Sunday, July 15, 2007

The week that was

In no particular order … tennis, Delhi, quizzing, gormandising, hating my job, and a truly awful jamboree.

Dr. Naveen Jayakumar of Chennai came up to Cal to run a quiz at the Saturday Club. I haven’t enjoyed a quiz quite so much in years. Quizzing is mostly a puerile exercise, driven by the deep-seated juvenile urge to put one’s fingers beside the ears and waggle them while intoning in nasal fashion ‘I know more than YOU know, nyaah nyaah nyaah!’ Taking it beyond the capitals and dates and quotations of classroom quizzes run by bored teachers, there’s the challenge. It’s not easy to set a quiz that is interesting, informative and balanced. Balance is important, participants are quick to curse inequity in the standard of questions.

The best quiz questions, of course, are those that can be worked out. Dr. Jayakumar’s quiz just about made the transition from information to knowledge. He had one beauty that linked the father of the Virgin Mary to the modern dollar [1]. Go figure. To cite another one of his questions as an example of work-outability –

“In 1952 K.R. Khardekar, Principal of Raja Ram College in Kolhapur, made a sacrifice in the cause of Indian sport that has gone sadly unsung. It should be lauded now and henceforth – but what was it?”

The clues are there. 1952, an Olympic year. Kolhapur, Maharashtra, ’52 Olympics … leading to Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, bronze medallist in wrestling (bantamweight) at Helsinki, India’s first individual medallist since Norman Pritchard. All that remained was to figure out the sacrifice, and there a faint memory stirred. Khardekar had mortgaged his house to raise funds for Jadhav to participate. More details here.

By the way, guess who won the quiz? Gergovia, it’s Gergovia all over again!


Sunday I was sulking in Delhi, for no particular reason other than having to spend a holiday away from VSP. Fortunately, my preparations for Monday’s ordeal were over in time to catch the second set of one of the all-time great Wimbledon finals. The third set was an even better contest. Foot-speed, power, touch, shot-making, sheer grit. All on display from both players. You could sense Federer’s frustration with the way Nadal just kept coming at him, his occasional bewilderment at the loop of Rafa’s top-spin. The speed and precision of the racquet-head when Rafa connects on that forehand cross-court, that’s a muscular magic. Matched only by the precision of Roger’s serve.

The fourth set raised the bar. Nadal broke twice, raced ahead. And FedEx decided he had nothing to lose, just went for broke. Shorter rallies but oh, what sublime finishes. Two-all as they went into the decider and – fortunately for Roger and his fans – FedEx’s berserker mood took him through. He was coming at the net like a Viking out of a longboat, you could see the red in his eyes and the sweat-froth under the winged helmet. That fine fury, and his serve, took him to Title #5. It was awesome tennis in terms of the physicality, the endurance, gladiators slugging it out and waiting for the mental disintegration, the fatigue that leaves the opening for the kill. FedEx broke through, but it gets closer every year. Next year it could be Rafa. And he’ll be only 21 years old.


One of those National Day celebrations (you can work out which one, from the month) turned out to be traumatic. More fool me for making a concession to the dress code (‘Lounge Suit / National Dress’) and donning a jacket. The survival instinct prompted a tab collar (unbuttoned) instead of a tie, or else I might have had to be carried out of there feet-first. The banquet hall was large, good wine flowed, there were some excellent cheeses on offer. But there were about 700 people in a space meant for 400, there was a milling mass of oiks three-deep at the bar, and fighting one’s way to the cheese counter was like the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Dinner? People were actually queued up! I found an occasional table, lit a pensive cigarillo and thought deep dark thoughts. Only to be assailed by a primal yowling from the dais – the foreign contingent were expressing their solidarity with India by belting out ‘An Evening in Paris’. Totally off-key and out of tune, but backed by 5000 watts. My nerve broke, I gathered in the Better Half and bolted for the door.


Which led to an altogether more pleasant part of the evening. Thanks to this fine young man (who is an amazingly solicitous host) and the hospitality of his parents, we were wined (vodka with peach schnapps, highly recommended), dined (of which more anon) and regaled. In addition, Fine Young Man bestowed upon me riches beyond the dreams of avarice – Hitchcock, the Goon Show, Monty Python, Robin Williams and something called Weeds. Now I find I need to download codecs to play them. One perseveres.


Glorious excess. Friday dinner, Russell dhaba. Daal tarka with slathers of butter, chicken bharta, mutton butter masala (NO tomato puree, another reason to love them). Lassi and chai for the ladies. Saturday lunch, Mocambo. Our set menu. Devilled crab, chilli chicken (which is an entirely different experience at Mocambo), fish meuniere, chicken paprika and fish a la Diana. Of course we slept in the car on the way back! Saturday dinner (mentioned in passing, above) was gargantuan ilish and rui. Sunday lunch was the buffet at Oh Calcutta. The potol malai curry, rui shorshey and chingri chichingey deserve special mention. There is a special debauched satisfaction derived from indulging in excess.

Goodbye, lithe and limber Orsino. I fear I shall have to resign myself to being Falstaffian [2].


[1] - Silver mines in Bohemia were named after the father of the Virgin, St. Joachim. The valley came to be known as Joachimsthaler or Joachim's valley. Eventually, coins struck there in 1518 were also referred to as Joachimsthalers. This led to the more common thaler. Which, as we know, is the origin of the word 'dollar'.

[2] - Hence the footnotes at the slightest excuse.


Anonymous said...

Question: Aren't you exhausted by now?

Anon Ephraim Mouse

Anyesha said...

Would the Weeds you refer to be the HBO Series with the same name? If yes, then its utterly delectable.

Tabula Rasa said...

gormand-gorment -- you run in tight circles, don't you? :-D

Space Bar said...

why ancient posts are turning up on bloglines? what it is?

Sue said...

You've been tagged. Write about what makes you judgmental.

Have fun! :)

Anonymous said...

That was last week. Now?

Anon Ephraim Mouse

Plumpernickel said...

You've been tagged.

Seeing your popularity as a tag team member, if you don't wish to do it, its ok.