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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A short story on love

Disclaimer: Once upon a time the author wanted to be be a writer for, the leading cricket website in the world. And fuelled by optimism, he sent them across his credentials. Below is the text of that orginal cover letter. Yes, just after this neat line made of a lot of neat dashes.
                                        --------------- beginning of cover letter ---------------

‘You can know more about a person in an hour’s play than a year of conversation’

Right from that handsome age of nine when he first watched Sachin and Co crumble at the World Cup ’92, Neeraj Narayanan knew that he was destined to pursue a career in cricket. His conviction received further strength when he won every single match in his home ground, rather the house car park, against his sister. Since his neighbourhood only had bullies who refused to let him bat or bowl, he would run home after school, and grumble as his mother insisted he eat lunch before donning the whites. 

In his tiny white shorts he stood, bum jutting out like Roger Binny’s, bat in left hand. With his right hand, he would throw the ball onto the wall and before it could ricochet and reach him, he would grasp his bat swiftly with both hands, and drive the ball gracefully through covers, or two broken pots.
The intense and grueling work ethic saw him become captain of his colony and school, and when they appointed him leader of the set that represented the college team, he knew that there was a little spot in the Indian dressing room that was crying for his presence.

Our story of his heroics with bat, ball and ground fielding ends here.

Late 2005, he became a part of the Cognizant family, a clan that insisted on pleasing American clients by delivering software codes on time. But much as he tried, he never ran around the floor or screeched like a madman or pumped his fist on solving a difficult piece of code, the way he had when he was in his whites. Ecstasy no longer was part of his character. Expressiveness still held on belligerently though, and whenever India lost or Tendulkar touched a new realm of success, he wrote and sent it to all to his colleagues.
Exasperated by him, they directed him to the company blog and it was here he found respite. In 2007, they recognized his blogging efforts and transferred him to the ‘Branding and Corporate Communications’ team, just so that he stop writing eulogies on self, and do something similar for the organization.

Mica and MBA happened, and he wrote more. As member of the Sports Committee, he spent a lot of time thinking about the annual cricket tournament, campaigns for promotion, and writing articles on matches he lost, so much that when the yearbook came out, they only spoke of his deluded die hard love for sports , and a few tidbits on his writing. This, when he had expected long testimonials on his charm, dimple, brilliance and what not.

And when it all ended, he was staring at an office cabin that read ‘Communication Expert - the Government of Gujarat’. Gandhinagar, it has been rumoured is the capital of Gujarat but we don’t believe everything we hear, do we? It is in fact a country of old men and older women, a civilization that is set back in time, which has ancient written all over it. If Gandhinagar was Jambavan, the wise hundred and something year old monkey in the Mahabharat, Mohenjodaro and Harappa would be frisky two year old puppies, sprightly and full of beans.

 Since most sentences here began with ‘Under the dynamic leadership of CM Modi’, he observed that the only way that he would not forget the language was to write on other mediums. So he began writing his own book. Then when Sachin scored his fiftieth century, he mailed a piece to a friend. The clever fellow asked him to send it to Cricinfo, just so that he could avoid reading it himself. The article was then published by the website. Being of mediocre quality, he insisted on sending another article, this time on Rahul Dravid, and it was published too. Like someone said,
‘It is hard to write, but harder not to do so’.

Hi, my name is Neeraj Narayanan and I love writing almost as much as I love the wonderful sport. It would be my happy and fervent desire to be part of the Cricinfo team. I love the work that the team does, and believe that I have the potential to offer something both similar as well as distinct.  Do let me know if I could fit in somewhere.

Neeraj Narayanan

p.s Here are the links to my published articles on Cricinfo and two videos we made for the annual cricket tournament at Mica. Do remember when you are astounded by the absolute shoddiness of the video, that the vision was excellent, just that the actors (read: friends) and technology was pathetic. 

History will be kind to me …. because I intend to write it.

------------------------- end of cover letter ---------------------------------

Conclusion: Well, in reply they did call him for an internship, during the course of which he met Rahul Dravid, even shook a trembling hand with him. But, as things go, not all organizations accept siblings in the same setup, a sensible thought as Nishi Narayanan and I  do love lifting up computers and throwing it at each other. (I do wonder what Mark Waugh would have ended up doing if the Australian Cricket Board had thought the same way.)
Anyway, Cricinfo continues to be the wonderful website it is, with its tremendous dedication to the game. And I, well I have moved onto the travel world, a worthy second fiddle. Writing about travel is nice, reading about it even more so.

Sachin and Rahul, however, will always hold a special place.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Delhi 6: Walking in Chandni Chowk

Opening a blurry eye, I saw a blurry book in the hands of a blurry mother.  Twenty plus score years of caring Shravan Kumar son-hood warned me that she was in her most enthusiastic avatar, and it would be wise if my sleepy self should just pretend to be in a coma. The act lasted, only till she poked that heavy William Dalrymple manuscript in my sides, making me splutter. If visualized, my reaction was just like Saurav Ganguly’s when the fast bowlers bowled one into his ribs – awkward and jumpy.

“Get up! I don’t want to reach late,” the molester whined.  I wanted to tell her that Chandni Chowk was not going to run away, it had been standing right where it was for the last two centuries, but I am a good son. Also, she looked a little like Goddess Durga with that trishul, I mean book, raised high in her hands.

Half an hour later, we were in Delhi’s swanky metro, she beaming at everyone from her seat in the ladies’ coach, and me glaring at the wall as one more man stepped on my feet. When we got down from the metro, the crowd helped us reach the exit faster with their helpful shoves and pushes.  In chaos, lies India’s comfort.

When we were out of the small alley that connected main Chandni Chowk to the station, we manned the long road like a sailor would the sea.  “Ballimaran?” a shopkeeper said when we precisely asked him the same. “Keep going straight and turn left at the third red light. You’ll see the jooti market immediately.”

And just like he said, the shoe market of Ballimaran was right there, at the third left. Tens of shops with their colourful jootis, sandals, slippers dazzled our senses. A paints company’s catalogue itself could not do a better job presenting shades and colours. But our quest was not footwear, it was Mirza Ghalib. Among other things.

The greatest Urdu poet the world has ever known, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib lived in his residence in Gali Qasim Jaan, Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk for the last nine years of his life. In the words of eminent litterateur Ralph Russell, “Had Ghalib written in English, he would have been the greatest poet of all times, amongst all languages.”  Arguable surely, but an indicator of how great the man was. Yet, how many people know he lived there. We might be living in the times of the internet, the times of social network, the times of communication at its best, we have been to Chandni Chowk so many times, and yet the house of one of the greatest poets lies unnoticed and unloved.

A modest museum, the house has a small bust of Ghalib, two of his preserved books, an old shatranj (chess) board and insensitively, an Airtel PCO.  The walls are decorated with his quotes, and one wall has a fantastic life-size painting of him smoking a hookah.

“One of my dreams has come true today,” mum declared when we came out of the house. I guess I now know where my filmy streak stems from. 

“Right, next we head for Saint Stephen’s Church,” she said referring to the notes she took from her Dalrymple.  I flagged down a cycle rickshaw, and as the man weaved us in and out of the crawling traffic, the sweat shone on his muscled legs. Yet, he sang, to the street perhaps, and whistled at his comrades as we covered one metre after another, and only then could I realize the breeze that touched my face.

Also known as Fatehpuri Church, the red edifice of St. Stephen’s Church was built in 1867 and is the only church in the city where service is conducted in Urdu.  It stands as a memorial to the British soldiers that died during the famous first mutiny for Indian independence. A diamond shaped signboard outside the building read “Number 29, Heritage Building”.

We then backtracked our way to Fatehpuri Mosque. On our way, we crossed Number 27 – “Dharamshala Rai Sahib Lala Laxmi Narayan”.  In the midst of all the shops, it is easy to miss these heritage buildings even with their signboards, and we weren’t surprised when the shopkeepers had no clue about them when we asked. I tried to photograph the dharamshala but the entangled low-hanging, teeming electric lines running across the street would not help my cause.

The mosque was, just as all mosques, emanating a sense of peace. It stood at one end of the Chandni Chowk street, directly opposite and rivalling the building at the other end - the Red Fort.  When we went inside, it was as if we had entered another world, another era. One that moved at its own pace, unhurried, unfettered. Men sat in circles, talking and smiling. A Maulvi read from his book in a small room full of cushions, the ceiling fan clucking noisily. I did not do much, except for clicking photographs, but a sense of rest swept through me as I came out. While looking back to take a parting photograph of the building, I saw the clock at the top. It had no second or minute hands on it. Fitting, I think, for time really stands still in these parts.

Six hours from when we had started out, we were back in the metro. I scanned through the photographs, at the jooti market, at Parathe Wali Gali where we had had our lunch, and the famous terrace in the Gadodia Spice Market from where you can see all of Chandni Chowk, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid.

Through the crowd of men, I tried to look at mum, sitting in the nearby ladies compartment. Catching my eye, she waved out exuberantly. Twenty plus score years of caring Shravan Kumar son-hood warned me that she was in her most enthusiastic avatar, and it would be wise if my sleepy self should just pretend to be in a coma…


Thursday, March 8, 2012

An unassuming man called Rahul Dravid: Part Two

"Seven Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers in seven years. If only Dumbeldore had the foresight to pick Rahul Dravid as one in the first year, we might never have needed the help of Harry Potter."

                                    - NN (23rd July '11, after Dravid's 33rd century. Lords)

There will be a day when Samit Dravid grows up and tries to assimilate the magnitude of service his father has done to Indian cricket. For everywhere he goes, they will sit him down and tell him glowingly of the man's deeds once upon a time.  Of how Rahul ‘walked’ in his first test match when he was on 95; a gentleman, they will declare approvingly. Of how he donned the keeper gloves to accommodate Yuvi and Kaif in the team; a team man, they will declare strongly. And young Samit will look on, bored but silent, for a well mannered boy does not start telling people that he has heard the stories a million times already. He is Rahul Dravid’s son after all, manners are in his genes.

Rahul Dravid gotay suna pilla” my (Oriya) grandmum tells me as she concentrates on her sewing, when I ask her what she thinks of his retirement. (transation: RD is a good boy)

Every time Samit walks into a cricket game, be it on the street or at a ground, there will be boys looking at him and passing judgment. Whenever he leans on his back foot and uses his wrists to hit a ball through point, they will, on heading back to their homes inform one and all, with that wise tone in their voice, that there really is a bit of Rahul in Samit. Truer words would never be spoken, if only their context was not so blurred. There should be a bit of Rahul in Samit just as there must be a bit of a father in every son. For Samit’s sake, we hope there is a lot of Rahul in him, even if none of it may be in a cricketing sense.

As Samit grows up, there will be girls in his school who will find him cute, and he’ll find ready invitations to their homes. Their fathers will pat his back with a roar and inform him how they always preferred test cricket over the shorter version. Their mothers will laugh and tell him how they always found  Dravid “ the most handsome cricketer”.“Almost as much as Brett Lee”, they may confess as an afterthought.
There might be a few things Samit might never know though. That there were hundreds of boys who threw their cricket balls into long socks, cut a hole in the latter and then strung it up from a height only so that they could practice their strokes just because Rahul did so in a Pepsi ad.  While there maybe hundreds of awards on his father’s mantelpiece, he will never know that near a small river in Vaikom, Kerala, there’s a rundown shack selling fish and rice, and the only colour in its brown walls is of a cutting of Dravid’s picture. It’s not a tenth as glossy or pretty as the awards he is looking at, but then ask the man who owns it if it is precious, or beautiful.

He will never know that one day in 2003 (two years before he was even born) there were thirty of us  not attending our college exam, sitting cramped in a small hostel room watching the proceedings at Adelaide. And when Dravid hit that square cut that gave us our first win in Australia in years, with him there were thirty of us who were raising our fists at the television and telling the world what India really thought of it.

We, who grew up in the nineties, feel proud that we grew up then, because it was the decade that brought to our country the internet, cable tv, economic liberalization and three young men called Sachin, Saurav and Rahul.

Tomorrow, when Dravid retires, an entire media and ‘social’ nation will talk about it. While pride will be at the centre of Samit’s young heart, a part of him will be puzzled as to why now, just like every time the man scored a century, the effusiveness of the media and his supporters came out in the form of a Shakesperean tragedy. Romantic, but sad. Of how Dravid had always delivered, but was never feted. Of how the man who had scored the second highest runs in test cricket was never glorified as the man who had scored the second highest runs in test cricket.

But Samit should not pay heed to it for he should know that everyone who ever loved cricket, or truly understood the game has loved Rahul Dravid. Not only because he scored so many runs for us, not because he was a middle class boy who rose to stardom, but because when he did all those things, he did them with grace and honesty. Samit should not pay heed to it,  for it is the job of communication to assign characters and plots and images to a story. And Dravid’s role, in the overall scheme of things come to think of it, was probably to forever be remembered as the finest gentleman of Indian cricket. We all love Sourav for taking off his jersey on the Lords balcony, it would be nice to respect Rahul Dravid for stopping others from following suit.

Like my grandmother said, “Rahul Dravid gotay sunna pilla”.

P.S: If you want to read part one of the story, you can read it on Cricinfo here or scroll through the blog archives. I am too lazy to search and link it. Also, I want to go practice my cover drive.