Archive for September, 2011


Why did I choose the title of an Alistair Maclean bestseller? While that is about the world of Formula One and its fictional dirty underbelly, this post has nothing to with any of those subjects. But it does have to do with the perils of riding at high speeds. I thought the death of Mohd. Ayazuddin and his cousin Ajmal in the motorcycle mishap in Hyderabad recently would re-ignite the debate on safe riding and driving. You would have expected well known personalities, if not Md. Azharuddin himself, coming forward to promote that aspect. Strangely, there’s been deathly silence on the subject.

This was not just a case of an accident or a motorcycle hit by another bigger vehicle resulting in the deaths of two youngsters. This was a case of two rich kids riding a superbike at high speed without any protective gear, except a crash helmet. And a crash helmet, especially the kind made in India for city driving, isn’t much use if you’re doing speeds of 200 kmph or more. This one split open on impact. Strangely enough, apart from that they didn’t have any other protective gear, like jackets, boots, gloves etc. which are considered mandatory while riding such superbikes.

In my short stint with Car & Bike India, whatever I may or may not have learnt about vehicles, the one thing I did learn was the importance of protective gear while riding and driving. When the guys went out to test motorcycles I saw them carrying jackets, boots, gloves, helmets and other protective gear. When you’re testing a superbike or even a 250 cc bike that can touch high speeds, all it takes is a second’s indecision to cause a fatal crash. And no matter how much of an expert you are, you can’t predict when you’ll be confronted by a stray dog or even a bump on the road that could prove fatal.

While companies that sell such superbikes do give buyers the necessary instructions on safety gear, kids with a penchant for speed and thrills usually disregard them. Sadly, numerous parents don’t believe in cautioning their children on the dangers of riding and driving without protective gear. And these kids too think they are old enough to not take advice and have enough expertise on the subject. Unfortunately, it takes just one fatal second to change all that.

I remember driving in Mumbai around four years ago, and while on the Kemps Corner flyover, even as I kept to the left, two kids on two very powerful bikes, without helmets, suddenly roared past me from either side. One bike suddenly came up on my right and it was so close that it startled me enough to make me swerve to the left. In that split second, the guy on the left went past. I still wonder how I didn’t nudge him over the flyover and down onto the road below.

A sports journalist, who was given information about the Ayazuddin accident, told me some of the facts regarding the incident. He said that the two kids were freaking out on a bike registered in the name of a ‘shoe-wallah’, because Azharauddin could not make this Rs 15 lakh gift to his son official. Then the guys were drag racing on that smooth airport road wide enough for two trucks to pass easily. The money at stake was Rs One lakh and those who placed the bet, just sped away after the accident leaving the injured kids lying there. A passerby informed the police of the accident. Finally, they were riding a 1000cc+ Suzuki Hayabusa in jeans and T-shirt. At the hospital, Ayazuddin was brought in brain dead. The doctors also had to remove a liver and kept him alive by pumping his heart, although he was technically dead.

This is where automobile magazines can play such a huge part. They can carry out a sustained campaign on the perils of high speed riding and driving and the importance of wearing protective gear. Unfortunately, in this very market-oriented environment most of them believe that their sole objective is to inform readers of the new products in the market, do test drives, cover racing events around the globe and publish pictures of narcissistic youngsters who get themselves photographed doing daredevil stunts. I remember, on one occasion the Editor refused to carry a story in one of the issues, because the writer had been photographed doing stunts on a two-wheeler without the mandatory protective clothing and gear. However, that obviously isn’t enough, as the Ayazuddin incident has proved.

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Childhood memories are the ones that remain for ever. I was in the Eighth Standard, when India won their first-ever series against the West Indies and England in 1971, under Ajit Wadekar.

Holidaying in Ootacamund (now Udhagamandalam), at the Blue Mountain’s School, where my mother used to teach, I was told by her, one afternoon, that Rajesh Khanna and Sharmila Tagore were paying a visit to the school, because they were friends of the owners.

The two stars were shooting for Daag in Ooty and had consented to visit the school to interact with the children. The children, which included me, were agog at the news. I mean, who could imagine that they would be meeting the stars of Aradhana in the flesh? And Rajesh Khanna was then a rage.

By the time it was evening, the students were impatiently waiting for their favourite stars, and as the cars drew up to the school porch, the excitement knew no bounds! And then everyone got the shock of their lives. The more ‘senior’ of the boys, including me, let out a whoop of delight, because guess who got out of the car – little Gundappa Vishwanath and a rather dapper Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, accompanied by C.D. Gopinath, then the Chairman of the selection commitee.

Pataudi was extremely apologetic to the little ones for Sharmila and Rajesh’s absence (“they were very tired after a long day’s shoot”), but then went ahead and spoke to the students for over an hour on Indian cricket. Among the students, who listened to the two cricket legends were the son and nephew of former Indian Test opener Madhav Apte and the nephew of C.D. Gopinath – all three real chips of the old block.

I remember asking Vishy the journalist’s standard stupid question – ‘Did you ever think you’ll score a century after getting a duck in your first Test?’ But thankfully I left out the classic question: How did you feel after scoring the century? I guess, I was just destined to join the profession I am in!!

Pataudi was his usual suave self and I remember he referred to the Indian cricketer’s attitude of staying put in the team till he got the boot! Some things haven’t really changed much, have they?
He himself retired after the West Indies series of 1974-75, which India lost 3-2, after being 0-2 down.

I also remember watching Pataudi, leading the Rest of India against Ajit Wadekar’s Indian team that had returned from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1972 or 1973, at the Nehru Stadium in Pune. He spanked (and there is no other word to describe that inning) Wadekar’s India XI bowlers. Young Anshuman Gaekwad watched from the other end stuck on 44, as a rampaging Tiger blasted his way to 144, if I remember right, with 7 sixes, most of them off Paddy Shivalkar – and all into the crowd.

I also watched him race from long off to long on, pick up the ball on the run and throw it in, flat and hard, to shatter the stumps from the boundary ropes. I guess, that’s what made him (as a newspaper referred to him today as) India’s favourite Tiger. They don’t make ’em like him anymore. Goodbye Tiger!

Life does come a full circle!

Posted: September 21, 2011 in journalism
Tags: , ,

It’s been a while since I posted last. Since then so many things have happened.

I’ve helped a young lady jump from obscurity to fame/notoriety to near obscurity. I did my two cents worth by posting her link on my Facebook page and let things take their course.

Sorry for showing off, but I did play a hand, albeit a very small one in the young lady’s brief encounter with fame. I guess she also realises that one rant can get her to the top, but the problem is staying there – if she really wants to, that is.

But credit’s due to this young lady. She did in less than a week what I, and I’m sure a million others like me, have been struggling to achieve in two years – and are still nowhere remotely close!

Oh, yes, I also changed jobs. Quit my ‘fancy’ job at the two auto magazines and chose to return to a newspaper, which in its former avatar was the entity from where I started my journalism career –  only now it’s called something else and has new owners.

The nice thing is that it has some  familiar faces and is a much more modern version of the one I left 13 years ago. But it is NOT,  a remnant of the old one in any way.

‘Why am I joining a ‘small’ newspaper’ is what someone asked me. Well, I worked in some ‘big’ places with fancy reputations – both in media and software – and, frankly, considering their formidable reputations, their working left a lot to be desired.

And then, I was missing out on teaching at various places, due to the time constraints in my magazine job. That’s not an issue anymore. Now, it’s really up to me to decide if I want to.

There is something more  happening on the domestic front. But let’s wait for the ink to be put to paper before we celebrate! Touch wood and fingers crossed.


Last Thursday I was at Pune International Airport on my way to Kochi via Bengaluru. Since I had just some hand luggage I ran it through the scanner and as I stepped forward for a body check, I was watching the face of the security personnel. It was 5.30 am, and he was either completely bored with his job or still only half awake, because he ran the metal detector over my person, in a manner that suggested that he would rather be back home in bed. He was anything but sleepy, as I realised later. At one point as he ran the device under my arms he asked me what was in my trouser pocket! Taken aback, I pulled out some pieces of mint. He ran the device over it and then I wondered whether he was going to ask me to swallow one, just to see if I would self-destruct! He then opened my wallet and saw my PRESS card and decided that I was harmless. But he still ran the device over it before letting me through.

At the Bengaluru International Airport, the same afternoon, as I was passing through security, to take the flight to Kochi, I watched very interestedly as an elderly but dishevelled gentleman with a slight speech disorder argued with the security personnel about the aftershave in his bag. The uniformed chap just pulled out the aftershave and a canister of deodorant and asked the old man very quietly which one he wanted to retain. As the man argued on, the security guy, silently, picked up the deo and flung it on the floor, where it lay with a dozen or so more such canisters. He then picked up a cigarette lighter and flung that down as well. By then the old man had turned red and sullen. He turned sarcastically to the security man and asked if he wanted the cigarette packet too. The guy smirked and stuck out his palm. The old man realised he was beaten and quietly left.

Even more interesting was the scene a few feet away. A bearded young man was asked to open his bags and remove everything. The securityman then opened a Bournvita bottle which was among his stuff. He then stuck a pin-shaped metal detector inside, then pulled it out and inserted into a machine with a computer screen. He did that with each bottle and this kid had quite a few. He was obviously a student going back to college loaded with goodies his mom must have packed for him. Very patiently the kid opened each bottle and shut it after it was checked and repacked all his stuff. But he didn’t once lose his cool and even thanked the security personnel as he left.

Yesterday, as I watched the scenes of the carnage at the Delhi High Court, I thought about the scene at the Pune and Bengaluru airports and thanked my stars that at least someone cared for our safety. What is even more tragic is the fact that the incident could have been avoided if the cops had been more vigilant and had there been CCTVs installed, the procurement of which was still in the tendering process, since July last after a bomb was discovered at the same venue. Unfortunately, what’s more important for our officials is to clear a ward of ‘unwelcome’ relatives visiting the seriously injured, because some politicians want to indulge in their five minutes of PR activity.

And then today, a Pune tabloid had a front-page report about the Pune Railway station, which said that conscientious passengers got their baggage scanned on their own since there was no experienced person manning the x-ray machines! So when did you last hear about a bomb-carrying terrorist putting his baggage through a scanner? Well if the Pune Police is to be believed, that’s probably what they are expecting. Also, that there was no security paraphernalia at such places even two hours after the blast in Delhi. So much for terror alerts and messages on being vigilant! And this in a city now recognised, as a sanctuary for terrorist sleeper cells.

I am appalled at the complete lack of urgency being shown by the cops. I understand that they are severely short-staffed and are jittery about the mayhem that could be caused if something untoward occurs at the Ganesh mandals, but to leave a railway station or a bus terminal completely unguarded is asking for trouble. When will our cops learn that it’s no use checking bags after a blast? I guess this happens because of the general attitude of “jab hoga tab dekha jayega” that pervades every strata of our society. But they’re not alone to blame. A lot of us are like the old man, when we should be like the young guy who I saw at Bengaluru airport.