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!