Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Facebook Generation - Damned if you do, damned if you don't

The Facebook generation – that’s what we are called. It used to sound cool. Now it sounds cynical. We express our happiness on it, our frustrations on it, our sadness on it and more sadly our anger on it. We even get arrested for it. But that’s all we were capable of. We did not know what it was to take to the streets, to suffer body blows, to stand up for a cause we believed in by standing by it in the face of peer pressure. We were ridiculed for it. Pontificating from the air-conditioned comforts of television studios and editorial desks people called us arm-chair critics. Some of us even agreed with that. We were taken aback by the growing indifference to the world around us. Yes, we went for candle light marches and Anna took us for a ride. But then those were just style statements. When it really mattered, we will buckled down because we did not like to get our hands dirty.

And then it all changed. Thousands of young people decided enough was enough. They took to the streets, and no ordinary ones at that. They were lathi charged. No one was spared. A picture is worth a thousand words and there were thousands of them - of a policeman clamping his foot down on a protestor, of policemen hounding individuals in packs, of women getting hit on the head and being shoved around and of men receiving multiple blows despite not retaliating to any of them. Not for the first time, many of us sitting at home felt the anger. But for the first time we felt ashamed, at sitting at home and not being on the roads. Because, they were us. And then we felt the connection that the angered youth of a nation should feel. For every blow dealt on the “Street of Victory”, the hurt was universal. They were taking the blows for us. And then when no one expected us to come back and fight another day, we did. To take more blows. To take a stand.

And then, the political elements stepped in. Ruckus was created. What was earlier a protest now turned into violence. An officer in uniform died of injuries. To the media which has so far dealt only in global statements, this was turning into a gruesome reality. This was civil unrest. They were no longer the sole guardians of the nation’s conscience. The people, yes we the people, had decided to wrest back what was rightfully ours.

The machinery kicked in. Protests at what costs, screamed the ‘liberal’ media. The tables were turned. Is the life of the constable of any less value than those who have fallen victims to rape, they asked? We all knew the answer. Did the government? Ministers were given the chance at spin doctoring. They only managed to incite more anger. The Prime Minister made a speech, but not a statement.

“Lumpen elements” became the problem, because everything else was “theek hai”.  Metro stations were closed because the police could no longer handle a protest.  The silent protestor was beaten up because the government’s lost its voice.

We were the problem, because when everything around us was wrong, we could never be right.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

That Sinking Feeling

Goodbye, Sachin. No, really. Goodbye.

At 25, it is tough to get anyone to believe it when I say that I am just getting out of a 20 year relationship. But then, at 40, it must be even tougher for you to cast away the adoring millions and walk into the sunset. You will will yourself on for a series or two for your pride, for our joy and for the team. You will score another masterful hundred and get bowled a few more times. But I will not be around to see that. To use that dreaded phrase – “you have been dumped”.  

The fact of the matter is that most of us are selfish beings. We were more than happy to say that you were our biggest love, our life and such nice things for a good part of 2 decades  - when you were in your prime. Now that you no longer look that good at the crease, now that you are scratching around more often than not, now that there is younger, fresh blood to get excited about, now that you are 40 and we are just  25 or 30, we are ready to move on. We will check back on you once in a while to be sure that you are doing okay. But we will be long gone by the time you let go of us. Like I said, we are selfish.

Who am I kidding?

We will be there every single day, because in your struggle, you prove yourself to be as human as us. For over 2 decades you were somebody we could only dream of. Now you have descended from that glorious platform that you had built for yourself and are now closer to the end, closer to being us. Did I say we will move on? Nonsense. You will move on- to your loving family, to the commentator’s box, to the Parliament and many high places. Us? We will be watching videos of you cover driving Donald, sending one right back at McGrath, tonking Warne over mid-wicket, cutting Ambrose, flicking Wasim, bamboozling Moin with your googly or juggling your way to yet another catch at slip.  

The many 20 somethings like me secretly wish that you will be able to play on forever, because we do not know what life is without your batting to look forward to. If we came back with a bad score in our exams, and you scored a century that day, you not only took away a bit of sadness from us, but also a bit of our dad’s anger.  That you made our world a happier place is not to be denied.

However, we are pained to see you struggle. We are forced to look away when you grope outside off stump to a second rung bowler or get bowled to deliveries you would have whipped past the leg umpire for a boundary a couple of years back.We don’t like it as it makes us feel vulnerable. To know that a legend like you could be reduced to a struggle like this makes us doubt what we will make of ourselves at 40. We want you to go now because we want to retain only the happy memories. Like I said, we are selfish.

I plead guilty to arguing that Dravid was a better Test match player than you or that Lara was more of a match winner. But in hindsight, those titles and arguments seem a little too trifle in the bigger picture. When Lara was run out in his last match, we stood up in our drawing rooms to applaud even though he was thousands of miles away. Dravid did not even give us that chance. When he announced his retirement, we were left shocked and speechless. But you? When you say your final goodbye, we will be shedding tears – in schools in Chennai, in offices in Delhi, in the markets of New York, in the clubs in Sydney and the bylanes of Mumbai. Because when we said you were our biggest love, our life - we meant it.

P.S : This is the second consecutive post on cricket and relationships. I realize that I might be having really bad break up blues. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Adieu, gentlemen!

Like the midnight departure of a lover, the retirements of two of the greatest gentleman players in the history of a game has resulted in much soul searching and an increasing tendency to live in denial. If watching them bat was the equivalent of a long love affair, going gaga over Pujara’s century is like a one-night stand – the desperation to feel loved to hide the pain of a relationship just gone sour. For all you know, we could be wedded to the television/computer screen in the years to follow, keenly following Kohli & Pujara’s exploits, but it will miss the spark of excitement on seeing VVS walk out to bat or the assurance of going into a meeting at 11 a.m knowing that Dravid would still be around when you came out a couple of hours later.

Many of us hate to admit it, but all of us are romantics at heart. The first love is still the most special and for those growing up in the 90s, the rush to get out of school was mostly not about hoping to catch the girl from the other section walk home, but to get home to watch Kumble eek out a couple of top order wickets post a declaration set up by a Tendulkar century or a Dravid double. In the days when the cell-phone was still limited to use in big budget Hollywood action dramas, the only way to know the score was to shout to the uncle next door to the school in the hope that he would hear us and update us on the score. After a while, he would be more attuned to the timing of our recess breaks than us. The friend whose house was closest to school was the object of much envy because of the 20 extra minutes of Sachin’s glorious counter attack that he could witness. Schools would close on the first day of a test match in the city. Attendance would dip on the final day of a close test match. And when the “leave letters” would pile in the next day, the teacher would be smiling at the sudden outbreak of viral fever across the city.

Associations of cable television with the remarkable Indian growth story could wait. For us, it would be associated with the delight of watching the Ganguly masterclass at the Mecca of cricket or the glorious first century for Dravid at Jo’burg.

College of course meant more freedom. More classes were missed than landmarks in Indian cricket. While some kind soul would ensure attendance through proxy, you were left to enjoy the vicarious pleasure of watching a Ganguly cover drive. Waking up at 5 am to watch the first ball of the Boxing Day test match or staying up till 3 to watch Dravid block the last ball of the day at Jamaica was made easier by the fact there would be a few more crazy souls in the common room, drowning out the “expert” opinion on television with their own loud arguments on why Dravid is better than Tendulkar or how Kumble should go back to bowling those deadly yorkers. As college life left us behind, so did Dada and Kumble. There would be no more shirt waving on the Lords balcony nor the sight of a heavily strapped bowler bouncing into bowl on a dead track, wearing his heart on his sleeve. The only comfort was that three warriors were still left to carry on the battle.

Work meant that we would have to imagine the poise of a Tendulkar straight drive while reading the commentary on Cricinfo. Every chance was taken to sneak in to the television room on the floor. If school time meant a stretched dinner time to take in more of Dravid’s piece de resistance, office meant more tea breaks to catch glimpses of Laxman’s magical wrist work. Gradually as time wore down the defence of Dravid and the genius of Laxman, the hours at office grew longer, a co-relation which was less forced than it appears.

The internet provided solace, as we dug into the archives for more articles celebrating the achievements of a set of cricketers whose kind India would be lucky to get again, in individual doses let alone as a group. Debates on who was better would be replaced by a collective acknowledgment of each player’s greatness. The heart aching for more acts of genius is replaced by a pragmatic mind which acknowledges that even the greatest of journeys has a destination.

It is then that the lament of not being able to see them together one more time is replaced by the acknowledgment that just as these set of players were once in a generation players, we too will be a once in a generation audience – lucky enough to be witness few of the greatest moments in Indian cricketing history and some of the finest players ever to sport the India cap.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sweet 16

On most occasions when I write, there is one word I avoid : I. I kind of tend to associate I in writing with an oversized ego & not using it also seemed to suggest a more third person, more distant perspective to the happenings on. You never let your guard down, but this once, I am letting mine down.

Observing you bat was about those little things. The sweat oozing out of your forehead as you stared down at the crease even as the bowler approached the start of his run-up. That vigorous tapping as the fast bowler was charging in. That little appreciative nod to the bowler in the rare times that he got the better of you. The wrists dropping close to your body as you swayed to avoid the bouncer and your eyes following the ball till the time you were sure that danger had passed. And yet, there were moments of unadulterated aggression as well. The top-edged six that got you to that hundred at Adelaide. The tremendous hit over mid-wicket of Allan Donald in the Standard Chartered series final.

At school, when news would reach that you and Tendulkar were at the crease, I paid more attention to what the teacher said, because I knew that I could afford to not worry about the wickets column. But in college, with the freedom of choosing which classes to attend and which ones not to, things were only going to get better. When news came in that India were to bat, the class would empty out quickly. Everyone wanted to see as much of Sehwag’s batting as possible, because we never knew how long he’d stay at the crease. And then as Sehwag got out the television room would empty out. It was not out of any disrespect to you. People knew that they could come back after their class and catch you in your full stride. But then I would stay back. Because to me, your innings was never about what you did after you got to 30; it was about what you did to get there. Not for me, the rushing in to applaud your hundred and rushing out. It was not my style, for it was not yours.

So many were the occasions when I would argue vociferously that you were a better batsman or a better match winner than Sachin Tendulkar. And now looking back, it is a bit like choosing between Agassi & Sampras or between Ronaldo & Messi. As Joker says to Batman, one completes the other and there is no other higher purpose than that. The closest parallel I can find between you and Sachin is that of a pole vault athlete and the pole. You both played the roles interchangeably. At times it was Sachin acting as the athlete who would build on your support to leap over the bar and at times it was the reverse. There were of course those occasions, when one of you starred and the other buckled, and Indian hopes crash landed. But even in those occasions, it was perhaps because you had set the bar higher. As you and Sachin, with the stellar supporting cast of Laxman, Kumble, Sehwag, Harbhajan & Ganguly routinely achieved the unthinkable we took the leap of faith with you.

And then it all came crashing down. England happened. You were the lone star, a Gulliver amongst the Lilliputs. My job would keep me away from the television sets & slowly a sense of separation began to develop. The West Indies series was a blur. Australia would give me a chance to reacquaint with your defense, I thought. Your poor form may have ensured that I missed little of your batting. What I also , most sadly, is your final walk back to pavilion at the Adelaide Oval, that very venue where you had once and for all engraved your name in that imaginary honors board; the hearts of the cricket fan world over.

Thank you for all the memories, Rahul Dravid.