Dear ToI, You Deserve The Slap You Got.

The recent ‘OMG Deepika Padukone shows cleavage’ controversy was mighty cathartic for me.

A newspaper is the first thing I look at in the morning, and the pain I felt every morning, for years, is indescribable. You hold the newspaper in your hand; you want to see what’s happening in the world. A supplement slips out on to the ground, with an article ‘Bips’ dog fucks Sushmita’s cat’. The rest of your day is shit.

The first newspaper I ever read was The Asian Age. They were gossipy too, but back in those days, even gossiping was done with class, I guess. At school, when I began to read the newspaper for cricket, it was The Hindu.

In my +2, I got to pick my own newspaper.

The Oriya newspapers were all printed on re-recycled paper, their pages greyish, their images blurred. Among English newspapers, The Hindu would arrive in the evening, so fat lot of good that did me. The other papers – The Indian Express, The Telegraph, The Statesman – were all published from Calcutta and carried news from there. The Times of India had a desk of their own in Bhubaneswar, and also, their pages were colourful and glossy.

And so, like a monkey that goes for a jangly toy, I chose The Times of India.

Shifting to Hyderabad meant a rekindling with The Hindu, and in spite of all its problems, it still is a better newspaper to read. They say ‘Tell Me Your Company, I’ll Tell You Who You Are’. I would say, what newspaper a person reads is also a parameter for me.

“If your window to the world is a sleazy money-minting newspaper, I wouldn’t credit you with much.”

- Judge Judgerson.

1. Gimmicky: The Times of India, especially if you read the mobile version, hits you as extremely gimmicky. Their headlines put the Sen in sensational. And what can I say about their entertainment articles!

All ToI entertainment articles are written in a certain way. It’s like the editor got a bit of news, it’s placed on the table, and the sub-editors are asked to make it as KLPD-ish for the readers as possible.

                                   ACTRESS CAUGHT TALKING ‘DIRTY’!

by Anjali Fakesurnamewali

Bollywood heartthrob Simran Shetty got ‘dirty’ on Wednesday while promoting her film ‘HairBrain’.

During the media interaction, the smouldering actress was asked what was her favourite city. When asked what she liked the most about Chandigarh, she said that it is the cleanest city.

She went on to add that all other cities should take steps to keep their cities clean and recycle their waste. Hmm, we wonder what made the actress to talk ‘dirty’ in public. Her fans sure want to know.

2. No Respect for Privacy of Any Sort:

While it preaches about the representation of women and stuff in its editorials, the entertainment section seems to have Shakti Kapoor as Chief Editor.
If Aishwarya Rai turns up at Cannes (which she does, every year), our brothers at ToI will publish an article saying ‘Aish’s hottest dresses at Cannes’. Shweta Basu was caught in the prostitution racket, there will be an article called ‘Actresses who were caught in sex scandals’. Out of which there will be two genuine cases, the rest would be ‘allegations’.
And not content with having people surf through such tripe, ToI ensures that they earn money while they are at it. So each of those articles will be in the form of a slide show, so you keep paying a little bit of your internet costs to educate yourself.
 
 
 
3. No Moral Compass Whatsoever: 
 
When the Times Group got into entertainment, it wasn’t in the GEC category, it was the entertainment section, in the form of ‘Zoom’, perhaps the most useless channel in the history of useless channels. For a group that claims to be the largest media conglomerate, encompassing TV, print, radio, and news, the quality of the channel seems like it has come from the Ramsay stable. 
 
Zoom leaves no ambiguity in what it wants you to do. Zoom – Isko Dekho. Isko dekho aur hippopotamus jaisa IQ pao. What passes off as ‘news’ on the channel would make even our sleazy brothers at TV9 – another torchbearer of sleaze – go ‘Yeh toh bada ToI hai’. Take for example this news about scratches on Deepika Padukone’s back. Which by the way was the reason for rising crude oil prices in the Middle East. 
 
 
 
4. Paid News: While the terms is freely thrown around in political battles and random bitching about the media, paid news is a highly problematic phenomenon. And our brothers at ToI are leading the way. You’ll regularly find articles called ‘Advertorials’ singing paeans about a company, institution, or personality. While it sounds like an oxymoron – how can ‘news’ be ‘paid’ for? – reading the Times of India first thing in the morning is a sureshot way to end up in an asylum. 
 

And in spite of the rather lame justifications for it, paid news is not the only problem. The front page of the newspaper is filled with ads for toothpaste, real estate, and underwears. And who can forget the fiasco they created when they entered Tamil Nadu. For those of you who live on Uranus, here is what happened.

The Times of India was entering Chennai, traditionally the stronghold of The Hindu. In true ToI style, they released an ad depicting The Hindu as a newspaper that puts people to sleep.

 
The Hindu reacted in stellar style, delivering one of the greatest bitch-slaps ever delivered, with an ad that showed Times of India for what it really is – an encyclopaedia of who dated whom. 
 
 
5.  Coverage of Rape/Violence News: In spite of parroting lines like ‘We shouldn’t shame the victim’ and other such rhetoric, the Times of India has its own unique way of reporting stories pertaining to rapes and molestations. Every story will have an image of a woman crying out, or covering her head in shame, or screaming in fear. These graphics stand out, adding further sensation to the stories, which aren’t really reported with much sensitivity. 
 
times of india

Every story has an image like this.

 

So here’s the deal, dear Times of India. You might be the largest read English newspaper in the country, but that is more due to the spectacular spawning rate we Indians maintain. It is hardly surprising that someone like Arnab Goswami heads your TV channel. Reading your newspapers feels like entering his brain for half an hour every day. 
 
If you really take pride in being the largest read newspaper in the world, grow a spine. Act like the largest read newspaper in the world, not like a sleazy daily version of Manohar Kahaaniyan. 
 
I am glad someone gave it back to you. You really had it coming. 

***

Posted in Arbit Gyan, India | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Reviewing Fanny

I always thought Indians would connect to Finding Fanny. The men, at least.

Since the time we turn 18, much of our energies, talents and thoughts are expended on chasing pussy.

Now that I have made the customary first joke so that you open the link, here’s the review.

I have been mostly ambivalent towards Homi Adajania’s films. Being Cyrus was mildly interesting, but it didn’t blow my mind or anything. Just about tickled it with a feather, probably. Cocktail was problematic on different levels.

Finding Fanny, right from the first scene, makes it clear that it isn’t going to pander to you. You have to sit through the man sitting three rows behind you slurp on his Coke and say ‘Slow hai, behenchod’.

The film takes its time picking itself up, which could either pique your interest, or leave you bored. At the risk of doing a Rajeev Masand, who has a spectacular knack for revealing important plot points, let me try to summarise the plot.

Or wait, fuck it. Why should I?

*

Finding Fanny Movie Cast Poster Wallpaper

One look at the trailer, and you know there are interesting things in store for you. A cast of Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur is a coup on any given day. The others – Dimple Kapadia, Deepika Padukone, and Arjun Kapoor – are merely playing catch up with the senior pro bros.

Watching Finding Fanny is a reflection of the difference between great and moderate actors. You see Dimple Kapadia act out a scene, just managing to walk the tightrope, in a laborious, onerous manner. And then Pankaj Kapur turns to her, smiles, and waltzes through his scene.

Deepika Padukone is skating on thin ice throughout the film. There are scenes where she spins around in a beautiful routine. And then there are others where her shoe is stuck in a soft patch of ice. But that could also be because I watched the Hindi version and when there is no link between lips moving and sound coming, I feel ill at ease.

What Padukone manages spot on, however, is to look smashingly pretty throughout. Which also makes you wonder, when someone is so naturally pretty, why do other directors paint her face till she looks like an Anime vamp ?

Arjun Kapoor, the actor who last gave us the heartwarming 2 States – The Story of My Two Expressions, puts in an honest effort. But there isn’t much you can do when your face doesn’t emote too much. He looks stoned all through, which might not be such a bad thing since he is [random Goan generalisation about Goa, hash, hippie, peace yo, cool brother, Boom Shiva].

*

Most of the reviews I hear from people said that the film didn’t move them enough. Which makes me wonder – are we constantly looking for films to move us? For films to shake the foundations of our emotional core in three hours? Look at our biggest hits, and most of them are epic, grandiose, larger than wife.

Finding Fanny might have its problems, but just the fact that the casting team did their work right, should give you enough reason to watch the film.

Don’t go in looking for the film to transform your life. One, it’s stupid. Two, if a three hour film can transform your life, you shouldn’t be walking into theatres. What with Arbaaz Khan directing Salman Khan in an Sohail Khan production, you might be a threat to society around you.

Finding Fanny is bold, and it is cheeky, and it expects a friend of you, not a devotee.

In a way, the film is like ordering food in a Goan shack. The cook steps out every half an hour, smokes a cigarette, and then walks back to the kitchen. When you ask him how long, he smiles.

The food finally arrives, slowly, swinging from this side to that.

How much you enjoy it depends on how hungry you are.

***

Posted in Film, Review | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

My new favourite state.

I have a new favourite state, and I do not mean ‘intoxicated’.

Himachal Pradesh.

Having spent the last two weeks in five states – Goa, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh (see what KCR did there?), I have arrived at the conclusion that Himachal Pradesh is undoubtedly the most beautiful state there is in the country.

Granted, a few of you will say ‘Kashmir’, but Kashmir has other issues, and I would rather spend my time speaking to Shiva than meeting him in person. And so it is with the confidence and the deep knowledge of someone who has spent exactly one single day in the state, that I declare Himachal Pradesh as my favourite state.

Which takes me back to the seedy Social Science text books that we learnt from in school. When I think of Himachal Pradesh, the images that came to mind were – Apples, boys and girls wearing cute traditional gowns, and … ahem, nothing else.

Another point in HP’s benefit was that we had spent the previous two days at Punjab. Which, by the way, was a KLPD of Sabu-ean proportions.

Now, think of everything that I knew about Punjab – lots of fields, lots of Rajs and Simrans, pretty girls, dhabas with friendly Punjabi men serving delicious tandoori chicken, etc.

However, Chandigarh was a gigantic disappointment. Primarily because of everybody’s insistence to go check out ‘Sector 17’. Sector 17 apparently has the hottest women of Chandigarh frolicking about like Biblical princesses, and everybody we met spoke about it.

Now, I am no greek god and cannot claim to have wooed women merely by my looks, but I have always wondered what is the point of the exercise. What does one do at these places where there are pretty women around?

We don’t live in a culture where we can walk up to women and ask for their number. Even if you did, there’s a good possibility the woman might shriek, and Ramu Kaka from across the road might smash your head to pulp, while asking if there are any female members in your house.

In such a scenario, what does one really do at Sector 17? It’s not like one can have intercourse merely by staring at someone. I am yet to meet a single man who stared at a woman till she came, and then flushed, and slipped him a note saying ‘It was great. We should stare at each other again. Here’s my number.’

Not surprisingly, Sector 17 contained other chutiyas like us, who had gone to ogle at the pretty women.

The next thing on my list was to eat at a dhaba. The kind of dhaba they show us in Bollywood movies – a cot on the outside, trucks whizzing past, a cold beer by the side. Turns out, ‘dhaba’ is a generic word for restaurants.

The ‘dhabas’ are just restaurants with tables, chairs, and annoying posters of babies laughing for no reason. Determined to get the true Punjabi dhaba experience, we went to a dhaba on the outskirts, by the way, which had cots laid out in the front. Gurdaas Maan invited us into ‘Sethi ka dhaba’.

Once inside, we realized what a massive fan of Gurdaas Maan the owner of the dhaba was. All along the walls, were pictures of Gurdaas Maan singing, Gurdaas Maan dancing, Gurdaas Maan playing cricket, Gurdaas Maan being Gurdaas Maan.

The food of course, wasn’t much of a disappointment. And in my extremely short stay at Punjab, the food was the only saving grace. Which also makes you realize, that the food being passed off as ‘Punjabi’ food in Hyderabad is not really Punjabi in any way. It is an extremely poor attempt at replication – like Aurangzeb trying to pass off as Pope Francis.

Tired of all the disappointments that Chandigarh handed us, we decided we must visit Himachal Pradesh.

*

hp

Himachal Pradesh, my friends, is pretty.

Everything in Himachal Pradesh is beautiful. The mountains, the houses on the mountains, the people who live in the houses on the mountains. The hash smells like someone stole it from Shiva’s chillum. The stray dogs look like they came off a shoot in TLC, women look pretty without looking like Sonakshi Sinha. Babas look like they are on a BBC documentary, roads look like they belong to a different era.

Even a gutter in Himachal Pradesh is beautiful.

Because, Himachal Pradesh.

It is commonly believed that to enjoy HP in all its beauty, one must carry Shiva along. However, what they don’t tell you is that just by himself, Shiva is not much use. One also needs Lakshmi, and Durga.

And armed with Lakshmi, Shiva, Durga, the three of us stood near the mountains and turned around to see the mountains change colours every few minutes. We watched as clouds formed beautiful shapes, we listened as birds and trees and streams came together in a beautiful symphony.

As we zooming down the zig-zag roads, and our Punjabi driver was educating us on the amazing therapeutic effects of opium, I said goodbye to Himachal Pradesh.

Probably my opinion is coloured in pink because my stay there was extremely short-lived. May be there are people in HP too who scratch their balls when they see women, and shit by the side of the roads.

But I wasn’t there for long enough to see them.

And that is why Himachal Pradesh is my new favourite state in the country.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Movie Review: A Kick to Your Brain

At the onset, I understand what I am against here.

Writing a review for a Salman Khan film is a futile exercise. Like being Bappi Lahiri’s dietician. Nothing you do is going to affect anything in real. And yet, one has to go about one’s life with these pressures.

kick poster

Kick is a remake of a Telugu film of the same name, starring Ravi Teja.

For those who aren’t acquainted with the Telugu film industry, a short background. Of all the film industries in the country, the Telugu film industry is the most nepotistic, caste-ridden one there is. All actors in the industry today are either sons or grandsons of actors. It is a dog-eat-dog world that is difficult to get into, and if you manage to get in, impossible to retain your place.

Among the Gandhi family that the industry is, Ravi Teja is one actor who made it on his own. There is a colony in Hyderabad – Krishnanagar – where all the strugglers of the film industry reside. Everybody from hawkers to auto drivers to cooks to waiters – everybody who resides in the colony has celluloid dreams in their mind, with just one actor to look up to – Ravi Teja.

In many ways, Ravi Teja’s films symbolise his struggle. He is always the crass, loud, goofish guy who manages to woo the smooth, svelte heroine. His lines take double entendres to a different level, his songs have triple meanings, he gets away with squeezing the girls’ lips, pinching their navels, and pressing their boobs.

Somehow, in his own weird way, Ravi Teja manages to pull off all that he does.

And Kick was his biggest hit.

 

*

 

Now, the problem with someone like Salman Khan doing a Kick, is that it will always be a sanitized version of the film. And then there’s the fact that Salman Khan does no real acting in his films.

He is simply waltzing around, mouthing lines, making faces, raising his eyebrows, and taking off his shirts. He is probably the only actor in the country (and perhaps in the world) who has no need for a script, acting, and direction.

"Director ne bola 'Kick karte hain', maine kick kar diya."

“Director ne bola ‘Kick karte hain’, maine kick kar diya.”

If you made a three hour film of Salman Khan eating biriyani, it would still make 200 crores in three weeks. But anyway, since one has to review the film, let us get into the act.

*

 

Kick is the story of a guy who always wants a kick in life. Someone who goes out of his way to do things in different ways so that he gets an adrenaline rush from it. We all meet such guys in life; we just choose to call them assholes.

Along his weird antics, the hero (Devi – again, Salman Khan waving a middle finger to humanity’s need for naming people according to their gender) meets and falls in love with a girl. In typical Indian film style, he impresses her by doing a string of illegal things. He first bashes people and breaks property in a café. When he is arrested by the police, he goes to the police station, breaks furniture, and even strips the inspector to his underwear.

But since this is India, he goes viral on YouTube and the girl falls for him.

 

*

 

This goes on for a bit, till the girl is fed up with him for quitting jobs. For not ‘settling down’ in life. Salman being Salman, says ‘Fuck it’ and goes on to become a thief.

Not just a regular thief. But the suave, cool, kick-ass thief of the Dhoom 3 kind. The kind of thief who looks at 3D projections of plans and maps on his table, and zooms in and pushes them across screens.

Then, Randeep Hooda, who is probably going through some bad times and has signed up for the film, is engaged to the heroine and needs to catch a dreaded thief called Devil (10 points for scripting!!).

The next one hour contains some bizarre shit, thanks to extremely lazy writing. At this point, let us stop and appreciate the genius of the scriptwriting. And who has done it? Chetan Fucking Bhagat.

For all his bravado about writing, and his cribbing about not getting his due in the west, he fails to fill some basic plotholes. Take for example the scene where Devil is stuck in a river, with police surrounding him from all sides. In the next scene, he is in India planning his next heist? What happened in the middle?

Guess we’ll have to wait for a book titled ‘9 Ways I Had A Love Story and Change the Country’ to find out!

 

I slept off in the last 20 minutes, so I have no clue what really happened. But there are a few things that I noticed. Not that either of them are new to this film alone.

  1. Loud Background Score: In spite of nearly seven decades of churning out musicals, Bollywood is yet to understand a background score. In most films, the background score is a loud rendition of the songs of film, in slow motion. In Kick, the background score is like a hungry 2 year old on cocaine, blaring into your ears, making you want to turn around and stab him in the heart. Thrice.
  2. Hero-Villain Phone Call: Every Hindi action film has a scene where the hero calls up the villain/cop and has a long, dramatic conversation with him. The two of them are mouthing absolutely absurd lines, and each line is followed by a metal tune. Here is a sample:

 

Villain: I’m going to catch you. Be ready to listen to the music of death HAHAHAHA!

Hero: The wind cannot be caught, the sun cannot be burnt.

Villain: I like your confidence. I like how you talk, I will like how you die. Kim Kardashian has a nice ass.

Hero: Dog! Scoundrel!! You don’t know who you are talking to! Red is the colour of Chacha Chaudhry’s turban. I am rural, you’re urban.

Villain: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, How I Wonder What You Are.

Hero: Jai Mata Di, Let’s Rock. Jai Hind.

(so on and so forth)

 

*

 

Kick, true to its name, is a kick to your senses.

It is a kick to critics, to writers, and to cinema in general.

And yet, it will go on to earn 200 crores in 27 minutes. It stars our biggest star, and has been written by our greatest writer. And the director is a long time producer – another kick to all aspiring directors out there.

Go watch it if you’re into sadomasochism.

Posted in Film, Review | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Growing Up in the 90s: Cricket

I have a friend who says that the one reason India never really played any other sport, is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The guy was so good, that he hijacked the imagination of an entire generation of children.
He said this after we grew up, of course. Because if he had said it back then, someone would have slit his throat. Or worse, burnt his collection of Trump cards.

I don’t fully agree with what he said, but there is some truth in the fact that we were obsessed as a nation. And never again, in my opinion, will that level of obsession be replicated. For two reasons:

  1. There was hardly any other sport. Sania Mirza had not debuted yet, and Vishwanath Anand would feature in Sportstar frequently, but we would skip the pages till we reached the interview with Venkatpathy Raju.
  2. Cable television had just been born, and unlike our earlier generation who depended on the papers and radio, we could actually watch our heroes in action. Which catapulted even bored children into fanatic worshippers.

All this led to a nationwide obsession with one sport – cricket. Your knowledge of the sport surpassed any ranks you scored in class, and the lack of knowledge on cricket, or an interest in it, brought about a social leprosy that was cruel. I have had friends who didn’t like cricket too much complain to me about it. When they would tell people they didn’t really follow cricket, people would gasp, as if they had said that they have only one kidney, or no heart at all.

We played cricket at school, and then returned home to play some more cricket, and then played some cricket in our fantasies. It wasn’t surprising that cola companies would come up with lines like ‘Eat, sleep, breathe cricket’ to promote their unhealthy crap down our throats. Now, cricket in school was a civilised affair. The school provided the bat, the ball, the stumps – thereby negating any favouristism or nepotism in the process. There would be a toss, and the game would be played in spirit of the game.

Or in the fear of the PT sir.

The PT sir would be overseeing the action, and so everyone would behave themselves. Which basically meant not reaching for each others’ throats at the slightest provocation. If the ball went out of the wall, we would all request passerby to throw us the ball, the bell would ring, and we would all go back to class, smelling like a bunch of obstinate buffaloes. Very civilised affair.

Not so civilised once school was over, though. Here, it was a Game of Thrones. You had to conquer a pitch, stake your claim over it by digging holes and drawing the crease. You had to build your army of soldiers, those who would be willing to sacrifice their home work to play a game with you. One of your army reached the ground early and put the stumps in place and dutifully waited for the others to arrive.

You played on the pitch, fighting among yourselves like hooligans. But once there was an external threat, you bonded like blood brothers to fight for your pitch. Finding a place to play was the major source of worry, especially with the bindaas lives that dogs and cows lead in our lives.

And cows came with their own set of worries – horny bulls who wanted you to learn Life Processes – 2 much earlier than your scheduled day of enlightenment. You scrounged the nooks and corners of the earth, to find that perfect spot to lay your stake on, and then drew the crease and put the stumps in place.

Of course, once your land was marked, and you had a thriving civilisation of cricket fanatics, your pitch would be the cynosure of evil preying eyes. The elder boys in your area, eyeing your pitch. The college going gang who just wanted a place where they could sit in a group and talk and laugh – the morons. And cows who wanted to sit in the middle of the pitch and ruminate on the larger questions of life. Who would choose exactly the middle of the pitch to drop a massive dump of dung – cow graffiti for ‘I was here’.

Unlike the cricket at school, playing cricket at home was a sordid affair. You fought for it with your life, and held it close to your heart. But the struggles didn’t end there. After you had vanquished the demons outside, you had to deal with the politics of your own army.

Every pack of kids playing cricket will be witness to three broad categories of players:

  1. The Franchise Owners: The franchise owners would be the ones who owned the bat, and thus, the game in entirety. The owner of the bat wielded an enormous amount of clout in the scheme of things, considering that his possession – the bat – made the key difference between a set of boys playing cricket, and a set of boys hanging out with three sticks, one rock, and a rubber ball. The franchise owners generally called the shots in the game. And even when the merely defended the ball, they would call it an exquisite shot.
  2. The Enthusiastic Gamers: These were the guys who would be instrumental in the day to day running of matters like the pitch and the space. These guys wouldn’t be great at the sport or anything, but made up for that with sheer enthusiasm. They would arrive first and leave last, and generally did the rounds, calling you out from your house when your mother was trying to stuff food inside you.
  3. The Icon Players: Every league of galli cricket would have these icon players. These guys didn’t own the bat, but they owned the game. The franchise owners couldn’t do anything to these guys, thanks to the latter’s superior cricketing skills. Also, the Icon Players would be pivotal to things when challenged by other leagues to a cricket match. They had to be humoured, else they would drift away to another league.

Every galli cricket league had these three types of players. Each of them ensuring that the game ran along smoothly. Of course, if you owned the bat, were enthusiastic, and were the icon player – well, there was no stopping you. You were the Lalit Modi of the league, and anyone who objected to your actions would be sent a 10,000 page reply, in four cartons. But the process did not end with securing the rights to the pitch. There were the other nitty-gritties to take care of.

Firstly, the ball. Now, it is a well established fact that India is the only country where people play cricket with a tennis ball (Okay, may be Pakistan and Bangladesh too). But what is not mentioned is the number of tennis balls that were used to play cricket. When you are a younger child, it is always ‘Soft tennis’. Since there is more money in the league when you’re younger (since your parents are still trying to pamper the apple of their eyes), soft tennis balls are popular. They came in shiny, fluorescent yellow and had the name of the company written in bold black letters. A soft tennis ball would often provoke ridicule among the elders; the users of the Hard Tennis ball.

Quite simply, the Hard Tennis ball was a tennis ball that was hard. The ball itself had two colours, yellow-red, or yellow-pink. The market leader was ‘Vicky’, and to lose a Vicky hard tennis ball, was tantamount to banging your friend’s car into a tree. The hard tennis ball could hurt if you got hit on the nose, and care should be taken to avoid injuries. By batting all the time.

Third, and a poorer cousin of the tennis balls, were the rubber balls. They were simple rubber balls, the kinds that Dronacharya used to make Pandavas and Kauravas play with. Through all these years, it went through only one type of evolution. The makers had made the effort to add fake rubber stitches to make it seem like a cricket ball. The rubber ball was used when funds were really tight, since they came cheap.

On the flip side, they lasted for a maximum of three days, and if an Icon Player was knocking the ball around, it could crack in half. It was only much later, when your innocence was robbed off you by the Biology teacher, or the video rental store nearby, that you started playing with what was called as ‘Cork ball’.

Cork ball was made of some sort of synthetic cork material. It never broke, but did cause considerable damage to people’s noses. If parents got a whiff that the cricket was being played with a cork ball, there would be hell to pay. But the larger repercussions of using a cork ball were that the bats would crack.

You needed adult cricket bats for this. Not the ones that had a picture of Sachin Tendulkar, with the words – ‘For Tennis Ball Only’ written in small letters below. Setting up a new league entailed going through the grind each and every time.

And just when everything was set – you had a pitch, a bat, and a Vaanar Sena of your own. You found an ideal location for the stumps and drew the crease. The crease was measured by putting the bat on the floor and measuring it till the handle, and then adding the length of the handle only, to draw the final line. This line, of course, existed merely in the mind, as it would be erased, tampered with, and redrawn on numerous occasions through the game.

PC: futurehope.net

PC: futurehope.net

But for now, you had found an open space, and there were a few cows grazing in the distance, pretending they aren’t interested in your superhuman batting skills. But then, there would be other obstacles on your way. The ball would fall into the gutter, go into a house where a pissed off aunty wouldn’t return it to you, or God forbid, to a group of seniors who were playing at a distance. Now, I don’t know why, but if a ball goes into the pitch of seniors playing, they would either hide the ball, throw it in a drain, or throw it so far off that it would take half an hour to find it. When I was younger, I used to think the seniors near my house knew that we were better than them.

But when we grew up, I realised we did exactly the same thing. Perhaps it was a sign of growing up. Of being tough on the streets. Or something like that. But what did one do when the sun had set? When you couldn’t play cricket anymore because there would be drug pedlars who would give you chocolates and kidnap you and take out one of your kidneys?

You started playing cricket indoors. Corridors, garages, houses, dormitories – if there ever was a league of indoor cricket, India would kick Australia’s ass and become the king of the sport. Not only did we take our obsession with cricket indoors, we also enacted new rules that could be adapted to the change in scenario. Like the Hong Kong Super 6’s, indoor cricket had its own set of rules:

  1. One Tup Out: Since you were playing indoors, you couldn’t dive around as you would normally in the ground. So the rule here was that if you caught the ball after it bounced ONCE, the batsman would still be declared out. The One Tup Out required Bradmanian skills if it was a small enclosure, and general public apathy towards the rule gave birth to the second rule.
  2. One Tup One Hand: This rule said that you could catch the ball after it bounced once, but to be fair to the batsman, you could only catch it with one hand. The One Tup One Hand rule would have larger repercussions on real cricket much later, when rules like one bouncer per over were drafted in to benefit the batsmen.
  3. The Three Miss Out: This rule said that if you missed touching the ball with your bat on three deliveries, you could be ruled out. Critics have pointed out that this rule could be inspired from baseball, to which the makers of the rule nonchalantly pointed out that it was called ‘three miss’ and not ‘three strikes’, and hence it was merely an inspiration. Indoor cricket was great for afternoons, when elders either went to work or took a nap. It could be played without making much noise, and the only risk was breaking a few things in the house.

Indoor cricket, some would say, required a lesser amount of cricketing skills, and sometimes turned out to be more enjoyable than the game outdoors. Here, there was nobody picking on you, no need to put your hand in a drain, and the ball rarely got lost.

But what if you did not have access to a bat or ball at all? Like in school, when you were forced to study? Of course there would be a way out!

“The absence of a bat and ball do not stand as obstacles to the obsessed” – Anonymous.

The chewing gum scene back then was just turning bright. For years, we chewed on Big Fun, simply because they gave cricket cards free with each pack. It was a different matter that the bubble gums themselves felt like scented tails of pigs. But we chewed on, since there was a cricket card to win. Somewhere along the line, came Center Fresh.

Center Fresh produced chewing gums that were actually enjoyable. For once, a chewing gum didn’t seem like the necessary penance to achieve something else. There was a nice jelly in the middle of the gum, but best of all – they provided cricket cards. Bright, colourful cards that had no spelling mistakes, factual errors, and the pictures were bright and clear.

Not like the Big Fun cards, that looked like the receipt of a weight checking machine at the railway station. Of course, there were the cricket cards that were available in the market. You could simply buy a pack and laugh at all those people who were chewing gum like maniacs to collect the entire pack.

Cricket cards of that era seemed to be frozen in time. I remember the numbers changing just twice in all the time I played with them. The statistics were pretty simple – Matches, Runs, Highest Score, Batting Average, Wickets, Bowling Average, Best Bowling. There were a few Trump Cards in the pack, but you could still beat a Wasim Akram card on the basis of batting, and a Mohd. Azharuddin card on the basis of bowling.

There was a sense of fairness and justice in the entire process. There were WWF cards too, but rumours had begun to float that the matches were all fake, and seniors at school would sometimes snigger if they saw you with WWF cards (or snatch them away, depending on their IQ).

But since cricket cards were based on actual facts, and you could actually see the matches on TV, and read about them in print, they were considered holy. Possessing a good collection of cricket cards automatically meant that you social standing would shoot up, people would generally invite you to their discussions, hoping that you’d decide to bring out the cards. However, cards came with their own set of risks.

If you were caught playing cards in class, you were screwed. The cards would sometimes be thrown away, or torn, or simply confiscated. Numerous trips to the Staff Room to find them would prove futile, and it would be the end of your prized collection. Also, some of us had spiritual parents, who thought that playing cricket cards is the gateway to more sinister habits, and we would grow up to be gamblers who would blow up all their hard earned money. Making cricket cards a considerable risk, on occasions.

What did one do if their cricket cards were taken away from them? Give up on cricket? Hell no! There would be other options, obviously. For those who had access to neither bat, nor cricket cards, there was Book Cricket.

I remember feeling grateful to the person who invented the game. It was an ingenious concept. You held a text book in your hand (preferably of the subject of the ongoing class), and opened a page randomly. You then looked at the page on the left. The last digit of the page number denoted your score. For eg, if you opened page no. 54, your score for that delivery would be 4. If you got a page that ended with 0, you were out.

While purists preferred the Test match method where every player was allowed to play ten batsman, those with lesser patience opted for a limited number of book openings, and the total score was accumulated. Agreed, it did not set your pulse racing, nor did it come with ups and downs of playing a sport. But it could be played right in class. You needn’t even speak to each other, and if a teacher arrived, you would look like two kids looking at a text book and making notes.

After the Drona Award and Arjuna Award, if the government decides to award innovation in sports, probably name it the Ekalavya Award, then the inventor of Book Cricket should win it.

But teachers in our school eventually got a whiff of our nefarious activities. They probably saw a long list of numbers and wondered why the guy was practising basic addition in Class 7. But Book Cricket was busted too. And now with Book Cricket out of the question, was there anything else I could do?

How could I contain all the enthusiasm for cricket that was bubbling in my mind, threatening to spill out? I devised my own way. I realised that there was something that no one could take away from me. Something that was deep within me that only belonged to me. My dreams.

We would be asked to sit for hours at a stretch to meditate, and I had a tough time reining in my mind, that was running like a wild horse towards Raveena Tandon. I started daydreaming about cricket.

So when everyone would be asked to close their eyes and meditate, and I was done with my customary meditation for Raveena, I would start daydreaming about cricket. It would begin with me bumping into Debashis Mohanty randomly while playing cricket at the local Shahid Sporting Club. Just a regular ‘Hi-bye’ sort of a meeting, not for me the falling over and taking pictures. I was cool.

He would be talking to a group of (less knowledgable) kids about cricket, when I would barge into the discussion and spell bind him with my vast and expansive knowledge of cricket.

We would strike an instant connection and sow the seeds of a deep friendship. Later that day, when he would bowl to me in the nets, he would be surprised to know that I was quite a talented batsman too, with my flowing drives and booming pulls over mid-wicket. Later he would call me to his house for lunch, as we would sit and discuss, like two brothers, everything from W.G. Grace, to why swing bowling needs to be promoted if we wanted to win more tours overseas.

This would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and when India would play a home series, he would write to my school asking for permission. Permission for me to join him while he was preparing for the series. ‘He has got a deep understanding of cricket and we in the Indian team are of the opinion that we could benefit from his inputs, and together bring unending glory to the nation. Hence, we kindly request you to let him accompany us.’

Who would deny a letter written like that? Our Headmistress would let me go, and I would join the boys in preparing for the tour. I would have chats with them on specific tactics for specific bowlers (‘Sachin, you need to be a little careful while playing Cronje, he’s gotten you out a few times earlier).

I would also advice Srinath run in hard for the first few overs, since he was our best bet to take early wickets, and my friend Deba could come in as first change and look at causing further damage. Venkatpathy Raju, whom I never liked much, I would barely talk to.

I would spend hours in my dream land. When I would walk, I would be either practising a shot or doing my bowling action. At home, when I was asked to sweep the floor, I would practice some drives (was never really good with the sweep shot, only cowards play that shot). It reached a stage where I would be doing the bowling action even while walking for lunch, or coming out of the assembly. And so would a lot of other classmates of mine.

Finally, the class teacher announced that no one was allowed to do the bowling action. If anyone was found doing the bowling action, they would be banned from going to ‘Games’ on that day (she obviously knew little of the other methods we had devised). Once when I got caught doing the bowling action, I was tempted to explain that I was doing Shahid Afridi’s action, and technically it wasn’t really a bowling action, as his action had been called for scrutiny by the ICC. But better sense prevailed. I quietly accepted the slap on my cheek, did not show my other cheek, and left.

 

*

 

Cricket, you see, was not a game played on a ground, with a bat, ball and sticks.

Cricket was in the heart, the soul, in the blood running in our veins.

Cricket was in the mind.

Posted in Childhood, Cricket, Growing Up in the 90's | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The Case of the Missing Favourite Bowler – Debashish Mohanty

If you study in a hostel, your identity is immediately drawn up on the basis of a few things.

What you look like (basically fat or not), the state you’re from, how you perform at studies, and so on. At that age, there is a strange sense of pride in association. Family names are treated with reverence; to make fun of someone’s family name is absolutely unacceptable.

Amidst the many states (and a few countries) that people came to my school from, I was lost as a person from Orissa. At times, it was like I came from a place that didn’t exist in reality. A Platform 9 ¾ sort of extension that only a few of us could see and feel.

There was no mention of Orissa anywhere – in films, books, magazines, news – none at all. Which meant that the references to the state were the same – teachers called us ‘tribals’ (which is grammatically wrong, by the way). There was one particular teacher who would say things like ‘See how you fellows are, that’s why your state is like that.’

I wasn’t deeply ashamed or anything. I did not swear to take a wow to avenge the insults and uphold the pride of my state. Childhood keeps you busy with other important stuff.

And yet, sometime in the year 1998, Orissa found an identity in the mainstream.

Debashis Mohanty.

 

*

mohanty

It wasn’t just a mention in the Geography text book, or a quiz question (What is the dance form of Orissa? ‘Oriya’. Bash head till person is buried into the floor).

For a nation that was used to cricketers from Mumbai, Delhi and Punjab, to have an actual cricketer from Orissa infused a great sense of pride in my heart. And the entire state caught up to it.

Every person I knew back then had a Debashis Mohanty story of his/her own.

‘Oh, he used to stay near my house. Used to play with my elder brother. Really nice chap.’

‘He was always a quiet, humble boy. Who would have thought he would one day play for the country?’

‘My brother is good friends with him. The two of them used to drink beer together. Yes, yes. Now go get two cigarettes from that shop and come. Quick!’

 

No matter how far removed from the sport, they all had a story of their own. One they loved to narrate to others.

And this wasn’t just an award from a President, or a Limca record being set. It was playing cricket for the country. It was appearing in newspapers, appearing live on television. It was millions of people watching and rooting for you. It was Tony Greig calling out your name on the microphone, it was articles being written in The Hindu.

Debashis Mohanty was the first reason I was proud of my state.

 

*

It was a magical three-year phase.

Having never really played serious cricket, I took up the ball. In a way, my bowling was like Mohanty’s – never express pace, just some sense to pitch it in the right areas and wait for the conditions to work (in my case, for the batsman to play a Ghatotkach pull to the boundary).

When Mohanty was selected out of the blue for the 1999 World Cup (without being in the list of probables), my happiness knew no bounds.

It was the first World Cup I was actively following. And Mohanty was in the thick of things for most of the matches. For a state starved of national heroes, it gave me an insane amount of joy to watch him, his loose jersey flapping in the English wind, running up to bowl, extracting generous amounts of swing both ways (which, if you remember, wasn’t something most Indian bowlers could boast of back then).

The World Cup was a dream run of sorts. Mohanty picked up wickets in nearly every match he played in, and for the first time, I had hopes of him cementing his place in the team. But those were tumultuous days for Indian pace bowling.

A string of bowlers were picked, tested, and unceremoniously dumped. Harvinder Singh, Abey Kuruvilla, Tinu Yohannan, David Johnson, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, Ajit Agarkar – all jostling for the position of the 3rd pacer.

By 2001, the dream run had ended.

Agarkar was being touted as the next Kapil Dev, he had started picking up wickets like the TTE of Rajdhani Express, and could hit the ball around too. In the meanwhile, Mohanty was struggling to find swing in Indian conditions – hot, sweaty weather and dead, flat tracks.

2001 would be the last year he would play for India. Another cricketer from Orissa, SS Das would make his debut for India, but it wasn’t the same. SS Das was too stoic, too silent, too expressionless to inspire me in any way.

And slowly, Mohanty fizzled out of the national team.

 

*

 

Fifteen years later, I began hunting for online footprints of Mohanty.

Thanks to YouTube, nostalgia is no more a closet in your mind that that gets lighter and fades out as time passes. With YouTube, you can take your memory off the cupboard, dust it, gaze at it all over again, and pick a fight with a Pakistani cricket fan while you’re at it.

And so I began searching for his videos on YouTube.

I found a total of three videos. The first one was a video titled ‘Tarap catch by Debashis Mohanty’. It was a clip of Mohanty running in to bowl at Saeed Anwar, who lobs it back to the diving bowler, only to grass it. It was a sad little video that had one comment (‘Just missed the catch’).

The second video I found was one of Afridi smashing Mohanty to all parts of a Pakistan ground. Later on, the Peter Pan of Pakistan goes on to say that he had a score to settle with Mohanty. Apparently, before that series, the two teams had played in Canada. Mohanty, who was bowling well, kept walking down the pitch to Afridi to stare at him.

Even if the video failed to refresh any memories, it gave me some solace. That the person who my friend’s neighbour’s brother’s uncle’s son knew personally, stood up to an opponent batsman.

A little more searching, and I find the third video with Mohanty in it.

It is titled ‘Debasis Mohanty does justice to Boston Gymkhana Wicket Ale !!!’.

The scene is far removed from a cricket field. It is a house with about 20 people in it. Back in the days when only one person in a group had a camera and was entrusted with the task of documenting the act for posterity.

Debashis Mohanty stands in the middle of the group, with all the people in the room cheering him on. The camera spins around to show a huge dinner being prepared for the group, there is a general loud laughter of an Indian occasion. Just as I was trying to figure out what was going on, I notice a pitcher of beer being offered to Mohanty.

He accepts the pitcher, and the crowd begins to cheer for him. And just like that, as I watch the video, Debashis Mohanty gulps down the entire pitcher of beer. The group is happy, and everybody is cheering for Mohanty. End of video.

It is a little sad that there is not a single video of my favourite childhood bowler. It seems unfair that ‘Elaan Full Movie Part 1’ is readily available, but not a single compilation video exists of the bowler whose action I tried to emulate.  A Google search lends results up to half a page, to be followed by Orkut profile pictures of others named Debashish.

*

May be that’s the true depiction of Oriya spirit. Eating and drinking and laughing with friends. Left with no other option, I philosophise the situation, drawing analogies between the video and the Oriya way of life.

And yet, deep inside of me, it is heart-breakingly sad.

Posted in Cricket | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

San-scarred for life

The room is dimly lit. And eerily quiet.

The men and women seated around the table look at each other nervously. Finally, one of them summons up the courage to speak –

“I understand that, sir. But one of us has to make a nonsensical statement on the subject, sir.”

The man listens on, his eyes fixed on the speaker like a leopard’s. ‘Let the doctor do it.’

‘But, sir…’ the man injects, ‘he is a doctor. He ran the country’s…’

‘I know. But one of us has to make the statement. Let it be him. This meeting is dismissed.’

 

*

 

And just like that, another minister goes on to make an idiotic statement about the nation and Indian culture. This time, it was about sex education.

The entire episode has baffled me. That a reputed doctor would say that the nation needs to promote Indian values, and not condoms, to check AIDS. Almost takes one back to the surreal time when Sushma Swaraj ordered Doordarshan newsreaders not to wear translucent blouses while reading out news. Doordarshan news – even though market surveys have revealed that the primary target audience for the channel are lizards and moths.

To get a better picture of the issue, I looked up some Sex Education books that are used by the government, to see if children of today are being encouraged to take part in inter-school orgies and sleep with cattle.

This is what I found. The books talk of sensitization, give brief descriptions of pregnancy, STDs, and the human anatomy. What is so offensive about this, Dr. Harshavardhan?

final edited

*

Sex education is crucial in our country. A country where we are not culturally in the habit of speaking about it with our parents. Which means the only other source of knowledge on the subject is pornography, a senior at school, or the sleazy man selling Letters to Penthouse at the railways station. I can vouch for this.

Long long before the evil world of websites came into our perverse lives, there was imagination. And along with imagination, there were films.

Back then, conjugation was enacted by a 5 minute song in Ramoji Film City, followed by a close-up shot of a baby poster in the room. Then, there were the raunchy ones where Raveena Tandon would gyrate in a yellow saree, giving birth to a million sinful thoughts.

Or there would be the pseudo-conjugation scenes were actors would rub noses, breathe into each other’s cheeks, and if you were Balakrishna – do Suryanamaskar on the heroine’s navel.

Which created a disturbingly confusing image in my mind.

What really happens there? I mean, I understand there’s some touching and rubbing involved, but what do I do if there’s no song playing in the background? And what if it doesn’t rain?

This magical phase of endless possibilities was brutally shattered one night in Sixth Standard. It happened one night as we lay awake in bed, listening to a senior tell us of the amazing things he had learnt.

“The man puts his No.1 Place in the woman’s No.1 Place,” he said.

 

Long after he had gone back to his bed, we discussed and critiqued the outlandish theory that had been suggested to us a few hours ago.

‘Do you think it is possible?’

‘No, I think he’s gassing.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. Children happen because men tie Mangalsutra around the woman’s neck.’

I thought of it for a while. It made perfect sense. But…‘What about Muslims?’

‘They have that thing no? Tabeez? You have not seen Azharuddin, aa?’

‘And what about Christians?’

‘They have Cross, na?’

‘Oh yeah…but how do you know all this?’

‘I asked my mother, she told me.’

 

That was how I learnt about the birds and the bees for the first time. Later on, when pornography came into my life, I thought it was natural to smack the girl’s ass while having sex. Till I got a good dressing down and realised none of that was true. It was abnormal.

I spent a few years worrying about getting action, and then getting more action, unsatisfied till I was putting up Vivid Entertainment style performances. It was a confused, reckless phase brimming with anxiety, doubts, and fears.

All because nobody spoke to me. Nobody explained the basics to me. For more proof, check out the questions in the sex column in a newspaper in India.

 

 

*

For a community like ours, sex education is important. Especially when put in the context of the increasing crimes against women. In a country where teenage boys strip open a girl’s clothes, rape her, and slam a rod into her vagina. Do we really have any culture to speak of?

Look into the newspaper, and you will find a report a day, of youth molesting, abusing, and raping women. Of recording the act and putting it up on the internet. What are we trying to protect again?

Culture is not a standard protocol followed in ancient texts. How we do things is our culture. We eat with our hands, that’s our culture. We fold our hands when greeting elders, that’s our culture. We rape women, tear their clothes off, dump them from buses, that’s our culture.

With the onset of internet, smartphones, and data connectivity, the youth of the country run a risk of acquiring knowledge for abnormal ways like the internet. Permanently warping ideas of sex and sexuality in their minds.

Sex education, if anything, creates a sensitivity among students. Towards the other gender, towards the act of having sex. It normalizes the act, ridding a thousand minds of thousand worries. How on earth is it against Indian culture?

And this is from a reputed doctor, the Health minister of the country?

May be true Indian culture is politicians making stupid statements. May be that’s really our culture.

 

*

And as icing to the cake, Dr. Harshvardhan suggests that we use Indian values to counter AIDS. Now there are a few ways this could be done.

  1. When the body notices the HIV virus approaching the body, the White Blood Cells get together to organize a havan. With the havan, the body acquires a high temperature, and HIV goes back to its hive.
  2. When the Ova notice Spermjis swimming towards them eagerly, they can fold their hands, call the sperm ‘bhaiyya’, and request them not to enter. Pregnancies could be averted.
  3. One chants Ram, Ram, Ram continuously. On a loop, it sounds like Mara, Mara, Mara. This magical chant kills all the rakshasha HIV viruses in the body.
  4. This is so absurd, I can’t even think of a fourth point.

 

The sad part is, everytime there is a need to push a certain agenda, Indian culture is brought up. It is an impenetrable blanket that is supposed to be accepted without protest or objection. You know who else does that, dear BJP? The Taliban. Yes, that organization that you love to hate.

They issue orders, ask people to follow Neanderthal rules, enforcing it in the name of culture and values. This is just a civilized, English speaking version of them, if things go on like this.

*

 

Which is my main problem with the BJP.

Whilst it talks of development and progress, its ideals are stuck in the 19th century.

Development is not restricted to swanky roads, billions in revenue, and high-rise buildings. Even Dubai has those.

Development is also a maturity in handling issues. Development is a society that learns to peacefully adapt to new challenges, shrugging off traditional ideas and dogmas. Development is a free, mature society that is willing to confront its issues, to speak of them without sweeping them under the carpet.

Development is ensuring an entire generation of youth do not grow up believing that masturbation makes palms hairy. And that girls like it when you pull their hair, spread their legs, and spank their ass.

What is the kind of development you are looking for?

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments