Friday, March 31, 2006

By the pound

The fatter you are, the more you pay.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Feeling Tendulkar

I remember a young Tendulkar. Oddly enough, I cannot imagine him as old. Back then there were no words to describe him, and so we sought out numbers to quantify him. The magnitude of his promise was boggling. Could there have been a man after Bradman with whom numbers were so intertwined? Lara came later, as did Warne and Muralitharan.

We did not, or could not, speak of saying goodbye to him. To have bid him farewell would mean breaking away with a decade of ourselves, and in remembering his mortality we were struck by our own. But ageless faces deceive. Bones creak, skin tears, muscles become less taut.

When the tennis elbow was diagnosed, there was alarm. Injuries happened to people, but not Tendulkar. Of course they had happened before: the bending over after the six over midwicket against Kenya in 1996, the back pain against Pakistan at Chennai in 1999. But this was different. Suspicions arose that this one would linger.

When he played again, there were flashes of 1994, of 1998, of a free man who cherished his freedom but accepted nothing less than complete submission from others. Who could not delight in authority like this? But there were other hours when he could have been anybody but him. This new man was patient and cautious, he nurdled and nudged. Risk was banished. Given his time in the game, it was understandable, but sad all the same.

Each time a man much younger touches his edge, or clatters into his stumps, I feel a dull blow, and hope he returns vengeful, and puts the bowler in his place. How often does it happen these days? Does it happen at all?

The memory of him as young and energetic is fading. Discussions with friends whose thoughts on cricket are more emotional than learned and rational, all involve hopes of seeing him scorch grounds one last time, and leaving us with an image of domination and control – in our minds it is where he belongs. But it is a hope born of despair, like a death too soon. Why were we not told of this change in the programme? Why could we not cherish that last free-spirited innings?

What will happen to India after he is gone? It is a fear I have, irrational as it is. But I sometimes suspect that the bigger fear lies under the surface - that India will not matter after Tendulkar. For my short career as a cricket writer, that is how it has been. I could never be as emotional about India as I have been about Tendulkar. Dravid is more reliable, Kumble has won more games, but they cannot capture the imagination as he can.

In November 2004, I was at the Wankhede when he made fifty-odd runs against Australia on a cracked pitch. The innings would have once been construed as a failure. Here it was a success, and everyone within the ground’s confines knew it. There was a glimmer of the past in his batting, and it took me, personally, to an early morning in Dubai, when I watched him open for the first time in New Zealand. That was when I latched on the game properly. Now that I think about it, when he goes, the game won't hold me the same way again.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The polite deviant

Steel girders hold up a sagging ceiling above Rajat Kapoor in his Willingdon Colony office but still, these are less precarious times. He once lived here for two years as a paying guest, and the ceiling was propped up by bamboo sticks then. He now resides in Andheri with a young family, but addresses are usually temporary. “It’s a 11-month thing. I’ve been shifting ever since I came to Bombay. I still don’t have a place. And I’m still a PG here.” The only residence of permanence for Kapoor, who wandered into theater before arriving in Mumbai, is Prithvi Theater. His group, Chingaari, performed here, and he has directed C for Clown and The Blue Mug here. “I love that space. I’m an honorary member there,” he says, smiling.

Framed movie posters hang on peeling pink walls above a neat bed. In the hallway outside, the cricket commentary is turned down while a new director auditions a model for his first movie. This particular director had helped with Raghu Romeo (2003) and Mixed Doubles (2006), which deals with the boredom of a married man. His own movie could only be made if Kapoor produced it. “It’s so hard for people who want to make their first films,” says Kapoor. “Until I started acting in 1999, I had no money at all.” The break came when a friend pulled out of an advertisement and asked him to audition for the role. Within four years he had saved 16 lakhs, which eventually helped to finance Raghu Romeo. Until then he wrote scripts, among which was Mithya, about a bad actor desperately seeking work, as well as reviews for Mumbai’s Mid-day, and kept writing, earning just enough for sustenance. “I don’t want to go back to those days of poverty,” he says silently. “It was a lot of anxiety and stress. The electricity bill had to be paid, and there were mental debates over whether to take the limited bus or the next one, which cost 50 paise less.”

Kapoor, now in his early 40s, was 15 when he decided to make films. The family accommodated his wish after two half-hearted years at his father’s printing press. “They said, ‘Okay, let him go for three-four years’”. Money was not an objective. He then spent three years in Bombay, assisting directors. But even then. Upon returning home after years of training, he says his unconvinced father asked, “Have you decided what you want to do?” The doubts would only subside when Kapoor’s 1994 film Tarana won a national award. “15,000 Rupees and a piece of paper”. The award was notional. It brought no respite and the rough years continued. Private Detective, for which Kapoor was paid Rs 50,000, did not release. This, coupled with his insistence on creative control, proved difficult. (His opinion of Syed Mirza is telling: “He made films that he wanted to. When he could not, he did not.”) Producers would ask why the movie had not released. It was excess baggage.

When Kapoor showed them the Mithya script, he came across a particularly avoidable breed of producer. “’Mindblowing!’ they would say.” Kapoor leaned back and threw his hands up. “And then they’d say, ‘Don’t take Naseeruddin Shah.’ They were very clear. If I took Madhavan, they would give me 1.2 crore. If I took Aftab Shivdasani, it would be a certain amount.” Money had not been important but it was necessary, and Bollywood’s soundtrack was the cash register. For Naseeruddin, they offered him 80 lakhs, but Kapoor required almost twice that. He also met reluctant actors in those days, weeks, and months of meetings, but nothing transpired. All the while he grew closer to Naseeruddin, who watched him work at Prithvi. This led to Monsoon Wedding.

“I was horrified when Mira [Nair] offered me the pedophile’s role.” It provoked an introspection equivalent to that of a homosexual come-on. Do I look gay? Do I look like a sex offender? “If it wasn’t for Mira and Naseer, I wouldn’t have done it.” His first impression was that doing the role was a big mistake. “I thought, fuck, people are going to beat me up.” But his advertising image of the gentle father was powerful, and this balanced things. Just then, on cue, roles landed at his doorstep - parts that only he could apparently play. “I got offers for roles like that. It was either the sexual deviant, or the bad guy, or the ‘very sophisticated guy who turns out to be the villain.’ This was continuous. And I kept saying no to everything, except Kisna, which I did a few years later.” Kisna was a turkey. He shrugs. “The role was good.”

Big-budget films do nothing for Kapoor. “How do you spend 8 crores?” he asks, wide-eyed. Life on the periphery does not make allowance for large budgets, and he accepts this. “I came in knowing it would be tough. Bollywood made a certain kind of film. So you prepare to be marginalized completely.” But since Mixed Doubles a door has opened, and offers for low-budget films are more frequent. The proposals moved him to address a note to his brother: “Finally I’m a practicing filmmaker.”

Kapoor is convinced that every gesture made, word spoken, and breath taken, has brought him to this point. He describes his life as a series of accidents, but hastily adds that willpower has also played its part. This is how he met at Churchgate Station the woman he would eventually marry. The theory thrills him. “Aren’t all lives like that? I’ve seen it in my life. Lennon says that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

There is something in this. Mithya, languishing for years, is ready to go. It will be filmed in July and August this year during the rains.

(This appeared in Tehelka, March 17.)

True grit

Marcus Berkmann on beach cricket. Hilarious.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


This is a pretty rough city if you aren't completely able physically.

The wrong funny bone

A few days ago I remembered a physics lesson. It was one of those long-forgotten things about Newton that was learnt on a drowsy afternoon and discarded with the school uniform. The timing was a little off, though. I was in mid-air, having leapt from a moving train, when I had the 'oh-oh' moment. On cue a passenger shrieked, "Wrong! Wrong!" - having watched me leap not with the train's movement, but in the opposite direction. Churchgate's platform dwellers quickly parted, anticipating correctly where I would land and how heavy the tumble would be.

A day later, I learnt that the tip of the tailbone is called the coccyx, and this upside-down pyramid-shaped bone is seriously taken for granted. You're sitting on it right now. If it breaks, the body shuts down for 48 hours. No bathroom. Winds will be strong. If it breaks and touches the intestine, it's trouble. If the break is more than 30 degrees, healing it involves a doctor, anesthetic, a gloved finger, and an embarrassing procedure. But most of all, if it breaks, you cannot sit down. Pharmacists will ask, "Sir, woh piles-waala ring chalega?" As I write this I am propped on three cushions. The piles-waala ring was unnecessary. Too many side effects.

"How?" concerned people ask in part-wonder and part-sympathy. I tell them. There is a pause. I can hear them smile at the other end. "Is it a..." they start, and I know what's coming. "... A pain in the ass?" How they live with it I can't tell. I sink into my cushion gingerly and mumble something to make the pain stop. But their coccyx is fine, and so they continue. "We must get to the bottom of this," or "Butt how are you?" and similar joyous witticisms. I leave them on hold and waddle over to my room to pamper my poor coccyx.

Injuries that leave you immobile are terrible, terrible things. You eat like Pacman, you think too much. You think of all the places you could be but can't. And then there are these horrible bum jokes. Enough, I say. Unless something original can be said. Something like "How about Brokeback Mountain?" Now that made me - wait for it - laugh my ass off.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What a whistle means

Three black men leaning on a wall outside a Broolyn convenience store on Myrtle Avenue broke into whistles and words as a woman walked by. The woman was Indian, and was often mistaken for Latin American, but these noises did not discriminate between nationalities. The men lived in the nearby ghetto and, given its violent reputation, were somewhat restrained in their opinions. Previously, one lady had returned home without looking over her shoulder and found, when she shut the door and turned around, a rather large and unknown man from the ghetto in her living room. Another had returned late on a winter evening and was raped in her brownstone lobby by someone who had posed as a resident. Stories of being followed were endless. When the police and fire departments were diverted to Manhattan on September 11, crime spurted and, if my memory is true, women friends stayed indoors.

It was a Sunday afternoon when we passed by the three men. There was barely anyone else around, and their presence made the moment seem as threatening as a late night stroll. Suddenly it was unwise to be here – daylight did not matter when the street was deserted. She was thin and tiny, and I could not possibly fight them. But there was pride. “Don’t just stand there, do something,” the inner masochist appealed. Caught between machismo and caution I paused briefly, but she took my arm reflexively, yanking me back into stride.

Down the lane she smiled unexpectedly and said, “It’s not all bad. Delhi was much, much worse. These guys were appreciating me, and I’m flattered. You think it’s all abuse, but it’s not. With some guys you can just tell what they mean.”

Monday, March 06, 2006

An empty room

The empty room's prospective inhabitants study the afternoon light, guess the arc of the sun, inhale the room’s scent, familiarize their mind with walls and open spaces. They decide upon the method of transformation, for just as the mind needs a readjustment with new places to make them personal, so do spaces need alteration to fall in line with the mind’s eye. How do we make this space us, they ask. It must be unique, they decide, or it will not be us. It must speak of us, it must speak to us, and over time even in silence it will connect with us.

So what is it to be, they ask each other? Then takes place a negotiation involving words and body language. They may not understand the other but will try to. There will be the slightly surprising realization that dream homes consist of shared ideas. Talks will continue, and the empty space will be mentally altered until it nearly satisfies both dreamers. Between the two something new is born. A new way of looking. An empty room has given it life because from empty rooms spring conscious dreams, which always reveal. The two have seen something new about each other, and perhaps themselves, in the negotiations. Mental notes have been made. Things have been understood – the sort that words cannot elucidate.

The room is bare, but it is still full with interaction. This first empty room is as revealing as hours of conversation.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Minus one

When a sister got married recently, her absence left a blankness few of us were familiar with. It felt like a loss, not the victory we were used to in this family of males. People always came, no one ever left. It felt generous. When families are large and close, there is warmth and variety and giving. It is a club to which you have gained admission, and we feel large-hearted for accepting without judgment (mostly). But how can this feeling be extended to loss? Now, like a new word that you suddenly notice everywhere, there are sisters all around, only a few years away from leaving. There will be gains as well, for a generation of boys are becoming men, but these defeats are not easy to forget. We are suddenly minus one, and the realignment of family takes a long time – time we want nothing to do with, time we don’t want to know of. This endearing bunch of embarrassing nicknames will be elsewhere, and change will affect them in more ways than just by name. These walking targets will move out of range, leaving their brothers lost and pining for them.