Thursday, February 29, 2024

Baig Sir's Book Launch by the Chief of Navy Staff in Delhi

 In a wonderful gesture to its personnel, especially those who went on to serve the nation in other fields such as cricket coaching, the Indian Navy launched the book written by its own Lt Cdr Hemanth Kumar, a past student of Mr MR Baig who had served in the Navy before turning into a full time cricket coach. That the Chief of Navy Staff himself, Admiral R. Hari Kumar launched the book along with Mrs Fatima Baig, wife of Mr M R Baig (who passed away last year) and cricketers VVS Laxman and MSK Prasad, shows how big hearted and noble this gesture was.

MSK Prasad, VVS Laxman, Adm Hari Kumar, Mrs Baig, Prakash, Naval Official, Lt Cdr. Hemanth

CNS R Hari Kumar meeting the author of the book Lt Cdr Hemanth Kumar

Prakash went to attend the function with his family. It was a huge, well decked affair, well attended by the press. 

Mr Baig's family was represented by his wife, his daughter and grand daughter. Fitting launch. Mr Baig would have been thrilled to be part of it. But I am sure he is smiling from the heavens.

A Surprise, Welcome Gift!

 I was surprised and frankly a mite apprehensive when I saw a message on my phone - Blue Dart delivery. I had not ordered anything so what was this? Anyway I found out that there had indeed been a delivery at home, the size of a few books, but not books. Back home from the University I went about opening the package and what do I find - a One Plus Nord phone. I looked for the sender. My nephew Abhishek from Bangalore.

 I messaged him right away wondering what this was about. Maybe it was to be a gift for Anjali! He messaged back.

'You use the phone a lot Hari mama,'he said. 'You need a new phone. I saw the pictures on your blog. Grainy. Decided you will not buy one until this breaks down, so got you this. It has a good camera.'

I am blown. How thoughtful. How generous. How beautiful.

A few weeks ago it was my brother Ram who asked me to take his old Vivo phone. I did not know that they had all seen my faithful Nokia and were not too impressed with it. I did not yet get down to the phone my brother had given because the season was in progress (and I did not want to lose any data) but this new phone came just in time - right after the end of the season.

And I think of the many angels in my life who keep thinking of me, helping me along, buying me such generous gifts, giving me time, energy and love, and I truly understand the meaning of the word 'blessed'. It's a beautiful world out there.

I am also aware of the fact that something in me also opened myself up to receive such love from all hose around me, all who wish me well. I sometimes wonder why they do that, but I am glad they do!

Love you all. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Anjali - Blog About Her Growth Through MUNs

 Anjali wrote a fine blog about her MUN experience - Over the MUN!

'You wrote well,' I said.

'Why are you surprised?' she said.

Fair enough. But she did write well, with honesty, a dash of humour, an acknowledgement of those who supported her and of her own growth.

Good one A.

The French Lieutenant's Woman - Movie

 1981. Meryl Streep. Jeremy Irons. A complex story of an English gentleman of the Victorian era falling in love with a fallen woman Ms Woodruff, who is known only as the French Lieutenant's Woman. Turns out that the enigmatic woman is neither a fallen woman nor a whore, but someone who lives life on her own terms. Smithson is drawn to her inexorably, even breaking off his engagement to a rich lady whose father almost brings him to social disgrace. The enigmatic Woodruff disappears leaving Smithson high and dry. 

Smithson searches for her and places newspaper advertisements but gets no response. After three years however he does get a response from her, meets her, and they reconcile and live happily ever after. 

Parallelly a contemporary couple who are playing lead parts of the same story in a movie are also in an affair, though they are both married. Irons wants to continue their liaison but Streep walks away.

A Search in Secret India - Paul Brunton

Paul Brunton is the pen name of an English bookseller cum journalist Raphael Hurst. Always interested in the mystical, Brunton came to India to seek a spiritual guru and went through many hardships in his search for a guru, in his fight to maintain the balance between being open to stuff that was beyond the pale of scientific explanation. He however does an admirable job of holding both ends together, being very honest to his feelings and thoughts and quickly reversing his opinion wherever he feels it merits that.

Straight up in Bombay he meets a Muslim holy man of Persian descent perhaps, Muhammed Bey, who shows him some extraordinary feats like asking Brunton to write a question on a piece of paper and without touching it making an answer appear on the same paper. Impressive but then Muhammed says he is only doing this to collect money to build a mausoleum for his master. Brunton then meets Meher Baba, a Parsee from Pune who had been ordained into the spiritual life by a Baloch master, a lady called Hazrat Babajan (apparently there is a shrine in her name at Camp in Pune and I must visit it next time). Brunton however is not impressed with Meher Baba. Brunton's travels take him to Madras where he meets a yogi, whom he calls the anchorite from Adyar, from whom he learns much. In the same trip he also meets the man who does not speak and learns much from him as well. From there he meets the Shankaracharya who guides him to Ramana Maharshi saying that he is the right guru for Brunton. Brunton travels to Thiruvanmalai to meet Ramana Maharshi and finds some amount of solace there in many conversations with the Maharshi. Onwards to Calcutta where he meets Mahasaya, a dsiciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Brunton fully identifies with him - however Mahasaya is aged and close to passing on. In Benares he meets Sudhei Babu an astrologer of great fame who patiently teaches Brunton many things about astrology. From there to Nasik to spend some more time with Meher Baba which appears fruitless and then he, by destiny, goes back to meet Ramana Maharshi once more. This time he does find illumination and by the time he returns to England believes that there is more to India's ancient secrets than science can explain.

Along the way Brunton meets many small time magicians, yogis who perform serious miracles for short term gains, and keeps his quest going without becoming too skeptical. Towards the end of his trip he fals severely ill and one can imagine that happening to a foreigner in India in the 1920s travelling by train, by bullock carts, staying in hotels and guest houses, surviving flies, mosquitoes, water..its a miracle he survived the trip at all.

Its an impressive tale though and one that he tells with great honesty and integrity, never trying to project himself as someone he is not, showing himself in his full vulnerability, his western superciliousness, and stays on to seek what he came to seek with single minded focus. Excellent read.           

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Helping Hand Foundation to the Rescue!

 Mujtaba Askari (Mujjam to us) and I played cricket together when we were in college. He was a stylish batsman and then he went into software (worked with Infosys) before embarking on social service through his NGO Helping Hand Foundation. Helping Hand Foundation offers services like Medical Relief, Help Desk at Govt Hospitals, Free Dialysis Centres, Urban PHCs, Home for the Aged etc. They did great work during COVID and are always helping out the needy. His team is at hand at the Osmania General Hospital to help and I remember I had sought his help when my maid's husband Raju had some serious health issues and they swung into action and helped out wholeheartedly.

A week ago I saw this young man sitting on the pavement on my morning walk bandaging what appeared to be  badly hurt foot. I passed him by despite a voice in my head saying I should stop and see if I could help. Couple of days later I find him there with the same bandaged foot - this time i gathered courage and went back to ask if he needed help. He said he had cut his foot badly on a stone. He was sitting right in front of the Unani hospital so I asked if he went to get treatment. He said he cannot go there because they need an Aadhaar card. I asked him if he needed help but he said he was getting better and did not need any help. 'If I need help I will ask,'  he said.

The pic I sent

I walked off.

That day I saw a post by Mujtaba about how they helped some needy person and i messaged him about this chap. Mujtaba said if I sent his picture and location his team will go and rescue that guy. So the next day i saw the fellow I told him I was going to send his pic and location and someone may come to help. He nodded without any enthusiasm. I asked him his name - Dilip - and sent his location, name and pic.

Helping Hand Foundation team to Dilip's rescue

A few hours later I get this pic back. Helping Hand team had come, convinced the reluctant Dilip to go with them for treatment and housing at their shelter until he gets better!

Incredible. Great work Mujtaba and the entire Helping Hand Foundation team. 

I'm very impressed with their work and I would urge any of you to check out their website and reach out.

For Emergency Relief, Counseling and Guidance call +91 8121601990, 8790679505

Blackmail - Movie

 1973. I heard so much about this movie. Dharmendra, Raakhee. 'Pal pal dil ke paas'. And then I discover its a gem for so many more things.

For starters it handles the concept of love quite lightly. Shatrughan is in love with Raakhee who is his boss's daughter. But since their business is getting affected by Dharmendra's company, which is into solar energy by the way, Shatru decides to encourage Raakhee to fall in love with Dharam. And so does Raakhee's father! And then there's blackmail and stuff but what hit me was this song in the end - Mile, mile do badan - which is placed right in the middle of a chase by the villains. Dharam and Raakhee hide in a pile of wood in a 69 position. The villains set the forest on fire and these two catch a different kinda fire. The song plays through and Dharam slowly slides down in a most erotic fashion! Uff!

No wonder it was a hit movie! Dharmendra and Raakhee look superb. And trust Vijay Anand to come up with his own ideas - never a dull moment though.

Whispering Death - Michael Holding with Tony Cozier

 This is Michael Holding's autobiography and its a lovely addition to my collection. Thanks Vinod bhai. The book was published in 1993 first. The title was the name umpire Dickie Bird (on the cover page) christened Holding with because Holding would hardly be heard in his run up to the wicket - so smoothly would he run in.

Coming from a large family in Jamaica Holding was as much interested in athletics as he was in cricket. Originally a spinner he was converted into a fast bowler and soon made his mark. Holding however was academically inclined and was considering a career in software programming before destiny drew him to cricket and to all time greatness as part of one of the all time great teams and all time great fast bowling combinations. He discusses the topic of race, Packer years, the humiliation of losing to Australia (how he broke down when Chappell was not given out), bad umpiring, becoming world beaters, losing to India in the 1983 World Cup etc.

What comes across however is that they did not become greats by chance. They worked hard. The fast bowlers had trainers who put them through the grind and could bowl 20-25 overs a day at a decent pace. The fielders took hundreds of catches in practice so no catch was dropped in matches.  The team itself was rarely disturbed and selectors would keep Holding with the team on tour even if he was not fit.

The part of Clive Lloyd's first tour as captain in Australia was interesting. The senior players would undermine him and it showed in the team's performance. But Clive soon took things under his control, set his four fast bowlers theory and and stayed with it. Captains must also be given a chance to evolve and they must have managers who are tough.

Good read. Many wonderful tips and pointers for me. Thanks Vinod bhai. 

The Talented Mr Ripley - Movie

 1999. Matt Damon. Jude Law. Gwynneth Paltrow.

It starts with a man of humble means who borrows a jacket while standing in for another person, gets mistaken for a Princeton man, carries his impersonation too far until it seems to consume everyone. Based on a 1955 novel of the same name.

Hot Stage - Anita Nair

 Anita's latest, her third in the Borei Gowda series, is set on the outskirts of Bangalore. A rationalist from Dharwad is murdered rather gruesomely and it is up to Borei and his team to uncover the killers. Suspects range from the professor's secretary, his daughter, son-in-law to random people unhappy with his rationalist lectures.

Anita creates a believable world of Borei - his imperfect family, his liaison with Urmila his college sweetheart, his younger colleagues and this part comes alive fully and brings Bangalore to life. The care and research she has taken to make the police procedures authentic shines through - and she strikes the right balance - there's not too much nor too less. Borei as always comes across as an interesting character, someone who has not grown out of college, his ideals, his Bullet, his Old Monk rum. The plot is interesting - haven't heard of such before.

There's a twinge of sadness at the end when Urmila finds her 'agency' - simply because it is the most interesting part of the story. Hopefully she will come back!    

A Fish Called Wanda - Movie

 1988. Ranjan's recommendation. He had a fine taste in movies.

Watching it now was a revelation. Absolutely wicked. Brilliant tale of a gang of double crossers who are out to get diamonds they stole in a heist. Add a femme fatale angle and a barrister looking for freedom and we have a wicked take which does not end. Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and James Cleese are outstanding.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Cost of Development

 For almost 40 years now i have seen the vast TB Hospital (as it was called then) grounds transform. In the beginning, for Mohan and me, walking towards AG Colony Road which was a kuccha road back in te 1970s, was as great an adventure as the ones Famous five had. One particular adventure we had was when Mohan got his little dog Jackie I think, and we went towards AG Colony. We stepped into a broken part of the wall and got into the TB Hospital campus which was full of tall trees and lots of grass, and an old dilapidtaed building thrown in for good measure. There was a bit of a scare when some dogs tried to attack little Jackie but we got away safely. 

And then, towards the other side of the hospital, the Vengal Rao Nagar side, there was an open ground, expansive, which was used for cricket matches. I remember our seniors putting a mat there and playing- Kumar, Subodh, one guy called Hayagriva who batted like a demon and kept wickets, one who we could easily idolise, the type who get out and come and smoke. We played a few cork ball matches too - one which we lost badly and while chasing their 150 runs got out for 54 - I got 52 of those! Another where we won and Choudary got 28 not out.

Then they planted a million trees in that campus and it became so beautiful over the years. On the VR Nagar side came up buildings for the Drug Controller and on the AG Colony Road side came up the Unani Hospital, the Ayurveda College and so on. But the trees grew and gave a lovely green cover.

Until the other day when i saw that a large part of the trees had been cut off to make way for a super specialty hospital I think. At least a thousand trees would have gone in this exercise. You can see from the two pics...the top one from the uncut backside of the campus and the second one from the developed one.

And sch is the cost of the development. I only hope they have not demolished the old TB Hospital building which was a beautiful old Nizam era building. But I think they might have.    

Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Diya - Movie

 Shahid Kapoor and Kriti Sanon. Interesting premise of the perfect robot who looks, feels, emotes like a real human being so much so that Shahid not only falls in love with her but also has sex with her! When he knows the truth he wants to marry her still. Lots of interesting situations but I loved the premise and Kriti Sanon for being so good as a robot! You really start looking at her like a robot after a while.

Interesting watch!

What's even more interesting is that I read somewhere that they had to cut off a lot of steamy scenes between the two. Hmmm.


Hyderabad Wins the Ranji Trophy Plate Final!

 It was part of our mission - to bring back Hyderabad to the Ranji Trophy Elite group after it had been relegated to the Plate. For those who are unfamiliar with the jargon here's the explanation - of the 38 teams in the Ranji Trophy, 32 belong to the Elite group, and 6 belong to the Plate group. Every year two teams from the Elite are relegated to the Plate while two teams from the Plate get promoted to the Elite.

Team Hyderabad
Sitting L to R : Krishna Reddy (Video analyst), Budhi Rahul, Sai Pragnay Reddy, Tanmay Agarwal, Abhishek Murugan, Kartikeya Kak, T Ravi Teja, Tanay Thyagarajan, Chandan Sahani, Rahul Singh (V Captain), Nitesh Kannala, G Ganesh, Sajid (Masseur), DB Ravi Teja (Coach)

Standing L to R: Santosh (Physio), Tilak Varma (Captain), CV Milind, Rohit Rayudu, E Sanketh, Rishab Baslas, Sagar Chaurasia, TP Anirudh, Me (Selector), Saketh Sairam, T Pavan Kumar (Asst Coach), Ronald Rodrigues (Fielding Coach), Subhash Patro (Trainer), Jyothi Shetty (Selector), Riazuddin (Selector), Jaggu Lal (Manager)  

Last year Hyderabad ended up 37 out of 38 teams and was relegated to Plate. This means we had to play with new and young teams such as Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim and end up in the top two to qualify for the Elite group.

And we did it in style - thanks to heroics from captain Tilak Varma, Tanmay Agarwal, Rahul Singh, Rohit Rayudu, Nitesh Kannala and Sai Pragnay Reddy and bowling heroics from Tanay Thyagarajan, CV Milind and others. All games were won outright, most were completed in two days and almost all were innings wins.

Something to cheer about certainly and definitely something to build upon.

Well done team Hyderabad!       

Travel Bug - Thiruvanmalai

Thiruvanmalai is most known for the Arunachala hill which is considered a representation of Lord Shiva and therefore sacred, the Ramana Maharshi ashram, the Arunachala temple and so on. I had once heard about the practice of walking around the Arunachala hill - a distance of 13 kms and felt that someday I would like to do it. 

Arunachala Hill

Anyway, we did got around the route, peeped into the Ramana Ashram and the Arunachala temple as well as a reccee trip.

Girivalam route

A sadhu chilling with his friends

The pradakshina around the hill is interesting. One finds sadhus at every step of the way - some seeking alms, some simply lying down and chilling. There are hundreds of temples, big and small, all around. There are eight ashta linga temples if I remember right - Vayu, Agni, Varuna, Indra, Yama - and others named after the elements. 

Nityananda Ashram

People walk around barefoot. There are places where one can get a foot massage through some contraptions, drink coconut water and other juices. One can do the pradakshina or as they call it Girivalam at anytime of the day or night. Ideally to be done on a full moon night when the traffic is quite a bit. Fascinating.

Ramana Ashram

I found Nityananda's ashram too on the path. I remember someone telling me there were these siddhars or men who have powers to heal in the Arunachala hill and one such was Nityananda who was famed for his healing powers before he became Swami etc.   

The Ramana Ashram was quite peaceful with several meditation halls where a number of Indian and foreign devotees were engaged in meditation. It has a nice vibe. Apparently one can go through it to the Skanda Ahram which was first set up by Ramana Maharshi and perhaps even to the Virupaksha cave.

Arunachala temple 

The Arunchala temple is one of the biggest complexes I have seen, massive is size. Once can see the Arunachala hill behind the temple complex.

It probably needs a lot more time to explore Thiruvanmalai but for a recee trip, this was good enough.       

Travel Bug - Gingee Fort

 Gingee Fort is about 80 kms from Pondi and we headed there to check out what Shivaji once referred to as the 'Troy of the East' or the most 'impregnable fort in India' or something to that effect. Gingee Fort was apparently constructed in the 1100s and then moved from one ruler to another including the Marathas, the Bijapur Sultans and perhaps even the Mughals.

Gingee Fort

The town of Gingee comes up quite innocuously and on either side you see these two massive forts - the Raja fort on the left and the Rani fort on the right (as per our driver Shaktivel). One look at the forst and you know why they are called such impregnable forts. The Raja fort or the main one is built on a single boulder like rock which looks impossible to access from any side while the Rani fort seemingly more accessible is not so easy to scale either. To trek up and down takes about 3-5 hours said the driver and we gave up any plans of doing such activity.

The Rani Fort

The temple with the fort in the backdrop

There is a third fort if I am not mistaken and the fort complex is connected by walls. There is a Shiva temple inside the fort complex which was quite beautiful to watch.          

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Travel Bug - Auroville and Other Places

 One could not visit Pondi and not go to Auroville so I booked myself a cab with the faithful Murugan. Jyo said he would join me as well so we set off at 8 am after a nice breakfast at the hotel. We reached Auroville in about 45 minutes. Unfortunately Nimmi Raphael, my pal from the Hampi Retreat who lives in Auroville was away and so was Vijay from PSIOG who was a trainee and who also lives in Auroville. But Vijay called me and gave me a few tips about how to go about things.

Entering a magical land

Now Auroville was started in 1968 as an experimental community by Mother or Mira Alfassa who was a follower of Sri Aurobindo, as an ideal place with no borders and nations but only humanity guiding them. For casual visitors like us there is a visitor's reception where we can get a free pass which allows us to walk to a view point from where one can see the famous Maitri Mandir. Those who wish to meditate inside the Maitri Mandir must book online in advance and they get access to go inside the mandir, a gold plated globe.

Jyo and I saw the few stores that had not yet opened - Vijay's wife also runs a boutique there he said - and then got ourselves a couple of free passes and headed off on a 1.5 km walk to the viewpoint along with a noisy bunch of youngsters. There are people along the way and signposts to guide you through - passed some buildings including a Savitri Mandir. We finally got to the Maitri Mandir and after a few minutes there headed back.

On our way back we stopped at the Auroville Bakery and got some stuff. Nice and cheap!

We went to the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry and spent some time there. Sri Aurobindo's samadhi is there. Its a peaceful place with absolute silence. Many people were meditating there. We sat for some time, went to the bookstore where I picked up a couple of books and headed out.

Morning well spent.     

Travel Bug - - Pondicherry

 Pondicherry has long been on my list of places to visit and when the opportunity landed I was game. So I took the morning 1030 Spice Jet flight - a really small propeller driven aircraft - and headed to Pondi to watch the U23 match. The Spice Jet sandwich was way better than the Indigo one and I settled down to read Anita Nair's 'Hot Stage' during the flight. Towards the end we went a bit over the sea and swung this way and that before landing smoothly. The all girl crew was awesome.

Walking along the promenade

Rocky Beach

Jyo, me and Nishith

I took a Uber to the SLIMS ground which was some 35 mts away. Funnily every Uber showed the same amount Rs 358- for Inter City travel. One Vijayan showed up after checking with me what the fare was. Pleasant chap so we got talking. Turns out he is from Kanya Kumari, has done his Mechanical Engineering, did an engineering job in Mumbai for a while and then returned to become a taxi driver.

The beach road as it looks

A really nice place

Walk on beach road

'I love this life' he said and it showed on his face. 'I can earn 2000 bucks a day and more if I want to.' Has a family in Chennai - currently expecting a child so wife back in Kanya Kumari. Been in Chennai for four years. Happy go lucky chap. I tipped him an extra 100 for his new arrival.


At the ground our boys played well - though it was frustrating at times. Its a ground set in a Medical College. Pretty decent. We got them down to 8 down. Jyo was all set to visit the White Town that evening and so was Vivek. Jyo's cousin Nishit Shetty was the match referee for the Ranji match so he took us along and dropped us at the hotel. I checked in and dropped my stuff and off we went for a long walk on Rocky Beach. In White Town.

Le Cafe

Yes. It's called White Town. The French Quarter where the French seemed to have built a decent place to live. So its full of nice bungalows, little pubs and eateries, bakeries and such, all within 10 feet of one another. Q. Where should one stay if one visits Pondi? A. In White Town.  

This looked interesting...did I read about it smewhere?

Anyway White Town ends on the Rocky Beach which has a road where no traffic is allowed, so people walk and saunter up and down that road. In the evening its a sight. Now that part of the beach has rocks as breakwater structures to prevent erosion one would think but apparently they cause more erosion. The best thing     We walked along to one part of the beach where there was some protrusion into the sea and took some pics. Every structure looked quaint and old worldly. I think I saw many Aurobindo buildings there, a book stall. Many pubs, bakeries. A beautiful cafe called 'Le cafe', a bakery called 'Baker's Street'.  I saw many boxes with numbers and they did not look like COVID markings so I asked a passerby uncle and he said they had a massive rangoli challenge and each participant had one box!

Live music

We walked a bit, found a nice little place that had a 2+1 offer and relaxed a bit. Then we headed to 'The Secilian' or something like that on the Beach Road where we met their cousin and his partner. We then headed out and met Vivek who took us to someplace called 'Flaming Dragons'. We ended up someplace where there was much  live singing by a very enthusiastic young lady who sang English, Tamil, Hindi songs with equal ease -Ashwathi Ram was her name if I am am not mistaken.

Me, Nishith, Jyo and Vicky

An evening well spent. I am already enjoying Pondi. Back to our hotel 'The Sunway Manor' and a good night's sleep.