Thursday, March 31, 2011

More Ruskin Bond Reviews

The shelf that had Ruskin Bond's books was heavy. It was filled with so many of his books that I was taken aback. He wrote seventy! I got myself a 'Best of Ruskin Bond' which I read first, all along the route to Dehardun.

The Best of Ruskin Bond (Penguin, Rs. 325,428 p)
Best of Ruskin Bond

This book has several delightful short stories, each of the perfect length to make you want to finish one before you move on. The first lot of stories are about 'Love and Friendship' and I can recollect most of the stories even now. I particularly liked the 'Night Train at Deoli', 'The Thief', 'The Kitemaker', ' A Guardian Angel' - well I liked all of them. Most are set in Dehradun and surrounding areas of course, as almost all his stories are. Then there are a series of short stories under the section 'Tales of the Macabre' which is about murders and gjinns and ghosts. Then there is a section of 'Essays and Vignettes', which are snapshots from his life which by now you can relate to after reading the first two sections. I loved the next section 'Travel Writings' which I must revisit after seeing many of the places he has mentioned. The other sections comprise 'Songs and Love Poems' which I skipped, 'Scenes from novels', the story 'Time Stops at Shamli' and 'Delhi is not far' which has not been published before.
All in all a delightful, comfortable read.

A Handful of Nuts (Penguin, Rs. 150, P 120)
 A Handful of Nuts

I love the size of his novellas, they are so perfect. I do not understand why anyone should want novels only of a particular length. I am so glad he chose this length and stuck to it. Anyway 'A Handful of Nuts' is a story about youth but written from his current days. In fact as the blurb says, it is about the twenty first year of his life which he fells is the most significant year in anyone's life.

Set in Dehradun it is about a wannabe writer who is young and footloose and the many people he meets and add to the colourful tapestry of his life. From the Maharani who has eyes for the young lad, Sitaram the son of the local dhobi and his friend and several of his other friends, the novel has some great characters and fun moments. And again, it is a delightful, light read told in first person.

A Season of Ghosts (Penguin, Rs.250, 210 p)
A Season of Ghosts

This is a collection of ghost stories and a novella of a detective story. The ghost stories are all short stories and I was not particularly impressed by them - however I later realised that ghost stories are great to tell other people. I think we all like to scare other people which could be one reason why ghost stories are popular. Most are the kind of urban legends you grow up with and well, good to chat about over a camp fire.

'Who Killed The Rani' is a detective story that starts promisingly. I was not too pleased with the ending though which seemed rather lame for a story otherwise promising much. However the characters were very interesting - the inspector of police Keemat Lal, the Rani herself, her friends, the grocer, butcher. But again, like all his other stories, easy to read, not too taxing and never so boring that you want to get away from them.
I would say that ghosts and detective stories are not what Mr. Bond writes best, though they are written very well and are engaging. I however liked his tongue-in-cheek stories about small town life or descriptions of children in the children's stories much more.

Roads to Mussoorie - (Rupa & Co, Rs. 95, 125 p)
Roads to Mussoorie

Roads to Mussoorie is a memoir. One can visualise a twinkle in his eye as he starts with a 'Backward' and not a Foreword and ends with a 'Forward'. Ruskin Bond recounts the many breakfasts he has had - ham, jam, bread, sausage etc, remembers the many travels to Delhi by car and the various people he met during his travels, the cold beer shop, explores Kipling Road. He dwells on the shrines he has seen in the Himalayas, lovingly describes the trees he sees outside his window, recounts some more ghost stories, some of the parties he has been to in Mussoorie, the treks he took.
I found the stories full of information, great humour and insights into how he has lived his life. For example how he has signed books under the names of Botham, R.K.Narayan, Enid Blyton. Mark Twain and so many more. Truly a fun read. It also makes you want to go to Mussoorie!

Landour Days (Penguin, Rs. 175, 141p)
Landour Days

Small diary like entries about Landour where he lives, in Mussoorie, on the hilltop. About friends, flowers, trees, animals, people, incidents. Many funny incidents of people and the way they deal with him.
He has split the book into sections based on the seasons - Summer, Monsoon, Autumn and Winter and has divided each section into each month. And each month has its own stories, its own memories.
The book is dedicated to the founder members of the Writer's Bar which he says has kept him in good spirits. These founder members - Ganesh Saili, Nandu Jauhar and Vishal Ohri - appear in many books and references of his.

I still have his book 'Our Trees Still Grow In Dehra' which I need to read. It has his story 'The Flight of the Pigeons' which has been made into the movie 'Junoon'.

India Beats a Suicidal Pakistan - A Matter of Belief

High pressure games are a matter of belief. Dhoni does not let the past or the future affect him. He stays in the present and trusts his players to do their job. Easier said than done - this trust business. And like he said after the match - "This campaign, we backed each other fully". Wonderful stuff. How else can you rely on someone like Yuvraj to provide crucial breakthroughs all through this tournament? Which captain in the world would have used Yuvraj to get him these breakthroughs? No one.

Afridi is another guy who does not get affected by all that goes around him as you can see on his face. His only issue is that he carries the baggage of his past. He and his team believe that they cannot chase - a give away from the great Wasim Akram. Now that was news to me because never was India comfortable against Pakistan until the last wickets fell - not since Sharjah when Miandad carted Chetan Sharma over midwicket for a famous six. But Pakistan it appears has more ghosts to carry than India. Each to his own belief! Two teams then, or rather two nations then, that do not believe until it is all over. Good we have a captain who does not subscribe to these beliefs.

As for the match, India looked good for 300 and lost their way really badly that we were struggling to make 250! But thankfully India lost wickets not to bad batting. India lots their way thanks to some unbelievably high quality bowling by Wahab Riaz, the best I have seen in many years, backed by Afridi, Hafeez and Ajmal. Thank god, Umar Gul had an off day! Each of Wahab's wickets were prised out - as Majrekar said - most on defensive shots. Sehwag, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and he kept beating Tendulkar well into he late overs. Fantastic bowling! He is my man of the match just for that display!

But then, how often can you expect to win a World Cup semi final when you drop six catches - four easy ones off the best batsman in the world? Not often. In fact Pakistan should have got routed just for dropping so many catches but to Pakistan's credit, they started as 52:48 favorites at the start of the innings which gradually grew to 70:30 when Hafeez and Asad Shafiq were batting so comfortably before they all got into hara kiri mode and threw it away. That is Pakistan for you! Kamran Akamal threw it away when he was batting so well, so did Hafeez, Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan. Umar Akmal's breathtaking innings came to and end with a beauty just as Razzaq's did. But then Afridi threw his wicket away, never took the powerplay and in the end, Pakistan came within striking range. With so many mistakes, it is a wonder they came that close. That is unpredictability for you, raw talent. Now they need to hone it in with some trained thought, an organised approach to get the big games. The world is moving on and even they need to if they want to capitalise on the talent they have.

Anyway on to Mumbai for India where India start firm favourites in an evenly balanced contest. Even better than the Australia match because Lanka plays spin better on these wickets. It will be in my opinion a matter of how well the Lankan batting bats. They have a good bowling side which is marginally better than India's and a better fielding side. If their batting does not collapse as it did against the Kiwis in the semis - which is possible only if they bat first (they do not have the nerves to bat second in my opinion), then they can put some pressure on India. If India bats first and continues its present form, I expect it to ride home at a canter!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Take the Money and Run - Movie Review

'Take the money and run' is a Woody Allen movie in which he is the actor, director and the writer. It was made in 1969 which is a long time ago and was Allen's first movie as a director.

As the movie title indicates it is about a guy, Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen), who has always been inclined to a life of crime. Only he is not good at it and is always getting caught. So from his childhood onwards, the account of Virgil is given by his parents, teachers, friends and all sorts of people like his cello teacher, in an interview fashion, while he goes about trying to steal and gets caught, gets beaten up and almost always, gets his spectacles stamped upon. But Virgil does not give up. It appears to be his only talent, or non-talent, and he is always in jail.

Virgil's bank holdup is amazingly funny as he passes a  piece of paper to the bank teller confirming that this is a holdup and that the money better be handed over. Only his handwriting is not too legible and everyone is discussing what the words mean - all the clerks first and then they direct him to the Vice President's office where holdups are best dealt with. The VP's office is soon crowded with people who are trying to figure out what Virgil has written.  

Another time he and his gang hold up a bank and at the same time another gang also lands up. Virgil asks the customers to raise their hands to which gang they would like to be robbed by and the result is heavily loaded in the other gang's favour. Or the scene when his pretty wife (I liked her, Janet Margolin) informs Virgil that she is pregnant and Virgil panics and asks how? Or the scene when he and his jail bird friends make a break for it from the jail transport vehicle - only all of them are chained together. They reach a house with an old lady and Virgil tells her that his car broke down and could he make a call and she lets him in and in shuffle six more jail birds, chained together. And they shuffle along, all of them, to the bedroom where they get a change of clothes, to the bathroom, shuffle discreetly when a cop comes visiting and shuffle off as well. They go to Virgil's house where the six shuffle behind him as he and his wife have an argument and snigger and snicker. Hilarious stuff.

In the end Virgil holds up a guy on the road and they realise that they took music classes together. As they exchange pleasantries and laugh about the good old days, Virgil innocuously asks him to hand over the watch, the wallet in a polite manner and then just as they are about to leave, the other guy, still laughing uproariously informs Virgil that he is now a cop and could Virgil please return all the stuff and put his hands up.

'Take the money and run' is full of such jokes and I had a great time laughing my guts out. Must watch for anyone who loves comedy and especially this kind of comedy. Allen is brilliant. I did get a moment in the second half when the comedy was getting predictable, you know he will always fail at all his capers, but that was only for a moment and I am nitpicking. Otherwise its a brilliant watch and you must go and watch it NOW!

India versus Pakistan - War of Nerves

India clearly has the edge in terms of team and bench strength. It is clearly the best team in the tournament with a mix of experience and youth. So far, India has managed to get through without looking to stretch themselves - which they did to some extent against Australia. But this semi final against Pakistan will certainly stretch them. This match, will be more about nerves than about talent or scintillating performances. I also suspect that it will not be made of the quality of cricket that even the Australia match had - but it will get everyone tense.

Sachin would be expected to score. I would be happy if he just tore into the bowling and rattle the Pakistan bowlers in the first 15 overs. If we get the 100 plus in 15 overs with Sachin and Sehwag contributing say 50s, I will be more than happy. That will set up the platform for India and also rattle the slightly inexperienced Pakistani bowling side enough for India to look at 280 plus. I would look for Gambhir to play sheet anchor and hold the innings at one end and between Kohli, Yuvraj, Raina and Dhoni the 200 odd runs from 35 overs  can be managed. I also think that 280 plus might be iffy - 300 should be more like it to seal it. Perfectly doable unless nerves catch up which I don't think should be the case with the experience that the team has.

Pakistan will rely on Umar Gul and Afridi to keep things tight. It matters now how the other bowlers bowl - they are all good but unpredictable. Conditions suiting them, a couple of good catches or balls can open up things for Pakistan.

For Pakistan the batting looks as unsteady as ever with only the experienced Younis Khan and the Akmal brothers showing some form. But one can never write them off because they play our bowling well - seam and spin. It will boil down to their application and commitment and more, to how they handle their nerves.

If India bats first and posts the runs on board its always going to be easier in my opinion. Batting second in this high pressure match is something I would not be comfortable with. Bowling second would be a better option considering the experience in the bowling we have with Zaheer, (I'd play Nehra and not Sreesanth or Munaf) and Harbhajan. If Ashwin matches up which he can and Yuvraj gets his overs well, it would be tidy. I'd say in the end it will boil down to these things - how many wickets were thrown away by the batsmen, how many runs were saved and how many catches were taken / converted. It is balanced 60: 40 in India's favour if all goes according to plan. Pakistan's biggest advantage is that no one is expecting them to win - and if they can use that to their advantage they can upset India. But for that one needs the athleticism, attrition-tactics and the guerilla-like opportunism of New Zealand!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ruskin Bond Books - A Quick Review

These are some of the Ruskin Bond srories that I read recently.

The Room on the roof 
His first novel written when he was 17. It is the tale of 17 year old Rusty who is in Dehradun with his guardian a strict Englishman against whom he rebels and runs off from his house. he makes friends with Somi, Ranbir and Suri with whom he discovers the pleasures of the simple Indian life - playing Holi, dipping in the lake, eating chhaat, roaming the streets and the countryside. After his guardian kicks him out of the house Rusty spends the days in the open and then his friends start helping him out by getting him a job as an English tutor at the Kapoor household for Kishen their brattish son. Mr. Kapoor is a failed businessman who is always drunk, Mrs, Kapoor the young and beautiful wife and Kishen the pupil. Rusty is given a room on the roof of the house and he spends some great moments of his youth until the Kapoor's move away suddenly.
'The Room on the roof' is an impressive, largely autobiographical novel and a brilliant read. Rusty could be anybody, and more so Mr. Bond himself. His adolescent cravings, angst are brilliantly captured in this book. A really good read.

Two Novels of Adolescence

Vagrants In the Valley
'Vagrants In the Valley' continues Rusty's itinerant journeys in Dehradun and around and the people he meets on the road. Kishen comes away with him, having escaped from his father Mr. Kapoor who has married again after the death of Meena, his first wife, and he becomes an expert thief. After Rusty's appearance he decides to join Rusty and together they go and park themselves in the church which is not inhibited by anyone. the deaf mute joins them and several other characters come by as well - the young seller of cheap goods, Devinder, the handsome crook Sudheer and his many girlfriends in the local brothels who are always willing to lend him money, Rusty's aunt in the wilderness and so many more characters combine to make this novel a fine piece of reading. It also takes you by the hand and leads you to all the interesting places in and around Dehradun along with Rusty and his friends.
Again, an easy and good read that reminds you of  summer vacations and lazy days. Perfect read for the holiday!

The First Semis - New Zealand versus Sri Lanka

I'll go with Sri Lanka because they are the more balanced side any day. But then it all depends on how New Zealand, one of the most unpredictable and opportunistic sides, will play on any given day. My verdict, 70:30 in favour of Sri Lanka. But I really hope that the Kiwis make a match of it and make it interesting.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Red Beard - Movie Review

Watched Akira Kurosawa's 'Red Beard'. It is the story of a doctor Yasumoto who is just out of college and is looking for an elite appointment. Coming from a well-off family where his own father is a reputed doctor Yasumoto has high ambitions of being personal physician to the Shogunate. But fate has other plans as he is deputed to a rural clinic for his post graduate training under Doctor Niide, more famously known as 'Red Beard' for his reddish beard.

Red Beard runs his hospital well and with strict discipline. He cares for the poorest of the poor, for those who have no place o go and sometimes even for those who do not want to get treated. His staff is well disciplined and everyone works many hours each day in service of the several poor patients - and they all seem to work for almost nothing except for the love of curing these desperately ill people. Young Dr. Yasumoto rebels, does not wear the uniform, does not do the duties he is assigned to. But he is slowly drawn into the suffering of these people, these mysterious ways of the doctor, the patients themselves.

And so the story is told in a leisurely, meandering fashion of the many inmates and their stories. From the mad woman who is locked up because she is a danger to other people having killed three people already, to the old man who is suffering from a rare kind of cancer and who has no one of his own, to the helpful man who seems to have no one and who helps everyone at the cost of his own life to the young syphilis ridden 12 year old who is so ridden by guilt that she scrubs floors as a penance - the stories are many. Just as the ways of the Doctor Niide are. He fights off toughs and rescues the 12 year old prostitute whom he deputes to Dr. Yasumoto, he visits rich clients who have imaginary illnesses, he blackmails the magistrate with some private information so he can help a destitute woman - the daughter of one of his patients. Red Beard's ways are unconventional but his heart is in the right place as Dr. Yasumoto soon realises. At the end of the movie Dr. Yasumoto decides to stay back at the rural clinic where there is no money and fame nor comfort.

The black and white movie is long, really long. Almost three hours. The intermission came at 1 hour and fifty minutes. But it is gripping as he deals with human suffering, with punishment, with desire, with single minded duty, with attachment, with retribution in simple stories. The story of the 12 year old prostitute and her love for Dr. Yasumoto is tender. But the story of the young thief who steals gruel from the hospital for his staving family wrenches your heart. In the scenes where the girl, barely out of her trauma offers him food and tells him not to rob if he can help it, is beautiful. Just as the scene when the maids and the girl rush to the well to call back his spirit when they believe he is dying because his family consumes poison because he has been caught thieving hits your gut. In little stories of ordinary people Kurosawa explores the gamut of human existence, its purpose and its pointlessness, and how we must strive on in spite of it all. Because it might make a small difference somewhere, to someone and it is not for us to decide who is worthy of it or not.

It is certainly a movie that one cannot forget easily because the pictures, the characters haunt you for a long time after the movie is over. And nowhere does Kurosawa resort to any dramatics - everything is sublimely natural, painfully human. You need no extra drama, no music to prod tears. The honest, understated emotion is enough.

Mindrolling Monastery - Dehradun

I visited the Mindrolling Monastery at Clement Town in Dehradun. It is certainly worth a visit and will take about 2 hours to go through. The campus of the Mindrolling monastery is well developed and located in the outskirts of Dehradun amidst sylvan settings. You go through a street that looks just like a street from Tibet and as you enter the monastery a huge statue of a golden Buddha appears to the left.
Buddha statue at the Mindrolling Monastery, Dehradun

We parked the vehicle and walked into the campus which houses the monastery, the school and college, grounds, a shopping arcade. Before entering the main area of the monastery you are required to take your footwear off which is collected in trays at a place.
Mindrolling monastery, Clement Town, Dehradun

The main temple is an impressive sight. As you enter you see a meditation hall and a series of colorful paintings and sculptures depicting probably the history of Buddhism and the lineage. There are an incredible number of these sculptures and they are placed in a certain way of course.

We walked all the way up from where one can get a great view of the campus and came down. A walk around the shopping arcade, around the campus and a visit to the golden Buddha and we were done. It was a serene place and there were many students or monks of all ages helping out visitors.

Mindrolling is the apparently the largest among six main monasteries of the learning and practice of the Nyingma (or Old Translation school), believed to be the most powerful and direct teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. In Tibet, Buddhism flourished since the beginning of the 8th century due to the efforts of Mahaguru Padmasambhava. Four main schools of Buddhism developed, of which the Nyingma is the oldest. The other three Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug lineages are part of the New Translation school. Nyingma teachings are considered the most effective way to realize one’s full potential in today’s world.
Mindrolling campus

In Tibet the Mindrolling is considered as the practice of pure and profound Dharma of Vajrayana Buddhism. It has an unbroken lineage of masters. Since the 1959 invasion of Tibet by China, Mindrolling established its monastic seat in Dehradun. Mindrolling today is dedicated completely to Dharma activities and is the main centre for maintaining the precious secret of Vajrayana doctrine.

Certainly worth a visit if you are in Dehradun.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lanka versus England - What Does One Make of This World Cup?

It is completely crazy. A 10 wicket win by Sri Lanka over England, reigning T20 champions and a good side any day. The same England which almost handed India a shock defeat. But that is how this World Cup has been. I did expect Sri Lanka to win but not by 10 wickets!

Sri Lanka in Colombo will certainly have the upper hand against New Zealand - with their high quality three spinner attack that will trouble the weak New Zealand batting which is especially vulnerable against spin. The Sri Lankan batting has enough depth and experience to handle the New Zealand bowling and one any given day they should romp home.

As far as New Zealand is concerned they will bank on doing the basics right - bowl in right areas, field like madmen, pick up a couple of blinders and apply the right pressure - combined with some indiscretion from Lanka's batsmen, they might get their chances which they will accept. Their batting has been highly suspect save the mercurial Ross Taylor who if he gets going and gets some support, can give the Kiwis a decent score. It's time Brendon McCullum came good with the bat just as Guptill who is too talented to just score 30s. Fringe contributions by others would be important in getting to the 260 mark which is a must. I liked what Vettori did - a new innovation - bowl two spinners at the start of the inning against SA.

Sri Lanka would have the pressure of playing at home and their biggest trouble would be to remain focussed on this game - and not play as if they were already in the final. They cannot afford to take New Zealand lightly because that is where the Kiwis are good at - guerrilla tactics that are opportunistic, that will make small inroads and exploit them. With the Kiwis it is always the thousand cuts that they make that will bleed you as against the one big chop of the mighty axe. So it will not be over until its over. No great fireworks but it should be an engrossing match - the likes of which I enjoy watching!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Long Ride In the Mountains - Mussoorie, Dhanaulti, Chamba, Rishikesh

On an adventurous day we took off from Dehradun and set off into the hills with no real plan in mind. We had packed some stuff for an overnight stay just in case. After a moment's thought we decided to head up the hills towards Mussoorie and onwards towards the well known hill station Dhanaulti about which much was written. It was a perfect day for the ride and we quickly drove up the hills and reached Mussoorie in an hour's time. It was a beautiful drive and one that you can never get tired of for its natural beauty, tall pine and deodar trees and lovely views of the valley.
Snow capped Himalayan mountain ranges from Dhanaulti

We drove through Mussoorie and headed out on the road to Dhanaulti which lies about 30 kms from Mussoorie. The drive was incredibly beautiful with blue skies, terrace fields, school children walking back home in those altitudes where the air is as pristine as the good Lord must have made it and the hills as lush as ever. The road wound its way presenting one breathtaking view after another, the odd 'brins' tree with the ripe red flowers on it until we reached what must be a perfect spot to get some pics of the snow capped Himalayan ranges. It was a much better sight of the range than it was at Chakrata. The add on scenery was equally beautiful with the odd hut, fields, tall trees. We stopped for quite a while there drinking in the sight of the range and then drove on in. Apparently they shoot many movies here.
Long, lovely winding roads along the way

A while after the spot comes the actual village of Dhanaulti which has some lovely resorts that invite you to stay over and enjoy the pleasures that the nature offers. Very tempting. However we drove on and reached Chamba where we found an excellent little restaurant that had a view of the valley at the back from where we had planned to go down to the Tehri dam. A small meal of some really think parathas and we were off going downhill in a dizzying ride.
Terrace fields of Chamba in the background

But the entire valley is full of trees, huts, fields, plum trees or some such tree with its pink leaves and flowers. The ride continued for a good one hour until we could see the spot where the two rivers Bhagirathi  and the other river meet at a spot where the erstwhile Tehri village was and form a huge reservoir. To one side is the large Tehri dam one of the biggest in Asia and the entire reservoir, the rivers, the dam, the amount of water is an awesome sight. A few minutes at the spot and we drove back up the hills, back to Chamba and decided to head towards Rishikesh.
The road to Tehri winding down on the mountain in the background
After Chamba, this was about 5 in the evening, the road and the scenery was breathtaking in this route. The roads were wide and well maintained by the Border Roads Organisation. Many places we saw this incredible sight of youngsters playing cricket across the narrow road - their only playground, some 2200 metres high in the mountains. How they manage not to knock the balls down the valley is something I cannot understand but they play with tremendous enthusiasm, patience (waiting for the traffic) and considerable skill. We actually stopped at a lovely dhaba en route where several youngsters were playing rather high quality cricket. And as we wound our way up and up into the mountains and then down and down, we were fortunate to see a lovely sunset over the mountains a few kilometers from Rishikesh.
On the Lakshman jhula

At Rishikesh I chose to go to Lakshman Jhula instead of the town and we spent a wonderful half and hour there breathing in the serene air, the sacred vibrations of this place. There were many foreigners of course, all seemingly taken in by the mystic nature of this religion, this place and they all seemed serious students of yoga, the scriptures and even the rituals. I walked along the jhula and walked back, sat for a while and realised that I needed to come back here and spend some more time, breathing and imbibing the rhythm of this fantastic place. I drank a hot, well made filter coffee in a small joint, picked up some chants on a CD, and then we headed back to Dehradun, some 40 odd kilometres along a path notorious for elephants crossing across the highway. In fact we were diverted off one road because there were elephants on the highway. And so we ended a long, tiring and a well spent day.

National Pride And the National Anthem

One of the things I like to watch when teams play in a tournament like the World Cup is the pride they wear on their sleeve for their country. I believe firmly that unless you have a deep love for your country and are willing to play for the pride of your country, you cannot stretch yourself to win against bigger oppositions or even against your own self-imposed limitations. It is the belief in the cause that you are fighting for that will bring the team together and none can be more nobler than the country whose colours you represent.

For South Africa it has been a period of getting past the choker tag - which places them at the bottom of the pool in terms of the belief. I do not know what that team is playing for and what is distracting such talent. Is is the history of the country, the politics that they are unable to come to terms with, the doubt of what the right path is? I would like to know what cause South Africa plays for and what its belief is. For teams like Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands there is clearly national pride at stake and that shows in their attitude and their upset wins. For the West Indies that pride has long since gone and the team plays like a team of mercenaries come together with no common cause. Unfortunately they are also not even a fraction of the true blue professionals that Lloyd's team was, who knew what was expected of them and who did that clinically. They were complete pros, the experts at what they did and they took pride in their being the best.

India, Pakistan, Lanka are all in the same boat. They have won it once, have enough firepower to win it again, India has the best team, but they are all plagued by belief issues. Are we good enough? The whole world knows it is good enough but - only as a team that performs 'more than its 100%' - as Dhoni said the other night when it beat a resilient but a not-so-good, Australia. This belief can be bound together, is normally bound together by national pride, one that the whole team must feel with every cell of their being. For India thankfully the skipper is very clear that he is playing for the country, Sachin has time and again made it clear that he prides the India cap more than anything and he has been an exemplary soldier for the country, at times risking his non- controversial image for greater good as he did when he spoke at variance with the Shiv Sena which tried to project him as a Marathi manoos first who owes allegiance to Mumbai first and then India. Sachin categorically put the perspective right for all those who did not know - that we are Indians first.

When the national anthems are playing I watch the players. I love the way Younis Khan sings it, loud, hands on his heart, Dhoni sings it each time, relaxed and straight forward as does most of the Indian team which does show considerable national pride (you can get louder guys), the English sing it as well. I see certain players in several teams who appear to not even hear what is going on. There I think is a give away, a chink, in teams. The cause. If the team has no common cause, no lofty goal, no inspiring ideal like playing for the country, it can be exploited even if it has the best talent.

I guess its the same with families, organisations, institutions all over.

If I were the coach of any side representing the country I'd make it mandatory for the entire team, on the field and off it, the support staff to sing it loud and clear, hands on the heart, eyes on the flag. More on this later, after I watch the other teams more carefully.

Friday, March 25, 2011

South Africa Crashes Out - Incredible Side

How often have we been fooled by this team? I really thought they had a good thing going when they pulled ahead of India in the league stage but I forgot it was the league stage. These guys just fall apart like a pack of cards when it comes to the slightest pressure. And from 108 for 2 they crashed to 172 all out chasing a highly modest total of about 221 from New Zealand. Anybody would be nuts to ever back this side again. They need a complete change of the top floor. Bangladesh would have done much better in this stage.

I liked what I saw to Francois du Plessis. He is the only good thing about this side apart from Steyn, de Villiers and Kallis. I'd dump the rest and pick a new team right away. It was also interesting to see Alan Donald the New Zealand coach celebrate his former team's loss. But apparently he felt the Kiwis were better prepared which I doubt. But then anyone who just stays on their feet until South Africa gets to the last few runs can win a game against them in a pressure situation.

But what that makes me do is withdraw all previous predictions because I cannot predict anything any longer. It's all bordering on chaos, on one abysmal performance after another. All it appears is for the players to down a couple of stiff ones and come on to the wicket. Most cases the opposition is folding up by themselves. A case of fragile nerves all over.

India Does Justice

And finally India did full justice to its talent and billing by beating a more focussed, more athletic and perhaps better prepared Australia. The scorecard was perfect, everyone scored except Dhoni, the youngsters stood up when needed, each run was fought for, every run saved, catches taken. Now, it will be difficult to stop this team from taking the Cup unless of course they forget the lessons learnt quickly.

Ponting's knock was fabulous. Big players and class players are never out of form and you only write them off at your peril. Ponting's knock was not about scoring - he made it a point to tell his team that he was willing to fight bad form, bad everything and lift his game when it mattered - can you guys do it too? They almost did. But I felt right from the start that if they do not get 275, they will be under pressure especially since they don't have too much depth and penetration in their bowling. But more than that I felt they threw away their wickets a bit more easily - Watson, Haddin, Clarke - all should have learnt from Ponting's grit at the other end. Hussey was deceived by a beauty and so was White but losing three big wickets, one when he was set and the other two to nothing shots will certainly set you back against a more balanced bowling attack. That was one area where Australia, save the great Ponting, missed the basics.

While bowling they did what they normally do - put pressure with bowling and fielding. Only except for Lee, Watson and Johnson to some extent and the one ball from Tait that got Tendulkar, there was just not enough penetration. It was always going to be their weak area their bowling and if they did not pick up the standard on the big day they would suffer - and they did.Shaun Tait cannot afford to bowl all over the place and expect to get away with players like Sehwag, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Raina or Dhoni. He gave ten runs away in two wide balls in a match like this!After Dhoni's departure I think where they lost the upper hand was in Johnson's over when he changed his length from short of length where Yuvraj was fishing to one that was pitched up, a greedy delivery looking for a free lbw, that Yuvraj gladly thumped past the bowler for a boundary. That is the kind of a mistake that can completely get someone like Yuvraj back in the game and once he gets his confidence, he can win any match. Three fours off Lee, Tait's incredibly bad over with a wide for 5 and all the pressure went out in two overs. To seal things Raina's six off Lee finished it for India  there are no more demons left to conquer.

Reminded me a bit of the Champion's Trophy many years ago when Yuvraj made a handsome contribution in his debut match against Australia and we won. Many things were similar from that game to this including Yuvraj's performance, and all seniors contributing! Anyway, everyone has predicted a cakewalk for India in the semifinal - everyone. Not a surprise of course. Well done guys and I'd say, you are all better off thinking about Pakistan than about the final right now.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

India vs Australia - The Final

As the World Cup plods on drearily, the first big match has come up. India vs Australia at Ahmedabad. Not that it assures anything for the winner going by the current form of both teams (and all other teams) but getting through a big match like this itself could give a huge boost to whichever team's chances of lifting the cup.

It's really a 50-50 situation with the scale tilting slightly towards Australia - simply because they have played more big matches and have won more World Cups. They are also coming off a bruising trip of losses which makes the resilient side rather difficult to write off. They will field like madmen, bowl quick and to a plan and run for all the runs they can. For Australia and for Ponting, this is the match they will play like its their last match. Brett Lee will fume and fret and hurry and after that, unfortunately for Australia the cupboard is bare. Johnson looks ordinary but he can pick himself up and the rest of the bowling does not look like it will pose a threat. It depends on how well they field and how the fringe players life their bowling. The Aussies have enough depth in the batting and since India's bowling has not really been highly penetrative I would anticipate that they will treat Zaheer with respect and work out the other bowlers depending on their form this day. Ashwin can be dangerous if he allowed to get into his groove, so it depends on how they tackle him and how he responds to pressure! There will be the usual fireworks between Harbhajan and Ponting, Zaheer and Ponting - and the Aussie captain who has already lost his cool this tournament could well be riled into some indiscretion.

India's batting is an enigma but it should not have too much of a problem handling the Aussie bowling. The intensity with which India bats is the key again - wickets thrown away to bad shots will go against the team's cause today more than anything else. If the team can get its heads together, bat sensibly and not throw away wickets to pressure and tactics, they can pressurise the Aussies when they bat. But if they are unfocussed and lose wickets to bad shots, it could well be India's last match.

To me then, its all about application and discipline today, and less about pressure tactics. Head to head we have more firepower - only it has to fulfill its potential. No bravado, just basics should do. Also its all about how the fringe players will play this match. If the Ashwin's, Munaf's can pick up their performance a bit, it might tilt the proceedings in the end. It is also a test for Dhoni's captaincy - can he motivate his wildly fluctuating, highly talented team to come together and apply themselves for the team's cause when it counts most? If he can, we are through. If he cannot, then it is the same old story - we would have blown one of our best chances to win the World Cup.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The King's Speech - Movie Review

Watched 'The King's Speech' today. It was fantastic to watch Colin Firth act out the agony of George VI, struggling with his speech impediment, his father's death, his brother's abdication of the throne for his love and most importantly the demons of his past which cause the speech impediment. Geoffrey Rush as the good doctor Lionel Logue, unconventional as they come, and his peculiar and highly effective methods to cure the future king of his stammer is perfect. We all held our breath as King George gave his final speech and the relief was as big or bigger than any movie of any scale - sport, war, science fiction, disaster - can give. He did it! I felt the lump in my throat, the elation and this is what good cinema gives me. I hardly heard the final speech, just watched Colin Firth struggle through in his sincere, good intentioned, hardworking way to say what he feels to his people in the times of war. Ah, sublime. And what a plot for a movie!

The film is based on a true story. If they had not mentioned it I would not have believed it. truth is stranger than fiction! Watch it on the big screen when you can and don't wait for DVDs. This is big screen material lads.

My Friend Harish -The 11th Man

In the late seventies we still had places to play cricket in our city, in our colony where many houses were still not built. Big enough spaces to actually play cricket matches against the SR Nagar Colony guys who were our favorite team because they also were as bad as ours and consisted of players roughly the same size. We had little choice in our colony in terms of players since there was only that much raw material available and our teams normally made up of anyone who was willing to come and suffer us. So there was me and Ram, KV and Vijay, Mohan, Kamlesh, Choudary (the core of the team), Sreenu, Shiva (hangers on), Ramana and after that, we were struggling to fill in the places. On good days I think we just about made the 11 when the more academically oriented boys had the time to join us. One of them was Harish, thin, sensitive and as close to a nerd as you can get even then.  Harish was so fragile that you wondered if he would break a leg if he got hit on his pencil thin legs.
Harish - the 11th man

Harish would join us whenever he had the time and the inclination and we were more than willing to have him of course. He batted low down when he got a chance, fielded at far off positions and I am sure that playing cricket with us might not have been a pleasant experience for him in such circumstances. Most times he was the 11th man and he wandered off after a while. But for all our limitations we played several games with the SR Nagar guys, lost many, won a few and kept our colony flag flying high. Of course no one noticed our heroics.

We grew up. I played cricket at a higher level and moved on to the world of league cricket and state cricket. The others moved on with their studies. All of the above mentioned with some notable exceptions were very academic. I was not. By some quirk of fate I landed at Osmania University to do my Civil Engineering thanks to my sports quota! And in my third year, who do I see in the college campus but a familiar face - Harish. Our 11th man of many matches, just as thin as he always had been , taller, looking more academic and certainly more self assured. Harish always had an air of sophistication, a dignified aloofness. I was surprised to see how much he had grown and how different he was from the rest of the noisy crowd which was so thrilled with their new found freedom that they forgot all sense of decency. Harish was like a genial professor, all dignity and propriety, among the lot. We met briefly but in the rush of the college and our so-different pursuits, he of academic excellence and me of wasting time, we met little. I passed out and moved on. Harish I knew would pass out in flying colours, get good scores in GRE, get good admissions and go to the USA where he would live happily ever after. And so it was.

After almost two decades since I got a call at home. Maybe 2007 or earlier? Harish was on the line. 'I just met Mohan and took your number,' he said. 'If you're home I'd like to meet you.' He came home and we had a delightful time recounting the past years and our matches. He looked just the same, thin, stood as erect as he always did, his eye had a twinkle and his voice was always smiling.

'I always remember the time I was the 11th man in one of our matches and and we needed some four runs to win. You were the skipper and were batting on the other end. If I had stuck on for those few balls, we would have won but I got out first ball. I feel bad about it even now,' he said. I could see that he felt bad, that the loss rankled. You never forget those moments when you assume greater responsibility than is required from you and fail to deliver. It is big for you but the others hardly notice. I had forgotten all about it of course, having lost so many matches like that in my life and we laughed about it. He was deeply appreciative of my choice to move into writing and of Ram to make movies.

And then he told me what went on after his engineering. His life went as per the script. America, post graduation, good jobs, software boom, made tons of money, thinking of early retirement, lost money in the equity market, went back to work, found love (a very cute and highly likeable Malayali doctor Bindu, who, Harish knows, I totally approve of), married and went back to work. Sometime out of nowhere he, this kid who always did everything right in his life, was diagnosed with a tumour in the brain that was inoperable and pretty much given up on. Bindu, being a doctor and a good one at that, and his own team of doctors tried all sorts of experimental medicine on him and he got through that stage. The medicines were harsh and he went through much, with many painful side effects. He came to India to meet his parents after years, went all over India, to Leh and Dharamshala, seeking answers to why. And in his next visit to India, after he found some peace, he also found space to see me. I was aghast at his story. He looked normal, was in good spirits, ate and drank everything. We all went out to lunch, he came home. In fact we both spent much time discussing various therapies, philosophies and he even took two days off to do the 'Heal You Life' workshop. But he insisted that I do it with him as well and I did the workshop that I had been putting off for long in my life thanks to him. He returned to America.

We kept in touch on the mail. I published 'The Men Within' shortly after and he ordered some copies. He said he liked the book and he started reading the blog when I had just started writing it. He came again the next visit and dropped by. This time he was off to Nagarjuna Sagar to deliver a lecture on mathematics to young students and to share his experiences. He gave me a book 'Three Cups of Tea' which he said impacted him a lot and knew would impact me. I read the book (with his very babyish handwriting "To Hari, the captain, From Harish, the 11th man and for some reason he put in brackets beside his name - 'baby'). The book did make a huge difference to my life. Ever since I read about Dr. Greg Mortenson, I have found some purpose in my life and I share my experience, knowledge as much as I can. In his last visit, last year perhaps, he came home with Bindu and they both met and played with Anjali for a while. It was clear that Harish liked playing with Anjali and she with him. He asked me for a picture of her which I mailed him. He said he made a collage of pictures near his computer and she figured in that.

I kept updating him of all the big events in my life, the books, the movie etc and knew that he knew what was happening with him, though he never replied. He sent me a long mail two years ago asking if I could in some way help his parents by getting them a reliable auto rickshaw guy - they did not want a car and he did not want them crossing the crazy traffic here. You could see he was concerned and I went over and met them and even fixed up some arrangement and they were all quite happy - more with my gesture of going over to meet them than my arrangement I think. He called me sometime after that and we had a long, long chat. We exchanged long mails - often discussing some philosophical point or another though we were happier talking.

Yesterday when Sanjay, a junior from Osmania Engineering college and one with normally high and infectious energy (Harish's batch and also his relative) called and said in a slightly subdued tone that there was bad news, I somehow knew that it was about Harish. A couple of months ago Harish had gone to Florida and got pneumonia and never recovered. He passed away ten days ago. I did not expect it really so I was a bit taken aback. To me it was just a matter of time before Harish sauntered over to my place, some book in hand, a new idea he wanted to share, a wry smile and a glint in his eye, and the childish laughter he carried with him. There was no doubt that Harish came back into my life to add some purpose into it and he did enrich it many times over in those short visits that I always looked forward to.

This time, I wish our last batsman had hung around for longer. But then it was a life well lived, one he can be proud of. Here's then to our 11th man - one I will sorely miss!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Endless Babble On TV - Cricket Commentary

It is now amazing me how much is being discussed on cricket in the country with so little outcome. It makes me dizzy to just see them, hear them. Every day in every channel there are all kinds of people discussing the World Cup, their teams, their strategies, their fears and doubts, the fashion, who went to practice, who missed it, who should do what and for who - God its just too much.

What beats me is how can these guys talk so much? Even if they are getting paid, how can you discuss the same thing endlessly without enough information, without any purpose most times. Take away the Test cricketers who have experience and can speak from that - even there many cannot speak because they are bad speakers - and then you have everyone from the yesteryear vamp to today's school kid giving his opinions.

Top of the list are Harsha and Charu who should be given something like a Padmashri for their outstanding service in commentating on the game for so long and still doing it. I frankly prefer Harsha in the travel show he does where he gets to be himself and where his sense of humour is not wasted on his fellow commentators who are generally cricketers. However like the good old Dr. Narottam Puri, who is still around commentating (did he get a Padmashri? but he made some fantastic doomsday predictions in our game against England and they all came true, sadly for us), they might be around for a long lone time as well, discussing, predicting, analysing the game to death. I wonder how they do this cooped up with ex-cricketers, who to my knowledge are not the most scintillating company but good luck you two.

Next come the A list cricketers who commentate knowledgeably, who try to give some new twist to the game with some insight or another, who try to predict and analyse the game, the pitch, the rules, the players. They are okay, at least the ones who can speak and who have a sense of humour - Gavaskar, Manjrekar (Shastry I think is getting predictable and boring) in the Indian front and I don't know who is commentating on the foreign front (I used to enjoy listening to Ian Chappel, I think the English commentators are good and fun like Nasser Hussain, the Kiwis are rather crazy). But then there are a whole B list cricketers who are not good at the analysis of the game nor are they good at speaking - I mean they are rather boring to listen to. This crowd led by the redoubtable Arun Lal is always there, with their neither here nor there comments and predictions. I am wary of this crowd because some of them make some massive claims and predictions just to incite some interest but it is all too thin. Somehow I would like someone with more wit to make the commentary more interesting. More insight to make us understand the kind of stuff like 'ball is reversing' and other great mysteries of the game.

The most dangerous lot is the lot of journalists who have to don the mantle of commentators. Now this is a dangerous lot because they are armed with the knowledge of having reported the game and thereby thinking they have understood, seen it all and made kings of paupers - without really understanding the game. They flaunt their closeness to the players, the long time they have spent reporting the game and pass opinions and judgments freely and authoritatively. I heard Boria Mazumdar the other day speak of how well he knew Sachin whom he has seen for the last eighteen years and how he found him incredibly focussed - so focussed before the match that what they began as a two minute chat went for one hour! Save the exception of Ayaz whom I can tolerate because he does throw up some interesting perspectives and also stays within his limits I cannot stand the cricket journalists who speak as if they know everything when it is quite clear they know nothing. And their pompous, know-it-all behaviour does not help.  Now there is a huge breed of these experts here on regional tv as well and that drives me nuts.

And then comes the sports bureau guys and gals who have their fake indulgent smiles when the cricket news comes on and their panels which include Mandira Bedi and others of her ilk - all trying to predict, to whip up some energy, some eyeballs in a tournament that has so far produced - four good matches in all I should think and not too much to look forward to in terms of quality. This World Cup is about mediocrity and that is why every team has a chance - it is only how badly the other team will do on the given day. there will be no razor edge finishes, no wars of attrition, no sustained quality on display as I see it. Just hope that something happens and we are through!

And so we move on, from game to game, in search of some bright, fresh spark,something that is not conjured up, something where everyone can sit up and say - Wow, that was something! And while at it, save ourselves from the commentators.

Monday, March 21, 2011

High and Low - Movie Review

The other day I found some classics in Landmark with a 1+1 sale offer and found some good ones in them. Among them was Akira Kurosawa's 1963 movie High and Low which was based on an English novel by Ed McBain, King's Ransom.

The movie is the story of a shoe company director Gondo who is on the verge of a split with the other director's of the firm. They want to make cheap shoes and want Gondo to support them in the Director's meeting. Gondo believes in making good shoes just as the chief promoter does and refuses, triggering lots of animosity in the gentlemen. Of course Gondo has bigger plans - he has secretly acquired more stake over the years to make his stake quite large. Now he has also raised money by mortgaging everything for 50 million dollars to purchase some more equity which will make his the controlling stake. Even as he raises a toast to his well made plans, with the greatest risk, he gets a call. The caller says that his son has been kidnapped and he must pay the ransom of 30 million dollars. Gondo agrees immediately, despite knowing that he is finished if he parts with the 30 million, saying he can always raise more money.

In a short while the boy walks in. It is then that they realise that the boy's friend, the chauffeur's son has been kidnapped by mistake. But the caller still sticks to his demand. He tells Gondo to pay else the boy dies. Gondo refuses. His wife pleads with him to pay, his chauffeur does too. The police who have been called in to help watch mutely. Finally Gondo agrees to pay and they strike a deal. The money and Gondo must be on the Bullet train where he will get further instructions and also a sight of the boy. After seeing the boy, he will be told what to do with the money. The police try to film the people on the road, the boy is seen and Gondo throws his future away. In the best scene of the movie, Gondo gets off at the next station and goes back to where the boy is left standing. He races to hug the boy, who races to him and that shot brings tears to the eyes, so well and so genuine did it look. And the police look on and decide that they will ferret out the kidnapper like bloodhounds.

Gondo's lenders look to attach his properties. His company throws him out. The police form a crack team and chase the kidnapper who is obviously a smart man. How they narrow down to the kidnapper who uses several people and disposes of them in his quest for money and comfort is the rest of the story.

As a thriller it worked for me. As a story with human emotions at play it is superb  Gondo's dilemma, his wife's conviction that the chauffeur's son must be treated as their own, the chauffeur's own dilemma as to whether he can ask for such a huge favour from his boss for the life of his son, the police who watch all this happening in front of their eyes as they make up their mind that Gondo is a noble man and they must help recover his money, the kidnapper and his motives - they are all superb. The movie is taut and moves at a rapid pace. I was engrossed the entire length. However in comparison to today's movies it is rather long. The chase itself, the kidnapper's back story and how the police close in are rather slow and deliberate. Maybe those days they had to establish and build the case. Now, we assume many things as the movie skips them and goes on. But the final scene is a great one again - one that makes you wonder, one that haunts you. It is not as simple as catching the bad guy and shooting him off - life has more angles to it and the movie does not let you leave so easily.

India - Into the Quarters

And India predictably won its match against the Windies and made it to the quarter finals where it will be tested against the Aussies. The two matches - one against the Proteas and the other against the English, and to an extent even the one against the Bangladeshis have exposed the bowling which will be on test in the quarters. All in all, to me, the winner could well take the cup.

Yuvraj's form augurs well because he can shake the Aussies off a bit with his batting. Somehow the likes of Yuvraj, Harbhhajan, and Zaheer seem to rattle the Aussies a bit with their overt and sometimes unprovoked aggression. If India bats first and raises its standard 300 plus it could well wrap up the match. The problems I think are if they fail to set a big enough total for the Aussies. On the other hand, if the Aussies bat first, a total of 275 plus could challenge us when we bat second. Very generic comments but I am inclined to think that way knowing the fielding and bowling strengths of both sides, and knowing the pressures of batting second in a knockout game. Our batting strength has not so far been able to come together even after big starts, so we will be tested severely. One needs a big effort from someone, and definitely for the fringe players to perk up. The team looks rather loose to me to put in a big team effort - which is also India's biggest worry in terms of lifting the Cup. It's not looking like a close knit, focussed and keen unit that can sustain pressure against quality opposition consistently. There are individual performances, odd sparks and not enough intensity. Not yet at least. That should worry Kirsten and Dhoni a bit. Our big trump card is Dhoni of course and his ability to capitalise on the smallest opportunities when nerves are tested. Ponting has not shown enough indication that he will last a test of nerves, but they are a trained lot and are used to winning, so one cannot write them off. Ever. All in all, a good match, maybe the best in the tournament.

The Windies don't look good beyond the quarters, and Pakistan should surely sail through. New Zealand might fall as well, not enough batting depth again. England look tired and I don't see them last beyond the next match either. With the others, each is as good as the other, so they can keep their fingers crossed.

To Haridwar - The Gates to Hari

The drive from Dehradun to Haridwar is about 75 kms and almost all of it in plains. It is a scenic ride, with tall eucalyptus kind of trees on both sides of the wide road and lots of greenery as well. In retrospect I wish I had spent the entire day there because there was something serene and peaceful about just being there on the banks of the Ganges watching all the devotees move around, watching the Ganga flow by. We were just in time for the evening aarti at the 'Hari ki Pauri' ghat and we hurried down to the other side of the bridge where the aartis take place.
On the banks of the Ganga at Haridwar

There were steps leading into the Ganga all along the ghat. The clean, cool, flowing water was too much to resist and I dipped my feet in and washed my face with the water considered so holy that it washes away your sins. Many devotees stripped down and had a dip right there. Very refreshing indeed. And then there were several uniformed guards who were selling some tickets or rather seeking donations for the Ganga aartis or something like that. They have no specific amount in mind - they take whatever you give them and it is best to buy one ticket early on so you can wave the many other chaps along. I bought my ticket, ignored all the other offerings, camphor lit bunches of flowers and leaves that float in the water and other offerings to the Ganga and headed to the aarti which was about to start.
Viewing the sunset across the Ganga

The aarti is performed by pujaris from the temple on the other bank and it is a beautiful sight in the twilight to hear the symbols, the chants and watch the flames of the large aartis light up one after another. The whole spectacle goes on for about twenty minutes or so. I walked along the other shops, saw the ashrams, browsed through the many shops, gazed at the many pilgrims who came from all over the country, some from all over the world and headed back to Dehradun.
The crowd waiting in anticipation of the aarti

There is another ghat that is built in the middle, that splits the river, from where one can watch the aarti being performed and that is where I went. Of course as in all holy places the crowds do anything to get ahead in the celestial queue. Push the old, trample the weak, bully yourself and your family ahead, so we get to see the  Gods first! The tribe of the camera flashes and video recorders has increased and there were more people keener to record the event than actually witness it as it happened. I heard snatches of conversations between an old man who was more than seventy and his middle aged son - "We can download the video on to our computer right?" Right. India has arrived. What bothered me was that the enthusiasm at pushing and shoving everyone else to get ahead was not in evidence when the aarti was going on and the guards raised the slogan 'Ganga maiyya ki jai". Not many takers for that! Just a weak shout.
The aarti in progress and being recorded
This was in lean season. My mind boggles when I wonder what would happen during the Kumbh mela when millions of Hindus congregate here. Haridwar is considered one of the seven most holy cities for the Hindus, one of the four cities where droplets of amrit from the amrit manthan fell (the others being Ujjain, Nasik and Allahabad). The Kumbh mela is held once in 3 years in each of these places and that brings a 12 year cycle for the Kumbh at each of these places. The Hindus believe that by performing rituals during the Kumbh,  and bathing in the Ganga they wash away their sins and attain moksha. The Ganga, after travelling some 253 kims from the Gangotri glacier, enters the plains for the first time at Haridwar and hence the name (previously Gangadwar). Also, Hari ki Pauri is supposedly the exact spot where the amrit droplet fell.

Several places along the way, in the dense jungles there are signs that say that the 'elephants have right of way'. Apparently there are several elephants in the area and it is a common sight to have one of the jumbos amble on to the highway. If you are lucky you  find it in an amicable mood, else pray. The driver told me that it is best to switch off the lights and wait silently. The elephants get irritated with loud noises, horns and bright lights!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lecture at CMR IT, Hyderabad - A BusinessLine Initiative

As part of its lecture series for Management colleges, Businessline organized a lecture at CMR IT, Hyderabad and invited me to speak on the 18th of March 2011. I chose to speak on 'The Successful Manager's Mindset' which is something I love to speak upon because it gives me an opportunity to dwell on issues close to my heart. I also cannot pass by an opportunity to speak to 200 students at one go, more so because I feel that they need not make the kind of mistakes I did with my career. They can go through feeling a lot more empowered as they go about the course and their career afterwards.

The MBA is more or less seen as a tool that is more likely to fetch a job than a mere degree by most students. Few appreciate the fact that they can, as with any other course, leverage it to make a successful and satisfying career by applying themselves and getting their core concepts right. Mostly they seem to think, again specially in the B and C grade colleges, that the degree will itself give them some job, that it is probably the responsibility of the college to get them the job and all they need to do is attend college and maybe pass. This is a mindset that is totally dependent, completely unempowered and far from the kind of finished material one would expect from an MBA. Instead you do end up with several half baked MBAs who are happy even to take up clerical positions in secure jobs.

To me the mindset of the successful manager needs to be far more enterprising. He should be bursting with ideas, with the desire to learn and imbibe, to practice what he has learnt, to bring freshness, energy and new ideas to the work place. The successful manager is one who brings value to the table, who has the mindset to deliver, who produces results and not excuses. And for that, the students better prepare themselves before they enter the real world.

Gist of my talk:
"'The Successful Manager's Mindset' is applicable to any walk of life because it deals with the mindset of a successful person. More so to MBAs because they are looked upon as if they are superheroes. MBAs are expected to know things others don't, to be able to manage things better, even when they have not yet finished their course. However most MBAs, with the exception of the A schools, seem to be going around with the notion that just getting your degree is enough to and a job, that you are actually doing a favour to the company by just being there, and that you can learn at leisure on the job. To me that is not what the MBA is supposed to do, what a successful manager is supposed to do. As an MBA who is aspiring to be among the best, the successful, you need to be able to add value to the organization, you need to be able to take a fresh perspective to the situation, make minor changes that improve systems and profitability. Now if you can show some of this stuff in the interview stage itself you are a sure winner. If you can identify the problem areas, offer solutions, save costs, increase revenues...well the job is yours. But what is it that makes one do this? How can one be a fully baked MBA as opposed to a half baked one? There is only one word and that applies to anyone - be it the A school MBA or any other MBA - preparation.

As PG students it is time for you to understand that the period of handholding is over. You must now figure out what is good for you, what you want to add to your repertoire. This period is for preparation for the real world. How prepared are you? As an MBA you will be expected to manage companies, people, funds. But before that I ask you, how have you managed your own life? If you have never thought of it that way I suggest you start thinking because this is what we look for. The application of theory to life. The state of preparedness from the MBA.

So what do you prepare for and how? You will be expected to know all your theory well. The core concepts well. In the general management subjects and in your area of specialisation. Now on hears of the IIMs and the ISBs slogging away for 12-15 hours a day. Now as opposed to that see how many hours you are putting in. It is work but it must be done, so start pushing the hours during the rest of the time in college. Get your basics right before you head out for interviews. Now if your theory is iffy and you are good with about 60% now, push it to 75 or 80%. That is an improvement still. And do it for yourself. You are the judge.

Secondly, apply what you learnt as theory in your life. All the principles of management, of finance, of HR, of marketing can be applied to daily life. Start doing it. Take up small projects and see how you are coping. The building of a wall, the handling of finances, investment decisions, handling people, an event. Start small commercial ventures with no or low capital. These are indications of an active mind that is willing to learn and grow. And this is also one area where you can beat all else - putting theory into practice.

Thirdly, participate in life more actively. This throws up more opportunities, you meet more people, encounter new situations and that is what confidence is all about. The attitude to handle any situation as it comes up. It also makes you a well rounded individual.

As MBAs, you are expected to deliver precisely what you promised. Only the slightest deviations may be allowed if at all. That is how you have been trained. All education is scientific. But how is it then that what we say we will do in projects, we do not want to do with our lives. Why are our lives so fatalistic? So dependent on external factors? That is because you are not applying what you learned. Of having a clear goal, a plan, of acting on the plan and achieving it. It can be done. It has been done so many time before. Even you can do it.

There are many opportunities ahead of you. Form your opinions, be clear of what you want, your ethics, your goals, your vision for yourself, your country. Much is expected from you. We all believe you are capable of wonderful things. The important thing is that you must believe the same. Good luck to all of you. Thank you.'

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Visit to Chakrata - Up In the Hills

One day I set out to check out the places around Dehradun and inadvertently got sucked into a long drive up in the mountains to Chakrata. Now this is a pretty high spot in the hills and is stationed about 7000 ft over sea level which makes for some dizzying drives up narrow mountain roads that wind so often that you feel your mind in one direction, your body in another and your insides completely in another. Now after a few moments of this you are likely to feel like throwing up which is probably simpler than merely living with the feeling that you may throw up sometime. Anyway, the ride started off from the plains, through a lovely army base lined with the tallest trees I have seen in a long time. I got my first sighting of the Himalayan ranges and they are so massive and so many in number that its just awesome to watch. We started the wind up the narrow rod which was being repaired in many spots where there had been landslides and wound our way from one mountain range to another. The one thing that totally overpowers your consciousness is the amount of greenery, of trees, of crops, water, blue skies, fresh air.
Going up into the mountains, crossing a dry nala

The villages that dot the valleys are really quaint with some beautiful houses, little crops in front. Some hillsides are almost entirely cultivated or so it seems and almost all hillsides have these crisscross paths for people to walk down. Mini buses carry loads far in excess of their capacity as they head into the faraway villages. Work goes on as normal, school kids walk along with their bags trudging probably miles up and down the mountain roads to their schools, people are crowded around shops to have a glimpse of the cricket matches, chai is being drunk. All is well in the valley.
View from Chakrata, the snow capped mountains are merged in the clouds

On the way to Chakrata we pass the village Kalsi. Someone tells me that the population of Chakrata has always remained constant for many years. As we get closer to Chakrata which is a cantonment town, we notice that access is restricted and foreigners are not allowed to go up to the town. I also hear that there is a village near Chakrata called Devan, which is apparently the only place in India from where one can see the Great Wall of China on a clear day. Unfortunately I heard this piece of information after we descended back into the plains. There is a Tibetan unit of the Indian army up there, which our driver revealed rather secretively. He did not seem to like the Tibetans much for some reason.
Same view, with evidence

Up in Chakrata the breeze was so pure and fresh and cool that you feel purified almost instantly. That is how good, how pure the good God must have made this air that we breathe in. And it took me 40 plus years to discover that. It was amazing just breathing in that air. And to top it all i got the first sighting of the distant snow capped mountain ranges of the Himalayas, an awesome sight for the sheer grandeur, size and beauty. The little hotels on the hillside all have views overlooking the mountain ranges where one can sit and enjoy the meal or beverage while looking at the scenery. I soaked in the sun, had a nice hot chai, ate some biscuits, drank in as much of the scenery as I could, gulped in as much of the mountain air as I could and started the descent. Aaaaah!
 Now for the long winding ride down as we crunch gravel on the edges of the road on the steep side of the mountain!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Meeting With Ruskin Bond - In Mussoorie

The day I decided to go to Dehradun I also started doing some research on where Ruskin Bond lived.. I remembered reading somewhere that he lived somewhere up in the hills and as luck would have it, there was enough material on the net about how to find him. Several people who met him, wrote down about their meetings with him, his address, his numbers and there was at least one long video on you tube. I took down all the details, noted that he was open to meeting people, provided they called before, and got myself a whole bunch of Ruskin Bond books which I intended to get signed by him. Here was one author who I always wanted to read but never did and guess what, he wrote a few cricket stories as well. I called him at the land line number I found on the net and he said he would be in Mussoorie on the 18th so I could call and fix a time.
With Mr. Ruskin Bond in his room overlooking the mountains

I read his stories on the flight, in the airport, on the seven hour long drive to Dehradun, at every spare moment I could get, before I slept, with the morning tea, in every gap I got in those few days. The stories were easy to read, highly entertaining and so very relatable. They transported me back to a world I seemed to have left far behind - the world of summer vacations, blue skies, trees, Enid Blyton's. Ah, it was delightful! I finished most of the books I took along with me by the 16th itself. Now I knew him well enough from his childhood stories, his friends, his memories, his descriptions of people and places. Here was a man who grew up in the hills since his was born, grew up without his parents for most part of his life, decided to make a living with his writing at 17, decided that India was his home forever after a brief three year stint in England. Born of English and Indian parentage, Ruskin Bond however is as Indian as one can get. And if you speak to him once you know that - not a hint of the accent that so many Indians sport so fashionably. He has lived on the road, travelled with strangers, walked the mountains, made friends with all sorts of people, got by on his convictions, his belief and his love for writing. And to this day, his eye twinkles just as it must have when he and his friends had those wonderful times in Dehradun and Mussoorie.
The view from his house, the sun rises over these mountains

I called him on the 16th and we fixed up a time for 12ish because I had to travel from Dehradun to Mussoorie, a distance of 35 winding kilometers, which would take an hour. To make matters that much more interesting, there was a dharna at the narrow clock tower road on rebuilding the clock tower which had been brought down by an enterprising entrepreneur a few years ago, so I had to abandon the vehicle and travel uphill for about twenty minutes by foot, an activity which got my heart n my mouth. I stopped a couple of times, embarrassed at the shape I was in, at the ease with which all around me, young and old, were climbing the hills. Everyone seemed to know him and where he lived and why not, he has been the best ambassador for Dehradun and Mussoorie with such wonderful descriptions of places and people that you want to meet.
The windows on the right, first floor overlooking the mountains

I walked up to the place where the road splits, one going to Dhanolti which we had passed the previous day on our way to Tehri, and the other going further up into the Landour Hills. After turning the bend and climbing up a particularly steep incline, I found the house, or rather the red steps to the house, climbed up, found no bell, knocked on the silent doors, walked up another stair and knocked on another door, came back, wondered if this was the house, and finally called. I could hear the telephone right next to me, Mr. Bond's voice as he spoke to me, and then after disconnecting, I knocked on the door. And there was Mr. Ruskin Bond, Padmashree awardee and Sahitya Academy Award winner, writer of seventy books, smiling and welcoming me in.
On the way to his house, part of the white building on the right

I huffed and puffed my way into his study, a small room filled with books all over. Shelves, table tops, every flat surface was covered with books. There was the phone - he only uses a land line and he sat in the chair next to it. I sat on a couch and waited for my breath to come back to normal. I told him that I was delayed because of the dharna at the clock tower. I handed him a packet of the Karachi fruit biscuits which I had bought along for him. 'Thanks,' he said. 'I love biscuits.'
The path to the Bond house, 'just round the corner'

'Ah,' he said when I gave him a copy of 'The Men Within'. 'A novel on cricket.' As he saw the cover, I told him that maybe I made a mistake in assuming that TMW was the first novel on cricket in India, because he had written some stories on cricket too. 'Ranji' wonderful bat,' he said. 'But that was a short story. I wrote another one too where a girl plays the game, Koki. You know they made a Hindi movie with 'Ranji's wonderful bat' and never even told me about it. The story is the same and some of the dialogues as well. Not a word from them to me though. Rahul Bose acted in it.'

'Oh yes,' I said. 'Chain khuli ki main khuli. I saw that movie. It was pretty nice. But they ought to have acknowledged you somewhere.'
'I told Rupa my publishers,' he said. 'But they said it was too troublesome. So I left it at that.'

'I am not sure if you like reading about cricket,' I said apologetically. 'I know lots of authors must be giving you books and manuscripts to read. I also read in some book of yours that you did not like cricket that much. I got this as a gift to you and not to make you read it.'
'Oh no! I like reading about cricket. I played a bit of cricket here in Dehradun,' he said. 'We had a team. I was a bit of everything then - batsman,, bowler, fielder. But school cricket was not much fun. I was always the 12th man. I played football for the school though. I was captain,' he said.
'Ah, here is Rakesh,' said he introducing me to his adopted son. 'He plays a bit of cricket too. Hari is a first class cricketer.' Mr. Bond never married. However he has adopted a family that stays with him.
Another view from Landour

After Rakesh left, he smiled and told me a story.
'You know, once my friend, an IAS officer who now lives in Delhi, a first class cricketer from Orissa and an autograph collector to boot gave me Ian Botham's biograghy. He wanted Botham's signature on the book. I told him to give me the book and I would get Botham's autograph for him. After one week I gave it back to him with Botham's signature. He was surprised at how quickly I got the sign. I don't think he knows to this day that the sign is forged by me,' he laughed. Then I remembered that he is famous for signing away on other people's names especially if people mistake him for someone else. Enid Blyton, Pickwick and what not? His eyes lit up as he recounted the story.

'I saw a bit of cricket too. One test match at the Feroze Shah Kotla in the late 50s. The West Indies beat us in the first four tests and we held on to a draw in the last. Chandu Borde got a hundred I think.'
He turned the book around and saw the reviews on the back. 'Ah Rajan Bala,' he said. 'He writes on cricket does he not? He used to write for the Illustrated Weekly?' I told him that Rajan Bala was a well known cricket writer who had passed away a few years ago.
He saw the cover and asked. 'Is this a real school?' I said that the picture was a computer generated picture. I told him that the book has been made into a Telugu movie. 'Maybe,' he said. 'Someone might start a Golconda High School after your school.'
I asked him how his experience with 'Saat Khoon Maaf' was. 'I helped a bit with the script,' he said.
Mountains from Landour

I had asked him time for half an hour and it was getting to be closer to his lunch time so I brought out the books and requested him to sign them for me. He went inside and got his pen. He has such a lovely handwriting. He writes all his stories in longhand even now. He asked me to sign the copy of 'The Men Within' for him, which I did. He got me a copy of his book which had the cricket stories and signed that for me as well.

As we settled down for some serious talk I asked him how he wrote children' stories. My children stories don't seem to work I said. Something was not right with them I felt.
'Don't talk down to children,' he said. 'Don't preach. Write like you are one of them. Pretend you are one of them. It is easy for me because my friends say I am still fourteen.' I liked that piece of advise. I think I will revisit my children stories again with this advise.
Another question that always intrigued me was how children were so drawn to fantasy, magic and even the ghost stories and I asked the same.
'Yes, children seem to like to escape into some fantasy world,' said Mr. Bond. 'They like all these things that allow them to escape. They also like to be scared. Not too much. Just enough to feel the thrill.'
I wondered aloud if it was because we like relating ghost stories to one another. In fact a great deal of my one hour travel to Mussoorie was spent discussing the existence of the 'bhoot aunty' ghost that Mr. Bond wrote about. This particular ghost apparently lives on the Dehradun-Mussoorie road and takes lifts and causes accidents. When I told the driver, he told me twenty stories in return, especially about the Englishman ghost in Mussoorie who asks for a cigarette and vanishes.
'I never saw a ghost in my life,' laughed the writer of several ghost stories. 'But I have heard of so many ghost stories in the hills.'

I asked him how he knew so much about the flora and fauna of the place, trees, birds, flowers. He laughed. 'Oh I grew up here,' he smiled. 'And if you don't know some name, just make up some name. That might become the original name for all you know.' That was a  relief but he seemed to take things in that spirit. Nothing was sacred.

I asked him what he thought of life, what he learnt in life. 'Life?' he smiled. 'I never think about it too much. But when the going got tough I worked harder that is all. I have been writing for fifty years now. For forty years I have had the odd cheque coming in and financially, I was just about making do. Only in the last ten years have things been looking up financially. But no complaints. There is always tomorrow to look forward to. At this stage in my life there is no point in planning too much ahead. But I do plan my work.'

He asked about my publisher. 'Do you get your statements regularly from your publisher?' he asked.
I replied honestly that my publisher does not send statements regularly.

'I was in Hyderabad three years ago,' he said. 'I was invited by Odyssey for an event. What are the other bookstores in Hyderabad?' I reeled off the names - Crossword, Landmark, Odyssey, Walden, Akshara, A.A.Husain...He connected with the names of Walden and A.A.Husain. I told him he could be my guest when he is in Hyderabad next. He smiled. 'I don't travel much these days,' he said. 'But let's see.' I told him that we have our own Literary Festival now and he seemed pleased to hear that. 'I went to Jaipur this time,' he said. 'It was fun meeting all the writers and others.'

The telephone rang. 'A debate? That is the last thing I would like to do. I am sorry but I fall asleep at the first speech.' Then he turned to me and said. 'You have to be firm. I cannot judge debates. I fall asleep.'
Another perspective of Mussoorie from the top

I asked him if I could get a picture with him and he ushered me into his bedroom. 'There is more light here,' he said. Rakesh clicked two pictures. 'Ah, very tall,' said Mr. Bond as I stood next to him. 'You must have been a fast bowler.' I nodded. The two windows overlooked the mountains. I asked him where the sun rose from. He indicated the mountains across the window. 'The morning sun falls directly on my bed,' he said. It was a fantastic sight, the mountains and I can only imagine how it would look at sunrise. Must be magnificent. That would certainly be a view you cannot trade for all the gold in the world.

I collected my stuff and bid goodbye. As I left the house and the door was shutting behind me I heard his voice calling after me. 'And thank you for the biscuits.'

If I had not met him, I would not have believed it but that is how he lives his life. In his two rooms, his Mussoorie, his Dehradun, his walks, his writing. There was so much more I wished I could have spoken because we were just getting warmed up and there was much to ask and hear. Maybe I will get a chance to do that later. Until then Mr. Bond, fare well!