Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Apologies, Oprah.

We are apologetic, Oprah. You, the hostess of possibly the greatest show on Earth (nobody cares about The Olympics); we, the residents of a more-or-less anonymous third-world country.

You came here. You saw us. You conquered the country. You owned us from the very moment you stepped foot over here. More so with your skeptic comments about how our citizens manage to survive in chawls. Of course it's their fault that they are Indians by birth, and are not able to attain The Great American Dream of an eight-bedroom bungalow, three kids, two cars and a dog. I really cannot believe that the media has stooped so low that they have been criticising you for your comments. While busy doing that they missed how cute you found Amitabh Bachchan carrying his grandchild as he had been chaperoning you through Mumbai.

You see, we love our guests. We give them the best we have. We gave you Amitabh Bachchan as a chauffeur. Next time we might as well end up giving you Sachin Tendulkar. Or even Taj Mahal.

Of course you have found our ways inferior. Who eats with their hands these days? Any civilised human being is born with a knife and a fork in his hands (and a spoon up his arse, for good measure: which is removed immediately after birth and its memory is continuously erased with toilet paper). We, unfortunately, use our hands; and more surprisingly, water - often in a combination with soap - to wash our hands, rinse our mouths, for basic hygiene. Goodness, we even end up doing our laundry and dishes with our hands - would you believe it?

You see Oprah, hands are important for us. And if there are more women like you around, they would become even more essential.

***

PS: Oprah, We want to make up. Which is why I have a gift for you.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Them

He was a political activist. An extreme one. This involved getting whacked around by the police, broken bones and lying unconscious in custody for seventy-two hours during the turmoil of the early 1970s.

She was sort of a marvel as far as arithmetic was concerned, and took up factorising large numbers as a rather obscure hobby.

Some time back, he had displayed an uncanny interest in cooking. This had resulted in a serious turmoil in the household, with strange-looking new equipment being purchased regularly and mysterious recipes being conjured on a daily basis. The frenzy lasted for a fortnight or so, and the instruments ended up in the "loft".

She had decided to go for yoga a few years before the aforementioned incident. She was under the perpetual impression that everyone would laugh at the sight of her in a salwar kameez, but no one did. That did not help, and she quit out of shyness in two weeks or so.

He has never displayed an interest in art, but has shown an unexpected aptitude at pencil portraits.

She has a pathetic sense of music, but keeps on singing songs from the 1970s all around, resulting in the irritation of entire households and beyond.

He used to sleep during the most exciting of cricket matches. And eventually woke up, red-eyed, to cast a glance at the score, and sit transfixed without a word for the rest of the match.

She used to sit up to watch the most mundane of cricket matches in far-away countries. She possibly wished he was up too, but never complained.

He has given up smoking multiple times. He claims that the current one is permanent.

She drinks vodka with a disgusted expression on her face. Then asks for more.

He gets up by five every morning. Every morning.

She goes to bed after two every night. Every night.

He has a sweet tooth. No, that's an understatement. He can eat all the sweets and chocolates and more in the entire city and still crave for more.


She has more relatives than he can eat sweets. She knows by heart what each of them do, where they live, who they are married to, what they do, how many children each have, what they do, where they live, who they are married to, what they do, and so on.

He usually gets full way before he gets to the fish-and-meat part of buffets and ends up claiming that he prefers vegetables more.

She thinks Anjan Chowdhury's Shotru is a remarkable movie and has revolutionised the Bangla film industry forever.

He thinks Shammi Kapoor is the greatest actor ever born. He had often bunked school to watch Shammi Kapoor movies.

She seeks solace, or whatever, in assigning a container to every portion of leftover and stacking everything skilfully inside the refrigerator. Every night.


He gulps down action scenes in Indian movies - irrespective of whether it's Amitabh Bachchan or Abhishek Chatterjee - with a perpetually open mouth.

She sings the national anthem in a terrible Bangla accent. With moist eyes. And overdoes it at times. Well, she always overdoes it.

He was, and still is, an incredibly homesick person. When transferred around, he quickly got back at the first opportunity, even if it meant a career disaster. When he couldn't, he quit, even if it meant a financial loss.

She was, and still is, an incredibly moralist person. She did turn down offers from renowned places and ended up travelling long-distance by local train every day to teach in a village school.

He is still unsure as to why a Jatinga Bird is not the same as a phoenix.

She still thinks (and this is 2012) that Sourav Ganguly should be a part of the Indian cricket team. Still.

They fight over the ownership of the newspaper, and between them, end up solving the crossword almost every morning.

They fight over the ownership of the television remote control, have ended up buying two separate television sets. These days, they watch the same soaps on two sets.

They were once supposed to go for a movie together. On a scooter. He drove. He talked to her on the way. Only to realise that she was not there. He drove back to realise that she had never got on to the scooter. She had that bored I-knew-it look on her face.

They had also decided to have a baby. And they did. And after nine-odd months, some totally random guy was born thirty-five years back. On this day.

Thank you both. For everything. For making me, me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kaka

I never thought you were a great actor. Why, even in Ittefaq, arguably the best thriller made in the history of Bollywood, it was your performance that had almost ruined the show.

I used to like Aradhana a lot at some point of time. Then I realised it was because of Sharmila and the songs (yes, I know what book she was reading during mere sapnon ki rani).

I used to like Anand too. Then I realised there was more Hrishida in it than anyone.

Your entire career would have been less than half of what it has turned out to be, had Kishoreda not been around.

Yes, you stole the show in Mere Jeevan SaathiSafar and Daag, and in two very underrated movies - Sachcha Jhoota and Do Raaste. But there too, Kishoreda was there all along.

And yet, I cannot think of my childhood without you. Rangoli on Sunday. You made those songs I had heard so often on my Phillips Two-in-One three-dimensional.

But above all, when I'm really depressed - I mean, in situations when even finding a chunk of mutton in the greasy wrapper after I'm through with a Campari roll doesn't do me any good, I tell myself "I hate tears, Pushpaaaa; Pushpaaaaa, I hate tears".

It works. Like magic. Every time.

Rest in peace. I doubt whether Kishoreda would allow you to, though.

Saugata, Hindi and all That

You guys remember Saugata, right? Saugata Basu, my classmate for five years, who has already made two appearances on my blog - here and here. When we set off for a stay of one year or more in Delhi, all of us were prepared to converse in our national language to some extent. We lacked expertise, but were never short on enthusiasm - and no other person demonstrated this more than Saugata.

This post is going to be about two incidents. Two well-defined, distinct events that have been etched in my memory forever.

***

This was the first time. We were equipped with bedding and all (we were informed that the ISI Delhi hostel would provide us with the bare minimum of naked cots), and boarded the Rajdhani Express from Kolkata. This was some time in the second half of July.

Rajdhani Express was, as expected, reasonably chillier than the sultry Kolkata afternoon. The five of us - Partha, Vivek (who refuses to be addressed by his full first name), Sayan, Saugata and I took up five berths out of eight in an AC-3 "group". The other three seats were occupied by a gingerly middle-aged man and an entirely unrelated woman and her son (who was five or six).

We were given royal treatment (by fresh graduate standards): we were handed out soft pillows, white sheets, smug blankets, clean towels and ribbed condoms. Okay, not the last bit. We fastened our pieces of luggage to the railway berths using bicycle (?) chains and padlocks, and after a decent meal, headed off to sleep.

We woke up at various points of time. We had breakfast. The polite, honest-looking attendant arrived to take away the eight sets of pillows, sheets, blankets and towels. Thirty-one of the thirty-two items were found: not the eighth towel.

It was Saugata who first noticed where it was. He blurted out with all the spirit of a wannabe Hindi-speaker: bhaisaab! us shishu ke nichu mein hai!!

The attendant understood.

***

The dry Delhi summer melted into a delicious, golden autumn, then a barren, depressing winter. It was  not until February before the Sun had begun to peek again on a regular basis.

ISI Delhi had the excellent habit of assigning students as mess-managers every month on a rotational policy. Saugata and I were among the four in charge of February 1999.

For bulk vegetable purchases we typically went to the Okhla Subzi Mandi (in an ISI Delhi car). For small-scale stuff, though, we usually ventured into the markets of Katwaria Sarai, where greengrocers stood in a line, selling their products off carts.

Saugata, despite his relentless enthusiasm, could not really gather the expertise required to communicate (and especially negotiate) with Delhi greengrocers. So he needed to be chaperoned on every trip. On this occasion it was me.

The usual scenario was like this: Saugata typically started the conversations, and then, when he ran out of Hindi words (the count of which, well, was possibly less than twenty), the other person took over.

It was different this time. Mind you, Saugata's typical Hindi sentences consisted of one word each, so the following conversation is not overpunctuated.

Saugata: Pyaaz?
Greengrocer 1: Aath rupya.

Saugata: Pyaaz?
Greengrocer 2: Dus rupya.

He looked at me. I knew the expression. I knew the question he was dying to ask. I know that he had been pulled back, albeit unfairly, by a limited Hindi vocabulary. Then his face lit up (it was a miracle that he didn't utter eureka!), and the question emerged.

Saugata (pointing at greengrocer 1's merchandise): Aath. (pointing at greengrocer 2's merchandise): Dus. Kiyun?
Greengrocer 2 (rather nonchalantly): Mera pyaaz badhiya pyaaz hai.

Saugata's face, now focused in concentration, became quite a spectacle. Once again, it was evident that a relevant question had formed in his mind, but was simply not making it to the endpoint for lack of words. Then it happened (I can swear on anything that these were the exact words I had heard).

Saugata: Uskya pyaaz. Chhotiya hai?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Subtitling Gunda

The heathens, or rather, the non-Hindi speaking population have watched (or shall) watch Gunda at some point of time. Though the magnum opus has lines that are almost non-translable, here is my humble effort for future generations of firangs. Mind you, no single mortal can subtitle the epic completely. However, I am trying to jot down as many "highlights" as I can.

***

Disclaimer: I am not aware of mysterious words like "rhythm".
Disclaimer 2: If you do not know the original Hindi lines, don't bother.
Disclaimer 3: If you hate this post, go and blame Diptakirti. I had merely sent him a trailer. It was his idea to make this into a blog post.

***

Bulla is the name.
I keep things open - hence the fame.

Chutiya is how I was made.
The best of the lot - I erect their bed.
(the rest is beyond my scope)

The name is Pote, if you must.
In me not even my father lays trust.
They've started the Armageddon.
The gangs are ready to go head-on.
Corpses will fall in a big heap.
The way little boys urinate: drip, drip, drip.

Ibu Hatela is the name I maintain.
My mother was a witch-born, The Satan has my father sworn.
Want a plantain?
Lamboo Aata has ruptured our kerchief;
His trousers will now we let rip.
Of course, we will do it from behind,
And in the entire act, our thumbs you will find.

Haven't you really seen Loha?
The masterpiece by Kanti Shah?
In which it says to no end -
Umbrellas are to be opened,
Sheets are to be wrapped around, flaunted,
And women are to be teased and taunted.

Munni? My sister Munni? You're toast?
Lamboo Aata has turned you into a ghost?
He has turned a matchstick to a lamp-post?

Bulla, My Lord, don't go for the kill:
Make me your pimp, if you really will.
I will supply you with the most virile of maids,
I will turn into a condom to protect you from AIDS.
Or, if you want, I'd turn to fluffy towels,
Which you can accordingly wrap around your bowels.
And even if that isn't enough for this muck,
Castrate me and make me an eunuch.
I'd drape a saree, and sing, oh so meek,
"My Lord, how fair art thy cheek!"

Looks like it's Bulla's spit you've taken in.
You haven't tasted his urine.

I hail from Delhi.
With cat milk in my belly.

Oh yeah, my brother is a man now.
The broken arrow is a cannon somehow.

Whether you're the emperor's sister,
Or the daughter of a pauper,
You have to get beneath a man,
And blow the whistle, proper.

He does nothing, the geriatric.
Just juts out his finger, and asks to suck and lick.

The moment you get yourself into the trade,
It doesn't matter any more, when he was made.
It doesn't matter whether he's ancient or a hunk,
It doesn't matter whether he's upright or sunk.

Four, eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty.
Plenty. (the Americans prefer things large-scale, you see)

***

Not all posts deserve a dedication. This one does. To Greatbong. For this post.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Scanning the KAT


My brother and I grew up in an era before the internet, quizzing each other on obscure Bollywood-related trivia; our parents thought we were insane, and would probably have preferred us taking to drugs instead.

Anyway, these discussions, while making us inferior students, enriched our knowledge in the realm of Bollywood trivia. Of course, this also made us proud, very proud of ourselves - and gave us the false impression that we were quite a handful when it came to Bollywood quizzing.

Tnd then came the internet. And our respective self-esteems came down with a loud crash. We were, to put in a single word, incompetent. Not because we weren't good enough. But because there were people far superior to us. I am about to discuss one of them over here, and his new book.

Which brings to the end a rather long and irrelevant introduction to a book review.

I have never hidden the fact that Diptakirti is my favourite blogger. He doesn't exactly blow you away with his style; he draws you closer. You feel at home. And yet, you are in awe with the sublime simplicity of his prose, even when he discusses Poonam Dhillon, Benaam Badshah or Yunus Parvez.

What is equally incredible is the ease with which he moves from one branch of Bollywood trivia to another. The more you read, the more you realise that his research was not based on mindless hours of tiring, monotonous research. There was unadulterated love driving it: for cinema, for Bollywood, for the stars.

And now, all of it has culminated into a book. Which means that the English has been edited multiple times to attain perfection, and the research has been more serious (rather than being from memory, which was ridiculously accurate anyway). Given that it's Diptakirti (to whom both research and prose come effortlessly), the outcome is simply lethal.

I cannot remember the last time when non-fiction was this entertaining. The entire book is in the form of lists, and during all 320 pages of it (which basically means 160 or so page turns), you are in a continuous dilemma: will I flip and see what the next entry on the list is, or will I read through the details of every entry on this page?

The lists are unique and well-thought enough to make you take the first option. The depth of research and prose make you take the second option. You're torn. Over 320 pages. You are not left with the option to go slow, even on a Friday night or on a Saturday morning. And you keep smiling and nodding silently as you go through every list.

If you're a Bollywood buff, this will make you smile as you read. If you're a Bollywood lover, it would make you a buff. If you are simply not interested, this will make you look up for scenes on Youtube or ransack the internet for stuff (including what words like zany mean).

Buy it. You won't regret it. You will have the edge over the other guy if the girl your're chasing is a Bollywood buff. You will win quizzes. Most importantly, you will feel really happy. Gift it (preferably after asking a few questions from the book itself). You'd be thanked. Like I have been, already.

Between us, my brother and I can possibly take on a bigger chunk of the world now. After all, not many people know what Sonu Walia does these days, do they?

And - if only the book had been longer. But then, one can always ask for a sequel, right?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Conversion

Cross-posted with necessary edits at CricketCountry here.

***

Tuesday. 17 March, 1987.

The most significant day of my life till date. The most. As I look back, this was a day that made me take a decision that has stuck with me for a over quarter of a decade now. And I'm proud that I took the decision on that day. Had I not taken the decision, my life would probably have shaped in a different manner altogether.

Let us go back in time.

***

1986.

There was this stubby guy called Diego Maradona who ripped through his oppositions to guide Argentina to their second World Cup Football victory in three attempts. Doordarshan had shown the matches live; the Kolkata book market was flooded with books about the newly formed legend; all of a sudden everything else was forgotten. Everything else.

Even the 2-0 factor.

Kapil's Devils had actually ended a superlative campaign of England virtually at the same time. Vengsarkar had top-scored in each of the four innings in the two victorious tests, and beating England in England was an achievement that typically even the greatest captains are proud of.

But Maradona took the glory away. In a sport we never played (well, whatever we played in the 1980s was not football), the image of the guy with the square face kissing the World Cup was suddenly a more familiar household picture than Vengsarkar holding the willow aloft after reaching the greatest hundred scored by an Indian on English soil for a long time.

It was a tough ask warding off the Maradona effect. The Chennai test could not, despite Dean Jones' epic 210, Kapil's amazing hundred and a heck of a last day, culminating in only the second tied test in history; the Mumbai runfest could not (where all three Mumbai batsmen scored hundreds); neither did the Kanpur one (only the second occasion where three batsmen scored 150s in the same innings); nor did Kapil being the first Indian bowler to reach the 300-wicket milestone; and as 1986 rolled into 1987, when the Pakistan series had started, this little guy (possibly shorter than the ubiquitous Maradona himself, possibly not) announced his retirement after the series.

I did not care a lot for Gavaskar till that point of time. I had read as much as a nine-year old could, and knew he was great, but I did not actually see him doing anything special. Nevertheless, I took everything on face value and kept admiring him silently. Come on, almost ten thousand test runs don't come just like that!

Mind you, both my parents were ardent Kapil Dev fans, and in the Kolkata of 1980s there was this strange unwritten rule that you can support and oppose exactly one of the two alternatives: Congress or CPM; hilsa or prawns; East Bengal or Mohun Bagan; Gavaskar or Kapil Dev; North or South Kolkata; Ray or Ritwik; Uttam Kumar or Soumitra; Hemanta or Manna; and so on.

I tried to explain to my parents, somewhat in vain, that I admired both of them a lot, and since Vengsarkar was the new phenomenon (remember, this was when he was actually hailed as the best batsman in the world) I was a huge Vengsarkar fan as well, and I loved watching Azharuddin bat and field.

That was out of the question, they said. One cannot have so many idols in the same field. Especially when it came down to the same field. Especially when it came down to Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. The logic defied my puny brain, but then, I decided to hero-worship both legends anyway (and Vengsarkar; and Azharuddin to boot). And possibly Maradona and Platini and Rummenigge some other people who ran around in shorts.

***

The first four tests ended in drab draws (well, the second test was a somewhat excitable draw thanks to Roger Binny's excellent spell on the third afternoon - and I was there!). They went like this:

Chennai: Pakistan 487/9 decl and 182/3, India 527/9 decl
Kolkata: India 403 and 181/3 decl, Pakistan 229 and 179/5
Jaipur: India 465 and 114/2, Pakistan 341
Ahmedabad: Pakistan 395 and 135/2, India 323

So basically, in three of the four tests, the fourth innings wasn't even required. This was killing off the test matches, the experts said. Why exactly, I wondered. I mean, a draw was a result, wasn't it? This was also the time when I started copying scorecards from the newspapers into khatas, so it wasn't really that boring for me.

There was a lot of speculation regarding what the pitch at Bangalore would be like. Some said it would be as placid as those used in the first four tests. Some said it would be a rank turner. Some others suggested a green-top.

Kapil Dev, Indian captain, reigning world champion and recent victor in England, took a close look at the pitch. He picked Binny, Yadav, Maninder and the two all-rounders - Amarnath and Shastri.

Imran Khan, greatest captain and cricketer I have ever seen, thought it would assist the seamers; he picked himself, Wasim Akram and Salim Jaffer; he also picked Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed on form, and left out his personal favourite, the woefully out-of-touch Abdul Qadir.

If only he knew.

He won the toss, though.

I was down with fever. Yes, yes, a real fever. An absolutely real one. High temperature and all that. Ask ma. Ask Dr K N Sen. Ask anyone.

After Kapil removed Rizwan-uz-Zaman in the first over (as was quite customary), Rameez Raja and Saleem Malik held fort. We saw Binny bowl, then Amarnath; Kapil carried on from the other end. No one had a clue of what was about to happen next.

Maninder never wore a turban (and neither does Harbhajan, despite the name Turbanator). It wasn't a pagdi - it was a patka. He also bowled into the camera (for the uninitiated, Doordarshan in the mid-1980s had only one camera, so every alternative over was seen from the batsman's back). As a result we never got to see what happened. But what we could clearly realise was the fact that the batsmen were not at comfort at all.

Maninder got so much turn that even though the camera was placed behind the batsman, you could actually see the ball pitch somewhere (out of vision of the camera), and then suddenly emerge at a sharp angle past the bat's edge. Sometimes into More's gloves. Sometimes past them.

On day one. Before lunch.

Kapil immediately took himself away and allowed Shastri to take over. Shastri flighted the ball even more, and hence (probably) extracted a greater amount of turn. The batsmen struggled, hung around for a few minutes and departed. 39/1 became 74/8 in no time, and it was some flaying of the bat from Qasim that eventually took them to 116. Maninder took 7/27, and looked utterly perplexed as he left the field.

A three-digit score was big, we thought. But then, we had Srikkanth. He carted Imran and Akram for boundaries, and Qasim had to be brought on in the sixth over. Tauseef in the eleventh. And they bowled unchanged, even on the next day.

We ended the day on a confident 68/2. Though Tauseef had removed both openers late in the evening, Kapil did not send in a nightwatchman, and Amarnath and Vengsarkar looked in control at stumps.

***

Tauseef removed Amarnath early on day two; and then the spinners bowled brilliantly in tandem. I clearly remember Tauseef bowling into the camera, varying flight, just outside the off-stump. Of course, there was no doosra, just the conventional off-spin and the straight ball.

Qasim, on the other hand, bowled away from the camera. He was impeccable in his length, and kept on changing the flight.

The Indian batsmen showed immense concentration. Vengsarkar's footwork was, I still remember, incredible. Both Azharuddin and Shastri struggled, and when Vengsarkar fell for fifty, the rest fell in a heap, and from 130/5 we were bowled out for 145 - a lead of 29 runs; or, well, 25% (you see, they had taught us percentages in Class V).

There was no Binny business this time. Kapil gave the new ball to Maninder. But then, Imran being Imran, had already gone one up: he had sent Miandad to play out the new ball and to get his eyes in before the ball had got old. The nimble-footed Miandad managed to blunt out Maninder, and even though Shastri removed him and the hapless Rizwan in quick succession, Pakistan had started a fightback.

Rameez scored a gutsy 47, possibly the innings of his life. As he fell to Yadav, Imran displayed another card - he promoted a pinch-hitter this time: Qasim, after his lusty blows in the first innings, came out at five. Both batsmen played really well, and though India chipped away, Pakistan managed to secure 155/5 at stumps - a healthy lead of 126. Another hundred runs and we were history.

***

Maninder struck early the next morning. Akram hit a massive six, but fell soon, and with Imran's resistance ending as well, we were suddenly in with a chance at 198/8.

Like the West Indies had found out to their peril just over a year later, we had not accounted for Saleem Yousuf. Yousuf's career was not founded on massive scores. However, when it came to batting under peril, no one in Pakistan (that possibly even includes Miandad and Imran) came close to him in the second half of the 1980s.

I would have called the unbeaten 41 the innings of his life, but he actually bettered this effort in West Indies next year against a superior attack. Tauseef also hung around, and eventually they took the score to 249.

The target, hence, was 221. Exactly the same number of runs The Little Master had scored at The Oval, all by himself, when we had scored 429/8 chasing 437 (the Kapil Dev fanatic parentage in the household never highlighted these - but ask them anything on World Cup 1983, and they were there to pounce with the answer).

Imran Khan, one of the greatest fast bowlers the world has ever seen, did not, I repeat, did not bowl the first over. For that matter, he did not bowl at all in the second innings. Neither did Saleem Jaffer (who had not bowled in the first innings either and batted at eleven twice in the match) - oh, didn't Imran miss Qadir on this pitch!

Akram had the new ball. He measured his run-up. Wasim Akram, destined to become the greatest fast bowler in the history of the planet, bowled a few overs to Sunil Gavaskar, already the greatest opening batsman in the history of the same planet. He knew it wasn't working. He reverted to left-arm spin. Yes, this is Wasim Akram we're discussing.

Akram bowled a strange genre of spin. There was no run-up. The release was awkward. The follow-through weird. But the ball turned. And at that moment we knew we were in serious trouble. Qasim started at the other end and turned the ball virtually at right angles. Srikkanth took a few mighty hoicks, the ball often hit the pad, and he survived. But not for long.

One of them hit him straight in front of the stumps. Plumb. He was given out. To Akram, who had reverted to bowling seam-up now, and was bowling really fast

Amarnath walked out. They said it was an experience watching Viv Richards walk out to bat: sheer masculinity in motion with every step; the body language was enough to kill the psyche of the bowler. Amarnath was the antitheses. He walked in so slowly that the psyche of the bowler was often demented out of sheer boredom.

All seemed to be well with the world. Akram. To Amarnath. With a face as expressionless as Fardeen Khan and as ancient as AK Hangal. What could possibly go wrong?

He snicked. First ball. Yousuf shouted. Caught behind. 15/2.

But we still had Vengsarkar - not only the best batsman on form in the current world, but also the hero of the first innings. Akram, meanwhile, was taken off after his weirdly effective spell that was a combination of lethal pace and unconventional left-arm spin. Imran brought on Tauseef.

It was an amazing contest. The balding Iqbal Qasim tossing the ball up in the air and turning the ball at improbable angles; the Lionel Richie-doppelganger Tauseef Ahmed turning the ball the opposite way, using the straighter one as a variant. Vengsarkar, standing upright, chest stuck out, using his height to smother the ball in any conceivable way. Gavaskar, short, playing forward and back depending on the length, always using the bat, never the pad, and playing virtually every ball with the middle or leaving them alone. No edge. No pad. And hence, no appeal.

The runs, however, had dried out. It was a sultry March afternoon. This being (probably) a Sunday, baba had dozed off. Ma was still awake, going on with the impossible and hobe na with amazing consistency after virtually every ball. Dadu was also there, amazingly silent for a man of his nature. You could sense the tension. Even bhai, all of three, had the sense to be playing with his whatevers and not bother the grown-ups of the house.

And then, the inevitable happened. Tauseef got one past Vengsarkar's defence. 64/3. As one tall man turned towards the pavillion, we expected another to emerge (no commercials, remember?). Ma went ballistic with her bolechhilam, hobe na. Baba snored on. Dadu kept quiet. I never moved.

Only that it wasn't Azharuddin. It was, for whatever inexplicable reason, Kiran More. It was too early to send a nightwatchman, so he was possibly sent in to up the tempo. That is something he did not, or rather, could not. He hung around, missing virtually everything, and we knew that a wicket was on the cards. He got bits of advice from the equally short man at the other end, but he simply wasn't capable enough. He perished shortly afterwards to Tauseef. 80/4.

Azharuddin handled the spinners differently. A couple of quick flicks meant men had to be sent out to square legs. The commentator (Ravi Chaturvedi or Sushil Doshi) kept on mentioning that it was risky, but Azharuddin persisted. A few runs got scored in the process, the short man looked relieved, and we ended the day on 99/4, Gavaskar on 51, already the highest score in the match.

Down, but not yet out. Still in the match.

***

The next day was a Monday. It was also the rest day of the match. I was sent off to school, and suddenly the discussions had changed. Suddenly it was the Pakistani spinners who formed the topics of discussion - and, of course, Gavaskar - and Azharuddin. Suddenly we had drifted from the antipodeans in blue and white stripes.

I had to fall ill Monday evening. Ill enough to convince ma that I should take Tuesday off. Yes, I know what you are thinking. I know you're suspecting my innocence, my honesty, my integrity, my commitment towards school. As if I would bunk school to watch cricket. Hmph.

***

So things started off. It was a surprisingly silent grandfather and a, well, suddenly-all-illness-forgotten grandson in front of a Nelco Maestro colour television set. Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim set off proceedings for what would definitely be the last day of the series.

The pitch did not seem to have rested over Monday. It had virtually turned into a minefield now. The ball turned at improbable angles amidst prominent puffs of dust, and they also bounced high, often to chest-level. Azharuddin looked clueless for a while, and missed quite a few trying to play across the line.

Gavaskar, however, realised that runs were not going to be easy. Along with punishing the rank long hops (which were rare to come by), he also ensured that every ball was either comfortably left alone or played with the middle of the bat. As Yousuf came closer and closer to the stumps, Gavaskar adopted a new strategy - something I have never seen anyone undergo, before or after.

He put his entire body behind the line of the ball, went as back as was humanly possible without being hit wicket, and then, if the ball turned or bounced awkwardly, he seemed to play them - but only took his bat away at the very last moment. This meant that Yousuf, standing up to the stumps, had no chance of collecting the ball, resulting in priceless byes. This was particularly effective against the off-spinner, where Yousuf seemed all at sea.

Azharuddin fell, trying to flick one and giving Qasim a catch back. 123/5. Shastri walked out, and hung around, somehow, using his bat, pads, boots and everything. He stooped so low in his forward defence that he could even have used his helmet.

Runs were by now virtually impossible to come by; yet, Gavaskar kept on scoring singles and twos and acquiring byes at will. It was like watching batsmanship on two different pitches. Gavaskar seemed so at ease that it almost seemed fair to curse the batsman at the other end for his incompetence.

Shastri gave a catch back to Qasim, and when Kapil fell too, things looked pretty much hopeless at 161/7. The ball had now started to turn the other way, and wasn't quite dependent on what the bowler wanted it to do. All the bowler had to do was to place it on a proper line and length, and the pitch kept on doing the rest.

And then, on 180, Gavaskar played forward to one from Qasim. The ball hit the pad (yes, I can swear that it never hit the bat), and lobbed to Rizwan-uz-Zaman at slip. They yelled, and then... then... they gave him out.

Did I yell? Did I cry? Did I sit back like an imbecile? No recollection. All I remember is Gavaskar walking back for the last time in test match, the entire ground standing in an ovation, and the Pakistanis joining in amidst their celebrations.

I had possibly cried. I think I did. Funnily, I cannot remember. All I know is that I was converted to cricket permanently. For a lifetime. The Maradonas, with all their skills and achievements, did not matter anymore. The Samba remained only a tune. Tennis remained only a, well, tennis ball sport. NBA or Formula I refused to register at all when they came along at a later stage.

There was only sport that I knew I would follow. Or rather could, or even should follow. I knew I was born to follow cricket, and only cricket, as a sport.

***

Postscript: Gavaskar scored 96 in the innings (missing the 35th hundred by four runs - eerily the same number of runs that has gone down in history as the most famous margin by which a landmark was ever missed). We went on to lose the match by sixteen runs.

I have often been asked how a lost match ended in being an inspiration for me at the age of nine. I have a tough time explaining that it was never about the outcome of the match. It was about cricket - the only creation of mankind that can hold a nine-year old to a magic of this intensity over a span of half a week; it was about Gavaskar, who showed an entire generation what they had missed out on for committing the unpardonable fault of being born a decade late.

Wherever you are, Sunnybhai, in case you're reading this, thank you for making me take the decision on that day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

পাশের বাড়ি


পাশের বাড়ির ডাক্তারবাবুরা বেশ মজলিসি লোক। প্রায়ই ওঁদের বাড়িতে নানারকমের পার্টি হয়। সেখানে নানান্‌ আলোচনা হয়, সে পার্টির খাবার নিয়েই হোক্‌ বা রাজনৈতিক পার্টি, বা এমনকী সদ্য-কেনা রাজারহাটের প্রপার্টি। এঁরা অত্যন্ত জোরে কথা বলতে অভ্যস্ত, এবং আমার বাথরূম থেকে স্পষ্ট শোনা যায় সেসব কথা। কখনও মেসিকে নিয়ে মেসি আলোচনা, কখনও মনমোহন সিংকে নিয়ে মনমোহনকারী কথা, এমনকী কখনও নিভৃত আলোচনা, যা না শুনে বেরিয়ে আসতে ইচ্ছে করে, কিন্তু কমোডে একটা ন্যূনতম সময় তো কাটাতেই হয়, তাই না?

যেদিন পার্টি থাকেনা, সেদিন ওঁরা টিভি দেখেন। একটু ফুটবলপন্থী ওঁরা। আর কখনও ওঁরা দেখেন সিরিয়ল। আমার দৈনন্দিন সান্ধ্য সাহিত্যচর্চায় বাধা পড়ে ঠিকই, তবে এত বছরে খানিকটা অভ্যস্ত হয়ে গেছি।

সেদিন, গভীর রাত, অনেক রাত, কত রাত কেউ জানেনা। জাগি পোহাইতেছিল বিভাবরী। প্রকৃতির অমোঘ হাতছানির বিরুদ্ধে অনেকক্ষণ যুঝলাম, কিন্তু শেষ অবধি পেরে উঠলাম না। আলো জ্বেলে, দরজা খুলে ঘুমচোখে দাঁড়াতেই ভেসে এল টিভির শব্দ। অচেনা কোনো বাংলা সিরিয়ল, তাতে রীতিমত বয়স্ক মেয়ের গলায় অদ্ভুত ন্যাকা গান - "তোমায় ছাড়া ঘুম আসে না, মা"।

রাজ্যের আদিখ্যেতা। ঘাড়ে-মাথায় জল দিয়ে, জল খেয়ে, এসির টেম্পরেচর কমিয়ে, গলা অবধি চাদর টেনে শুলাম আবার। মাকে ছাড়া প্রাপ্তবয়স্ক মানুষের ঘুম আসে না - এইর'ম আবার হয় নাকি?

জঘন্য গান। চাদর আরো টেনে নিলাম, চোখ ছাপিয়ে মাথা অবধি। তারপর ওপাশ ফিরে শুলাম।

***

পুনশ্চ: আমি জানি, এখানে অনেকেই "বাথরূম" বানান দেখে নাক সিঁটকোবে। কিন্তু OO তো দীর্ঘ ঊ-ই হওয়ার কথা, তাই না? তাই বাথরূম, ফেসবূক ইত্যাদিই লেখা সমীচীন। সম্ভবতঃ। অন্ততঃ আমি তাইই লিখব।

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Incoherent

and then there is this random cuckoo going wild in the month of july and doesnt know when to stop and then there is me getting irritated at times and at other times getting carried away and then im deviating from anything close to a coherent blog post and now i find myself humming o womania and then i try watching some australia-england odi on television and i know that england is 1-0 up in the series and i have been reading good omens for ages now and i dare not hurry it for the fear of missing out an obscure joke or pun or reference and bimbabati tells me that she can identify which parts of the book are written by pratchett and which ones by gaiman wow isnt she a genius and now there is a kind of impregnable thickness in the air around me and i am sweating and dont feel like turning on the ac and i do not mute the tv for fear of the thickness in the air strangling me and i take my cellphone and run through the list of all my friends deciding on which one to call or send a stupid text and then do not want to disturb them by calling on a sunday evening when they might have been watching cricket haha who watches cricket these days anymore its all about ipl anyway and now everyone has been following euro as if that would increase the value of the rupee in comparison with the euro haha what a stupid joke that was hang on today is 1st july from when they were supposed to disconnect analog wired cable but i am watching this on cable not digital haha the morons if cable operators in kolkata went out of business imagine the sheer volume of wire that will remain unused man you could tie up entire houses with that haha as if that would ever lead to anything fruitful haha the number of forwarded jokes has reduced instead everyone posts jokes on facebook that too in the form of images they type out the jokes in ms paint and then save them as an image and then post haha as if that adds to the effect haha and then everyone goes like crazy like like like and now the thickness in the air is really getting suffocating and all of kolkata is so blue and white these days and im singing o womania yet again though i dont know beyond that one line so the humming is getting very very boring but fortunately there is no listener so im getting away with all this and now as i write all this i suddenly feel hungry and now i need to break for food i just hope that the fridge has some good food inside otherwise dominos will send me a pizza not for free though they charge for every pizza and then go hungry kya haha of course im hungry but now dominos is not asking me haha instead theyre delivering at parambratas house param has acted in hemlock society have to watch that movie it also has koyel or koel i dont know how she spells her name i hope its not coel or coyel or cowel hang on koyel means cuckoo and that bird has stopped whistling now and now the post is a cyclic post and i will stop here and eat something and watch cricket ok tata horn please

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