Monday, December 31, 2007

31st December and all that !!!!!!

'So where are you partying on 31st nite ??' is a question that has been thrown at me repeatedly over the last few days. And after answering (always with a straight face) that I am going to be home, like almost all other evenings, I get back a look of surprise that seems to say 'Here you are, all of 28, recently married and doing decently well in life: You should be in Goa atleast !!'. But frankly, sitting at home is what I have been doing for the past 3 year-ends and I see no reason for that to change. Infact, I firmly believe that the '31st December' concept is highly over-hyped, created by smart marketing gurus just to have people spending more and more (I read of a couple's package worth Rs 25K and more just to go to a New Years Eve party and see some Bollywood stars performing and have a few drinks). It all has become quite obscene, if you ask me.

So in answer to the above question, this is the counter-question that I would put: 'What is so special about 31st December and 1st January ???'. And the possible answers that I might get:

1. "Its the start of a New Year, silly !!!!" : Oh yes, of course, how could I forget ???. A new year is dawning on us !!! Ring out the old, ring in the new !! Probably the sun will look different when it rises tommorow morning. Seriously, what in your daily life changes on the morning on 1st January ??? I will still take the same train to work, get the same salary credited to my account as on 1st December and get back in the evening to the same wife and family ;-). And what about the rest of the world ??? Poverty and global warming will continue to be as important issues as they were on 31st December, and the Aussies will continue to bully every opposition in cricket !!. Nature does not make a big deal about changing of years, so why should be ??? Just as it would be wrong for Anil Kumble to think that things would change just because it is 2008 and not 2007, we would be deluding ourselves to think that the morning of 1st January will bring new wonders to our lives.

2. "Its time for new beginnings and resolutions !!". Ah, the New Years resolutions !!! Haven't we heard those before ?? "I will lose 10kgs", "I want to get a new job with 25% hike", "I will leave office at 6 pm everyday". And we also know how devoted we are to these resolutions. Trust me, it is no different making resolutions on 1st January than it is on 24th March or 2nd July or 12th October !!! Waiting for the New Year to start afresh is simply comforting yourself and postponing something which you know is very difficult to achieve, You assume that things will change on New Year's day and, as I have mentioned before, they do not.

3. "Forget the New Year man, I just want to forget all worries and party !!!!". Then why spend double the money partying alongwith the whole world ?? And honestly, your worries are your own creations. Lead a good life and you will find time everyday to party !!!!

So, for everyone getting ready for their big bashes tonight, I would simply say that use this day not for wild celebrations but for deep introspection. Take stock of where you are today and where you want to be next year-end, and the years after that. And I bet you will find ways to reach there.
To sign off, for the record, Wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year !!!!

Amit Gokhale

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Post Card from Germany - Snow Ahoy !!!

Wednesday evening (14th Nov) would be marked by a small footnote if ever I get down to write my memories in about half a century from now. This is because that was the day when I actually saw and felt real snowfall. Upto then the only snowfall I had seen was only in movies and the Nat Geo/Discovery documentaries. It may sound quite suprising, but the fact that I have lived in Mumbai throughout my life, where the word ‘chill’ reminds people more of chillies rather than the feeling of low temperature, and have not traveled anywhere close to the North (forget abroad) puts things in perspectives. It also serves to explain why I am making such a fuss about it (enough for it to deserve a separate blog post).

So on Wednesday evening here in Nuremberg, after having lunch at an Indian restaurant here with our German hosts (the food was excellent when compared to the crossiants and French fries I had been having the past ten days), we stepped out, only to find to our utter astonishment that our car was covered in a layer of white. I looked at the skies to see, for the first time, flakes of snow raining down. It may sound extremely childlish, but the feeling I had was quite similar to that when you get the first monsoon rains in India. Just as the earth smells different then, the air had a different feeling to it. The locals too were surprised. Germany is having an unusually cold November this year and they say it is not quite common to see snowfall so early in the winter. Anyways, like a group of excited school kids, me and my three colleagues immediately got to work: out came the cameras, the posing started and we happily played the old game of (snow)ball throwing, all near the middle of the road. It was all as if a sudden rush of juvenile adrenaline had been injected into all of us. It also felt good in the snow. Armed with three layers of clothing, the snow outside was not causing any problems at least to the upper body. But after about 15 minutes of playful activity, the realization that our palms were still bare dawned on us rather rudely. The palm and fingers went absolutely cold, as if the entire circulatory system running through them had been switched off. We had no recourse but to rush to the nearest heated shelter and nurse our frosty fingers back to health. The merriment ended with a cup of hot chocolate brownie with (would you believe it !!) ice-cream.

So this trip to Nuremberg will be remembered, if not for anything else, for that hour on Wednesday evening !!!



Saturday, November 10, 2007

Post cards from Germany - 1

Its been almost a week here in Nuremberg, Germany but life has already become a routine, just as if I have come down to settle here. And its far more one-dimensional here than back home in Mumbai. Each of the last 5 days have been almost a carbon copy of the other. Wake up at 6.30 am, have the same breakfast everyday (bread, cornflakes, juices etc), catch the same train to our training venue (no car pickups and drops J), eat the same kind of lunch as well (corn, vegetable rice and salads gulped down with 500ml of Coke), come back to the hotel by around 6.30 pm, spend the rest of the evening in some mall (since its too cold outdoors) and then have something to pass of as dinner at a nearby McDonalds or Burger King.
Hopefully the weekend should be more interesting !!

One thing which is really new to me is the cold here. I have lived in Mumbai for all but two years of my life and hence, anything less than 20 C was cold in my books (even when I was studying in Bangalore, the minimum I can remember was 12 C). Here in Nuremberg, the maximum is about 9 C !!!. Last evening, while traveling to the underground railway station from my training venue, I experienced my first hail. All of a sudden, small bits of ice started raining down from nowhere. Thankfully, they were not that big and I had to cover a short distance to the underground (have heard the hail can hurt you). Even with all the protection that I had come equipped with, it has been a novel experience.

However, all said and done, Nuremberg is a beautiful city. Not too large (only half a million people, I imagine about the same as Borivali and Andheri !!) but at the same time quite modern. It has a historical past (think Nuremberg and you think middle ages, Nazi times and the famous Nuremberg trials) and the history can be seen in almost every street of the city. One of the most lovely places is the Burg, or the Imperial Castle, which we had visited the day we landed. A castle dating to about 1200 AD, it has survived through a lot over the centuries (Nuremberg suffered a lot in the WW II) and still retains the charm of a castle. The towers there give a panoramic view of the city. Hope to cover a few more places over the next week.

Also, another new experience for me was to get a taste of English soccer madness, On Thursday, Everton clashed with the local club FC Nuremberg. Near our hotel was some English pub presumably showing the action. But that pub was way too small for the hundreds of English fans who had crossed over from England to see the match. The fans were all over the street in front of our hotel. Banners were waved proudly, beer was flowing at will and people were high even two hours before the match. The German police were, of course, on standby to ensure things did not ugly, which can happen fast as historical evidence suggests. But to walk down that street (and avoid bumping into a group of rowdy fans or tripping over a crate of beer lying on the road) that day was some experience. And yes, Everton won that game, so I can imagine even wilder partying that night. Thankfully, by next morning, the street (alongwith the thrash on it) was clear.

The saddest part of the trip is, of course, missing Diwali !! Anyways, here’s wishing all the readers of this blog, and their friends and families, a fantastic Diwali !!! May the lights of Diwali illuminate your road to happiness and prosperity !!!


Monday, November 05, 2007

The Perils of credit...

‘Recovery Agent claims another life’ said one of the headlines today. This was not an isolated case. I remember having read at least three such headlines over the past month. The thread is common: someone takes credit for varying reasons, cannot pay up the bank and is hassled by recovery agents (sometimes to the extreme). When this crosses the limit, the ‘poor’ soul has no way but to take his life. The recovery agents are then taken to task, the banks are warned against indulging in such practices and life goes on, until the next such incident.

Having read these different cases, I most definitely condemn, as the media has done too, the methodology of hiring recovery agents and the acts committed by these agents. But somewhere, what has gone unnoticed is the root cause of all this: why to take credit in the first place ? At least today’s case seemed genuine in the sense that the guy had probably taken credit to start his own shop and business. But I am sure that are also cases of people taking credit to buy the next big thing, the next gadget, the next status symbol; and then landing themselves into trouble. This is no doubt abetted by the ease with which credit is available in these days. Today, hardly anyone ‘applies’ for a loan. The banks do the needful. Given that, it comes as no surprise that a small proportion of the borrowers turn defaulters.

In fact, these recent cases are also connected with the recent book that I finished: “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyoaski. For those who have not read this so far, this is an extremely thought-provoking book in which the author tries to bring out the difference in the basic thought philosophy (when it comes to money) between the rich and the rest. He brings out a number of key points during the course of the book, one of them being that the rich use their money to buy real assets (not those assets as defined by accountants) whereas the middle class uses their money to buy ‘book’ assets (which actually are liabilities because they suck money in the form of maintenance instead of generating money for their owner). I believe this is truer in today’s world where I find a lot of the people I know rushing to buy the latest fad or gadget (especially at my age where one can afford to be more adventurous in investing their well-earned money). As Robert Kiyoaski rightly diagnoses, it is the dearth of ‘financial literacy’ that is responsible for this state of affairs. Most people, he says, are simply not aware of how to make their money work for them. This results in a never-ending rat race where people continue to work hard, get their increments and promotions only to invest them poorly and find themselves short of money after some time, followed by some more hard work.

I strongly recommend that every reader of this piece gets a copy of ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ as soon as possible and experiences the power of financial literacy, thus enabling him to harness the power of money and make it his slave rather than his master.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When Television Rocked !!!!

A few days back, doing the usual channel-surfing on TV, I came across three serials playing at almost the same time on different channels. And the three serials were remarkably similar in their content and the characters. In fact, it was a typical case of ‘seen one, seen all’ variety. And not to mention that the drama levels in the serial were so high that one could not bear it after a while. Going through that ordeal, I was suddenly reminded of the golden age of television in India (atleast according to me). The latter half of the 1980s. An age when serials were limited to 13, 26 or maximum 52 episodes, as compared to today where production houses think in terms of years. An age where there was only one channel and hence no channel surfing. And for a change, the monopoly was actually not a bad thing to have. It ensured that the same kind of serials, talk shows, talent competitions were not replicated across channels. It was also the time when some of the finest serials graced the small screen. While most of them were top class, five of my favourites were.

  1. ‘Honee Anhonee’ : It may seem an odd choice to many. For those who remember, this serial dealt with the paranormal (ghosts, re-incarnation and other eerie stuff). Though it aired at 10pm on Thursdays (late night in that age), I still managed to catch a few episodes. And for a boy in primary school, some of the stuff was quite scary. More than once, I remember not having a good night’s sleep after watching that.
  1. ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’ : (Sundays 11 am) Being a history buff, this serial remains close to my heart. Shyam Benegal was brilliant in the way he adapted Nehru’s book to the small screen. Anchored by Roshan Seth playing Nehru himself, the serial traced India’s history right from the Mauryas to Independence. A galaxy of small-screen superstars played various historical characters in this mega-series. And yes, there was the wonderful title track (‘Shrishti se pehle kuch nahi tha’ – have the mp3 version, contact me if you want).
  1. Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi: Arguably the most famous of the laugh-riots. Friday evenings at 9pm were a time to look forward to. An arraw of wonderful comic talent (Shafi Inamdar, Satish Shah, Rakesh Bedi etc) made this serial an absolute joy to watch.
  1. Malgudi Days: Possibly the serial that appealed the most to people of my age then (and I suspect that adults were no lesser fans). What I remember most about the serial was the way Malgudi was created and depicted. A village was bought to life in full splendour and one actually imagined oneself living there. And Master Manjunath was absolutely adorable as the protagonist.

And last, but definitely not the least:

  1. Mahabharata (Sundays, 10 am): For me, it is quite simply the greatest story ever told. Even after a few millennia, the epic remains as relevant today as it was then. And BR Chopra did an almost flawless job in bringing it alive on the tube (no wonder the streets were empty on Sunday mornings). And he was backed by brilliant performances all the way through. Stars like Pankaj Dheer (Karna), Mukesh Khanna (Bheeshma), Nitish Bharadwaj (Krishna), Roopa Ganguly (Draupadi) became super-stars of the small screen. A definite one for your collection (and I am going to buy the DVD collection soon).

In addition, there were plenty of other quality shows on TV during those times (Mr. Yogi, Mungeri Lal Ke Haseen Sapne, Khandaan etc etc etc). And not just Hindi, even the regional channels did amazingly well. Two Marathi serials that immediately come to mind are Dwidhaata (Vikram Gokhale was superb in the central role) and Swami (based on the Peshwai Sawai Madhavrao).

How I wish all these serials were re-run again by Doordarshan !! It would beat all the Zee’s and Sony’s of the world hands-down in TRP ratings.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lets be a sport....

Yesterday, NDTV aired a story on how sportspersons who have represented India internationally in various sports (and who are employed by the Indian Railways) have been reduced to managing car parking outside New Delhi station. While it was absolutely shocking to hear that, it was another story in an ongoing controversy i.e. cricket v/s all other sports. While this rivalry, and the feeling of step-motherly treatment nurtured by other sportsmen has always been around, ever since that nearly vulgar display of celebrations post the T20 win, the battle between cricketers and the rest has come sharply into focus. It began with the state governments and associations awarding cash prizes as if there was no tomorrow. Then some of the hockey players threatened a hunger strike against the double standards shown by the administrators when it came to appreciating success in cricket as compared to others. In between, Viswanathan Anand added his own cheque-mate move, quipping about the reception he expected to get on landing home after the World Championship win. All in all, the events of the past month would not have bought to the genuine Indian sports-lover.

But if you really ask yourself, how many genuine Indian sports-lovers are there ? And who is to blame for the sad state of neglect that all Indian sports still find themselves in ? (including hockey, even after Chak de !?) We might point the fingers at the governments, corporate sponsors and the media for glorifiying cricket at the expense of other sports, but it is equally true that we ourselves are party to this preferential treatment. Some time back, an opinion poll on NDTV showed that 86% of people felt that the media was not fair in its coverage of cricket vis-à-vis other sports. But is it just the media, or is its audience also to blame ? How many of us watched the Asia Cup Hockey final that we won just a few days before the T20 win ? Or atleast read the newspapers the next day to know who scored the winning goals ? Indeed, how many of us know who is India’s current hockey captain is ? To expect the corporates to sponsor a hockey match that nobody watches is, in my opinion, a bit too much. And I am not preaching here. I take the blame for the neglect that other sports find themselves in. Today, about 40000 people in my city have packed themselves at the Wankhede to see a match which has little relevance to the series. Till the time we start to care about football and volleyball and badminton, things will never change.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My car's dream home !!!!

The following article in Monday’s DNA serves to reinforce a belief that I have been holding for quite some time now. Namely, that in the years to come, traffic management is going to be single biggest issue facing mega-cities like Mumbai. Nariman Point can now proudly claim to have the most expensive office and parking space in the world. Spending a few lakhs a year on parking space is obscene enough. To add to that, every time you actually take the car away from its expensive resting abode, you have to contend with ever-increasing traffic as well. That is why I firmly believe that addressing this issue should be the topmost priority for the governments, municipalities and urban planners. We are, of course, at making plans and announcing them with much fanfare. Almost every alternate day, Mumbai wakes up to read of the next grand plan which claims will cure the city of its traffic asphyxiation. Be it several dozen new flyovers, or the recent announcement of 20 skywalks to avoid pedestrian congestion outside the suburban stations (which, if done well, is actually quite a decent idea); the plans always look very seductive. But when it comes to execution and management, it is completely a different story. The much-hyped Bandra-Worli sea-link still has to see the light of day. Earlier it was end 2007, then 2008 and now 2009 is finally supposed to be the year when this is supposed to be opened. We will continue to see more of it in the movies than in real-life. Such delays are common with most big projects. The work on the Metro Rail was supposed to have started already, now it will not be sooner than January next year. More than conceptualizing and announcing new plans, what is required is an iron hand supervising the execution of such grand projects, freeing them of government red-tape and legal hassles. The authorities owe this much to the people of Mumbai.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The quiet little getaway !!!

A couple of weeks back, I finally got the chance to say goodbye to work and its associated drudgery and headed to a weekend away from everything. Actually, I had planned the weekend in June itself but heavy rains in Mumbai on the last weekend in June washed away my plans. Thankfully, I could reschedule my resort bookings and hence got the holiday during the monsoon season itself. The choice of place was not easy. I had already decided to avoid Lonavala and its crowd (see one of my previous posts) and therefore, was searching for options. Then I read on the web about a place where you could go if you wanted to do nothing. That was exactly the sort of place I was looking forward to. A place where you could simply unwind and relax, a place that neither had a dozen tourist spots that you spent your time visiting nor a market that resembled any street in Mumbai during the weekend. The choice was made and I headed towards Bhandardara.

Bhandardara is a quiet little hill-station tucked away in the district of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, about 185 kms away from Mumbai. It is actually not a hill-station in the sense that we understand it, neither does it have an array of spectacular view points nor is it a mini-town with a flourishing tourist industry. It is actually a small village whose main attraction is an artifical lake formed by the Wilson dam built by the British in the early 20th century. Having said that, the dam is quite a sight. Unfortunately, during our weekend there, the gates of the dam remain closed, thus depriving us of the apparently breath-taking sight of the water gushing through the open gates of the dam. There is a small garden very close to the dam from where you can actually feel the force of the water as it drops down the face of the dam. Apart from that one main attraction, there are a few trekking spots near Bhandardara, most famous amongst them being Mount Kalsubai (at 1646 m above sea-level, the highest peak in Maharashtra) and the Vishalgad fort (one of Shivaji’s favourite forts). But if you ask me, the real beauty of Bhandardara is actually that it does not have many distractions in the form of tourist spots. It is actually a place where one can just sit and forget about the world (the fact that cell phones do not work there makes this all the more easy ;-)). The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has built a decent, functional resort right next to the lake with each room facing the lake. There is also a good lake-side restaurant serving food that, given the lack of choices, is pretty delicious. There is also the opportunity to go on long walks besides the lake and the hills.

So if you are looking to run away from the world and have just the hills and the water for company (besides your loved one of course !!), then this is the place to go. A weekend in Bhandardara serves as an ideal dose to get people back in their best spirits and in the mood to face the world again.



How to get there: Mumbai-Bhandardara is a 185km drive, first along the Mumbai-Nasik highway and then taking a right after Igatpuri. Or you can take the train and get down at Kasara/Igatpuri and catch a bus/jeep (45 kms from Igatpuri).

To stay: MTDC is the most conveniently located resort. In addition, there is also a private resort (Anandvan resort) that is some distance from the lake.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Anything under 'Freedom of Speech' !!!

Came across this article in Rediff, Please retire, Mr Bachchan !!!. It is written by a gentleman (I assume) called Mr. K S Shekawat. Now, I regularly read movie reviews from Rediff (not that they are very great or unbiased) and I do not recollect having seen a review by this gentleman. So I cannot comment on his ability to judge good cinema or performances. But one look at the article and you can assume only one of two things: either the writer has a personal vendetta against Mr Bachchan or he was just plain drunk while writing this piece.

Now, I am no big fan of Amitabh Bachchan. I used to be at one point of time, but I agree that he has over-exposed himself, acting in all sorts of run-of-the-mill movies, that too, in special appearances here and there. And apart from Black, there have not been many recent performances to shout about. And not to mention his innumerable ads that keep popping up in every break on television. And I can hazard a guess that he has lost quite a few fans because of this. But to say that 'the cast in Nishabd had no clue how to act' and 'dance with those enunch-like steps' (I have not seen enunchs dance quite like that) is plain degrading. What is however, more appalling to see is that this article has not appeared on some personal blog (where it is perfectly entitled to be) but on a national website that is watched by millions every day. Either the Rediff editorial board (if it exists) was blissfully sleeping during this or it conveniently turned a blind eye to all this. If the latter is true, it serves to merely cement my belief that such websites have become nothing more than cronies of certain powerful celebrities. Either way, I would love to see Mr Shekawat answer all the questions posed by the irate Big B fans (see comments below the articles) and write a follow-up article. One cannot simply write anything under the garb of freedom of speech and get away with it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A New Cricket Blog...

Raghuveer Yadav says in that ad for Star Cricket, "Cricket hamari ragon main daudta hai, aur hume haq hai ek aise channel ki jo sirf is junoon ko dikhaye !!" (Cricket runs in our blood, and we are entitled to have a channel which shows only this obsession !!). Not that cricket is anywhere near my obsession, but the fact is that I, like most of the billion Indians, have an arm-chair critic view on every shot Sachin plays and every decision Dravid makes. Therefore, the thought of having a seperate blog for airing these views. Immodest as ever, I hope to express those views more coherently and logically and enhance my writing skills !!..

So, dear readers, go ahead and have a look:


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Aaaagg... bujh gayi ????

So the ignition has been done. Ram Gopal Verma has finally unleashed his fire on the audience. Originally thought of as his tribute to Ramesh Sippy's Sholay, it might have finally ended up as just another vendetta flick with an uncanny resemblence to the original masterpiece. And if the reviews are anything to go by, this aag would burn as fiercely as a candle in a storm. Four unbiased and independent reviewers have given the movie a star each. ( read Indiafm, Rediff). Even given the fact that all of the reviewers supposedly were unabashed fans of the original Sholay (who isnt ?) and therefore, were not as biased as they should have been, these are still quite damning reviews. In fact, the reviews make it seem it is RGV's worst work till date. Quite dissapointing for admirers of good cinema. RGV seems to be steadily slipping from a glorious past to a mediocre future. His early works (Shiva, Raat and Rangeela) were cases of good cinema. Infact, I still watch the initial reels from Shiva each time I catch the movie in its numerous re-runs. From those high days, it has been downhill mostly (even his last hit, Sarkar had mostly the AB Sr-Jr combination as its novelty).

But coming back to Aaaaaggg..... It still begs the question: Why go on this path in the first place ? As I see it, remaking any movie, much less 'the' definitive landmark movie in Indian Cinema (even though there are surely better movies than Sholay), is only fraught with danger. It is simply a lose-lose situation. Make a good movie which sells, and the credit goes to the supreme quality of the original. Make a bad movie, and you are crucified not just for making a bad movie but for trying to tarnish the legacy. So either ways, RGV, despite his sincere desire to pay homage to Sholay and his best efforts, would have ended up gaining nothing. Sadly for him, the latter seems to have happened. And just a few days back, Pritish Nandy jumps in the bandwagon and has purchases the rights from the Sippys to make yet another remake !!!!.. 5 years from now, the original Gabbar Singh might be asking from up there...'' Arre O Samba, Kitne Sholay the ???"


Sunday, August 12, 2007

A dramatic turn of events !!!

Things have taken quite a dramatic turn since my previous post, as far as the Indo-English series is concerned. From being freed from jail by the English weather at Lords, the Indians have stormed back in style and are now looking at back-back wins at Trent Bridge and The Oval. And most hearteningly, the comeback is not due to a couple of individuals, but due to a whole-hearted team effort, with every member chipping in. Proof of this is the fact that there has been only one century from an Indian blade this whole series. And what a romantic century it was !!!!. After 17 long years as an international cricketer, Anil Kumble finally added a very significant feather in his illustrious cap (does he have space to put in any more feathers there :-)). I daresay that this century might have given him more satisfaction than most of his bowling feats. For one who was quite a capable batsman till about 5-6 years back, and then suddenly lost that touch, it has been quite an achievement. And not to forget Zaheer Khan !! After Sourav's exploits last year, another fine example of a player being left out in the cold more because of attitude than inability, and then bouncing back again in style (maybe Sehwag, Bhajji and Pathan can take a leaf out of his book). Whats most striking about Zaheer's bowling in the last two games is his accuracy and perseverance, two adjectives not formerly associated with him. Thanks to these two, and ofcourse, Tendulkar, Dhoni, Jaffer, Karthik and everyone else, India stare at a prospect of a 2-0 win against an English side, which by no means can be labelled weak. The series is ample proof of the team shedding the 'poor travellers' tag. Hopefully, things will only improve from here.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Another series.... same story !!!

So finally the rain gods came to the rescue of the Men in Blue at Lords, and we managed to leave London with the series level. For Indian fans though, the fragility of the Indian batting lineup is nothing new. The first test of any series outside the subcontinent has always been our Achilles Hill. Examples are plenty: Edgbaston 1996, Lords 2002, Bloemofontien 2001, Port of Spain 2002. (have not counted Brisbane 1999 and the series against New Zealand in 2002 since we lost everything there). The only abberations have been Johannesburg 2006 and Brisbane 2003 (thanks to Dada's ton and partly the weather there as well). We invariably surrender the intiative in the first test itself, from where it is very difficult, if not impossible, to bounce back (especially in today's 2-test and 3-test series). In light of this, it is truly staggering to have the BCCI reject Dravid's request for extra practice matches before the 1st test of the Australian tour later this year. One can only imagine the plight of India's famed willow-welders having been told to bat first on a quick MCG pitch in front of the Boxing Day crowd. While the BCCI's inclination towards commerce are long known (one famous Marathi scribe always referred to the former BCCI/ICC president as 'Dollarmiya'), denying your team the chance of getting good match practice tantamounts to absolute insensitivity towards the players as well as the fans who invest their time and money in watching good and competitive cricket. Hopefully, Santa will give the Indian batsmen the gift of quick adjustment come this Christmas !!!

Its also quite ironic that the 3 fifties from the Indians in the Lords test came from the supposed weak-links. The 'famed quartet' had a highest score of 40 in the 8 combined innings that they had. So much for the myth of the best line-up in the world !!!


One great joy of watching the India-England series on Star Cricket (apart from the great picture quality) is to listen to Ian Chappell. Easily one of the best commentators in the business, it is a pleasure to listen to him air his views candidly and unbiasedly (well mostly). In a good article here, he describes how the increasing referrals of decisions to the third umpire are a) robbing the credibility of the two gents on the field and b) again being in batsman's favour (since the bowler cannot request for an lbw appeal turned down by an umpire to be referred). Quite good stuff.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Monsoon Trip !!

Finally managed to get a break last weekend. Took Friday off from work and went with Anjali on a 3-day extended weekend trip to Lonavala. The start was more dramatic than the trip itself. Was a bit lazy in leaving home on Friday morning and then got stuck in Mumbai traffic (always an emotional topic for me - refer previous post) while going to Dadar station. When finally the cab stopped outside Dadar station, the train had arrived on the platform and the announcement asking passengers to board and take their seats was already blaring. As we started descending the railway bridge taking us to the required platform, the train started moving. And just as u miss the local train, I missed an outstation train for the first time in my life (thankfully, decided not to do anything filmy by trying to catch a moving train as it happens in the Bollywood movie climax - in any case, the lady to run after was besides me and not in the train :)))

Thankfully, we were going to Lonavala and had the option of buses readily avaliable. So that was not a problem and we reached Lonavala by bus at almost the same time as the train would have taken us. Lonavala on Friday morning was comparitively quiet. But come Saturday morning, and it changes completely. Suddenly, thousands of people descend over the town like a swarm of locusts, especially in the monsoon. Restaurents are full and the roads are jammed just like in Mumbai (we took an hour to cover a 4km stretch between the Valvan Dam to Lonavala station). While Lonavala is certainly beautiful (check out the pics), the abuse it bears every weekend certainly does not do it any good. It must be acknowledged though, that its economy is very much dependent on Mumbaikars and Puneites and the money they bring in. That said, it is still quite distressing to see garbage (prime amongst them were the left-over corn cobs) thrown nonchalantly on the road. Which is why I believe that the Taj being amongst the seven wonders will do us no good until we have an attitude that respects nature and our heritage.

So the next time you plan to go to Lonavala, do Lonavala and yourself a favour. Avoid the weekends !!


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Dream Car in Nightmare Traffic ??

The dream 1-lakh car of the Tata's is once again in the news. And no, this is not because of any farmer unrest. The MMRDA chief, Mr T Chandrasekhar has proclaimed that he will be the first to file a PIL against the launch of the car in Mumbai. The theory behind it being that the sudden spurt in car traffic would completely throw the city's (already stretched) transport infrastructure out of control. The reactions to this have been quite predictable. Tata's have retorted that the public should be given the right to choose whats good for them, while the state government has distanced itself (evidently to avoid any controversies) from the statements, saying that the government cannot come in the way of aspirations of the citizens.

At first glance, it appears as though the MMRDA is trying to solve the wrong problems. Instead of providing better roads and transport infrastructure, it is throttling people's ambitions and dreams of owing a car. But, on giving the issue a deeper thought, there is indeed some merit in the argument that a slew of small cars (not just Tata's, but there are atleast three other players aiming to launch such cars) will spell doom for our cities. Consider this:

Assume that the price of the car which the Tata's will finally launch would be Rs 1.3 lakh (as the press is reporting - though the company is feverishly working towards the Rs 1 lakh target)

Now, the second assumption is that people generally buy a car whose price is about 30-50% of their annual income.

Third, the minimum price point in the Indian car market is around Rs 2.5 lakh (Maruti 800 not withstanding).

Fourth, assume that the 1.3 lakh car is fully functional and has all that any self-respecting basic car should have.

Now, because the entry price point is being brought down by almost half (from Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 1.3 lakh), consider the income segment that will come under its spell. Individuals with a minimum income of Rs 2.5 lakh will also consider buying the car (and will no doubt be helped by attractive loan schemes). Now, tell me, who has an annual income of Rs 2.5 lakh ??? My estimate is any engineering grad joining a software company has (atleast in a year's time, if not starting). Every morning, there are several dozens of buses leaving Andheri station to SEEPZ full of such recently joined software engineers. Now lets suppose that each bus is replaced by 25 odd such '1.3 lakh cars' (assume only half of the bus and imagine what it will do to the already chaotic traffic conditions there. And forget Mumbai, consider some of the other places. Anyone who has been to Bengaluru bears testimony to the poor traffic infrastructure there. And many more grads move to Bengaluru every year than to Mumbai. Imagine the state there. And this is only about one section of the potential takers of the new 'dream' car. I am sure there will thousands of relatively more affluent shopkeepers, small-time businessmen etc who would also want to be a part of the car-owners club. Now one might argue that such a car boom and the subsequent traffic chaos might actually spark off infrastructure improvements at a much faster rate. But we do not seem to have learnt the lessons from 26 July 2005 and 11 July 2006. So what guarantee that this will lead to infrastructure reforms ? And the Tata's seem to have overestimated the maturity of the average Indian consumer in saying the people should be given the right to choose. Also note that I have not even talked of parking space here. Where is the parking space for thousands of such cars ? I remember when I was in school, almost the entire open space between our building and the society's compound wall was ours to play (many a great game of cricket has been played there ;). By the time I went to college, cars had gobbled up the space. Then, they started spilling out on the street outside. I am not too sure that today's children have any such place to call their own. No wonder they are forever glued to the television set and their regular doses of cartoons.

In summary, while any legislative effort at curbing people's freedom to choose might be improbable, the only hope atleast a small fraction of the potential car-owners might stop to think about how their decisions will affect the quality of life in our cities.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Tommorrow is the day !!!!

Tommorow, the day will finally dawn. The fate of the nation's pride would be decided. In far-off Portugal, UNESCO (with our very own Bipasha Basu in tow) will at last lift the curtains and unveil the new 7 wonders of the world !!! And will put an end to the seemingly endless propaganda by all and sundry in India, exhorting us to display our collective lung power (or is it 'sms power of our near-200 million mobile users' ??) and catapult Shah Jehan's monument of love to its 'rightful' place amongst the seven marvels of the modern world.

If we win, it is bound to raise a celebration like few witnessed before. I am sure you will be inundated with countless mails, SMS's, and scraps (the new way of conversing) congratulating all Indians. Media channels will work themselves into a frenzy proclaiming that our country has finally arrived. The tourism ministry and the industry will relish the prospect of increased tourist inflows and the benefits it would bring the country at large (are there any tourism-based stocks ??? go and add them to your kitty !!) . But, dare I even say that, just consider, what if ???? Insult !!! Sacrilege !!! Apocalypse !!!.. The nation will go into mourning. Our collective Indianness would have taken a huge beating. And post the mourning, like the old story of the fox, we might just shrug and say 'it really doesn't matter' !!

But frankly, before you cast in your vote either online or through sms, please ask yourself, Does it really matter even now ??? Does an online poll, even with the backing of UNESCO, with an audience of essentially the small fraction of the world's population with access to the Net or mobiles, really have the credibility to decide the world's 7 wonders ? And what about a small country, with hardly one-tenth of the mobile population as ,say,India's, with a monument to rival any in the world ?? Does it really have a chance ? Even after that, will the crowning of the Taj as the seven wonders of the world really change things on the ground ??? Sure, you might see a few more tourists checking in Agra, but the Taj has always been known across the world. It hardly needs the certificate from an online poll to reinforce its charm and status. So, apart from a few ministry officials and over-zealous media men, it will hardly matter to anyone whether 'we' (and not the Taj, because that is what it is all about, isnt it ? ) make it or not. I doubt if the fishermen who sail across the Taj on the Yamuna or the rickshaw-wallahs in Agra who drive the tourists down to the monument would even notice the difference post 7th July. And it sure as hell would not even slightly alter our opinion about the Taj. For me, it will always remain the enduring monument of love and devotion, 7 wonders or not. All this propaganda is nothing but a media created campaign (like many others) just to mobilize public opinion and action. Sadly, it is on a cause that is as relevant to society and social life as the mayor's office is to the standard of life of Mumbaikars.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Queen's language or Rashtra Bhasha ???

Whenever I see any interviews given by Bollywood stars and other celebrities, one thing always amuses me. And that is the inevitability with which the language of communication becomes English. Even if the channel is Hindi, it is quite strange to see the anchor asking questions in Hindi and the celebrity answering in English. Even if someone tries, the most he or she can manage is two sentences. After that, its back to the queen's language. The reason I specifically mentioned Bollywood stars is because they are supposed to work in the Hindi film industries and mouth dialogues in Hindi for a living. And yet, when it comes to facing the camera without a dialogue sheet, they are back to the language that they are most comfortable with. This is not to say that other celebrities are whizzes in Hindi. But atleast sports stars and politicians converse much better in Hindi as compared to them.

Now one might think that I am being too touchy on a small issue, but I really feel about our national language and the way we have neglected it, especially someone like me whos mother tongue is not Hindi. I used to like, and still like, pure Hindi, the way Premchand, Harivanshrai Bachchan and others used to write (and which were an integral part of our school textbooks). But somehow, have we virtually stopped the use of Hindi in our daily life, to the point where we are no longer comfortable speaking in front of others ? Or is it that it is no longer considered 'cool' to converse in Hindi ? Either case, it is a sad state of affairs. Now two questions that might occur to you: Does Amit consider himself a stud in Hindi ? and if so, why is this post not in Hindi ?? The answer to the first question is an emphatic 'No' and as regards the second one, I need to master the art of typing in the Devnagari script and someday, I hope to blog in Hindi and Marathi. Infact, I am so un-used to writing in the Devanagari script that I can barely write a line in a decent handwriting.

Talking to conversing freely in Hindi, last week's episode of 'Koffee with Karan' was extremely interesting. The guest on this show, which I consider bastion of the Chopra-Khan-Johar coterie, was none other than Rakhi Sawant. It was indeed refreshing to see her talk in Hindi (not withstanding its corruption by the Mumbai lingo) just as we do in our normal conversations. She was also candid in admiting that she was from a vernacular medium school and hence not comfortable in English. Bravo Rakhi !!! If only some others can take a cue from her and promote the use of our beloved national language.

Till the next post,

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Of Monsoon Showers and Dying Dosas !!!!

So the monsoon has finally announced its arrival in Mumbai with a bang. People awoke on Sunday morning to the sound of thunder, gloomy skies and heavy showers. For people who were anyways planning to chill out at home, it couldnt have been better news !! For the unfortunate souls who had to keep meetings and appointments, it sure would have been a curse. (Have called couple of my friends over for lunch and they are actually turning up, all credit to them !!!!)..

With nothing to do this morning, spent more than the usual time browsing through the Sunday newspaper. One particular article sure caught my attention (do not have a link for it here, sorry abt that). It talks about how traditional Udipi eateries in Mumbai (particularly in that South Indian haven of Matunga) are finding it tough to survive amidst obnoxious tax rates, shortage of cooks from down south and a clientele slowly but surely moving the pav bhaji and pizza way. Infact, they talk of such speciality eating joints shutting down in the next decade or so unless they reinvent themselves into a all-under-a-roof style, thereby compromising on their core strenghts. For someone like me who has spent two years gorging himself on the masala dosa and coffee at Mani's Lunch Home or on that wholesome lunch at the Rama Nayak's, it is nothing short of sheer catastrophe. One hopes that better sense prevails on everyone concerned (frm the government as regards taxes and the common junta rediscovers the joy of idlis and utthapas) and these bastions of Udipi culture and cuisines continue to survive and flourish. As regards me, its time to increase the frequency of visits to Matunga !!!..

Also, todays newspaper carries a short interview of my favourite RJ Mallishka. Also, the first time I have seen her snap. She surely rocks in her show, Morning No 1 !!!

Signing off on this post, hope to be more frequent than once every week on this forum !!..


Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Big Boss ???

A large part of the newsprint and airtime in the media the past week has been dominated by that phenomenon from Chennai and the release of his forthcoming blockbuster. I call it blockbuster, because, if the media reports are anything to go by, its no longer a question of whether 'Sivaji' would be a hit or flop. The only question is, how big a hit ?? The debate in the media (and not just the sensation-loving Zee News and Aaj Tak, but also NDTV and their breed) was whether Rajnikant had been treated unfairly by the rest of the country and has been unfairly denied his rightful place amongst India's superstar clan. And, oh yes, the inevitable comparisions between Rajni and the Bollywood Badshahs were all over the channels. As far as the people in question were concerned, both played politically correct: Rajni calling himself a King and Big B the Emperor, while Mr. Bachchan lauded the heights reached by the former bus conductor.

In this context, today's article in the DNA provides interesting insights into the debate over 'Who's the Boss ???'. For me, the key line in that article is : "Earlier, you used to rush to the loo only during the commercial break in an Amitabh flick. Now, you rush to the loo during any commercial break, and be sure that an Amitabh commercial is on air". Surely, there can be no comparison between the two. Someone who does 7 movies a year + endorses around 25 brands simply cannot be the The Boss. The larger than life aura simply wanes off. You simply do not look forward to the release of his next movie. Now consider a person who appears in a movie roughly every two years. Who dares to appear on TV not in designer clothes and shades but in a simple lungi and white shirt with hair almost unkempt. Who does not appear in all-over-the-place commercial. This is the way Rajnikant maintains that halo around himself. And his almost hypnotic smell transcends all barriers of class and caste. An office colleague of mine, an MBA at that, had nicely built the hype about Sivaji much in advance by forwarding every article about the movie. And this weekend, he is in Hyderabad to (or so he claims) catch the first weekend shows, tickets obviously booked much in advance by his folks there. Such is the sway you hold over the masses because you are choosy and careful and you know better than to over-expose yourself by appearing in every second movie and commercial. Thus, as I said, there can simply be no comparison.

Rajnikant rules !!!! Period.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The 'Joy' of Flying ???

I am currently in the departure lounge at Hyderabad airport, awaiting for the boarding call for my flight to Mumbai. Its been a long day and I cant wait to fly back home. But as I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by an announcement of a 20 minute delay of my flight. I only hope this is the first and last announcement regarding my flight. But as I write this now, there are constant announcements, all saying the same thing : "XXX Airlines regrets to announce a xx minute delay in its flight....". And besides me, the lounge is absolutely packed with hardly a seat to spare. And many are already getting upset with the endless delay announcements. This led me to think: is flying really a 'joy' in todays world ????

The Joy of Flying.. is the tag line of a leading private airline in India. But is it really so ?? In reality, air travel has become a pain for most. In my childhood, air travel had great aspirational value for middle-class households like ours. I guess that still might be the case, which is why airlines like Air Deccan are surviving today. But the actual experience can be quite forgettable.

As I mentioned below, the 'experience' usually starts on arriving at the airport. I guess delays have become the norm now-a-days. A flight leaving on time is actually in a minority, especially in the evenings. If one aircraft is doing many multiple trips during the day, the delay gets added up and by the time the last trip comes, the schedule has gone horribly wrong. (Take the case of an airline which promises us good times, however their last flight from Bangalore to Mumbai is late by almost an hour always, I have experienced this twice). Then comes the infrastructure at the airports, especially at the departure lounges. The seats are woefully inadequate in most airports, the announcements are at best non value-adding and at worst, irritating, the beverages quite expensive and the rest rooms just about hygenic. This ensures that not only are you cursing the airline for the delay, but you cannot wait in comfort as well.

Once you finally board the aircraft, the next hassle comes during landing. Ask anyone flying into Mumbai during late evenings and they would not have missed the standard announcement '...delay due to aircraft congestion..', '.. we are currently 7th in the landing queue....'. Most aircrafts would circle Mumbai about twice before actually getting a chance to land. Not only does it provide for bad sight-seeing, it also is downright irritating. And traffic on the ground is as bad. The tarmac at Mumbai airport resembles something quite similar to one of the traffic junctions in the city. Infact, during my last flight, the bus carrying us from the aircraft to the terminal building actually had to brake twice on the way to avoid colliding with other buses, fuel tankers etc. Infact, one smart alec wondered if BEST drivers had been appointed as drivers for these buses.

In summary, while the proliferation of airlines and the efforts to make flying affordable to everyone is all very well, it has come at the cost of the joy and convenience of the flying experience. One only hopes that the authorities realize this before its too late.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

My favourite Hindi movie lyrics !!!!

Hindi movies have always been remembered for their music, if not anything else. Down the years, the glorious tradition of Hindi film music has always been a part of our way of life, whether it be bands playing at marriages or wannabe Kishore Kumars and Asha Bhosle's trying their luck at the dime-a-dozen talent searchs. Lyrics, to me however, are at the heart of Hindi music. Through lyrics, one can convey the whole gamut of emotions: be it love, tragedy, happiness. You name it and Hindi movies have always had a song for each occassion, that too with the most appropriate words. Great poets like Sahir Ludhianvi (the badshaah of tragedy), Majrooh Sultanpuri, Pradeep (with the immortal 'Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon') and down to Anand Bakshi, Gulzar etc. have embellished silverscreen with the most heart-touching lyrics.

Recently, however, this trend seems to be dying out. As with fast-food, today seems the day of fast-lyrics. Lyrics are churned out instead of being written (samples like 'Tu mere sapnon ki rani hui, tu meri prem diwaani hui' etc abound in today's movies). No wonder then, we remember the words of the old melodies of the 60s and 70s rather than the fleeting words put together today. But as with any dark cloud, there is always a silver lining. Hence, presenting below, are five of my favorite poems of movies released this decade. These are enough to prove that good Hindi poetry is still a part of Bollywood today.

These are, in no particular order:

1. Ladki Kyon Na Jaane Kyon Ladkon Si Nahi Hoti (Hum Tum): The fact that Men and Women simply belong to different planets has been illustrated with vivid and real-life examples. You listen to the song and realize that how true it is. Lines like "jeene ka tumko dhang sikhlati hai, tumhe janwaar se insaan banati hai " or " woh sharmati hai, kabhi chupaati hai, ladki jo haan keh de, use nibhati hai " describe the arguments and feelings between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend. Notice the superb one-liners in between in the voice of the lead actors. Simply written.

2. Kuch to Hua Hai, Kuch Ho Gaya (Kal Ho Na Ho): Another simple but truly oustanding poem. Describes the feelings of your first time in love to the T. Sample this: 'cheeze main rakh ke bhool jaati hoon, bekhalayi main gungunaati hoon, ab akele main muskuraati hoon' or 'dhyaan ab apna jyaada rakhta hoon, sochta hoon main kaisa lagta hoon, aaina ho to dekh leta hoon'. How very true na ? I have actually had friends on campus sitting in front of the mirror and ensuring they are tip-top before going on a date. A song that anyone in love can relate to.

3. Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera (Swades): Simply put, this poem raises goose pimples. It may not be quite in the league of that stunner 'Chitti Aayi Hai' (Naam, 1985) but its still quite superlative. Now I have never gone out of my country for work but even then, whenever i listen to this song, deep down in my heart, my country calls me. Now I cannot imagine my friends/relatives working in all corners of the world not being touched by this. Friends in US, Singapore, UK and elsewhere: answer me truly. Doesnt this song pull a string somewhere deep down ??? One line that stands out: " tujhse zindagi - hai yeh keh rahi - sab to paa liya - ab hai kya kami - yunh to sare sukh hai barse - par dur tu hai apne ghar se - aa laut chal tu ab dewaane - jahan koi to tujhe apna maane - awaaz de tujhe bulaye - wohi des'.

4. Chale Chalo (Lagaan): The poem of the underdog. One that urges you to keep fighting all odds. Very well composed. 'Baar baar haan, bolo yaar haan, apni jeet ho, unki haar haan' or 'koi na ab roke tujhe, toke tujhe, tod de bandhan saare, mila kya hoke tujhe nirbal tu hi bata' . The kind of words that you want to hear when you are feeling really down.

5. Mitwa (Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna) : The feeling of denial and the pain it causes have seldom been captured so beautifully. Dont we all remember the time when we loved someone but were either ignorant or scared to admit it. 'Yeh ho jai unkahi, yeh jo hai ansuni, wo baat kya hai bata !!!' or 'teri nigahen paa gai raahen, par tu yeh soche jaao na jaaon, yeh zindagi jo hai naachti to, kyon bediyon main hai tere pao' urge to let go of our inhibitions and express ourselves. Amazing song !!!

Couple of other close contenders: 'Yeh Taara Woh Taara' (Swades), Kal Ho Na Ho (Title song). Also had my Punjabi been better, 'Yaar Mangiyasi' (Kaante) might have figured in the above list.

Its not coincidence that ALL of the above songs are written by the same person. Javed Akhtar personifies good and simple poetry in Hindi movies today. Alongwith Gulzar (who comes second only because of his excessive use of Urdu - a language i hope to understand someday and hence appreciate his poetry), he has kept the flame and legacy of Sahir Ludhianvi, Pradeep etc alive.

Would love to hear your feedback and opinion regarding this !!!



Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cricket at the cross-roads !!!

As mentioned in my last post (which was some time ago :)), this post is about the two main issues facing our favourite game post the World Cup.

These are:
- The thorough dominance of one team
- The balance between bat and ball

Coming to point no. 1, it is rightly pointed out that Australia's victory was the most comprehensive ever seen in any team sport, forget cricket. And that, to be frank, is quite unnerving. To see a team simply terrorize their opponents time and over again is not good advertisement for the game. I am sure even a die-hard Aussie fan (and there are quite a few in India as well) would have wished their team a more hard-fought and competitive title defence. The other way to look at this is to say that the Aussies raised the game at key moments, especially in the final. But then that is the hallmark of a champion and it does not hide the poor challenge offered by the other teams. McGrath or no McGrath, the Aussie juggernaut seems set to roll on without any consistent challenger in sight. South Africa are too one-dimensional and lack the flair, England are not upto the standard, West Indies are sadly in decline while India and Pakistan are too inconsistent to pose a sustained challenge. It is left only to New Zealand or Sri Lanka to look the Kangaroos in the eye. What would cricket give to have a Nadal-Federer rivalry ?

Now coming to point no. 2. One memory that I have of the final is this: Vaas came back for his second spell and was bowling to Hayden. He bowled full and Hayden hit him back over his head. He did not quite get to the pitch of the ball in fact, his bottom hand slipped from the bat in the process of striking the ball and he ended up playing one-handed lofted stroke which looked quite ugly. He deserved to be caught in the deep, however, the ball simply went off and landed in the crowds. Some of the credit does go to Hayden's strength, but still, to have a one-handed heave go for six is indicative of the dominance batsmen have in the modern variety of the game. From test cricket (where you need good bowlers to take 20 wickets and win you the game) to one-day cricket and now, the age of Twenty-20, batsmen simply hold all the aces. Again to draw a similarity between cricket and tennis, the latter also have suffered from such a change once wooden racquets were replaced with graphite racquets in the 80s. The grace of a McEnroe or Borg were replaced with the speed and power of Becker and Ivanisevic (who themselves look pedestrian as compared to today's guys when it comes to power play). Again, how I long to see the days of Gower and Azhar using light bats and carressing the ball through the covers or square leg !!!

So, as the dust settles on the World Cup and normal service begins (the English summer has already begun) these two issues need to be keenly addressed. The ICC can surely look into the latter while their member nations will have to devise an out-of-box solution to the Aussie menace. The game is at an interesting stage.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Finally.. its over !!!!

So the World Cup has finally ended, albeit in circumstances that any sports-lover would not have wished to see. Not only was the final mostly a one-sided affair, the final overs of that 'contest' were a sad sight. Dont think any other global sporting event has climaxed in near darkness with the spirit of competition relegated to the background. And to think that the farce was going on in front of a world audience, not to mention that the governing body of the sport was majorly responsible for it, is hardly the right advertisement for the game. As expected by almost everyone (though not neccessarily hoped by most !!!), the Aussies pocketed their third straight crown.

The World Cup has been severly, and mostly correctly, criticized by all and sundry on several counts: too many teams, lots of matches, exhorbitant ticket prices, lot of ICC red-tape at the venues, marketing considerations presiding over the game and so on. Clearly, most of the charges are quite right and the ICC would need to take a long, hard look at the way the game is run. However, I still feel the competition format was not way off the mark. Initial group stage of 3 matches per team followed by a gruelling 6 games in the Super-Eights was, and still is, a very good format. However, unfortunately for the ICC, Ireland and Bangladesh spoilt the party. By eliminating the two big commercial powerhouses from the tournament, they ensured that half the television audience stayed away from the Super Eights (I guess 9 out of 10 people in India who feel that the tournament was long and boring feel so because their team were knocked out). Sadly, in the process, Ireland and Bangladesh became easy meat in the Super Eights (the win against South Africa did not do much damage as far as the tournament was concerned). I have no doubt that had India and Pakistan been in the Super Eights, it would have been a battle royale between atleast the 7 other teams and, who knows, the winning streak of the Aussies might have been snapped by some, simply because of the high level of competition. The Super Eights would truly have been 24 exciting games on offer. So lets not blame the ICC on that count atleast. The tournament became long and boring not because of the no. of matches staged, but because there was a high proportion of mis-matches. And this is something the ICC had nothing to do with. I am not too sure what other format can the ICC follow. Hopefully by 2011, we will have a brand new format.

Regarding the organization itself, there is not much you can fault with the local organizing committees. Most of the venues looked suitably upgraded (especially the Kensington Oval which could have rivalled any other ground in the world), although it was sad that almost all matches were watched by some empty seats. It finally took the retirement of the local God to ensure the first full house in the Cup. The pitches actually were quite good. Infact places like Port-of-Spain, Guyana and Bridgetown helped the bowlers, something which is uncommon in one-dayers in other parts of the world, including Austalia. All the world-class bowlers performed excellently throughout the World Cup. On the other hand, no pitch was a bowler's dream either. Good batsman found the conditions to their liking as well, which is the way it should be. And apart from the final, there was hardly any rain disruptions throughout the seven weeks. So the local orgainzing committees did their job pretty well.

But for me, there are two bigger issues that came out from this World Cup (and generally, from the way the game is headed):

1. The fact that one nation can dominate a sport so comprehensively so as not to even lose a World Cup game for eight years (it will be 12 years by the time the next edition comes)

2. The balance between bat and ball in the modern-day game

I will touch upon these issues in my next post, which will also be the last on cricket for a while. Its about time I switched my attention to other more important matters.



Sunday, April 22, 2007

Adieu the Prince !!!!!

Yesterday, the curtain was finally drawn on one of the most glittering career in modern-day cricket !!! For 16 years now, Brian Charles Lara from the Carribean island of Trinidad and Tobago has entertained millions all over the world with his unique dish of batsmanship, a mesmerising blend of stunning hand-eye co-ordination and supreme timing and added to it, a dash of genius. Indeed, while he might have been just one of the best batsman in the world, he is, without doubt, the greatest entertainer the cricket world has known in the past 2 decades (Sachin, Ponting et al included) , a mantle he inherited from his fellow carribean great Sir Viv Richards.

The first notice he gave to the cricketing world was way back in 1989, when, as a 19-year old, he cracked 150 in a tour game against the visting Indian team. He just about missed getting into the Windies squad then (too bad, for it would have meant seeing Sir Viv and Lara in tandem, just imagine what both in full-flow would have done too the bowlers). But it did not take him too long for him to break through into the international squad, which he did in 1990. While he had a fairly successful World Cup in 1992, it was not until Sydney in Jan 1993, that he finally arrived on the world stage. The Aussies had seen a rare talent the summer before (exactly a year before, Sachin Tendulkar hit a majestic 148 at the SCG) and this time around, the SCG crowd was privileged to see another talent bloom. His first test hundred was a monstrous 277, ended only when he was run out. Sobers's record was under threat right from those days, and soon it would fall. Lara always reserved his best against the Aussies, a hallmark of great players, who flower against the best opposition. Apart from his 277, there was that trio of genuis-filled centuries in 1999, each one of them as good as the other. The 153 he scored then took the Windies to a 1-wicket victory and was adjudged the 2nd best innings of all time. The South Africans also felt the heat, centuries in the 1996 and 2003 WC by Lara knocked them out the first time, and started their slide in 2003.

Lara played and prospered against the best of them. Except for McGrath, no-one can claim to have got Lara's number. His mastery over Muralitharan in 2001 was another highlight of his career, where he scored 678 runs in 3 tests, but sadly, could not save his team losing all of them. Other bowlers, whether it be Warne, Vaas, Shoaib, Lee or Harbhajan have also suffered at his hands. Add to that, his appetite for scoring monsterous hundreds. To reclaim the record for highest individual score after it was taken away from him was the hallmark of one of the best, if not the best.

Lara in full flow was a real sight. It all started with that lovely back lift. As the bowler ran in to bowl, the base of the bat was almost touching his left shoulder. As the ball was released, it came down in a beautiful arc, ready to meet the ball at the sweet spot at the exact time. The next thing you knew, the ball was almost at the fence. When in song, the other delightful aspect of watching him was seeing him get on his toes, indeed jump sometimes, and hit the ball airborne through point or covers. And he could just as well dance down the track and, with the same beautiful arc of his bat, send the ball sailing over the fence for yet another six. All in all, someone whom you could pay and watch anytime, anywhere !! Incidentally, I remember a game that I had gone to the Brabourne Stadium in 1993. It was the Hero Cup, South Africa vs West Indies. The North Stand, where I was, was rooting for Lara while the East stand was backing Jonty Rhodes. Finally, after a few trademark boundaries, Lara skied a ball and was caught spectacularly by, who else, Jonty. It was the only time I saw him in the flesh and then, as on television umpteen no. of times, it was a great sight.

But, putting his career into complete perspective would also require one to take into account his role as a leader. There, as is the case with Sachin, he could not really be called a good captain. But all said and done, we should all remember the Prince of Trinidad for the sheer joy he brought to a cricket ground. Watching him bat was like savouring the great joys of life !!!!!

So long, Brian !!! The cricket world will be a poorer place now...


PS: The World Cup finally reaches the final week, and one only hopes that somehow, 11 Aussies can show up on the field drunk. Who knows, even that might not be enough !!!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mahabharata.. re-looked and re-told !!

Have finally finished reading a magnum opus of a book. Magnum opus not because of any great literary achievements the book has had and not because the author is any stalwart. Magnum opus because of its sheer size (865 pages full of text only, and that too of small font) and because of the fact that it is in my mother tongue Marathi (the written word of which, I hate to admit, takes effort out of me to read). Anyways, after 4 months of chipping away, I finally managed to finish it, surviving my wife’s disapproving looks and comments J.

So what is this book about, you might ask? The book is titled ‘Duryodhan’ by Kaka Vidhate. As the name suggests, it is the story of the eldest Kaurava prince. It starts with his father Dritrashtra lamenting about being a blind prince just before his wedding with Gandhari and ends with Duryodhan dying near the river-bank on the last day of the Mahabharata war. Now the Mahabharata has always fascinated me since childhood. For me, it is quite simply, the greatest story ever sold (and even the ultimate soap opera J). BR Chopra did an outstanding job transferring the epic on the small screen (someday, I will buy the entire collection of DVDs) and hopefully, some director some day will craft an all-start-cast on the big screen. But this book was different from all other books that I have read on the Mahabharata. For once, this was more of a biography rather than being about the actual war (the war only takes about the last 200 pages or so). But more importantly, this was a view from the ‘other’ side, as it were. Though I have read and enjoyed ‘Mrityunjay’ (another outstanding book on my Mahabharata hero Karna, which, strangely enough, I read while doing my MBA at Bangalore), this book tells the epic in a different light, from the eyes of someone who, as history tells us, is the villain of the piece.

But the book raises several questions forcing us to re-look our generally accepted beliefs about the Mahabharata. For example, history tells us that the Pandavas were bound to win the war because they were on the side of truth, of dharma. But take a closer look at what actually happened in the war. Each one of the Kaurava commanders were killed rather than defeated (‘hatya’ as the book calls it as opposed to ‘vadh’ which is the Kshatriya way of overcoming your enemy in battle). Bhishma was killed when he refused to fight Shikhandi, Drona was mercilessly beheaded after he laid down his arms on hearing the false news of his son’s death. And Karna was defeated in the only way Arjuna could have, when he was without his weapons trying to get his stuck wheel out. And all this is generally accepted, not some new theory the book is trying to put forth. Against this, the only legitimate and accepted ‘adharm’ from the Kaurava side was in killing Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu (which the book incidentally denies but lets go with widely held and accepted ‘facts’.) So, atleast as far as the actual war is concerned, there is not much doubt on who acted according to ‘dharma’ and who did not.

The other important point that the book brings out is that Duryodhana lost the war not because he was in the wrong, but because of all his trusted aids betrayed him. Bhishma and Drona could not kill the Pandavas because they were so dear to them. But most importantly, Karna also did him in. He was the rock on which Duryodhana had pinned his hopes on, knowing fully well that in a legitimate battle, even Arjuna could not stop him. But just a few days before the war, out came Krishna (who, not surprisingly, is painted in more black than white by the book) and told Karna the story of his birth, shattering Karna from within. This led to Karma promising Kunti that he would not kill any other Pandava except Arjuna. In the actual war, Karna had each one of the 4 remaining Pandavas at his mercy, had he killed any one of them, the war would have stopped then and Yudhistir would have accepted defeat. So that left Duryodhana with absolutely no friends in battle. He was a marked man from the time the battle started and fate caught up with him eighteen days later (that too, courtesy of a cowardly act from Bheem who hit Duryodhana below the belt after realizing that he was not going to win otherwise).

All in all, the book tells an interesting and often, heart-touching tale of a prince and prospective (and maybe, even rightful) emperor wronged by fate, his father, his friends and his dear ones, leaving him to wage a lonely battle to get what he regarded as rightfully his in life. And, on top of all this, history regards him as a villain and the instigator of the war.

After all, what is history but not a story told by the victorious???


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The show goes on....

A lot has happened in the World Cup since I published my post around 2 weeks back. Some things have changed, some things have remained the same. Two of the biggest crowd-pulling sides have been knocked out of the competition, virtually cutting the estimated global audience for this event by about half. The embarrassing exit of the Men in Blue was immediately followed by the entire country going overboard. As I said, some things remained the same. Effigies were set on fire, restaurants owned by some of the players were damaged and elaborate security was required for the players homes and families. The media, aided by former cricketers (most of whom now get free airtime as 'experts' on the dime-a-dozen news channels), was quick in blaming everyone from the coach, captain and senior players. Calls to revamp Indian cricket flew thick and past. Thankfully, after a few days, the storm has subsided. People now sleep on time and report to work on time. The tournament itself has lost quite a lot of its sheen. The Super Eights, which at one point of time, appeared to be packed with mouth-watering clashes (remember the ICCs scheduled advertising the India-Pakistan clash on April 15th) , now has to see South Africa and Ireland 'battling' it out. Australia, as before, is kicking ass and appears on course for a hat-trick of titles. For people who were calling it the 'most balanced' tournament, things have gone wrong.
But spare a thought for our neighbors. Not only did they suffer an even more embarrassing defeat, but a day later, one man actually lost his life. Till we know the exact cause of Bob Woolmer's death, we can only assume that he paid the price for 'being the man who knew too much'. That it was not a natural death was very much apparent from the start. Also, it could not have been the work of some idiot who lost his mental balance after seeing his team being thrown out of the World Cup. Quite clearly, this was a manifestation of something much more serious and elaborate going on behind closed doors. One only hopes that in the times to come, Bob would be remembered not just for his exemplary coaching skills but also as the man whose death led to a complete clean up of world cricket. After his death and Inzamam's quitting, Pakistan cricket is really in the abyss. Hopefully, it will rise like the Pheonix.


Monday, March 19, 2007

The aftermath..

I have resisted the temptation to title this post 'I told you so !!!' because, quite frankly, it needed no genius or great cricketing mind to foresee that the match against Bangladesh would not be easy for the Indians. In the entire run-up to the World Cup, the talk was only about whether India would reach the semis or not. One news channel also analyzed thread-bare all of India's matches in the Super 8s. It was only on the day (17th March) that people finally woke up to the challenge that Bangladesh represented, with one newspaper talking of the banana skins that lay in India's way.

I guess the primary cause for the shock on Saturday is this, we simply underestimated the opposition. By we, not just the team management, but also the media and fans. Then there was the decision after the toss. If Dravid n co felt that we needed to give our batsmen practice on a seaming track (there is also one thought that he wanted to have his batters bat out 50 overs rather than bowling Bangladesh out for a poor score and then chasing the target in 25-30 overs), then again, he underestimated their bowling attack.

Most of our batters gave their wickets away. People trying to cut balls close to the stumps, chasing wide ones straight to point, trying to score against the turn etc. Old failings all of these. The skipper got a marginal lbw decision, but that is part of the game. The lower order simply collapsed and only the last-wicket stand saved face. To add to this, some of the deficiencies crept up again. I talked in my last post about how we needed someone to shepherd the middle overs. But we dont have someone who can do that consistently. On Saturday, India scored only 30 runs between overs 20 and 30, which is quite poor. The fastish left arm spin of the Bangladeshis simply suffocated us. In the afternoon, the wicket had become quite good for batting barring the odd ball swinging and we our bowlers always were going to struggle defending 191. Having said all this, hats off to the Bangladeshis. A young squad played out of their skins to defeat the so-called 'favourites'. For the sake of world cricket, one hopes that this will be dawn of their renaissance and such victories become more frequent.

As far as the Men in Blue is concerned, its an uphill struggle for them to progress now. Because their fate is no longer in their hands. Beating Bermuda by a margin even wider than what the Lankans achieved is going to be tough. And in the Sri Lankans, India is going to meet an opposition similar to the Bangladesh but much more skilful and experienced. And the sad part is, beating Sri Lanka also wont assure them of a ticket to the Super 8s. Anyways, still the wishes go out to the team in Blue.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mommy's favourite ???

The other day was my parents wedding anniversary. My wife and I were planning to have a good dinner served at home (with she doing the cooking of course ;-).. Inevitability, the question was 'What should be the menu ?. Quite naturally, we decided to cook some dishes which Mom n Dad liked. As far as Dad is concerned, we immediately zeroed in on a few favourites. But then, the question asked was 'What dishes does Mom like ?'.. And quite frankly, I didnt have an answer. For years, she has been cooking all sorts of delicacies for the entire family. And here I was, not knowing what she liked. Come to think of it, do many of us have an answer to that one ?. More importantly, have we ever asked her that ?,, if at all someone asks her, the answer is 'anything/everything'.. Now if at all, there was a dish by that name ;-)..

So, heres a tribute to that wonderful lady who has been feeding the family for so long and silently eating everything that everyone else likes with a smile :))..

PS: World Cup posts will come soon. As I finish this post, India is struggling against Bangladesh. I am reminded of my previous post :)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Group of Death ??

Continuing my series of randomly arbit thoughts on the Cricket carnival called the World Cup !!!

Yesterday's win by Bangladesh over New Zealand in the warmups only waters the seed of doubt that I have in my mind about my team's chances at the first stage. A lot has been said and written about how the first 15 days of the World Cup (when the 1st round takes place) are absolute bores. In fact, Rediff has published an article saying that the ICC, on its website, has already published the Super 8s schedule alongwith the teams !!!! (According to that, India play Pakistan on April 15th, and India's games against Australia, South Africa and Pakistan are all on weekends :))..

But before that, lets not write off the other 8 teams, Least of all, not Bangladesh. They are by far the best of the other 8 sides. They have beaten almost every one of the big boys in the past. Also, the wickets in the West Indies might suit their kind of bowling (no express pace, gentle medium pace backed up by decent spinning options). Their batting, although their weak link, has a couple of names (Bashar and Ashraful) who, on their day, can win match (ask the Aussies !!).. Therefore, if there is any group which resembles the popular 'Group of Death' (a term made famous by the Football WC), it is group B that contains Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and of course, India.

Both India and the Lankans would have to be very careful about their matches against Bangladesh. A shock defeat to the Bangladesh would derail their entire campaign and one of them might be returning home by the month-end. Given that both India and Sri Lanka are being counted as potential semi-finalists, this would change the nature of the cup going into the Super 8s. India's first match is against Bangladesh on March 17th. This is both good and bad. Bad because India have been slow starters (last time, they struggled against Holland in their 1st match, were thrashed by the Aussies in their 2nd before bouncing back strongly) and hence, they would have to be on their toes and at the top of their games right from the 1st ball they bowl (or face) in this Cup. Good because, god forbid, a reverse there would mean that they have a game against the Lankans to follow as a do-die game.

So, March 17th is as important a date in India's WC campaign as any other !! All the best to the team in Blue !!! And hope my thoughts are too random and arbit not to be true !!


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Let the carnival begin...

So we are just 10 days from the cricket carnival in the Carribean. The teams have landed (alongwith the commandoes guarding them) , the controversies (quite inevitably) have started and finally, one is beginning to hear the buzz associated with the World Cup. Never mind the fact that one channel here in India went overboard saying something to the effect that 'the whole world is waiting with bated breath for the 13th of March' :)).. as if Germany, Japan and Brazil cared..

Ironically, the Indian team selection was bit of a foregone conclusion as compared to in the past where reams of newsprint would be spent discussing each individual's chances. With most players picking themselves, and the series victories against the Windies and Lankans adding that much-added spark to the pre-world cup build up, the selectors really didnt have much to think about. While the assembled squad is probably the best they could have picked, a glance down the names reveals glaring deficiencies in two vital aspects of one-day cricket: fielding, of course (as most have pointed out) but also in middle-overs maneuvering..

India's likely starting XI would read: Ganguly, Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj, Karthik/Uttappa, Dhoni, Agarkar, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Munaf. Of these, only Yuvraj and Karthik can claim to be world-class in the inner ring while Sachin and Agarkar are quick in the outfield.. None of the others has ever been accussed of greatness in the field, in fact, a couple actually need a place where the ball doesnt bother coming.... which is a worrying thought, because this means that we would be conceeding atleast 15-20 runs in every innings just on account of untidy fielding.. This puts much more pressure on the top seven (including Dhoni) to deliver whatever is asked of them. With due respect to Zaheer's and Agarkar's recent good form as well as the fact that Kumble n Bhajji would be useful on those tracks , it is the batsman who carry our hopes. And, to be fair, that is a very good lineup. If only Sehwag can consistently fire, then we would get that confidence of 16 successive run-chases back. But a word of concern here: we still do not have the player who deftly puts away each ball in the middle-overs for a single, and runs hard to convert those ones to twos. Sachin, of course, is capable of both those but incase he goes to open, we would have Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj in the middle order. All these magnificent batsman are not of the Azhar/Jadeja class when it comes to making those middle overs count. Which is partly why we struggle after a good start quite often (and against dibbly-dobblers bowling at 110-120kmph or against spinners like Gayle n Samuels who simply fire the ball in the batsman's legs, again, at around 110kmph !!!.. We certainly need to get that act straight or we might lose the plot somewhere between overs 20 and 35..

All said and done, while this is not the Class of 1983 and 1985 (or even the Class of 2003) , this is the best team they could have picked (though Raina and Powar might consider themselves unlucky). So all the Very Best to the Men in Blue !!!!!!