Archive for July, 2009

Attending former cricket selection committee chief, Chandu Borde’s felicitation on Tuesday, at the Bal Gandharva Rang Mandir and the dinner after that at Hotel Blue Diamond brought back some lovely memories – my first taste of this beautiful game called cricket, seeing some of the cricketing greats at the strangest of places, and then as a sports journalist covering cricket for over 16 years, going for international matches and tournaments like the World Cup.

Chandu Borde, for all those too young to remember, was India’s ‘Mr. Dependable’ – he could bat, bowl and field – and there weren’t too many of them around. My friend babu kalyanpur, (that’s how he likes to write his name), now with Gulf Daily News, and easily one of the most knowledgeable cricket writers around, once told me that Borde is one of the unsung heroes of Indian cricket, who never got his due.

He should have been captain, but the powers-that-be believed that captaincy was the preserve of those who were good with their interpersonal skills not just their cricket. The feeling then was that only Oxford or Cambridge educated nobility could make good captains – or if you were from Shivaji Park or Dadar Gymkhana. Thank God that colonial mentality has changed, or Kapil Dev would never have become captain and we might never have won the Prudential Cup in 1983!

As Ajit Wadekar spoke about Borde at the function, all those memories of my cricket madness came flooding back. I remember huddling over a Murphy Radio in 1969 listening to Raju Bharatan and Pearson Surita referring to Redpath, Chappell, Walters, Stackpole (it sounded like Tadpole), Gleason, Mckenzie. What were they — some form of exotic food or people? I learned that these were cricket players from Australia. I remember meeting former Australian opener Keith Stackpole in Pune during the 1996 World Cup and telling him that it was his name that got me hooked to cricket. He laughed uproariously.

When ‘Shandra’ (what one of India’s greatest spinners, B.S. Chandrashekhar, was referred to as over the Beeb by famed commentator John Arlott) spun his web around England at The Oval in England, a lot of us were at home, ears straining to catch the commentary over Short Wave, waiting for that magical moment. We roared in delight when Eknath Solkar (will there be another fielder like him?) plucked the ball just before it dropped to the ground, a few feet from England wicket-keeper Alan Knott’s bat. I think we knew then that India was within smelling distance of history. I think a lot of us cried that day – it was that kind of a feeling. Totally indescribable.

Then Ajit Wadekar and his boys reached Bombay and I read about the welcome at the airport and revelled in the feeling – like I was there, like I was a part of it. So when in December 1971 in Delhi when my mother asked me if I wanted to watch a cricket match on TV at her friend’s place, I jumped at it! I had never seen a TV in my life before leave alone a cricket match. I watched the India-England Test match being played at the Feroz Shah Kotla, on a black and white TV set. It was an amazing experience. We lost the Test and I was shattered. How could these champions lose to a second string England team?

Cricket soon became an obsession. I was compiling notebooks and albums of cricket pictures and statistics. I would follow cricket matches over the radio ball by ball, copiously writing down scores and records, calculating averages. I remember my mother telling someone that I could calculate Sunil Gavaskar’s batting average to the last decimal, but ask me to do multiplication and I was lost!

I remember going on a school picnic to Lonavala, and as we were buying chikki at a store a man came up and told us, “If you want to see cricketers come with me.” In excitement we followed him to a luxury bus parked at the side of the road. There was the hero of the Oval Test, Eknath Solkar along with a lot of other Indian players. Imagine seeing these guys up, close, in the flesh!

Cut to the mid-1970s and we were standing at Jangli Maharaj Road opposite Khyber Restaurant, in Pune. We were waiting for all the snazzy sports cars participating in the London-Sydney Rally that were supposed to pass from there. As we waited I looked around and saw this tall man next to me talking to someone on his left. I could barely suppress my excitement. My friends noticed him too and we began whispering loudly – too loudly – because he looked at us and smiled. We couldn’t believe our luck. That was all we needed. Note books and pens came out in a flash and all of us watched in wonder as he signed his name in our books. Our day was made.

Our presence had been acknowledged by none other than Chandu Borde!


Page 3

Posted: July 22, 2009 in Page 3

So I went to this play last night where the arty and page 3 crowd was. There I was, just a middle class guy with middle class values in the midst of the city’s happening crowd. And what did I see with my ‘myopic’ middle class eyes?

You can have all the money in the world and drive all the big cars, but if you don’t have class…

Yup, there they were, talking on the fancy mobile phones, pecking each other, rushing to the free food counters, munching away inside the auditorium…even as the emcee requested guests to be seated, to switch off their mobiles, to not disturb the actors while finding their seats etc etc.

There was a group sitting next to me who were cracking dirty jokes at regular intervals and another which was chatting behind me. There were a couple of women who had their mobile phone ringing loudly and flashing in the darkened auditorium.

There were a bunch of kids who had come for the play, but were outside drinking and chatting. People were walking in and out at regular intervals.Did they spare a thought for the actors and the hosts who went out of the way to make their guests comfortable? Sure, just look how…

At the break the emcee announced that there would be a 10-minute break. The happening crowd stretched it to almost 20 minutes. You see they were so busy hogging on the freebies and washing itn down with the booze. And when they thought it was time to come in, they stood in the aisles as the lights were switched off, and chatted away even as they groped for their seats.

And here I was, this lesser mortal, wondering whether I was doing anything wrong by being seated before the play began and before the break ended; switching off my mobile and looking to enjoy the play – inside the auditorium. I guess I just didn’t fit in.

For all the sense HRD Minister Kapil Sibal made when he was on TV talking about the need to reform the education system, I really believed here was a doer and not a talker. According to him the The Right to Education Act, will be our “societal obligation” to the underprivileged. So far so good, or so I thought!
But now that Bill is on its way to becoming an Act, it’s obvious that neither Mr Sibal nor his government is interested in making it an instrument of change to educate poor Indians. All he wants to do is to push his party’s ‘backward’ agenda which will, he hopes, get him and his party more votes in the future.
If Mr Sibal really cared for the millions of children who don’t have access to even a slate and pencil, why doesn’t he open more schools, and get more teachers in the villages? I guess, that’s too much trouble for him. So instead, he and his government will push through a Bill that will be used as a stick to beat private educational institutions into agreeing to part with 25 per cent seats for the underprivileged – the same underprivileged the government has never had any intention of empowering for the past 60-odd years, because it suits the politicians to keep them that way.
If every child between the age of 6 and 14 can get free education in government schools, why force private educational institutions to reserve seats? Is it because Mr Sibal knows that the Bill is not even worth the paper it’s printed on and will do nothing to empower the nation’s underprivileged children? And pray, why have the kids below 6 years of age been left out? Does the government believe that education only begins after the age of six? Hasn’t he heard of play schools? Or does he believe that is the rich man’s preserve? Maybe there too he can demand reservation?
Free education is a great idea, if you consider its benefits for the weaker sections. But to implement the idea you need two things – SCHOOLS and TEACHERS. And there aren’t too many of them around in the countryside, are they? And there never will be, because educating millions of kids in this country takes money. And the politicians are too busy lining their pockets with the green stuff, to worry about educating some poor kid in a village.

You have only to visit the interiors of any State in India to realise there is nothing like an education system prevalent there. When we lived in UP some years ago, we drove into a village near Lucknow, and saw a board that proudly proclaimed ‘English Medium School’. The building, however, had neither a roof nor proper walls. At some places there were just thatched huts and there were neither students nor teachers. And this was just 40 kms from the capital of the State, so you can guess what it must be like in the interiors.
Look what reservations have done to the IITs. Over a thousand seats meant for the underprivileged are lying vacant there, and people who deserve to get in and can afford to pay can’t get in, because those seats are not meant for them. So while the IITs bleed, the government is too busy playing the reservation card.
We met Shabana Azmi some months ago in Pune and she told us about how her father, the Late Kaifi Azmi started a tailoring school for underprivileged girls and women in a village called Mijwan near near his hometown Azamgarh. Now that is empowerment, and not the kind that Mr Sibal and his friends in Parliament swear by. There’s a lady doctor in the US who runs a charity organisation called Home of Hope. She raises funds in the US so that the street kids in India can lead a better life. And here we have a group of 500 plus men and women, who swear on the Bhagwad Gita, and then make themselves rich with the money meant for the poor.
What surprises me even more is the silence from a majority of the educated and supposedly intelligent media. Most of them seemed to be happy to play along with what the government feeds them and just don’t seem to be interested in asking the right questions. Maybe the freebies and the junkets are something they are getting used to.
During the time when V.P. Singh played his Mandal card, I remember asking a colleague, who was an SC, how he felt now that his kids would be assured a government job. He said he felt like the cow that just got the owner’s name branded on its hide. So much for reservations! Oh and just in case you think I am saying all this because I have an ulterior motive — my son studies in a government aided SSC school and I am quite happy about it.

Did you know that the best birth control pill was an aspirin tablet, when held tightly between the knees…. Just joking, just joking.
So why can’t I crack a joke when the newest entrant to the health minister’s chair, Ghulam Nabi Azad, has me cracking up with his latest mantras to stop Indians going at it like rabbits. He says better late night TV programmes is the thing that can do it – or rather not make you do it. Hallelujah!
So, every time you get the urge, just watch late night TV!! And if there are no Saas Bahu soaps or some such crap on the air, you can always watch Baba Ramdev and pass your time. (Mr Azad didn’t suggest this, I am). He seems to have a cure for everything. What’s better than watching Mr Know All Ramdev telling all the just married and about-to-marry youngsters about muscle control.
Now you know why Lalu Prasad Yadav was so ‘busy’ doing ek, do teen, char paanch, chhe, saat, aath, naun… – because he and Rabri didn’t have TV then, and if they did, all they must have seen was Krishi Darshan, which had more on fertilisers than fertility.
It’s a pity we didn’t have cable TV in those days — TV viewing would have overtaken procreation as the best form of recreation in this country. Seriously, some of the things that our ministers say really has me worried, not just for their health, but for the nation’s, as well.
But on a more sober note, I completely agree that 18 and 21 are the wrong ages for anyone to get married. Let’s hope at least here the government can bring about changes in the law.
I would have thought the best way to curb the population would be education, in every sense of the word. That, of course, has never been a Congress party priority, nor that of any of the other government – State or Central. The fact that more than 60 per cent of India is in the villages and below the poverty line, explains why the politician has never tried to improve the situation there. The more illiterate the praja the happier the raja.

Idea Cellular, a very bad Idea sir ji!

Posted: July 11, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

I don’t know what your experience with Idea Cellular has been, but mine has been pretty bad, Sir ji — and never mind what AB jr. says.

Let me explain. Idea is a great network when you are in the middle of the city, but step out and it just goes dead.

Heck, it doesn’t even work at Nande village, some 6 kms off the Pune-Mumbai highway!
When we went on our holiday in May, I realised that connecting with Idea Cellular was a pretty bad idea. Sorry for the terrible pun, but I think it fits pretty well here!
I lost connectivity for a quite a distance between Pune and Bijapur. It worked in Bijapur but once we left the place on our way to Hampi we lost connectivity again. We travelled to Hampi and from there to Dharwad, At Hampi we had no connectivity, and till we reached Dharwad, I was carrying a mobile phone, which was basically a dud.
Once we left Dharwad for Dandeli, Idea failed us again and only started when we reached Belgaum, after spending three days in Dandeli. It stopped again between Belgaum and Kolhapur and connected again we reached Kolhapur.
By the time we left Kolhapur on our way to Dapoli, it was off again! It finally began to work when we reached NH 4 on our way to Pune from Mahabaleshwar.
I had let my wife use the Reliance connection and took two Idea connections for myself. The irony of it all was that while my Idea service was screwed up, my wife’s mobile worked like a dream EVERWHERE, except at Dapoli.
I am now looking for a mobile service provider that can give me uninterrupted service. Any suggestions?

A colleague, who recently went to Bandhavgarh (ref the picture) which hosts a tiger reserve , asked me why I didn’t write about wildlife and the diminishing numbers of tigers across the country. To be honest, while I enjoy going on excursions and spotting animals in the wild, I am no expert on tigers. But, I also know that one does not have to be an expert on the subject to realise that this magnificent animal is a diminishing breed.

When we went to Dandeli last May, the forest officers told us that there were just a dozen tigers and elephants left in the jungles there – and it’s called the Dandeli-Ambika Nagar Tiger Sanctuary! Why? Because Veerappan and his goons, killed most of them. Veerappan is dead and gone, but tigers continue to be killed. When most State governments are more concerned about their own survival, why would they care about the tiger’s?

The fact is that you and I can’t do much to save the tiger. One can give up everything and move into the jungle to protect them from poachers. But how many of us will be willing to do that? Which brings us to the people whose job it is to protect the tiger – the government .

How concerned they are about saving the tiger and other form of wldlife can be seen from the fact that anyone ( that includes poachers, film stars and ministers) can just drive into a forest reserve and gun down wild animals. And the government will make the right noises and forget about it. You can have all the inquiries and court cases, but it’s still one tiger less in this country.

When we went to Dandeli we saw very few forest guards inside the sanctuary. Mind you, the entire forest is almost 500 sq km so to protect it would take a sizeable number of personnel. Would any state government be interested in hiring more people to do that?

Just click here and you’ll see that the last time the site of the Wildlife Institute of India was updated was in 2006! The tiger population then was 3642. The Wildlife Protection Society of India’s website states that as of February 12, 2008, the tiger population is 1,411.

Does the government care? The figures above tell us quite clearly, how much it does!

The hysteria that has been generated by the Delhi High Court ruling since yesterday, especially by the media, really makes one wonder. Why is everyone on overdrive whether for or against – media, activists, politicians and even self styled babas. I mean, this is just the high court ruling. This will definitely go to the Supreme Court so I think everyone who’s predicting the opening of closets should wait a while.
Something tells me this is going to generate a lot of heat (pardon the pun), and while I am not taking sides, I think this battle is going to last a while. The politicians, the nutcases and religious leaders are going to make a killing (again, excuse the pun) over this. There’s going to be near-hysteria of the kind that was generated when V.P. Singh played his Mandal card. Mark my words.
But let me tell you an interesting story about a guy who I knew from the time I was maybe 10 or 12 years old. He lived on the floor above my uncle’s place, in Mumbai. We’ll call him J.
Whenever I visited Mumbai as a kid, we would usually stay at my uncle’s place. This boy would usually be in and out of my uncle’s house. My cousin and I would laugh about his effeminate ways. You couldn’t blame us because we were at that age and this guy lisped and would quite often strike that ‘classic’ feminine pose, one hand on his hip and the other on his lip, but we never teased him, because basically he was a nice kid, gentle and very affectionate.
Anyway we all grew up and went our ways. Many years later, when I visited Mumbai one day, as I was climbing up the stairs to my uncle’s place, this rather stunning looking girl in heels and mini skirt, and smelling really sexy, sashayed past me. I looked back admiringly at her long legs, because they were – in one word – stunning!
When I entered my uncle’s place I asked my cousin whether he had acquired new neighbours. We were almost the same age so discussed things that boys usually do. When he replied in the negative, I told him about the stunning woman I had passed on the staircase. This guy just went hysterical. I mean he was laughing like a hyena, hitting the sofa till he had tears rolling down. I couldn’t understand what the guy was going ballistic about.
According to him, the stunner I passed on the staircase was none other than our good friend J and he was now Ms J once the sun set. Here’s where the story turned really interesting. It seems J was very interested in doing hotel management, but his people wouldn’t give him the money.
First he asked, then he demanded and finally he pleaded, but his family refused to relent. They thought he was a wastrel. The funny thing was that he had a sister, who wore even shorter skirts and did things most respectable girls wouldn’t do even with their eyes closed! But she wasn’t told a thing.
Anyway, so when J’s plea was rejected for the umpteenth time with the comment, that if he wanted to follow his dream, he would have to do it on his own he did a crazy thing. He took a bus to Goa.
He was back a week later, by flight, with even more money than was required for the course. I listened to my cousin in incredulous silence as he narrated this tale. But that still didn’t explain J’s cross-dressing ways. And this is the best part. It seems he never forgave his family for what they did to him and dressed up that way to humiliate them. Worse, he walked the streets and scandalized the people who knew him and his family.
A few days later, one evening, as I was waiting for a bus outside Churchgate station, I saw J walking towards me. Everyone was sniggering at him and he was looking at me! When I caught his eye I think he realized that I was mortified by the sight of him in heels and skirt. He walked past me without a look. I never saw him again.
Years later, I learnt that he had stopped cross-dressing because his family finally accepted him the way he was. Not only did J do hotel management, he made a success of it after he went to Delhi and worked at one of Delhi’s finest five-star hotels. He also lived with a powerful right-wing politician for quite a few years.
So in all the talk about Section 377, I think we should remember, that someone’s ‘orientation’ still gives him or her the right to lead a normal life. And it’s the babas and the politicians that need to get a reality check for their state of mind.