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.