Monday, December 31, 2007

Infinitesimally small

Please click this youtube link. Check that small documentary. Think for a second. Does this make you feel too small? Very very small? Infinitesimally small?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Of Ticket Checkers, Make up and Bears

The Make up lady:

Why does it bother me?

There's this women who takes the 8:30 metra (Suburban rail) that i take. Now just to clarify right away, i don't keep observing women on my train. But this woman is different. The moment she takes the seat she starts doing her make up. She has a huge make up kit (proportionate to her huge self being). Also she is clearly over the hill and must be in her late 40s if not early 50s.

Apparently her vanity box is "full of it". Like her.

It takes me around 35 minutes to reach downtown. For that entire period, i repeat, entire period, she is busy "making her self" up. To be fair to her, she minds her own business, like everyone else. She is not a chatter box or something. Yet her demeanor bothers me. Her constant and relentless "making up" bothers me. I just want to tell her "STOP IT" !!!! Please STOP IT.

While on the train I usually open my laptop and either write some crap (like this) or just check my emails. But once in a while when i look around, more often than not, i catch this women painting her face away to glory. Now there are others ladies too who "make up" (no pun intended) in the train. But this women is different. She is passionate about her make up. She just "rubs it in" (pun totally intended) continuously.

And i know i should not be bothered by this and mind my own freaking business. But it still does bother me.

The Ticket Checkers:

All Ticket checkers have different styles. Metra has two tiers ( double decker train); the bottom level has more seats. The upper level is mostly a single line of seats. Some ticket checkers check the bottom level first and make a come back to check the upper level. While some TC's simply check both levels at same time as they move between the aisles.

Now if you are reading a newspaper or are sitting on your laptop it's hard to judge when your ticket will be checked. So you keep waiting depending on the TC. Not that it affects anything as you are already royally seated. Yet you got to be alert as you don't want poor chap to come near you and ask for ticket. Most people just plug their passes in the slot of the seat and get on with reading or whatever they are doing and the TC just swoops past them observing the passes. Some people though, stop his normal flow by taking a ticket on the train itself. Thats a serious NO-NO for TC and i have seen them upset. But it's their job.

People :

During weekdays it's 99% office going crowd. All professionals. Well dressed and uptight. There's generally no verbal communication. Everyone is either reading newspaper or doing office work. Some are doing their "make up" as mentioned earlier. But it's very quiet. During weekends its totally different. There are large families and groups with children who raise quite a cacophony. Weekends on train you want to stay away from families with too many kids. They would usually be throwing things around or just plain screaming.
I have been traveling on this line (the NorthWest line as it's called) for last 2 years. Many faces have become familiar now. Also TC's. Their faces are known. But i have not made many friends on this train line. It's very typical here. People acknowledge each other but keep a distance. We don't become train buddies. Of course if it's some one from your work place who happens to sit next to you then it's a different scene.

Cell Phones:

Call it a Murphy's law- but anytime you on the phone during the travel, invariably there are tons of announcements. Either about safety or about asking patrons to take ticket from the station instead of taking it inside or some sundry message. It ensures difficulty to talk and listen. These messages are broad casted by the Ticket Checkers themselves. Of course there the automated ones as well adding more to the irritation. Some TCs are over enthusiastic or plain simple sadists. They probably do not like people talking on cell in train and make sure their lives become difficult for some time at least by constant announcements / messages.

Beers and Bears:

You can take food and beer on the train. We occasionally see boisterous Bears or Cubs fans on the train. This season Bears has done miserably in NFL. They won't be making to the playoffs. Last season they were the runners up and NFC champions. So this time trains won't be full with people coming over from the Soldier fields.
In Chicago people actually enjoy drinking beer during the winters. That's a strange combination. Winters and Beer. But so be it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Madhuri's Day out

I haven't still given up on Bollywood movies. I still go out to see the odd Dhooms and Swadeses. Although i see Bollywood movies few and far (in the theater i mean), last weekend was special. Both me and my wife are Madhuri Dixit fans. We belong to a generation that has seen Madam Dixit in her prime; when she had a spell over the masses and to some extent the classes. (Although the snooty classes won't agree to liking the Ghati, Dadar babe)

Point is she was the reigning queen of bollywood who royally displaced Sridevi from the pedestal and held her own against so called competition for quite a while. This was long before Manish-Malhotra-Ritu-Beri tailor-made cosmetic and plastic model-actresses, became a bollywood norm. Madhuri ruled Bollywood when Bollywood was still an un-professional messy self (Some will argue it still is).

It is ironical that even though i claim to be a Madhuri fan i actually disliked two of her greatest hits - "Hum aapke..." and "Dil to pagal hai". In fact i could not sit through both these movies. "Hum aapke.." i saw only 10 years too late.

So i am not sure what Madhuri movie really struck the chord for me. I will leave it for later and not bother figuring out now. I am not a great fan of dancer-actresses either. And that Mrs Nene has dance all over her resume and yet she appeals me is strange. She was the worst dressed women in the industry during that time as far as i remember reading. And with a little ghati accent some might say she wasn't the most polished of 'em all.

So let's regroup - We are talking of the worst dressed women, non-polished,non-north indian (meaning non-Kapoor,Oberoi,Khanna etc), supposedly good dancer, whose biggest hits i considered embarrassment to my common sense? Am I for real? How could I even like her, leave aside being a fan !!!

What appealed to me probably and to most others i guess was, what i would call the "Dil Se" factor. Dixit had that. Dixit did everything "Dil Se", because of the honesty she had to her self. You can easily make out a fake from a real. And that "Dil Se" thingy i have never seen in lets say an Aishwarya Rai or a Sushmita Sen. If left to herself she could lighten the entire stadium. Her expressions came from inside. She did not hold her self back. She just "DID IT".
And that probably what appealed to most people. Her total commitment to her moment. Whatever moment she chose. Whether to make titillatingly silly expressions while dancing or just appealing to the saas bahu audience of "Hum Aap ke..." She did everything "Dil Se".

And last weekend i went to see Aaja Nachle to find if she still "had it" in her. I did not go to see and analyze if this could be her comeback. Frankly I don't believe "come back" is even a valid notion. Barring Dimple Kapadia i am not sure if we have seen come backs as such. And who is she going to compete with? Aishwarya Rai? Zinta and Ranis of this world? I thought she was one or two generations ahead.Doesn't make sense. I don't think she was even looking to do that.

Meaningful cinema was never Bollywood’s forte. One can argue that since Dixit has already achieved a lot and is way beyond competition and rat race she should have selected a role of “substance”. That's a fair comment. And it’s not that she has not done such efforts earlier. But where is the motivation to do such stuff at least in India? She (from what it seems) was going to come to India, shoot some frames and go back to her cozy life in the Americas.

Point is, she would have to wait for another decade to have that meaty role come her way. That’s how sad Bollywood’s scene is. You got to face the reality.
And “Nachle” wasn’t all that unreal, looking at the abysmal standards of “reality” set by Bollywood, it was as believable as say a Bunty-Babli.

Dixit had fun.And that’s what she came for. And that’s what came out on the screen too. Dance, sing and have fun and take a sabbatical from her homemaker routine. It almost feels like the Chopra camp and Dixit got together and came up with this fun/picnic idea. If along the way they could ask her loyal fans to join her, all the better.
Madhuri surely loves dancing and singing and going over-the-top on the stage performance. And Aditya Chopra provided her with that perfect platform in Nachle.I guess we can grant her that after all the years. She has a right to her own fun without caring for box-office outcome. I am of the view that since her aim was not to make a comeback and make a “Mother India” it’s only fair that she does the way she enjoys.
And I think we all enjoyed. All - as in all those who were sitting in that deserted theater. No one left the movie half way or even before the end. Till the last credits were shown people were still waiting. Considering the kind of movies fished out these days that was quite an achievement. For Madhuri fans that was good enough.

In the end it was Madhuri’s day out. And I’ll tell you what – at least one fan wasn’t complaining.

P.S : Another review from Outlook

Monday, November 26, 2007


* One of my mailing addresses in USA -
34B, Camelot Drive,
PA - 15222.

* One of my mailing addresses in India -
5B, "G" Wing,
Godavari Annexe,
Shri Krishna Nagar,
Borivali (E),
Maharashtra - 400096

As you can tell the Indian address is 2X longer and bigger than the USA address.
Mumbai (Bombay) being a Metro, it still has a cleaner and efficient system of Address. It gets worse when a letter is mailed to a remote village of the country.
You have to mention the district, taluka, panchayat etc. Sometimes the space provided on the post card is not sufficient and i remember in old days people would write smaller and squeeze in as many letters as possible on the three black lines provided for Address.

Sometimes the Address would be bigger than the content of the post card itself.

Point is, can there an efficient way to describe an Address? One that is simple and neat yet effective?

Can't we make Zip code / Pin Code the primary identifier. Like for example there can be 1,00,000 Ram-nagars in India but there can only be one Ram-nagar per Pin code.
Wouldn't that change everything?

Like in above example i can only have a plot number instead of Godavari Annexe and Sri Krishna Nagar. Wouldn't that be simple 3 line address?

So it could read - 5B-G Wing, 9999, Borivali(E), Mumbai.

Just a random thought

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Costner's JFK

[This article is copied from my old blog. This was written a couple of years back]

I don't take my knowledge of Hollywood movies too seriously. I am at best a casual watcher and at worst a nominal self appointed analyst/critic.

There isn't a particular genre of movies that i have an affinity for. Yes i love comedies and spoofs. Action thrillers are great. Sometimes dramas are fine.Sci-Fis are great if made well. Can't say that about all Sci-Fis though.Romantics ... mmm.. not sure.

But four Hollywood movies which shook me from my core and which affected me for some time were 1] Pulp Fiction 2]Godfather I and II 3] Shwashank's Redemption and 4] JFK. And not necessarily in that order.

Pulp Fiction for its "casual" violence and style, Godfather off course for its grand setting and almost intoxicating story line, Shwashank's.. for its brilliant ending and JFK for its absolute commitment to details.I have not seen a movie script more glued to details than JFK. It was an epic made to depict a monumental event in the American history. That Oliver Stone would have walked a very tight rope making that movie shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

I am not sure if many republicans would have hated that movie. If you make efforts to separate the movie's political overtones, you get , what i should call a Master-Piece.The story is based on Kennedy's murder and follow up on its investigation. Its a period movie based in the 60s.The film is an essay on how the vigour and dedication of one man and his team of associates can rise above the highest powers. For me nothing symbolizes this film's excellence more than Kevin Costner's closing speech to the Jury. It was spotless. Almost impeccable work of fine acting. You just stop and listen to this man speak, endlessly.

Apart from Costner's acting, the Director's brilliance in gradually building up the story and along with that the emotion, is an education in film-making itself.Writes a critic."The subject matter is incredibly controversial and subjective but Stone's delivers it with such emotion and raw power that his alternate myth to the Warren Report seems factual."

The movie is also a salute to this nation's true democracy. A democracy where a politically uncomfortable film is allowed to not only be produced but released without hiccups even during the rule of the government which is at odds with the movie's views. In India especially, politically incorrect movies have little or no place at all.
(A point in case, "Aandhi"-which was banned)

When Americans talk of liberty and freedom of speech they mean it. But in some ways the movie's story tells a paradoxical situation regarding exactly that. That is , freedom of views.

Kennedy was a liberal at heart. He had already made enemies within the CIA because of his diametrically opposite views apart from others,on Cuban Missile issue and racial tolerance. His views were not in synch with the higher ups in the most feared Intelligence office of the world.

As the movie shows at the start, Kennedy had it coming.

Kennedy had snatched an improbable victory in elections. He with his wife had grown into iconic figures in a very short span of time. The Kennedy's symbolized power,glamour and style for the 60s America which was flushed with money and power.The Kennedy's lifestyle, their hollywood connections, their good looks was what would qualify as the "talk of the country".

The conservatives surely were'nt impressed. And Kennedy might have 'crossed the line' a few times on a few issues for CIA to take the extreme step of eliminating him. (The movie without naming CIA, makes it more than obvious that CIA was behind his murder).

The best part of the movie is that it is very subtle in its presentation. There's an understated aggression but the blame is not squarely pushed in CIA's direction. A lot of questions are kept hanging intentionally, i feel, to keep the viewer in state of perennial intrigue.

But as i mentioned earlier, Costner's closing speech is a class act. An act of a helpless lawyer who is too small to fight a huge system by himself. Costner looses the case, but makes the point. He does not loose without a fight and thats what the movie is all about. That Costner is going to loose the case is known all along, but his effectual verbal advocacy of what he stands for and case itself is the movie's highlight.

JFK for me remains a collector's item. I have seen this movie a couple of times and may watch it some more times (probably when it flashes back on the cable). I haven't seen Kevin Costner's other movies except for "Bull Durham". But doesn't matter. JFK proves his acting credentials way beyond anybody's doubt.

All in all, JFK takes the cake for story-telling and presentation. If you got 5 hours to spare on a week-end, one of the ways to use it would be to get this DVD. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fun Unlimited

Ramdaspeth was a revelation. Home to my childhood days, it was also one of the plush areas of Nagpur. Mind you Nagpur did not have many areas that can be considered "plush". But Ramdaspeth stood out in a few ways. The plots were bigger and all the independent bungalows were lined majestically along the small streets. Considering what Nagpur was, Ramdaspeth had it's fair share of high points.

It was a colony of the business community of Nagpur to some extent. And one house stood smack in the middle of the cross road of Ramdaspeth. It was Shanti Sadan; my maternal Grandfather's house.

For us kid's, it was simply "Ba's House". Ba - my maternal Granny.

Ba's house had a special aura to it. Till early 80s it was a villa with plenty of rooms and restrooms, plenty of open space and ventilation, plenty of vegetation including tall and handsome coconut and chickoo trees and plenty of playing area for kids. In fact half the colony kids would descend on my granny's place to play something or the other. Either it was hide and seek or cricket or something else. The house was so big that "Hide and Seek" became the natural sport of that house owing to potentially large number of areas to hide.

Nobody would call it Shanti Sadan. Even for my friends it was always "Ba's house". Ba or my maternal granny, was the symbolic mother figure for all. She had certain strict rules to be followed, specially the post restroom-usage ritual; yet every one of my friends just assumed it as their birth right to play in Shanti Sadan's premises without inhibition or guilt.

One thing i strongly associate Ba's house is with the vacation period. Whether it was summer or Diwali, each vacation spent at Ba's house simply was a Fun-Nirvana. My cousins would descend from Bombay for a few weeks each year and gather at Ba's house and what followed was pure mayhem. Chaos and festivities ruled over these weeks. The more the people, the more laugh riot it ensured. 100%, pure unadulterated fun was what it was.

There was more fun packed per unit of time than during any period of the year. If it was not watching movies in afternoon on a VCR, it was either playing carom or Monopoly endlessly, if it was not playing box cricket in the front yard, it was flying kites on the terrace; if it was not going to the picnic at local gardens of Nagpur, it was the alfresco meals in the backyard. The amount of cacophony and level of decibel was proportionate to number of people per square yard residing in the premise. And during the vacation it was very high.

People say they don't get time for fun. At "Ba's house" during those few weeks of vacation the situation was reversed - THERE WAS NO TIME *FROM* FUN. It was as if we were doing nothing but enjoying. Enjoyment was not giving us enough time to do anything else. It was one big party sans alcohol and music but that which ran 24 X 7 non stop.

Every year i would wait for these holidays and wait for my cousins to come because every year promised to be funnier than the previous one. Ba's house was the quintessential vacation home. It had all the trappings of a great vacation home, including a wide backyard, a large swing, large open terrace that towered over the neighbors and large rooms to accommodate many people. We never felt cramped even with 40 odd people at times.

Last year i traveled for the first time in a Business class in Air. It was a trip from Chicago to New Delhi. I could not help but compare business class seats with the economic class one's which i usually take. Besides good service, business class seats have a lot of leg room and easy maneuverability. It is not cramped.

Vacation at "Ba's house" was like one big business class flight for all of us kids. Individually we stayed in smaller one or two bedroom apartments. But Ba's house was OUR Business class ticket. It had lot of leg room and there was no question of cramping. And more importantly we were looked upon well at Ba's house. When there, we cousins were like a herd of sheep who are let loose in an open lush green field.

In some sense i think we were the last lucky generation to witness such grand vacations. Today's kids don't have big and large families to go to with the nucleus-ization of families and they most certainly don't get to see Granny's hosting such big parties on such a large scale. That pure and unadulterated fun, that ran not into days but weeks together is hard to imagine now. Just a change in time may be; but whatever may be the case, we were lucky to be part of those glorious vacations for many years.

My granny and grandpa would usually keep themselves uninvolved in the details of the vacation plans. They would simply enjoy as by standers. May be they were very matured and understood that control freaking on kids and grand kids can only spoil the fun. They enjoyed seeing others enjoy from the sidelines. That was their nirvana - Enjoying from the sides. They let kids be kids and grand kids be grand kids. They were the enablers and not the producers of fun. And therein lied their maturity.

Obviously this is not to say that the kids today don't have fun. The avenues are different and the means are different.

As humans we have memories to fall back upon. And if the memories are great, the roots are only stronger. "Ba's house" symbolized grandiose but it also underlined the significance of simple happiness - Happiness in simple normal things. You don't need a rocking band of DJ and high volume music to have a party. Ba's house was fun in simpler things. It packed more fun than 12 hour dance-till-you-last party pub. Jokes abound there; laughter was boundless and loud. There was no controlled and measured happiness. Fun was what it was - just Fun. There was simple food prepared deliciously with simplicity, no exorbitant gourmet meals - yet it was divine and tasteful.

Many great summers and Diwalis were spent in that house. It is home to some great memories.Sans extravagance and "over the top" festivities, the enjoyment and fun were based on simple and regular underpinnings. There was enjoyment in playing an under arm cricket match with tough box cricket rules. There was enjoyment in eating a nicely prepared meal out in the open. There was fun in playing cards over and over again. There was pleasure in walking to Maharaj bag and having a bhel on the lawn. There was fun riding the two wheeler and basking in the glory of youth. It was fun to hide on the remote parapet wall of the terrace and look out to get the seeker out.
More importantly it was fun to be yourself.

This tribute is as much for a place and people who at some point in time redefined simple pleasures of life, as also to simple,clean fun in general. If for nothing else we all owed Ba and Ba's house a salute for providing all of us those simple pleasures.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A victory of the uncluttered minds

Dharampeth, Nagpur on India's win. Courtesy:Ninad Labhe

Question : What is better than winning a World Cup?
Ans : Winning a world cup by beating Pakistan.

Yes we did it finally. We beat Pakistan in a World Cup final.
Imran Khan summed it up well in his interview to NDTV - "The better team won"

For all the debates on secularism and bringing religion etc in sports (Shoibh Malik's silly "Muslims of the world" post match comment), it is *still* sweet, very sweet to beat Pakistan.

Over the years the passions have come down a bit because of too much exposure to each other, yet no Indian or Pakistani cricketer will ever tell you beating any other team is sweeter.

Ian Chapel said after India beat Australia in the semis that India was a "destiny team". It was team destined to win the cup after it "bowled out" Pakistan in first round game.There's some merit in what he says. Teams are often destined to win. By some divine intervention the path to the World Cup is cleared at every stop for the winning team.

Does anyone remember how Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup in Australia? I do no know a better example of a "destiny team". Imran Khan's boys were almost out of the reckoning even before the quarterfinals. (Those days Super 8 had not come into being)

There was one game that was going to knock Pakistan out of the game. The game was against England. England was looking in great nick. They had beaten big teams. Not only that, that day they bowled out Pakistan for just 75 runs. Pakistan were batting first. England needed just 76 to win. Every thing looked on course when.... Rain Gods came in.

A sign. A sign.

Pakistan split points with English and just about managed to put their foot in the closing door to keep the hopes alive. That foot was later going to be a giant one, that of Inzamam ul Haq - a very young burly giant who was starting to get the grip and go on to give Pakistan it's most famous victory. In 1992 Pakistan was the "destiny team"; a team God had decided would win and it did.

New Zealand lost just to one team in that entire tournament. It was against Pakistan and more specifically against Inzy. They lost their battle, their nerve, their game just "like that". I cannot explain what happened to them on that fateful day. Martin Crowe, arguably the greatest batsman for New Zealand and who was in the form of his life did not play that game and Pakistan were through. Destiny was slowly rolling Pakistan towards WC.

A sign. A sign.

Pakistan went on to beat England in the finals, team that itself was lucky to make to finals thanks to the silly Duckworth-Lewis system.

1992 is probably the greatest example of a Destiny Team.

Circa 1983. Indian cricket team led by a young Kapil Dev was by all means a minnow. Although a test playing team, one day game had never really caught India's gloves. Indians were the quintessential pushovers. I bet, no one at Lords and ICC was even contemplating Indians to come to the knock off stage. And then something happened in the midst of the tournament. A non consequential game for the cricketing fraternity got under way somewhere in remote country side of England. India was playing another minnow Zimbabwe. No one was even bothered about that game. It was purely academic. It was two inconsequential teams playing against each other; two teams who would have no impact on the ICC World Cup. So much so that this match was not even recorded by TV crew, forget showing it to live audience. There was scant respect for this match from all ends.

Destiny had other ideas though.

India was in a desperate situation, 17/5 and Zimbabwe was about to wrap it's innings. Kapil Dev the "jaat" from Haryana was probably thinking that he would hit some shots here and there and pack his bag and start preparing to leave England. Or was he? Kapil Dev probably was not thinking too far. He, like most Indians must have given up, and may be he played without fear thinking it was already a lost cause. And thus began his "no fear" cricket. Kapil Dev produced an innings that was going to change Indian cricket history for ever. Zimbabwe's nightmare did not end before Kapil Dev had made 175 runs. And India won the game.

A sign. A sign. India was the destiny team that day.

We all know how Kapil Dev, the *batsman* played. But that day, there was not a single nick, not a run out, not a mis time slog. Not even one. Remember Kapil was not an "all rounder" per say in the same league of say Ian Botham (though after this particular game he firmly established himself as one). So he getting 175 not-out sounds a little...what can i say, out of the world. The highest one day score from a "bowler-all rounder" was astonishing to say the least. What were the Zimbabweans thinking? If at all they were?

How can Kapil Dev get 175 even against a minnow like Zimbabwe? This boggles me no end. No Vivian Richards, no Zaheer Abbas, no Gordon Greenidge, this was our Haryana da jaat, Kapil who made 175. Yes 1, 7 and 5. This was an era when a score of 200 was considered winnable and Kapil had managed 90% of that total single handedly. I can't even begin to tell how funny this sounds.

Doesn't this sound funny even today? We have taken that innings so much for granted but there was something divine about that innings. That 175 was as much important in India winning the WC as Kapil Dev's awesome catch running backward in the finals of the same tournament to get rid of the menacing Richards.

I just cannot fathom how Kapil could make 50 with his batting skills, forget 175. Wasn't he the same guy who had that weired looking Natraj shot to hook a bowler.

Anyways so he did make 175 and left a lot of eyes rubbing in disbelief.

But Kapil made 175 because India was destined to win that WC. I cannot have any other explanation for that innings. And i don't have any other explanation for Crowe not playing the semi finals against Pakistan and England winning on Duckworth Lewis system to beat SA in semis, only so that Pakistan can win the finals in 1992.
8 out of 10 would say that a Pak-SA finals would have thrown different result. It would be unfair to call Imran lucky, but may be he was.

India beat Pakistan in the 20/20 WC today. There cannot be a logical explanation for Misbah trying to sweep a looping shot over fine leg when Sreesanth was not even in the inner circle. He was very much at the traditional position to take , what could probably be the most important catch of his life. Misbah had already messed up once against India in the league match. You would expect at least him not repeat a silly mistake like this. But he did. And Pakistan lost a game that was almost in its pocket. 6 runs of 4 balls in 20/20. You are kidding me if you loose from this point. May be the pressure did him in. May be he wanted to finish it off and release the burden quickly. He was no Miandad, a hardened warrior of many battles. He was Misbah-ul-Haq, someone India would love as much as it hates Miandad.

India was the destiny team. It was almost as if some kids collected on the South African ground and came to enjoy the tournament and play against some big uncles like Hayden and Smith and God said, "Oh kids you want to enjoy a little more, well take this cup, take this bounty". And before even God knew, an entire nation of one billion people had turned kids. They were dancing on streets, hugging each other, even crying out loud.

The finals was befitting the 20/20 format. Two teams with average age of less than 25 came into the finals and unfortunately only one got to go home with toffees and ice cream cups. (Even Sehwag who's still not in his 30s was looking like a veteran coach in the team set up).

This could also be a lesson for the other teams like Sri Lanka and Australia. May be for 20/20 format you just need HEART and young heart at that. A fearless one. No analysis, no strategy, no laptop coaching. All you need is "no fear" cricket. That's what India and Pakistan had. They did not have big names, just big hearts. And they deservedly reached finals. Sometimes you don't want to take a game or sport so seriously and 20/20 was meant to be enjoyed. And India did just that. It enjoyed every outing like a picnic. You could see the players laughing during the "penalty shoot out like" bowl out between India and Pakistan. They were making merry.

I do not want to take anything away from these young kids. Not only have they done us proud and filled us with great emotions, they have given this nation starved for success in sports, a breath of fresh air. Sachin Tendulkar said, "Cricket is now in safe hands".

May be it is.

I think RP Singh was the find of the tournament. Irfan Pathan was always good, he just found back his rhythm at the right time. Yuvraj was simply what he was, AWESOME. Dhoni was ok and i wouldn't really think high of his captainship. His moves came out right. But that's about it.

All in all 20/20 required boys in their 20s to make it. As it turned out the oldie-goldies were rested and luckily for India, the college crowd won an international fast paced tournament.

It was a victory of the uncluttered minds.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pralhad Narayanrao Deshpande

Pralhad Narayanrao Deshpande, wasn't an ordinary man. At 5 feet 11 inches and very broad shoulders, fair and spotless skin and all of 250 pounds, he towered over others in more than one ways.

He was born in a remote nondescript village called "Mardi" in Yeotmal district of Maharashtra somewhere in early 1900s. During those days keeping a birth certificate was not in fashion and PND couldn't care less for all these certificates. So nobody really knows what year he was born. There are only guesses.

Whenever he was asked his official age, he was nonchalant and simply replied - "How does it matter to you?".

He carried that endearing arrogance of being a "zamindar" even when he visited places like Mumbai or Nagpur. His lion like walk with a stick or an umbrella with a black RSS cap and a white Pathani type kurta with white spotless matching dhoti gave him a very royal yet villagi look.

He was a true son of the soil and even though he was a farmer with tons of land at his disposal, he got interested in Indian freedom struggle at a very early age. He traveled across the country to conduct meetings with his parallel movement. He was a non-Gandhian, though not necessarily anti-Gandhi. Even though he belonged to a village where British Raj had not really affected in any way, he had associated himself to movements removing the Raj from India.

He was a true Swayamsevak to the last ounce of his blood and as his grandson i could not have been prouder of him.

He remained fit and healthy till his last day on the earth. He kept to himself and never preached anything to anyone. For him Hindutava was a matter of faith but he never imposed his views on anyone. As far as i remember he did not even discuss these issues with anyone in the family. He kept family and his personal views separate.

As grand kids we looked upon him as our Grandfather who was just lovable. He did not speak much but when in good mood would joke with us, play cards and even ask us our test marks. He was particularly interested in knowing how we were doing in Maths. He was happy when we scored good marks in school.

His relationships with his own sons and daughters was very typical of the old era. My father and uncle and aunts would usually avoid making an eye contact with him directly. There was a lot of respect and awe for him. They had seen his temper and would generally keep safe distance.

For me Mr. Pralhad Deshpande was simply a grandpa. My grandpa was strong and had a very wrestler like build. I remember i once measured his biceps with a measuring tape and he laughed and allowed me to measure it. I was in such awe of his personality.

As a kid i was very influenced by Amitabh Bachchan movies. And once i asked my Grandpa if he could beat Amitabh on a one on one combat.
I still remember his awesome response - "Amitabh? Who's this Amitabh Bachchan?"

It was body blow for me.I was like "what, you don't know Amitabh Bacchan?" In my mind as a kid, Amitabh Bacchan was KNOWN to everyone and that hit me hard. So i brought a filmi magazine showed my grandpa Mr. Bachchan's photo. PND had a hearty laugh and said - "Arrey ashe chappan anshil tari harvin tyanna?" (Even if you get 56 Amitabh Bachchans like him, i will still beat them)

In hind site i cannot blame him. His claim was not far fetched. He would have easily kicked the tall and lanky Bachchan's ass.
My mom was witness to this hilarious conversation between me and my grandpa and often recounts it.

After India won it's freedom , after many years post 1947 the Government of India suddenly became very benevolent and offered a free apartment to my Grandpa for his contribution to India's freedom struggle.
He went to see the apartment. It was in Bajajnagar area of Nagpur. It was an upcoming and decent area then.

PND had never lived in cramped places. His own house in Mardi, even though not made of modern day bricks and concrete was a huge place by any standards. The front yard was about 3000 sq feet itself not counting all the sheds of domestic animals.
For PND, the concept of an "apartment" was a little alien. He just refused the offer point blank. His statement was something of this order - "My house should be such that , from sky to the ground, i should own it."

Again we can either discount this as pure arrogance or simply irrational thought. But that's the way he was. In Nagpur's lingo he was what we would call a "Shahi" person.
For me this is still hilarious.

For him money, material etc was not important. They were coincidental to humanity. Even a casual dinner at his house would have half the village as guests. No wonder my grandmother always looked pissed. :)

But such was that era. Men were simply men. That's the only way i can put it.

By the time he was in his late 70s he had become sad inside looking at what the country had turned into. He was even sent to jail during the emergency in India. Mrs Gandhi's goons had rounded up all RSS workers and put them in jail. I still have a photo of his after he was released from the jail. His beard is all grown and he looks like a swami. He looks slightly weak. But it still does not make any significant dent on his awesome personality. He is still very healthy in that snap. I look like a small peanut besides him in the photo.

My grandpa died in 1986 in Mumbai. He died of a massive heart attack. In one stroke he was gone. But that was very symbolic of his life. He was never dependent on anyone. Even in his death he was never bed ridden and neither did he require any medical attention. He simply switched himself off from this world without needing any kind of assistance.

When i look back at his death i always feel, that's the only way this royal man could have expired. He never visited a doctor in life. He hardly took any ayurvedic medicine. Even at 70+ his skin was glowing and fair. The only artificial thing he used were his glasses to read. Modern day medicine was an anathema for him.

People in Anushkati nagar,Mumbai where he spent his last days still remember Mr. Pralhad Narayanrao Deshpande. They remember his royal, lion like walk, his broad and straight shoulders, his magnetic personality. Yet they did not know him in many ways.

In fact no one knew him in all the ways. We just had glimpse of parts of his life.

He was never judgmental of anyone, he never questioned any of his kid's decisions - once they were on their own, they were on their own; he never made a fuss of anything. He kept himself aloof from the mundane. He was just a little distressed by the way things had turned out to be in his beloved country. But he never discussed this, we could only feel this.

In the end he got lonely after my grandmother's death in 1985. That's the only time i saw his eyes moist. Within one year he too left us.

I guess he just wanted to make sure my grandma was not alone up there.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

SFO : A Travelogue

"The coldest winter i ever spent was a summer in San Francisco".
Mark Twain

Mark Twain said long ago that there were only three interesting cities in the US: Boston, New Orleans and San Francisco.
I had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco (SFO) this week. Mark Twain wasn't off the mark by too far. I have not seen Boston or New Orleans so far, but visiting SFO has already whetted my appetite to go to the other two.

It's hard to explain what is so appealing about being in the Bay area. Why that, i even complained to my wife a couple of times that i found the people there to be not so friendly. This impression i got after i stopped at a couple of places to inquire about a few things like a typical tourist. Yet, SFO and Bay area in general appealed me. There was something "cool" about it.

Talking of cool - well - i did not expect the weather to be that cold. It was not wintery; it was just pleasantly cold. Specially in the evenings by *Fisherman's wharf* and later at the Golden Gate bridge we had to wear an extra layer to protect ourselves from strong Pacific winds.

I had done some rudimentary planning of the places to visit, although i was not particularly looking to "complete" everything or "cover" somehow all the points. It's not my idea of a vacation. Ultimately what can be seen and felt good is what constitutes a vacation.

Vacation is also about moments. Some pictures just stay with you. The mental picture of those moments linger for a long time. Luckily SFO gave us many such moments. If i have to compile a short list, this would be it

1. The cable trolley
2. The topsey-turvey roads
3. The crowded Pier 39
4. The view *of* Golden Gate
5. The view *from* the Golden Gate
6. The view from the Twin Peaks
7. The cars lighting US-101 on GG
8. The huge, extremely tall and straight trees of Muir Woods
9. The ultimate view overlooking Pacific ocean on US-1
10. The Green Grapevines of Napa Valley and
11. My Friend's Victorian style house that we stayed for a couple of days

These are like snapshots planted in my memory. I presume these will stay with me for a while. It's difficult to single out one pearl from the chain of memory to associate very strongly with the city, but if i have to - then it has to be the the View of the Bay Area from the Twin Peaks. There are few views in the world that can match that awesome scene in my humble opinion. The US - 1 "overlook view" of Pacific would come close second, but really the twin peak view was the Signature photo of SFO for me.

The view from the twin peaks looked right down on the city all the way to the downtown SFO on the extreme end. On the left was Golden Gate hanging majestically and on the far far end was the bay bridge all mighty and strong. Between the city and the Bay Bridge lay the bright blue bay looking absolutely stunning. The small white yachts in the distance added to the magnificence of the portrait and the small hillocks surrounding the bay completed the striking character of that view. It was painted to perfection. On a clear day, that view from the Twin Peaks can match anything stunning in the world. The best thing about that view was it sort of encompassed the entire city in one digestible shot. Like someone was offering the entire city to you in one window. This is something rare, i thought.

Most cities give you their impression in parts, but the view from twin peaks was like ONE classic cinema scope frame in Eastman colors.

The cold wind blowing throughout the day was only increasing the pleasure of being there.

I have heard that people move *to* Bay Area and never *away* from it. It may not be entirely true but, could be close to it. Like how Joe, the wine server, mentioned at the Napa Valley's Markham wine tasting table - "California spoils you".
It struck me. The word "spoils" suited that notion.

My friend Jeetendra had just shifted to his new home. It was a vacation rental home. It was built in a true Victorian style. The patio, the small garden with water coming out from mouth of two lion heads, the Victorian furniture - all this added to our moments. We stayed with him for a couple of nights and i wish we could have stayed longer. That house was picturesque.

From his house we went to Muir Woods. A place complete with very tall Coniferous trees with the diameter of some of the trees trunk bigger than a living room at times. Some trees were more than a millennium old. The walk in the woods was both relaxing and intoxicating. It was hard to believe that such a site existed within less than 20 miles of urban population.

The other striking thing about this part of California is this - Within a 50 mile radius there were three things that coexisted naturally - 1) A hot,sultry and sunny beach like the Stinson's beach, 2) A Nilgiri Hill like Muir Woods and 3) A super cool technology zone like Silicon valley. All the three within a single large zone. This is particularly rare.

You have either of three in lot many places in the world, but a great hill station with a beach and a grand urban population all mixed in one Valley, that's something i have not heard of. Only seen at SFO.

Our trip to Napa Valley was a one day trip. We started in the morning and came back by night. It was time worth spent. Our wine tasting lasted for about 2 hours. The person across the table serving us wine was both informative and interesting. For 2 hours each of us tasted 5 different wines hearing all sorts of stories - some facts, some not so real notions. Ultimately it was worth each sip.
I brought a full bodied red wine - Zinfadel - as an encomium
to Joe, our server's , informative tour.

Right from Fisherman's Warf at Pier 39 to the return journey from Napa Valley with it's curvy roads, there was not a single moment i felt that this part of the tour was lame or this place was hyped. Everything made real sense and was worth visiting.

Even the car we got to Rent at Budget-SJC airport was sort of neat. It was the cute little PT Cruiser.

In last few years we have visited a few places like NY City and Washington DC, Florida Orlando and Key West, the Niagara, Vegas and Grand Canyon, LA and San Diego etc. I would like to believe that SFO ranked above these places on at least a few parameters. One of them would be weather and other would be a combination of picture perfect views and aura. I am tempted to rank these places in order of my liking. But that would be a comparison. And comparison is not usually healthy. It's quite possible that because SFO was the last place i visited, it's topping all of them. So i won't list or rank.

I would leave it at just that. SFO was truly a revelation.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Chicago in Summer

Every summer we keep discovering more and more Chicago. This city sort of grows on you. Baring those severe winter days, Chicago has a great lot to offer.

Some studies suggest that Chicago is second most popular tourist destination after Orlando, Florida. Wonder why?

1] This remains one of my favorite snaps. It's taken from inside the Shed Aquarium in downtown. The Aquarium's pond camouflages with the Lake Michigan on the East.

2] People of different ages descend upon Lake Michigan in the summers each year just to enjoy a relaxing moment. And the lake does not disappoint any.

3] I find Chicago's downtown more diverse in look and feel than New York's Manhattan. Call it a prejudiced mind set but i think Chicago's downtown Rocks !!!

4] This is taken at Botanical Garden of Chicago. It's just 10 miles from our house. We discovered this only recently. And thank God we did.

5] Ah, the pleasures of a quiet moment.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Impressions [Unites States]

I have lived in a few cities in USA and have come to a point where i can form an informed Impression about this country. There are a whole lot of things i like and also a few things i dislike about USA.

I'll start with the peeves.

I actually dislike the public toilet system here [the Restrooms]. Specially the WCs; they are too *open* for my liking. The top 1/4th and the botttom 1/4th portion of the WC walls are open and i still don't know why? OK; may be to provide necessary air circulation but still, why should we be subjected to some third person's personal "aroma" if you know what i mean ! Even my office toilet has the same system. And that sucks! What more? You can see the shoes of the person sitting in the adjoining cubicle and pretty much figure out your neighbour from the work place. That ain't good, i am telling ya...

There's one other thing i dislike about USA. The style of greeting when you see a person. I mean whats "How are you doing?" each time you bump into someone. Why not plain simple "Hello" or "Hi". Why does it have to be a question?
In my initial years in USA i used to wait for the person to listen to my reply, like "I am doing pretty good" etc. But i realised that the person who initiated this How-are-u-doing-thing was not interested in my reply at all. I realised it's equivalence to "Hi" or "Hello" much later.

What else? Yes, I hate winters in USA. They are too freaking long. I mean the places i have stayed in, East and Mid-west, all freaking cold. The elongated spell of winters have impact on me and not in a very good way. I wish they were shorter. You like snow fall to a point. Not every few days. I have always fancied moving to the west coast or to the south where winter is milder. But it never worked out.

Coming to the good things now. The first and without doubt the best thing about this country - Respect for Labour. Dignity of labour. This should rank above any other thing. Be it the Cab driver, the Bus driver, the ticket checker on my suburban train, the dunkin donut sales guy, the mechanic etc etc etc. I just have to talk to him or her with respect. No two ways about it. When we deal with blue collared person we are ALWAYS dealing MAN to MAN. No class difference. And ironically this is a communism hater and a capitalist nation. [Mr. Prakash Karat, are you listening?]
I haven't visited China or any other famous socialist leaning nations for that matter. But i can tell that you won't have the same dignity of working class anywhere. Definitely not in India which makes tall claims of Socialism and where one state has been ruled for 30 years by a communist regime. That's irony for you.

The amazing road network of USA should rank second in my list. People who talk of man made wonders of the world should justify not calling this a Wonder. I can just take my car and go anywhere in the country and there's no way i can be lost. The reason, the absolute standardised system of "Exits", "Ramps", Express way, State highways etc.
What an amazing design. The sheer size of the entire road network boggles me. One can argue that countries in Europe too has a great road network. But what's the size of the country are we talking of? A size of the nation as big as USA requires a different level of system design. I feel like saluting the people behind this mammoth undertaking. Including the political class who ventured into this. In my opinion, road network of USA is the life line of US's economy.

The rule of Law: In spite of random news of "racism" against blacks etc, I think this is a very fair nation. And law always takes its course without considering race, color, religion etc. Cannot imagine a white zillionaire like Martha Stewart having to go to jail in any other nation. Law is respected. Law is implemented. Law is debated openly and Law IS taken seriously.

Freedom to rebel: I can go in front of White house and shout all i want against the President of the nation. And i will still be protected by the Law. The First amendment is a serious stuff and the people of this country are very aware of this right given by the constitution. The Freedom to speak. It's there in other nations too. But i doubt if i can go in front of Sonia Gandhi's house and shout at her. I will either be lynched by the crowd or put to jail and be called crazy.

Multiculturalism : In my current company, our CEO is an Iran born Canadian, my VP is a hard core American, my Director is a Chinese and my colleague is a Russian. This is as diverse as it gets. And yet when it comes to work we are all equally anxious about our next build and share the great pleasure of success post launch over a bottle of beer. It's a small company of only 750 people yet i cannot think of any other work place so diverse in terms of different nationalities.

I am not sure what turn life will take in coming years. I may not stay in the country for ever after all. India will always beacon. I would definitely like to stay in a few other countries, specially in Europe. But having stayed here, i can tell for sure that America will always be a benchmark to compare with for me. I would sub-consciously be looking at similarities and dis-similarities anywhere i go.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Federer isn't the greatest..

When i first started watching Tennis, it was the good old Doordarshan era. We had a black and white television and me and my father used to watch Wimbledon whenever it was shown. I guess only the semi finals and the finals were shown at that time.
The only other matches that were streamed via the DD were the boring-till-you-die Davis cup games where the Amritraj brothers would loose as a habit. Till date i am not sure how a non-athelete like Ramesh-chubby-pouch-Krishnan ever get into a game like Tennis. Speaks volumes of the Tennis at that time; in India atleast.

John McNroe was already a hot item and his and Jimmy Conners battles were legendary. I think that was the start of the golden period of tennis. Somehow as years passed and i watched Tennis more regularly, i figured that great rivalries were essential ingredients to make this game tick. If you remove rivalries, you remove the spice and the motivation to watch this game.

There was the Becker-Edberg rivalry then there was the Sampras-Aggassi rivalry. On the female side after the Martina-Evert rivalry reached dizzying heights, Graff replaced Evert and then Seles replaced Navratilova.
Rivalry almost defined this great event every year. Sampras-Aggassi rivalry was by far the greatest in recent times.

Then somehow tennis started loosing these battles and it became more and more one sided. I started loosing interest in tennis when i saw different faces every year in different arenas. Federar was the only constant. This leads me to believe that the era of great rivalries has finally ended in Tennis. Now, some would argue that Roger-Rafael can be considered rivals ; i'd say not exactly. Except for great stamina, that Nadal uses effectively on the clay courts, talent and skill wise Federer is leaps and bounds ahead of him. They are not equals like say Sampras-Agassi or Borg-Conners.

So although Federer is the undisputed King of the court, [even though he lost all French opens], there's no one to challenge him. No one is stretching him too far. He is number 1 and the next best is number 8 or 9.

So when Federer is called the greatest Tennis player of all time, its a shot in the dark. How is he the greatest? Why is he the greatest? On the basis of records and statistics? I'd say thats not really the ideal way to conclude then!

Apart from pure skill and talent there are a few things that make a player a great one. Stamina, attitude, raw power and above all consistency. If you got to judge players from different eras and rank them on all these parameters the results would be closer to reality. Just because Roger Federer does not have a genuine competion and no pressure from bottom you cannot rank him as the greatest.

Somehow this notion of talking in superlatives have come into us.

I'd say Sampras was the greatest and yet i could be wrong for some 50 year guy who might still consider Rod Laver as the greatest.. There's no easy way to compare. It's like comparing current Australian cricket team with the West Indies side of the late 70s. You just cannot compare the two, can you?

People compare Tendulkar and Bradman. HOW? How can you compare them and say one is better than the other. There's no possible bench mark that can be defined EVER.

So Federer does have a great back hand. I can say thats the best back hand that *I* have ever seen. But again i haven't seen so many players that i can rank him as the best ever, It's the best ever that I know of.
His backhand is dangerously flat, very fast and acute angled and impossible to return. Yet i would desist from calling him the greatest player ever.

But i can say something for sure. If Sampras would have been born say 8 years later or Federer was born a decade earlier, Tennis would then have seen its greatest rivalry ever. Both are great serve and volley guys. Both have great power serves, though Sampras has the better height and angle and is more studied. Both have great attitude and both are great spectacle to watch.

Imagine the great returns of Becker [ the ones where he falls and yet angles the ball exactly out of the reach of the opponent] , the powerful aces of Ivaniciwich, the awesome serve and volley of Sampras, the near perfect placement of Agassi and the terrific backhand of Federer all in one era !!! What a treat that would have been.

Nevertheless the point is we cannot rank one player or one team for that matter better than any other player or a team from a different era.
Federer is by far the best player amongst the current crop, but he still is not the greatest ALL time guy IMO. I am sure on a good day the best of Becker or Agassi can beat him.

Tennis is also about mind game. The way McNroe used his anger to manipulate a hapless Conners into submission is the aspect usually missed in his victories. This is not to say he wasn't a great and gifted player. Yet besides all that he had this power of unnerving his challenger by showing physical emotion on the field. A craft he greatly used for his wins.

Federer of what i have seen is not mentally tough. He, i think can be easily manipulted by a really smart player. Or even a super cool head like Sampras could have worked on his weaknesses and made the most of it. Tennis like all sports require hard-nosed mental toughness and if you don't have that your best skills may still let you down.

So here's the bottom line. Don't ever call anyone, anyone as the Greatest EVER. That can never be proved.
Federer is a good player, infact a great one but GREATEST, nah. I am not sure.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sankrant in Nagpur

According to me there are two festivals that are celebrated uniquely in Nagpur. Sankrant and Holi. Although both are possibly celebrated all over the country, in Nagpur these two take an altogether different meaning.
Well may be not anymore, but it used to, not too long ago.

Sankrant was special for me. I was passionate about kites. So much so, that if i ever rebelled against my father in my entire life, that was once in my very early teens, and that too for Kites.
Yes kites.

It so happened that we had moved into this new building just a year ago and our building secretary was a real jerk. An old guy in his early 70s who had the keys and control to the building terrace or gachchi as it's called in Nagpur. And that Sankrant day in 1987, this jerk was being real cranky. He refused to let us on to the terrace. We, young kids got restless and made some noise and complained to our parents. To my dismay my father instead of supporting us, sided with him. This was too much to take for me. I remember that was the first time in my entire life till that point that i actually answered back to my Dad. Such was the passion i had for kites.

My obsession for kites was so overwhelming, i actually crossed the line that day. And if you have been a kid in Nagpur during the 80s, you would know i was not the only one so passionately in love with kites.

During the kite season, which had a one-two month build up period from say November, till passions reached its zenith on the D-Day, the 14th of Jan, the day Sankrant was celebrated, we were totally mesmerized by Kites.
Each neighborhood had these local heroes, who were like the real Kings of the kite flying domain. They almost reached celebrity status during this time of the year. Nobody would challenge them, as in no one would take a "pecha" with them. Pecha is a term used for a kite contest where one fella tries to "cut" the challengers Kite. It's one helluva on-air battle.

During the kite season we would get the most tan per square cm of our skin. The reason being we would invariably be on the terrace of our building on every weekend in scorching sun flying kites, ALL Day.

There were a few popular kite stores that had become famous during my time. Ramu patang store in Giripeth was one of them. This simple immigrant from UP [probably], Ramu had become quite a stud. He was doing roaring business during the kite season. He had almost acquired a brand loyalty. So much so that basking under his glorious brand his neighbour actually opened a parallel competition called Shamu patang store. Ramu and Shamu both did great business during the season.

The Sankrant day was no ordinary day for us in Nagpur. It was the day when guys/men of all ages would come on the terrace very prepared. Each had a territory fixed for years. It was lame and a non-guy thing to be sitting at home without friends on the day of Sankrant. Even if you had no interest in flying kites it was the moral duty of every male kid to be on terrace and if not fly atleast support his more skillful friend in shouting the competition down.

O Par, was the war cry for every victory achieved on the on-air kite battle. If you happen to beat an expert the cry would be much louder. We would actually keep a count of how many competitors kites we were able to dislodge and how many of our boys we lost. At the end of the day if your balance was in the positive, you had a great day.
Surprisingly nobody would ever concede that they lost more kites than they won. This was defying the logic of sum of the total kites available in the Air.

Nevertheless there was so much obsession and passion involved for kites we actually would have fist fights over a 50 paise Kite. The stealing of manja [or the sharp thread] that is used for flying was another issue people would get worked up with.

But we all survived those moments. We were happy to be a part of the great kite flying community. We all had our own territory to guard. We always had plans made for the final day. Some of us prepared the manja till late in the night on 13th Jan, one day before Sankrant and most of us had the stocks full of kites for the final day.

Nagpur came up with unique terms for kite fliers. If you were a regular kite flier those terms were pretty much a part of your lingo for the rest of the season.

Girgot, laggi, kanna etc. Even different kites had different names. There was the macho Khada Sabbal Muchcha Khada, then bhang dar and then bhangdar tokdor. Funny names like haddi muddi or dabbedar were pretty common.
You would have no idea what i just talked about if you were not a part of that kite flying community. But even if you remotely were, then these names wouldn't be alien to you.

Even the manja had two popular ways of making them. There was the luddhee way and then there was the professional seerus way. Even the saddhhi or the original white thread that ultimately gets converted into the deadly manja had various names.

So while the guys flew their kites the girls and their mothers would be busy on the day of Sankrant with what is called as Haldi Kumkum - a marashtrian ritual where the women folk of the household go to each others houses and do something. That something, I never knew what it was, as i was always on the terrace during that time. But i knew that was a ritual religiously followed at my home for years.

The fathers would usually stay away from house during that time. The guy kids would be on terrace and sisters would be with mothers helping them with haldi kumkum.

Sankrant is possibly the only festival where fathers were "left out" of the action. Some enthusiastic fathers though would join their sons on the terrace. But not many i can tell.

On 14th of January every year, the skies of Nagpur had a decorated look. The makeover from silent sky to a sky full of colors of different shades of Kites, some small some not so tiny was phenomenal. It was like the Gods had decided to add color to the vast open canvas of Nagpur sky. The air would be filled with the clarion sounds of O par every second of the day. Some kid would be trying to catch a kite from dying with his laggi while still another kid would be hiding under the parapet wall of his building trying to steal as much manja as possible from his neighbors lost challenge. Everyone wanted a pound of the kill.
Their would be fights between neighbors over people entering their region. There would be heartbreaks and great victories at the same time. Ego clashed in the Air at every street corner and every moment of that day. The honour was taken after every victory and every fight lost was a moment of great depression.

I actually felt sad when Sankrant would end. It was like the summer holidays getting over or the cricket world cup coming to an end. The fear of the ensuing vacuum post-Sankrant was not very pleasing.

Some of us would keep flying kites even post Sankrant. Some would fly the tri-color kite on the 26th of jan. I am sure not out of any patriotic feeling but just the final passing tribute the season ending. Slowly though the passions would recede and rationality would take over. For those 2 months of kite flying season everything felt different in Nagpur.

In recent years Nagpur has seen the popularity of Kites drop to abysmal levels. The next generation of kids did not probably take over the passion or the skill with equal zeal. Somehow the kite lost its pristine position from every guys sense. I am not even sure if Ramu still sells his kites or Shamu still bothers to compete with him in their great corporate fight over trying to monopolize the Nagpur terraces. May be kites are a thing of past.

As Nagpur advances forward into the new phase of development and becomes more and more commercial, it probably has to let go those glorious festivities that defined it in some sense. As Nagpur finds new avenues of growth the old has to go. May be its not bad as it sounds, but i for sure am going to miss those Muchcha Khaddas and Bhangdars for all the 14th Jans that i ever live to see.

Dharampeth Coffee House

I was a regular visitor to Dharampeth Coffee House [DCH] for around 2 years; between the period when i was just around end of my college and my regular job. The period when i was mostly unemployed or trying things and failing consistently.
We were a group of guys, who had recently passed their Engineering and were looking for either jobs or generally taking the next career step.

Now get this, Nagpur was not exactly the kind of city where one could launch a career in a technical field. It was neither a manufacturing hub like Pune nor a professionals paradise like Bombay. In terms of lack of employment opportunities Nagpur ranked higher than most cities.
The only option we had was to move out from Nagpur and look for *greener pastures*.
Moving out of Nagpur? - well that required some motivation.

That was a period when the IT revolution was slowly unraveling in India. But we Nagpuris were sort of detached from this phenomenon. Not that we were not aware; oh no, we were actually very aware. Only thing we did not know the gateway to that revolution.

At 21-22 , we simply were the young turks who had the energy but not the direction to get it right. The growing expectations of our family was not helping either. We were the quintessential *Educated unemployed* romanticized in some art movies of bollywood. Not that we considered ourselves to be that.

Given this situation where at one end i was trying to avoid eye contact with my father and at the other end was not motivated enough to go out of the city and find something, I found a haven in Nagpur called the Dharampeth Coffee House [DCH]

DCH, a place where you could spend hours together and not spend more that 2.50 INR by sipping one cup of coffee. Being a government run house, neither the manager nor the waiter would give you those condescending looks for ordering "just one coffee" and occupying the chair for hours and along the way consuming the resources like newspaper endlessly. They were least bothered. They were equally laid back.

The thing about newspapers at the DCH was that you would never get a full version of "todays news" in a single bunch. The daily and its supplement would usually be scattered amongst different tables of the DCH. The sports section would be at one end while the editorial would be lying under someone else's cup.
Anyway our interests were not about current affairs. We were more interested in solving the crossword puzzle; a thing or liking we picked up while preparing for the MBA entrance. (ya right!)

So even as we *were* discussing the current situation, we were more bothered about that English word which was not fitting the puzzle.

The real charm of DCH was in its visitors. The absolute regulars. From around 10:00 am in the morning till 5:00 in the evening you would end up seeing the same faces all the time. It made us wonder what these "professionals" , some of them dressed always in formal attire were actually into? Were they really working somewhere? Or they had come so far at a point in their lives of trying to dodge an eye contact with their fathers that they had made DCH their professional home?

Nevertheless it helped build the place into what it was. A bustling and breeding ground for wannabe professionals. Professionals discussing complex world issues around a table complete with empty coffee cups and cigarette ashtrays. The *smoke screen* that those cigarette puffs created couldn't have been more ironical given the situation.

We were all having our own SMOKE SCREENS. We were escaping the hard realities and DCH provided us with that escape route. It was a place where you were not accountable for your actions. And spending hours without the monetary counter balance for doing that was economically viable for unemployed like us.
2.50 INR [less than 10 cents] for 3 hours or more made perfect business sense. The Government of India after all was taking good care of us.

DCH had more to it than the regular faces. It had regular waiters. The ones who came from Kerela and were in Nagpur for their respective "onsite" opportunity. Nagpur offering some one with an onsite opportunity was in itself a notion, lot wouldn't find amusing. But so it was. The same waiters who would become so familiar with our faces, they would hardly ask us for orders. They knew we could not afford more than one cup, ok may be two on good days tops. They were humane enough to understand our "situation".

But there was also a class of people, the achievers, who strangely found a safe haven in DCH. This was sort of a mystery for me. Whom were they escaping from? These guys were successful doctors [my own family doctor was a regular visitor], successful business men [some of whom i knew personally] , successful lawyers etc. What was bringing them here? And everyday.

I realized that DCH was a magnet that was attracting people of all walks of Nagpur's life. In some sense it was a true melting pot of Nagpur's educated young/old turks. We had people from age of 25 to 50 sitting on the same table, having coffee and cigarettes and often not even in conversation with each other. Yet they were bound by the same thread of DCH. You were *cool* if you were a DCH regular. You don't know the person, you never speak to him, yet you probably KNOW him. He is the same guy who like you spends hours in DCH and yet is un-apologetic about it. He may occasionally come over to your table for taking a "current" from your puff [current - a term used to take another persons live cigarette and using it to light your own] and move on without saying a thank you - yet in strange ways acknowledging it.

DCH for me is symbolic of Nagpur's professionalism , or lack of it. Laid back and non-demanding. Easy going and not too convoluted.

A place that actually made you feel more intellectually empowered. A place where unemployment wasn't a taboo. A place where waiter was called Anna and he would feel endeared. A place where the super achievers shared the space with non-achievers or potential achievers and yet feel perfectly comfortable.

DCH was that one stop shop for all our miseries. And we did not have many in fact. Yet Coffee House somehow filled that vacuum. A day not spent at DCH was a day wasted. We felt like we were integral to that culture. Our only contribution being warming the chairs of DCH for hours together. The style accompanying the puffing of your cigarette and entering through the door, the association of adulthood to that place was unmistakable. The putting up a facade of maturity and forcing yourself into the men's world was an act of desperation and yet it was endearing.

After almost a decade I did visit the place again in recent past; probably last year. I somehow did not like what i saw. The old faces were replaced by new less known ones. The waiter wore the same attire but he was not the same. The aura was missing. The DCH i knew was not there anymore. May be it is for the new unemployed of my city. But for me the DCH i knew had passed.

For those years of my life when nothing concrete was being achieved, when i was not contributing locally, domestically or nationally to the economy and was Indian government's unwanted guest , a parasite if you will, an era when i was visiting DCH so that i could feel amongst the MEN of Nagpur and associate myself with a community that virtually existed on cigarette and coffee, an era when my only achievement was solving the crossword puzzle incompletely and an era when i did not feel left out because i had for my own convenience created a social mechanism of which i could be a part of without paying for it ; the DCH, Dharampeth Coffee house was my second home.

In some sense it was my last stop of the splendidly relaxed days i spent in Nagpur.