or otherwise), never rises beyond the spectacularly banal. So this is what I had to endure for the rest of the evening and I was steeling myself to make the best of it.

Going back to the CD that I had purchased, my colleague and I, both being, more or less, of the same vintage decided to play it in the car on the way back. Much to our surprise, it happened to be a fairly good collection of film songs from the 90s. Some of the songs in the collection were from movies like Hum, Sapnay, Baazigar, Darr, Kahon na Pyar Hai, etc. For a change, we did not rave and rant about the traffic in Bangalore as this gave us enough time to run through the entire CD and for about 45 minutes, we were transported back in time. It was as if each one of us had got into our own little time machine and travelled back in time. And what was amazing was that each one of us had our own, unique adolescent dream to go back to. It was almost as if we were travelling in the same coach but were being taken to different destinations. For some time, the talk was all about Kimi Katkar and the fact that she seemed to have gracefully faded away from the limelight after her marriage to Shantanau Sheorey. We were unanimous that given the less than honorable memories we carried of her, it would be devastating if she were to have played mother to the Shah Rukh Khans and Aamir Khans of the world. Then the topic moved to how ugly Kajol looked in Baazigar and then there was animated discussion on when women (or for that matter men) look their best. It was uncanny that the lasting impression that all of us carried of Kajol from Baazigar was the small matter of her grotesquely hirsute upper lip (at this point my colleagues helpfully pointed out that even Karishma Kapoor had to brave such ignominies before rising to the top). Uugh !!!. And to think that it was THE movie that launched the careers of SRK, Kajol and Shilpa. And the faithful, dyed in the wool Tams that we are, when the Sapnay song (Awara Bhawre) was mid way through and all of a sudden, Malaysia Vasudevan started crooning something incongruously in Hindi, there was frenzied speculation as to his current whereabouts. Before we realised it, we had spent nearly an hour within the confines of the car and were none the worse for it. We spent a few minutes extolling the therapeutic virtues of nostalgia and how music seems to trigger memories that are confined to otherwise unreachable confines of the human brain. At that point, little did I realise that in another few hours time, I would be experiencing something more potent and effective in terms of reaching even deeper crevices of the mind.

In the evening, at the watering hole or the lounge bars as they are referred to these days, the kind of music that was being played, at least initially, before the teeny boppers started trooping in, was definitely “retro”. The kind that Priya Ganapathy so magically dishes out every Sunday morning on ….. Radio Indigo is it??. The kind of music that I grew up with. In fact when REM was being played, and thankfully by that time I was a couple of beers down, I did a whole lot of memory stringing. I kind of associated REM with the tennis player of yesteryears, Jim Courier (I had read in one of his interviews that REM was his favorite band), and how in one US open he annihilated my all time favorite John McEnroe in straight sets and how after winning an Australian Open in Melbourne, he jumped into the Yarra river and swam his way through the muck as part of his celebration. What started out as a trickle became a veritable torrent of memories. There was the standard Chris Rea, Steve Winwood (Back in the High Life), Hall & Oates (Out of Touch), Men at Work (Down Under) Tracy Chapman, so on and so forth. Virtually each one of the songs had some quirky, funny, poignant, romantic or unsavoury memory attached to it. The mood was intoxicating to say the least. In terms of walking down memory lane, I was once again reminded of what a potent combination alcohol and music can be. This is a combination that marketers of F&B services have honed into a fine art and honestly thank God for that. But for this heady concoction, there was very little else going for the place. When we finally decided to leave the place, helped in no small measure by the fact that the music had suddenly become very trendy, I was literally in a nostalgic bubble. Like most bubbles, this one also had to burst at some point, which it did. Suddenly it was all over and the Nostalgic spell cast on me disappeared. Given the intensity of all that happened to me that day, I could not but help wondering – Is the best behind me ?