Friday, October 20, 2006

Left handed complement?

Extract from Peter Roebuck's article analysing Australia's defeat.

"Australia's bad start with the bat proved costly. None of the senior batsmen could blame the pitch. Ponting's footwork let him down and Damien Martyn drove indiscreetly. Watson did not last long enough for any impressions to be formed. Settling upon the right opening pair is the team's most pressing need. Considering the quality of the numerous candidates, it seems odd the job has gone to an unproven part-timer. However, it is not right to chop and change after one setback. At least Watson is a right-hander, a breed rapidly becoming extinct."

Indeed? Prompted me to check the teams playing for Champion's Trophy for batsmen and all-rounders ...

Australia - 4 LH (Gilchrist, Hussey, Hogg, Katich), 5 RH (Watson, Ponting, Martyn, Clarke, Symonds)
England - 2 LH (Strauss, Yardy), 7 RH (Flintoff, Bell, Pieterson, Collingwood, Dalrymple, Read, Clarke)
India - 4 LH (Mongia, Pathan, Raina, Yuvraj), 6 RH (Dravid, Dhoni, Kaif, Powar, Sehwag, Tendulkar)
New Zealand - 2 LH (Fleming, Oram), 7 RH (Astle, Fulton, Gillespie, McCullum, Marshall, Styris, Vincent)
Pakistan - 3 LH (Farhat, Iqbal, Abdur Rehman), 7 RH (Younis, Yousuf, Hafeez, Afridi, Akmal, Malik, Razzaq)
South Africa - 1 LH (Smith), 9 RH (Gibbs, Dippenaar, Kallis, Boucher, de Villiers, Hall, Kemp, Pollock, Bosman)
Sri Lanka - 3 LH (Tharanga, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara), 5 RH (Jayawardane, Atapattu, Dilshan, Maharoof, Kapugedera)
West Indies - 4 LH (Lara, Chanderpaul, Gayle, Hinds), 6 RH (Sarwan, Baugh, Bravo, Morton, Samuels, Smith)

Total - 23 LH / 52 RH

Huh? What is Roebuck talking about? Maybe, he was talking about left handed medium pacers. There's been a surfeit of them lately.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chiraunji Lal Khosla

The realization dawned on me with my first mouthful of popcorn. Why was I avoiding "Khosla Ka Ghosla" till now even after hearing countless positive reviews? It’s simply because the movie was being advertised as a "slice of Delhi life”!! With that kind of promise, you can't blame me much for thinking it would have the following elements:

1. The Delhi lingo consisting of "Beh^$#@" as every third word.
2. Youngsters wearing designer clothes loafing around in Gurgaon / Noida malls.
3. Real estate barons in flashy suits showing off their latest designer watches and Mercedes'.
4. Endless driving around posh South Delhi localities.
5. One-two obligatory shots of the Qutub Minar / Red Fort / India Gate.

This is a Delhi which I don't know much about. And coming to think of it, don't want to know much of either. It’s that part of the city which is continuously running from its past. And the past is what makes Delhi, Dilli!

The movie pleasantly surprised me, through its sarcastic look at the numerous quirks and idiosyncrasies which make the city. And its examination of the actual Delhi middle class. The ones who work in all those Government offices.

It was not only the popular Delhi stereotypes, which caught the eye …

1. The corrupt cops asking for their cut.
2. Rajma chawal (causing gastroentric disasters).
3. Jat musclemen on loan from the neighbouring state.
4. Larger than life land shark rushing to Vaishno Devi at the drop of a hat.

But those understated things in almost every frame, which are so quintessentially Delhi ...

1. The red Rooh-Afza bottle at the centre of the dining table. The Hamdard syrup which has been recommended as a counter to the harsh summer loo by countless Delhi mothers.
2. The fixation of owning a South Delhi house (even if it’s almost in Rajasthan) by the "service" class. The envy apparent in the dialogue, “Abhi to aap South Delhi-wale ho gaye, Khosla saab.”
3. The various levels of fixers. Typified by the statement - "Aap broker ho ya party?"
4. Tara Sharma's ethnic handicraft (all purchased at Cottage Emporium, I would presume) heavy flat.
5. The naiveté underlying Delhi aspirations, "World Famous Estate Agents" / "A-1 Agency"
6. The clichéd though real penniless Art / Theatre / Cuture-wallahs
7. The chartered buses carrying officers from Mukerji Nagar to CP. An understated comment on the Public Transport.
8. Collapsible gates / queues and shouting at Delhi booze shops. For those who do not know, Delhi booze shops are controlled by the Government and stay shut on 1st and 7th of every month, because monthly wages are dispensed on those days!
9. The Delhi spirit characterized succinctly by the statement, “Kya Kar Loge Tum?”
10. Khadi wearing NGOs looking out for their next donation cheque.
11. Horribly ostentatious Sadar Bazaar type tabletop / wall decorations.
12. The routine power cuts.

Now these are parts of Delhi I can recognize. Shows just one single fact. The indelible marks left by a city where I have spent some of the most glorious moments of my life.

No place (where you have spent significant time) ever really goes out of your system. Those memories are just lying there somewhere.

And no, to long for something which you never missed in the first place, is not stupid at all.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Oh Bombay - III

Some find their Bombay in the wide sweep of Marine Drive. In the white-capped waves breaking against the concrete wall. The stillness of the sombre grey skies before the onset of a paricularly harsh downpour. In the breeze carrying the scent of the sea from far-away lands. The weather-beaten face of the buildings facing the sea. In the glitter of the Queen's Necklace in the evening. The glitzy heights of Oberoi's standing like a sentry at land's end. In the smell of fresh dough wafting through the rooms of Pizzeria. The moss-coloured stone facade of Wilson's college, seeped in history.

For some, Bombay catches the local train from Charni Road station every weekday. Brandishing either their "Bhav Copy" or "Mid-Day" they chatter endlessly about myriad things : the "tezi" stocks which are going to give 200% returns over the next month, urban myths about how Vinod was always a better bat than the great Sachin, how the ban on dance bars have affected the bottom lines of police officers, the decline of the diamond cutting / polishing industry in Surat etc. etc. Some distribute the forgotten tiffin their wives had faithfully packed, some just hang on for dear life as the Dadar human wave comes crashing down.

Some see Bombay written in bold letters on the faces of children on street corners selling pirated copies of the latest bestsellers. They can forget anything while watching them recommend "How Opal Mehta ..." as "yeh kitaab leke bahut maarpit hua, saab". Or chasing the cars over signals over a copy of the "The Argumentative Indian". Some find a typical Bombay way of getting rid off them, by pretending that they don't exist. Some find solace in their annual contributions to CRY, some avoid their eager eyes in shame.

Some still fondly think of Bombay as a teenager, never minding their actual age. The ones in their black Metallica T-shirts who assemble at Marine Lines station before Indy Rock. The ones who have to get hopelessly drunk at Sunlight Bar and Restaurant before they can search for the meaning of life in hastily rolled joints. They never notice how Bombay rolls off as sweat from their brows in the middle of crazy lights and headbanging. Sometimes Bombay stares at their faces from the puddle of puke which they produce in one of the gallis near Bade Miyan after a particularly unadvisable dinner.

Some dig for their version of Bombay in New Link Road and Lokhandwala. Where dug-out earth gets magically transformed into shining multiplexes and glass-faced shopping arcades in Bombay's very own version of gold rush. Some seek Bombay in those pothole filled roads strewn with building material. Some take the constant buzz of construction around them as the anthem of a city running desperately to stay at the same place. Some search for Bombay's reflection in the blank stares on those wannabe models frequenting the numerous eating joints.

Bombay's heart lives in a quiet Juhu bungalow called Prateeksha, for some diehards. The same ones who magically appear at the first hint of a dark tinted glass SUV leaving the gates for the daily visit to studios. The occupant with the salt and pepper designer stubble is still mentally classified as Vijay by some of people chasing behind. So what if he is going for the shooting of a Navratna Tel ad, in their minds he is still bashing up Amjad Khan. Sometimes, they get a roll-down of the window and a wave. In Bombay, sweet dreams are made of these.

So, where’s your Bombay tonight?

Oh Bombay - II

One of the great myths about Mumbai is that it’s the most cosmopolitan city in India. Well, actually it’s not a myth. It is quite true, in case your reference point is Meerut or Ahmedabad. Ok, maybe even Chennai. But then, relative cosmopolitanism does not score highly in my scales.

My friends keep telling me that I do not recognize the greatness of the cosmopolitan Mumbai, because I have not worked for a living in any other city. “In which city would you get a place like Bandra, where the population is equally divided between Hindus, Christians and Muslims?” they say. “Where else are differences in cultures not only appreciated but celebrated?”

Looking at that kind of logic, you may tend to agree. However, I beg to differ. In my opinion, most of what is construed as cosmopolitanism in Mumbai is actually barely suppressed tolerance. By long practice, the different communities have built up invisible walls around themselves. The people outside the wall are rationalized generally through stereotyping. You must have heard the popular ones, “Bongs are football crazy, cultural snobs who can’t think beyond fish and sondesh”, “Gujjus are so money-minded that they would bargain even with their dads”, “Punjabis talk continuously without sense and believe in ostentatious celebrations”, “All Maharashtrians want their sons to become doctors / engineers because they are afraid of business”, “Parsis are congenitally mad in love with old family heirlooms” etc. etc.

This is not to say people in other cities do not suffer from this pigeon-holing syndrome. But nowhere is it as acute as it is in Mumbai. People of the city accept the differences, because they believe steadfastly that people are by nature so different from each other, that they cannot be understood. Comfort is found in labeling others as Bong / Mussal / Mallu / Ma ka Pao / Tam / Gujju / Sindhi / Marathi in trying to explain their reactions to situations, rather than finding out other, more truthful explanations.

The next question of course, is why? Why people in Mumbai are so indifferent, so impersonal that they could only see each other with this blinkered vision. The answer I think lies in Mumbaikars’ obsession with running the daily marathon which passes for life. Everyone here is always running for their lives or more precisely their next bundle of cash. This relentless mind-numbing chase leads to a situation, where the mind is simply incapable of the effort required to understand another person deeply. Stereotyping and rationalizing on the basis of that paradigm is a much easier option.

Sad, but true. Cosmopolitan Mumbai is just an illusion. The ghettos here are not apparent, because they are deeply etched in our minds.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A needless exercise

Its been a slow day, and I am gonna shock the world with posts on consecutive days !!!

As it happens a lot with people with little or no creative juice, I resort to the oldest trick in the world .... copy-paste.

All this started when, one of my friends asked for sci-fi recommendations, which led me to this, a ranking of top 100 science fiction books. Naturally, was curious to know how many I have actually read. The number turned out to be 24 out of the top 50. Not bad, eh?

So here are the top 10, with my value-add ...

1. Dune, Frank Herbert - A sci-fi "Lawrence of Arabia", which nevertheless remains a cult novel. Sadly, the sequels lost the plot through increasingly complex philosophies which messed up the story.

2. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card - One of the very best. You can't go much wrong with a plot involving children battling alien invaders. A book which asks all the difficult questions and lets readers find their own answers. If only the author was not so preachy in real life !

3. Foundation, Isaac Asimov - On second reading, Hari Seldon and his brand of psychohistory seem a little childish. But then Asimov's simplicity is his greatest strength, attracting readers from across spectrums.

4. Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams - The one and only. Dry british humour turning all sci-fi fundamentals on its head. Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are immortal. And so probably is Marvin, the paranoid andriod.

5. 1984, George Orwell - The Mother (or should I say, Big Brother) of persecuted individual novels. "It was bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen". There, I just did the first line from memory. That's how good it is.

6. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A Heinlein - IMHO, does not deserve a place in the top 10. May have been a pathbreaking novel when it was released, but always sounded overrated tripe to me. Coming from Heinlein, its a let-down.

7. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley - The first one which I haven't read. Considered to be written under the influence of heavy narcotics. Well, if Jim Morrison can be inspired by Huxley, so can you.

8. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury - Guy Montag and his python. The dreaded future where books are burnt. A moral fable turned cult classic beyond compare.

9. Starship Troopers, Robert A Heinlein - Another one from Heinlein, which has more popularity than substance (not to mention those giant bugs). An example of people choosing the author over the book, perhaps.

10. I, Robot, Isaac Asimov - More popularised by Will Smith's simplistic movie version rather than the book. This is Asimov at his very best, blurring the boundaries of science fiction, detective novels and social commentary.

And the balance 40 ....

11. Neuromancer, William Gibson
12. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K Dick
13. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C Clarke
14. Ringworld, Larry Niven
15. The Time Machine, H G Wells
16. Childhood's End, Arthur C Clarke
17. Hyperion, Dan Simmons
18. Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C Clarke
19. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
20. The War of the Worlds, H G Wells
21. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A Heinlein
22. Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
23. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
24. The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
25. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
26. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
27. The Mote in God's Eye, Niven & Pournelle
28. Ender's Shadow, Orson Scott Card
29. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L'Engle
30. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
31. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
32. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
33. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
34. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
35. Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
36. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
37. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
38. Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
39. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M Miller
40. Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut
41. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham
42. The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov
43. Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
44. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
45. UBIK, Philip K Dick
46. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
47. Time Enough For Love, Robert A Heinlein
48. A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
49. The End Of Eternity, Isaac Asimov
50. The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut

Oh Bombay !

This Navratri marks the seventh anniversary of my moving to Bombay. And strangely enough, the eleventh anniversary of my first sight of it.

My aching bones keeps reminding me of the daily marathon that passes for life in this city.

Seven Years. God !

The wide-eyed kid who mistook Thane Creek for the sea, Crawford Market for Dadar and Hotel Majestic at VT for Bombay's equivalent of New Cathay Restaurant is still there somewhere. The one which has still not grown indifferent to staggering contradictions which Bombay exposes you to everyday.

The slums faithfully bordering every posh locality ... the maid whipping out a mobile phone to pacify the next household ... the neighbourhood Udipi menu with a Continental section ... people distributing biscuits to mildly irritated passengers stuck on the roads ... Cosmopolitan Page 3 parties attracting Shiv Sena functionaries ... share markets and cricket being discussed on the trains on the very next day of the bombing.

To an outsider (and I am one, in spite of all the pretense) its almost amusing. How its proud denizens keep comparing Bombay with New York. The way they excuse crumbling infrastructure, increasing apathy of the legislature, parallel economy run in parts by the mafia/builders/politicians. How the "Spirit" of Bombay is invoked in every calamity which befalls it.

However, sometimes Bombay chills you to the bone. Sometimes, the city's friendly facade peels off to reveal the rot within. Like long suppressed streaks of madness, it bursts forth in a torrent. In those sudden xenophobic comments from your sophisticated friends, the sudden rudeness from the friendly cabbie, those angry faces staring at you and not moving an inch when you want to get down from the train.

It makes me wonder whether I would die in this city. After all, how hard can it be?

What they tell you is that Bombay is great because it gives you the freedom to be what you are. What they don't tell you is nobody gives a damn what you are.