Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Banquet Hall View

I once saw a Venus Fly trap. That, it’s a carnivorous plant, however fails to detract an onlooker's attention from its captivating beauty. Those violet tendrils snaking from its interiors execute a graceful arc, almost Victorian in nature, & puts to shadow its murky intent of trapping any unsuspecting insects in those cushy pods.

I was struck by the conflicting nature of the interpretation of an image and the truth that lay miscast beneath. It was the case of judging an alligator by the handbag made from it. Its apparent beauty would have never provided an inkling of the viciousness of the beast. Most of us sadly remain contended with the impression garnered from the handbag. They remain satisfied with a banquet hall view of life, one wherein comfort meets intellect and between the two fashion a world that apparently highlights the pinnacle of our progress.

Six years back, a tragedy shook the nation and six years hence, its repercussions, amongst other things, lifted that banquet view from my eyes. I would not get into the analysis of the right and wrong, the accused and the misrepresented of Godhra. We have had ample evidence of that, thanks to the likes of Tehelka and others. If there is one conclusion that can however be solidly evidenced from all reports, it is that the truth - the cold, factual, absolute truth has been banished in a dark corner shorn of any identity and recognition. Nobody would lay their hands on it in an era of Goebbelsian propaganda for each has a motive, allegedly far higher than adopting an orphan called truth.

What I however would like to highlight are two factors - namely, the media assuming the right arm of anarchy, and the state of a nation whose collective conscience could do with a much besought wake up call.

The much touted media of our nation could perhaps do well to revisit the roots in which its principles lie enshrined. The tenets of just and equitable coverage of events have been dispatched with such impunity that it makes one wonder just how sinister must the underbelly of such a system be, that could coerce an institution so mighty as the media to submission. In sync with the powers to be, they fanned the rage emanating from the smoldering ruins of an express train in 2002 by publishing graphic images and fanciful tales that could churn the knots of the stomach of even the most hardened veterans. What followed was unsurprising. 2000 Indians, mind you, not Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Hindus, but Indians were massacred. 2000 lives were extinguished in an act of unparalleled savagery. Surely, no God would have permitted this. Surely, no conscience would have tolerated this. Then, how is it, that we, as a nation, one that is apparently recognized as a tolerant and progressive one, can live with this in our conscience?
Which brings me on to the second factor emerging from our "tolerant ambience".

I once walked on a street in Mumbai that served to be a microcosm of what Indians have become today. One side of the street sported a mansion of a hotel, resplendent as much in its splendor as in the ostentation of the guests thronging it. Across the other side lay a shack of hovels with rickety people scuttling about them and gathering fuel for their waiting chulhas. The stark antithesis of the two worlds lay in the utter lack of acknowledgement each had for the other. I suppose, while this particular case could perhaps be excused owing to the existing paradigms, what puzzles me the silence that seems to choke every sane mind in the face of events of the likes of the Godhra tragedy.

From brutal gang rapes of members of a community (Orissa) to daylight massacres of dalits (Khairganj), from inflammatory speeches that incite such blithe acts to the barbarism of its executions (everywhere) , the covers that clouded the shimmering hatred of each group (Its shameful to realize that we have degenerated into being just "groups") seems to be coming off and every ghetto is giving vent to their collective rage. We have seen all this and in what can be perhaps the most appalling transgression of justice, have chosen to remain silent about it. We chose to blind ourselves to the savagery of the state's machinations and in doing so gave the dogma "see no evil" & "hear no evil" an entirely new meaning, one, that its creator would have been profoundly ashamed of. Let no soul overlook the fact that when stripped of the layers of justification every leader, religious and/or political has applied to such dastardly acts, they remain in its basest form, remnants of the primeval human wants & needs satiated at the expense of innocence as well as, on a holistic basis, the progress of the state.

And yet, hope springs forth, alike a lonely geyser spraying atop a rocky plateau. In pockets, from outrage at the spurious claims made by the Nanavati commission, to the hundreds of unknown faces working tirelessly to apply the balm of love and care on those mutilated wounds, inflicted as much upon the psyche as on the skin, that nurse faint hopes of seeing the light of recognition or justice. We need to bolster these endeavors, for in a society that tethers on the brink of insanity, these acts of altruism are sonnets of peace that still bind the tag of civilization to our identity. And maybe, in the process, knock the banquet hall view of life off our eyes...


The Roman Colosseum might not be there, but those 22 yards defined a battlefield which bonded us in many a fascinating tussle over the four years of engineering. It was all adrenaline in those days, but four years hence, as I look back, those exploits on the cricket pitch spoke aplenty about the characters forged over time of these five men.

A Bhavsar - (If the Oxford weren't already in vogue, they would have had a separate name for commitment) In a team full of 'Indians' (all flair, little substance), he was the rare Kiwi, the black cap of the team. The site of Aby swooping down on the ball at long off/on (he normally was at long on) was in itself, a wonder to behold. With him, you could feel the momentum of his thrust, as if some invisible source of power had turbocharged him towards the little round object hurtling at him, though in most cases, it would be Aby jet setting at the ball. One of the safest outfielders, I don't remember him ever dropping a catch (as much as I never remember ever having taken one). One might wonder, so what! Aby is just your good cricketer. Wrong! What made Aby so special was his commitment. He wasn't a natural cricketer. With an ungainly stance and a flawed technique he probably wouldn't have lasted a minute on the pitch, but what he lacked in flair (thankfully) he more than made up with his commitment. He reminded us, especially me, of how much more we could contribute given our natural flair. He never took his outfielding for granted, always concentrating, always "on the ball". Cricket shapes characters, but here's one, who shaped cricket. With his chutzpah in absentia, Aby till date reminds me, that -"its not what you got, its what you do with what you got that matters".

H. Gadhvi ('Keeper' of our fortunes) - I never knew whether to be raging mad at him or be amazed by his attitude on field. He is the guy who, in the last over, with eight runs required for victory, would hit a six of the first ball, and then not be able to take a single for the next five deliveries (only a wide from the generous bowler earned us a draw).

Gadhu was the nerve centre of our team. As a wicketkeeper, he was the quintessential chatterbox & while he never said "well bowled" to a wide delivery (most of them came from me) unlike Wasim Bari, he kept the spirits up with his witty comments that flowed ceaselessly. I remember once having my jaws hanging down at a catch pulled off by him. It was a good length, outside off-stump delivery (probably from Turkz) which the batsman edged to first slip that was not there. All of a sudden, gravity seemed to disappear, as I saw Gadhu turn parallel to the ground and in mid air, pluck what must have been one of the best catches of that tournament. It was a good effort, but what made it extra special was that, the person who pulled off the stunner weighed at least 20 stones at that time. It didn't matter. Somehow, for these chaps, they seemed to be playing with their minds rather than their bodies, and no fetter could shackle them, when they really, badly wanted to do something. Gadhu did all this, but he did it with a smile, & a jauntily cracked joke. The 'keeper of our fortunes' has now had one catch that he would latch on to, for the rest of his life, for Mr. H. Gadhvi is now the proud father of a little cherub and that's a prize he mightily deserves.

K Mehta - (Nobody played the square cut better) - Not even Turkz came close to Gabba's (no reference to WACA) square cut. I saw him play plenty of those as I was usually at the other end, wondering how he conjured up a charm of such beauty & power. The feet would move parallel to the crease, the bat chopped down at a graceful arc and his stance, when seen sideways, was more akin to a ballet dancer than a savage stroke maker & the only sign of the ferocity of the stroke lay in the ball dashing away to the point boundary (sadly it was blocked by the stadium or else Gabba would have had far more runs to his credit).

In the last final that we ever played in college, I remember Gabba getting both his feet in air & viciously cutting the deliveries outside off to the point boundary (this was played on a different ground & it did have a point boundary). He was a stylist, and there was a certain amount of grace in the way he knelt into each stroke which both endeared him to me as well as made him an object of envy. The other factor that made him indispensable was that along with Aby, he cordoned off the long off region with impeccable outfielding. With these two around, you could safely bowl half volleys for most of them would end up in either of these bloke's hands. Tall, handsome & style personified, I only hope Gabba knows how good he is, for that would bolster his 'score' even further.

T Chauhan (the best, by a long distance) - I got Turkz only once in a match (internal)& that remains my most cherished memory on the pitch, one that even eclipsed an innings where I somehow managed to carry my bat through. He was an assembly of some ordinary parts that summed up to something extraordinary. Turkz always gave me a hint of vulnerability, an impression that he could be prized out, but after four long years (& even after that) he remained one of the most difficult batsmen to dislodge. I loved his technique, especially as a he defended. Everything seemed copybook. Front foot to the line of the ball, head knelt in the direction the ball was meant to go and no daylight between bat and pad. Ah, I still savour the memory. Turkz's cricketing exploits are well chronicled in the sheafs of our memory but recounting them would be pouring old wine in a new bottle. He engineered, what was probably the best run-chase in the college at that time, a feat I don't remember having been equaled. With half the team gone & over eighty runs to get in a little over 8 overs, Turkz played a blinder. We got home with a delivery to spare and the hero of the moment came back unfazed for it was business as usual. Turkz was probably a bit of a British on the pitch - 'never too elated in victory or despondent in adversity'. I never saw him gloat over his achievements. He probably dosen't even remember half of them (frankly, it would require some effort, coz he had so many of them). From plucking one handed stunners on the boundary field to bamboozling batsman with one that 'moved away', Turkz did it all, and he did it quietly, unobtrusively. He was a gentleman, prizing out batsman almost apologetically, as in batting he seemed to coax and cajole the ball to where he wanted them to go. I sometimes wondered what made him so good. While I don't have a concrete answer (genius can never be explained in mere words), I would surmise that his strength lay in his mental sturdiness. Like Aby, his application and dedication to his craft orchestrated a master at work, an impregnable defence and a champion performer. Turkz taught me more about 'playing the game' than anybody else did & I still learn from him. Mate, didn't we once say that "life's like cricket" & if that be so, I'd like to see one more innings like the one you played against FAU, just for old time's sake!

A Acharya - (Iceman) - The sobriquet was famously gifted to Steve Waugh for his ability to absorb the pressure and nobody would dispute giving 'the Captain' (of our team) a similar brand. He was the leader and in all these years, there never has been a better captain witnessed by me. He, alongwith Turkz, outthought, outmaneuvered, outlasted, outfought every opponent who came their way. Sample this:

With three odd runs in the last over to defend, Captain comes on to bowl...and pins the batsman in the other end. The shocked faces of our opponents reflected the magnitude of his achievement.

In a match, when Turkz was down with injury, Captain stood firm against all attack and ultimately finished the match with a single over mid off. The rest of the team had collapsed around him as he hurtled towards an inexorable victory.

Ten required off the last over with the no. ten batsman at the other end - a late cut followed by a pull, a tap for two towards point and match is over - another miracle fashioned by the Captain.

The Captain reeled off one champion performance after another and yet, his steely resolve to give each match his everything never wavered. He was respected as the first among equals and till date, his exploits on the pitch remain one of the most talked about subjects in our get together. More importantly, in a team of mavericks, he earned the unquestionable loyalty from each of its members and only those, who were a part of that team can gauge the extent of this achievement. I could only dream to perform like him, but it was more akin to a 'Midsummer's Night's Dream". He lives his life, the way he played cricket - uncomplicated, tough, fair and always to win, and that is what endears the Captain to all of us. There could have never been a better leader of those blokes than you Captain. Keep it up and keep it going!!

Its been four years, since I passed out from Engineering and yet every little incident on those 22 yards is as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. In times to come, I hope to teach my kid about this great game, but he would be lucky to have such wonderful comrades like these five men, five gladiators, who taught me more about the game and life than anybody ever did.

Nobody Gets the Girls

My first post ironically has very little reference to the fairer sex and by that logic its title could well be pronounced as a misnomer. However, for all you Russell Crowe fans, allow me to transport you to his movingly delightful portrayal of John Nash in the film 'A Beautiful Mind'. Like Archimedes, who gained enlightenment in a bath tub, bless him, the relatively contemporary Nash was illuminated in a bar with his friends vying for the attention of some fairly attractive 'long legged things', with each one figuring out the best route to outdo the other. That's where the first draft of "Game theory" emerged (at least as per the film) as Nash carefully outlined the consequences of a combative approach, explaining to his less imaginative comrades that for their own sake, if they co-operate, they were most likely to end up with a partner each in their arms, albeit for the evening or else nobody would get the girls.

Nash revolutionized a whole generation and his theories found its applications not only along the entire yen of science but also in our daily lives. V. Raghunathan, in his book "Games Indians Play : Why we are the way we are" has outlined the curious psyche of the Indians with Nash's Game theory framework. It was an interesting read, more so, as I saw it unfold before my eyes one fine day in Bangalore. The essential premise of the book states that we might as well co-operate with the people around us, not for some greater good, or moral righteousness, but simply to ensure that we are benefited to the maximum. The book draws our attention to a rather amusing fallibility of Indians of falling prey to the lure of a short term gain and ultimately losing out in the overall diaspora. The traffic in Bangalore epitomizes this in probably as brazen a fashion as can be imagined.

It would take an individual of exceptional calibre to overlook the malaise afflicting Bangalore's physical infrastructure and unsurprisingly, we seem to be having just those geniuses planning the city's roadways. The influx of private vehicles into the heart of Bangalore's roads implores the town planners to broaden the roads or introduce flyovers, both of which are conspicuous by their absence. But what is a bit ludicrous to observe is that people themselves contribute generously to their potpourri of misery. At a circle where we were held up, the width of the road didn't allow any room for outmaneuvering anybody. The quickest way out was to ensure that we all fell in a single file and waited for our turn, but lo, no sooner that the signal turned green that all hell broke loose with vehicles exhibiting the Bangalore Drift (sadly, it was neither fast nor furious) and turning their machines at impossible angles, they ensured that in a few seconds the road displayed the worst of the traffic jams. I sat there amazed, for I knew that this wasn't a case of bad traffic sense. It was simply the urge of "overtaking the next guy" and forgetting that in the process not only would they block their own exit but that of the hundred vehicles behind them.

We are so busy "overtaking the next guy" that we completely forget that he/she would also be thinking about the same thing and in the process, nobody wins (in Game theory terms, the payoff matrix has lose/lose for both individuals and extrapolated it applies for all the people in the ecosystem). Are we that insecure to see someone "go ahead of us" (even in a traffic), or are we that fiercely competitive that we feel let down if someone else even remotely comes close to being benefited? I do not have an answer, for, by experience, I know that we are an intelligent race, but perhaps we tend to put on our "horse's blinkers" a little too soon and that shrouds the overall gains in an impenetrable veil. I suppose, that is why there is such a lot of emphasis on "team spirit" for we unsurprisingly parade our individual brilliance in a group effort, notwithstanding that brilliance posing as a hindrance to the overall progress of the team. In fact, at times, I feel we are a little too brilliant for our own good. Maybe, a fallibility in our skills and talents would have made us hostages of our peer's support and maybe, we would have then been a cohesive unit, albeit not a flamboyant one.

You were right Dr. Nash. In India, Nobody gets the girls!!