Archive for February, 2010

Cricket Is Uplifting

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Feb 27, 2010

…and the India-South Africa Test series showed us why.The fact is that the India-South Africa Test series gave enough evidence to anyone the least interested why the five-day format shall never die.

Some months ago, we carried a cover story titled ‘Cricket is Boring’. I even wrote a column saying I wouldn’t write on cricket again, because a numbing overdose of games meant that no one even kept track of who was winning, who was losing; victory and defeat had lost their place in the scheme of things. Okay, I take back my words. I apologise. I am back with the game.

I thank the Indian team for it, I thank South Africa for it, I thank Virender Sehwag and Hashim Amla for it. The fact is that the India-South Africa Test series gave enough evidence to anyone the least interested why the five-day format shall never die. What a series it was!

Has there ever been a series where a team lost by an innings and then came back to win the next match by an innings? And when was the last time that a player from the losing side got a Man of the Match award, and that too without any doubt that he should get it? And what is wrong with the man called Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar? When will he stop? When will he say that he has done enough? Clearly, there has never been a cricketer like him, even perhaps a man like him. Who could have ever imagined the feats that he has achieved, and who can imagine what more he will?

And Virender Sehwag. If character is key to cricket more than in any other sport, this happy-go-lucky streetfighter brings a new definition to the term. Life for Sehwag, one suspects, is rather a simple challenge. He sees the ball coming at him, he hits. In his mind, there is no purpose to a ball being bowled other than to be smacked. Who in the history of the game has ever said that he derives more joy from hitting fours and sixes than from centuries? Which madman has ever promised that he will play a hundred Tests and then retire? Is this guy for real? A man with no subtext?

No subtext. Which was true of this Test series too. It was pure and simple fun. Both teams would have felt victorious, with legitimate reasons, with neither having any regrets. Isn’t that what the best of sports is about? Christopher Hitchens, in a recent column in Newsweek, may feel that sports brings out the worst in the human beast, but for once, he is sorely off the mark. Of course, we wanted India to win, but which true lover of cricket did not enjoy Hashim Amla’s heroics against all odds?

In the 1996 Test series in England, during the Lord’s test, TV commentator Peter Roebuck said: “In the Tube today, there were a lot of people coming to see the match. And what all of them wanted was that Tendulkar should score a century and England should win.” Moments later, Tendulkar was caught in the slips by Graeme Hick. “There it goes,” lamented Roebuck. “I don’t think anyone has come to Lord’s today to watch Graeme Hick take a catch.” This is the spirit of sport, the joy of watching extraordinary people doing extraordinary stuff.

Of course, we missed Rahul Dravid. For 14 years, he has enchanted us and maddened us, and somehow always managed to be the bridesmaid, never the bride. Tendulkar has murdered the opposition with much more flair, and Ganguly has hit many more sixes. We have cursed Dravid for giving every bowler his due, a concept Sehwag missed out on in kindergarten. But it is safe to say that we would not have lost by an innings in Nagpur if Dravid had been around.

Few have given more to the Indian team and more selflessly than the man nicknamed Jammy. One suspects he is a thinking man, and one will perhaps never know why he gave up the captaincy, and one wishes he would think a bit less.

Oh, it’s happened but three times before: a team losing by an innings and then winning by an innings. India vs Pakistan in 1952, England vs Australia in 1966, and England vs West Indies in 1966 again.

The Elephant in the Rain

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Feb 13. 2010

It was a sight that haunts me. Humans can be frightfully mean without giving it a second thought.

Why do we wreak so much havoc in the worlds of beings that have never harmed us...?

Last evening (yes, I know I’m writing for a weekly magazine, and I should be saying ‘the other evening’ rather than ‘last evening’, because the reader won’t know which night I’m talking about, but ‘other evening’ seems so casual, so throwaway, so matter of fact), I was driving to my home in Gurgaon, the thriving but infrastructurally crippled Delhi annexe, and an elephant stood abandoned in the drizzle on the road with the town’s heaviest traffic. The Metro rail service from Delhi to Gurgaon is slated to start operations from June, and terrifying overhead railway tracks on pillars cleave every major road. Whoever owns or uses the elephant had taken shelter somewhere to escape the rain and left it under one of the rail tracks.

The animal stood there, as thousands of cars (yes, thousands, this is peak rush hour in Gurgaon, which is home to a vast majority of all Fortune 500 companies with operations in India, and the BPO capital of the country) rushed by on either side. It must have felt frightened and confused and helpless, in an incomprehensible situation, with no knowledge of how long it would be trapped here, and why.

Three of the sights I remember as the most terrible I have seen concern animals. On a Delhi road, a mother dog licking the head of her puppy who had been knocked dead by a car. She just kept on licking it, and I don’t know how long she continued (I couldn’t bear the sight, I drove away), but she believed that her love would bring her child alive. Many years ago, I had been out for a month, and when I returned home and opened the door, I found a dead sparrow at my feet. When I locked the doors and windows and left, I had not noticed her, and she had starved to death. The thought of how long she had tried to escape her prison and what she had gone through, and the guilt over the death of such an innocent creature, was nearly overpowering. And then, five years ago, my cat Kitkat was killed by stray dogs. I didn’t know she had gone out, and by the time I found her, rigor mortis had set in, her body was stiff. I buried her the next morning, wrapped in a shawl that my daughter had placed on what was “Kitkat’s sofa” and on which she loved to sleep (she would have great ego hassles with any guest who tried to sit on that sofa).

Why had someone brought the elephant to this mall-infested, multiplex-crowded road? It must have been brought to amuse some rich people at some gathering of theirs: a wedding perhaps, or a birthday party. The money we spend, the wealth we flaunt and the pathetic lack of taste that we exhibit every day in our jaw-droppingly expensive and uncouth weddings is bad enough. But we can surely stop short of ill-treating and humiliating creatures that we have no valid right or demand over. In our zoos, tigers are kept in insultingly small cages, and giraffes are chained to posts. In the Shimla zoo, we actually have a snow leopard, not in a small cage, but in a cage nevertheless. Why would anyone want to keep such a rare, beautiful and privacy-loving creature in captivity, to be glanced at for potato chips-fuelled entertainment by hundreds of fools every day with no idea of its majesty and preciousness?

Among choices of pet dogs, the pug is now the most popular in India, the outcome mainly of some very effective advertising by a cellular services company. But we have done horrible things to make the pug what it is today. For generations, pugs have been bred to make their faces flatter and flatter, because that makes them ‘cuter’, and that obviously fetches a higher price. As a result, pugs have all forms of breathing problems, and many die young. Our greed has ruined this harmless breed, which, tragically, wants nothing other than to be loved by humans. Why do we wreak so much havoc in the worlds of beings that have never harmed us, and who have as much right to live their own way as we have?

The elephant in the rain shamed me.