Sunday, August 18, 2019

Hampi House - Today's Supplement in The Hindu August 17, 2019My

When we went to the 'Unfestival - Spaces between Words' Writers Retreat sponsored by the JSW at Kaladham, Vidyanagar, we vaguely knew that the idea was to compile writing that we generated in those 10 days. I wrote randomly - most times just to meet the daily deadline, sometimes to indulge a passing fancy, and one that seriously captured my imagination. By the end, I had written five pieces - an article of what the 'Spaces between Words' meant to me, another on my search for inspiration on the Vidyanagar campus, a long 5000 word piece on the 'Inspire Insitute of Sports' an article dedicated to my friends at the retreat - a profile of each as I saw them and one as an afterthought, a cricket fiction centred around Kaladham.
This is how the 4 page supplement appeared in The Hindu on August 17, 2019
Somewhere along the way the idea of publishing as a book was shelved and the idea of making a supplement in The Hindu came about. With the shortage of space the pieces had to be shelved, some edited. My 5000 word article became a 1250 word piece.
My article on the front page - my terrified plea used as an introduction
Finally the supplement came out yesterday in The Hindu - in some localities. As luck would have it not in our locality of course - but thankfully Nalini saw it and so did Sridhar from our MBA group and Gunu and I picked up a couple of copies. It was well designed and eye-catching.
My second article - the 5000 word one edited to 1250 or so

I wrote the piece pasted below as my tribute to the team - the things about them that I observed and the things that I will take away with me. It was meant to be shared in the group but Sathya felt that it could go into the book as well. But since it won't make the book, here it is on my blog.

The Unfestival Eleven
That's 9 - Shubra, Vishakha, Nimmi, Hash, Piyush, Sharon, Brandon, George and me

Sathya, who I feel has found the perfect balance between the inside and outside, and it enables her to retain a child-like wonder and enthusiasm that she balances with a clear and rational judgment. The way she says just the right thing, with just the right number of words to create what she wants, the way she holds the energy in the space without exerting any push or pull. Like water in an open palm, she lets it lie and allows things to unfold. Watching her walk all across Hampi, climb into the window without a moment’s hesitation at the Queen’s Bath to pose for Sharon’s picture (after I politely refused), climbing the 575 steps to the Hanuman temple, giving it back to the rude priest at the Pampa sarovar, listening keenly and intently to every piece of reading at the end of each day at Kaladham and finding something good and constructive about it to build on are all memories that will stay with me. What will always remain is the way she reacted after she heard a pup crying faintly (I did too, but did not think much of it), walked across an open field searching for it, found it trapped between stones and helped it out. The little pup could well have died yelping for help if Sathya had not done that. Net time I hear a cry for help, I might not ignore it as I did earlier.

Shubra, with her zest for life, food, music, movies, for good writing and all things good about life. For being so comfortable as she is, in her own skin with all her vulnerability. Her wearing her feelings on her sleeve, be it worrying about not having anything to write that day, worrying about taking the leap into starting a restaurant, the way her eyes light up when she talks about good writing. She is someone I can identify with, surely everyone does, for being such a sport. I love the way she says ‘I am too nice’ when she gets saddled with extra work but she goes ahead and does it. Just as she says Óh you are a nice guy too’ when she realises I am doing something I am not fully convinced about too. She is someone who is just that – nice- and makes the world a nicer place for that. That niceness coupled with that mischief that’s always around is what I take away.

Nimmi, who is this feisty person, a force of nature, this shakthi, with not an artificial bone in her, happy in her life, her experience, her silence, her art. Always ready to explode, with so much energy wound up inside her. But then so deeply thoughtful, who keeps her problems to herself, as one can see when she walks off to talk seriously into her phone and deals with her fears and apprehensions privately, and spreads only the good that she can publicly. She will give a massage if you look tired, offers to sit on the floor when Brandon looks ill, gets completely concerned when Sharon is unwell, hugs you till you feel that you are indeed a special person and deserve that time and warmth, laughs brilliantly at everything, does all she can to make an insecure world more secure. There won’t be another like her. This compassion, this spirit, this ability to let life flow through is what inspires me.

Brandon, calm and meditative, thoughtful and insightful, fun and creative, and so very talented. The gentle way he does things – I feel it comes from a compassion that is deep rooted in him. A compassion that is evident even when he writes an angry letter. I will never forget him singing ‘The Dark Side of Beautiful’ passionately or even all those 80s Hindi film songs, will not forget him battling his fever alone and quietly, his joy and relief at finding a compassionate doctor whose memory just makes him cry. The chat we had while climbing down the sunrise hill, talking of all things from spirituality to high performance and connecting them all was one of the most animated conversations I have had in a long time. The gentleness, intelligence and honesty  he brings to the world, the balls to be himself, his style, his storytelling ability, his presence and his wholehearted laughter apart - the spine that he carries in his slender frame is what stays with me.

Vishakha, who is so talented and quietly observant, who picks up the right cues and angles perfectly, who softly gets it all done. There is no denying the thought that goes into all she does, the connections she makes between random things – the painting she drew of the bath, the gate and the temple for example, which could be viewed either way. For one so young, she is so mature in her outlook. I was so impressed with the way she got coach Antony Yaich and athlete Elakkiya at the Inspire Institute of Sports to pose for her - just right. I am impressed with her questions on what I teach and her genuine interest to learn. But mostly, I admire this quality of hers where she says she will do it, and it is done. You can trust her to do anything in the world and she will not hesitate or say no, however difficult it is, and will simply get it done. And I am sure – so it will be with all she chooses to do in her life.

Sharon, feisty and firebrand, knowledgeable and energetic, who genuinely seeks not just to know but to understand, who lives life fully, experiments and is ready for the consequences. Like wearing a tiara of flowers and then waiting patiently for them to be disentangled, one by one! She knows the lyrics of songs and what they mean, writers and literature, aerialist who knows malkhamb, rides Jawa and Bullet bikes, belongs to biker groups, knows why boulders are like that in Hampi, what time the Sandur market opens and closes, anything actually. There is a sharpness, a quick wittedness, a fight, in her and one would like to be like that. Also one senses that she is someone who is very loyal, quick to help. With all the talent within her, the many things she can do effortlessly and confidently, one knows she will breakout big time when she wants to. The poem she read was ample proof of what she is capable of. The concentration and intelligence she brings to her work, the mischief she has and the capacity to feel deeply will stay, but mostly from her, her energy, her spunk and her quest to know and to execute – are what I take away.

Piyush, who is someone you cannot ignore because he has this personality that fills the room, this smile and warm greeting that you cannot not be drawn into. He is incredibly talented and highly accomplished – sings, writes, directs, comes up with great ideas, has great energy and is full of confidence. On the other side is someone who has this vulnerable side to him that shows up, as he says, like the boy who is forever fifteen, curious, wanting things to move on, unsure with silences and structure. Piyush is someone who has seen and experienced much, and has much to share. Big hearted, open, keeps the group going and together, says it as he feels. I remember the walks, the PBC jokes, his energetic singing all the way back from Hampi, the talks, the age discussion, his first date story on the bus in Mumbai, his clear views on fundamentalism, on sustainable practices, his lesson to me and George on how to quote for our projects are all etched deep in my mind. Piyush it was, who proposed watching Gully Boyat the JNox, organised Mangalore lunch and an Andhra meal for all those who wanted a change from the Convertor, bought jackets with George at the tailoring school, framed brilliant pictures, played eclectic music – always adding something to the moment.  But it is that aspect – that paradox between that Bombaiya confidence and the vulnerability of the 15 year old that’s most endearing.

Chandrahas, Hash, who looks at life with mild amusement, which appears to be a good way to look at it. Not to take it too seriously. Who has his world in control – the coffee pot he carries with himself to make the perfect coffee for himself, or his afternoon runs after which he lies down on the lawn to gaze at the blue sky. Who plays football, and knows his cricket. Who keeps to himself, but also has a watchful eye for all that goes around. Like the way he picks up leftover glasses after the beer sessions, or the way he asked if I needed help on the slippery Sivakoti rocks during the coracle ride, not once, but twice. I was touched – not many ask me if I need help. I admire his commitment to the craft, the way he makes his notes. Mostly though, Hash’s one quality I would like to take away is the way he enjoys what he does – the delight with which he reads what he had written especially. That is something I would love to learn to do. Enjoy what I write, what I do.

George, lost in his own world it appears, as he shifts quietly to the back seat and into his art, away from the limelight, but deeply observant and extremely clear about what he wants to do. Constantly thinking ahead, fully aware. He has chosen a difficult path and walks it without fear. I love it – what is an easy life anyway! Amazìng talent, amazing flexibility as a person, superbly confident about himself and his work. Writes the kind of stuff you are scared to even like – so politically in the face. Yet, caring and gentle, thoughtful and responsible – like the way he told me he bought a book for Anjali which he says she will enjoy. Or about his cricket career and his father’s cricket quizzes, his experiments with life. I believe he hovers on the fringes, not to escape, but to keep a distance, not too close but not too far, steps in when needed. Uncanny emotional intelligence, brutally honest and perceptive - and it shows in his work. Nowhere in his work does he try to explain – he treats his reader as someone who is capable of understanding it. His clarity of vision, commitment to his craft and conviction in what he does are highly inspiring to me. Just as his high Emotional Intelligence and the way he is so comfortable to have around.

Shireen, who quietly gets things done, exactly the way she wants, who brings a presence that seems to round it all off for the group.  Again a softness that I believe is deceptive, a professionalism that is apparent. She has this ability to create this space around her which is so easy for others and I find myself pouring water for her, carrying her bags, giving her assurances on her worries about her extra baggage, or how much time she has at the Bangalore airport, doing the many things that I normally do not do for many others. I love the fact that she does that, allows that and makes me, and surely so many others, feel useful. This most elusive of qualities, to glide through life with such ease, to ask and let things happen, to bring such an easy vibe to the group, I am most inspired by.

Elisabeth, who merged effortlessly with the group, which is a great quality for anyone to have – like sugar in water. The care, thought and effort in her animation film and her choice of subjects reflect in her actions and speech, her choices and reactions. The gentleness, patience and empathy she brings to such difficult subjects impressed me just as the political nature and the stand she chose to take. I was equally amazed at the question she posed to Elakkiya Dasan, the Olympic probable at Inspire Institute of Sports, and the wonderful moment it helped unfold. It will remain a moment I cannot forget in my life and I cannot help but think that it was her non-judgment of his capacity to answer an abstract question that allowed that. I truly believe non-judgment is the way forward for me and this will be one of the big things that Elisabeth has inspired in me.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Adios VB Chandrasekhar - My Dear Friend VB

VB Chandrasekhar was one of those nice guys. He was definitely the one guy in any Tamil Nadu side anyone could connect with - the rest were not too easy to connect with. He was just himself, meeting without any airs, smiling, polite, fun. I met him first in a junior state match in Chennai in 1984-85 times. He was an opener - not a big hitter as I remember then, but he rapidly became one after that. Though we did not do anything spectacular that match I remember him clearly as the one who took the trouble to speak to us (speaking to me was difficult because I did not speak much and was rather introverted) but VB somehow got past that. We chatted some and left - with very favorable impressions of one another. Me definitely.
In 2008 - Book launch of my first novel 'The Men Within' - VB fully behind me
The next year we ran into one another at the South Zone Inter-varsity tournament in Calicut. This was my second year at University, I was doing my Civil Engineering. Osmania took its strongest side in that decade - there were eight players in that team who were Ranji probables (and played first-class cricket within a couple of years). ra Swaroop was our captain, Ehtesham, D Suresh, Zakir Hussain, Abhijit Chatterjee, me, Srinivas Chakravarthy, Ramanamurthy were those who were in the Ranji probables (and later played) and the others were DTS PRasad, Subba Rao, Mujtaba Askari, Somsekhar. In fact, Ehtesham and I were to play the season's first Ranji match but the University wanted us to play here. So strong was the team that the Osmania University management was planning for our Rohinton Baria travel (it is the tournament where the winners of the zonal varsity matches play). Our first match was against Bharathiyar University led by a maverick - VB. We exchanged pleasantries before the game. As far as Osmania was concerned, VB was the only known name in their side and it was a cakewalk if he got him out. We were already looking at the finals.
Friendly banter - never had any airs, wonderful friend
We batted first and scored some 245 in 50 overs. We could have scored more but the mood was like - somebody will do the job - we were so strong anyway. Just before we went in to bowl we heard VB bellowing clearly in the tent to his teammates. 'I'll f... them up. We will win the game today.' We knew VB was a big hitter and if he got going he could well do what he promised. But what was clear was this - VB was not going down without a fight, nor was he going to tell his team to do their best. He was there to win and he made it clear to the team.
Recounting how they beat us in the varsity tournament
VB strode out and took strike. I bowled the first ball, a length delivery. VB heaved at it and skied it, miles into the air. Ramanamurthy at mid-on took a well-judged catch. Bharathiyar was 0 for 1 with their star batsman VB gone. The match was as good as ours. Then Chatterjee bowled a hostile spell and got 4 wickets in his seven or eight overs. By the 16th over Bharathiyar was down 65 for 5. But obviously, they were not willing to go down. The sixth wicket pair of Ranjith Kuruvilla and Dharmesh (I think that was the name) took Bharathiyar home in 45 overs for no further loss of wickets. Kuruvilla got a hundred, Dharmesh got 70 odd and the favorites Osmania Univeristy were knocked out in the first round in a shock exit. We dropped catches, lost out rhythm, and were in a disarray. VB had inspired his underdog team to one of its most famous wins ever. I still remember his voice telling them his plans for us.
Sharing a moment with my cousin Lux who was down here from the UK then
We would recount that match and laugh about it later.

Since we lost the first game, Ehtesham and I, went on to play the Ranji Trophy game. It was my debut match and I did fairly well with a 5 wickets haul (1+4) against Andhra. I had a reasonable first season and ended with 12 wickets.
A light moment after the launch
In my second season, I was not half the bowler I was in my first. I had a bad first game against Kerala and got no wicket. The second match was against Tamil Nadu at Hyderabad. VB, if I am not mistaken, made his debut in that game. We batted first and scored some 600 runs with Azeem scoring a triple hundred. When Tamil Nadu batted, VB was understandably shaky - I felt I had him with a close lbw shout with the new ball but the umpire did not think so. VB made some 78 or so and his career took off. I was dropped after that game and never played first-class cricket again.

I watched VB go from strength to strength and become one of the most explosive batsmen in the country. Then he played for India, for Goa later, became coach, national selector and was the COO for Chennai Kings when the IPL was first launched.
VB and I sharing something
In 2007 my first novel 'The Men Within - A Cricketing Tale' was launched and I did the tour of a few cities - Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. In Chennai I invited K Srikkanth to launch the book and journalist R Mohan. But more importantly, I sought out VBs number and reached out to him. He was just the same after all these years, his voice warm and mischievous. He was amused that the fast bowler has turned to writing. I sent him a copy of the book and he read it and gave me good feedback. He was very supportive of the entire event, and we recounted the Inter-varsity match at Calicut in our speeches. Srikkanth and Mohan were very supportive as well and I was pleased to see V Ramnarayan in the audience - I really wanted to invite him but had no access. I do remember the moment of mirth when at the end of the book launch, Basant Pandey, our publisher gave the vote of thanks and insisted on reading VB's full name Vakkadai Biksheswaran Chandrasekhar and got his tongue in a twist over it. VB could not stop laughing.
Basant Pandey, my publisher tongue-tied at VB's full name - VB tickled 
He was a good one for a laugh. He had a fine sense of humour and got a joke. I was at ease joking with him.

We kept in touch. Each book I wrote I would send him a copy and he would read and give me his feedback - always positive. I knew he ran a successful cricket academy in Chennai and many young cricketers and their parents speak highly of him and his advise. He once humoured me and went as Chief Guest at the National School in Mylapore where our friend Lalitha was the Chief Administrator - very sweet of him. In 2011 when a movie was made on 'The Men Within' in Telugu 'Golconda High School' VB was in Hyderabad on some commentary work. He somehow took time out and we both went and watched the movie at Prasad's Imax - he was tickled to see me on screen and in the interval he told a few people outside that I was the guy who wrote the book on which the movie was based - much to my embarrassment. We had a good time, he enjoyed the movie. Every time I came on screen he would yell out loudly and say 'that's you man'. He was really happy for me then.
Listening intently to Nandita reading from the book
One other time when he was in town, we both went out to dinner - and he came sportingly despite knowing it was a pub. VB was deeply religious and he came only after his puja was done, with his namam on his forehead that he wore proudly. We met Ram, Arjun and others at Extreme Sports in Jubilee Hills - he checked out the virtual games they had - golf and cricket. He had no demands and would travel comfortably in my Santro.
Obliging a young fan
In 2012-13 I was Chief Selector for the Hyderabad Cricket Association and VB was the coach for the TN team so we would bump into one another at matches. We had long chats - especially in the Hyderabad versus Tamil Nadu game at Goa where he spoke about many technical aspects. I sent him copies of '50 Not Out' and then of 'This way is easier Dad'. I particularly remember the conversation after he read 'This way is easier dad' - he fondly told me about how his daughters were now performing as Carnatic singers. In fact soon after he came to Hyderabad with them for some interview of theirs and we planned to meet but he was short of time and we could not. The odd sms or message here and we were in touch. Once we spoke of his team in the TNPL and he was very upbeat about it and shared some details that I did not understand.
Supporting me fully on my new journey into writing - Thanks VB
I heard this news yesterday that VB had passed away. I don't know what and why but I do know this much - the world will be poorer without him. He was genuinely good, forthright, straightforward, fun and there was not a mean bone in his body. VB, you've been a great friend, a wonderful human. I know there was no need for you to be nice to me, read my books, keep in touch, support me - because there was nothing I could give you in return -  but you did it and so warmly and openly without ever making it feel like you were doing a favour. It was like you were doing it for a friend and it did not matter to you whether I was successful or not - all it mattered was that I was your friend for the briefest of times. You were more warm and loving than a lot of people who I knew more closely.

Thanks VB for everything. Rest In Peace my dear friend. Will always remember you fondly.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Top Gun - Assorted Artistes

Top Gun released in 1986. I first heard the song 'Danger Zone' with Vidyuth Jaisimha, who was my roommate in several cricket trips. This was the Buchi Babu tournament in Chennai and Vidyuth had bought along a small stereo player with him. One fine morning I hear him playing 'Danger Zone' and got hooked on to it. I asked him to play it again and again, repeatedly until he got tired of my request. Then i would sneak up when he went for a bath and play it again. Kenny Loggins got into my blood with that song. Obviously, I had to own this cassette at the earliest. (Danger Zone - Kenny Loggins)

Soon enough, the movie was released in Hyderabad. I remember going to watch the movie at Padmavathi or one of those theatres in Kachiguda with Subbu and Sanjay and Choudary. We went on on my scooter and Sanjay's Yezdi, but on the way back, we came back on fighter jets. I rode like a madman and I am surprised we made it back alive  - definitely remember Subbu asking me desperately to slow down. But I was in the Danger Zone you see. I was flying and well its just a feeling that you want - one where you feel so alive it does not matter if you died. I can taste that feeling still. (Mighty Wings - Cheap Trick)

When I bought the cassette, it was a gold mine. Apart from Danger Zone, there was 'Mighty ings' by Cheap Trick, the Top Gun anthem by Harold Faltermeyer and not to forget an all time fav ballad 'Take my breath away' by Berlin. Ah, what pleasure. 'Take my breath away' played at all the slow dancing times in parties then. (Take my breath away - Berlin)

The Top Gun tape will always remind me of Vidyuth and the number of times I heard the song in Madras and Subbu, who was the Ice Man to my Maverick on a ride that was nothing short of a fighter jet in flight. (Top Gun anthem - Harold Faltermeyer)

Second year engineering, cricket career on the up, friends, fun, laughter, world at our feet - what else do we want. Tom Cruise and Kelly Mc Gillis will never be forgotten nor would Val Kilmer. Ah, what fun.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Second review of 'The Renaissance Man' - Telangana Today

A lovely review by Shiv Teja. The effort shines through. In a world of reviewers where opinions override the content, an honest effort. Thanks Teja!

My Column in the Sunday HANS - Inclusive Exclusion!

Here's the way to be exclusively inclusive or Inclusively exclusively!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Anjali - They Over React!

There was some discussion going on and Anjali was telling me something with a disclaimer - don't get angry etc. I said I would not and listened to her. It was some small issue about someone saying something etc and we talked about it and it was over.

She came by again later and said 'I like talking to you Nanna about these things. You don't judge or react immediately. If I tell the same things to some of my friends they over react so much that I stopped telling them.'

Hmm. That's one way to shut out stuff I guess.