Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Feet of Clay



The problem with being a martyr is that it doesn't leave much room for compromise. So he went and sucked up to Big Daddy Shady Power. And was shooed back into the team. Goodbye, Almost Hero.


As Kapil Dev said, "Batting karke dikha naa, bheekh kyon mangta hai?!" Loosely translated - when you have a bat to do your talking, why pick up a begging bowl?

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Getting it out of the way



It has to happen at some point of time - the "why do we blog" post. I'll leave it to Vikram Chandra ...


"Blogs are a revisualisation of the classical diary form. What you’re writing is a diary, but you’re doing it in an instantly accessible format. The audience is conceivably global. What it also indicates is that we are starting to think about about the self much more. Blogs reiterate the notion that the self exists in the public eye, one of the central thrusts of the 21st century. But blogs cannot satisfy the human mind’s hunger for narrative and plot.... Traditional narratives will always be important."

Interview in the Indian Express, discovered through Uma.


This, of course, does not cover MY motivation. I'm only in it for the money. Google Ad Sense doesn't cut it, so those of you who have had kind words for me, could you get off your collective .. umm, sofas and find somebody who'll give me a 9-figure contract? In US$, thank you very much. (OK, say 7 figures. WITH the decimal and the cents ....) Hmmm?

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"I'm tired of Love, I'm still more tired of Rhyme
But Money gives me pleasure every time!"
(Hillaire Belloc)


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Monday, December 19, 2005

In a city by the sea

In a strange city lying alone

Far down within the dim West …

… when the sea-winds take the city in their arms,

And cool the loud streets that kept their dust noon and afternoon.


Dawn comes late in this city. After two cups of coffee and a cigarette, still propped up on a pile of pillows with a blanket over my knees, I look out of the window every two minutes. Still dark, though it must be full morning in my home on the other side of the country. A cruise steamer, lit up like a party, lies at anchor half-way to the island. Off to the right the Radio Club looks forlorn; to match the mood, the tiles should have gleamed with rain under that single harsh light. The sea is dark, peaceful after the clutter of boats that swayed upon it last night. Four boys sit on the sea-wall. They were there at 3 a.m., when I drifted awake and leaned out of the window for a while.

I love this view. I come over to the window every now and then just to revel in it, like a child reaching into his bag to stroke a new toy. I need to take it in in lungfuls, in wide-eyed deep-breathing gulps. I’ve seen it a hundred times before, but on this trip I’ve claimed it for my own. All because I have a room with three windows looking out on it. And no camera.

The light has changed. The street-lights seem to wane. Dawn washes the horizon, inverts the light. The sea turns silver; the bobbing boats re-appear, dark dancers on the morning tide.

The strand below is now crowded with morning walkers. A mother and daughter in Ts and stretch capris. An old couple, the lady laboriously swaying from one foot to the other, her husband grumpy-faced but extending a solicitous hand to help her onto the cobbled kerb. Mr. Money-bags, gold chain glinting, the legs of his loose Bermudas flapping below the overhang of his gut. A chic young thing, beautifully shaped and turned out in designer gym-wear, but ruining the effect with her ungainly walk; perhaps her shoes look good but don’t fit her.

And now, walking across my field of vision from left to right, a figure from the Satyajit Ray stories of my childhood. Bright eyes that dart all around beneath beetling brows, a wide rubbery mouth that can be creased in laughter one moment and twisted in invective the next, hair neatly oiled and parted, a half-sleeved shirt buttoned to the collar and stick-thin legs emerging from short baggy shorts. The walk, too, stirs distant memories: a shuffle with a faint lurch that yet aspires to respectability.

My memory for the day? Time to check out. I turn away from the window.

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The city in the morning is different. More tranquil, or at least less frenetic. The light itself slows us down, strokes us to peace. The taxi rasps through the morning calm, slipping through the dappled light, passing under the trees that line the streets of the city’s southern end. The curlicued spiral stairs of the High Court, the self-righteous pile of the Cowasjee Public Hall, the Corporation Building opposite the beautiful station that has been re-named so imaginatively. Along the way, “Smart & Hollywood Tailors”. Indeed.

The smells of the city are more distinct in the morning air. Anda bhurji near Churchgate. Fish as we cross VT. For some reason, one stretch near Pedder Road smells like an old railway carriage, chlorine and coal smoke and a whiff of staleness. I find no smell of the sea, not on the sea-front as we start, not at Haji Ali, nowhere. The city has leached the smell from the air and substituted its own.

The fly-overs take us past windows that open into other people’s lives. A bleary face, toothbrush protruding from foaming mouth as he reaches out of a window to retrieve a pair of trousers from the clothesline. The corner of a dresser and a small table with a woman’s feet propped up on it; the angle suggests a newspaper and a cup of something hot. A neon light above a dining table, straight-backed chairs, a jug. Windows with plants, with clotheslines, with faces, blank panes, newspapers. Windows like hooded eyes and windows that wink with the morning sun.

Hoardings. Cell-phones serials cereals shares loans homes boutiques. Everywhere. Covering buildings that are certainly too graceful to be thus defaced. But bright. And on every bus-stop, a new advertising idea from Everybody’s Favourite Newspaper.

Bus-stops. Crowded, mostly with children in uniform carrying bags that seem far too large for them. Shivaji Park and clusters of young cricketers in earnest whites.

Somewhere past King’s Circle, the sordid side of the city. Poor men in rags squat by the roadside. One man in singlet and lungi fastidiously washes his feet as he loops his sacred thread over one ear. Garbage is everywhere, mostly polythene bags that flutter in the putrid air, like the fingers of corpses underwater. Metal letters down the side of a tired building spell out “Jay Markandey_”. The last “a” has been covered by the corrugated tin roofing of a shop protruding from the ground floor.

On previous visits, the city for me has been friends and evenings, strolls down Colaba ending with dessert at Churchill, haggling over a brass sextant in a lane behind the Taj, long lunches at Moshe’s, afternoons fading into evenings in a Bandra flat where the wind comes in over the rocks the lovers the sea-wall to set the wind-chimes madly ringing. This time I was alone. And the city is different, distant, on the other side of a screen. Softer, not so brassy, but behind a window-pane.

She appears somewhere near Dadar, the spirit of the city as I see it this morning. White hair neatly tied in a bun, large bindi dead-centre on her forehead, bangles a-jangle on her wrists as she imperiously slows us down with an up-flung arm. Comfortably plump and swathed in a green sari tied ghati fashion. Rolling along with a serene expression that is still somehow alert. And yes, she has flowers in her hair.

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8 o’clock as we turn towards Santa Cruz and a stadium comes into view. The cabbie – bald with a white fringe and a white moustache, worldly-wise but garrulous – laughs and shakes his head. It’s not a stadium, it’s the Centaur Hotel that the Sahara Group have taken over. They’ve been renovating it for some time now. Yes, everybody thinks it’s a stadium. Pata nahni, saab – how do we know what they have in mind? But they have a lot of money.

Airports. Not so long ago the departure area was an elongated cavern; one had to wheel one’s luggage for miles to reach the crowded security gates. In the new improved version, there are two gates to the security check. In front of one, a shapely (though undernourished by my generous standards) young lady in green and black greets three passengers on Go-Air. At the other gate, a line of 40-odd IA passengers shuffles forward wearing morose early-morning expressions. Why do I even expect these things to make sense?

We take off after a further two-hour delay. Grouse – when a flight from Calcutta is delayed, I get at least two text messages and a phone call informing me of the delay. Here, nobody bothered. I only got to know because I called the airport at a quarter past five in the morning. This city owes me two hour’s sleep. On the other hand, they did give me my favourite seat. And waking up early gave me that magic hour by the window.

The plane rises and wheels towards the east. I peer out of the porthole. Through the haze of the December sun, the line of surf gleams like a sari border. Towers stand like Lego blocks amongst the gritty indistinct sprawl of the slums. The plane’s shadow slips over silvered pools of industrial waste, out over the straggling greenery of the city’s edge, across a highway dusty from this height. I can’t see the city’s life from here, but it pulses in my memory, in my mind’s picture of this city by the sea.

As I lean back and close my eyes, the pictures run into one another. This morning has been different - the city at home, before it put on its work-day face. Still in slippers and sleepy-eyed before it gets down and hustles. The edges not so sharp, the mood softer, more intimate. Yet disclosures rather than conversation. Next time we meet, we might both let down our guard a little more. A seduction waiting to happen.


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Friday, December 16, 2005

Howl


End of another day. End of a bloody awful day that can only be described with the f*** word and its imaginative variations. A day that can only be retrieved in the company of friends. Of old friends. With coffee and smokes and a drink. Or two. And foul-mouthed conversations where we describe in minute graphic detail the genealogies, birth processes, anatomical peculiarities and horrible fates of certain humanoids (or at least I do some describing). Perhaps, to make it quite perfect, a late-night wander around that skein of roads by the Lakes, passing around a cigarette among three or four of us, with some good-natured invective when one of us hangs on to it too long.

Instead of which, I have to get inside a fresh shirt. AND a tie AND a jacket. And go grin and mouth inane pleasantries at THREE Oedipal (do I need to translate that?) do-s. Oh death where is thy sting!


So this is NOT a good time to pump up the volume on “Black Dog”. Robert Plant sings as if a bradawl is being inserted into his rectum, but he manages to make it sound like good clean cathartic (emetic?) fun. (And on my new Bose speakers – yes yes yes observe me gloat! – I can hear every frickin’ note as John Paul and Jimmy P let it rip).

Because great rock is anarchy. It’s about telling the world to “go f*** yourself”. It’s about not giving a big rat’s ass. Because it makes me want to pull open the door to my office and throw things at the morons outside. With a Billy Idol sneer and a wolf howl and a back-arching pelvic-thrusting head-banging riff on air guitar.

And I can’t DO that tonight. Somebody put me out of my misery

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not with a bang but a whimper?

Some time in 2007 fifteen Indians will battle in Barbados. In Jamaica, Treenidahd, Georgetown. A quarter of a billion Indians – those who have enough to eat and access to television – will follow their fortunes. Win or lose, the team will carry the emotions of India. It has been evident for some time now that one man, rather more prone to emotion than most, will be reduced to viewing the battles rather than taking the field.

Three months ago he was a leader. Today he has been reduced to a bystander. Fair enough. A vulnerable leader can be a disaster; an unreliable comrade is a liability at the very least. But did he have to be cast aside like this? Was it fair to give him this grudging opportunity, then push him out after he gritted his teeth and fought in the ranks?

Sambit Bal sums it up rather well. The end has been in sight for some time now. This cold-eyed pragmatism may be for the best (though I’m fairly sure it was prompted by the fact that one of the decision-makers was born out of wedlock). But for the first time since this act of the drama unfolded, I felt sad for the man. The “God of the off-side” has been reduced to a journeyman with rare flashes of brilliance. This diminution of his abilities, paradoxically, raises him in my regard. He is now an honest trier, and I respect the craftsman more than the genius. How it must hurt to be shown the door when he has done his best within his waning abilities.

In the Kotla Test, our demi-god reached a milestone; our best bowler proved again that star quality is not germane to great performances; the younger ‘Prince’ showed promise that he has come of age. The ageing Prince has been known for flamboyance. Now that the magic is gone, it is not enough for him to be workmanlike. If he cannot bedazzle, he must step out of the limelight. 79 runs in two innings was not enough, no matter that he buckled down and fought well when occupancy of the crease was important. Younger players can have the luxury of one more innings to fulfill their promise. For a 32-year-old every innings is a final act, with the pack of young alphas nipping at his heels. 79 was not enough, not in two innings, not when he was in the cross-hairs every step of the way. He had to go.

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He was guilty. Of complacency. Of over-playing his hand. Of talking out of turn. Especially when his bat was not talking for him. He paid the price. Fair enough. He became an object lesson that nothing can be taken for granted. Above all, he was guilty of ignoring Bradman’s dictum: “Leave when they’re still asking ‘Why’, before they start asking ‘Why not’”. But one can still be grieved at the manner of his passing.

This is the man who is ‘fallible against pace’. Yet this is the man who could stride down the pitch and swing Andy Caddick’s waist-high full-toss over the ropes. This is the man who hit ten sixes in a one-day innings (an innings where, but for a captain who kept him from the strike for 14 balls when his strike-rate was over 160, he might have made the first limited-overs double-century). The eyes must have dimmed, the reactions slowed. Has the grit, the determination, the fighting spirit faded too? If this last Test was any indication, no.

Perhaps his finest shot as captain was off the field. When India were struggling against England at home and Steve Waugh expressed doubts about the team’s abilities, this was the first Indian with the guts to say “Steve Waugh should shut up and think about Australia”. Well played, Captain of India!

The team he has been evicted from is the team he built. He has to make room in the middle-order for a man he backed over five years. Last year, a friend of mine who travels with the team told me that if Dada asks any of the young bloods to jump off the tenth floor, they wouldn’t even ask ‘why’ on the way down. This was the loyalty he inspired. This, hopefully, will be his legacy. A team united, a team with stomach, a team that (on most days) fights to the last ball. This is, after all, essentially the same team that he once led to almost the top of the world. It would be too much to expect that they will remember him in future victories, but once the dust has settled, he should be remembered as one of the men who made the victories possible.

He will keep fighting, but the odds against him seem too high. Now that he is no longer the God of the off-side, it is best for him to leave before he has to hear the words with which Cromwell dismissed the Long Parliament. Best not only for the man but for his memory. Even as I write this, a telephone poll shows that 80% believe he should still be in the team. Perhaps he is - albeit against his will - leaving when people are still asking “why”.


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Monday, December 05, 2005

Selling out

I have been corrupted. Indoctrinated. Frickin’ broken in.

I’ve become SUCH a stuffed shirt. A bloody boring proper arse. Next thing I know, I shall sip my tea with my pinky finger outstretched. Wear lace-up shoes to office. Look the other way and KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT when somebody’s being picked on. The beginning of the end.

And this winter could have been quite interesting, too. Garn.

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Sunday has been a respite from the weekend. Started Thursday, if you like. At least the socialising. A wine-tasting thingummy. All these very propah ladies and gentles, perfumed and gelled, every man-jack there in a jacket and tie except for your’s truly with no tie and his (urrrkkk) chest hair peeping out (as revealed to horrified gaze during trip to loo; decided to let it be and pretend it was a style statement rather than an errant button, at least it’s not grey yet, now that is revolting unless you’re Sean Connery or at least Omar Sharif).

The sommelier was young, tall, aquiline, French. If he’d had a tad more attitude, I swear some of those women would have dragged him under the table then and there. As it was, a couple of them were openly salivating over him. I eyed his tie, the women eyed all of him, the men eyed some of the women. It’s nice when people take the trouble to dress up and look their best. I don’t bother because there’s just so much you can do for a lost cause, but I appreciate it in others. I noticed that one lady (while otherwise no more than “a sampan, or a small gunboat at best”) had very interesting dimples in her shoulders.

Question: WHY do women spend hours in the gym, splurge loads on designer trouser-suits that are at least a half-size too small and then ruin the entire effect with poor lingerie?! You know what I’m talking about here. Ruck lines. The pits. I mean, when was the last time you saw a man with his briefs showing through his trousers?

All through dinner my neighbour conversed animatedly about children and self-realisation and her philosophy of life. And I manfully kept my end up even though every time we made eye contact, what I was really thinking was “IS she wearing false eyelashes?” (And is that all that’s false about her or …)

Opposite me sat a twerp. In a dress shirt and a bow tie, yet. The most overdressed in proximity to the most under-dressed, but this guy was such an utter prat. All through dinner he twittered on about “the most amazing” paintings and about his wondrous palate (no, not palette). I held my peace and professed ignorance of the finer points of single malts. So he told me that Laphroaig is “not really peaty, you see, now for that you need an Ardbeg”. What I needed was an Aspirin. And a respite. Sod off, you f***-wit, this is a wine tasting.

He delicately hinted that he was an expert on Western classical music. And on jazz. Then Carlton Kito played “A kiss to build a dream on” (as made famous by Shantanu Moitra) and Mr. Prat, who had been swaying in time to “Windmills of my mind”, sniffed loudly and said “Oh, I do stay clear of the native stuff.” (this from a man who looks like Paul Robeson compressed lengthwise!) The bad taste in my mouth was not due to “ze tanneek, wot yu zay, yaftertysse in ze Pinot Noir”. I am now a mellow old man; I didn’t throw my Chinkara Cabernet in his face. But when he thereafter lit up a Cohiba, I did suggest that he was stuffing it in the wrong end. Arse!

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Friday was much nicer. There is now a definite nip in the air, at least after midnight. A jacket is comfortable. And so convenient – phone, pipe, lighter, card-case, pen, spare handkerchief, earphones, keys, odd slips of paper, everything fits in five pockets. Quite liberating not to bulge from every pocket of my trousers (this is the cue for comments on my less-than-svelte profile, yes-I-know-now-stfu).

But what is it with women and pockets? I mean, you can put the most practical woman in a trouser-suit, what the hell, you can put her in cargoes, but she’ll still stuff everything into her purse. OK, forget the trouser-pockets. On the basis of recent observations, I appreciate that there is barely room enough for the woman inside her trousers, let alone a single Polo mint in excess. What about the jacket pockets, eh?

Why in the name of Offler the Crocodile God does a woman say (FIVE times in the course of an evening) “Where’s my phone?” And then proceed to rummage through her purse, look under cushions, borrow a phone to call up her own number, panic that she left it at the last place she went to - and then find it in her purse after all? Under a lipstick case, three months’ credit card slips, five pens - of which one-and-a-half work, the half being used to punch holes in filed papers – a little phone book, a tube of hand cream, pressed flowers saved from the last anniversary, two photographs of niece and nephew and two more of offspring, a comb AND one of those collapsing brushes (OK, so I may be insensitive re: hair!), a bundle of other peoples’ visiting cards, Disprin, another little notebook, a tiny smaller purse where she keeps her face-maintenance kit ... You know what I mean, it’s like one of those magicians producing a hundred and seventy-nine rabbits from a Size 4 hat.

It’s a law of nature: the phone will emerge only after she’s dumped half this truck-load on the nearest sofa and the other half in the hands of the nearest man. WHY can’t she just PUT IT IN HER POCKET?

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The roof-top party was also a lesson in sorting the packaging. Men ranged from the bibulous overweight uncles in their voluminous jackets and coloured shirts (Jehoshophath! Why does that sound familiar?!) to the wanna-bes who are on the mailing lists of designers (or perhaps their wives are). Also Surds. Cut-Surds. A well-tied turban looks so good, a beard would actually be an improvement on most middle-aged men. Then why this fixation with particoloured stubble (think Vikram Chatwal) and gelled wisps brushed down over an expanding forehead? Taken in conjunction with the collarless cashmere T and the fashionably casual jacket, the ensemble just screams “Owe-e-e-! Pappe-e-e-e!”

Let’s not even get into the Victor Mature syndrome. Know that one? I believe it was Peter Ustinov who panned “Samson and Delilah” (Victor Mature, Deborah Kerr) with the memorable line that it was “the only film in (his) experience where the hero’s bust (was) more magnificent than the heroine’s”. Even where the chest in question has been toned and firmed and shaped, the owner is apt to carry his arms out to the sides to show how large his lats have grown. And walk as if he has hydroscele. Simians with Swollen Swonicles. Sometimes I feel like throwing peanuts at them.

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Saturday night our host was a restaurateur. And the food sucked. Yes I’m a pig, but who wouldn’t be disappointed if they were looking forward to a gourmet meal and were then fobbed off with cold biriyani and chicken grease? And the evening consisted of sundry fat men in long striped Fab India kurtas singing Bangla folk songs (for TWO HOURS, all with the same beat on the dholok), swinging their fat hips while they placed their archly cocked wrists atop their heads. And loud women in tight salwars who wore too much lipstick and clinked spoons against glasses while they shrieked with laughter. Bats with baby faces in the violet light/ Whistled and beat their wings ..

Fortunately for my sanity, one of my favourite teachers from college was there. A nice thing about growing old is that I meet these people who used to strike the fear of God into me, and they are actually nice to me. We laughed about how brattish I used to be and we talked about cabbages and kings. She used to be this very formidable, aloof person, albeit with a twinkle in her eye when she turfed me out of class; Saturday night she was not only great fun to talk to but also complimentary (though she did gang up with my wife against me). I suspect if she hadn’t been there, I would have been ripe for getting into a fight.

Which brings me to the original theory. Three nights and several parties, so many weirdos and pretentious sods, and I was so damn urbane. Forget about arguments, slanging matches, fights, I was bloody smooth. Non-controversial. Don’t-rock-the-boat.

Damn. I’ve become frickin’ civilized. I’ve sold out.

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