Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sport, the Healer

Watching sports heals.

Let's keep Indo-Pak relations and the fracas over the IPL out of this, because that isn't something I call sport at all- where the in-danger-of-obsolescence glamour queens strut about and spout wisdom at journalists and try to justify their actions; where political relations are inextricably linked with what should be healthy competition for a good cause.

People sit in nervous anticipation for the heroes of the day to walk in. The arena is charged with excitement, people fidget in impatience as the several routine motions are gone through before the sportspersons walk out to the centre. And at the first glimpse of those so eagerly awaited, a reverent hush falls over the crowd for the smallest fraction of a second as they grapple with the reality of seeing the people they deify in flesh-and-blood, of knowing that they actually are mortal- before they break into loud cheers and temporary hysteria, a sense of togetherness binding them all in this worship of common idols. Very little comes close to being at the hallowed ground, soaking in the atmosphere of anxiety, unsurpassed joy and collective sighs, groans and yells of delight.

More often than not, the magnitude of the event doesn't matter- however, sanctity ostensibly is proportionate to the scale and the grandeur of the match/game at hand. The Grand Slams, a World Cup final, a Formula One or a MotoGP race, are all evocative of the highest amounts of awe and admiration, time or geography weaving itself into the reasons for the passionate ardour shown them.

The women's singles final at Melbourne yesterday drove it all home to me- I realised how much I'd missed live sport over the past year when certain reasons had caused abstention from sports channels. Even as the match was in progress, I visualised in my head all that I'd like to see- Justine Henin carrying the momentum of her second set win into the third after losing the first set to Serena Williams, winning the match and sinking down on her knees in ecstasy, her face buried in her hands and her shoulders quivering as myriad emotions overtook her, and then receiving the Daphne Akhurst Trophy. (That none of this actually happened is a different story altogether.) I celebrated every point with her, worried every time Serena broke her serve, and finally felt deeply for her as she sat on her chair at the end of the match, dejected at what could so well have turned out otherwise to be the most spectacular fairytale ending.

It is great fun being woken up in the middle of the night by your sports-mad father, so you can sneak out and watch France's capitulation to Italy in a FIFA WC final; or rise early in the morning to enjoy the Copa America or a test match Down Under. You grab the remote every alternate Sunday to watch an F1 race, telling your mother (who, in most cases, would rather watch something else), that this is the only race in Italy or Monaco or Malaysia for that season- and every other Sunday, the MotoGP is on, the only one for the year in Britain or Spain. The tempo gathers momentum towards the end of the year, of course, when it becomes absolutely impossible to wrest the remote out of your hands, and if you depend on cable operators, you have to pick numerous fights with them to get some stupid movie channel off air and replace it with a sports channel. Your mother doesn't know how everything happens "just once a year" with such incredible regularity, slotting in exactly when the few programmes she watches are being telecast.

It isn't just about the results- these matches/games are where you can shut mundanity out for a few hours and be swept in the victories and disappointments of people you don't know, be one with all the other supporters halfway across the world, and have something to occupy your mind when everything else suddenly seems bleak and monotonous. Healthy, fulfilling and clean- if we can only keep it that way.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How do you find a place whose existence you're unsure of- which might, in fact, only exist in your head- make it the home it asks to be made, which beguiles and assures you that the moment you're there, you've found yourself?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Justine Henin shows who's queen.

Andy Murray brings a nation out of mourning.

Capricious tennis. I can hardly wait for Sunday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I know there'll be no end to the Guardian's eulogising of the Scottish hero- he will be the new saviour of sport on the islands, the best thing ever to have happened to Scotland since Nessie and Sean Connery, the man most deserving of all the silverware this year, the one to replace Prince William as the Brit charming an entire continent; why, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button might have to cart their McLaren-Mercedes cars into the pits for a while, and Cheryl Cole's efforts to break ground in the US may not be so important any longer.

And yet....go, Murray!

(And you too, Justine. The Chinese girls have had an incredible run in the tournament this far, and now it's time for this Belgian to demonstrate her firepower.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Yay, Justine!

Belgian Justine Henin was pushed to the limit by 20-year-old compatriot Yanina Wickmayer. I'm glad she was. It is a sign of hope- you wouldn't want to see people coming back from hiatuses winning championships easily. The 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-3 scoreline wasn't a very heartening one for fans hoping to see Henin crush her less experienced rival.

That said, I hope Henin wins the Australian Open. She really deserves to- and I'd like her to win the rest of the Grand Slam titles as well, this year. Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

Today's match was an opportunity to see the fighter in Henin come to the fore- a real resurgence. With Kim Clijsters already out of the tournament, Henin is the lone Belgian in the draw. She faces Nadia Petrova in the quarter-finals, and it sure is going to be an interesting match. For some reason, though, I fear more for Henin when she's playing the less-experienced girls, than when pitted against the established ones. Remember when she unexpectedly lost to Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon 2007? She squandered what was perhaps her best chance at the most coveted Grand Slam title, the only one that she is yet to win. Winning the Australian Open should definitely give her the confidence and the rhythm that she needs for the year ahead; her monopoly over the French Open notwithstanding, the Grand Old Lady of Wimbledon is the tournament her fans would love to see her win.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Over Time

Two entirely unrelated pieces, but I had to write them today-

The House Across The Street

It once throbbed with life. A large family grew and flourished within its walls not too long ago. The head of the family was an astrologer, and needless to say, much sought after- we pretend not to be superstitious, but when challenged by situations that we term extremities, 'faith' springs from an unknown source.

The house is now in a state of disrepair. The real-estate dealers, of course, compete for it fiercely. The paint is peeling off its walls and doors, the wreaths of leaves across its two doorways have turned brown and hang all askew. The ornate grills on the windows are brown with rust; a faded picture of The tree in front of the house is wan and listless, with winter admittedly playing a part in the decay. Graffiti in the form of advertisements is splattered across the walls. The plot adjacent to the one where this house stands has been converted into a giant dumping ground and open-air lavatory. Sad.

Seventeen Years On

I met her nearly seventeen years ago at the bus-stop in Bokaro. We've come a long way since then. We were together for only three years before I moved to Vizag, and then we wrote to each other religiously. She never forgot my birthday, and the letters and cards kept travelling back and forth and being saved up for posterity. Until gradually, the years caught up with us. With me.

I just didn't give her enough time- I didn't write frequently enough, didn't call, even forgot her birthdate once (and I remember how upset she was). We used to call ourselves best friends. I wasn't even being a good friend.

When I called her this afternoon after a very long time, I didn't know if she was using the same number. I got lucky. She recognised my voice immediately and I was touched. I possibly couldn't have been this cruel to a girl like her. She had tried to contact me several times, she told me, particularly on my birthday. If a relationship breaks off somewhere and can be picked up again anywhere down the line, there has to be something about it that makes it immune to the ravages of age and time.

"Next time you go to Singapore or Malaysia or anywhere else, please let me know," she said, half-serious, half in jest.

I will. I mean to.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

You know all is right with the world when you know you can go on that long walk at 9.30 at night, jacketed to ward off the chill that is gradually lessening and making way for summer; watch couples strolling up and down the roads, pushing their babies in perambulators, cuddling them and spending an hour of solitude with the ones they love best to compensate for a day of stress and worry; throw your head back and see the stars and maybe a planet or two against a velvety dark sky, slightly touched by the unhealthy red glow of city-lights. You gossip with your friend of four years, swat mosquitoes with the back of your hand, let your laughter ring through the mostly empty roads- throw inhibition to the winds.

And then you come back to the warmth of your room. You know you have someplace to go to. The cares will keep till tomorrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Very Bookish Saturday

You couldn't give me a better way to spend Saturday afternoon.

With the fans thrumming slowly overhead, long tables and shelves of book stretched out endlessly before bewildered eyes and an unlimited amount of time on your hands, you really couldn't want for anything else. Books, old and dusty, yellow and musty, fragrant and actually organised by author in the literature section. This has to be my highest idea of heaven. Second-hand books have an added charm; the names of givers and receivers inscribed on the first page with affection or disinterest, the curiosity such dedications naturally arouse, and the flight they give to your imagination. Nostalgia made a brief appearance, but I was too overwhelmed by the profusion of good reading that lay in front of me to give it enough credence.

I spent a happy hour getting black grime on my fingers and under my carelessly overgrown nails. I couldn't bear to see the dust thickening on the books, and I had a compulsive urge to pick up and blow the dust off a couple of them. Books of all kinds were stacked all over the place, and it was a delight to see old-fashioned editions of LM Montgomery and Somerset Maugham, and editions of William the Outlaw that I didn't know existed. Much as I tried to, I couldn't steer myself to the section on contemporary fiction, and so I wallow (almost entirely) in classics again.

I picked up Anna Karenina (a book that has been endlessly raved over, and perhaps the best beginning for a 'Tolstoy virgin'); what seems to be a 1922 edition of DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers- hardback and in a decent condition; The Woman in White, one of the precursors to the quintessential detective novel; Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night, a book recommended highly in the comments section of a post in the Guardian's book-blog.

I have begun Mother Night and it looks promising. I cannot wait to go back there- I had a hard enough time tearing myself away from the place, so spoilt for choice was I. And next time, I intend to make up for the 'heavy reading' I have been accused of with a good dose of juvenile literature.

Oh, I can just see the long, happy hours of reading that lie ahead!