Thursday, March 31, 2005

The blogger who didn't

The effects of this sordid infection are finally wearing off. Which means:

a) The quarantine is over.
b) I will finally bask in sunlight (Not for too long, though, because there might be a relapse).
c) Normal blogging can resume.
d) I will travel to Meerut, Kanpur and New Delhi 12 days from now for the last two matches.

I'm especially thrilled about the trip because it means seeing A New Place. From all accounts, Kanpur can't hold a candle to Lucknow culturally and Meerut is now renowned as much for its smog as its place in history. But there are markets to see and a graveyard to visit (in Meerut). As for New Delhi, I had planned to wander the area the day after the game but since President Musharraf is visiting, there might be related stories to write. So Open Ticket can finally open!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Kicking Doordarshan

I may be half dead from chicken pox but am always alive to aim a meaty kick at Doordarshan, who've made watching cricket a complete nightmare. This piece was published on Cricinfo today.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Possessed by God

"Whatever you do," said my aunt, with a measure of sympathy, over the phone, "don't scratch."

I slowly slid back into bed and thought that these occasional offerings of advice did nothing to reduce the dread of what was to come. I then passed out into a fevered sleep, with the rustle of the pillowcase, the yelping of dogs, the distant echoes of hammers on stone amplified in my disoriented state. All manners of advice had been lent since the beautiful doctor frowned a pretty frown and sighed, "Yup, that's chicken pox." Things would get better in seven or eight days, she said, taking a step backwards.

Over the next two days, I heard: Have a bath; don't have a bath; have a sponge bath; soak yourself in hot water to expunge toxins; having a bath will invite the wrath of god. The last bit caught me. God?

"We call it Mata, 'mother'," explained another aunt well versed in these things. "We welcome her when she forces her way in to our homes. She stays for seven days. We don't eat meat for a week, and on the last day a woman has to sprinkle water on you before you bathe. On that day only cold food will be eaten. Until then, take it as a blessing that she is here, that she has chosen you."

Now I'm no student of mythology, but could it be that in India, as in other places, the planets of faith and science have collided and now, conjoined, revolve in an orbit all their own? In both, faith and science, the ordeal ends around the same time. I just wish it would end sooner, but according to my family, hoping for that isn't right because I've got a goddess on my face and my arms and everywhere else.

There are a few downsides to this particular goddess. You can't sleep, walk, sit straight, or even talk without sounding like the Godfather. The trip to Kanpur and Delhi has been cancelled. But thankfully, it hasn't been as bad as I imagined. Reading books and sipping tea by an open window without worrying has been a pretty decent experience. Almost like those three-month summer vacations which remain the abiding memory of school days.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The end of late nights

A few years ago, there was one thing that drove a cousin into an uncontrolled grit-teeth, flared-nostrils rage. The prospect of marriage. He was 24 then. When the issue of marriage first arose, he quickly learnt that a smile and an empty promise were good averting tactics. But with every inquiry from a well-meaning relative, the pressure on him to 'at least look at some girls' grew. His promises slipped to logical explanations for staying single, and these explanations slid to exasperation before, finally, one day, he cracked.

Why did he not want to marry? I was too young to understand then but my guess is, awareness dawned that this would be it. A lifetime of sobriety was hurtling towards him and, before impact, he wanted more time to live. The rage was a way of buying time. Terribly late nights - among other things - ensued, and he slowly tired himself enough to fall in with the inquiries and the feelers pointed his way by unrelenting relatives.

Our family grew bigger soon after. Late night visits with friends to Jabal al Noor for a burger and the decidedly pink Titanic drink were more filling with this new addition. A human whose home once travelled at 120kmph with techno bursting out the boot finally found peace in suburban life. Good for him. Bad for me. He’s so chuffed with the idea that he’s convinced I should try it soon.

'Cricket writing has late hours' is met with the well-meaning suggestion to change country, career and mindset. The lack of earnings excuse is cheerfully tossed away with the optimistic assumption that we will earn together and grow together. There is one relative who tries the emotional blackmail route. Two have the good cop-bad cop routine going. One predicts disaster if I do not marry soon. It’s the most charmingly coordinated attack on bachelorhood.

I now feel a kinship with that nostril-flaring 24-year-old cousin. Marriage, then as now, is unsettling because it seeks to settle; because it feels less like settlement and more like displacement. Sigh. That life of sobriety is hurtling my way. Late nights – among other things – are in order.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Silent vibrations

At 3:15pm, my apartment block shook. The chair I was sitting on vibrated mildly, and then rolled some distance. The carpenters on the floor above, who had been at their work all day, suddenly stopped banging and sawing and drilling and everything went quiet. You couldn't hear it, but the building shook gently. Half an hour later we found out that the earthquake had hit a part of Maharashtra far from here. But I'm wondering, what is far?

Friday, March 11, 2005

Police story

"Look at me," he said. "I'm 42 now. I've been a constable for 22 years. A constable."

It was a ludicrous moment. There was a cop in my car hinting that because he was a constable, I should pay him a bribe rather than drive to a police station and pay the entire sum of Rs 3800 for driving without a seatbelt, without a license and an expired pollution control certificate. It had been briefly funny, when he first pulled me over. Then he had sounded like a supermarket checkout attendent.

"Brother, driving without seat belt, 500 rupees. Where is license?"

"Umm..I forgot my license."

"No license. 1300 rupees. Where is PUC? [pollution control certificate or something]"

"It is at home."

"No PUC? 2000 rupees. Grand total..." he paused dramatically, scribbling in his notebook before showing me the final figure, "3800 rupees."

"I don't have my wallet." It's true, I didn't have my wallet.

"No problem. Leave your car with me."

It went on like this for a while. Why me - pay me now - can I pay you tomorrow - what do you take me for - look at my honest face I will pay you tomorrow - you mean like an IOU - yes, like an IOU - people with more honest faces have ditched me - I won't ditch you - okay, pay me 600 rupees now - please make it less - but I cut down your fine from 3800 - yes, thanks for that, but 600 is still too much, make it 300 - okay, 300, pay me now - but how can I when there's no wallet...

We drove around in my car having this chat. People stared. A pretty woman in the next car saw me, noticed the police constable, looked back at me and giggled. Nice smile. Anyway, it went on for a while. With a weary sigh, he let me go. I managed to get 300 from somewhere and returned to where he was. He was briefly surprised. Then he grinned a huge grin.

"You know, many people say the same thing and never show up again. If you ever need any help, let me know. And will you get your license soon? Or will I have to pull you over next week too?"

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Two minutes of Indian advertising

There is an ad on TV right now, during the drinks break. Religious clean-shaven cultish-looking men in robes walk down a street firing rays of blue light into houses. The rays bounce off one particular house. They look amazed and very impressed. It turns out the walls are painted with Dulux. They go inside and are impressed with the furniture as well. In another, a Punjabi is beaten up by a shopkeeper in China because he’s asking about a mint. Then Sachin Tendulkar appears. What’s that? His face is painted! He says “Whoa!” and “Yeah!”

And then comes the one that makes the wait worthwhile: a woman, trying out different outfits and expressions, looks at the screen and introduces herself. She mouths “Rahul” over and over, figuring out the best way to introduce herself to Rahul Dravid. Cut to Rahul Dravid, getting ready for a date. He looks good, she looks better.

The break is over. Whaddya know, Rahul’s batting and looking good!

Update: Lots of severed hands walk the streets on two fingers to happy music. They are multi-coloured. What's the ad about? A phone. Why? Because every hand wants one, says the tagline.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Being somewhere else

The thing about cricket writing on tour is that it sounds a lot like travel writing. Osman Samiuddin, who is touring India with Pakistan, wrote a lovely piece on how he found the other Punjab. Then there's Amit Varma, who's currently at Mohali and blogging with a story from almost every room he enters. He hasn't even left the toilet alone.

Then there's Rahul Bhattacharya, probably the best writer at Wisden and Cricinfo, who generously let the site use an excerpt from his book 'Pundits from Pakistan'. By all accounts it's a fine book. For the excerpt, click here.

I will have my chance next month, while visiting Kanpur and Delhi for the last games of the tour. April 11, the day I leave for Uttar Pradesh, can't come soon enough. The train rides are something I'm really looking forward to.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Preparing for a Test

Sleep? Check. Pencils? Check. Regulated food intake? Check.

The series begins tomorrow. It's going to be one heck of a month. If I don't post much, it's because I'm at work. Might link to some interesting cricket articles along the way, though.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A square windowless apartment block

It was in September, a few days after the eleventh, that I traveled to Oklahoma for the first time. Almost immediately, the hushed appearance of the place struck you. The airport, otherwise alive with the buzz of connectivity in any other city I had visited, stood still here, as if silently awaiting ghost passengers. Glowing neon signs welcomed you to Oklahoma. Behind one, a conveyer belt produced the baggage of precisely six people. A few days before, my brief had appeared simple enough: to convince my sister to stay in Norman, Oklahoma. As the taxi sped down wide and desolate roads with low-lying buildings and grey warehouses, I realized this trip was not going to be easy.

Her room was a windowless space in a square low-rise apartment block. There was a tornado warning on, so we sat in her room, had tea and played hindi mp3s. Govinda and Karishma Kapoor filled it, and it occurred to me that the music was an artificial attempt to win over silence. Oklahoma at night had a heavy quietness about it, a weight lessened only by human company. We both realized this, turned down the volume, and talked.

Over the next few days we shopped, drove to Dallas, were caught in a fierce rain storm on a desolate single-lane highway, visited malls and restaurants. Everything was far away. Coming from close but comfortable cities, the vastness of Oklahoma was disorienting. Even people seemed distant. Five years younger than me, she found the adjustment too great to make.

One night we walked back to her apartment from a nearby tornado shelter after an hour-long alert. The street lights were dim and the roads once again empty. Heavy metal blasted out the door of a bar, but there was no other sound, barring the crunch of gravel as we approached the dour building. A week had passed since my arrival and each day I found convincing her tougher. She was what? Seventeen? There would be plenty of time to study in the future. I called up the parents and told them she would return to India. They were tired by now, of the uncertain mind of a teenage daughter, but welcomed her return. Why don't you come along for a month as well, they said to me, for we had not met for a year. Now seemed as good a time as any. New York had been battered recently and the job market had been affected. I agreed.

We celebrated quietly at a diner that night, where she devoured waffles and pancakes greedily. Those last days were full of excess, where she hungered for things she wouldn't, and did not want to, see again. I would have done the same had I known the visit would turn out to be a migration.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Travelling, writing

Thanks to Bala, who sent a link to a wonderful piece by Mohsin Hamid on seeing Lahore with one eye on the past and another on the present. There's some more outstanding writing here by, wouldyouknowit, Pico Iyer, and lots of other writing on the side. I have to cut this post short because the electricity is about to be cut for the rest of the day. More later.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Travel writing

I don't know if these are the finest travel writers around, but William Dalrymple, Pico Iyer and Bill Bryson get my motor running. Every time I travel, on a car or a bus or a train; to a city or a village; I wonder what they see that I can't see. How would Bryson describe the bumpy ride from my home to work? Would Iyer have anything to say about traffic conditions? I know Dalrymple would cringe (maybe he wouldn't) if he saw the architecture in Andheri, where I live.

Every morning security guards rise reluctantly (this is true of most buildings in Bombay) and half-salute, like they have to but don't really feel the need to, and grunt good morning. Outside, there are dogs that grow in number every week and, early in the mornings, they sleep beside each other, forming a circular mound. The dog population here, among cleared mangrove and materials used for construction, has exploded. I steer past them and valiantly avoid the worst parts of the cracked road, negotiating steep bumps on what is actually a trecherous trail. It wrecks hell on your suspension, your butt, your bones. The morning walkers who abound tread purposefully but carefully; there are open manholes and in any case, the landscape of the road changes regularly. Andheri is a suburb, an outpost that was once deemed too distant and derelict to visit. But in the past two years, a slow progress has been made: three sand paths have been replaced by concrete roads, yet the busiest route in the vicinity - a vicious street where shoppers, Mercedes cars, rickshaws, cows, buses and cement mixers weave and jam around each other - clings what? It is a suburb shrouded in grey, built around straight lines and reflective windows. Taken in isolation, it's a town repentant for past decisions and clumsily keen on atonement.

How would those three have seen what I can now describe with my eyes shut?