Sunday, March 27, 2011

Only Time Will Tell

 “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”  

The earliest that I can recall of an Indo-Pak tie was the quarter-final of the '96 world cup. I had cut out the fixture from the local newspaper and marched off to show it to my pakistani neighbour. Neither of us knew nor cared about the bad blood that existed across the border. We weren't part of the separation in 1947, and so didn't give a rat's backside to the diplomatic stance of the two countries. Our knowledge of cricket was restricted to the annual whipping in the arid deserts of Sharjah. It seemed that it was the scenario since the time Miandad despatched a lolly to the nearest oasis. Coming back to the point, my friend Mehaboob smirked at my excitement. He expected a routine thrashing; the message was loud and clear, how would India cope with the mighty Pakistan endowed with an abundance of talent?
Disheartened, I ran to a corner of our playground and crumpled the piece of paper that I held (that was the ctrl+delete action of those days). I swore to myself that if India lost, I'd never back the underdogs again (as fate would have it, I've been left to do the same with the gunners at the end of every season). The rest as they say is history. India beat Pakistan in Bangalore, and within a month beat them again in Sharjah. The former reminds me of a young Ajay Jadeja (not his hapless namesake, Ravindra) carting a fiery Waqar straight over his head and Prasad providing a perfect send-off for Aamir Sohail. At Sharjah, a match that was a classic from the moment the masterly Tendulkar and twinkling toes, Sidhu got India to their first total of over 300. Pakistan fell short of the target and the balance of power was set and it was there to stay. We wouldn't remain the punching bag of our neighbours (meanwhile the lankans politely demolished us at every possible opportunity).
     Indian cricket has come a long way since those days, while Pakistan have had internal conflicts ruling the roost. They've had their moments but consistently over-promise and under-deliver in the big-match situations. For them beating India and winning the world cup would mean way lot more than it would to India. I might be hanged for treason, but this match isn't vendetta (as Harsha Bhogle rightly mentioned post India's quarterfinal victory). It's about the greater good connected with a few young men who have their careers on the line, in the hands of a radical nation. We Indians would crib, but we forget and forgive our beacons on the cricket field; our bleeding blue who have another shot at redemption and mode of distraction with the IPL that follows. It might affect our economy with the loss that might befall advertisers and media, but would surely lead to an introspection of the way the game has been monetized (my only fear is that if India lose, the cries of match fixing might arise).
     Mohali will be a colosseum and the Pakistani gladiators would have to face the ire of the Indian crowd. Surprisingly, neither the media nor the players have started the verbal feud so far. Rather its disturbing, because it plainly depicts the nervousness on both sides.
     Let bygones be bygones. Everything is on a clean slate when the match begins at 02.30 PM on Wednesday, 30th April 2011. I’d be watching expectantly, rooting for India but my mind would go back 15 years, to the point where that paper lies. Dusted, crumpled, and forgotten.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another time, Another place

   
     At the end of tomorrow’s day, a lot may change around me. India may no longer be a part of this World cup (the last and the only time they won it, I wasn’t around to see it). Not that it would break my heart. Or prompt me to give up on the Men in Blue. For me, it means a lot more. It depicts the end of an era.
    The 1990s was a time of awakening for the Indian economy. It was a time of VCRs, Walkmans and Maruti-800s. It was an age when still cameras needed roll film, there was only one Bachchan, Air India was still making money and the gift-toting NRI uncle was treated as a VIP. An age, where I grew up learning about cricket through a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
     As a kid, I’d watch him come out to bat and my heart would go thup-thup-thup. I’d cross my fingers and hold it behind my back, and it would stay affixed till he made the long trudge back to the pavilion. Once his contribution to the game was done, I’d move away from the screen and get on with my work. It wasn’t always about winning, rather the element of beauty that died away with his exit.
     He might go on to play for another couple of years, score another ten centuries and amass a mountain of runs before he gives way to the younger brigade. But the sport would lose its biggest ambassador, the greatest player of my time and perhaps the only one who acknowledges the prayers and beliefs of a billion Indians.
    In a country where the jurisdiction allows criminals to be free until proven guilty, Tendulkar’s the embodiment of the lady with the scales. The dismissal against the Windies was the perfect rendition of the long-forgotten gentleman’s game that has been lying in the swamp of match fixers and sledging personnel. That one moment took the breath of a billion and replaced it with a proud warmth in our hearts. With the little cricket that I’ve played, I can assure one thing. Walking when you’re out isn’t the easiest decision at the best of times, lest alone in a crucial tie in the World cup.
     If India go on to win the cup, this piece of prose might join the scrap bin (if that option exists) and will be long forgotten. The result of tomorrow might be trivial. But when Sachin steps out to renew the battle ties with his favoured opponent, I would be watching. Watching with bated breath and fingers crossed.

"You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else."
- Albert Einstein

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Beginning of the End

  And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

 
     18000 dead. And the count keeps ticking. Death came across and swept his share in a Christmas bag. If any clan had managed to survive the effects of radiation from 1945, not a soul would be spared at the aftermath of the recent disaster. Unlike the previous one, a natural disaster.
     Man proposes, God disposes. They could withstand the 8.9 magnitude earthquake to an extent with their modern structures, but the tsunami swept away half of the nation. But the impact wasn’t felt till the nuclear reactors started exploding. One after the other, they brought back the ghosts of the pasts. And will remain to haunt the Japanese for the next few generations.
     Visualize the plight of an octogenarian in Japan. Having had most of their youth wiped out with WWII, they would have prayed for a better life for their children and grand-children. Alas, not all prayers and dreams are heard out.
     Will the world really end in 2012? Are these the ominous signs that herald the predictions of the Mayan calendar? Perhaps it’s only a poor fool’s digressive thoughts.
     Meanwhile in India, the tension mounts. Not regarding the possible consequences of a similar disaster. Rather on the Indian Cricket team’s chances of winning the cup again (Ever again). Winning the world cup once isn’t an achievement, ensuring that Pakistan doesn’t win it again is the prayer on the lips of a billion Indians. Haven’t we learnt it that way all through out?
      As an afterthought though, would India manage to survive such a catastrophe?
      I understand that the blog has certainly more unanswered questions than statements. Perhaps it’s my current mindset. Every single day I stand witness to strange, grotesque incidents that send a shudder through my spine (like Dhoni’s new found batting style, Nehra’s inability to bowl/bat/field and Piyush Chawla’s leg-spin).
     But on a serious note, the following incident reminded me of the plight of women in India. Harassed, molested and exploited, the fairer sex has to remain fearing the dark.
     At 23, Soumya was the pivot of her family's present and future. Her father had left them five years ago. Her mother who was sick couldn't afford to give up her job as a domestic helper. Her brother was a driver. And when Soumya was offered a job as a sales girl at a shopping mall in Kochi, she decided to abandon her course in hotel management.
     So she boarded a train from Thrissur, after accepting the job on December 29 last year, and hoped she was headed into a world that would at the very least give her her due. Read on.

"I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."