Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Homeward Bound

The sun is far from setting yet and flecks the uncannily blue sky, sending streams of gold shooting through the clouds and reflecting off some of the hideous monstrosities that are the glass-and-concrete buildings on the campus- a far cry from the delicate grey-and-red of the older, more sedate structures sheltered by thick foliage.

Down the winding cobbled pathways with gaps that have seen the demise of many an expensive pair of heels goes the tired multitude. The hair tumbles out of the chignons, plaits and ponytails, the kohl is smeared all around the eyes and the shining look-at-me self-consciousness of the morning is replaced by tired nonchalance.

The crowds wind towards the bus and the parking lot. A few haggard souls make their way back from coffee, fortified for another session at the grindstone. How it must hurt to go back to work when the rest of the office is emptying out! A thin man with a gaunt face and worried eyes walks in, bearing the air of someone with his moustache freshly taken off and painfully conscious of its loss, a sacrifice at the altar of unreasonable women who ruthlessly demand clean-shaven faces in their conversations with girlfriends.

On the bus, claustrophobia sets in. Skin against skin, the odour of stale sweat, food-laden breath, the unadulterated smiles of recognition that break out with all the more freedom at the end of the day. The struggle with the window panes that stick fast to their niches, the blinding dazzle with which the sun chooses to go down, lighting up the spectacular violet and white clouds. The rattle of the metal body of the bus, of bones and teeth, the absurdly long halts at the traffic lights.

All superseded by the promise of a couch and a good book to read.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Fifth Season

Cross-posted from The Weed Joint:

This must be a rewarding month for bookmakers.

June has always been an exhausting yet deeply blissful month for sport-lovers. Weekends are looked forward to with fervent ardour, adrenaline flows as abundantly as beer and battles for TV viewership are temporarily suspended (how can a sports fanatic not get his/her way?). I remember when Sundays in particular used to be punishingly hectic due to uncooperative cable operators, numerous phone calls and personal visits being made to them to take DD Sports (which, invariably, would be telecasting archives of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics) off air to put Star Sports on for the F1 race. The amount of sporting action was obfuscating- I remember one particular Sunday when motor sports clashed with hockey clashed with cricket clashed with tennis…Super Sunday the news channels called it, and rightly so.

On such tantalising days, spoilt for choice, you grip the remote tightly, caring naught for the beads of sweat on your palm and for bodily needs. If you get up for a snack or to answer a telephone call, you just might miss that historic moment that you would want to talk to your colleagues and later, your grandchildren, about. To rub it in when an equally passionate sports lover has missed it. Think, for instance, of all the people who were at the court to catch a glimpse of the incredible marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut- what a wonderful fireplace story. And this June, things are as busy as ever- Star Cricket is forced to telecast Wimbledon matches, so you get the picture.

The FIFA World Cup, as it does every four years, has won itself new supporters. Hitherto unknown names roll off alien tongues with astonishing adroitness, out-of-work presenters turn into expert columnists on the ‘hot’ quotient and partying habits of the players, drawing rooms that earlier erupted with the melodramatic shrieks of chiffon-saree-backless-blouse-clad soap opera actresses now warm to the infinitely preferable monotonous drone of the vuvuzela.

The ’consequences’ of the World Cup, of course, haven’t been entirely favourable as seen by a certain section of people. The French President reportedly chose to abandon meetings with certain non-profit groups in favour of an emergency discussion to tackle the most predominant ‘social’ issue- the lacklustre performance of the Les Bleus at the tournament- and didn‘t win himself too many supporters through this move. He sought a meeting with Thierry Henry as soon as he returned home- a good indication of how sports can often be as large as life and political egos.

It isn’t just at the higher levels, though. Us small fry are equally enraptured by the idea of sport. Picture an office area with a solitary speaker-phone, where a voice from the client’s end drones on in injured ignorance about trivial matters, when more pressing affairs beckon- four laptops sit adjacent to one another, streaming feeds from the two World Cup matches that are taking place simultaneously, Wimbledon, and the finals of the Asia Cup- of course people choose to crowd around them, punching arms and thumping fists, rather than indulge the unreasonable fancies of a person continents away. Justifiable. Isn’t this your perfect idea of an ideal workday? Gone are the days when you had to call home and find out from a disinterested mother or wife, who didn’t even know where the sports channels were, the latest score updates. Technology is in.

Interestingly, even in a cricket-parochial country like ours, the euphoria of the football World Cup has drowned out- albeit temporarily, as I‘m guessing- the cricket madness. The Asia Cup was only followed on the sidelines, when people had time to spare after having exhausted their overnight-earned football knowledge in heated discussions. Wimbledon seems to be faring slightly better, thanks to the publicity the Isner-Mahut match that lasted longer than eleven hours has generated. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the perennial favourites, have also toiled to victory in five-setters, in a sense narrowing down the gap between themselves and the also-rans. Adding an element of interest was the departure of the French Open finalists in the first round of the ladies’ singles.

Also squeezed in last weekend was the US Open golf tournament, won by Graeme Dowell of Northern Ireland, making him the first European to win the tournament in forty years. Just another piece of worthless statistics if you’re a sports cynic, and a bit of news to gasp over if you’re one of the more sensible people inhabiting this planet. Golf isn’t just Tiger Woods- not anymore.

And in case you have some time to spare this weekend (discounting the mouth-watering England-Germany match-up), set it apart for the European Grand Prix taking place at Valencia, particularly if you’ve been watching with closely scrunched eyebrows the diminishing disparity between McLaren and Red Bull.

If you’re trying to escape the sporting madness of the season, sorry, you’re in the wrong year. If Shakira’s gyrating moves and the goal-scoring celebrations of the Wavin’ Flag song turn you off, please find yourself a new hobby.

If you are a bookmaker, go have a field day. For the rest of us, beer, popcorn and a good couch are always an option- I beg your pardon, THE option.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alert: Yet Another Rain Post

The writing is on the window-panes.

It is transient, and the heart roughly inscribed on the vapour created by the sudden, heavy showers of rain will soon be borne away by the wind- very like the sea sweeping into the bay with a flourish and dragging sand-castles and toe-inscribed protestations of eternal love away in one large wave. It's inevitable- and therefore, or despite, the impermanence of it all, strangely fascinating.

I made a quick stop at the supermarket (with partner-in-crime Airborne) for a much-needed replenishment of sunscreen lotion and potato chips. Yes, summer is back (or so I was given to thinking till a little while ago). A quick rummage at Strand yielded a copy of Vanity Fair, a book I've long had my eye on. I detest 'Now a major motion picture' covers, but it was a decent bargain and so I put my intolerance temporarily away to accommodate a sly-looking Reese Witherspoon (?) on my bookshelf. Said bag of potato chips more or less equally shared and steaming tasteless coffee dispensed with, all I looked forward to was getting home to my cosy couch, cushion behind my back, book in hand, the aural assault of the vuvuzelas (call me weird, but I don't really mind the din- it is reassuring in a way) and possibly another upset in the tournament.

And of course all hell broke loose. The rain made up its mind to wreck my best pair of footwear and seep into the pages of the books I was carefully guarding in my bag. Airborne led the scrum for umbrellas and we managed to get away in decent time as the campus turned into an impromptu Bollywood rain-scene depiction.

Walking in the rain can be a tricky proposition. You don't try to avoid puddles- the most incorrigible dreamer cannot think of it on Indian roads- you only step nimbly and dance your way into and out of the most shallow and least debris-filled ones, clutch at the nearest elbow in sight and poke people's eyes out with your umbrella. You slosh through ankle-deep water (and this is in well-paved areas) and turn a blind eye to leeches, frogs and floating sticks and turds. This planet is big enough to hold us all. The slush spatters the clothes worn with bachelor-ly pride in the morning, putting paid to any lingering, unhygienic ideas of re-use. It sticks to freshly-cleaned shoes and vehicles. You learn balancing acts worthy of Anna Pavlova.

Have I turned into a rain-sceptic? Of course not! The rains have barely arrived, and it's time to chuck the sunscreen lotion back into my bag and think of graffiti to inscribe on the window-panes. Make me a rain-curtain, and you shall have half my kingdom. When I have one, that is.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I love watching the curving sweep of the expressway as the bus glides onto it every evening, taking me away from the cacophony of speaker-phones in cubicles, stingy windows covered with Venetian blinds and managers adept at making life miserable for you with aplomb. The sun blazes out brazenly glorious, lighting up the clouds which let it through in fine rays, bathing the city underneath in a sheer web of fine gold. It glances off polished surfaces, blinding your eyes when you least expect it.

There is something exalting about this sight- it atones for all the trouble you have been put through, wiping away the discordant voices and the disgruntlement, making things worth enduring, if only for a ten-minute ride with the clouds and the vast, limitless sky for company. Blue, white and gold. And the delicious thought of stacks of books waiting for you at home. Knowing that, once you unlock the door and let yourself in, you can open the window, slide the wire-mesh away and let the evening breeze in, bearing the delighted cries of playing children. Turn on the television and fill the room with the drone of the vuvuzela. I'm not complaining- their drone isn't more irritating than the noise of certain Indian commentators, and if they choose to celebrate that way, so be it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Boy by the Road

Grey clouds loom low on the horizon, setting off the dark green of the vast, seemingly endless acres of land ahead. There are trees as far as the eye can see, a solitary bird or two rising from the undisturbed wilderness of the forest, mapping large circles amidst the clouds, keen eyes in search of prey. A concrete dome rises in the distance, a patch of barren brown land draws an incongruous line through the undulating sea of green.

The sun touches the angry clouds gently, giving them a tinge of silvery-gold, softening their edges. It will not compete for supremacy today, but share its splendour with them. The rain keeps itself at bay; it is a Sunday morning, and groups of people are walking to and from the church nearby.

A lone boy walking by the side of the road breaks into a jig. Wearing an oversized shirt and shorts that barely peer from underneath it, he wiggles his elbows, shrugs his shoulders, hops down the road in a rhythm all his own- he stops suddenly as he feels footsteps approach him, chastened to sobriety by the disconcerting shadow of an adult. His dance of joy, his pride in the day will only be mistaken for stupidity and ignorance of the higher levels of acquaintance that adulthood assumes it has with life. Deception! He stands and looks up into the sky, at the balconies of wildly expensive buildings, then waves at a passing bus.

He walks a little further and slows down. He lingers by the road as a woman in a pink saree and a bottle-green cardigan walks slowly down, having just taken her son into her arms from another little boy who walks by her. She appears due to have another child in a few months- the small group trudges on wearily, save for one boy whom life has made its own child- perhaps to a drunken or ailing father, or fatherlessness.

I have been reading a rather disturbing portion of Maximum City, and this sight doesn’t affect me more than what is already running through my head. I am thankful there is only one woman in that group- all that I have recently read gives me ghastly ideas of the fate that awaits girls who have no one to care for them. I press my palm against the surface of the glass table as I read further; I watch my fingers leave convoluted images on the glass that disappear gradually, their uniqueness dissolving into the thick, polluted air.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Forca, Football

Cross-posted from The Weed Joint

Scoring a jaw-dropping two points out of twenty in the preliminary round of a football quiz made me aware, for the umpteenth time, of my painful lack of knowledge of the game. I might have heard the lyrics of Waving Flag sung and re-sung and distorted to glory, groaned over the inevitable ubiquitous use of ‘Waka Waka’ in the newspapers, but I soon realised what I didn’t know was central to the theme of the quiz- in short, trivia about the game. Intelligent guesses and wild shots in the dark are always thrilling when the answers turn out right, but sometimes, when confronted by people who know their stuff inside out, ignorance isn't quite bliss.

The sulking skies opened up just before the quiz competition was due to start, and my teammate Airborne and I were hoping for a slice of extraordinarily good luck- the kind that led India into the 1950 World Cup finals, instead. It is another matter that they didn’t play because they weren’t allowed on the ground barefoot, as one version of the story goes. We were spared major embarrassment, of course, as people trickled in to increase the amount of competition (presumptuous of us to consider ourselves part of it, even so)- the quizmaster wanted atleast six teams to make a decent match of it, and his fears were unfounded. A decent number of people braved the rain to turn up at the prelims, and but for a bit of sparring, and Airborne and I might have reached the royal score of four, halfway to the cut-off. Six teams made it to the final round, and no, we didn't rue any lost opportunities.

As the questions flew around, we were treated to an intriguing collection of trivia scooped out of the massive amount of history the World Cup has accumulated over the years. Humour, controversy, corruption, and the crowning glory of triumph- football has seen it all.

Sport is no exception to the curses of human arrogance and senselessness. The brutal murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the ostracism of the Jews at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin are some of the more famous examples of politics sullying the reputation of global sporting events. Evidently, football has had its share of controversies- the inaugural edition of the World Cup at Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1930, featured only four European teams, a surprisingly low number for a continent that is home to some of the powerhouses of the sport. Defending champions Uruguay sought to retaliate by boycotting the 1934 championship in Italy, another controversial tournament where the hosts themselves had to qualify to play.

This is just a sample of the trivia that we were treated to. There were references to bizarre incidents, such as the one about a dog running on to the field to be caught by England's Jimmy Greaves, who in turn had his lap graciously soiled, at the 1966 World Cup- yet another example of nature triumphing over man.

The magnitude of football’s reach is incredible. Its being a sport that can be played on the streets with a battered ball and goalposts traced out with a piece of chalk on a wall greatly helps matters. India may not have latched on to the idea of football asWe may be a long way off from having a football team to cry ourselves hoarse for. At a particular World Cup hockey tournament while India was still under British rule, the Indian team is reported to have sung ‘Meri Bhains Ko Danda Kyun Maara’, a folk song, to avoid singing God Save The Queen- Indian spirit, drawn straight from the rural heartlands. Maybe it won’t be too long before we have our own football anthems (and no, we’re certainly not taking the services of a certain bejewelled music director, thank you very much), and a football team that will give us someone to burden with our hopes and expectations (isn’t this what we do best?).

We returned from the quiz with our curiosity whetted- it was the perfect curtain-raiser to the approaching weeks of unbridled sporting passion, raw and real. The 2010 World Cup kicks off tomorrow, and here’s to the thirty-two teams that made it- the major hopes and the underdogs, the rookies and the players who will fight painstakingly to reach that one epoch before the swansong- this is one festival the world will feast on, undivided in spirit, for one magnificent month.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Life, Engaged

So you think you’re right and that you can confront me.

You ask why you are not among the chosen ones, why you don’t live in a palatial house with a helipad and a garage larger than your apartment. You would like to see the obscene amounts of wealth of the mighty go up in flames, their flamboyance and stature ground to dust. You want to see them reduced to your own measly circumstances. You ask me why you don’t deserve better, why they should possess all that you can only dream of. The vagrant who lives under the flyover asks me the same question about you.

I am the one with the power. I make the decisions. I hear your wings flutter helplessly but do not bat an eyelid, watch indifferently as the warm blood trickles out of the bullet-wound that I’ve made- that is the amount of apathy I am capable of. I wring your neck hard enough for you to writhe in pain, but not nearly enough to kill you. Oh no, I wouldn’t do that- you are my perennial source of amusement, marionettes on silken threads. I let the texture of the threads deceive you. When you are desperate enough to think of taking your own life, I let the sunlight shine upon the silk and glimmer into your eye. The clouds part for an instant- I will grant you that little pleasure that the most wretched prisoner deserves- and move on with the game of deception; blinded by momentary glory, you will easily forgive a lifetime of sins.

I know you’re strong. You will fight and try to keep me at bay, come dangerously close to upsetting my well-laid plans. At these moments, I cannot but help admire your tenacity. I indulge your whims for a while- and then bind you hand and foot and throw you back into the dungeon where I belong. At times, you defeat me at my own game- unshackle yourself and break away from me- only occasionally, but you do. I am a fair competitor, and I will admit that a few of you possess a power beyond mine. Extraordinarily endowed. You might be one of them. I will leave it to you to find out. I don’t tell fortunes.

You want the rolling pastures and the clear lilac sky- let me remind you that there are also marshlands and smog; there is no reason why you should deserve the one more than the other.

Fight to the end, ask me your fatuous questions. I revel in battle and ludicrousness.

Monday, June 07, 2010


We watch entranced as the eucalyptus trees dance as if possessed, their lithe bodies massed together, the wind pressing hard against their ghostly, silhouetted bulk. The dimly-lit, pale blue waters on the surface of the swimming pool shiver in innumerable ripples; dragonflies meet their death on the tepid surface of the water, close by the lights. What infatuation does Death hold for these creatures, warned and yet tempted by the cruel fate that awaits them?

The strong breeze pushes against us as we walk, clothes aflutter, more trees swaying eerily. The decrepit, abandoned factory building with the rusted brown chimneys in the background doesn't help matters. There is so much to entice the part of your thoughts that reluctantly believes in the supernatural (and lives in blatant denial in broad daylight); how easy it is in such a setting to fall prey to the machinations of a hyperactive imagination. A wisp of hair brushing against your nape or an unusually strong draught of wind could give you the jitters and throw imaginary shadows on the wall. A solemn song floats from the church with the stained-glass windows- a rather vibrant reminder of the presence of human life and colour on an otherwise dark evening.

We're giddy with the happiness of materialism. We have shopped and indulged ourselves, are sated with the pleasure of new clothes and good food. However, it doesn't compare remotely with what is yet to come- a return to childhood, to thoughts of roads that weren't too narrow for our play and houses that contained- or overflowed with- mirth and pure, unrestricted love and delight. The swings are empty and we gingerly lower ourselves on to the curved seats. The hard sand floor is under our feet, we kick against it to set ourselves free- to feel the wind in our hair as the swing arcs gracefully upwards, higher and higher, the gulmohur trees triggering more memories of sunny roads traversed in the summer holidays of long ago, branches bent forcefully for a sprig of the brightly coloured flowers to put into the little vase on the window-sill.

I cannot go too high- I get dizzy. What has growing up done to me? I was better off not knowing about vertigo and acrophobia and giddiness- half-baked biological knowledge has made hypochondriacs out of many of us, proud of reeling out impressive names to attribute to the various imaginary illnesses we are beset by. The heights that drove me to thrilled chortles as a little girl now set my head spinning. What, really, do we grow up for? I think of the RL Stevenson poem I had learnt by heart in school all those years ago. I don't remember a word of it now; those merry, simple lines have been buried underneath a load of imagined, unwarranted profundity and philosophy.

We walk back home in the deepening dusk, a call on my mobile phone bringing us back to our senses, to the present, against our volition. Nostalgia is an intruder, though, and I don't have much to worry about. The past sleeps quietly on in its exclusive recess, dormant but ready to present itself at the slightest invocation.