Sunday, September 13, 2009

The wind in my hair...

Happened to get back earlier than usual one evening last week. The sky was overcast, a cool breeze blew through my hair, carrying with it the smell of rain. Leaves went helter-skelter, weaving patterns on the concrete, their rustles competing with the cicadas in full flow.

It all reminded me of home. This is the first time I'm really noticing this - it might be the new apartment complex too! As always, overcast skies remind me of "Fabric" by Midival Punditz - from the "Monsoon Wedding" soundtrack (raaga Bhairavi, I think).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dom DiMaggio...The Nation turns its lonely eyes...

Back in the mid 90s, Joe DiMaggio was just a name in a song (the classic "Mrs. Robinson) - something surprising considering I'd like to think I've been a Yankee fan since I was 4 or 5 (when my aunt and uncle gave me a Yankees tshirt). It was only when he passed on, that I realized his on- and off-field exploits. Back then he probably fit the bill of a 'gentleman', considering the fact that he was married to Ms. Monroe, and the way he took care of things once she passed on. Today, his baseball prowess

I didn't even know he had a younger brother, the Little Professor. It was only after reading Halberstam's masterpiece "The Teammates" that I got to know about friendships and baseball, and life in general for four legends. Ted Williams had an air of arrogance about him, in life (and possibly in death). There was not much in the book about the modern-day Bobby Doerr. But Pesky and DiMaggio came across as humble folks - quiet and unassuming. I wonder if Pesky still suits up for the Red Sox like he used to.

And so, today, we wonder..."Where have you gone....."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rediscovering Malayalam literature

Every time I go back home, I get more addicted to Indian writing. This time was no different, with Ramachandra Guha's "India After Gandhi" being largely polished off on the train to Bangalore, while "Sea of Poppies" was my companion on the flight back to the US. "The Last Mughal" was left half-read, while MT Vasudevan Nair's "Naalukettu" was unread when I left India.

Achan described it as an 'emotionally charged' book, and that made me decide to keep it for a sunny day. And am I glad that I did not read it in India, at a time when you relive so many memories in the space of three weeks. Just reading it brought back the sights, sounds, and smells of summer vacations spent in Thrissur. Although everything was relatively drama-free in reality, I could relate with the events narrated in the book. The politics of the family, the socio-economic divisions, the rituals all struck a chord. Rarely does a book leave me with a sense of being hit by a cyclone, and "Naalukettu" did just that. The story climaxes in the last twenty pages or so, leaving the reader with a sense of wonder. Somehow, there seems to be something incomplete in the story, and one can only conjecture.

I think Gita Krishnankutty has done a wonderful job of translating the original version from Malayalam, and I hope to see MT's masterpiece "Randa moozham" (Second Turn) translated and out in the market soon. The story deals with the Mahabharatha, told through the eyes of Bheema. Prem Panicker (formerly of cricket-blogging fame, I dare say) has a wonderful take on the storyline, with his own personal touch here. It's like I have often wondered what the Mahabharatha would sound like if it were to be retold from Karna's point of view.

PS: My previous post on discovering Malayalam literature is here.

Update from April 2009: I managed to pick up and go through a copy of "Randa moozham" thanks to that treasure trove for all grad students - an inter-library loan.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Memories of a Principal - Part II

I happened to watch an old episode of NDTV's "Walk the Talk" with Shekhar Gupta this morning, and it kindled some more memories of Mr. Lewis. The guest on show was the inimitable Harsha Bhogle, a man who always brings a smile to my face when I hear him talk about cricket and life in general. (I bet the Aussies feel the same way about Richie Benaud). The venue for the interview was the Bombay Gymkhana, steeped in tradition and history (with due apologies to the Madras Cricket Club, the other 'club' I have grown to admire so much), as the first venue in India to stage a Test match.

Considering the silent, serene glory of the place, it was always my dream to play a game at "Bombay Gym", as we always called it. And play I did, not once but on three or four occasions thanks to Mr. Lewis. The results were embarrassing (score-wise and clothes-wise), but to a teenage boy who grew up literally worshipping the wood and the grass of Bombay Gym, the moments spent there were some of the most priceless ones. I am not sure too many of the kids who go to the Cricket Club of India (CCI)/Brabourne Stadium and Bombay Gym realize the historical importance of the floors they walk.

One of those games was an inter-house one, which was supposed to be rugby (or rugger as Mr. Lewis called it!) but was more like a free-for-all melee in the slush. I am sure a seasoned rugby follower would have been dismayed at what he saw, if he were present. All the same, the game never really took off at Campion in the mid-90s (possibly since it was seen as another "Cathedral" thing introduced at Campion), and I guess 1990-1993 would probably be the only time Campionites ever tried their hands at rugby!

In my first five years at Campion, we rarely saw any celebrities. But thanks to Mr. Lewis we had a whole set of high-fliers making visits to our humble 13 Cooperage Road. Vijay Amritraj had to watch his head when he ducked into our 5th std. classroom one afternoon, while WWF's "Macho Man" (aka Randy Savage) must have grimaced in agony when he was introduced as the "Muncho man". But the crowning moment was in March 1996, when the Windies cricket team who were in India for the World Cup, stopped by Campion for some chai and biscuits.

The dusty football ground was converted into a makeshift cricket pitch, and one Brian Charles Lara took massive swings at deliveries bowled by the Campion pace quartet which featured a trundler who went by the moniker of "Soultan of Swing". I could see the genial, bearded Andy Roberts (who was the manager of the team) shake his head in absolute disapproval as ball after ball disappeared into oblivion. Lara of course refused to sign autographs for us, dismissing us with a wave of his hands, prompting someone to ask if his initials actually stood for something else. Jimmy Adams on the other hand, signed every book that came his way, and probably missed out on his share of tea for his troubles. Jimmy was one of the most soft-spoken cricketers I have met, someone who always had time to chat a bit while signing autographs, and he's been forgiven for all the padding he did against the Indian spinners while amassing 500 odd runs in the test series the previous winter, earning him the sobriquet of "Padams". And oh yes, Mr. Lewis made the poor cricketers stand through our school anthem and some prayers, and ofcourse "ineez hands". It worked for the Windies, as they won all their matches from that point on, going all the way to the semi-finals, where they stumbled at the last hurdle against the Aussies!

PS: I suddenly think that this sounds like Tom Brown's Schooldays! A student's tribute to his headmaster! And oh, there's rugby thrown in there too!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Memories of a Principal

I was in the fifth standard when Mr. John Lewis took over as the Principal at Campion. Since he was the Vice-Principal at Cathedral before switching to Campion, I remember some degree of worry over how well he would "Cathedralize" the school. Almost 20 years down the line, I can sit back and reminisce, and realize what a huge difference he made to Campion. He is the only Principal I interacted with on a personal level, so it would be unfair to draw any comparisons with any of the other illustrious principals.

Mr. Lewis was moulded as a young man by the great Dr. Kuruvila Jacob, who was Principal at Cathedral when he joined, or so he told my parents. Maths was his passion, and each and everyone of his students will remember his Rs. 15 mathematics book and his encouraging words of "The more I practice, the more I score, and score I must". He introduced a plethora of co-curricular activities at school, including the much dreaded gymnastics which became a part of every PT period during the monsoons when we could not play outside in the Back Gardens! House games were dismissed as a bane initially, but today I look back and realize how much fun we had, the wind in our hair, often playing well beyond time, with the sun making its slow descent into the evening.

Introducing the fourth house (Berchmans) was a master-stroke, since it created a situation where there would be one house in every competition which would be left without even the wooden spoon. It divided a lot of us, who had spent 5 solid years fighting for Loyola; but at the same time it made us strive harder to do well, since we peace-loving Loyolaites were rather happy getting our bronze-medals without much effort. And who can forget the one day in January every year when bus-loads of bleary-eyed teenagers would be transported to an absolute dustbowl called the Aarey Milk Colony and made to run through streams, slush, bush and brambles as part of what was dubbed the Annual Cross-Country Race. The dust-bowl had been witness to one of the greatest battles in the annals of Indian television, and the place was strewn with the remnants of the various 'chariots' of the heroes from BR Chopra's epic "Mahabharatha". I'd love to say that it made a jogger out of me, and stressed the importance of fitness.

The morning assemblies were quite a lot of fun, with the introduction of Mr. Lewis' little red book aka the hymnal. Every student was expected to have a hymnal, and sing the hymns with gusto every day. It had about 50 hymns, but Mr. Lewis had his favorites and needless to say I can sing "Give me oil in my lamp" and "Whole world in His hands" if you wake me up in the middle of the night! Some time in the 8th, we caught on to Mr. Lewis' pronounciation of "in his" and for a good three years we enjoyed singing that the good Lord had the "whole world INEEEEEEEEEEZ hands", much to the consternation of Mr. Eddie Noronha and Mr. Alvaro. My classmates still have not forgotten the day he sang the Cathedral school song instead of "Campion Calls...", and topped it off with some hums and la-la's once he realized his mistake!

I have a lot to thank the gentleman for, personally. He paid for an ambulance once, the first time I twisted my knee and made sure that I got taken care of at Bombay Hospital. My mother was quite amused to hear him chuckle about how he had "his parents working at Bombay Hospital" and how it was not a huge deal to make sure that I was well taken care of. She had visions of a school principal's parents slogging it out at the hospital - she still remembers him for that. He was a strict man, but he softened up to me after all the quizzes and debates I participated in; even letting me bunk one Chemistry lab (much to Mr. Colaco's irritation) and watch a couple of good friends from Cathedral debate against Hiranandani Foundation.

Idiosyncrasies aside, he was a good man, and he probably did a lot more for Campion than we realized or gave him credit for back then (or today for that matter). Mr. John S. Lewis passed away this morning. To scores of Campionites who saw the 'good times' in the 90's with him, he will be saluted as he moves on to Elysian Fields to join the pantheon of other Campion/Cathedral greats. He's now well and truly "ineez" hands, and He will take good care of him!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy birthday Vishy!

One of the greatest Indian cricketers turned 60 the other day. GR Viswanath was the classiest cricketer in every sense, according to Achan. According to him, the greatness of a batsman was defined not by the records he broke, but by the way he got out. People still talk about the absolute beauty of a yorker he got from Imran in the 1982-83 series, which came out of nowhere to hit the stumps. There aren't too many videos around of Vishy's artistry, and to today's YouTube/20-20 generation, he will remain just another name in the annals of Indian cricket. But he was probably one of the most technically correct batsmen to have every played for India - the other two being Sunny Gavaskar and the man who used to be called Rahul Dravid (there's an impostor who's been on the loose the last year or so).

The knock he will forever be remember for was the 97 he smashed against a rampaging Windies pace attack at the Chepauk in 1975, which was ranked 38th on Wisden's Top 100 innings by batsmen. According to the master himself, he ranked the century he made in the previous test at the Eden Gardens as his personal favorite. The interview with Cricinfo is a delight to read, and one can imagine Vishy with his infectiously naughty grin reminiscing on his career!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Baseball- it is what it is!

Now that A-Rod stands accused of steroid-use, Jayson Stark writes about what the Baseball Hall of Fame might look like soon. And it is a huge shock when you consider the full meaning of what might be:

The all-time hits leader (Mr. Peter E. Rose) won't be in the Hall of Fame.
The all-time home run leader (assuming that's where A-Rod's highway leads him) won't be in the Hall of Fame.
The man who broke Hank Aaron's career record (
Barry Bonds) won't be in the Hall.
The man who broke Roger Maris' single-season record (Mark McGwire) won't be in the Hall.
The man who was once the winningest right-handed pitcher of the live-ball era (Roger Clemens) won't be in the Hall.
The man with the most 60-homer seasons in baseball history (Sammy Sosa) doesn't look like he's headed for the Hall, either.

Back in 1998, I followed the home-run chase with bated breath, catching up on all the latest news on the 8pm CNN World Sport bulletin. I dare say everyone was drunk with the power of the bat, waiting and hoping that Roger Maris' record would fall. Back then Roger Maris was just a name for me, but today he is a demi-god who belted the ball like no one except possibly The Babe, that too without 'juicing himself' - and mind you, he is not in the Hall of Fame.

The change in Bonds was visible to one and all, as his head just ballooned (or maybe it was just his ego). McGwire too bulked up, and cut a sorry figure with his self-induced amnesia at the Congressional hearings in 2005. Sammy Sosa became a bundle of bumbles at the same hearing, while good old Rafael Paleiro wagged his index finger like Mr. Clinton and claimed "I did not have relations with that woman"....oops..."I have never used steroids".

Which begs the question about A-Rod? Well, like Mr. McNamee said: It is what it is!

Friday, February 06, 2009


There is a song which rings so true nowadays....called "Invincible" by Pat Benatar, written way back in 1985!

We cant afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
Its a do or die situation
We will be invincible
And with the power of conviction
There is no sacrifice
Its a do or die situation
We will be INVINCIBLE....

That's what the armed forces (and the heroes of 26/11 believe in)....the power of sacrifices....they will be INVINCIBLE. The pols are a different story, I guess!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sashti-poorthi of the Republic

Our Republic turned 60 today, and like every 60 year old has had more than its share of crests and troughs.

For many of us Republic Day was just another holiday, with flag-hoisting ceremonies in school and in our apartment complexes. Some of us preferred to bunk school, as 'anyway there was no teacher taking attendance', and stay at home. For others, it was exciting to watch each state try to outdo the other with colorful floats which made their way down Rajpath. But what really touched a chord was the co-ordinated marchpast of the various services, along with the children who won Bravery Awards astride their elephants.

A variety of civilian and military awards have been announced. Controversies aside, it was but expected that heroes from 26/11 got their share of recognition. The fact that Tukaram Ombale will be honored with a posthumous Ashoka Chakra is rather refreshing. His tale of bravery is something which must not be forgotten, in a nation which forgets its true heroes easily. It takes a lion's heart to unflinchingly (and not to forget unarmed) take on a terrorist armed with an AK-47 rifle.

And so today, while we salute those who have won awards for bravery, we also pay tribute to those who have laid down their lives and go un-named in battliefieds ranging from the snows of Siachen to the dusty deserts of Northern Africa. There is a poem we learnt in school called "Pushp ki Abhilasha" by Makhanlal Chaturvedi, which rings so true every day, especially today:

पुष्प की अभिलाषा
- माखनलाल चतुर्वेदी (Makhanlal Chaturvedi)

चाह नहीं मैं सुरबाला के
गहनों में गूँथा जाऊँ

चाह नहीं, प्रेमी-माला में
बिंध प्यारी को ललचाऊँ

चाह नहीं, सम्राटों के शव
पर हे हरि, डाला जाऊँ

चाह नहीं, देवों के सिर पर
चढ़ूँ भाग्य पर इठलाऊँ

मुझे तोड़ लेना वनमाली
उस पथ पर देना तुम फेंक

मातृभूमि पर शीश चढ़ाने
जिस पर जावें वीर अनेक ।।

Translation by Prashant (Courtesy of Arch at Rang)

I don't want to be a part of the necklace of the beautiful girl,
I don't want to woo the lady love,
I don't want to be spread over dead bodies,
I don't want to act snob, after someone offers me to the Gods

Just pluck me Gardner and throw me on the road,
which is taken by the brave soldiers to give away their lives for the Motherland !

Profound words, indeed!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Waiting for the Mahatma

While I read RK Narayan's "Waiting for the Mahatma", for a lot of folks, their wait for their "Mahatma" finally came to an end at the stroke of noon. History was made, as Barack Hussein Obama was finally sworn in as President. The expectations are high, a sense of hope pervades the current economic nadir, and Obama has been clear that he is going to take on whatever comes his way head-on. Hindsight (which is always 20:20) twenty years down the line will tell us if the euphoria was really worth it!

There's something about Obama (with due apologies to Mary). It takes a lot to get ordinary people (who have absolutely no say in the American political process) excited over your speeches, hopes and plans. The way the man has energized people here can only evoke comparisons with the Mahatma himself. People might object to my putting Obama ahead of the Rev. Martin Luther King, but one has to remember that MLK's reach was limited. But that aside, today, a little more than forty years after his (senseless) death his torch has been carried into the White House by Obama. The Reverend and the Mahatma must be smiling, wherever they are.

Gandhiji focused a floundering freedom effort and finally freed us from British shackles. He did it 'his way' (the non-violent one), and it ultimately paid dividends. As we all know, we are a passive society, and it was but natural that the non-violent struggle of Gandhi and his followers trumped the violent one espoused by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his INA. At the same time, I wonder what might have happened had the majority of Indians followed Netaji and taken to the INA. All said and done, he was much more charismatic than the 'half naked Indian fakir' (as Churchill once referred to the Mahatma).

And so today, 60 odd years after Independence, the legacy of Gandhi is sealed and celebrated. He is uniformly hailed as one of the greatest to have walked the face of this earth. But at the same time, the legacy of India as a nation remains blurry. Although Nehru did a lot for the development of a fledgling nation, his greed and arrogance are probably to blame for most of India's ills. Coveting the PM's post was debatably the primary folly (I am not sure what life might have been like had we had Mr. Jinnah as our first PM), and secondary one was his over-indulgence of Krishna Menon's shenanigans which ultimately led to our defeat in the '62 war with China and left Nehru a broken man (so wrote Dr. Ramachandra Guha in his masterpiece on Independent India). In our usual passivity (and the warmth of the whole Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai glow propagated by Nehru) we let the Chinese army overrun our territories. We still remain a passive nation, rarely taking decisive action - the chalta hai attitude pervades.

But still, Chacha-ji is celebrated as a great orator and a fine gentleman, occupying his deserved place in the pantheon of Indian greats. So all said and done, even if Obama is counted as a 'failure' four/eight years down the line, he would unarguably have been one of the greatest orators to have walked this earth. The legacy of his predecessor might look grey right now, but only time will tell!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

It was nice to see "Slumdog Millionaire" garner the main prize at the Golden Globes over the weekend. But the brickbats which came its way the next day from the Big B was say the least - I dare say it sounded like a case of sour grapes.

Although I have not seen the movie yet (and I look forward to the weekend to tick that off on my to-do list) or read the book (which will arrive soon, I hope), some folks did warn me about the picture it painted of India, and its darker side. I think the average Indian (not very different from me) is caught between two critical issues; the primary feel-good factor of an India-centric movie earning plaudits at a major awards show, while on the other hand (s)he wonders if the gora director is actually taking a condescending dig at India and its poverty. At the same time, if Danny Boyle had shifted locales and the hero actually came from some impoverished corner of England/USA, I doubt anyone would have turned a hair. The fact remains that the film is based on an Indian book, written by an Indian author, so it was but natural for the director to choose an Indian background.

At the same time, the Big B's views got me thinking about our 'colonial hangover'. The venerable Dr. Ramachandra Guha had just written about what he called our 'craving for Western approval' the other day in the Sunday Magazine of the Hindu. The telling line in there is the killer-punch in which he muses on a theory he has "long held about our self-proclaimed patriots — that the more Indian and the more Hindu they claim to be, the more they seek and need certificates from White men."

I cannot really think of a bright, vibrant movie made by a Westerner, using an Indian locale (note: I am not counting Mire Nair's "Monsoon Wedding"). Two 'mainstream' movies which come to mind immediately are "Heat and Dust" and David Lean's masterpiece "A Passage to India".
All said and done, the latter plays on a lot of standard Indian stereotypes portrayed in the Western media (and believe it or not, Wikipedia actually has a whole section devoted to these stereotypes!). And the movie had its share of Oscar nominations, in addition to winning the Golden Globe back then for "Best Foreign Film"! I eagerly await the Oscar nominations and the final ceremony (more out of wishing to see if Heath Ledger is nominated and wins for his master-role as the Joker - every time I watch the movie, I appreciate his work even more).

On a slightly tangential note, I happened to watch Santosh Sivan's "Before The Rains" over the weekend on DVD. The camera-work was phenomenal (or were the locales just mind-blowing, I wonder?), the plot rather gripping and the acting was top-notch. I have to admit that Rahul Bose and Nandita Das have horrible accents, both in their Malayalam enunciation as well as their contrived effort to sound earthy and shed their convent-educated accents. But at the same time, I am not sure if a Mohanlal/Mammooty (or any mainstream Malayali actor) would have done justice to Rahul Bose's role - the vulnerability of the man just shines through in his eyes.