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...]