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.