Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wishlist for the New Season II

While I have made my leanings towards Ferrari pretty evident, I would like to see a good fight this season- on the track, not off it. 2007 was abominable for all the ruckus caused by the spying allegations. While the whole episode did spice up the season, F1 could have done without such negative publicity. The season, the first after seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher's retirement, was pathbreaking in that there was a rookie driver in the shape of British Lewis Hamilton competing for the championship. Accusations flew back and forth within the McLaren garage as defending champion Fernando Alonso found himself struggling to keep pace with his young teammate. There might have been some British pride overruling the demands of decorum, and I don't think I really blame Alonso for feeling left out. Yes, perhaps he was jealous of his often more successful teammate; but there must have been a pressing reason to force him to move back to Renault despite his having earned himself a most coveted berth at the British team.

The spying saga also grabbed a lot of space as Ferrari accused McLaren-Mercedes of having stolen confidential information. McLaren was disqualified, a rather disgraceful result for a team with a rich racing tradition. Ironically, Renault, accused of spying by McLaren, was let off due to lack of evidence. Coming into the new season, there will hopefully not be any more of such nonsense. The teams must compete with integrity; of course there is big money involved, but what is sport without fair play?

There is one comeback I'd like to see this season. I want Valentino Rossi to win the MotoGP championship. He has gone two seasons without a championship victory, losing out in 2006 to Nicky Hayden, and to Casey Stoner in 2007. Now I have always been a little partial to Ducati and Loris Capirossi (Stoner's teammate), because I've seen them spend a lot of time with the Ferrari team and Luca Badoer, Michael Schumacer and Rubens Barrichello. But when it comes to pure racing skill, I think Rossi is the biking equivalent of Schumacher. A treat to watch in the rain, with incredible overtaking skills, Rossi really deserves to win more championships. He is not getting any younger, and faces stiff competition from Stoner and Dani Pedrosa. The last season was pretty exciting, and hopefully this one will be the same, or even better.

As March approaches, I'm looking forward to all the action in motorsporting. As of now, I have nothing other than A1 GP and GP2 to follow, but soon, my weekends of 'motorsporting-nothingness' will come to an end.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Postscript to 'Things Better Left Unsaid'

I didn't include any of my own goof-ups there, did I? So here is one of my own brain's creations. I was at the cinema today, and I bumped into an acquaintance, and asked her, ignoramus that I am, "What are you doing here?" And she replied, "I've come to watch the movie, obviously." So much for my great observation and listening skills.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wishlist for the New Season I

A few years ago, I used to complain that our media did not give enough importance to Formula One. Whenever I missed a much-awaited Grand Prix because of an erratic cable operator, I tried to catch some of the action on the sports bulletins of the news channels. Except Headlines Today, nobody really seemed to care; footage would arrive late, and when it did, nothing of consequence would be shown. The statistics would be read out by somebody horrifyingly ignorant of F1. Things are changing now. But not necessarily for the better.

When Narain Karthikeyan earned himself a drive in 2005 with the now-defunct Jordan team (which, incidentally, has evolved over the years to Force India), the Indian media suddenly woke up to the existence of F1. And, as usual, went over the top with expectations and predictions. The United States Grand Prix, one of the most farcical races in the history of the sport, gave Karthikeyan his first points and became a cause for mild celebration; apart from that, Karthikeyan had a pretty ordinary debut season, 'chose' not to keep his seat (for which his sponsors had paid an astronomical sum), and moved to Williams as a test driver in 2006. Not the most exciting career, perhaps, but in a country starved for motorsport heroes, he was, and continues to be, a role model. That doesn't really mean that he has to be interviewed 'exclusively' by each of the numerous news channels after every single race involving an Indian entity. These interviews normally involve no real information; they are just a bunch of random predictions, with no history or analysis.

Now that we have an 'Indian' team (with cars not very tastefully named VJM-01) on the grid, there will probably be a number of F1 pundits on TV. They don't have to know much about the sport. Just a smattering of drivers' names, perhaps; a little bit about the past careers of Giancarlo Fisichella, Adrian Sutil, and Vitantonio Liuzzi will do. Painted women in bright studios will mispronounce mostly European names with more gusto than ever. Impatient that we are, instant results will be expected from a team that is realistically competing with Honda and Super Aguri to avoid being at the bottom of the table.

Vijay Mallya is an ambitious man, but doesn't have any experience in F1. He likes flamboyance, but clever businessman that he is, he will hopefully not let it substitute substance. What he does have is a lot of money, an enormously important ingredient for success in the sport. I don't think he quite deserves the criticism he has been subjected to for not having selected an Indian driver for Force India this season. He has done right by opting for drivers who are in the thick of things. Fisichella's experience and Sutil's vigour should help consolidate the team's position. At a later stage, Sutil might be able to compete with drivers like Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica. Karthikeyan has been shuttling between A1 GP and F1 testing, and is neither as young nor as experienced as the drivers Mallya has chosen. Having a debutant like Karun Chandhok might have been a courageous move, but not very sensible, for a still struggling team. Chandhok, by his own admission, needs another season in GP2 before he is fully ready for F1.

The new F1 season will start in about a month, and promises to be exciting with new circuits and night races in the offing. And yes, of course, the Indian team. As long as we don't suddenly produce a number of glamorously dressed clones of Tamara Ecclestone, I'll be happy to watch the sport gain popularity in India. With even the most obscure testing results in the papers, I'm not complaining any longer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Things Better Left Unsaid

Here are some things that wouldn't do credit to smart brains. But they were/are said, sometimes repeated, by the most sensible among us. They irritate, amuse and make you shake your head in disbelief at whether we can actually be so stupid. We can, and we are. Here is the proof.

1. A classmate: "This is my landline number. Call me on it only when I am at home."
I'm apparently clairvoyant, I know when people are in and when they're out, and this classmate of mine made me realise it.

2. An F1 presenter on TV: "Today's race is the thirteenth race of the season, which means the last race was the twelfth."
Here is a revelation for the mathematically challenged- 13 follows 12.

3. Commonly heard: "You don't have any brothers or sisters. So are you the only child of your parents?"
Unless the speaker is thinking of 'adopted' or 'step-' brothers and sisters in specific terms, this statement totally defies logic.

4. A common, painfully illogical conversation:
"How many children do you have?"
"Son or daughter?"
"A daughter."
"Oh, does that mean you don't have a son?"


"How many children do you have?"
"Son and daughter?"
"Two sons."
"Oh, so don't you have any daughters?"

How daft can people be?!

5. Finally, this conversation that is most annoying to any youngster. Such statements are often heard at large social gatherings comprising a sizeable number of elderly people (no offence meant). I recently had the pleasure of seeing my younger cousin, making his first public appearance in years, get miffed by all the attention he was getting at his sister's wedding as the bride's brother. The conversation?

"Oh my God, I can't believe how you've grown. I last saw you eighteen years ago, when you were six months old (do you remember?), and now you've changed so much!"

Okay, I might have exaggerated a bit here, but just a very little bit. This is no conversation at all, just a one-sided, admittedly good-natured attempt at establishing a rapport with a bored youngster paying as much attention as he does to his lecturer in class. It is true, people expect to be remembered, perhaps rightly so; I escaped narrowly with a wild, partly intelligent guess (made with the help of a few overheard conversations) when I was asked by a lady to identify her identity. Honestly, they all look the same to me.

Though I do find some of these things incredibly stupid, and putting up with some of this inanity might have been a terrible trial, I am glad they were said; how else would we satisfy our wicked urges to laugh at other people, and for the angels, at ourselves?

Revelling In Books

When I was in Class Six, we had a story titled 'Too Many Books' in our English textbook. Here is what I remember of the story. It was about a man avidly fond of collecting books; he had only to like the look of a book to purchase it and bring it home. Then, when his house began overflowing with books, his wife got furious with him and forbade him from bringing home any more books. But, collecting books being more of an obsession with him than a habit, he couldn't resist buying a splendid-looking brown leather-covered book, with gold lettering on it. His wife flew into a rage when she saw it and threw it out of the window. Later, she felt sorry for her actions and mended the book, and while doing so, she found a very valuable stamp in it. The couple sold the stamp for a huge sum of money, and bought themselves a bigger house, with a room exclusively for books in it.

What brought back memories of this story was the state my room was in a couple of days ago. Having just finished shopping at Crossword, all the books we'd bought were strewn around on the sofa and the table. Added to them were three of my textbooks, and two of my mother's magazines. Naturally, my mother was not very happy with the condition of the room. When we began sorting everything out, we had to move some books out of the bookcase to make room for the new ones. It is a constant process. The new books keep supplanting the older ones, thanks to their bright covers and unsoiled, fresh pages.

I love the smell of a book. I like to open a book, hold it by its spine, and bury my nose into its pages. I like every kind of book, even the old, rotting ones whose pages come loose at the slightest touch. My copy of 'The Grapes of Wrath' is one of the oldest books I've ever seen; half of its pages are grey, the rest are yellow. Which makes it really attractive to me. Yellowing, musty-smelling books are an absolute delight. How I wish I could stumble upon an attic with a trunkful of ancient books, and browse through them one by one, losing track of time. Sadly, such romantic things never happen in real life; they are only the substance of books.

What joy it is to lose oneself in a book. Sometimes, finishing a book is rather a painful experience as it brings along the burden of having to say goodbye to the characters who have populated my mind for a few days and filled every free waking hour with their own dreams and lives. But books can be re-read; anytime I like, I can go back to the world that captivated me and made life more pleasant. Often, the characters of a book spill into my dreams and leave me with something to ponder over the next morning. If I have a long day ahead, I get through it thinking of the book waiting for me at bedtime. I remember the nightmares I had when I was reading 'The Lord of the Rings'- something akin to the Nazgul haunted my sleep, and I must admit, I did spend a few uncomfortable nights. But what is a little bit of inconvenience to the joy of being able to read a good book? And, in fact, the 'real' experiences serve to make the book more enjoyable.

Much as I care for what is inside a book, I am always particular its appearance. I don't like it when books have dog-eared corners, and when their pages are scribbled upon. I don't approve of people folding the corner of a page so they can remember where they left off. Why don't they use bookmarks instead? And one of the things that people just cannot do properly is turn pages with a gentle hand. Instead of turning a page tenderly by the corner, they place four sweaty fingers on the page, grip it with a sweaty thumb, and turn it so roughly that the very thought repels me no end. Another detestable, most despicable habit is to lick a finger and then use it to turn a page. I never trust other people with my books. All my life, I have lent books to only three people, who know my habits extremely well, and would never hurt my feelings, or the book's.

And that brings me to the subject of borrowing and lending. I often come across a person reading a book that I have been longing to read, but I don't ask to borrow it. Because I know what a possessive book lover is like, and I don't want to be politely rebuffed. There are people who ask me for books. And I tell them,"Sorry, I've misplaced it, but I'll look for it." When the question is repeated, so is the answer. Some people get the message, but there is the odd stubborn person who does not, or will not, understand. But I can be stubborn too, and this is one matter where I really stand my ground, and let my natural inclination towards politeness go for a walk.

I have often wished, for instance before an exam, that I was born a plant or a doe, or a Stone Age caveman, but then I realise how much I would have missed. It is true, you don't feel the absence of something unless you actually know about it. Even so, I wouldn't exchange my book-loving self for anything else in the world.

Connecting with Nature

It is criminal to have an exam on a day as beautiful as this. But we did, and in the three quarters of an hour that I spent on the bus to college, my eyes were more on the cloud-veiled hills than on my Data Mining textbook. A thick, cloudy mist hung in the distance, ready to swallow anything that dared to come too close to it. I tried to make out the outlines of the green hills in the distance, but I could barely see them- just a little curve, here and there, made itself visible, assuring me that the hills were standing strong through the storm, enjoying the attentions of the low, swirling clouds.

My heart bleeds for the ravaged hills. Everytime we decide to make our own lives easier, we destroy a bit of nature. So it is with the hills. Connectivity and comfortable travel is what we are asking for. The solution? Bare the hill slopes of all the trees, cut through them and run trucks up and down the red roads, pressing against the soil that once sustained a more gentle, nature-friendly form of life. Today, the rain-laden clouds embrace the hill tenderly, forming a cold compress on its bleeding wounds; the moist wind blows softly, adding its own soothing effect.

The pink flowers bloom by the highway every January. Towards the close of the mild winter, they make their appearance. They herald the arrival of spring/summer. They arrived last month, as usual, and are now fading away. Which is the signal for summer to sneak in. Yes, summer, because it supplants the fleeting spring and establishes itself with unnecessary fury. I like the little bit of spring that we do have. My memories of spring? I associate the season with Board Exams. I remember walking home from the bus stop every afternoon, when I was in school, and the fluff would fly around, seeking an anchor so its parent plant could propagate itself. The fluff would stick to socks, clothes, hair; every visible inch of space. I'd hold my palm open as I walked down the tree-lined road, and sometimes the fluff would fly right into my clammy hand. Then I'd release it immediately, feeling a little guilty, because it rightly belongs to the air, and, to me, symbolises freedom. Just once, I'd like to be able to experience a proper spring- to smell the intoxicating breeze bearing the mingled scents of a hundred different flowers, to watch them come to blooming life from their dormant beauty as buds; to watch a light rain fall soundlessly and unimprison the primitive fragrances locked in the soil. I want to indulge my senses, feel everything that is natural and beautiful at once.

No matter how powerful humans claim to be, I feel Nature is more about the plants, the animals, the sky, the wind and the sea. They were here long before we were. They have a strong relationship, and speak one another's language. We belong to this wonderful community, of course, but our ignorance keeps us away. There are certain moments, however, when Nature calls upon us with force, asking us to be a part of the happy celebration of life and beauty. Perhaps we interpret these signals in our own individual ways. My channel is the rain.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Definition of Reluctance

'It was Monday morning. Swaminathan was reluctant to open his eyes.' The opening lines of one of my favourite books, RK Narayan's classic 'Swami and Friends'. Indeed, after the 'delicious freedom of Saturday and Sunday', I can hardly find myself capable of facing the world on Monday. All the cares that relegate themselves to oblivion over the weekend resurface with venomous vengeance. Life becomes a dreary, unending journey of buses and classrooms. Every Monday morning, pep talks to myself notwithstanding, I am a personification of reluctance. This, precisely, is my definition of reluctance- having to wake up early on Monday morning and get ready for another long week of meaningless tasks. The worst part is that the Monday blues begin on Sunday evening- so if, for some reason, the weekend is reduced to one measly Sunday, then it's like having no weekend at all. The world would be a much better place with the absence of Mondays; pity there are not enough philanthropists of my ilk to propagate the message.

Coming back to defining reluctance, I put the question to some of my classmates. The results: 'Coming to college' tops the list. Whoever said college was fun is, in our view, a blasphemer. (My little poll was conducted among students who have a pretty decent attendance percentage at college- does that clear the mystery a bit?) After that comes 'staying in college'. Maybe there is not much of a difference between coming to college and staying there, but the preparations in the morning are quite a pain, and then sitting through lectures is a bother too. Maybe, if I question working people, I'll just have to replace 'college' with 'work'.

Eating also features in the list of activities performed reluctantly. The food in question is regular home-made food. It does not include junk food. Also mentioned is the ever-popular nightmare, writing examinations. The grind and the last-minute 'revision' (most of the time we end up going through new chapters five minutes before the exam starts) are equally tiresome. Going to the lab in the afternoon is another sore point with students, especially when half the class is allowed to go home and the other half has to stay and puzzle itself over the conundrums of Computer Networks. This is one weekly ordeal when networking becomes extremely painful, even to the most zealous champions of social networking.

This is just a sample of how reluctance can be defined. Another day, perhaps, I shall attempt a definition of something more pleasant, but now, do feel free to add your own definition to the list.