Out of the woods with Bollywood

It was a cold, windy night. Typical of the region. I was shocked to hear the clock strike one, engrossed all this while in some heart-to-heart conversation with a couple of office colleagues in the cosy confines of their home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I was to leave by 11 but lost track of time in the course of our small talk on big things.

Suddenly, the thought of making it back to my den sent a chill down my spine. The distance was truly overwhelming and reaching back was mandatory. My workplace was a stone's throw from my abode and I had an early morning meeting the next day.

These are the times you miss home the most. The sultry weather,chaotic pavements,crowded suburban trains,the filth and the garbage...just about everything is fine..for you know you can reach home in good old Mumbai at any hour,from any corner...without worrying about issues like safety and accessibility of public transport.

After a dazed goodbye, thanks to the Vodka consumed in generous sips, I went down the stairs to find a cab. Taxis in Kazakhstan are a difficult proposition at night - you are at the mercy of some private car owners who're driven by the lure and influence of alcohol, in the same breath! And there's something more that hits you...An all-pervading gloom blossoms here after dark that makes the pathos of the place come alive with the lights.

Kazakhstan is facing an identity crisis of sorts - the sharp contrast of the Soviet era control and the post break-up fission has taken its toll .. The economy is confused, if not chaotic. The rich, famous, intelligent and the educated have taken to banking - the grand, old flourishing business worldwide. In fact, my very presence in Almaty was in the capacity of an IT consultant for a leading bank.

The R & D, OR and analytical heads, the once "prized possessions" of the Soviet Union, have either fled to the US (where else) or turned to software (where else again) in the hope of material prospects. But life is hell for the working class.

The disillusionment is the worst for the elderly. Disowned by their sons and daughters, they are invariably at the mercy of inadequate pensions. The young among the homeless have taken to begging. Gambling, prostitution and mugging are rampant. Night travel is extremely risky.

As I waited on the pavement, a huge Soviet Lada - the most popular working class car in Kazakhstan - slowed down near me and casually parked to the side. I felt like a suspect KGB spy - a marked man, being tracked by his own men. To my relief, this was only a resident posing as a cabbie. He offered help - paid help, but help all right.

I began with whatever Russian that my tongue could manage:

Dvyesti...I murmured! Tristaa! He retorted...

This was the fare negotiation in tenge - the Kz currency. I offered two hundred , he demanded three hundred and nothing less..this came to about 100 rupees spelt in Indian currency. His wish was obviously my command on that dark, windy night.

Even as I was happy at the economy of the bargain, pat came the condition in broken English - He would drop me at the nearest block and from there, I would have to walk down to my apartment. Coz he had no time.

The proposition was scary on two counts - one, the hour was unearthly and two, my lane was infested with some suited booted beggars who favoured this time for some great begging sessions....

In broad daylight, you could ignore them, but certainly not now...but I had no choice anyway.

I hopped in, and, soon realized, we had another passenger seated next to him..a fair, skinny girl... perhaps in her early twenties. Like most Russian women, she was exceptionally beautiful. My heart skipped a beat - not at the prospect of meeting a damsel at midnight, but in anticipation of some big time distress...

But the impending nuisance had a different flavour. The couple was busy enjoying their moments of togetherness and the affection was crossing all socially acceptable limits of public display. He looked back now and then - his eyes half-seeking my approval for the strip tease and half showing an "I-don't-care" emotion...She giggled endlessly.

"You from country?" he asked, all of a sudden.

"India" I replied back - happy at the seemingly harmless question.."How much money" was the one that I was fearing (although like me, even he would not have approved of my legendary deputation allowance, had he asked)

"Indiaaaaa", his eyes lit up. Even the lady seemed interested now, her giggles uninterrupted.

"Ah, aiswaryaaaa rae",he smiled to glory...I nodded - feeling like the recipient of a Padmashree.

"amitbh bachaaaan" came the next query followed by the same gesture from me,

"mitun chkraberty" this time, I had a broad smile, like an interviewee during the final rounds when he knows he's in...

My poise seemed to signify as if the prolific lady and the distinguished gentlemen in question were my next-door neighbors.

I roped in Raj Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor for more effect but the effort boomeranged. The names did not raise any eyebrows - probably that would have delighted the guy's father of a generation earlier...

Nevertheless, the scene now changed dramatically... He exchanged sweet nothings with her while she giggled even more (probably, she was paid more for the giggles) but now the affinity was reassuring. And their public display appeared decent now - hand in hand - like two lovers dating before marriage. The new-found warmth cocooned a huge reward for me too. Contrary to the deal, I was dropped right at my gate and the fare was renegotiated back to Dvyesti - the discount on account of Aishwarya, Amitabh and Mithun - my close friends from India.

As I got out of the rusty car, they shook hands with me, she giggled even as I bade Dasvidaniya, and they waited till I disappeared in the stair case of my building...as a mark of respect for the guy who came from the land of tinsel town stars.

And all this while I thought Bollywood was a big waste of money...I never knew my passion for this industry would win me friends in a foreign country at an odd hour, against all odds.

The next morning, as I passed the bustling traffic square, on my way to office, I could not help offering my humble salutations in the direction of the giant hoarding that showed a smiling Aishwarya Rai recommending a wrist watch of Swiss make to the world at large...

...For some non-entities of Indian make, this advertisement was as emotional as it was commercial.

Out-of-court settlement

It was sometime last year that a fine gentleman, a distinguished member of our residential premises, proposed the brilliant idea of marking a badminton court in the open area next to the car park.

Fortunately, this idea was given the "no objection" certificate by one and all. The court was marked - a tad shorter than the customary specifications - to accommodate the Honda Cities, Hyundai Accents and Maruti Swifts resting in the parking lot.

Initially, we were only a few inspired souls on the court once in a while, soon the fever settled on alternate weekends...subsequently it became a weekly habit and eventually we had daily loyalists waiting with bated breath for the clock to strike seven in the evening...the time when play begins every day.

The game began but we never realized, more than the court, the players themselves were "marked" by roving eyes from unknown quarters.

Any growing popularity invites attention, and attention makes way for nuisance - soon many a voice of discontent were floating in the air -

"They make a lot of noise";

"Why block the area when we have a handful of them swearing by the game?";

"We have a tough time parking our cars";

"Our guests find it difficult to walk by the side";

"The shuttle cock can cause damage to our cars";

The excuses were many but the aim was one - to bring the game down.

The climax came in the form of a notice "requesting members to co-operate and abstain from making noise as it was examination time for students"

The notice was the "ad hoc" handiwork of a certain lady, self appointed patron of the society and member of the "ad hoc committee" who had her "child" appearing for the X standard board exams during this period.

The badminton court was hardly the source of commotion - save for the occasional shouts and sighs of the players. In sharp contrast, the hyena-like laughs and heated debates emanating from the very place that "housed" the X standard child was the biggest cause of noise pollution - yet, came the notice - generously backed by some ever-disgruntled souls - on and off the adhoc committee - trying their best to settle old scores on this convenient premise.

Also lending unconditional support were the usual mischief mongers (a universal sect across the globe) whose favorite pastime is backbiting and bitching around during the desolate evening hours...Then there were those who chose to be on either side - trying to please all and offend none. They were seen playing on the court cheering our cause, and yelling off it too, supporting our detractors.

Much to the dismay of the protesting tribe, our game continued. And the patrons grew by the day. Today, we have members of all age groups sweating it out on the court. Prime among them are bubbly kids, enthusiastic housewives and working women - regulars at the court, intent on taking their game to the next level - each passing day. It feels great to watch them deliver confident smashes, astute drops and clever placements.

The court is now a rich source of inspiration and the reservoir of some 24-carat enjoyment. Not only has it fostered the sporting spirit in our locality, it has lent meaning and purpose to the vacuumed existence of us city-dwellers - breaking the monotony, bringing work-life balance.

Precisely why, all of us come together each day, our founder gentleman included - notwithstanding the litany of hurdles:

The shuttle cock is often caught by the swaying trees above us, the net is raised now and then to make way for passing cars, passerbys & bikes make sudden on-court intrusions, savage flat owners drop garbage from their windows...

...the list is endless, but the spirit is never-say-die. Staying put on court, we have achieved a wonderful out-of-court settlement.

Judicious, if not judicial.

Mumbai Indians and the IPL Bazzar

The Mumbai Indians did lose their close IPL encounter with the Rajasthan Royals but not before we caught a tiny glimpse of the vintage Sachin - few of his strokes past the bowler - especially in the Ravindra Jadeja over - were a treat to watch! And Abhishek's heroics at the fag end deserve every accolade - this lad is a humble assassin - one of MI's best talents - may his tribe grow - within Mumbai Indians and among Indians.

The MI team management continued on its wayward track - busy making things more difficult than they were - helping the opponents with the "extra" thrust to outshine them. Jayasurya in the middle order (worse than dropping him), Duminy wasted (worse than forcing him to open)... And what was Harbhajan doing, stealing a single when he could have taken it upon himself. The blunders were many..the less discussed, the better!

Nevertheless,this was not a shameful defeat, they had almost reached the shore...unlike some of the early encounters where they gave up even before taking on the challenge.

One of the worst tortures of IPL, especially in the context of such poignant defeats, is to suffer the needless C-grade melodrama in the name of "extraa innings" that surrounds it.

We had two cheerleaders of the puke brigade - the plastic Shilpa Shetty faking the "prayer" act and the highly intimidating Mandira Bedi exposing her cricket "gyan" laced in her repulsive curves.

It's pathetic how Ms. Bedi is allowed to torture some of the living legends with the most pathetic of questions - and when she runs out of gas, she's quick to bank on her friends - back in the studio - coupled with animated, jaded gestures of the highest order.

So very nauseating is the fake environment (maybe, that's what inspired the Fake IPL blog) that it's now begun to affect the pros as well -

Our Harsha Bhogle is busy showering mindless sermons all the while - he has no time for good old plain commentary any more. Consider these expert comments (read enactments) in his inimitable (and now irritating) style:

"Now, somebody, somebody of the two, needs to take charge... someone needs to fire, else the situation will just get worse from here",

"it's so difficult for a batsman to change gears - imagine one saying, now I have been hitting singles so far, never mind, now I'll start hitting all over the park"

"This is the second over, that's 10 percent of the innings, remember"

"Now, that's only a single, Warne won't mind that, he won't for sure! What he'll say - hey, take as many singles as you can, but no boundaries and sixes, mate!"

Mr. Bhogle, will you stop analyzing simple facts that all know...we know you are an MBA but only a commentator, and not an expert at that!

And our dear friend Arun Lal, suffered some hangover as well last night -

Commenting on the Mumbai management, he erroneously "crowned" the Deccan Chargers' Darren Lehmann as the coach of the Mumbai Indians - much to host Gaurav Kapur's delight - the highly over-rated compere was more than happy to correct his guest with ruthless and insensitive authority.

Victories and defeats are part of the game - but the nuisance value of the IPL carnival is truly unnerving. The players on the field have to hold their nerves to win matches, we off the field have to do that only to stay tuned.

The Mumbai Indians have two more encounters - both against proven heavyweights
led by two of Sachin's most illustrious successors - Sehwag and Dhoni.

Perhaps all is not lost yet, but the Mumbai Indians look yet lost!

For old time's sake

The other day, nine of us were off to a resort near Alibaug to catch some vintage moments of peace and tranquility, away from the din of city life.

This was a sort of get-together for old time's sake. Having spent close to eleven years of my life in Virar - the last and lost station on Mumbai's bustling Western Railway - my bond with the place and its people is special.

There have been several Virar moments that I cherish to this day - those were my early years of work life - most of it spent commuting on the tracks to and fro - Virar to Churchgate and back - day in and day out. Whatever time was left out, I spent with this Alibaug gang - playing pranks, whiling time and making merry. Most of them were kids then...few were grown up, others were toddlers. The pleasures were trivial but never seemed so...to this day.

Each passing day, I saw them grow up to the realities of life. Today, all are well placed or rising in the vocations of their choice - artistes, singer-composers,engineers,software professionals,accountants,technicians...

It felt great to be part of the merriment - all of us happy to relive old moments with the same intensity. From age 21 to 39, we were all kids on a common plane, celebrating our togetherness in the quiet vicinity of the beach house.

In this so-called age of material pleasures, this unconditional reunion - without rhyme or reason,without aim and agenda, was indeed heartening...a living proof of true emotions in motion...that defy time and the vagaries of life.

For old time's sake...

What's wrong with Sachin Tendulkar?

Watching the Mumbai - Delhi IPL match yesterday was a nightmarish experience to say the least. More than the shameful defeat, it was Sachin Tendulkar's body language that was cause for widespread embarrassment for all those like me... who love Mumbai and Sachin in equal measure.

It was a perfect recipe for disaster that Sachin had so painstakingly prepared - dropping Sanath and forcing Duminy to open were two unpardonable offenses - more ghastly than the decision to bring himself on for the dreadful 19-run gift on a platter.

At least, the bowling aspiration had some method in the madness - the lure of spin following Duminy's success with the ball in the match and Sachin's track record as a bowler (do we still remember the last over of the HERO cup?)

That the gamble boomeranged was another issue..

But how can one drop Sanath Jayasurya? - whatever his current form - you drop him and you lose three-in-one - an excellent fielder, a wily bowler and a superlative match-winner batsman...

Is there anything called team meeting in the Mumbai camp - one wonders?

Shaun Pollock & Jonty Rhodes... do you say something at all, if at all you have a say!

Time and again, we see the Mumbai players repeating what they do worst - Bravo impresses with a quick-fire knock and just when you expect him to break loose, he loses his cool... and of course his wicket.

Abhishek Nayar seems desperate to either run himself out or attempt a cross-batted heave at the first opportunity. He succeeds in his mission every single time.

Harbhajan comes out for a stroll - fancies a shot or two and bids good bye exactly when you need him to slog it out.

Malinga, one of the leading wicket takers in the tournament, bowls four great balls in an over, followed by two forgettable deliveries and it's all over.

Duminy begins well, consolidates in style and when the time is ripe for the final wrap, he succumbs without a fight!

And watching this circus, match after match, is our ring(read wing) master Sachin, wearing a wry smile, perhaps secretly whipping himself in KADAKLAKHSMI fashion.

Mr Mukesh Ambani - Sachin may have great celebrity supporters like Aamir Khan singing his praises and applauding his cricketing skills but that hardly helps your cause. Thank your stars - Anil is not in the IPL race - for a second, imagine him backing Delhi or Hyderabad! Scary, is it not?

And when it comes to waving flags, Priety Zinta, her stupid giggles and hugs notwithstanding, looks more confident than your wife - given the heroics of Yuvi and his guys who perish, but perish in style!

We all love Sachin for what he has achieved and is capable of but does that condone his lethargic ways, suspect captaincy and worse, his adamant stance of playing the doctor rather than undergoing an honest diagnosis as an ailing patient.

Hope is the hallmark of a Mumbaikar...we still hope of Mumbai going for the kill, winning the rest of the encounters and booking a semi-final berth eventually...

Sachin, we would still watch your next game(s) but get back Sanath...he's still your best bet! Sanath Power! Go get it ...Else, do share your thoughts on playing a non-playing captain for a change!