Comfortably Numb...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

My 'Sporty' life- part II

I worshipped Ayrton Senna. To say that he was a genius would be like saying that a nuclear bomb causes a mild explosion! He was god's tacit means of wrenching my allegiance from cricket, a genius who could drive his car on water if he wanted to. His death in 1994 would leave me heart-broken and in tears, an emotion that completely flummoxed my mom. The poor soul had only seen her pesky little brat reduced to such a wretched state under extremely tenuous circumstances like:
- severe and sustained admonition for underperformance in the academic or the social domain
- the abject denial of a new sporting equipment or denial of permission to partake in a sporting event

‘Magic’ Senna's death will always remain one of the darkest memories in my life. But life had to go on or atleast that's what Schumacher seemed to be telling me. I followed his fledgling season in Jordan before he jumped ship to Benetton. The one thing that made me switch allegiance was his sublime wet-weather driving skills. That was a skill that distinguished Magic Senna from mere mortals; he could drive through pouring rain with far better precision than I could swallow a gulab jamun! Senna was God, nothing less and now so seemed Schumi (notice my tactical shift to his more alluring nickname, rather than referencing his complete surname? yeah, I had just crowned a new emperor for my throne!).

Thus, followed two years of sublime magic by the 'Rainmeister' in his sub par Benetton. Many experts have since claimed that his equipment was far more inferior to the other lead-runners and that it was his sheer genius that powered his mastery over his rivals! So, who was I but just an innocent 14-year to question the claims of all those commentators/experts right? Couple of driver’s championships later, Schumi was bored with the success. He had to entertain himself with a unique challenge and thus came about the most spectacular marriages in the history of Mankind, Michael Schumacher and Scuderia Ferrari (Diana-Prince Charles, Monroe-DiMaggio, Lombardi-Packers can all take a bow! You were all nice contenders, but the sheer magnitude of success n excellence that ensued from this wedlock will be carved amongst the highest echelons of sport for ages to come.) The most promising driver on track was moving onto the most flamboyant race team ever!

No wonder this marriage had completely won over legions of fans. Ferrari was the epitome of sporting icons, Michael was the heir-apparent to emperor Senna. What probably went unheralded amongst the festivities was the stragetic installation of the most brilliant generals that Formula1 would ever encounter: Team Manager, Jean Todt; Race Engineer, Ross Brawn and Design engineer, Rory Byrne. While this marriage went through the initial jitters, my support for Ferrari/Schumi was unwavering! I was willing to live or die with Ferrari/Schumi. While Hills, Villenueves and Hakkinens seemed to be winning their championships, there is one thing that is still etched deep in my heart: The sublime drive that Schumi showcased in the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix through torrential rain in his sub par Benetton Renault. Legend goes that while Gerhard Berger was struggling through the treacherous 'Eau Rogue' corner in his wet weather tires, Schumi not only drove past him nonchalantly but managed to peek a glance at Berger's tires to see if wet-weather tires were developing blisters. Needless to say, he drove on with his intermediate tires and won the race 19.5 seconds ahead of 2nd placed Damon hill. Ah! The sheer audacity of his talent!

I can never root against such talent; he was non-pareil when it came to driving! There are no two ways to it. To ice the cake, his resplendent brilliance was captured quite frequently by one of my favorite sports reporters: Nirmal Shekar of the Hindu. Reading Nirmal Shekar's articles on Schumacher and Tendulkar are like listening to Pink Floyd while smoking pot; it is tough to describe which pleasure enhances the other! Devouring the Saturday sports special supplement of the Hindu was my most anticipated event of any upcoming week. A convenient half-day school, followed by a sumptuous mom’s lunch was the ritual that preceded my 3 hours of nirvana every week. Perhaps the only joy that could match this surreal experience would be a sumptuous feast of Hindu’s sister publication, The Sportstar. The fortnightly magazine with unforeseen vision and uncanny insights into the sporting world. It was my vicarious tête-à-tête with gurus like Peter Roebuck, Nirmal Shekar and R.Mohan.

It is through Sportstar that I would develop my new-found appreciation for the English premier league and European soccer in general. There happened to be this juggernaut of a team called Manchester United that stomped through the field and gathered trophies. It seemed like Man Utd (yes, the usage of the abbreviation is quite immediate because there were no prior infatuations, just plain love at first sight!) While my prior devotion to soccer was via legendary Indian clubs like Mohan bagan and Mohd sporting, this seemed to a be whole other galaxy all together. I.M.Vijayans and Chima okeries couldn’t hold a candle to the resplendence of David beckhams and Peter Schmeichels…a new era was dawning in my sporting universe now. A new age being crafted on lazy english afternoons and irreverent british soccer demi-gods! Ballhandling geniuses holding aloft silverware were sights that held me breathless.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My 'Sporty' life - part I

My Life has always revolved around sports. Cricket, (like any true Indian worth his salt!), was my first love. Football (Soccer) a close second. My alma mater, the great DAV-BHEL school in Ranipet embraced and proliferated my 'sporting genius' for the lack of better talent/enthusiasm/physical attributes amongst my peers! My proficiency in cricket, soccer, basketball, athletics, shuttle, tennis, volleyball, TT, snooker, gilli, goli etc. etc. was nurtured to varying levels of excellence (or ineptitude depending on your viewpoint of being an optimist or a pessimist). Life in a BHEL township comes with its own perks...acres n acres of playgrounds and parks, a veritable cornucopia of facilities and a desperate lack of other entertainment choices!

All those factors chose to conspire rather fortuitously in dictating a childhood fraught with sports and games (of all kinds, rules and affiliations). It was an addiction I unconsciously chose to inculcate most gleefully. After all, what kind of insane kid would grow up to hate chocolate if your favorite aunt owned a chocolaterie, huh? So, thus began my 'sporty life' integral facet of my ethos which to this date has remained as unwavering as my mother's love and dad’s support!

My passion for sports gets exhibited in two distinct forms:
- Following sports (the more benign and favorable form of my addiction)
- Playing sports (the malevolent and sometimes unpopular cousin)

My compassionate instincts prevent me from tormenting you with the gory/graphic/banal details of the second form of my passion for now. I shall devote the rest of this blog describing how the first form of passion has shaped my life in such spectacular fashion.

As any true son of the Indian soil would attest, most of our 'sporting childhood' is intertwined inseparably with Cricket and the Indian cricket team. Kapil Dev's dazzling outswingers and Sunil Gavaskar's stoic defense formed the central theme of any bedtime tale that my parents chose to narrate in my early childhood. Then came our beloved Krishnamachari with his swashbuckling, Gayatri mantra-laden assaults on brutal fast bowlers twice his size! As my conscience/appreciation for the sport started to grow, I got hooked onto watching cricket like a single working female would to 'Sex n the City'. Shastris and Kumbles followed and I was stuck with cricket for the lack of a better choice. Then came a diminutive little teenager, a chubby and affable kid who went by the name Sachin Tendulkar! My universe was now whirring at gazillion miles an hour, I had found a new god! His batting exploits I would re-enact in rather spectacular fashion in my bedroom and bathroom. Damn you Sachin, you were singularly responsible for substantial damage to my walls, switchboards, tables and showerheads man!!

Dravids and Gangulys followed and I danced along like a man on trance. After all, Cricket was our national religion right? (Whoever said India is a secular country huh?) It is well beyond my literary ability to capture the complete impact of cricket on my life or for that matter a billion other lives in India. So, let me adopt the classical British style of understatement and just summarize it this way: Cricket made my world tick, without cricket I would have been a depressed lunatic waiting for mother earth to swallow me! Well, that is 'understatement' enough to express my passion for everything cricket. It was almost natural progression for every kid raised in India to develop this affliction, just like learning the Alphabet when you stepped into kindergarten. This is a cultural phenomenon that has always fascinated me, this undying passion and zest for the most British of all sports that thrives in India. In fact, I can boldly claim that if not for some "minor" historical details, Cricket is probably the most Indian of all the sports still played/followed all aorund the world!

While many other sports like Hockey and Tennis vied for my attention, they would always remain minor distractions...Cricket was the emperor of my universe! Until Formula1 motored along into my teenage life! Star Sports was still an alien channel trying to fill up it's non-cricket slots with sports which were as alien and inexplicable as tensor calculus to me. But wait, what was this funny sport where they race ugly looking buggies that were rather misleadingly referred to as cars? Hmmm...interesting! This Michael Shoemaker eh..Schumacher seemed a pesky and yet tenacious kid. While everyone else bent over backwards and let this Aryton eh...Ayrton Senna guy drive right over their prostrate selves, Schumacher seemed to have other ideas! Well cricket world cup was another 3 years off and we were only playing Zimbabwe this next few months. Thus began an affliction that would soon begin to supplant cricket for the throne.

[To be continued in future episodes...]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lost in Transition

Oh No!! It is that time of the year again, my old lease has run out and I need to vacate or risk being evicted unceremoniously from my cozy perch. Two years of cushy existence in this apartment have anesthetized my senses to the travails of shifting/moving! I had relegated those painful memories to the melancholic sections of my mind, those sorry archives I revisit only during extreme duress. So, it is with a heavy heart that I now peruse through those despondent chapters, looking for that episode ensconced amongst my most depressing moments in life. My distant memories of being “Lost in Transition”…

What do I do now?? The swanky one-bedroom pad that I so meticulously chose for my last year of grad school existence is still a distant fortnight away… I am now forced to partake in this annual campus town ritual of brute-forcing myself into an unwilling friend’s premises for the time-being! There exist a few popular strategies that I can choose from to secure a habitat during this thorny period of homelessness. I shall try to list these “life-saving” strategies in the following paragraphs …
[I shall refer to the original lessees of the apartment who will stay on and not be involved in this painful act of transition as “original owners” and the unfortunate souls who seek refuge as the “refugee friends” in the following sections]

- Strategy #1: Subtle means of extortion, involving unctuous acts of servitude. This usually involves involuntary offers from the refugee friends to cook, clean dishes, and share utility bills with the original owners. This tactic can be sensed by a sudden and inexplicable metamorphosis of the refugee friends into amicable samaritans.

- Strategy #2: Bargaining for a free-stay in exchange for all those worthless acts of generosity that the refugees ‘kindly’ chose to shower on their ‘friends’ in the not-so-recent past (Those golden times when each of the parties involved had a distinct mailing address listed as per INS regulations!). This tactic is generally characterized by unnatural acts of bonding and ‘hanging out’ with the original owners around 2-3 weeks before the original period of transition. A sudden spike in the frequency of inordinate and unconditional offers of drinks/meals/refreshments during casual night outs is generally observed.

- Strategy #3: Blackmailing your friend with fictitious memories of friendship and cloyingly sweet episodes of fun and frolic. This tactic is characterized by melodramatic antics of the refugees and a heightened sense of apathy amongst the original owners. This tactic results in exchanges that are rather awkward for the parties involved but supremely entertaining for the neutral observers. A protracted exchange between the parties can begin to resemble afternoon soaps on the Indian satellite channels!

- Strategy #4: Imposing one’s seniority on a defenseless junior. A brutal and unpopular technique that generally renders the prey (i.e. the original owners) defenseless! Any hint of resistance is quashed by reproachful renditions of past generosity by the “senior” refugees. This tactic is an antithesis to the fact that the proto-typical “Senior-Junior” relationship is merely a vestigial custom, with vague connotations to college days in India.

- Strategy #5: Brandishing family contacts/relationships that would put proficient genealogists to shame. Typical exchange between the parties would be along these lines:

Refugee: “Hi Machi, you remember X? Your cousin who was 8 years your senior and went to ABC Univ? His roomie during grad study was my uncle’s wife’s brother’s close friend from LKG da! Wat an amazing coincidence that we know can get to be roommies for a few weeks na?”

O Owner: “Oh really? Strange coz’ I didn’t even know X existed till you kindly chose to enlighten me with a juicy snippet from your eventful family’s past!”

Refugee: “Seriously da machi…it is indeed a small world! History does repeat itself”

O Owner: “Yea rite! Tell me all abt it! (Sigh)”

- Strategy #5.b: A subset of this tactic would be reference to classmates/friends who had a common friend/ lived in the same street/ played in the same park/ went to the same IIT coaching class etc etc. This is a superb example of utilizing your opportunistic kinship and renewing bonds that you wouldn’t have dreamt of serving a useful purpose this far down the line!

So, the battlelines are drawn and strategies chosen/imposed by both parties involved. Unfortunately, there exists a considerable mismatch between the populations of the two parties involved. The refugees tend to outnumber the original owners by astronomic proportions. The kind of mismatch that exists between the population of single guys with “cool, fun-loving” profiles and the population of ‘homely’ girls with a “single/unmentioned” profile status in Orkut!

It is a curious dynamic that engulfs campus-towns during this period of strife. Unwilling owners are forced to accommodate flocks of desperate refugees, mostly out of compulsion and involuntary emotional blackmail. Boxes of cutlery and grocery supplies are crammed into non-existant nooks n crannies. Sleeping bags, wet towels and dirty laundry piled onto unsuspecting bedrooms and living rooms. Office and lab spaces notice an alarming spurt of suitcases and irrelevant cardboard boxes. Humanity teems out of every square footage of real estate available, while the new apartments are being cleaned, washed and readied for their new tenants. It is a state of uneasy truce, a dynamic state of equilibrium that cannot be explained even by the most profligate of mathematicians.

I now step into this unfortunate state of transition with mixed emotions. An unfortunate victim of my fate, having to revert to strategies I would have otherwise found unworthy of my dignity and chivalry! I hope it is as transient as a flight to India, visions of the Promised Land allowing you to grin and bear the torture. I shall indulge in fantasies of clean bathrooms, freshly laundered clothes and acres of space to help me tide over this dark and tempestuous period of persecution. I shall announce grandiose plans of my “house-warming” party to help assuage the feeling of abomination that is festering in my host’s hearts. I shall seek to live an unobtrusive grad student existence and maximize my time spent in my lab (although that would cause needless suspicion and anxiety in my advisor’s mind!!).

As wishful and impossible as this might sound …I shall not let the eternal optimism in me simmer down! I strongly urge all of my fellow calamitous souls (who are subjected to this sadistic ritual annually) to share my vision! Arise, Awaken and Bend not your vertebrae to this unfortunate occurrence, smile and set forth on a wondrous journey of discovering the body rhythms, quirks and personal habits of new-found friends! After all, it is testing times like this that make us a stronger person, right??

P.S. [Oh God!! I need to use the restroom NOW…but alas I am only third on the queue!!] Have a wonderful summer if you live in your “own apartments (all by yourself that is)” and forget not that we will inhabit our Promised Land sometime soon!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Recepción a San Diego, mi amigo

The drive to San Diego from Southern California is fraught with soothing visuals and a laid-back coastline that delves sporadically into the Pacific Ocean. The entry into this gorgeous city is quite unannounced and understated. Lush green meadows interspersed by hills are a recurring theme throughout the city’s expanse. Civilization is realized once you take an exit from the freeway to visit your chosen destination within the city. Armed with my brand new semi-automatic digital camera, I was salivating for photo-ops. (Preparation for the hunt involved a lengthy 2 hour rendition of my camera manual and concomitant twiddling of the multitude of knobs and settings within the quirky little opto-electronic gizmo a.k.a the Canon Powershot S2 IS.)

The first thing that you notice about this gorgeous city is its green vegetation. Almost every slope, every hill is swathed with a lush green carpet and interspersed with wild flowers and flora rouged in varying shades of green.

(Right-click on the thumbnails and open in a new window for full-size images)

My first stop was La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya), a beautiful community by the beach. It resembles the inimitable city of Monte Carlo with its rather curious geography, a juxtaposition of the beach and ridged streets set along the jagged slope of a hill. The streets jut over a bluff and face the beautiful cove that makes La Jolla a family favorite in summertime. Art galleries and expensive showrooms dominate the shopping landscape in this sunny paradise. Sidewalks are lined with the 'Californian signature' palm trees and beautifully manicured gardens replete with flowers and potted exotics. The buildings sport a sand-stone color scheme throughout the community. The intelligent choice of sandstone accentuates the colorful flora and promotes the high-end promenade quite beautifully. Expensive cars, well-heeled clientele and a sunny countnenance add to the Monte Carlo-ish legend!

(Right-click on the thumbnails and open in a new window for full-size images)

The palette of eateries is quite diverse and mouth watering. My choice of lunch was a mexican restaurant adorned with a palm thatch and a hammock for an entrance. The interiors resembled a mexican beach shack with grill-meshed windows overlooking the beach. The restaurant's functional menu lists all the regular mexican cravings i.e. Chilli rellenos, flautas, burritos, tacos and chalupas. The food was simple and tasty, but the view from the beach shack was the actual sumptuous treat!

The bright colors of the La Jolla inn in stark contrast to the emeraldine foliage and the tranquilizing azure background of the beach! The scene would have inspired Rembrandt to migrate to this paradise if not for its obscurity at that time. The blame should fall squarely on the dumb migrants, who delayed their 'Gold Rush'. 200 years too late for Rembrandt's existence to embellish this world with his virtuosity! It's a shame that California escaped the Maestro because the marriage would have yielded a breathtaking array of art...that would have left Europe to look like a desolate meadow ravaged by a thousand rampaging elephants! Ahh...the possibilities register a tingle down my spine (Sigh!!) .

A sumptous lunch devoured was followed by a gentle jaunt towards the warm, sun-kissed beach. It was a perfect day in the late 60s with just the right smattering of feathery clouds. The impish sun engrossed with it's late afternoon game of hide-n-seek with the cotton puffs. A sizeable crowd taking in the sun with their picnic baskets and family to provide succour. The sandy beach funnels into the La Jolla Cove. A sandstone cave carved out over multiple reptitions of the high-tide, carefully crafted for the young and the old alike to frolic around.

My next stop was the island of Coronado, a short drive across the bay from downtown San Diego. An island that brings back fond memories of Goa, laid-back and languid, cordial and pretty! The shops an invitation for indulgence, the promenades set in cobbled stones. If you are in a hurry, you don't belong here. A driving speed of 30+mph would be termed astronomic and rude. A perfect place for a lesuirely stroll, a steaming cup of latte' or a generous helping of your favorite ice-cream. A view point along the coast offers a magnificent view of downtown San Diego and the adjoining bay is a hub for water-sports enthusiasts and weekend sailors.

My last stop was downtown San Diego; home of the famous Gas Lamp district, Balboa Park, the MLB Franchise San Diego Padres and the NFL franchise San Diego Chargers. The cobbled sidewalks in the gas lamp district offer the perfect avenue for a romantic escapede with your paramour. The lazy mist that rolls in at dawn acts the perfect catalyst to trigger your hormones and wreak havoc in your blood stream! The choice of restaurants seem tailored for a romantic date as well, candle-lit tables for two populate the side-walks with many a charming maitre'd welcoming you to splurge your hard-earned money on their conniving establishments. Every restaurant has its own charming quirk be it live jazz music, a flamenco band or an exotic feng shui. Every element chosen craftily to foster your hormonal cataclysm and siphon exorbitant sums of cash for services that promise to bolster your courtship and weaken your finances!

There is a distinct mexican flavor to the city as it is the southern-most tip of territorial USA and leads directly into the mexican border. Can there be a better exemplification of the latin american flavor than the Cuban Cigar? Select establishments along the promenade deal with original cuban cigars. I was curious to investigate the immense hype that is perenially linked to this rarest of man's creations! What makes a cuban cigar...well, a cuban cigar? A walk around one such establishment enlightented my inadequate faculties! To learn about the 'Cigar way of life' was quite unique and fascinating...A life size humidor (humidity controlled wood chambers maintained at 68F and around 65-70% humidity) is stocked with cigars that cost anywhere between a 10 to 1000$. (Yes, I did type it right, a thousand dollars!) The cost is generally a function of the grade of tobacco and the location of the cigar-maker. Cuban cigars are the most sought after, while some from Honduras and Nicaragua are deemed a close second. All this might sound like a morbid indulgence for the ignorant soul, but for these 'cigar afficianado' it is perhaps a way of life, a surreal act of indulgence on the choicest tobacco to kill themselves with!

All said and done, San Diego is a gorgeous place to be young and in love! The activities to indulge your better-half are limitless and charming, a life meant to be ravished with passion and let us raise a toast to San Diego mi amigo...'Ola!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I am Back!!

I realize that my blogspot has now begun to resemble a haunted castle, an edifice that has been orphaned and left to decay, the disgruntled relic bearing vestiges of its grandiloquent past! It is time that I dust the cobwebs and atone for my sins of indifference and sloth! Crimes committed in the wake of accruing professional commitments, alluring NBA playoff action and a crippling addiction to the X-box 360! I agree that the aforementioned excuses might sound like a lame attempt at camouflaging my laziness, but I dare you to try them on for a week and then let me know if I am lying!

I do wish to thank all those loyal souls who have frequented the site with an unwavering optimism that I hold in great esteem. I promise you that the blogspot was not an attempt to garner instant celebrity status nor was it a mere indulgence in the latest fashion craze that has infected netizens young and old alike! It will remain an ongoing adventure and I welcome you to steal a peek as and when you wish. I only wish the frequency of blogging could resemble a metronome rather than the staccato of an AK-47 that has been the case till now.

Now that the 're-introductions' and apologies have been taken care off, redressing my extended sabbatical hopefully…I shall launch forth into my upcoming series of blogs! Life has been a rush lately, the latest joyride being a 13-day trip to sunny California on a ‘purported’ business visit to a conference last week. Careful planning and a beneficial distribution of strategic contacts/friends across the Californian coast empowered me to contrive a ‘homerian’ odyssey across this magnificent state. Each episode of this odyssey a delicious dish of an elaborate seven course dinner, a sumptuous treat to the senses. The sights, smells and sounds held me spell-bound, ravishing me with a beauty unforeseen. A feast that I devoured with the hunger of a refugee teleported straight from Somalia to a Victorian buffet in Buckingham palace!!

The promise of delivering this travelogue in various chapters is borne purely out of my greed to relive each of those spectacular moments in high-definition. I hope to capture the magical experience in sufficient detail and transport you to those magical realms. Besides, it is my unabashed attempt at experimenting with the genre of travelogues!! So, Ladies and Gentlemen...I present to you my Californian Odyssey in spectacular technicolor! Keep tuning in to savor California through the eyes of a hopeless romantic!