Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chronicles of a Busy Mind II

My day today began on a self-deprecatory note. Last evening, I opened a big fat Java book that I'd borrowed from the library (which doesn't stock fiction- can you imagine?!), and skipped Servlets (assuming I knew something about the topic) to go straight to JSP. I ended the evening confused, and not a little bit wiser. Which brings us to this morning. I was not very pleased with myself, stubbornly disjointed terminology from JSP still in my head. On the bus, I found a classmate of mine immersed in a Cryptography textbook. She said she wasn't able to make sense of it. And that made me feel better. I know it's wrong to feel satisfied at others' misfortune, but it doesn't really matter when you're in the same boat. It just makes the burden more bearable, and you can once again sink back into the imaginary world you had inhabited before a confounding computer language dragged you out into reality.

I can't wait for the Formula One season to begin. I have said this earlier, weekends are extremely insipid without motor racing. I also want to see MotoGP back, watch Valentino Rossi battle with the youngsters, and hopefully win the championship this season, after two years of disappointment. ForceIndia or not, my loyalties will of course lie with Ferrari. Heikki Kovalainen is already doing extremely well in McLaren Mercedes, and the season can only get more interesting than the last, with the top three drivers in three different teams. Renault might have to rebuild themselves, but with Fernando Alonso in the team, they cannot be written off. The experts made the mistake with McLaren last year; as for me, the heart says Felipe Massa, the mind says Kimi Raikkonen/Lewis Hamilton.

I have never lived more than four years in any single house, I think. This, of course, keeps my brain rather busy accumulating thoughts and memories from various places- how summers, winters and the rains have passed, where I have had the best view of the hills and the sky. I am reading a book called 'Rebecca' by Daphne Du Maurier, in which the protagonist wishes memories could be bottled up so that they can be released whenever we want to relive certain moments. They'd never grow stale or fade. I don't think I'd like it that way. Nostalgia wouldn't be the same if memories were within reach. Life would lose some of its charm if we could always have whatever we wanted. There is a strange kind of pleasure in being able to torment ourselves and laugh or shed tears at memories. I might think differently another day, but today, this is the way I feel.

Every night, I slip out onto the balcony to observe the watchman of the neighbouring block of flats prepare for bed. Most of the time, he is stretched out on his dusty floral mattress on a folding cot, by half-past eight. The gates are wide open, but he is in bed, wrapped in a dark grey woollen blanket from head to toe. There is something comforting in this sight. He is an old man; his work for the day is done, and he can give his tired bones a rest. I sometimes watch his four grandsons play. They roll a tyre along the concrete floor of the parking lot, then climb onto a single bed and cover themselves with a huge bedsheet. They giggle and shriek and throw themselves around, blissfully unconcerned about the racket they make.

Talking of play, here is something which might sound really absurd, but at that moment it really felt that way. Two evenings ago, the girls from my building played in the parking lot, singing, "London Bridge is Falling Down...", with the refrain of "My Fair Lady". Their voices were so much in sync, so sweet and lovely- quite like voices reverberating in the awe-inspiring sanctity of a place of worship. Their singing was, in a strange way, uplifting. Perhaps because it bore innocence and joy, unencumbered by any knowledge of tomorrows, school and studies. When we play as children, all that matters is that particular moment of fun and frolic. Everything else is history, or else relegated to the deepest recesses of the mind from where it is drawn only when absolute necessity demands it.

The mango tree across the road is in bloom. The Royal Enfield motorbike, for a few days conspicuous by its absence from the parking lot, is back in place. I have an assignment in Cryptography to finish, due tomorrow. There is a presentation coming up. From what is seemingly unimportant I am forced to come back to (overrated) reality. Now I'm off to work, leaving for bedtime the rest of my soliloquy, when the lights will be turned out and the television sets stop blaring. The watchman will switch on his radio and Telugu songs from a few decades ago will float through the air, punctuated by the relentless calls of the insects of the night. I shall pay my nightly visit to the balcony and make my weather prediction for the morrow. Then I can betake myself to bed, my thoughts for company, and probably another diary entry in the offing.

PS- I have decided that it is sacrilege to call the mind idle when it is always busy concocting new schemes or drinking in every bit of joy visible, or simply contemplating, when it is not working hard at what we think of as useful work. Is there anything more powerful than the mind? I wish there was; anyway, I am going to give it the respect is deserves, and call these the chronicles of a busy mind.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chronicles of a Busy Mind I

Creativity and necessity do not often see eye-to-eye. Not in my head, at least. So when my mind is in a whirl and unrelated thoughts clamour against the bars of their prison, I am forced to let them loose. The laws of creativity and decorum in writing shall now go for a toss as I let my long pent-up thoughts tumble incoherently over one another, forming a jumbled heap. Confusion in the head is more acceptable than in writing put on public display; extricating a thought from the giant heap in the head is easy enough, thanks to the aid of stimuli in the form of a gentle touch, a known but forgotten voice, or a familiar fragrance, that somehow find their way home and unleash a flood of memories.

Seldom do I allow my diary entries to be read by anybody else. This is one of the exceptions. My diary is a record of my most private, intense feelings. My conscience is laid bare in all its honesty, shorn of even the most trifling embellishment. For there must be some foil to vanity and egoism. Even so, the inanimate nature of the diary makes human contact essential. Perhaps I just seek the assurance of the existence of people with similar disjointed ideas; maybe I am trying to appease my vanity, imparting to my being an importance that only I can give it.

The night sky is beautiful. The moon has wrapped itself in layers of cloud, and makes its presence known through the silver threads that flow like streams in the dark, rolling meadows and hills of dark clouds crowned by lighter clouds. The clouds do look like hills, if you can will yourself to make them appear that way. It's all in the mind. I cannot perfectly describe what I see. I reiterate- it is beyond human ability to describe certain displays of Nature.

A cousin of mine was married last week. It is sometimes hard to believe that we have all grown up and moved forward with our lives. The summer vacations of schooldays are a distant memory. The games of hide-and-seek, the clamour for a spot in front of the cooler on one of the long, lazy afternoons, movies, amusement parks- all the childish frolic has come to an end, and will pass on to another generation. Our relationships haven't changed- only the priorities have. When I was nine or ten, I wanted to grow up quickly so I could share in the secret conversations the older girls had behind closed doors. (Whatever is taboo is always tantalising, and the truth of the actual thing not being quite so impressive as expected dawns only later.) Now, I'd give anything to stop the passage of time, or better still, to take me back to those days of innocent fun. It was nicer to want to apply makeup than to actually be able to apply it.

I have just finished another Ruskin Bond book- 'Our Trees Still Grow In Dehra'. I shall never outgrow my fascination for Ruskin Bond, that is for sure. I owe my interest in writing to him, and more importantly, my love for nature. He makes writing look simple, glorifies small-town life and advocates respect for Nature. I once admired writers who wrote in such a manner that they couldn't be understood easily. I have long since begun to believe that the aim of writing should be to talk to the reader, and make one's ideas clear. It is nice to have a challenging author to deal with once in a while, but flounces and complexity are not necessarily the hallmarks of a good author. I also owe my predilection for horror stories to Ruskin Bond. He has done a tremendous job in his omnibus, picking out some of the most memorable ghost stories. I have tried my hand at writing a few, perhaps fudged them up, but one of these days I'll come up with one that will make Bram Stoker and MR James come back to life for a nice, spooky read.

Coming back to Ruskin Bond, a friend once told me that I should marry the author's son, not being aware of his single status. I don't think there can ever be another Ruskin Bond. He stands in a league of his own; his books make me feel like he is talking exclusively to me. He is gifted like nobody else, and makes full use of his powers.

The unfaithful clouds have gone away again. For a day and a half, they hovered in the sky, gradually darkening, and all of a sudden they have parted to let the sun through. They come with numerous promises of rain, bringing along the wind, and then slink away quietly. They are in danger of falling out of favour with me. Another betrayal, and I'll despise the rain clouds forever. (And I know I don't mean it.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Driving Forces

The Tatas have finally come out with the much-talked about ‘one-lakh car’. Naturally, no event of significance (or insignificance) can take place in our country without the customary news channel debates. The environmentalists with their scepticism on the pollution that numerous such cars on the road would add to; the auto journalist quite in favour of what he had seen at the launch; Suhel Seth taking on all the detractors of the car. Times Now had one of the most entertaining debates yesterday, and for the first time, thanks to Seth, I was thoroughly convinced that the Nano would fulfil the promises the Tatas had been making. I must admit I was quite sceptical about the scheme when it was announced, but seeing that it is quite a neat little design and doesn’t compromise on any of the necessities, it is perhaps the answer to a common man’s dream of owning a car.

The Tatas were never people to do things by half-measures. The Nano is a simple, straightforward car with no frills. As of now, it doesn’t aspire to the features that essentially define the ideas of ‘dream cars’. However, it will help a lot of people move towards their dream of owning a car. It might cost a little more than a lakh; it will still be the most affordable car around. During the debate, the environmentalists questioned if it would be environmentally feasible. Medha Patkar argued against the crowding of roads, and against building highways. Sunita Narain protested against the environmental implications, as did Dr. RK Pachauri. Most of these people are in favour of improving public transport. They argue that India doesn’t have environmental norms that are strict enough. So why should that turn them against the Tatas, who don’t make laws here, but are just trying to help ordinary people realise their dreams?

Seth said these people were against progress; that they had ‘a problem for every solution’. If pollution is the only objection, surely that is to be alleviated through measures that don’t include calling for a ban on the manufacture of cars. We cannot protest against car manufacturers who want to set up shop in India and sell their cars here and perhaps even export them. What of all the employment opportunities? People cannot be forced to depend on public transport. Think of the Blueline buses. If the Chief Minister of Delhi couldn’t be persuaded to travel on one, is it justifiable to deny a common man private transport that he can afford? This is lopsided logic, coming from people who probably haven’t used public transport in years.

Switching gears to extremely expensive cars, the lineup for the ForceIndia F1 team has finally been announced.
Giancarlo Fisichella, in danger of finding himself jobless after having to make way at Renault for ex-teammate (or rival) Fernando Alonso, had Vijay Mallya come to his rescue. He will partner German Adrian Sutil, whose talents have been appreciated in his earlier stint with Midland F1 (which is now ForceIndia). Former Toro Rosso driver Vitantonio Liuzzi will be testing for the Indian-Dutch team. It will be interesting to see what the priorities of this new team will be. Testing wasn’t particularly impressive; but now, with a race-winning driver in its ranks who will bring in a good bit of experience and expertise, they should be able to move up above Super Aguri. That is the least they can do.

One grudge, though- can no sport in India do without a movie star for company? Shah Rukh Khan is the brand ambassador of the ForceIndia team. Having it endorsed by the drivers themselves, or other sportsmen, would have been better. Oh well, Mallya knows best.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Lilac Glove

The village maidaan was chock-a-block with people. Vendors shouted until they went hoarse, children clamoured, parents got angry and animals watched the mad mob of humanity with placid unconcern. The sweet shops did brisk business as did the man spinning the creaking handle of the uncomplicated, rustic rides. A single, bony brown horse trotted up and down a narrow path carrying sun-browned children on its back. Girls ran to the bangle shops hand in hand, ribbons fluttering like streamers from their well-oiled, tightly plaited black hair. Boys with a thin trace of hair on their upper lip, flattering themselves on their imminent manhood, strutted around with their broad-chested fathers beside the cattle sheds, pretending to understand the nuances of trade. A few romances were begun; some hearts broken. In the midst of this colourful rural confusion sauntered a young woman with a camera, trying to capture the essence of a fair in an ordinary Indian village.

After a somewhat sceptical lunch at a tiny shop in the dusty streets of the nearby town, for she trusted the food stalls at the fair even less, Meeta set off homeward. Once outside the town, she heaved a sigh of relief. The green fields soaked in the afternoon sunshine were a refreshing change from the narrow alleyways and close, crumbling buildings of the nondescript town. As she walked towards the hillside cottage where she was staying while she finished her assignment in the Himalayan town, the sky darkened and a light rain began to fall. The last few hundred metres home were a dash in the chilling rain, but soon Meeta found herself in the warm comforts of neat little Hazel Cottage.

Dry and comfortable, Meeta sat down by a window to enjoy the hilly vista. Green mountains rolled away in the distance, and a slight mist was beginning to settle on them as night crept in. Meeta had enjoyed every sunrise and sunset here, and was quite disappointed that the rain wouldn’t let her watch the exquisite purple and orange tints of the sky as the sun dipped from view into the distant mountains. She slipped into a reverie, imagining a clear blue lake in the valley that the cottage overlooked, and a lone bagpiper appearing on the nearest hill, serenading her with his music and wanting to take her away to his Highland home.

‘There is no place quite as beautiful as this,’ thought Meeta. ‘I wonder why nobody wanted to rent it.’ She had asked the agent who had rented out the cottage to her why it had lain empty so long, but he hadn’t been able to give her a clear answer. Being neither suspicious nor an heiress, she had snapped up the deal, for it suited her budget extremely well, and was exactly what satisfied her romantic soul. ‘I shall talk to the gardener tomorrow and see if he can tell me something useful.’

The next morning, after her customary salute to the sun, Meeta awaited the gardener’s arrival while she busied herself with an article for her magazine. At half-past eight, the small, wizened man arrived, his face contorted with the morning chill, a torn woollen cap thrown over his grey head. Meeta waited while he began digging and uprooting, and went up to him.

"Nice morning, isn’t it?"

The gardener looked up sullenly. "Nice enough for those who don’t have to work."

Meeta refrained from contradicting that assumption, because she understood that in the eyes of this hard-working son of the soil, any labour that was not physically strenuous was no work at all.

"Umm…I’d like to ask you something," ventured Meeta hesitantly.

The gardener merely grunted in response.

Slightly put off by his sullen taciturnity, yet aware that it wasn’t a sign of hostility, Meeta continued. "Would you be so kind as to tell me why this lovely little cottage has lain uninhabited for so long?"

"Because it is haunted."

Meeta did not know how to react to this terse statement. It was uttered with a conviction that surprised her because of the absurdity of what it meant.

"Haunted? What do you mean?" Meeta asked in an incredulous tone.

The gardener, who had been going on with his work during the conversation, now stopped digging and turned to Meeta. "Do you think the British left India?"

Meeta could not quite understand where the conversation was going. However, eager to ferret out as much information as she could from the old gardener, she merely nodded.

"Not all of them did." He gave her a glance that said he wouldn’t welcome any more inquisitive questions from her, and returned to his work.

Bemused, Meeta went back into the house. She felt a sudden chill as she stood in the centre of the small living room, and a sudden, inexplicable curiosity to explore the cottage came upon her. A narrow aisle opened into the bedroom, and further down, the kitchen. Meeta walked into the bedroom and looked around. Besides an ancient double bed and a teak cupboard, it held a small writing table. Meeta had already looked in the cupboard thoroughly before putting her clothes away, for fear of pests, and knew there was nothing of interest there. She turned to the desk. It bore some of her books and papers. The drawer was locked. She had tried to open it on the day of her arrival, but finding it locked, and being in a hurry, had given it up for later. Now, pulling out the bunch of keys she had been given, she tried every single one of them until she found the one that unlocked the drawer. She slid it open.

The drawer held a single satin glove. Now stained with age, in its better days it had been a very pretty lilac. Meeta picked it up carefully. It wasn’t just age that caused the stain, but a splash of coffee or something else that had probably spilt on the tiny hand that must have worn it once.

"What a queer place for a glove! And not even a pair." She replaced the glove carefully and locked the drawer.
Meeta thought about what the gardener had told her. She dismissed his idea as an unreasonable fancy. She decided to go back to work and clear her head of all the strange thoughts that had been occupying it this past hour. "There is no mystery here, after all. This cottage is at quite a distance from the town. Not many houses in the vicinity, either. Quite likely nobody wanted to stay here."

Meeta went for a walk in the evening. The rain clouds had cleared away and the sky was streaked with sun-splashed rivers of pink. A fresh breeze blew across her face and through her hair, rejuvenating her. She walked towards the edge of a cliff and looked out at the vast valley spread underneath. The lights were coming on in the towns and twinkled like clusters of stars against the silhouetted mountains.

A sudden strong scent wafted towards her, borne by the gentle evening wind. It wasn’t unpleasant; it reminded her of delicately scented flowers, like a mix of everything that was dainty and feminine.

"Good evening." A voice like the tinkle of silver bells spoke over the whisper of the wind. Meeta turned to behold a petite, neatly dressed young woman, her hands wrapped tight inside her shawl. "You are the new tenant of Hazel Cottage, I presume?"

Meeta stared at the newcomer. She was beautiful, with creamy white skin and expressive light brown eyes. Then, remembering her manners, she smiled. "Yes, I am."

"It is good to have that place tenanted again. Such a shame that a lovely house like that should lie unused."

"Do you know anything about it?" Meeta asked eagerly, her curiosity whetted.

"Oh yes, I do. It’s a famous story…anybody here would tell you. The house was a wedding gift to a young English bride from her parents. A pretty, good-natured girl was Louisa- wouldn’t hurt a fly. She had a husband who loved her more than his life, and they were a very happy couple. She was very possessive, though- she guarded the house preciously, and would not let anybody in. She believed the house was inhabited by their own souls and spirits, and never took very kindly to anybody else moving in, even for a couple of days. When she died, her husband moved back to England. The house has been inhabited once or twice since, but never for long periods."

The woman looked into the distance. "Louisa detested strangers." Something in the tone she said it in sent a shiver down Meeta’s spine. She turned over all that she had just heard in her mind. After a while she spoke, rather uncertainly.

"The gardener told me something rather strange today- that the house was haunted. I mean, who believes in ghosts now?"

The woman turned to Meeta with an expression she couldn’t read. "Indeed…nobody does."

A few more minutes of silence ensued, and the woman spoke again. "I must be leaving now. Good night." She smiled and walked away. Meeta watched as she drew out her hands and settled her shawl over her shoulders, gradually fading into the distance. Something about her hands struck Meeta as weird, but a piercing cry drew her attention away. Meeta’s heart skipped a beat- a shadowy form flew by.

"It is just an owl…what are you doing here so late, anyway? Go home." Meeta heard the raspy voice of the gardener. He shuffled past her, carrying a basketful of herbs he had collected in the hills.

Meeta slept fitfully that night. Though sleep overcame her as soon as she lay down, it was a disturbed slumber. Strange dreams floated through her mind- she saw a pair of dainty hands, empty desk drawers, old gardeners. A sudden thud awoke her, and she sat up in bed. The windows were open and the thin muslin curtains bobbed cheerfully as the wind swirled in through the windows. Something disturbed her, but she couldn’t make out what it was.

Her mind in a muddle, Meeta stumbled out of bed. She couldn’t think- but a nerve throbbed and haphazard images flew through her head. From the corner of her eye, she caught a movement somewhere in the room. She turned around wildly, and saw the drawer of the desk hanging precariously from its niche. She rushed up to it and stared into it. It was empty.

Had an intruder broken in? Was she being robbed? She turned over her pillow. Her bunch of keys, the only bunch for this cottage as the agent had assured her, was still there. Who had opened the drawer? Questions chased one another through Meeta’s mind and, feeling faint and helpless as if some preternatural force were choking her, she made her way to the open window. A blast of cold air hit her hard, and her senses immediately seemed to restore themselves. She became aware of a lingering scent- she knew it…it was the perfume of the woman she had met that evening on the cliff.

The moon, until now veiled by a solitary cloud, broke out into the dark sky and shone on the garden in full splendour. A spectral figure stood a few metres away from the window. The posture was familiar, as was the fabric around its shoulders. Meeta watched horrified. It was the same woman! And in a flash, something struck her. She had watched her arrange her shawl on the cliff- only one hand had been gloved. Meeta tried to move, to scream- but her senses were paralysed.

Now, as Meeta’s horror-struck eyes reluctantly watched, the diaphanous hands of the woman pulled on a glove- a coffee-stained, lilac glove. The face looked up, hazel eyes piercingly trained on Meeta’s stunned face, a sinister smile hovering about the full lips. The spectral woman then turned and walked on straight through the wooden gate, disappearing over the side of the hill.

Meeta packed up and moved into a hotel in town early the next morning. Nobody there had ever seen the fair-skinned woman or the old gardener. Legends abounded, but nobody tried to prove them right, for Hazel Cottage was haunted.

A year later, a young botanist rented Hazel Cottage. Exploring the house on his first day there, he unlocked the drawer of the writing desk.

An old, coffee-stained lilac glove rested in it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Sky & Other Things

The afternoon light is gradually fading. Winter will soon be at an end and the days are longer than they were last month; so why is the room dark at four o’clock in the afternoon? Could it be possible that the rain clouds are approaching?

I go to the balcony and look up at the sky. It is vast and high, and as blue as can be. There is something about the hues of the sky- it cannot be perfectly interpreted in word or picture. But then, few of nature’s glories can be. Masses of clouds float across lazily, brushed by a surprisingly nippy breeze. The sun has gone into hiding. In the distance, a thin layer of grey seems to have spread across a considerable portion of sky- a promise of rain?
It is not all clear overhead. Among the seemingly white clouds lingers a single, detached, flimsy wisp, almost imperceptibly grey. It blends with the white and the blue, but is nevertheless there. It flits about, an ugly duckling among the swans. There is no discrimination here, however. Some day, it will serve its purppose, by being a blessing to some parched bit of land. As of now, it floats endlessly in search of its destination. Take your eyes away from it for a moment, and it is gone.

School hasn’t yet let off, but a handful of young children are already out on the road with their mothers, walking homeward. But can they ever walk straight home? They wander about, picking up twigs and pebbles, shouting out to one another, casting alternating glances at the candy shop and their mothers. Empty water bottles, heavy bags, plastic baskets with empty lunch boxes- now that school is over, these things are the mothers’ burden, perhaps rightly so. For what is of more importance to any soul than the delicious feeling of new, hard-earned liberty, more so when it is the soul of a child who has just been released from the fetters of insipid lessons in a gloomy classroom? Surely, there is much more to learn under the open skies, with the wind, the sunshine and the rain for company.

I try looking for birds. A terribly bad idea in the city, among garishly coloured boxes of concrete. All I manage to see is a flock of five crows, flying up to perch atop the branches of a tree in a courtyard across the street. Why don’t they choose the trees on the hill, where the clouds sit, the wind sings and there is more freedom than in the midst of human settlements? I heard the welcome sound of birdsong the other day, in a street rather well lined with trees on both sides. The sun peered through the branches, green-touched rays shining warmly through the foliage. Few sights are as brilliant as that of soft sunlight carving its way through the branches of trees and kissing the earth. I like watching slivers of sunlight on the roof as it makes its way through open windows; the play of sunlight on water reflected in small, rippling waves on walls.

The sun is capable of much beauty, but my loyalties lie with the rain. It is inexplicable, but a gloomy day outside raises my spirits and gives me hope. It is probably a result of living in the tropics. I’m not sure a person living in England or the northeast would subscribe to my opinions.

The wind has died down and the sky doesn’t seem to have darkened much as yet. I shall wait for the rain, however. It gives me hope, something to look forward to; much needed respite in a world where everything else talked of is sickeningly controversial or ugly.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Confused Morals on the Beach

Sunday evenings are not ideal for trips to the beach if one wants to contemplate the sea in blissful solitude. Yesterday wasn’t. I should have known it, but I did want to feel the sea breeze blow through my hair, watch the waves roll softly over to the shore. As usual, the swish of the sea was drowned by loud music (more like noise) on the roads. People chattered away incessantly. The air smelled more of fish than ever, and there was no breeze rising from the sea, which meant all the odour hung right overhead. Added to that were the clouds of cigarette smoke. Isn’t smoking in public places banned? Or did I just dream that such a ban was actually in place in India? Oh well, we never do follow the rules, so I’d rather not talk about it.

However, it wasn’t exactly an unpleasant, uneventful evening. I know it’s not fair to laugh at other people’s misfortunes. There are some instances, though, that do not permit you to keep a straight face for long, especially if you aren’t blessed with moral standards and integrity as high as Ricky Ponting’s. Okay, I’ll plunge straightaway into the story now.

A motorbike was parked a few inches outside the parking line. A tow truck arrived, fastened the bike by its handle to a huge hook, and carried it away. Given our propensity to enjoy other people’s misfortunes, as I’ve just mentioned, it was a spectacle, and quite a few walkers stopped to watch the whole process and go home and report it to willing listeners.

A little while later, two young men walked up to the spot; they searched frantically for the bike, walking up and down the row of vehicles. Finally, on being told the truth, they were bemused. One of them probably thought it was a ‘Candid Camera’ kind of trick, for he wasn’t quite inclined to believe the story, and insisted that he must have parked his bike elsewhere. Finally, through gentle persuasion, he was made to realise his mistake, and walked off with his companion in pursuit of his beloved black bike.

It probably doesn’t sound funny when related like this. But on the spot, as the drama unfolded (yes, it is ‘drama’ by the standards of a place where absolutely nothing exciting happens), the expressions were amusing to watch. And what I find most embarrassing to admit is that I was unwilling to leave till I had actually seen the reaction of the bike’s owner when he realised it had been towed away. Why am I talking of morals?

Maybe the beach is not the best place for some peace and quiet; it is certainly a good spot for observing human nature and people’s discomfiture when they don’t park their vehicles properly and have them towed away. Oh, that was according to the laws, wasn’t it? There is some hope yet for this country.

PS: I have no idea why I wrote this. I was in two minds about it, but using the lessons I've learnt from Veronika Decides to Die, I have decided to put it up after all.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Three Wise Men

This is the story of the first day of the Sydney Test between India and Australia, where three supposedly wise men made horrendous decisions to ruin India’s chances in what could have been their best shot at proving themselves in the ongoing Test series.

Umpires Mark Benson, Steve Bucknor and hitherto lesser-known third umpire Bruce Oxenford came up with inexcusable mistakes to let Australia make amends for a batting collapse. True, there is always somebody in the team to make a fight of it and rescue it from trouble. But the people in question were Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds. Benson adjudged Ponting not out when he had nicked the ball to the ‘keeper and then gave him out leg-before when he was clearly not out. Justice done to the Indians? Maybe. But he shouldn’t have been allowed to reach his half century in the first place.

Bucknor should have retired long ago. His umpiring in recent years has gone from bad to worse. Symonds was evidently out and started walking, when Bucknor’s decision in his favour made him stay on, denying Ishant Sharma a precious scalp. And then Symonds blatantly admitted in the press conference to having nicked the ball. Should Australia ever again profess that they play a fair, even game, this incident can be brought in evidence against their tall claims. Adam Gilchrist is apparently the only ‘walker’ in the team.

Finally, with Oxenford, a stumping appeal went awry. So the third umpires are not to be trusted either.

Much is said about how umpires are brought under closer scrutiny thanks to the increasing use of technology. That is true, and sometimes allowances have to be made for human error. However, there must be some limit to the number of such instances. Umpires have to up their standards if they feel they are under too much pressure from technology. Technology is here to aid them, not test them.

Three terrible decisions have already had an irreparable effect on the match. What remains to be seen is whether the ICC is going to come out of its closeted comfort and do something about the umpiring standards, or just wait and watch. For there are certain things more important than money- like the game itself.

Happy Birthday, Michael!

I have probably eulogised Michael Schumacher enough in the recent past (though no praise is too much for him), so I shall restrict myself today to wishing him a very happy birthday. Much as I would love to see him back on the racing track, I think he has retired gracefully, making way for youngsters. So I’ll just wait patiently till we (hopefully) have another Schumacher on the track.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Introspection- A Self-Interview

I am not a huge advocate of New Year celebrations. To me, a year is nothing more than a convenient time frame based on nature's transitions. So what follows is no year-end review. Call me a narcissist with a misplaced sense of my own importance, but I decided to interview myself; it was fun, for I got to play celebrity and to ask questions (two of my favourite occupations?). Maybe 'introspection' is a nicer word to use, for I got a real sense of my likes and dislikes, and thought rather deeply about certain issues. I did this at midnight, awake in bed in the dark, when the people of my building were celebrating the arrival of the New Year. New Year's eve just serves as an excuse for more noise than we normally make. We also disturb animals in the bargain, but who cares? (Being good to animals will probably form the subject of some abominable 'New Year resolution'- another cliché I dislike- and be forgotten easily.) The usual disturbances- loud music, crackers, lots of talking- notwithstanding, I quizzed myself, and here is what I came up with.

Favourite politician: Nicolas Sarkozy. Colourful and controversial, he has kept France in the news ever since he took over the reins as President. Strikes, goofed-up diplomatic visits, a divorce, an Egyptian holiday with his new glamorous girlfriend- absolutely everything that could possibly happen to keep a country in the news. That is not to say he hasn't done any genuine work. Of course he has, and quite a few schemes of his have found favour with the concerned people. But what I like about Sarkozy is that he comes out in the open with everything. Wouldn't it be great if we had a politician like him here, moving about in careless abandon, and then 'accounting' for his actions with Karan Thapar in front of him?

Favourite sportsman: Michael Schumacher. Forever. His retirement holds no significance for me; no young British upstart or Spanish spoilsport or Finnish 'Iceman' can take the place Schumacher has so deservedly carved out for himself in the high-pressure world of Formula One. He is up there with Ayrton Senna. Nobody else can even dream of coming close to them.

Favourite season: The monsoons, of course. Particularly because there is so little rain where I live. Everytime a cyclonic storm brews over the Bay of Bengal, my hopes rise. Rains are synonymous with natural splendour. Hills are cloaked in a fresh green cover, the normally unmerciful sunrays are diluted to watery beams struggling through thick grey clouds, the moisture-laden breeze refreshes and rejuvenates. Is there a better season? (Except perhaps autumn, but let's not talk of it where it doesn't really manifest itself.)

Favourite author: Whenever I like a book, I obviously admire the author. It isn't fair to pick one person as a favourite author, because writers have their own individual styles and deserve respect for what they do. Okay, the truth is I can't decide. So I'll talk about one author whose work impacted me greatly in the last few months- Paulo Coelho. I can't pretend to understand everything he says, or even to be able to interpret everything correctly. But I do know that I'm learning from his work, and every book of his is a delightful journey through facts unknown or latent.

Favourite book: Again, it's hard to pick one book as my favourite, and I really cannot resolve the tie, so I'll mention two memorable books from my recent reading: The Keys of the Kingdom (AJ Cronin), and Veronika Decides to Die (Paulo Coelho). The Keys of the Kingdom is a compelling book about a priest's struggle to accept what the Church regards as faith, contrasted against his own ideas about how people should be served. Veronika Decides to Die looks at suicide and mental illness, and about how it is important to live life on one's own terms, without paying much attention to what the rest of the world thinks.

Favourite plant: I don't have green fingers. I know very little about plants, but I care deeply for them. When I'm outside, green is the colour I like best. There's this one little plant that is growing out of a little hole in the floor of our balcony. I don't know what plant it is, or if it is a weed. What matters is that it is young and beautiful, and I like to watch the sunlight brighten up its nascent green leaves every morning. It's a marvel. If omens are to believed, then this certainly is one, signifying hope and health.

Favourite businessman: Vijay Mallya. Besides being an extraordinary entrepreneur, he has done much for India in terms of motorsport. (Does that explain my predilection for him?) We have a stake in an F1 team, thanks to Mallya. He will help bring F1 to India (I speak in the future tense, because until the Grand Prix is actually in existence, I can't be sure it will happen).

These are some of the people/things I questioned myself about. It was a great way to pass time while I waited for the noise to come to an end. And when it did, I promptly fell asleep, bringing some sensible rumination to an end.

Any biographers around?