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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The history of Gulmohar-Amaltas

“I'll give you my opinion of the human race in a nutshell. Their heart's in the right place, but their head is a thoroughly inefficient organ”
- Somerset Maugham

Disclaimer: Sports journalism in Mica has recently seen some aggressive columns and some incredible responses. We should all remember that gallantry can go a long way in the way in determining how people look at us.

A major share of the credit for the infamous Amaltas-Gulmohar rivalry of 2009-10 goes to Rohit Taneja. If it had not been for his constant raucous sledging prior and during the first two matches, the series might have even proceeded peacefully for its entirety, a controversial and arguable assumption though it is.

The usage of ‘credit’ in the opening line of the previous para is not frivolous; it is a conscientious effort with considerable thought being dedicated to it. For if Rohit Taneja had not dared to stir the beast out of the Amaltas lair, the latter’s notoriety would not have been as widespread as it eventually became. And Gulmohar would never have found a reason to become united and fight not only a bully, but also their own internal ghosts and come out triumphant.

There was another man who deserves as much accolade as does Taneja. In the Orientation of May 2008, he introduced himself to his class as ‘Chuna’. Later, the girls at Mica often sighed that he was the only hot man around (though his room-mate of first year had his own share of admirers). The cricket fraternity regularly saw him mysteriously bound out of Silver Oak in the wee hours of the morning, always being the last to enter the field.

The testimonial is dedicated in memory of the glorious fourth match of the series, which at its outset stood 2-1 in Amaltas’ favour. The tournament was already a cracker. After a convincing win in the first game, Amaltas had been pushed into a corner in the second by a tight bowling display by their opponents and Rohit’s shenanigans. However when all seemed lost, numbers nine ten and eleven (Shakey, Vipul and Sachin) rose superbly and found it in their hearts to snatch a miraculous a victory out of nowhere.

Sweet is the joy of victory and bitter the sorrow of defeat. After two consecutive losses, Gulmohar wanted to change everything from their batting order to their captain, while Amaltas declared to all and sundry that they were a team of eleven batsmen and an equal number of bowlers. They did not care who led their team because the respect for all eleven was universal (Vipul captained Amaltas in one of the games). A few misplaced souls (example: me) found new reason to stake loyalties to their abodes.

Then a few days later, when all seemed lost for Gulmohar, their strongest lad - Rohan Pujari - put the author’s first half century on a Mica ground completely into the background by an even better effort, bludgeoning everything that came his way into Silver Oak, even orbit, and gifted Gulmohar their maiden victory. It was truly a magnificent effort, eclipsed only by a fierce tiff between Nakul and Dilip that is now remembered for reasons I best not highlight. At the end of it after Pujari had guided his bat to Planet Special, Amaltas could not stomach defeat and erupted angrily when Gumohar’s ecstatic boys threw stumps all around to announce their feelings. All memorable moments now - the useless fight, the threats, the passion, the rivalry of it all. But what I remember most fondly is Mihir (someone who had never stepped on the Mica cricket field before) waking up from a deep slumber and running groggy eyed to the field, uncomplainingly half way through the match, and faithfully support his mates by fielding because Amaltas was suddenly left with ten men. We lost the match, but it was the first official statement of the hostel’s bonds.

There was a palpable buzz around the fourth match. Gulmohar wondered if they could win again, Amaltas asked if Pujari could be stopped but what no one doubted was the possibility of a fight between the two giants. Amaltas put up a good score yet again and put Gulmohar on the back foot by taking quick wickets. And then strode in Nakul Sud.

He prodded, he defended. He glided, he stole. He complained of the light and of unseen forces. And then with two overs left in the game, and when even his staunchest fans would not dare hope, he rose and changed the equations and the complexion of the series forever. In front of fading grey light, and a decently sized crowd, he dug his back foot deep into the soil and hoicked and hoicked and gave Gulmohar the most incredible victory ever seen in the grounds of Chhota. And when he won, the boy whose voice could melt honey roared like a lion and shut every single mouth that belonged to Amaltas that day when dusk fell. He just stood there mid pitch screaming and pumping blood, while all others went beserk. The image stands frozen in time, and for me the memory is an ominously silent black and white image with every expression on screaming a thousand words.

In the future, Gulmohar would fittingly go on to win the series. Amaltas would however command respect for never refusing a challenge come hail, storm, half fit team or full strength. Bhati and Pubby would threaten to kill each other while a visiting faculty from ESPN would look on bemused. But life would again also become normal. Rahul Gadi would sincerely try to improve the mess every day, Amaltas would proudly hoist a flag made of rags and Gulmohar would go on to claim a hundred academic prizes. Abhay Mehta, of course kept winning hearts with his adorable yet weird ways. MCL however knew that its thunder had been stolen and sadly reconciled itself to the fact that hard as it might try, it would not be able to match to the levels of play and passion seen in the described series. Mica had not seen such scenes before.

It might not happen ever again. Time and again, twenty two boys (and no, we can’t call them men on account of how they behaved) who had lived happily together for a year in Palash, drew daggers at each other during the series. Some took it personally, some enjoyed the absurdity of it all, some bystanders came to counsel while some others judged. But the fact is that it was the greatest rivalry ever.

The time has come again. I, room number eleven Amaltas, class of 2010, ask Gulmohar to play for pride, spirit and old times sake. This alumni. We are back.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Living on the edge with Gom Gom!

For all Gb lovers and that includes me,
I should have known everything was not right when I opened a blurry eye and saw Gaurav Banerjee or Geebka (as he is known to a few affectionate sources) sitting cross legged near my bed, looking all gung ho and full of beans. The man had never woken up for office before ten thirty, so to see him at my side at seven a.m was quite disconcerting to the eye.

“Choozay, chal driving sikhane”

The name’s Bond, not choozay phoozay.

I sighed and asked him if Neha had left her bike at our place. Earlier, she had been gracious enough to permit him to learn the art on her Activa and as we hopped down the steps and walked to it for the first time, the mauve thingie stared back at us bashfully.

Now before I launch into the most scalding of tirades any man has ever penned down, let me get this straight for I would not want to tarnish the reputation of a man if I am wrong. Do tell me, how many things do you have to remember while driving a non geared scooter besides increasing and decreasing the raise? That is all, right?

Apparently, this piece of information proved to be too complex for our man to assimilate. As we took the initial hesitant , also building block wala steps towards his ideal dream of driving an Avenger one day through the mountains, wind in his tresses et al, there were a number of issues that literally stared us in the face.

First of all, we were forced to contend with his shorts that flapped so gracefully that we were convinced it was in reality a divided skirt, yessir! Also, the skirt’s skittish movements exposed major chunks of his thighs and rendered me blind for several seconds.

We proceeded at a top speed of a couple of metres per hour, and soon cyclists, pedestrians and stationary objects were over taking us with consummate ease. I have a firm opinion that even if he had chosen to alight from the Activa and push it with only his chubby left thumb, it would have still moved with much greater velocity. “I think I can drive a chopper now, man” he voiced just before an eighty year old lady overtook us walking.

With Gom Gom (that’s what the Bengali world called him even when he was 16, hehe!) at the helm, the scooter seemed to have a mind of its own. I fail to understand why a bike would not move in a straight line when it is on a completely empty road, but the Activa just wouldn’t do so. It kept jerking its head left and right, swerving, halting - just like a dog on a walk.

The story of the turns needs another post to do justice to it. Although I have always thought of myself as a courageous and brave man, it is with the highest integrity I confess that today whenever that Bengali specie took a left, right or u-turn, my nerves jangled and rattled like a temple bell gone berserk.

"When Geebie drives the scootys, he gives me the cooties"

“Raise de, bike ghooma.” We were trying u-turns on an empty road flanked by vegetation on its sides. In the wisest move of the day, I got down from the bike citing that I had to check if he was making the cut properly.

He responded by turning the bike eighty four degrees (a U requires 180) and drove savagely into the bushes, stopping only when it was halfway up a tree. The next time he was told to turn right, the bike mysteriously tilted so much to the left that the steering almost met the road. Some times he would apply the correct amount of raise but would forget to turn the steering. Other times he would rotate it stylishly only to not provide any acceleration and see it splutter to a grinding lifeless stop. But mostly, he just drove into the bushes and halfway up the now quite annoyed tree.

I would have felt sorry but every time he crossed me, he would give me that impish smile that so warmed him to all and sundry at MICA. “Think I have got the hang of it, eh?” he’d say before streaking into the trees and scaring the living daylights of all the birds.

The best was saved for the last. After 84 U-Turns, none of which were a perfect semi circle, no not even a semi oval, nor a semi ellipse, we decided to take a few rounds of our colony before depositing the bike at Neha’s. So there we were, two alpha males riding through the wild (how else do you describe G’nagar?) with not a care in the world, in the middle of a mature conversation,

“I really think I should buy a Harley”
“Activa ki to Maarli, ab chahiye isko Harley”
{dry wit and poetry at its best, I say}

And that’s when she came out, breezing into the camera frame from seemingly nowhere. Oh no, you oafs, this isn’t a romantic scene and she wasn’t pretty and all that jazz. She was only crossing the road, but then stopped in the middle for no apparent reason. Hardly a reason to panic, because we were over a hundred metres away and could have chosen to follow any of the five hundred options that would avoid an accident – 1) Brake. 2)Turn the steering slightly to the left and cross her. 3)Or to the right and likewise. 4)Blow the horn blah blah

But no, Gb decided to do the one thing that would have ensured an accident. He accelerated the speed and drove the bike right into her. Note, till now we had not crossed the ten kilometer per hour barrier in the entirety of the day, but as soon as Gb saw the girl and the scope for the most ridiculous and avoidable accident, he raised the bar to fifty. In perfect synchronization, the girl remained oblivious to the entire scene, even though everyone around her screamed just like a good audience is supposed to. On our part, Gb eloquently mouthed “Oh shit shit shit” but refused to discontinue gunning the vehicle exactly towards her, while I assuaged myself by digging my hands deep into his collar in an attempt to reign him in, like a rider does his horse.

I always knew I was a prince in my last birth. Must have been an excellent horse rider. These things just don’t leave you, come new birth or a bozo roomy.

We somehow missed her. Gb claims it was his ‘sexy’ legs that altered the bike’s course and I think that she skipped at the last moment; either way we heard a high pitched scream. Maybe we mowed her down. We somehow returned home alive and right now, an hour past midnight, Geebka is sleeping happily, probably dreaming of a leather jacket and hot pillion riders.

Once he snores, I will turn that seven o clock alarm off.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

To be or not to be!

Sometimes when you have just turned seven and are roaming about your home in little shorts that at best can be described as hideously tight or plain hideous, the visitors at your place pull you close by your waist and ask you “Dude, what do you want to be in life?” The question travels into your being and then follows you everywhere just like Mary’s little lamb.

They couldn’t just let you roam about in your shorts, could they?

The first time I was asked this question, I stroked my chin thoughtfully and replied ‘elephant’. To my seven year old mind, picking up water in one’s trunk and then spraying it on everyone around seemed to be the coolest thing possible. Also, I wanted to be real tall.

As luck would have it, neither happened.

By the time I had turned nine, I had devoured almost all the Enid Blyton books and was now of the firm belief that I was born to be a detective. I would look at the milkman and paper guy with suspicious nine year old eyes, but sadly, they never stole anything for me to report, and become famous. In ’92, a curly haired marathi boy swung his bat on a large Australian field and I fell in love with him and the game. They called him Sachin. In my dreams everyday, I was on a pitch with him hitting boundaries and winning matches for India. It is the greatest testament of devotion for Sachin, that even in those dreams, I let him always score more runs than me. Maybe just two or three more, but I did. Of course, I refuse to tell you that I still have those dreams.

Like most other boys, at some stage I wanted to be a pilot. At the tender age of twelve, I sat in an airplane for the first time, was airsick and vomited so much that the adjacent passenger sarcastically asked the airhostess to pass me a bucket since a packet did not seem enough. In retaliation, I promptly vomited some more, and all ambitions of flying a plane were hastily rejected.

As the teenage years floated in the kaleidoscope called life, each twist showed a new shape, a new dream. One day I wanted to be like Maneka Gandhi ,err not biologically, I mean I wanted to join the SPCA. Another day inspired by Nana Patekar’s ‘Prahaar’, I wanted to join the army and that evening I did a full four pushups. Don’t laugh, now I can complete sixty in one go without breaking a sweat. The fact, that after the sixtieth, I would be wheezing like an old cow and lying flat on my back for the remainder of the day with a glucose drip in my mouth, is to be ignored or to be treated as delightful honesty on the part of the adorable author.

Over the years I became a software engineer, wrote some code that shocked the bejesus out of most teammates and clients, and moved on to pursue knowledge, as in, MBA. I set my focus towards MICA, the premier Media and Communications Institute in the country, sure that it would provide me the chance to flirt with creativity and maybe even marry it. What Mica did, eventually, was make me aware of a new love – conceptualizing videos and ads, although laziness seldom allowed me to execute the same. Mica was like this big river, where we were all hippopotamuses. We lay in it, lazing, doing nothing but still overly satisfied. In that cauldron, I discovered that my existence was governed largely by sports, and a love for writing. College finished too soon and I felt the familiar disappointment of returning to a desk job that served no purpose other than letting American clients improve their business.

Now, as joining date approaches, the urge to follow either of two callings, a travel writer or a career in sports management, intensifies. Happiness, I am sure, would enclose its chubby fingers around the rough callused hands of a man known as ‘Travel Writer Jobs’ or ‘Team Manager Jobs’ (No relation of Steve Jobs).

In enthusiastic haste, I scampered all over the worldwide web in search of sports management jobs. Besides scores of other options, Google also let me know that I could apply for ‘High Performance Manager – Vanuatu Islands cricket team’ The vivid images of motivating, pushing and driving a weaker team to victory over a dozen mightier teams rushed me towards the ICC official website. Now, the Vanuatu islands are a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, famous for volcanic eruptions. Their cricket coach, Mr Pierre Chilia, though, is considerably less likely to erupt, he is actually a sweet tempered, sensible man. In his reply to my enthusiastic mail, he informed me that the selection process had already commenced, so I could go back to square one and draw doodles there. Lol, a managers job for a national sports team sounds way far fetched, but hey in the author’s defense, ask the women in his life and they’d tell you that romance, even with an impossible dream, had always been his forte. Amen.

A couple of weeks and I’ll be sitting in an office in Gurgaon analyzing data. Mails have been sent to a dozen sports marketing companies but they do not like recruiting humans anymore, it seems. And companies that employ travel writers do not have computers. Why else would they not reply to me? ;)

History will, still be kind to me, coz I, intend to write it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

To the health of cricket ... cheers {clink!}

The year 1992 saw Bosnia being separated from the Yugoslavian Republic, not knowing that it was heading towards decades of violence and brutalities. The same year Minnesotta's Mall of America, built on 78 acres, became the biggest mall in the world.

In a tropical country far far away, around the same time, a small boy watched engrossed, as a few of his countrymen battled it out on foreign lands that had nice sounding names like Sydney, Adelaide and Tasmania. Though the group of men did not do well, one lad with mad curly hair was busy driving his bat through covers, midwicket and the hearts of every person fortunate to see him play. I fell so much in love with him and the game that he became my synonym for eveything that was beautiful, and there developed a love for the game that was passionate, unadulterated and often bordered on the extreme. Over the years, my immature teenage mind confused this love for Indian cricket with patriotism and every win, facile or great, made the so-called Indian in me even prouder. In 2002, it wasnt just Saurav who waved his shirt on a Lord's balcony, so did seven boys on a college mess table in Belgaum, Karnataka.

Summer holidays came and went, but they always brought with them, in the Narayanan household a new scorebook made from cheap notebooks. Each of these scorebooks would have a picture of Sachin ( cut from an 'India Today') on its cover. And displayed proudly on the first page were the names of the eight Sector 55 Noida boys who would, "of course", one day play for India.

Over the years we woke up at 430 am to watch, groggy eyed, our heroes play test matches Down Under. We ran to tea shops (they usually had transistors) when electricity cheated on us and Robin Singh stood between South Africa and victory; we rode our bikes all around Noida that 2003 night when India beat Pakistan in the worldcup; we played in the rain, we played in the hottest June afternoons, we played on blisteringly cold december Delhi mornings. We did it all.

And now Lalit Modi tells me and the English County board that ODI's have reached their saturation point, test matches are redundant and that franchisees should buy out players if their national boards dont allow them to play in these commercial leagues. Lalit Modi and his rich friends believe, and maybe correctly, that players can be tempted to play for franchisees even if they are not allowed to represent their countries, on the basis of superior money power. Now Mr Modi, how do I explain to you that to my once teenage mind, India, cricket, glory and pride were all synonyms. How do I tell you that though you call test matches redundant, I still like to set my alarm so that I can see Lee bowl to VVS at six am. Will you ever understand that for me Sachin was the most handsome man and throughout my boyhood days I wanted him to marry Steffi Graf, that beautiful girl from Germany. You my friend understand business, I know love.

The BCCI might still exonerate you Lalit, but even at the cost of introducing an expletive for the very first time in my cricket writings, fuck you bastard, and may the lord strike you so hard that you suffer much more than those poor innocent Bosnians ever do.

To the glorious game, its traditions and all its lovers, a silent nod.