Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Harry Potter and Election 2014!!!

It is a work of fiction. Resemblance of any person, dead or alive is purely coincidental.

It was a typical London evening - while setting sun had beautifully painted the sky in saffron color, dark clouds were trying their best to set the sun before it should. Slight drizzle had kept Harry at home. Harry was getting bored and he decided to switch on to Sky Sports to watch CSK match. He had become a huge fan of SIR Jadeja.

Suddenly, doorbell rang. Harry opened the door. At the door he found a man in his 40s, of Harry's height, wearing specs, covering almost all his face in a muffler and a white cap which had something written on it which looked like a foreign language.

"Yes. How can I help you?" asked Harry.

The man coughed so hard that Harry almost took out his cell phone to dial for the ambulance. "Mr Harry PotterJi. Please to meet you. I'm AirWind KeJhadeBaal, founder of Mango Man Party (MMP) from India"

"Oh yes. I've heard about you and your astounding ways to bring changes to the system. But I'm really sorry sir, I don't make any donations"

"No HarryJi, No. I'm not here to collect donations. I'm here for some other purpose"

"And that is?" inquired Harry.

"For that, I will have to sit. I won't eat or drink anything till...."AirWind started to sit down.

"No, no. Not here. Please come in" Harry interrupted him. His batch mate Parvati Patil had informed Harry about happenings in India. Harry didn't want a Dharna at his gate.

AirWind sat down. Harry offered him tea.

"Yes sir, tell me. What brings you here?" Asked Harry.

AirWind briefed him about electoral procedure in India, about MMP and few other things. In the end he said," As I said HarryJi, my election symbol is broom. I know your fondness for brooms and I also know you have many of them. Can I get your Nimbus2001 for few days?"

"What? Blimey. You want a broom from a wizard and that too Nimbus2001? As you may or may not know, I've given of wizardry long back. So I am soon going to destroy them so that they do not fall in wrong hands. Anyways, why would you want that broom?"

"Well HarryJi, if I get that broom, I can tell everyone that my election symbol is endorsed by the best broom in the world while campaigning with Nimbus2001. I can tell people that I've got the best broom in the world to sweep the corruption in our system. I can tell them that opposition can't stop me from sweeping them out of elections because I've got the most powerful broom in the world"

"Goodness gracious. Nimbus2001 isn't meant for sweeping or cleaning"

"I know HarryJi. But we will have to bring the change now. We have to clean the system. People of this country have woken up. Junta of this country have woken up"

"Which country? You're in England"

AirWind coughed,"I'm sorry. People of India have woken up. They can't be fooled anymore"

"What the hell has that got to do with Nimbus2001? Why should I give it to you?"

"Don't worry HarryJi. We are fully transparent in our donations. We shall post your name on our website. We keep account of each and every penny"

"But why?"

"Because you've to show your support for me. You've to show your support for a common man like you"

"I'm not a common man. I'm a wizard, used to be the best one" Harry's ego was hurt.

"That's what HarryJi, that's what. You're so special yet live like a common man. No VIP culture. No Z+ security. No big bungalows. That's what I'm fighting for"

"What? A bungalow and Z+ security?"

"No HarryJi, no. I'm fighting for common man. I'm fighting for common man of India who has woken up. And I've shown to you how similar I'm to you. I can show you more"

"You've got my attention" said Harry.

"Like DumbledoreJi, I also had my Guru. Alas, we aren't together now"

"Oh I'm sorry to hear that"

"No, HarryJi no. He's very much alive. Just that we've parted ways. And who was that friend of yours who had long hair and beard"

"Hagrid, my dear Hagrid"

"I've had a friend like him too" said AirWind and did a round of Kapal Bhati. "Like you, I've also got many friends who are commoners. They don't belong to anyone in the ministry of magic or anything like that. You know, I know someone like Draco Malfoy, a high profile son of a very big name. We don't get along at all"

"Oh Draco. He has turned out to be a good friend"

"Oh is it? Lot of people guess that my and my Draco's future would be the same. See, how many similarities we've got"

"But its not all about friends. Its about foes too. I had a foe, a big one"

"The dark lord. I've mine. He's really dark"

"What's his name?"

"Ssshhh, we don't take his name"

"But you've got to be brave"

"Yes I know. But my dark lord is very dangerous. He's destroyed everyone who's come in his way. He's a true dictator, an anarchist"

"But I've been told that you're a self proclaimed anarchist"

"My anarchy is for common man. His anarchy is for crony capitalists. We are different"

Harry looked perplexed. The doorbell rang again. A man wearing pink pants was waiting.

"Hey Harry, dude. I'm Rob, Rob Art WhatRaw. Call me Rob"

"How can I help you sir?" Asked polite Harry.

"Well as you know Harry, the land on which your house is built belongs to me. In fact this entire area belongs to me"

"Okay. Now will you leave on your own or shall I call the Police" Harry wasn't amused.

"Relax dude, read them" Rob threw some papers on Harry and sat on the sofa "Oh AirWind is also here. What for? Nimbus?"

AirWind didn't respond.

"So Harry, here's the deal dude. Hand me over your magical broom and I shall let you stay here on rent. Else, I've brought the police with me. Now hurry up, I need to help Draco for his interview with AirNab GlobalWarming. Poor kid, AirNab will anihilate him"

Harry looked outside the window. Two police vans were parked outside. The paper in his hands which Rob had handed over clearly said that the land belonged to Rob. Harry had seen dark magic of different kind but this magic which he had just seen was the darkest of them all. 

"Why do you need the broom" asked Harry.

"Well, my friend Draco wants it. Someone has told him that with the help of this broom, he can generate the escape velocity which will improve his state of mind. If Draco wants it, I want it"

"No. I came here first. Broom belongs to me" AirWind said facing Rob "We have awakened now. We can't be suppressed. We won't be suppressed. We will fight"

"Abey teri fight ki" said Rob and ran towards Airwind to bash up. 

Suddenly doorbell rang again. Before Harry could move, the door opened on its own.

An old man entered the room. He was sitting on a flying saucer which was designed like a lotus. Seeing him, both AirWind and Rob shouted in fear - "Oh, Development Baba. Damn"

"How did you open the door" asked Harry.

"Oh that's nothing. My model of development goes much beyond opening the doors. Like breaking the broom in to pieces which these two want to badly" said Development Baba, brought some gadget out of his pocket and Nimbus2001, Harry Potter's prized possession turned in to ashes.

AirWind and Rob watched it happen, they just watched it.

"Why?" asked Harry.

"Because these two wanted it. Its my duty to deny them whatever they want. Did you need it? Let me know if you did. In my model of development, I've made much better things."

Harry was content with what he had. He was anyhow going to destroy it. "No, I'm fine"

"But I want something. Give me your magical powers, some of them at least" asked Development Baba.

"Why do you want it?"

"I will use it to further develop my model of development"

"Well I can't give you my magical powers. I can't transfer it to muggles. Maybe I would have if I could but I can't"

"Oh no. Give me something. What about deathly hallows? Did you really destroy them" asked Rob.

"Yes I did. But that makes me wonder, which one of those three you would have preferred. Development Baba, I ask you first. What and why?"

"I would have liked to have the invincible wand. I know it will help me in winning the elections but the kind of expectations people have from me, only a magical wand can save me"

"What about you Rob?" asked Harry.

"I've all that I want, dude. But yeah, if I could have Resurrection Stone for my friend Draco, it will be great. He will bring back his dead family members to life so that they can handle politics. Its surely not his piece of cake"

"And Mr AirWind?"

"Development Baba has broken my broom. What can I do now? I wish I could have cloak of invisibility so that I could disappear"

"So what can you give me now" asked Development Baba.

"As I said, I cannot transfer my magical powers to you. That's not possible. Other than that, I do not have anything. Sorry"

A deathly silence followed. Harry switched his TV on. SIR Jadeja was taking his guard.

All four of them bowed in front of TV to take SIR's blessings - three of them for elections and Harry for getting his house back from Rob.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Diaries down under, Part 11 – the concluding chapters!!!

But for an act of God, wish of SIR Jadeja or unforeseen circumstances at work, this is my last week here. Six more days on the ground and one more in the air – I shall be at the place I always want to be, home. It has been four months here, my longest stay outside India. Last time I stayed out of India, it was for a brief period of four days. I was in Nepal.
Past, more distant it becomes, more seems to be the pace at which it just flew by. Future, if an event is eagerly awaited, seems to be coming at a pace slower than Venketesh Prasad’s slower ball. Mind you, some of the balls he bowled in late 90s are yet to reach the batsmen.
Learnings, like other phases of life, have been a plenty. It is only when you move out of your comfort zone you realize existence of things thought as unimaginable at one point of time. Christopher Columbus moved out of his motherland imagining India and happened to discover a piece of land bigger than thrice of India. In case he had heard about the riches of India, his discovery would surely have disappointed him utterly – if my history is not as bad as Dhoom 3 was, the land he discovered was nothing more than a just piece of land. Only if he had the power to peek-a-boo in the future, he would have beaten his chest like a Gorilla on rampage – he had discovered a land which Indians refer to as Watan.
I didn't discover anything beyond the piece of land below my feet. But yet, I did have a few eye opening realizations.
Cooking – Cooking is no rocket science. I don’t know anything about rocket science but you don’t launch any rockets while cooking, unless you put a few drops of water in hot oil. It wouldn’t be utterly wrong to say that women have made a mole out of mountain about this six letter word – cooking. It is simple.
But only, if you have to cook once in a month.
To do it daily is utterly boring and demands high degree of self-motivation to keep doing it.
Let me correct myself. It would be utterly wrong to discard cooking as “what’s the fuss” kind of thing. It is tough.
For all the progress mankind has made, cooking remains to be more of an art than science. There is no fix recipe. Everything is add to taste – spices, salt and all that. Every ingredient has to be perfect. Every step to achieve this perfection comes through years of practice to guess things correctly. Every investment that relies on guesswork is immensely risky. Every investment which entails high amount of risk must result in high returns. It’s the return on investment which keeps an investor interested.
For the women in your life cooking for you, day in and day out, returns come in form of your praise. That’s what keeps her motivated to clean the kitchen every night after dinner, get up next morning and cook again.
Now I understand the reason and eagerness to ask that question for which answer always needs to be “It’s delicious”. The perennial question is, “How is it”.
So next time you are served with bitter gourd on dining table, make sure you say “It’s delicious”. Oh there are ways to avoid eating it after saying so. But you are the instrument in which the investor has invested. Return is what you must provide. The return my dear friend, have to be good.
Oh yes, make sure you don’t jump in too quick to shower her with your praise. I have quite often heard in reply, “Pehle Khaa to lo” when I praised a tad second earlier than I should have. One must make sure the praise looks real even if it isn't. After all, mastering the art of masquerade is one of the keys to keep her happy. Do it.
People –Window seats in the local trains are the first to get occupied. If you are waiting for a train on a railway platform, you will be pushed around if the platform is crowded. It doesn't matter if you are in Mumbai or Melbourne. People are same, almost everywhere. If not same, similar for sure.
I landed here expecting everyone to talk about cricket. For the first few weeks I wondered if this country plays cricket at all. A 5-0 ashes victory later, I had people not only talking about cricket but questioning me about my own team’s performance. They are everywhere. Fair weather fan is the word for them.
Only thing that stops people from breaking traffic rules is fear of getting caught and punished for that. Only thing that differs is the frequency of doing it. Frequency of doing so is a habit which is developed over a period of time. So is all the warmth, kindness, gentleness and all that.
If I were to derive a mathematical equation which produces above mentioned qualities, mismatch in demand supply will be a key variable in that. More the resource crunch, more the chances that animal in this social animal called humans will come to fore. If demand supply mismatch was drawn as a straight line, developing nations and developed nations are likely to find each other at opposite ends in lot of cases. Economics of this mismatch drives most of the things on this planet if not all the things. The so called phrase, “day to day life is so simple and easy in developed part of the planet” isn't untouched from this phenomena.
Oh yes, if you don’t want your future generations to hear about the four letter word we keep hearing so often these days – Rape, stop killing female fetus. We are fast shifting toward the unwanted end of demand-supply mismatch spectrum in this regard.
Scenery – All those beautiful scenery, natural locations and what not look fantastic in the first look. They look good in the second. After a few more times, they start to become boring. Then the realization comes, it’s not the places that carry eternal beauty. The beauty lies in the immortals around you. Those places are nothing but the backdrops. What matters in a play is the actors performing in front of those backdrops. Maybe that’s why the saying, there is no place better than home. The sweet home.

Celebrities – I didn't even think of going to Leander Paes and asking for his photographs – on both the occasions I spotted him dining in a bistro bar. Maybe that’s because tennis is not my game. Meeting a gentlemencalled Vivan Richards is something I would rate as one of the topmost moments of this trip. I still jump like a kid and tell people, “You know, I have met Sir Vivian Richards”. Maybe that’s the impact of larger than life figures what you stamp upon people you admire. But then, they are all humans. They walk, they stop, they talk to you and they walk away. They aren't very different from you. What’s different is what they have done which makes you to want them stop and talk to you. 
A lot has changed since I have landed here.
India’s #4 no longer holds the image of “good boy”. Sachin Tendulkar has joined the bandwagon of ex-cricketers. Virat Kohli’s middle finger is still not forgotten.    
A new political party has done the unexpected - thrown away a government of over a decade and formed its own government.
Uday Chopra has given yet another masterpiece performance in Dhoom 3. It was rumored that he might retire after this movie. Not sure if Abhishek Bacchan has gone from bad to worse or it’s Uday who has improved but Uday looked to have acted far better than AB in Dhoom 3. Even the auto rickshaw AB drives in his first scene has acted better than him.
People have openly started accusing that Arnab takes money from political parties to mentally torture his panelists on his show. Not even in my dreams I had ever imagined that people would have guts to question the integrity of an honest journalist.
Lot of other things have changed too but more the things change, more they remain the same.
India’s #4 still walks out to bat when score is 10/2, a nightwatchman is always sent in to bat ahead of him and his centuries continue to go waste.
A political party will always be a political party. Their nature hasn't changed. They all act in the most expected manner and that manner hasn't changed over the years.
What I have heard that Dhoom series hasn't ended. Eagerly looking forward for next parts.
Arnab is unstoppable, just unstoppable. Not sure if it’s my imagination or true but only thing that has become more prominent in the way he talks is his tone – it has become more poetic.
Lot of other things have remained the same.

Maybe this is the last part of this series, maybe this isn't. In case it happens to be, I must say it was fun. Complete fun.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Diaries down under, Part 10 – Meeting Sir Viv!!!

One of the things I will surely miss once is go back is the coffee. Although my sample set is quite small but Melbourne coffee is the best I have tasted till now. I and my friend have made this habit of going out for a cup of coffee every night after dinner.
While coming back home after the coffee last night, we waited at a pedestrian crossing for the light to turn green. As the light turned green, we started crossing the road. You don’t expect many people roaming around at 11:00 PM in the night and there weren't many. It was two of us crossing the road and another couple of guys coming from opposite side.
As I looked at the guys coming from opposite direction, one of them caught my eyes. He looked a bit strange, especially the way he was walking. The way he was walking; his shoulders were moving a bit awkwardly – it wasn't a usual walk. It was as if he had tattooed the phrase, “I care a damn all over his walk”. Swagger is the only word which came to my mind after seeing him walk.  His face looked a bit familiar too.
As he came closer, I pressed my mind hard to find out why his face looked familiar and suddenly words came out of my mouth “That’s Vivian Richards”. I nearly shouted.
Sir Issac Alexander Vivian Richards was just walking past by me. One of the greatest batsmen ever, only man who can challenge SRT’s position of best ODI batsman ever, a living legend, the man who dated Nina Gupta (that’s the first name everyone relates him to) was walking past by me.
I had heard so much about his batting from my father who used to be a big fan of Richards. As it has happened with most of us in my generation – we have grown up listening to the stories of 1983 world cup, got sick of them and were so happy on that fateful night of 2nd April 2011 to be able to tell the previous generation, “See, I have my own world cup. Now stop boring me with all those stories of 1983”. I have also not been different.
Quite often my father would tell, “We scored just 183. When West Indies lost first wicket, we weren't happy but sad. We knew Richards was going to finish it off in a hurry. If not for that catch by Kapil, we would have lost in 25 overs”
I would ask back, “184 in 25 overs? Is that even possible?” Remember, it was pre-T20 era.    
“He is Richards. He can do anything” I could sense absolute admiration in his voice for Richards.
“Was he better than Tendulkar?” I would ask back thinking can anyone be better than Tendulakar?
“Tendulkar is good. But then you haven’t seen Richards. He was the boss” such replies from him had made an aura of Richards in my mind.
By the time I started following cricket, Richards had already retired. I hardly saw him bat live apart from a few veteran matches in which he was absolutely murderous.   
Luckily for me, youtube era arrived. I saw numerous clips of Richards batting. Forget the stroke making; it was that expression on his face which wore utter disrespect for the art of bowling, of any kind, that impressed me. As if he was telling it to the bowlers “What? You want to bowl to me. Don’t bore me maannn. Go fetch it from the boundary line because that’s where that red cherry is going to disappear”
Fire in Babylon is one of my favorite movies. In case you claim to be a cricket fan and you haven’t seen it, you must do one of the two things – either stop claiming to be a cricket fan or watch the movie NOW.
I loved the way Richards explained in the movie – how he faced the bowling, especially fast. I loved the way he talks about how he would keep staring at the bowler. Stare from a batsman of his stature could be killing. The movies shows how once he got hit on the head which had nothing but a cap in the name of protection, stood up, brushed off his cap, didn't even touch his head, faced the next ball and hooked it over the square leg for a six.
He averaged over 50 in tests. With the kind of batting style he had which comes with high risk of failure, which was monumental. He averaged 47 in ODIs in an age when anything over 35 was considered good. Even God may not know what he would have done in this age of T20s.  
When he batted, he was the boss. He must have been a monster if he was real is what I used to think about me.
Well, he wasn't or that’s what I realized last night.
The moment I recognized him, I froze. Then and there. At the middle of the road.
I had to make a decision – to follow him till the other end of the road, catch up, take an autograph, and get clicked with him or to carry on and regret later saying “Oh that was Vivian Richards. Damn, I missed the chance to take an autograph”
The decision had to be made in a split second. I made my decision.
I asked my friend to follow me and started following Sir Viv. Unfortunately, my friend was a split second late and carried on.
I reached the other end following Sir Viv. By then he was done with crossing the road.
As I reached the other end, he turned back and looked at me wondering why I would be following him. Oh yes, I could sense a tinge of worry in his eyes. No matter how strongly built you are, someone following you at 11:00 PM at night will surely make you worried.
Worry in his eyes scared me. You don’t want to be considered as an offender by a guy who is more than double of your size.
I put a smile on my face, extended my hand to shake hands and asked, “Excuse me. Are you Vivian Richards?”
My question embarrassed him, nearly. As if he was embarrassed to be recognized by someone who looked absolutely thrilled to meet him. Or maybe he was embarrassed to answer the question if he was actually what he was made out to be.
What would he have said?
“No, I am Ethan Hunt on a mission. I've put on Viv’s mask” or a “Yes, anything wrong with that?”
His reply, with a sheepish smile, stumped me, “Once upon a time mate, yes”. It was modesty personified.
“Really pleasure meeting you, sir. A huge fan” is all that I could manage in reply.
Normally I am never short of a witty remark to strike off a conversation or so I have been often told but last night was an exception. For the second time in 60 seconds, I froze. I couldn't say anything. He just smiled and carried on walking.
I turned back and walked across the road where my friend was waiting. I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled, grinning like a kid who had just got his favorite toy as a surprise.
I have never understood the big fuss people make about meeting celebrities but then, I myself had never really met a celebrity I really admire till last night. This was Goosebumps stuff for me. Next hour went in telling everyone, who I thought who might know about Sir Viv, that I had just shook hands with the great man.
Well, meeting with one of the greatest cricketer ever was quite thrilling – doesn't matter if the meeting lasted hardly few seconds. I hope to meet many more heroes in future.
One day I would like to meet Sachin Tendulkar and ask him, how he never got bored of doing the same thing over and over again for nearly 30 years – batting.
One day I would like to meet Rahul Dravid and ask him how it feels to be Rahul Dravid?  
One day I would like to meet MS Dhoni and ask him how he never slapped Ishant Sharma or Munaf Patel even though he has led them on the ground many times.

One day I would like to meet SIR and tell him instead of asking anything, “It was me who gave you this epithet, SIR”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fedex versus Raffa!!!

One of the things I miss while following a team sport, cricket, is that it doesn’t allow you a chance to compare an apple with an apple.
While there have been widespread comparisons between Lara and Tendulkar, one cannot really compare these two. Among all those international runs that Lara scored, not one of them came against the deadly duo of Ambrose and Walsh. On the other hand, Tendulkar never faced the guile and accuracy of Anil Kumble. They never really played “against” each other although Tendulkar may have bowled to Lara on a few occasions. Even on those occasions, it was Lara the batsman facing Tendulkar the bowler. The skill sets weren’t the same.
Warne, Kumble and Murali – they all bowled to different set of batsmen.
Cricket is a game between bat and ball – different set of people possess different skills, they form teams and teams play against each other.
That’s one thing a game like lawn tennis provides – a chance to compare your favourite player with someone you aren’t too fond of. Oh yes, I am talking about singles.
Individual games let you explore different aspects. One can compare skills of two individuals pitted against each other.
There is no hiding behind the team’s performance. For all the great stories I have heard about Mike Brearley’s captaincy which was supposedly shrewd enough to sell ice to Eskimos, his batting average of 23 in 39 tests doesn’t say much about the skill for which he was originally picked in the side – batting.   
In team sports, team’s pathetic performance can pull down all the positives of individual brilliance. We know it well, we the Tendulkar fans.
An individual sport exposes you against your opponent. It exposes your opponent in front of you. There is no hiding.
While I had heard a lot about rivalry between Nadal and Federer, this was the first time I watched them play against each other. Even though I wasn’t rich enough to buy the tickets, I was lucky enough to reach Federation Square in time – a place where more than a couple of thousands had already taken the vantage points to watch the most awaited duel of the tournament, live on a giant screen.
It was Fedex versus Raffa as they say.
I haven’t seen much of tennis but whatever I have seen; Federer’s shots are the most charismatic is what I have found. Forget the placement, at times it seems as if he isn’t playing against his opponent but against him – those chops where he makes his opponent look really silly as if just winning a point isn’t enough. He looks more of a craftsman than a tennis player.
At the other hand, Nadal seems to be a different player – more like a warhorse. Oh yes, there is a similarly. Like Federer, he seems to be fighting himself, even more than Federer. An injury in the palm, especially if the skin is peeled of, can be really tough. It is not just the pain but the irritating feeling that kills. Continuous sweat while playing doesn’t make life any easier. Yet, he kept playing. Even the backache in the final didn’t deter him. In fact he played his best in the set where he looked to have suffered most from the pain. It wasn’t just the opponents he was playing against. He was also playing against himself – let me see how far I can stretch.
Individual sports teach a lot about life. There is always a tendency to give up and give in – the surrounding, the challenges and the rest. Yet one has to pick himself up and fight. You need to fight your own battles. There aren’t any team mates to make the moves for you to become a hero, there aren’t any team mates running you out. You are all by yourself. That’s pretty much the story of life, isn’t it? No matter how much support one must have, one has to fight his own battles.
On that evening in Federation Square, I must have been the least knowledgeable about the tennis among that huge crowd. I didn’t even know what a break point meant till that evening. But I liked the way fans supported their individual heroes – the chants of “Vamos Raffa” or “Come on Roger” is what I could hear with each point. For each cheer of joy, there was a stunning silence somewhere. For each frown on a face, somebody somewhere else was smiling. It was as if different emotions on extremes had gathered at a single place.
There were Federer fans. There were Nadal fans. I was just a mere spectator not just watching the match, but them too.
To my bad luck, it was a no-match. I don’t know how often it has happened but losing a Semi Final in straight sets must have been rare for Federer. While Nadal wasn’t willing to give an inch, Federer looked like a wizard who had lost all his powers – unforced errors, not trying hard enough and an expression on the face which read as if he had resigned to the fate.
I was told later, “He tried to improvise but failed. In good old days, he could toy with the opponent with those improvisations. I think he had run out of steam by this stage”
 “Is that so? He looked no match for Nadal”
“You’ve seen all those videos of Federer, haven’t you? Didn’t you see how nobody was a match for him?”
I agreed. On the other hand, I was surprised to see how Nadal could play with a palm which was virtually skinless.
“But he could have tried. He could have at least tried stretching the game to 4th set, 5th set?” I asked back.
“To be fair, it has not been his game. If a game goes into 5th set, Federer is more likely to lose. That’s how Nadal started winning against him, by extending the games and testing his fitness.”
“But he looked to have given up in 3rd set?”
“That’s another problem with him. He is quite like South Africa – can choke. Once it starts going against him, he often loses the plot”
“And you call him the greatest ever”. I don’t like such players.
“South Africans choke. They are a laughing stock because of this. Yet, they are considered as one of the best sides. One of the criticisms of Tendulkar has been is that he often failed when India chased a big target. Yet he is considered as one of the greatest ever. They all have weaknesses”
“Okay” I tried to convince myself.
“See, if you are looking for a player who would sweat it out for five sets to win a match, Federer may not be the one you are looking for. That’s what Nadal does best – he will always make you play one extra shot and is fit enough to play one more match after a five-setter. If you are looking for a player who would make a comeback from the match point and win the match, Federer may not be the one you are looking for. Agassi was one such player”
“I liked his play. He was good”
“Federer is more about finesse, class and elegance. He is more about playing the game nobody has ever played. He is more about bringing back the tennis from the days of being a power-game. In his best days, he didn’t need to play long matches because he never let them go that far. 17 grand slam titles do mean something, don’t they?”
“Yes they do but whatever I have seen so far, I tend to like Nadal more”
“Look at the way he keeps playing even with injuries and more so, without even complaining about injuries”
“That’s what he is. He would never show these things. He once played with an injury, played the entire match, went back and didn’t even let people know about it. When asked in the press conference about it, he credited the victory of his opponent to the opponent’s game than cribbing about his own injury. That’s Nadal for you”
“So, Nadal or Federer”
“What do you mean by Nadal or Federer?”
“You have to choose one. Whose fan would you be?”
“Do I have to choose?”
“Yes my friend. In this biggest rivalry of the game, you have to take sides”
“Well, I would prefer being a Nadal. I like the spirit with which he plays”
“You don’t like the elegance of Federer?”
“Well, he does play unbelievably well. He used to, rather” I sounded to be favouring Federer.
“But he doesn’t win come-back-from-behind kind of matches”
“Well, I refuse to take sides. Is it necessary to take sides? Both of them are great in their own regards. Why can’t I be a fan of both of them?”
“Nope. You have to take sides. Reason is – when you follow tennis, you would like someone to win and someone to lose. You need to feel both – joy of winning and sorrow of losing. There is no fun in following a game as a neutral. There is no emotional ride in that”
“Yes, you are right. But how do I take sides here?”
“You take sides in cricket, don’t you?”
“Yes. That’s easier. I support India. How do I take sides here?”
“How do you take sides when India isn’t playing?”
“I support the underdog” I said.
“None of them are that. The underdog”
“How do I take sides, then?”
“See, here taking sides is difficult for you. But it is interesting too. Depends upon what you like more?” I was told.
“Yes you are right. It is more difficult to pick sides when you have find reasons to justify your loyalties. You need to find reasons in the quality of players, their game, the way the play, in the spirit they play. It is not just my country hence my team kind of thing”
“Yes. You need to know the game well enough to qualify as a true fan. The fandom has to be justified. If it isn’t, it will not last the test of time”
“Yes. It is not just the player but the qualities you have put your faith in that matters. A loss is loss of your reasons to put your faith in those qualities. Hence the disappointment. A victory is victory of that belief. Hence the joy” I looked like discovering the secret.
“Yes. You are getting it now. So tell me, Federer or Nadal”
“Both. I am not knowledgeable enough to make that choice. What do I know about tennis after all?”
“But you wouldn’t know unless you start following the game. To follow the game, you need a hero. Nobody follows a game for the love of it or crap like that. People follow because they want to feel the adrenal of winning or losing. Love for the game and all those things come later”

“Well, I would rather stick with cricket in that case” is what I said. I really don’t know who to pick as my favourite player, Federer or Nadal. Maybe I would never be able to find that out.
I took a pause and did a bit of Rahul Gandhi, “Let me ask you the same question. Who is your favourite player, Federer or Nadal?”
Who is yours?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Following Fed!!!

Okay. I am not a tennis fan or follower. Last time I followed a tennis match seriously, it was India playing France in the quarter final of Davis cup in 1993. Ramesh Krishnan won the match which had to be extended to next day.
Why I followed it?
DD was supposed to show cricket but they kept showing Davis Cup in the name of “cricket broadcast will resume shortly”, I remained glued to TV in hope of seeing some cricket action, got interested in tennis and was glad to see Krishnan winning the match.
I liked the way Boris Becker used to place his volleys. I liked the way Andre Agassi returned the serves, always. Wimbledon 1992 final, between Agassi and Goran Ivanišević, was the last Wimbledon match I followed with complete seriousness. What a match it was. What. A. Match.
Then came Pete Sampras and started winning everything. Everything. Every time I saw him winning a point, it was either an ace or impossible return. I didn't see opponents get a chance to succeed against him. Maybe there were many other aspects of his game but this is what I noticed. In short, I found him boring, extremely boring.
For a sportsperson to generate interest either his game has to be extremely stylish or his matches have to be constantly interesting. Copybook play generating one sided matches are more likely to kill the interest. That’s what Sampras did to my interest.
I gave up on tennis. Another reason was that by late 90s, cricket broadcasting had changed. Reliance on DD was gone. I had ample supply of cricket on TV and forcibly following tennis like that Davis cup incident was out of question. Oh yes, we had started doing well in cricket as well by the time 2001 arrived. I didn't really need an alternate option. I never took it.
Ashes 2005 arrived, one of the best test series ever.  I got totally engulfed in the quality of cricket in that series.
Sometime during that series, a friend posed a question to me “Have you seen Federer play?”
“Nope. Who is he? Some batsman playing in County?”
“Tennis. Tennis is what I am talking about”
“No. I don’t follow tennis”
“You must”
It started a series of discussions. While every evening I used to go on and on about Simon Jone’s swing, Hayden’s swagger, Ponting’s authority and Flintoff’s audacity as a bowler, he would enlighten me about Federer’s play. While my friend got always involved with me in cricket discussions, his talk about Federer always remained monologues.
I kept hearing about Federer after that. People kept going on and on about him. It never interested me. It reached a point where I started thinking – if you follow tennis, you have to be a Federer fan else you are not following tennis. It reached a point where I started to wonder if people followed tennis or they followed the game because someone named Federer played it.
My first project was about Basel II accord. First thing my manager told me about Basel II accord was, “You know what Basel is? It is a small village in Switzerland. Roger Federer was born there”
What the hell do I do is what I thought.
One fine day, I heard another name – Rafael Nadal. I started hearing it more and more. I was told that Nadal was Federer’s biggest nemesis.
A friend went to the extent of saying, “They are quite like Batman and Joker, like Sherlock and James Moriarty. Nadal the David is challenging Federer the Goliath and he will bring him down”. He was surely a Nadal fan.
I wasn’t sure of any of these stories. I asked, “Who are they?”
“Oh my bad. You are too rustic, aren’t you? They are like Veer Singh and Rajeshwar Singh of Saudagar. Get it now?”
All I could understand was that some tennis great was being challenged by an upcoming player. That’s the normal lifecycle of sports, isn’t it? What was so great about it?
“Oh, like Tendulkar and McGrath you mean” I asked back.
Soon it became like – either you are a Federer fan or a Nadal fan. If you didn’t belong to any of these categories, you were a tennis moron like yours truly.
Every time I happened to ask a Nadal fan, “I have heard Federer is the greatest tennis player ever”, I was told, “He would have been had Nadal not exposed him”
Every time I happened to ask a Federer fan, “I heard Nadal is giving really tough time to Federer”, I was told, “Nadal is nothing but a worker ant. He thrives on his fitness but lacks the charisma Federer possesses”
I still didn’t follow the game or watch them play.
But soon, cycle turned on me. In a foreign land where cricket isn’t the most watched and hence most broadcasted game, I had to watch something on TV. In the same foreign land, Australian open is going on. Oh yes, I got a chance to lift the trophy during one of the promotional campaigns. Not that it meant much to me, I would have preferred holding on to the cricket world cup trophy.
After telling some of Federer stories, my friend advised me to watch some of Federer videos. In absence of options to kill time, I did so.
First thing that impressed me about his game was – it was quite like VVS Laxman, full of magical wrists. I was awed by his placement and timing. The way he chopped the ball was amazing.
In most games, fans aren’t impressed by just victories of their heroes; it is the manner in which those victories are achieved. As a neutral observer, I would rate Ponting’s test runs way above Chanderpaul’s. I’ve never seen a batsman playing with so much arrogance and authority. I would rate Warne a much better bowler than Murali as Warne’s bowling wasn’t just about taking wicket – it was more about dramatizing the event taking the wicket. Mind you, I’ve mentioned the term – neutral observer.
You watch to get entertained and not for just score lines.
I could see this quality in the player I had heard so much about.
Next thing I did was to watch what I had heard so many times – Federer’s match, on TV off course.
Being a complete rookie in tennis, I had to rely on commentators and my friend to judge how he was playing.
With every good shot he played, my friend jumped and told me, “See, this is Roger”.
With every point he lost, commentators said, “A younger Roger wouldn’t have made this mistake. I hope his back is fine”.
There was an online survey done and results were shown on TV, “Do you think he is playing at is usual best?” More than 25% said no. 25% didn’t agree that he was at his best when he was winning the third set in a row? As Sanga would have said, “Expectations”
I made a few comments, “But he wouldn’t get these kinds of points against better players. Is Tsonga a good player?” Tsonga did make lot of unforced errors.
“He isn’t playing well today. But Roger is back” is what the reply I got.
It was as if everyone wanted Federer to play well and win. Commentators weren’t really worried about the points. They were more interested in the quality of Federer’s game – if his backhand was fine, if he was placing it well, if he was serving fast enough. They were also talking about how he was coping with new rackets, if he was fit enough and the ultimate question – has he still got it in him.
My heart went for Tsonga. He was looking like nothing but a toy and at his cost, everyone was enjoying what could be termed as orgasmic pleasure generated by sporting brilliance of a great.
This is the thing with heroes – we just don’t want them to win. We want them to win in style, like heroes. In cricket, you want your team to win with a six or pace bowler to send the stumps flying back and celebrate as if he owned the batsman. In movies, you don’t want your heroes to kill the villain without giving him a full bashing – the tere liye to mere hath he kaafi hain phenomena. You want politician to be ideal and yet achieve results at a super-fast pace. Not just the destination but the path they follow matters too.
For fans, the manner in which their heroes achieve victory is as important as the victory itself.
At the match point I said, “Well, he has got three match points. Game over”
“No. Once, Tsonga has beaten him from this position. He has also lost to Djokovic once. It happens with him sometimes. He loses from this position” my friend was looking visibly nervous.
Oh yes, another quality which is a must-have in crowd pulling heroes. Although we always want them to him and win in style, they should also carry an element of fallibility. They must. Because if they don’t, they become too boring – you know they would always win. What’s fun in following the game if you know you wouldn’t lose. The uncertainty of result is what keeps you glued.
Finally, he won.
I told a friend of mine on chat, “For the first time in life, I saw him play today. Some of his shots were audacious”
“Audacious? It means bold. Watch Nadal play. He plays audacious shots. Some of his shots look like falling out of the court but they always fall inside. That’s audacious. Federer is more about elegance” is what he replied. Need I tell you whose fan he is?
Looks like, even though Federer has grown too old for the game or so I have been told, the rivalry among the fans is still alive.
Hope to see a Nadal-Federer match soon.