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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The fifth clash

Yes, I know I have not been blogging frequently for some time now. I can put up an excuse (a Blogger's Block, for example), but it really had been an otherwise occupied mind.

But now, with about twenty-four hours away from the Mohali clash, I simply cannot resist writing any more. There is a place for everyone to gush out his emotions. I suppose I need to release my pent-up emotions as well.

No, this is not going to be one of those analytical or emotional cricket articles. This is going to be my article - on my memories of the previous four encounters of the neighbours on a cricket field.

1992:
I was ballistic. Why on earth did they have to schedule the World Cup just before my Class IX annual exams?

The bright side, though, was the fact that we had holidays to prepare for the examinations. Cable TV was a novelty in those days, so we were restricted to India's matches, four other league matches, the two semifinals and the final. Compare this to the fact that we got to see all matches in the 1987 World Cup, and I had every right to be infuriated.

My father was away at work. My brother, poor kid, was too young to have exams, and had to go to school. My mother had (taken?) a day off, and the match started off with her sitting on the bed and myself resting my back against the sofa, with KC Nag's algebra book, a Nalanda (or Academy) exercise book and a Linc Starline pen in front of myself. I was supposed to do algebra while watching the match.

(Unlike most kids, my passion for the game was triggered by my mother, who had probably watched more televised cricket in the 1980s and 1990s than most Indian women of her age. Then the mega-serials took over.)

They dropped Shastri that day after his ridiculously slow performance against Australia in the previous match. A kid called Jadeja opened batting with Srikkanth. Poor Srikkanth was not in his usual self against Wasim and Aaqib, and perished after a painstaking display. Azharuddin started off brightly, then edged one, and... well... walked. Jadeja held fort, but fell for 46, and when Mushtaq dismissed Kambli and Manjrekar off successive deliveries, I went back to quadratic equations.

Then they counterattacked. Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev, two of the three greatest cricketers we have ever produced, counterattacked together. Imran brought himself back, but the drama went on. The Linc Starline pen got capped as Tendulkar treated Aaqib like a spinner and slog-swept him. Kapil hit a monstrous six, and we ended up with 216/7 off 49 overs.

They opened with a resolute-looking Aamer Sohail, accompanied by a thin, frail kid called Inzamam-ul-Haq. He fell, along with Zahid Fazal, and then - THAT MAN walked out to join Sohail.

Miandad never looked an inch tensed. He guided Sohail, who did the bulk of the scoring, and the three Indian seamers were scored off quite comfortably. Tendulkar and Raju were brought on, but the runs kept coming. Though More managed to get under Miandad's skin (video here) they seemed largely untroubled and crossed 100 for the loss of just the two initial wickets.

At this point Ma gave up (she definitely ranks among the five most pessimistic cricket-watchers in the history of the game) and in a stern voice asked me to go back to quadratic equations.

And then, things suddenly changed. Tendulkar had Sohail caught, and we saw a glimpse of hope. My mother kept reminding me that Pakistan had a strong line-up.

Who cared? Salim Malik, after an aggressive start, edged one; Imran got tangled up in a mix-up and got run out for a duck; Wasim tried to heave Raju out of Sydney and got stumped; and then the big wicket came - Srinath pitched one up, Miandad missed the line, and it the stumps.

I clearly remember how I reacted. The small stool got kicked, Mr Nag's creation flew up in the air, accompanied by the almost empty exercise book and the pen. Under normal circumstances this would have called for a bashing, but my mother had stood up on the floor and was, well, clapping and laughing.

The rest ended in a whirlwind, the seamers coming back to clean up the tail as they were bowled out for 177. I was ecstatic, but my mother was on a different planet altogether. She had started calling up relatives and colleagues, and was yelling at (I'm sure of this) an illegal volume.

1996:
The next one came after what it felt like ages: I had passed my Class X and XII board examinations, and was in college now. My college had half a day of classes on Saturdays, but I stayed back at home, watching Sri Lanka versus England, and waiting for the big clash.

My mother was at school. My father usually slept in the weekend afternoons, but on this day he announced that he would watch the entire match, and hollered at me whenever I tried to switch to DD 2 to catch Sri Lanka-England.

My brother was big enough to follow cricket by now, so it was an all-male viewership at our place till my mother returned at 6ish. I was on the floor yet again, leaned against the sofa, without any algebra to accompany me this time, though.

The big surprise came at the toss: Aamer Sohail walked out with Azharuddin. Wasim was injured, and shall not play the match, and would be replaced by Ata-ur-Rehman, a bowler, who, in my opinion, ranked among the worst Pakistani bowlers of his age.

Tendulkar and Sidhu started off rather sedately. It was a breathless session of play as Waqar and Aaqib were negotiated, and when they were seen off, I thought Tendulkar would begin the onslaught.

Then Tendulkar was bowled, rather cruelly, by, Ata-ur-would-you-believe-it-Rehman. This was followed by another subdued innings from Manjrekar, and Sidhu departed soon after, scoring a well-compiled 93. It looked like a decent launching pad, but we had to capitalise on that. Azharuddin and Kambli had a few lusty blows, but they didn't last long, and when Mongia followed, Baba said 260-270. We agreed.

We weren't prepared for Jadeja. No one was. Waqar Younis was the least prepared, though. Forty runs were plundered off two overs (click here for a video of the carnage), and the locals, Kumble and Srinath, also hit a couple of boundaries each, and we reached a massive (by 1996 standards) 287/8. To add to their injuries, Pakistan didn't finish their overs in time, so they were docked an over.

288 off 49 overs seemed impossible. After all, they didn't have a Jayasuriya.

Anwar and Sohail did start off, though, like they wanted to chase it down in thirty overs. The first five overs went for like five hundred run, and with Prasad leaking 27 runs off two overs, Azharuddin did what all Indian captains in the 1990s and 2000s did when the bowlers were mauled by the opposition: he brought on Kumble.

Kumble did a decent job, but runs kept coming from the other end. Though Srinath got Anwar out, Sohail carried on, and Ijaz looked like he was settling down. My mother was back by now, and her serene pessimism filled the room, giving me a feeling more sinking than before.

With the morbid fifteen overs out of the way, Azharuddin recalled Prasad. He was hit for a four by Sohail. The Pakistani captain made a gesture, asking the local hero to fetch the ball from the fence. He was bowled next ball, and for the first time in his life, Bapuji Krishnarao Venkatesh Prasad, the man who looked like Godzilla and bowled like Bambi, yelled back like a demon (watch the link here).

And so did I. I punched the floor like a million times till my knuckles got sore, and shouted till my voice gave in. I cannot remember a single other moment in the 1990s that had got me more ecstatic. My voice cracked, and remained hoarse for several days since then.

Prasad kept bowling beautifully, and the runs dried up. Ijaz and Inzamam both succumbed to the pressure, and suddenly they were 132/4. This brought Miandad to the crease to join Malik (my mother, acquiring all her pent-up pessimism, kept saying "this target is nothing for Miandad").

Azharuddin brought on Tendulkar and Jadeja, and they bowled quite tightly, choking up the experienced pair. Malik then played half-forward to Kumble, and got LBW (how many times has the great man got batsmen out thus?). Latif tried to catch up with the run rate, hit a couple of sixes, and was stumped off Raju.

And then it happened. In what turned out to be his last innings, Miandad was run out in a cruel, ridiculous mix-up with Waqar. As the stadium erupted, the television screen showed the great man walking back to the pavillion to traverse what seemed to be an endless distance. I stood up impulsively, and somehow amidst all the euphoria, I felt sad for the man I had loathed so much over the years.

They ended with 248/9. I couldn't sleep till three in the morning.

1999:
I was in Delhi this time, attending a ridiculous course at the Central Statistical Organisation. There was supposed to be an examination in the end: we were told all the questions beforehand, and we were allowed to take the study materials into the examination hall. I couldn't see the point of the entire thing.

Anyway, all this meant that I could see the match in a hostel common room. Of course, I had done the same before; in my college years I had often sneaked out of classes to watch cricket at Eden Hindu Hostel.

The television set was placed in a corner. There were chairs placed haphazardly, forming a massive unorganised semi-semicircle, spanning the rest of the room. There was a rug placed near the television: this is where I sat, with a few others, and as the match rolled on, we lay down on the rug, watching the match from a ridiculous angle, with our own arms acting as pillows.

There was a lot of pre-match build-up, since the match coincided with the Kargil War. A section of the Indian population wanted the team to boycott the match: Wasim had actually talked about the match being "a practice match before the real action". Indeed, we had put up an average display in the tournament till then.

Tendulkar and Ramesh started off well, though, and though both fell, followed by Jadeja, Dravid steadied ship. Azharuddin started gaining in confidence for the first time in the tournament, and both made fifties. A few big hits towards the end lifted the total to 227/6.

Srinath removed Afridi early, and though Anwar looked ominous, the trio of Srinath, Prasad and Mohanty always seemed to break through. Ramesh dropped Ijaz off Mohanty at mid-wicket, but Srinath removed him immediately after, and Prasad got rid of Malik.

And then, the big moment came: Prasad bowled one of those famous legcutters, and Anwar edged one to Azharuddin. The common room erupted, plastic chairs falling all over the place as everyone collided with each other in their collective euphoria.

Kumble bowled one of his lethal flippers to get rid of Mahmood, and at 78/5 it seemed a won battle. Pakistan never really recovered, and though Inzamam and Moin put up a resistance of sorts, the three Kannadigas shared all the wickets between them: Kumble took two, Srinath three, and Prasad, the war-hero from 1996, finished with a career-best 5/27.

Of course, we had to celebrate that night the way ISI Delhi students used to do in the late 1990s. We took a late night walk (in a group of twenty or so) to a shack, woke up the owner (who was called Tanku) and celebrated with coffee, priced at six rupees a mug. Not quite the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a celebration in June in Delhi, but there you go.

2003:
I wasn't a student any more, and bunking work wasn't exactly the same as bunking classes. But the organisers had planned it well, and it was on a Saturday; and we used to remain closed on Saturdays (which has subsequently been changed to Mondays). It was also my brother's birthday.

I was back at my favourite place: on the floor, leaned against the sofa. It was a 50-50 start: Pakistan scored runs at will. There were some twenties and thirties, and Anwar led the way yet again, scoring 101 before falling to Nehra. Afridi started to look ominous, but Ganguly cleverly brought on Mongia to get rid of him. Wasim and Latif hit a few strong blows, and Pakistan reached 273/7, a target that many thought well beyond our scope.

We all know what happened next, so I won't go into the details of all that. I didn't shout. I didn't jump. I simply sat there, open-mouthed. I drooled, in the literal sense of the word. My throat became dry. Time had come to a standstill.

No mortal could bat like that. No one. It was an innings meant for divine eyes, way beyond the realm of  us mortals. I forgot food. I forgot water. Had it been within my scope, I'd possibly have forgotten oxygen. Seldom has adrenaline rushed through my interiors the way it did when He cut Shoaib for that six. Seldom had

It did come to an end, though. It had to be Shoaib. A bouncer, out of nowhere, to end things at 98, two short of what would possibly have been His most deserved hundred.

It was far from over, though. 177/4 was by no means a situation where a victory was guaranteed. But then, Yuvraj started striking the ball well, and with the reassuring presence of Dravid at the other end, Ma's pessimism wore off with every passing over. In the end we made it with 26 balls to spare.

My brother must cut a cake later that night, but I have absolutely no memories of it. 1st March 2003 shall always remind me of a two-digit number: ninety-eight.

2011:
What now?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The giraffe, the snake and the tortoise

Once upon a time, there was a giraffe, a snake and a tortoise. As it happens in all fairy tales, they had this periodic argument about who was the superior creature of the three. As it happens in all arguments, all their arguments kept ending in stalemates.

So they decided upon a judge. None less than a human would be eligible to become the judge - they all agreed upon that. After all, they were the smartest. So what they were the only species who killed others, of their own species or otherwise, for reasons other than food or self-defence.

So they selected a random human being. With glasses, I presume, since everyone looks smarter (and sexier) in glasses.

The human being gave them three tasks. The winner would emerge as a representative of the supreme species, he said.

The First Task:
"You all need to go to the airport. The first to reach there wins."

The giraffe laughed. Silently, of course, since giraffes apparently do not have a voice. And even if they did, who'd hear?

The snake wasn't too happy. He could slither very fast, but competing with a giraffe wasn't the easiest of things. He hissed.

The tortoise said nothing. Tortoises never say anything, you see.

The giraffe tried to run through the busy roads. The imposing buses and the speeding cars intimidated him, and soon his pace reduced to a mere tiptoed walk. He chose to walk on the pavements and road-dividers, and got extremely nervous when he had to cross the road. Even the pavements weren't safe - there were irritated office commuters, bored housewives with prams and enthusiastic students, and he had to stoop for the occasionally misplaced lamppost.

The snake, likewise, struggled temporarily. Then an idea struck him: he wrapped itself around one of the legs of the giraffe, who couldn't shrug him off, and his pace got reduced even more. Thus the two of them paved their way through the bustling humanity, albeit at a slow pace.

The tortoise thought for a while, then saw some barrels being loaded in a truck. He climbed up the incline, slid into the truck and jumped down at the airport (there must be a valid reason for barrels being taken to the airport, but let's not discuss that at this point of time). He fell upside down, and his shell protected him from being seriously hurt.

The human, on his expensive car, had of course beaten all three of them to the airport. He judged the tortoise as the winner way before the other two made it there.


The Second Task:

"This, my friends", said the human, "is a swimming pool. The fastest to the other end wins."

This was tailor-made for the tortoise. Though he wasn't as equipped as a turtle, he could swim somewhat, especially in a pool intended for toddlers. He huffed and puffed a bit, but made it in the end.

The giraffe had no idea how to swim (one can blame his genes for that). He decided to walk, but his hooves couldn't hold on to the slippery surface beneath, and he fell. Mind you, he still didn't drown, this being a very shallow pool. He became the first giraffe in recorded history to crawl, that too in water, but couldn't get past the tortoise.

The snake, being a land snake, was too intimidated for all this. He simply slithered its way around the pool and gave a walkover.

The tortoise won, again. Technically he should have been declared winner at this point of time, but that would have cut the story too short.

The Third Task:

"You need to get inside that McDonald's and bring an intact hamburger out of it".

The giraffe looked at the golden arches in its eye. This song possibly passed his mind, but he shrugged off the feeling. He tried to enter the outlet, but of course he couldn't. The door was too short. He kicked open the door and tried to head-butt inside (and confused a couple of kids in the process), but simply couldn't get in. In fact, he could see a hamburger on the nearest table, but could only witness it being consumed by one of the most obese of our species around.

The snake slid in through the open door. His presence intimidated everyone, and soon the entire outlet became empty. He slithered from table to table, trying to grab a burger, but the moment he had one in his mouth, the cheese melted, making the insides of his mouth slimier, and he auto-swallowed the burger. Enraged, he tried one burger after the other, the best he could manage was swallow each and every one (and thereby result in a steep spike in his cholesterol level). He smashed his tail on the polished floor in anger, but to no avail.

The tortoise walked very slowly inside the joint, empty by now. From the door he could see a solitary unattended burger on a tray on the counter. He walked up to them. He slid his limbs inside his shell. Then, with only his mouth poking out, he said:
"Hello! See, how similar we look! Would you be my friend and care for a walk outside?"
With that, he immediately slid his head inside as well.

The burger had a cautious look. A stream of thoughts passed through its mind. He knew he was already living on borrowed life. So why not make the full of it? Taking a walk in fresh air with a lookalike was surely a better option than sitting down on a paper-covered McDonald's tray, with a red box of identical French fries, a snobbish cardboard glass full of Pepsi, a bunch of withering, pale paper napkins and a paper-clad striped plastic straw for company?

It didn't hesitate any more. It jumped down, and walked alongside the tortoise, out of the room. It overlooked the fact that his newly found mate had now magically procured a foursome of limbs and even a head. "He must be from Burger King", he thought.

Of course, the tortoise was declared the winner. The human, for his sincere efforts as a judge, got a dusty hamburger as a token.

Moral:No matter what the story is, or who the competitors are, if there's a tortoise involved in a competition, he always wins.


***

Postscript: This story has a history. There's this certain girl who insists on me telling a story every night I'm around (please refer to the third incident here); apparently she wasn't quite content with all this - she wanted stories customised for her, and insisted on impromptu responses.

This was triggered off as a response to a request for a story involving a man, a giraffe, a tortoise and a snake.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mary and Max

Yes, they do make movies Down Under.

I had never watched an Australian movie before. Even if I have done, I had no idea about its originality. I haven't seen the Nicole Kidman-starrer Australia, and I haven't seen the legendary Crocodile Dundee either.

The first one I saw was Mary and Max, referred to me by the same friend who had recommended Gake no ue no Ponyo.

As it's typical with films named Mary and Max, this movie was based on two characters called Mary and Max. In case you're genuinely interested in the full names, they were called Mary Daisy Dinkle and Max Jerry Horowitz.

Only that the movie took off with Max as a 44-year old, and Mary, well, as an "8 years old, 3 months and 9 days." Mary was from a suburb near Melbourne, and Max was from, well, New York City. And since this was in 1976, they could correspond only through snail mail.

And thus took off one of those movies that would turn your emotions inside out over a period of an hour and more. It reaches the extremes of your interiors, grapples out your insides using an invisible hook and churns them with some serious intent.

Yes, Mary and Max is an animated movie. And no, Mary and Max was not intended for children, though it does deal with questions like whether sheep shrink when it rains - questions that don't necessarily strike the polluted grown-up brains.

But it's a movie largely aimed at adults. You see, Max is actually diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome: the reason being that he found the world very confusing and chaotic - because his mind was more literal and logical than usual. This is, well, termed as a disease, and remains the foundation on which a major part of the movie is based.

There are moments when you feel like crying. Crying your heart out. To vent out your emotions. And in moments like these you can relate to Max: "I wish I could cry properly." Adam Elliott would make you feel like crying your heart out, but would not let you to: he shall leave your emotions there, inside you, all bottled-up and made you feel suffocated.

The movie is dark. Very dark. Seldom have movies dared at being intelligent and humourous at the same time and pulled things off successfully; and this is one of the elite few. It looks for humour within life: in Max's past jobs and in Mary's neighbours, in Max's food habits and in Mary's birthmark, in Max's eccentricities and in Mary's isolation. You'd smile. You'd laugh. And at the same time, you'd feel a hollow inside you that you'd desperately want to get rid of.

That's often the thing about laughing back at life: you cannot carry it off successfully without your insides being scorched severely. And that's what Mary and Max is mostly about. It takes a stab at the darkest aspects of life, including depression, loneliness, betrayal and even death, and still manages to make you smile.

Then there is the beautiful use of colours: Mary's world is in sepia and full of features, while Max has a solid, abstract black-and-white world. The contrast is spectacular, and keeps the audience guessing whether they would merge at some point of time. Till the end.

Elliott has been brilliant throughout: it's amazing how many times I've moved from a bright smile to the most morose of inaudible shrieks throughout the movie. The shifts have been fast, comfortable and smooth - something you crave to see in movies, but rarely do. You're laughing at Max, the next moment you are Max himself, and feel that desperate urge to cry out loud, but cannot. You're awwwww-ing at Mary one moment, at the very next you feel like rushing to the other end of the world to be with her.

We're Mary. We're Max. We all are. We all smile as brightly as Mary, and choke up in emotions like Max. And in the end, we're all as empty and hollow as them, craving desperately for that elusive soulmate, who is possibly residing thousands of miles apart.

Watch the movie, folks. You've never watched anything like this.

***

PS: I know it could have avoided the "que sera sera" bit: but even Bradman scored  a duck, so even the greatest of them make those minor errors. Especially them Australians.

***

PS2: And just in case you're wondering about the commentary Vera was listening to, there wasn't a 1976 Ashes.

***

PS3: If you watch the movie and cannot relate to one or both of Mary and Max, do let me know. I'd cross you off my friends' list on my messengers, Orkut (as if it matters any more) and Facebook.

***

PS4: Well, in case you cannot obtain a legal (or illegal) version of the movie, just let me know. I might help.

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