Friday, May 30, 2014

Where are the yorkers?

MSD has forever been saying that he wants his bowlers to bowl yorkers in the death. It's a known, tried and tested theory that the toe crusher is probably the hardest ball to hit. It is also the hardest to bowl because the margin for error is so small that a full toss can disappear for a six or a full length ball can be dispatched over the long on fence. But that is precisely the reason why bowlers who want to be good at the death in T20s, should practice the yorker until its perfect. So perfect that they can bowl 24 on 24.

If Malinga can get it right at will, he must be doing something right. The yorker requires long hours of practice because one needs to sharpen all of one's focus into a single spot that is not more than two inches in dia. While bowling any other ball, bowlers can afford to go into a wide area, or a box, of almost 2 feet a side. (Most bowlers can't get even that right - you'd be surprised at how many will miss the box or how they will miss all three open stumps. Remember how many bowlers missed hitting the three stumps in the first T20 World Cup shoot out?). But with a yorker, the bowler picks the spot, I normally pick the spot midway up the batsman's shin facing me, and look to hit that spot bang on. Now the spot cannot be more than two inches in dia and requires great concentration, loads of practice to get it right at will. That's all. Loads of practice and you can bowl it 24 balls out of 24. Give or take a 10% off the mark, you're still in good space.

MSD brought back old war horse Nehra for CSK and I saw how he bowled a set batsman like Kohli and the dangerous AB de Villers with straight yorkers. In fact the De Villiers ball was not even a perfect yorker. Instead of keeping it simple, I find that these huge think tanks of coaches and mentors are confusing the hell out of bowlers who now have no clue where there are bowling. Bowling as wide as the return crease, bowling full tosses on the hips, bowling length balls, badly directed slow balls - getting repeatedly hit for sixes - shows the confusion and lack of clarity, thought process and certainly skill. And then you see the clarity and precision of Nehra's yorkers and see the difference. Nehra can do it all day, bowling from a two step run up.

A whole season Waqar Younis, one of the greatest exponents of yorkers, spent with the Sunrisers and I don't see their bowling being any better for it. Can't blame him, the coaching unit needs to think up the strategy well. Nor do I find the KKR which has the other great exponent of yorkers, Wasim Akram, among its coaching line up, doing anything with that toe crushing match winning delivery (though Umesh Yadav showed how destructive he could be in the qualifier against Punjab). Again, can't blame Akram, because he can teach if they are willing to see and use it as a weapon.

I put this confusion and bad death bowling down to a case of having too many mentors, too little clarity, bad strategy and even lesser focus on development of skill. I do believe that games can be won mostly with good bowlers who can defend even six or seven runs in an over. I'd like to see more of that happening too.

The Moon and Sixpence - Somerset Maugham

An extraordinary tale which could only be based on real life, 'The Moon and Sixpence' is loosely based on the life of painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). What is extraordinary about the French artist's life is the manner in which he completely surrenders to art as he sees it leaving behind any distractions from his pursuit of art - family, friends, material possessions, love, fame, recognition. Merely art for art's sake.

In the novel however Maugham writes about a character called Charles Strickland, an English stockbroker. Maugham puts the narrator as a young writer who makes some acquaintances in the writerly circles in London. In one of those parties he meets Mrs. Strickland, wife of the dull stockbroker, who does not understand nor cares for literature or arts. One fine day, Strickland the boring, leaves his wife an children, with almost nothing to sustain themselves on. When the narrator is sent to Paris to convince Charles to return he says he does not care to return because he wants to paint. He has been drawn to painting and has been taking classes and wants to devote his life to it without any distractions. Charles lives in abject penury, has no money to get by, does odd jobs to sustain himself but goes about painting. He encourages no friends, no discussion and no love affairs because he does not wish to get distracted.

In time, the narrator moves to Paris and meets the highly anti-social and despicable but clearly focussed  Strickland and another character Stroeve, who loves to paint but has no talent of it. What Stroeve is good at is identifying talent and he puts up with Strickland's bad behavior because he believes he is a great artist. When Strickland is mortally ill he takes him and cares for him. Strickland begins an affair with Stroeve's wife, Blanche, showing no sense of remorse for Stroeve nor his wife. Blanche finally commits suicide when she realises that Strickland cares for nothing but art. Stroeve leaves Paris in distress but offers Strickland a home in Holland where he can paint in peace. Stroeve forgives all the excesses of the genius.

From Paris to Tahiti, marrying a native, living in penury and still painting, falling ill to a dreaded disease and painting on through his illness until he dies, Strickland's mad obsession continues. What is even greater is his refusal to market himself or even seek recognition, critique or fame. His best works that are painted in Tahiti, are burnt down with the hut in which he lived after his death,, as desired by him. But whatever is left of his works, pick up great demand after his death and gives some comfort and fame to his family, Mrs. Strickland and her children.

It is extraordinary. Some lines must be quoted (all spoken by the taciturn Strickland).
'A woman can forgive a man for the harm he does her but she can never forgive him for the sacrifices he makes on her account.'

'I don't want love. I haven't time for it. It's a weakness..'

'I can't overcome my desire, but I hate it; it imprisons my spirit; I look forward to the time when I shall be free from all desire and can give myself without hindrance to my work.'

'I know lust. That's normal and healthy. Love is a disease.'

'Women are the instruments of pleasure, I have no patience with their claim to be helpmates, partners, companions.'

Strickland is a fantastic character. The book has been made into a Hollywood movie.

My deal friend Mohan gave me the book and I am grateful to him for having thought of introducing me to these ideas. Thanks Mohan.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nebraska - Movie Review

Old man shuffling along the highway. He is taken home by the sherriff. Turns out he is going to Nebraska to collect a million dollars he has won. He cannot drive because he does not have a license. His wife does not want to drive him, nor does anyone else, because they all know that he got a sham sweepstakes ticket. But his kind younger son offers to drive his father and get over this fixation of that ticket. On the way they meet their family, old friends and rake up old memories. Son gets to see father in different light. They go to the office and return with no money. But everyone finds something in the journey, definitely bigger than the lottery.

Simple theme. Beautifully done. Not a moment too long. Perfect. Loved it. Watch it.

500 Days of Summer - Movie Review

Summer is a pretty girl that our hero meets at work. They do many things together. Hero likes her, loves her. She does not believe in love. It appears that they are headed into something good when it turns out that it veers off the normal course. Hero is in pain. Summer tells him that though she understands what love means now, she found it with someone else. Hero slowly comes out of pain and find a new love. Autumn.

It's shown in days. 45, 324, 500, 457 and such random numbers where you get to piece what happened along the way. Brilliant stuff this. The story is also one of pain that one feels when one is young. Nicely done. I felt the pain. Certainly recommended for the story and the non-linear narrative. Fresh!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Where are the Parks and Playgrounds?

One of the most lamentable issues that we face in Hyderabad is the severe shortage of play grounds and parks. Children have no place to play, people have no place to congregate, walk, exercise. When we were kids, we had many open spaces, play grounds to run about, to play cricket. Now I see the children in the colony jostling with cars on the road to get a game of french cricket. It's pathetic.
Interior of park filled with makeshift temples in the middle of Srinagar Colony
We had enough empty plots in our colony to begin with. Then we had the open grounds in ESI Hospital where we played many matches. Then we had the even more bigger grounds of TB Hospital where we played some more games. Not to mention the open ground across the road from ESI, or the grounds at AG Colony. When we wanted a regular ground we could always go to Ameerpet.

Now ESI is gone, AG and TB Hospital grounds are gone. Ameerpet grounds has a monstrous building that houses a swimming pool and badminton court but the ground has been reduced by half.

 For exercise we did not need parks but in recent years we find that these small getaways for morning walks are so necessary. One can think of KBR which serves as the lungs of Hyderabad, almost single handedly catering to a large population that comes from all over. But apart from that we find few parks to walk about. The one near my colony is an exception and I have written about it earlier. Krishnakanth Park, claimed from a garbage heap, now serves as the lung space for thousands of people.

If I remember right it was during Chandra Babu Naidu's time that several parks were crated, reclaimed and even constructed. Lumbini park and NTR park, the parks around Necklace road apart, several other parks, including the one near my colony came up from wastelands. What would have been grabbed by landsharks thus became public conveniences and began providing joy to thousands. Yes. Thousands. All they need is their rightful space, to sit by,  read a book, listen to the birds, meet a friend, to look ta nature.

But for all the good work one sees some shady business. There are many little areas assigned for parks by the Municipal authorities which have disappeared. I remember an article in the Hindu a few months ago which highlighted some of the parks that have been taken over by some elements depriving the public of their space. I know of one of those.

In the middle of Srinagar Colony, close to Satya Sai Nigamagamam, is a road side shop that sells vegetables. It is a flourishing affair. But behind this shop lies a cute little space assigned for a public park. However there seems to be no access to this park thanks to the shop and whatever else is now on the pavement. But what is inside the park is more interesting. It is full of makeshift temples, idols which someone has decided to install there. A few characters come by, light candles etc and keep up the facade of religious fervour in the public park. Where all this is leading everyone knows. The park may become a temple, or even an apartment block for all one knows, in a few years.

However my grouse is with the authorities who have chosen to ignore that article written so well with pictures etc. What would it take fro the municipal authorities to wake up, reclaim the park and give a fresh pair of lungs and trees and plants to the neighbourhood? Why are they so careful not to disturb this obvious mischief? Especially when they are so alert when it comes to the slightest signs of construction activity in your house. Come on GHMC. Do your job.

The people who live around the park also do not complain. they do not behave like a community. They are all to themselves. But it is their park, their property. They can all go there and enjoy their mornings and evenings. Wonder what will now happen to this brand of land grabbing under the ruse of building temples where none existed?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Accepting New Leadership, New Thoughts

I find many people whose views differed especially with respect to who should lead the country, getting paranoid. 'The country will go to dogs' some say, 'we must be afraid' say some others. Before elections it makes sense for each one to have their own ideas and opinions built on their knowledge, perception and experience. But what I find lacking is the knowledge of the roles one has to play at different points in time which results in these people staying out of the process because of their old thoughts.

For example, if one supported AAP and not Modi for whatever reasons pre-elections, one need not get paranoid at the way BJP won. In fact the old role of supporting AAP makes sense in a democracy, but any party that comes to power with  such sweeping mandate should be recognised, and accepted as the new reality. The role now as a citizen of India should not be to spread paranoia or to forecast doomsday predictions or wait for the new government to make mistakes so we can say I-told-you-so, but to slip into the new scheme of things and do your best to help move forward. It is new leadership, new thought and it may not think like you, but it is the leadership that is voted in. So it makes no sense to step outside the process in protest. In fact, it is your duty to support the leadership. It is the first role, as the citizen of the country to stay together, to support our chosen leadership fully.

It does not mean sacrificing your thought. Express your thought, your dissent, and keep the leadership and new thought aware that other perspectives exist and will be voiced and heard. In fact the role of the opposition is the same - to keep the party in power alert and aware, on its feet - so the best decisions are made. In this seesaw one must always look for the best interest of the country, of the team as a whole, of which we are part of. That is the intent of keeping the debate alive, the perspectives alive.

For too long we have been a divisive lot happy to pull down others even if it affects us negatively in the long run. For too long we have taken pride in pulling down our own people who are trying to do something different or think differently. We must now think as one, know our roles and play them out. As a team, as a country we are one and no one, not even a leadership that comes in with a thumping majority, can shake that unity. Our allegiance should be for that thought. No deviation,, no divisive talk or act should be tolerated. As an individual our role is to voice our opinion and be heard, pointing our deficiencies or bad policies fearlessly and keeping the government on its toes. In its true form democracies will be at their best only when people participate fully, fearlessly. To do that well, one must know the roles clearly - that of a member who must support the team despite a difference of opinion and the other of the member who sees the leadership does not veer away from common good.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Day Out at Abids Second Hand Book Stores

Vinod is a regular at the second hand book market at Abids. He goes there religiously every Sunday and picks up great books by the dozen which are all posted on his blog. Several years ago I'd made a visit to the market with him and bought many books which I have not read yet. Now I got another chance.
Vinod at the left (with cap) and Raja on the right
Raja is in town and he mooted the idea of checking the market and also meet Vinod at the same time. So we landed up at the rendezvous 'Best Tea Cafe' in a narrow gully opposite Santosh Sapna. Vinod was already partaking of some Irani chai with two of his mates, Uma Shankar, whom I have met earlier, and Srikanth. They were eating a Khajoor, a Hyderabadi delicacy which I tasted a bit of.

Vinod at the Abids second hand book market
 After  sipping chai and talking about books, politics and movies, (which is the right way to do it) we moved out caps and all (its hot). The pavements opposite Santosh-Sapna theatres are paved with book sellers and their second hand wares. The book shops flow into chosen lanes and nooks, spaces that open up on the Sunday which are not available on other days, such as the space near Bata on Tilak Road. Vinod reckons there are about 30-50 stores open on any Sunday. Say each one has 200 books at a conservative estimate it comes to some 5000 titles at a conservative estimate - all of them with some saleable value. Fantastic.
Stall that had a copy of my book
As one walks you find great covers beckoning you, familiar faces, designs, best selling authors, books you have heard of but  never seen, old favorites that tempt you again, books that remind you of times gone by. Fiction, non-fiction, academic. Buyers walk by and you can see them all walking in a peculiar manner, heads turned to take in any cover that might beckon them, in a manner one searches for a beloved almost. Some sit by patiently, some bargain, some old clients are greeted by the sellers, some merely browse, some come for interviews - all sorts.
Close up 
I saw some books on leadership and stuff that I was tempted to buy but I stopped myself. A book on Steve Jobs interested me, one on the Google story but that was a pirated one. Raja had picked up a few already and Vinod used his practiced eye to pick up three titles in a 'any book for Rs. 20' pile. Uma Shankar and Srikanth had wandered off somewhere by then.
Vinod sifting through
I saw young girls, old men, young men, students, young fiction readers, parents. While walking towards GPO we passed by a store that had 'The Men Within' in its titles. I took a picture and checked to see if I had signed it to someone. None. A Flipkart product. Good. As we walked along Vinod showed me another copy. This one was signed to the children of the ML Jaisimha Cricket Academy. Some kid had read it and sent it along.
Raja sifting through
We walked along until we reached the place where Palace theatre stood three decades ago. I do not know why but I remember an old Ajanta Cool Drinks shop in that lane (three decades ago). They'd serve cool drinks of his own make in a shop, full of mirrors and many rules and regulations. Don't comb your hair was one. Perhaps hair in the drums of cool drinks would compromise quality (find better ways guys). But the drinks were good then and I thirsted for them. I had an able supporter in Raja and as we searched for it we found a whole new mall, ugly as hell. No Ajanta Cool Drinks. Must have gone a decade ago.

We walked to GPO and some more books were bought. Uma Shankar and Srikanth waited here. Slowly we walked back in the heat towards Tilak Road. On the main road I found the third copy of 'The Men Within'. It looks like all my readers have decided to sell their copies to second hand book stores. This one was signed too. To Sridhar. How could you Sridhar? Et Tu. See this heartfelt message I wrote for you. It's a funny feeling. Knowing that you're jostling with the greats, and also a bit sad that my dear readers are not keeping the book under their pillow and sleeping.

I found one book I wanted to buy and asked the chap how much. It was 195. He said he'd sell it for 100. Vinod suggested 60. Shop man said 80. I said 60. He said no. I shrugged. Shop keeper shrugged. I gave him back the book. He took it. I turned away. He turned away. No books for me.

At the corner we found that Daniel had joined us. By now the heat was sharp and we had already done enough for one day so Raja and I excused ourselves but not before we took a picture of all the raiders of the Abids Second Hand Book Market with their loot. I took the picture and hence I am missing.
The Raiders with the loot - Srikant, Daniel, Vinod, Raja and Uma Shankar
I asked Vinod some tips to go about this business of buying stuff here. Carry a cap, he said. Good. Carry water, he said, Great. Bargain, he said. Wonderful. He said he got some great books for as low as Rs. 5, Rs. 10. Look for them.

So ended our trip to the second hand book market in Abids. We left out the small arm which protrudes into the Nampally Road, the one that has Annapurna Hotel. Otherwise the market starts somewhere close to Santosh-Sapna (road opposite and goes down to GPO and then on to Nampally Road.

Thanks Vinod for the tour and Uma, Srikanth and Daniel for the company. Until the next time then.

Interview - A Perspective On How The Youth See Things

While at Bangalore last month I spotted Shikha and her friends talking earnestly to one another and realised that here was an opportunity I was looking for. For a long time I have been wanting to peek into the minds of the youth and try to understand their hopes and aspirations, fears and burdens. I knew that like most youngsters their age Shikha and her friends were at the crossroads too, having to decide, having to grow up and carry as most do, unrealistic expectations society and parents have from the young these days. There is pressure no doubt, but there is also the prospect of delicious change, freedom. Much has changed from twenty years ago.
Yours truly with the young ladies - Pragya, Meher and Shikha (and Anjali who joined us)
I wanted to see what they made out of the whole situation and asked Shikha if she would consent for an interview. She did better. She invited two of her friends, Meher Kaliyadan and Pragya Sahni to join the discussion. Pragya was delayed so we started without her.

Shikha is studying in her 12th and is sure she wants to pursue humanities, teach perhaps. Meher is preparing for CLAT, her law entrance, having completed her 12th. Pragya is preparing for her medical entrance.

1) In a world that is increasingly materialistic and spoilt for choice how does one cope?
A) Meher said that she thought it was all transient in a way. She tends to look less materially at things as of now and considers herself more of an ascetic. Not that she is averse to luxury. But luxury by itself is no motivation for her she said.

Shikha was of the opinion that chasing material things as a goal appears pointless. She'd rather do things and experience them rather than do things to gain material comforts.

2) What does success mean?

Meher said it was more about how society looked at her as a person than about her earnings etc. The respect she earned from society would be a good indicator she said. It would be more about how much she could help people and do something to contribute to change.

Her image of success was of being in a place where she could help the ones who really needed help. As deep down as child trafficking, prostitution etc.

Shikha said that to her success was about being happy. About being in the moment. About enjoying what she is doing. She doesn't think money is everything as some may define success as. She is not being unrealistically idealistic she says and wants to be ideally at a stage where she can support herself and be independent. Success is equal to happiness. Is about doing what she wanted to do.

Her visual of success was of being in a people-related area. Being with and helping people.

3) Is being financially independent important?
Meher said it would be important to secure herself financially. More as a state of mind, where she would be emotionally secure. Where her financial independence gives her the freedom to earn her own self-respect and not be relegated to being a hypocrite. But being financially independent would still make her a person who is open to suggestions, be someone who is not judging

Shikha sees herself as financially independent. No two ways about that.

4) Do you feel a pressure, subtle or otherwise, of choices, of growing up? How do they view society, the country?

Meher said she thought the pressure was imposed on them by society. But then she says it could well be a figment of imagination. But she does feel pressure subtly, not directly perhaps. Finds it disturbing. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of amenities, filth. She feels that the government is non-existent.

I asked if she could find a way to change it, what would she do.
She said she could be kind to others. Kindness breeds kindness. Cannot agree with her more.

Shikha was bothered by the images of poverty, illiteracy, unhappiness, She sees money being involved everywhere, greed, chronic dissatisfaction in society.

Finds the system corrupt. Overall finds the situation rather hopeless.

At her individual level she feels that she can change things by avoiding participating in corruption, By standing up.

5) Did you experience corruption?

Meher talked about how she was to join a reputed Law institute in Pune and could not because there was a large donation involved. In cash of course. What is it if that is not a bribe she asks. She gets upset when autowallahs overcharge, when grocers give chocolates instead of change.

Shikha experienced the same. She added traffic cops to the list too.

6) How do you view the youth? The pluses and minuses.

Meher found youth to be exuberant, energetic, wanting to do things, achieve, outshine, go beyond societal boundaries. On the other hand, on negatives, she finds them too shallow, indifferent, materialistic, egoistic, arrogant, stuck in the rat race.

Shikha felt that the youth wants to achieve, has great ideas and opinions, has energy. On the negatives she finds too many stereotypes, easily judgmental, competition and exam related in academics with little understanding of the subject. She feels they are too closed minded.

7) Is there a burden to prove yourself?
Meher said there was. CLAT would be a test. But on the other hand it is more about myself too. My own self respect, my independence. I do it for myself.

Do you feel like you have the freedom to choose or that you have to appease and gain approval I asked.
Meher:  Do I feel completely myself. No, I feel like I am being 70% someone else.

Shikha found the burden too. Don't want to do things everyone wants to do.

Do I feel completely myself? Not really. Approval is important to me I realise. I need to listen more.

Pragya who was studying for her medical entrance joined us then. She wants to crack the  entrance. She is certain she does not want to do engineering. I feel guilty I am not putting in enough effort sometimes she says.

8) Your role models in society, at home?
Meher said her grandfather was a huge role model for her. Not so much about what he acquired in his life but about his approach to life and commitment to work and people. She does not believe in finding role models outside her life and wants to be her own role model. She says she can find inspiration in any living thing that can commit an act of excellence or beauty. Sweepers, cats, dogs.

Shikha finds a great role model in her cousin Hari who exudes a sense of calm within, her father Rajesh because he is so positive and so simple and so focused and hardworking. She finds Mary Kom and Malala great role models from world figures

Pragya picked her Dad as her role model as he is principled, thoughtful and wants to be like him

9) What are your favorite top 3 movies?
Meher liked Pride and Prejudice, Silver Linings Playbook, Benjamin Button
Shikha picked 3 Idiots, Highway, Queen and all movies on Romedy Now
Pragya picked PS I love you, A Walk to Remember and Faltu

10) What are your favorite books / authors?
Meher picked Jane Austen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Divakurani Banerjee, LM Montgomery (Pride and Prejudice, In the woods, in her books)
Shikha picked the famous Indian writer Harimohan Paruvu, an eminently good choice I must add. She said she liked reading autobiographies more than fiction.
Pragya liked the Twilight series, the Chicken soup series and Physics

11) Do you see hope that you will achieve what you dream of today?
Meher said she believes she will bloom any which way, if she can bloom in adversity. Yes she says. She is certain.
Shikha was optimistic that her future will be whats she wants it to be, rosy. Yes again.
Pragya said that she was 100% sure it will happen. A resounding Yes.

Lovely. So our short interview ended on a nice, high and positive note. It felt like we discussed far more than I captured here because there was much discussion going on. Good energy, good insights, good clear heads. A sense of idealism which is what makes the youth so full of hope, of dreams of changing the world. It is this spark that needs to be kept alive and grown so their dreams come true, so they see a society they wish to live in and not merely buy our leftover dreams of a society that might not be the ideal one for them. The world has changed so much, is changing as we speak, and they have ridden the wave almost as it came in. Our fears need not restrain them, our experiences need not guide them. They must be able to choose fearlessly, clearly and find the support  to change the world from within the classroom, the courtroom, the hospital. I was pretty impressed by the quality of thought and replies and would have loved to continue for longer. There is a good balance between technology and tradition, old and new, optimism and cynicism, with the balance being in favour of the positive.

There is so much more I wanted to talk to them about. Some other time perhaps. But for now, it certainly looks like the future is on good hands. Thanks Shikha, Meher and Pragya for your time and for sharing your thoughts so honestly and earnestly with me.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Elections 2014 - There Is Some Sense, Some Hope Out There

From a state of not being able to make any sense of some of the predictions that I heard, to the quality of leaders on show, to the kind of promises, bravado and behavior put up by the Prime Ministerial candidates, to the manner in which people responded to public meetings, I finally heaved a sigh of relief and came to the conclusion that there is sense in this whole process of democracy. Finally sense prevailed, and by and large it appeared that the people voted for what seemed to be their best interests based on what they heard, saw and felt.

Despite all the negativism surrounding Narendra Modi and his past, he was always going to emerge the strongest candidate for the job of the Prime Minister. He came riding on the back of a successful model in Gujarat, showing vision and thought, and ideas of how he proposes to lead the country. In his opposition the main rival Congress put up Rahul Gandhi who was woefully inadequate to handle the mantle of the leader of the world's largest democracy. Caught in its own web of sycophants who never oppose, never tell the truth, and a leadership that probably does not have the time to listen to good counsel, the Congress put up a candidate that compromised any hope of that party putting a fight. A true case of the emperor's new clothes and the party could do well to address these fundamental issues - that the people will not tolerate such follies that can be thrust upon the party surely, but not on citizens across India. On the other hand we had the promising Arvind Kejriwal who for some reason decided to fight his election against Modi in Varanasi. Why would you want to do that unless you are caught up in some childish whim? Why can't you remain faithful to your constituency and get elected and do some good and in five years come back with a better case? Why this huge hurry? Why this arrogance? This childishness? Anyway both these parties hogged enough limelight and fared badly mainly due to their own abysmal and thoughtless decision making, arrogance and unrealistic views. Modi would have sailed through without any effort considering the opposition he had, and even he would not have expected to romp home with such a convincing majority. Thankfully the people of India gave him the mandate and told the others to go clean up their act. Very heartening indeed.

Now the time has come to deliver. All this while, parties got stuck in coalition politics and could never decide on their own. Now is the chance to do all that the BJP felt was right. Such an opportunity comes rarely and the BJP must make the most of it. There cannot be any excuses for not fulfilling its promises. How they will be able to maneuver themselves and the political machinery against these tricky issues needs to be seen. But they cannot wish them away surely and must address them.

A more heartening feature was the election in Andhra Pradesh. If reports were to be believed (including the alleged report compiled by some high level experts) YSRCP was to sweep the polls. I was aghast that this party led by a leader who is facing corruption charges of humongous proportions and has been in jail for that, who has displayed no great signs of administration nor political maturity and who has always been a man in a hurry, should win. More so against a veteran like Chandrababu Naidu who has proved his administrative capabilities before. But once again the people of Seemandhra showed great sense and despite attending the rallies of Jaganmohan Reddy in great numbers, voted Naidu, his track record and political acumen into power. TRS won in Telangana which is not unexpected.

It is a fair verdict. The mandate has been given to the right people, or shall we say the best candidate son view. Now they have no excuse for not delivering all that they promised, all that they said they would do. It is obviously a much smarter people they are dealing with, one that is looking out for its bigger and collective good, going beyond narrow communal and regional biases. It augurs well for the people. Now to see if we have the leaders we deserve.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Indian Railways Experience

Another journey (not of recent vintage) and some more stories. I travelled sleeper class this one time and the story is just the same as it was many years ago. People land up without reservation in reserved bogies and sit on the corner or clamber up to the berths on top. Most are offended that those who have reserved berths are not sharing what they have. While at that, they take full liberty to eat and mess up the berth before heading off at their station.

Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs) are pretty helpless and behave as if they have no power to deal with the unreserved people. They seem to think they have power only over the reserved class. So they look at the reserved guy and in a strict voice seek proof of id etc and look them up and down. They are not half as strict with the guy who has no reservation.

But what happens when it gets dark is interesting. There are those who have RAC but no confirmation and they are looking for any empty berth. They identify the berth, sneak up, sit for a while, bend over, snuggle and then stretch. This entire job may take about 20 minutes and they are fast asleep after that. If you have reserved that berth by some chance and wake the gentleman up, he gets very offended and gets off leaving a wet-with-drool berth for your enjoyment.

Where are the police? What if any of those guys was a robber? A terrorist? A bomber? What security does anyone have at all on the train. What's to prevent anyone from running off with bags, from molesting sleeping passengers, from hurting anyone? I heard of a mad man who stabbed a seven year old to death on the Secunderabad Railway Station - he could be on the train too.

Much of the reserved class experience in the train depends on the security and on the empowerment of the TTE to provide the facilities and a secure environment. But somehow the TTEs behave as if the reserved passenger is an intrusion in his life, not one of the purposes. Why would he be bothered about a reserved passenger after all because all the reserved passenger does is crib and complain. No water, loo is dirty, unreserved fellows are troubling, eunuchs and harassing, sheets are not here, beggars are robbing etc. The reserved passenger will not run after the TTE to beg his highness for favors, slip in some money. I will not generalise here but in my experience most TTEs have been this way though the odd TTE has been strong and clear enough to make the experience a good one.

Much energy is certainly for the reserved passenger in his constant endeavour to keep his space, his place, his bags, his berths, his cleanliness and at times his modesty secure. (There have been the odd experiences of people making passes at the opposite sex and sometimes at the same sex.) But like most things in India, gear up for it in advance, prepare well for these slight aberrations and all will be well. And while at that, its most times not as bad as this, so fear not dear traveller and hop on.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mysore Palace By Night

The Palace
It was by some coincidence a sound-and-light show or rather light-and-sound show (because light travels faster) at the Mysore Palace. It was a rather haphazard affair where you sit in chairs in the lawns facing the palace. The commentary was in Kannada and we tried o make the most of it. The sights were nice though. Some pics.

The entrance
Another view of the palace.
The Palace with more details
And then the lights went on and it was a brilliant sight to behold. Glitter, glitter, gold, gold.
Worth the wait anytime. Someone told me that the Mysore palace has more visitors per year than the Taj. No reason to disbelieve that I guess.

Thought for the Day - Now Is The Only Dream

We hear this often. That our dreams must come true. That our dreams are dashed. That our illusions are shattered.

Sometimes I do wonder what these dreams are. Are they visions of a life sold by advertisers? Dreams that may never come true because you really don't want them? I look at my dreams and wonder what are the dreams that I care for. That I'd really want to come alive. I cannot find too many that go beyond what I have in my present.

What I really care is this. It is perhaps a laugh I share with someone. I quiet midnight tea with someone who really loves me. An hour of play with old friends. Mindless banter. A kind word. A helping gesture. A ray of sunlight. A softly blowing breeze. A cool sip of water. A haunting melody. A fragrance. A touch. A walk with that special someone. A good night's sleep.

A day when I wake up with all my dreams compressed into that one moment - that now. Ah, I could hug that forever and sink back. Cannot ask for more.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bowling Tips From an Expert - Mr. Rehmat Baig

Mr. Rehmat Baig is one of the best when it comes to teaching fast bowling. He is the one who made my bowling  penetrative each time I went to him when I was young. My other fast bowling mates also said the same thing - he's magic, they said. One session with him and the ball would start doing things. He is one of the very few who can teach swing bowling. And one of the fewer who knows how to coach. He would right, with over three and a half decades of coaching behind him.

I caught up with him the other day and asked him the key things to keep in mind for a bowler. We deconstructed the act of bowling into 3 parts - the run up, the action and the follow through.

Run Up
Run on your toes. Move hands and legs rhythmically as an athlete does when running.

There are three ways to run - jog, run and sprint. I prefer that they run at that running speed from the beginning to the action (not accelerate as was the earlier theory).

The bowler can experiment in practice to find the ideal speed.

If you run too fast, you lose balance. Too slow and you end up using the shoulder.

The jump should be high, not long. When you jump high, you can control the body. When you jump long, you lose balance.

While running in look at the spot where you want to pitch or at the stumps.

All four limbs must be in play in the action. 2 hands and 2 legs must work together.

Side on action is best, for injury free play.

As you get into the action, the leading leg must be raised high. The stretch however, should be short, enabling the whip like action to follow.

The back leg in follow through must be long.

Release the ball at 60% angle to the horizontal on the way down to get the good length.

Give ball more air to allow it to swing.

Fast bowlers must impart back spin on seam.

Follow through
It is vital to get direction right.

A follow through of 8 steps and an aggressive run down the pitch, towards first slip is recommended.

It completes the action and adds an extra something to the ball.

Also looks graceful.

That then is the fast bowling tutorial. Let me see if I can pick some pictures next time to illustrate what he is saying. Happy fast bowling.

Drama Queen - Suchitra Krishamoorthy

There's no doubting this. Suchitra K can write. Here she vents it all in a work of true fiction based on her real life. She chooses one angle, gets very honest about it, tells it in a tone that;s funny and not heavy, perhaps spices it a bit and cooks up a readable dish. But just barely because it hinges dangerously on - is she okay or is she crazy kind of a feeling you get. My one big complaint is that if someone can write so well, she could do much better to invest in topics that give her more scope to explore this talent of hers deeper.

So we take off with a depressed Suchitra, suffering from a Aphallatosis (a rare mental disorder arising from lack of sex) single mother, daughter of a supportive father and domineering mother, sibling of the smart and beautiful brother and sister (one sister she downplays). She is alone, has no men, wants breastless hugs (she is hugging women all the time in case you wondered),  is stuck with two girlfriends who make her feel worse, a shrink who is trying to rip her off. She proposes to all and sundry, single men who can take care of her - Ram Gopal Varma, Karan Johar, Nagesh Kukunoor. Finally she gets sex with the one breastless wonder in her life, Pankaj, and that sorts her life out forever. Of course he is married so there is no marriage anymore but she's back. Now tell me, is this all true? Ok, I know the true facts, but what about the rest?

(What is a true work of pure fiction? Or a fictional memoir? Is it true or made up? I know some parts are true but which parts are not.)

It if funny in a sad manner because it appears from the way the book swings, high and uncontrollable at times, that her problems do seem real. However I am not too concerned about her sufferings, imagined and real, as I am about the way her life seems to have zipped by while all this writing, singing, painting talent was left unexpressed (perhaps). She pokes fun at herself, her mom, her dad, her friends.

Its nothing I identify with though, her concerns, her problems, her take on a life without beauty or pedigree. But I do identify with her writing and her need to get this out of the way. Would I recommend it? I don't know. It moves fast, she writes well, its fun in a sort of a black, self-deprecating manner. On the other hand the story is going nowhere, her concerns appear too frivolous for us middle class readers, and the odd big names do not help too much in spicing things up. It's 6 on 10, mainly because its an easy read, its honest in a way. But despite my middle-of-the-road review, Suchitra, write more. I'd read your stuff anytime. You're fun and honest and can poke fun at yourself - all of which I like. UGG for that.

How Do You Know - Movie Review

It's one of those movies that are fun while watching but in the end it just slips by without leaving any lasting impressions. If you're not looking for lasting impressions this one will fit the bill. Having said that I liked the way the scenes were enhanced with deft touches. Great improvisation.

We have a softball player (Reese Witherspoon) dropped from the national team and has no future in softball anymore. (How quickly she accepts her being dropped instead of trying for a comeback is something I did not understand). A wealthy businessman (Paul Rudd) is accused of securities fraud and loses his girlfriend, money and support. Loser no 2. Softball player has a fling with a Casanova baseball player (Owen Wilson) who is sweet and insensitive. How she hovers between these two gentlemen is the story and it peters down to a rather unconvincing end but who cares. She might come back again for all we care.

Like I said, it's good while it lasts. After its done, don't waster too much time talking or writing about it. I think the highly insipid title was frozen when Owen Wilson asks his  team mates how one knows when one is in love.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

War Horse - Movie Review

I watched this movie in six or seven instalments, not because it was bad but because it somehow happened that way. The one thing that strikes you is this - how the hell did they get the horses to act so well? And then you see Spielberg's comment somewhere that he finds horses extraordinarily expressive. And was he right/

The story is pretty convoluted as it follows the horse all over the place - England, France, Germany. The main hook is the affection that a boy and the horse share before the war starts. He does not want to let it go but has to due to some cinematic compulsions. The horse goes here and there, finds a horsy friend and many human friends, survives most of its riders (almost all except this boy so you start worrying for him) and a spirited attempt to run through a barbed wire fence in no man's land. Rescued from that no man's land in one of the dramatic moments of the film where the Englishman and the German risk their lives to save the horse, shake hands and promise to visit each other (I think) the horse, Joey, finds its boy, now a man, who is fighting the war, and who is temporarily blinded, but who senses it and sends it a signal, and then alls well and it ends well.

Fairly dramatic. How the hell did they get the horses to act so well? And apparently they used many horses for Joey. Not the most gripping dramas ever for me but good enough. Done.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Americans - Chitra Viraraghavan

'The Americans' is a smashing debut novel by Chitra Viraraghavan. I must also add that it has been a long time since a debut novelist has done such a fine job. As one might surmise it is not really about American Americans but about Indian Americans (who are sometimes more American than some others) and Chitra shows the reader the often missed-out, glossed-over, vulnerable world of Indians who live in America through a host of characters, some visiting, some stuck, some rooted and some uprooted, but all real people we know. Take away the swagger, the clothes, the accent and suddenly we find the self assured immigrants not so self-assured anymore.
4th Estate, 283 p, Rs. 499
So we have Tara  (who if the book were made into a movie would be just like Chitra) going to the US to babysit her niece while her sister Kamala is taking her autistic son Rahul to an alternative Indian treatment. Then we have CLN, retired school teacher from Madras visiting his daughter Kavita on a rather forced visit that he is regrets embarking on. These two unlikely travellers become friends on the flight to the USA as Tara helps the old man on his first visit to the USA. (The Indian guy at the airport had potential too, nice chap who lends his mobile and all.) Once these two get to the USA we meet the self-obsessed doctor sister Kamala, her husband Ranjan, their daughter, the fully American (as she sees herself but not seen as such by white Americans) fifteen year old Lavanya, Rahul and his delightful patterns, their help, the Israeli lady Ariel who is married to a younger American man, Shantanu who has burnt his bridges and has decided to stay on in America come what may until he succeeds with his songwriting, his bosses Nagi Babu and Chenni Babu and their shady trafficking deals, Akhil and his paranoia of the American conspiracy, the dreamy baby-wanting Madhulika and her drifting, disinterested husband Vinod. Their worlds are so fragile and vulnerable and Chitra carefully uncovers those delicately balanced lives, bringing out the drama of their underlying fears and apprehensions, the slowly slipping dreams and illusions. And ours too.

It is in the small things, in laying bare the subtle feelings, that Chitra's novel rises to the dramatic level of a thriller. We find drama in garage doors, snow shoes and televisions, in parties and boyfriends, in new friends and an autistic boys patterns, in a world more inhabited by Shahrukh Khan than the husband, in laws that scare migrants to the extent that they do not protest the kidnapping of their child, in a dare-all stunt to get the missing songbook back, in a moment of madness to go to a party and impress the boy, and much more. Chitra effortlessly takes on a new tone, a new world each time a new character comes on (and they come on pretty rapidly thanks to the short chapters) and the details that character sees, feels, smells are so very personal to them that you fully enter their lives. This is where she scores brilliantly, bringing each character totally alive, making them stand up and talk, dance and jump as she pleases.

It is quite obvious that Chitra has a story to tell and she tells it compellingly, honestly, credibly. No frills, no fancies, no trying to show off or impress. Its all about being honest and bringing the character honestly to the reader.  No wonder that all her characters come alive, including fringe characters like Gentry, Sameer, Pink Girl. For someone like me who has never been to the USA her imagery was so powerful that even now I see the scenes playing out like a movie in my head, shades, smells, colors and all. The snow filled drive on which CLN walks as he finds his library (be careful there please, don't fall), Lavanya's party scene (don't take the window), Shantanu's room (sigh), Tara's heroics with a reluctant Gentry (great action, scope of romance), the heart stopping thoughts of Rahul, roads, freeways, pedestrian crossings, shoe racks, door mats, nothing escapes detail. The scene where Shantanu and Sammie hide in a closet - you can feel it, see it, smell it.

Some have made their choices, some hope for some external force to jolt them out, some are resigned to their lives in the USA. Nothing hits you more than the helplessness of the immigrants when they come to know of someone close who has died. They cannot do more than rationalise it and grit their teeth and go back to work carrying that dead part, the guilt, for all their lives, in contrast to those in India who get done with it after a shortened funeral. Funnily I cannot help thinking that you'd feel more resentment if the relative in the USA did not turn up though you may sympathise with someone in Dubai or Saudi for not turning up.

Frankly I cannot remember the last time when a book had such delicious promise each time I put it away. So good was it that I'd almost delay picking it up to savor the juiciness of what was to come. Will the girl get the boy? Will the boy be alright? Will the father find his voice? Will the young man survive? It is a book of the underdog, shown from his and her viewpoint convincingly. I would be ignoring the obvious if I fail to mention the problems of autistic children, the trauma that their caregivers undergo, the insensitivity of society at large. Rahul, Danisha.

I would be doing a great injustice if I failed to mention the superb effort that has gone into designing the cover by Krishna. It's one of the best I have seen and the Indian publishing industry can do well to take a lesson here and invest in such quality work instead of coming up with amateurish, half-baked, thoughtless designs that take the energy away from the book. Over 90% of book covers fall into that category and I have seen some fine books hidden behind mediocre covers. It's time publishing houses realised that they can support the book well through its cover. You cannot ignore such compelling cover designs. Here finally, is a cover worthy of the book, and vice versa.

Great effort Chitra. Fantastic debut. If you can find and enhance drama in those fine spaces of life, it is obvious that you can write a book about anything and make it fly. Anyone who has had friends and relatives in the USA will identify a lot with this book - I can think of so many people I'd like to gift it to, recommend it to, just so we could discuss it over a coffee. Pick it up, you won't regret it.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The India Files - Elections 2014

After voting in this election I am no wiser than I was before about the process. What is different is that there is more confusion. Earlier someone would land up at home and give us voter slips. Now we don't know if the voter slip is enough to vote, what to do if we don't get it, should we take the other cards like for example the ten year old voter id cards where we look totally different with us and should we also take the useless Aadhaar card which the gas companies have now discarded for proof. Finally I carried all my cards - Driving License, PAN card, credit cards, Aadhaar card, Voting Id Card, all my id cards from my school, college, my neighbourhood park id card - just in case they want some other card. You never know with these chaps - they get very creative and ask for the one card you forgot.

The other thing I noticed is that the queues have got long. Everyone wants too vote early and that jammed the lines. I could also make out form the talk and crowd behavior that most of the so-called educated people knew nothing about the candidates, knew nothing about the rules to be followed. Not a great sign for our democracy. Almost everyone was not sure how many candidates were there, how many parties were there, now many parties had tied up with someone else, what their symbols were. In the 30 off candidates we knew four or five parties by name, did not know the candidates names. Obviously no one knows their antecedents or their capability to lead. It is our duty to vote, that's it.

If this is the case in an urban, literate city one can imagine the status of rural India. Many probably live decades behind. They only have trickle down information. but for all that I am now convinced that the one way to win an election is by bombarding the public with ads. We vote out of habit and prejudice not so much by rational decision making.

I am not even sure if the process is the right one now because I have almost no control over it. I vote for someone and hope that he or she will do something good for the people and the country. But this someone of whom we know very little and see very little disappears again after the elections. He or she makes me arrangements, finds new partners, adopts new ideologies and by the end of it the person who I voted for has undergone a complete transformation. His or her bosses have changed, sometimes this person takes up the fight with his old ideological enemies (and mine) and before I know it, the boss is someone I never liked trusted or believed in. In some weird way I feel that all these chaps have got together and manipulated the vote out of me and got together again to form the numbers.

The information that is available online about most candidates is almost laughable. Most of them are so cooked up - the money in bank, FDs, gold, assets - are shown in such low numbers that you can laugh your belly off. How has the internet helped me, how has this information boom helped me, how does it help the country move forward I do not know. We are only hoping that this system that made some time ago will somehow take us forward. I doubt it will.

For one thing it is almost certain that no party will ever come to absolute power in India in the near future. Everyone has got wise and are catching on to vote banks and using them as bargaining tools. As long as there are coalitions we will only have compromised governments and leaders. As long as we have compromised leaders we will not more forward. More sops, more favoritism, more appeasement. More entertainment perhaps but little progress at least from the government side. In such a scenario the government should reduce its role in most things and let the people do their own thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Thought for the Day - Why We Are Different With Different People

This was a topic of discussion with a friend of mine. One perspective is that we must be totally ourselves whoever we are with and that is the best way to be. I find that position too idealistic and not practicable. My view is that we are totally different people with different people in our lives (check yourselves out with different circles of yours, they will never get along with one another). We are probably different to ourselves too. Not entirely honest I mean. Let me explain.

First let's deal with other people. I see no reason why we should impose all our wonderful parts on other people. Some people like my stupid jokes, some like my serious nature, some like my quiet brooding presence, some like my wise insights, some like...To those who like that part of me, I will engage only that part. I find no necessity to impose the other parts unless they expressly show an inclination to engage in that aspect. Some one wants to talk sweet nothings need not be given my world views on politics, cricket, films etc. I think its only fair to them. Even if I were to look at that selfishly, I see no reason to show all my other parts to a person if there is absolutely no match or vibe there. Why would I want to do that?

In my opinion we are consciously or unconsciously engaged in a game of survival, of manipulation, to get what we want. It could be anything - from love, to pity, to sympathy, to drama, to pain - we could be addicted to anything and we manipulate our relationships, keep or break them, twist or mould them to suit our end result. Naturally this does not include being totally open and naked - where one is open to being manipulated but has no leverage to manipulate. To avoid that state of utter defencelessness we show only certain layers to certain people depending on how much we think it will provoke the response we want. It also explains why we blow hot and blow cold and why we engage differently with different people and how we engage differently with the same people over a period of time. In a nutshell, its a survival tactic that keeps the dangerous ones outside the compound and the loving ones in the bedroom. To be naked is a highly evolved concept and needs much forgiveness, much love and also capacity to handle pain.

Now when I see the relation between me and myself, I feel that we still play the games with ourselves too. We can delude ourselves into thinking we are good, or bad. We can be what we want and believe it too, based on what we want the end result to be. We are not even honest with ourselves fully because it would place a burden on us to be true to that core. If we are dishonest, we can be different people according to the situation. To some I am kind, to some I am cruel, to some I am loving, To some I am aloof, to some I am endearing, to some I am honest and to some dishonest. I am all these parts certainly and that is the truth. We think one way and behave one way (and cause ourselves headaches), we surprise ourselves with certain thought processes and actions, we keep our secrets, because these other parts sneak out. There is certainly no need to go about showing all parts, neither the good nor the bad.

The only thing is to be, to survive and to see if what we are getting out of it all meets what we want. If we can handle it all without anyone else influencing us, that is the best state. It is the state when we don't give a damn about other people's opinion of us. We can be fully ourselves in such situations, in all situations. It is a fine state, a selfishness that carries no guilt. Stuff that we could ask the gods as a boon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

IPL 7 - An Analysis of Leadership Styles

As I did once before I'd like to analyse leadership styles of the captains of the teams in play. I have always felt that in India popular sentiment is given more weightage than leadership ability. That one blunder costs the entire team heavily. Look at how the various parties are promising posts to various communities and castes and not on ability. It's a shame. Look at our leaders and how they have got their positions. Rarely on merit or ability.

Anyway, back to cricket. Some teams might have fallen prey to the same kind of thinking and might have appointed captains based on nationality rather than ability. Shikhar Dhanwan is a case in point. Why would he lead a side when they have an international captain who has already won a T20 World Cup in the side is something I do not understand. Its not that Shikhar has led Delhi often or his zone often. Why then do they need to burden a good player with the task of proving himself as a captain and lead players of the calibre of Steyn. Warner, Sammy et al. is a question that the Sunrisers can ask themselves.His shaky confidence would reflect in why Mishra fallen off, why Steyn is coming apart, why their entire campaign is looking shaky.

The order then.
Exceptional class
1) Mahinder Singh Dhoni leads the pack for me as usual. Quietly efficient, he is retreating even further behind and letting his team perform. The perfect example of Lao Tzu's quote on leadership - that the people would finally say they did it themselves when it is done. They are sailing through CSK is and half the team has not even played.

2) Shane Watson gets the nod because he is getting his fringe players to perform. Tambe, Samson, Rahane, Binny, Karun Nair and the young Indian brigade which is nowhere near the national scene is doing it for him which is a great achievement. Watson also believes in leading from the front as he did with the bat in the super over and the ball in the match against KKR. Able replacement for Warne. Go Watson. Cricket Australia missed a trick when they mishandled Watson. I do believe he is great captaincy material.

3) George Bailey is another quiet achiever. He is not an outstanding strategist nor motivator but he is solid and calm and supports his players which is great. Getting out of the way is half the job done. Why then would Maxwell find such outrageous form that he never was allowed to in Mumbai's heavyweight zone, Miller, Sehwag and others chipping in. Again for me the performance of the fringe players is the key.

4) Virat Kohli is one who can never be written off as a captain simply because he is so intense and wants to win all the time. His own form and that of Gayle's must be worrying for him but the fact that AB pulled them out of the hole in that sensational match against Sunrisers must have given the team the boost it needs. I'd never write of Virat Kohli's team. Now if only he could  balance that high intensity with a bit more calm and knowing guidance he would be in Dhoni's league.
5) Dinesh Kartik / Kevin Pieterson: Kartik was hardly effective as a skipper and now with Pietersen in, one must wait and watch. The team still looks bits and pieces and certainly does not look confident or look together. Much work needed. They look tense and are not enjoying themselves.


6) Rohit Sharma has the tough job of being responsible for the team's performance while listening to an eminent board of experts that starts with Sachin, Kumble, Ponting, Robin Singh, Wright and many more luminaries I cannot remember. It is ridiculous. The captain needs to make the calls and needs an uncluttered mind. What the hell are all these mentors and coaches and experts doing there I wonder. Even their presence adds to the pressure. Take a leaf out of RR's book boys. I am surprised they won last year bu to me MI will always be heavy with names and low on player and team performances.

7) Shikhar Dhawan should not have been made captain. Now that they painted themselves into a corner the management cannot undo it without more damage being done. Only Shikhar can do himself and his team a favor and save them by quitting the job and focusing on his job as a batsman. The poor boy was such a natural and uninhibited player who brought so much joy to the field and look what they have done to him. All serious and not enjoying himself at all. Go ahead and quit Shikhar, and put it down to learning. You have much time ahead of you anyway.

8) Gautam Gambhir needs to smile a bit more says Ganguly (who never smiled much himself). But he is right, Saurav Ganguly is. Gambhir's intensity and sense of perfection is his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. Any team that lost from yesterday's position (122 for no loss chasing 170 odd) can only mean one thing - too much pressure on it. Much of this pressure must be absorbed by the captain, something MSD does so well and something Gambhir, a vocal critic of MSD, must be realising now. Its a tough job again for him with another bunch of experts from Akram, Raman, Dahiya and several others pouring down advise. Take the pressure off yourself, off the team and go out and enjoy yourself (by giving your best). The pressure tactics obviously did not work. Use the other angle. Keep it simple chief and trust your players. They are here to do their best and they will do it if you don't scowl so much.

My advise for Gambhir would be to call his team, tells them he trusts them to do their best and leave it at that. Best thing for him to do is chill and have a chat with someone while in the dressing room instead of working himself and his team up. Trust them chief, and let them be. They will do it. It's a great side, balance wise and the only problem is this immense pressure they are playing under. KKR does not deserve to be there and much of where they are comes down to the skippers attitude.

That then is my take on the captains. I might refine my thoughts by the end yet.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Blue Jasmine - Movie Review

Woody Allen springs a nice surprise. Cate Blanchett is Jasmine, a rich socialite who has travelled to San Francisco to stay with her sister until she finds her feet. Her husband has lost his money, got arrested and as we find out later, dead. What does rich and beautiful and classy Cate have to do with ordinary Ginger of working class tastes is this - they have both been adopted by their foster parents. Obviously both think differently. Cate always wants class, looks different,  talks and walks different. Ginger cannot but think beyond the working class. Cate is dreamy. Ginger, feet on ground.

It unravels that Cate's rich husband has not only cheated Ginger and ex-husband who had won a lottery but many others in his realty business. While Ginger's marriage breaks up thanks to their dreams going up in smoke. Jasmine's husband is finding ways to cheat the system and keep his ill gotten wealth. He is also cheating on his wife. Unhappy with his many liasons Cate gives him up and he gives himself up. Jasmine is alone and broke, and lands up with her sister.

What happens with the clash of cultures between the two sisters is interesting. Cate is delusional and dreamy even if it means deluding herself and others. Ginger believes her for a while and almost falls into the trap Jasmine is stuck in before she saves herself.

What is intriguing is the way Woody Allen goes into the minds of both women, their aspirations and their blocks. Ginger is saved by her mediocrity as she accepts all, and sees happiness in what she gets though it is not the best. Cate might find a way out for herself or she might die. The two sisters remind you of the developed nations and the undeveloped ones. Cate Blanchett is brilliant and deservedly won the Academy Award. The movie would not have held without her portrayal of Jasmine aka Jeanette. Having said that the casting is perfect.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Great Indian Novel - Shashi Tharoor

Why Shashi Tharoor went into politics is something I do not know but he is one hell of a writer and he should have continued writing. I bought 'The Great Indian Novel' a few years ago and was daunted by the small print more than anything else and the size. However its time had come and rightly so at a time in my life when my knowledge of both the Mahabharatha and the Indian political system and history are slightly better than before. The novel mounts the Indian freedom struggle and its aftermath on the complex structure of Mahabharatha - a task that requires one to know both well and one to have a stout heart, knowledge and the flair to pull it off. And pull it off he does and in style.
The novel starts with the narrator VVji (aka Ved Vyas) recollecting the story and dictating it to Ganapathy who is supposed to record it all. His story starts at the turn of the 20th century with the story of Shantanu and Satyavati, both married once before. From Shantanu's marriage to Ganga is born Gangaji or Bhishm of the unshakeable vow and from Satyavati are born  Chitangada and Vichitravirya. Then VVji enters the scene and produces Dhritharashtra, Pandu and Vidur. The Mahabharatha starts rather linearly before the Indian freedom struggle comes on.

Then the characters from the freedom struggle and after come on to the pages. Gangaji is Gandhiji, Nehru is Dhritarashtra, Pandu is Bose, Vidur is Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel, Duryodhini is Indira Gandhi, Draupadi Mokrasi is Democracy. Mohammad Ali Jinnah is Karna, Yudhshtir is Morarji Desai, Bhim is the Indian army, Arjun the media, Nakul and Sahadev are the external affairs and the beurocracy, Jayaprakash Drona is Drona and so on and on. The characters and institutions flit through until it all ends as the Mahabharatha ends. Shashi Tharoor spares no one and is brilliant in the way he has cast people and institutions and in the way he shows us up for all our hypocricies and impotencies.

The story's premise and the scale is ambitious and Shashi Tharoor adopts the perfect tone for it, half jesting, never serious until almost the end when he tears into the system with such clarity that you wonder what happened to all that he had two decades ago. The writing style is smooth and the way he weaves the story deftly keeping the major plot points of both great stories in mind is brilliant. Satire at its best. Sadly few will understand this take on our history in our age of pulp fiction and fewer perhaps will learn from it. The great tragedy of this book is that it will lose its relevance fast, if it has not already because few know these figures even directly. But the great thing about it was that it is out and available in stores. Unlike some books which have been banned by over enthusiastic goons, this book remains available despite the manner Congressman Tharoor shoots gaily at the Congress bastion. Though I was sceptical at first, I can only applaud the effort now having completed it, and hope that Shashi Tharoor writes more novels, not necessarily of such scale, but even of ordinary things. Simply because he is a damn good writer. And for that matter I don't think anyone else but he could have written this novel. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Captain Phillips - Movie Review

Should have watched in on screen. Based on a true story of a Somali pirate hijacking 'Captain Phillips' is a taut thriller. The movie runs linearly but the drama is so good, rifles and danger all around, for both sailors and pirates, that one is glued to the movie to the very end.

Captain Phillips and crew are aboard an unarmed cargo ship going round the African coast when they are intercepted by two pirate skiffs on the Somalian coast (makes you wonder why they are unarmed when they know the coast has pirates). One of the skiffs is led by the temperamental Muse and an inexperienced trio of boys who want to make money. While the other skiff backs off upon hearing Phillips bluffing them about air cover etc, Muse chases the ship. The four pirates board the ship and there are tense times on board the ship until the pirates manage to get hold of Phillips and take off in the lifeboat. Now they have to negotiate for ransom. But before that they have to confront the force of Navy Seals and a US anti-piracy unit. As they are stranded in the ocean, running out of the local herb that keeps them alert and active, tempers fly, anything can happen. Can Captain Phillips be rescued in the end?

Tom Hanks is brilliant and so is Barhad Abdi as Muse. The real Muse is apparently in the US in prison while his team is killed. Captain Phillips is back on the ship after having penned down his experiences. Immensely watchable, taut with action and drama.

Book Launch of 'The Americans' by Chitra Viraraghavan in Hyderabad

I met Chitra three years ago when she came to the Hyderabad Literary Festival in 2011 with husband and friend Krishna Sastry Devulapalli, whose debut novel 'Ice Boys In Bell Bottoms' had just hit the market. I was on a panel discussion with Krishna and Vamsee Juluri, who had written 'The Mythologist' then, and we were to speak about all things Hyderabadi to Meena Alexander who ended up speaking more than all of us. But my impressions of Chitra and Krishna are very vivid and we hit it off well and have since stayed in touch. Chitra has always been thoughtful goes the extra mile to get things in order for people she cares about, and I suspect, even for those she may not care. She is kind, warm and a very giving and loving person.
Sridala and Chitra after the launch
I did not know she was working on her own book then. Later I heard she was working on it, though she would not reveal anything about it, and then came to know that she is the biggest chupa rustam of all. Her debut novel 'The Americans', has been published by Fourth Estate, the literary imprint of Harper Collins, which is a statement of the quality of writing surely. I was very happy for her because she is one of those people for whom you do not harbor any other feelings but those of genuine warmth and affection. Yeserday she launched 'The Americans', stunning cover and all, in Hyderabad, at Landmark, Somajiguda, with its fast depleting stocks of books and merchandise. Chitra was in conversation with Sridala Swamy, poet, writer and critic.

I walked in early to meet Krishna and Chitra and found Chitra deep into her fifth or sixth interview. Krishna was speaking with another old friend Radhika Rajamani. I stepped out to meet Vinod at Minerva over coffee and mirchi bajjis and then we made our way back to Landmark. By now a few more familiar faces had come in. Anjan had come despite his busy schedule and I like this part of him where he balances out his life as a senior police official with his other passions. Bijju arrived, Shobhs and Anjali came, AP, Ramaraju. Mohana Krishna, one of my favorite directors, master craftsman and great company, came in despite the busy workload of having just launched his new film project. As I suspected the number of chairs were not enough. I had warned the store manager about it. Luckily he had a back up and got some more chairs in and even thanked me for my early warning.

The event was lively and fun. The discussion was sharp, concise and informal and most of us could figure out what was going on unlike some events where the two people on stage talk as if they are having a private conversation of which no one else can make head or tail of. Sridala asked if the book had autobiographical elements, about the different structure and the unusually large number of characters, why Chitra wrote the book and what she feels about Indian writers in America. Chitra spoke strongly, clearly and conveyed the discomfort she addressed through this effort of hers - of how America rubs itself off on Indians and how what we see is not what really is. There are several other shades too and her attempt was to open up the spectrum and show it like it is. It should bring in much honesty into this aspect of our lives I feel, because it has always been like the new clothes on the emperor - none daring to question it.  Chitra, I am sure, would not have held back and must have delved deep into all the muck that we do not see or do not want to see. It will be another great illusion shattered (where will we go now?), and perhaps its the right time to do that as well.
In conversation
Chitra read a few passages from the book and I loved the one about Shahrukh. In the Q&A Chitra was asked what the message was, and if she has missed out anything from he book which she may have wanted to include. She said that she did have to tone her anger down a bit.

Anjali sat quietly on my knee and watched the proceedings carefully. Anjan looked at her and observed that she was pretty quiet. He asked her if she understood what was going on and she said 'Yes'. By the end of the session it was still good for more which meant that it had good energy and flow. There aren't many book launches that you could have wanted to go on for longer but this was one such.

We picked up the books but to get them signed you must go to the billing counter which is a few miles away. Then once you buy, you walk back all those miles again, thirsting for water, when you have to deal with a menacing security guard who insisted on seeing the bills, proof that we bought the books. Despite the pleas of book lovers like us that we were only getting our copies signed and that we had already paid for the books, the menacing chap would not yield - show me the bill. I am the security, he thundered. I told him to take a walk. He could check the bill at the exit if he wanted. That left him feeling rather upset but that's ok.
Mohan Krishna Indraganti, me and Anjali with Chitra
Signs done, pictures taken, discussions finished, we bid our goodbys. The Landmark Manager came and thanked me for my valuable input about increasing number of chairs. Orange juice and biscuits were served. A good job done.

The event went off well. Good attendance, of about 50. Good conversation. Nice. The dramatic moment of the event was brought in by Krishna for me. Having given six interviews at a stretch and meeting people since 3, Chitra had a minor coughing fit in the middle of her reading. We all looked anxiously at her, listened to her cough in discomfort and looked at the two unopened bottles of water on the table. What? Who? How? And then a rustle, soft as wind. Krishna swiftly strode past an anxious audience, tore open the cap from the bottle and handed it over. Two sips by Chitra and the matter was under control. Sighs of relief from the audience. Krishna to the rescue. Such is the stuff these two are made of. But seriously, lovely couple.

Now to read the book which looks very tempting and promising.