Friday, December 25, 2009

Sporting spectacles in 2010

2010 is just days away. And the purest form of human expression, sport, is all lined up in what promises to a wonderful year for the sports buff. Well, there exists an outlet for every known human being; a road that brings immense joy when travelled. For some it is films, for some it is music and for some it is reading. All of the aforesaid are activities that I indulge in very regularly, besides travel, friends and……sport.

Sport, to me, embodies the most supreme form of human expression. Victory and defeat, emotion and passion, courage and commitment all are unbridled and pure in sport, because sport is not scripted. And because of this truth being stranger than fiction, I have been a devotee since ever. So where, in 2010, would this devotee look forward to worship? Let me list it down for you.

Roger Federer Vs. Rafael Nadal:

2009 was a great year for Fedex. He won the French Open for the first time and regained Wimbledon. He also regained his world No.1 ranking. Now, I am a big Federer fan, but somehow I would have been happier to see him accomplish the aforesaid with Rafa being around. Injury put him out for the better part of 2009, but he is back and would come all guns blazing in 2010. I look forward to these two supreme gladiators slugging it out, for the No.1 ranking, for titles, making it a wonderful treat for lovers of this sport.

T20 Cricket World Cup:

Yes, the previous world cup of the shortest edition happened 9 months back, so another world cup sounds weird. Well, India playing 2 tests is also weird. IPL – 3 is certainly happening. However, there is no greater thrill than seeing the cricketers of India don the national colours and play for flag and country. Playing for a franchisee owned by cement barons, liquor barons, barons and movie stars is one thing; playing for the tri-colour is something else. C’mon India!!!

World Cup Football, South Africa:

The beautiful game would be played in its most superior form, in South Africa. The best nations would compete against each other to become crowned world champions. There will be passion, there will be thrill, there’ll be the agony of defeat and the joy of victory. All in all, it will be sport at its competitive best; and I will be watching it with the whole world. P.S. I am supporting Germany.

Michael Schumacher:

This is a dream come true. The greatest is coming back, after a gap of three years. Yes he would not race in a Ferrari, but I’d overlook that so long as Schumi races. It didn’t happen in 2009, but it will happen in 2010. Welcome back, Schumi, have the time of your life. The fans will surely love every moment; for Michael Schumacher gunning past the racing line is a sight for the gods.

These would be the sporting moments I look forward to in 2010 and, once the year is over, remember fondly. Bring it on!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Nobel prize is noble

Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace prize. It is richly deserved, after all the Nobel committee says so. Therefore, it must be fair and just that Obama got it. After all, politicians get elected on promise alone. And they needn’t merely be promises. They just need to make some sort of noises that would suggest that they are trying to look as if they are trying to do something. That ensures a presidential seat in the US, the prime-minister’s chair in India.

I do not know what the big deal is about Obama getting the peace prize. Especially, to us Indians. It was denied to Gandhi, big deal. Some may say that this makes the prize as prestigious as the Nobel look ridiculous. Well, Pratibha Patil as the President of India is no less ridiculous. We have accepted it and moved on, the same would happen with Obama.

And while we are at it, may I suggest a few more awards that fall in the league of the Obama Nobel and the Pratibha Patil presidency?

Here goes:

ICC Spirit of Cricket Award: Andrew Symonds & S Sreesanth

Best ‘Original’ music score: Pritam
Filmfare award for best performance in a lead role (Male) for 2009: Rani Mukherjee for Dil Bole Hadippa
Pulitzer prize for Fiction, 2009: Letters to Penthouse, whatever volume comes out this year
Magsaysay Award for Journalism: Shared equally by all the Bombay Times journos for cutting-edge journalism; Next year, it belongs to India TV
Bharat Ratna: Mohd. Afzal Guru; we are paying for his upkeep after he attacked the parliament, he deserves it
Oscar for best film in a foreign language: Deshdrohi
Human documentary of the year: Rakhi Ka Swayamwar
Best country to live in: Afghanistan
World’s favourite tourist destination: Baghdad

And may I add that I am forwarding my name for the Nobel Prize for medicine. After all, I have discovered that brandy and warm milk cures a cold in a jiffy.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Some dreams do come true

All good things do come to an end. I’d heard this adage many times, and I have seen it come true in ways big and small. There were times I did not realise that something wonderful would come to an end. In my naivety, I took them for granted. And when those times would come to an end, I’d realise suddenly what I have lost. At times, what I’d lost was irrevocable and the loss of it has left voids that would never be filled. The greatest grief has been the fact that I had taken those times, those people, those moments as a given. I never believed it would end.

I was away from home, staying in a different city, a carefree student. There was a phone call for me in my institute’s canteen, and I was called to attend it. I was playing table-tennis at that point of time. I walked out of the room to take the phone call, with my TT bat and the TT ball in hand. I was leading 19-12 (I remember the score clearly) and did not want anybody to take my place on the table, so I took the ball away while going to attend the phone call, and did not realise that moments later I would be told on the phone that my grand-father had left me for ever.

I do not remember what I did after I heard of it. I thought of the walks with him during my vacations, the way he would want me to study hard but play harder. But most of all, I thought of the wonderful stories he had told me, the unparalleled stories about people and life that this grand-child had heard sitting on his Dadu’s knee. He was is the greatest person I knew and never did it cross my mind that he would be taken away.

Many such great things came to an end. I finished my studies, and my days as a student came to an end. Till some time back, I stayed with my parents & my brother in the most beautiful house in the world but those days came to an end as well. Till 2006, I worshipped a sportsman more than any other and he retired.

What was common to all these ends was that there was always a new beginning. Three years after Dadu left us, Didi had a baby boy. In Rishi I saw, and still see, the everthing that is beautiful on Earth. When I left home, I formed a family with a bunch of people who had left theirs. We formed a bond for life, the kinds that I have with my folks. When my days as a student were over, I started a wonderful life as a working professional. I met new people and made some more wonderful friends for life. Along the way, I fell in love and then fell out of love to fall in and out again.

All of this made me realise that sometimes an end is a new beginning, though not always is the end linked to a new beginning. I realised that almost all voids can be filled. But even after being filled, I kept (and still keep) dreaming that I would be given back a few moments of my past. I dream of spending an afternoon with both Rishi and Dadu in tow. I keep dreaming that my house and my hostel are a 100 yards away. I dream that my friends from school, college and MBA are also working in the same organisation along with my new friends. And, I dreamt since 2006 that Schumi races again… just once.

All of my dreams were impractical and improbable, mostly impossible. Dead people don’t come to life, days gone by do not come back and inhabit with the days we are living. And sportsmen usually do not come back to active duty at the age of 40. Out of the scores of dreams, one dream has come true. Michael Schumacher will race again. I don’t know if he will race like the world beater that he was, but what I do know is that he will make me live my dream.

Once again I will wear the scarlet shirt. Once again I would wear the cap with the 7 world championship stars, once again I will say a silent prayer as Schumacher lines up at the starting grid, and once again I will scream “Go Schumi” at the top of my voice when he roars off the starting line. Maybe, I’ll also jump for joy if he wins.

And after all this is over I’ll still dream of walking in a park with my nephew in my lap. I’ll point at a rose to and say that “this is a crimson rose”, and while saying this I’ll turn to my right and tell Dadu “you remember, you told me about a crimson rose when you told me the story of The Nightingale & The Rose by Oscar Wilde?” The Schumi dream has come true so maybe this dream would also come true, just maybe……

Monday, July 13, 2009

The unlikely hero

Heroes turn up in unlikely places. They are heroes because of their deeds, not necessarily because the world (the media, primarily) talk about them, but because they make a difference. A difference to our lives, be it directly or indirectly. There emerged a hero yesterday, not for the first time, but he did emerge. This hero was responsible (as he claims) for the death of 6 people and serious injury to 15 others. I still call him a hero. Perhaps an explanation is due.

I’m talking about E Sreedharan, the Managing Director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), who resigned yesterday owning moral responsibility to an accident. An under-construction bridge of the Delhi metro collapsed, killing 6 and injuring many more. The reason this gentleman resigned, and I quote him, was – “For me even one casualty is too many. My colleagues advised against the resignation. Normally I listen to them but this time it is different. I have been in-charge of the project for 10 years. We have maintained a high safety mechanism. The first jolt was the Laxmi Nagar accident but this is a bigger setback".

I had heard of Sreedharan sometime in 2007, I suppose. He was the architect of the Delhi metro. This was one of the very few government projects that had been completed efficiently and well before time, quite unlike the Bandra-Worli sea link. Of course, this was not a first for Sreedharan. He had earlier achieved the near impossible, i.e. setting up the Konkan Railways. It was believed to be impossible and he did it in 7 years. The results are there for everybody to see. As a result of that, he was thrown the challenge of giving the capital its metro service. A challenge he accepted, on the verge of retirement, and achieved with distinction.

He had kept a reverse clock in his office, while the metro project was on, to keep people on their toes to meet the deadline. He was the one who made sure that this work ethic was imbibed among all that worked in DMRC, and they worked to achieve the deadline. And quality of work was not compromised. Yes, he was a hero.

Yet, this man resigns. Perhaps, because he is truly a leader. He did not rest on his laurels, and he has many. He could have come out stating that these things, however unfortunate, do happen. Given his impeccable record most would have swallowed it. But probably, he had his conscience to answer to, and that made him take the step he has taken.

I cast my mind back to the security lapses that have happened in India in the recent past. The last being the 26/11 incident. Shivraj Patil, with already a lot of blood in his hands, never resigned. He was sacked. The same with Vilasrao Deshmukh. The latter, though, has been rewarded with a minister-ship for failing in his primary duty as Chief Minister; that of protecting his citizens. The list of politicians is endless, who have failed miserably over a long period of time. Yet, they have no moral fibre that would make them own up a failure. Though they are responsible, they point fingers at others but hold on to their exalted positions. The never resign, but shamelessly stand for elections again.

But Sreedharan is different. In the past, he has given us a lot to be happy about. He has helped us save time, he has made distances disappear, made travelling a joy. Not just for us, but for the generations to follow. Yet, he could not take this lapse. It is an irony that a man this just and efficient and upright reports to a politician, the Chief Minister of Delhi.

He has taught us a lesson. He has taught us that we are just as good as our last performance, and not our past laurels. That there is a moral dimension to everything. What Sreedharan has done reminds me of a saying about a waterfall I read some time back – falling down from a somewhere so high has never looked as graceful or glorious. Well, Sreedharan has decided to fall with dignity. I guess this does make him an even greater hero.

Monday, July 06, 2009

There was a winner, and I didn't see a loser

Sport teaches. It enriches. And this isn’t restricted just to the people who play it, this extends to the people who watch as well, in fact the followers learn more. As I watched yesterday’s Wimbledon men’s singles epic final culminate to Federer lifting his 15th Grand Slam, a message was re-emphasised to me. The message was that in sport there is always a victor and a runner-up, but never a loser. This is not shown by a way a sportsman plays, but by the way the sportsman behaves after ending 2nd best. That is what Andy Roddick showed yesterday.
Roddick was the better player in the final, who never looked like his serve would be broken. Well, Federer won because he knows what it takes to be a champion, that he needs to stick around. He won because he hung on, because he refused to be a runner-up, because the grabbed the slightest opening (the only one in the whole match) that came his way. He did not win because he was the better player, for that was Roddick.
I cast my mind back to 2006. Michael Schumacher was racing like a dream, in Japan. It was his last season and he was fighting Alonso for the title. More than any of his fans he wanted to sign off as a world champion, for Michael Schumacher could never accept defeat. Then the unthinkable happened. His reliable Ferrari engine blew, with Schumacher leading the race, and with the engine went his chances of ending as a world champion. He’d never ever regain it. I thought that I’d see Schumacher walk out of the car disappointed, dejected, and walk into the Ferrari garage. After all, for no fault of his a championship, that was his for the taking, had gone away.
But there was a different script being written. Schumacher stepped out of his car, had a smile on his face. I don’t know what emotion hid behind it, but he was waving to the crowds as he walked back to the Ferrari pit, saying goodbye and thanking people. The Ferrari pit was a picture of dejection. The engineers and crew were heartbroken, because they had let Schumacher down at such a crucial juncture. But Schumi walked up to every one of them with a smile and hugged them all, consoling them. It seemed that he told them ‘forget about today, what you have done over the last 6 years is immeasurable. What happened today is a part of sport’.
As I saw that bit of magic unfold, this heartbroken fan learnt a lesson. That I should thank Schumacher for winning 7 championships and 91 races and not feel bad because he’s lost this one. The heart did not seem that broken then. I saw on screen a man who didn’t win, but who by no means was a loser.
A bit of that magic unfolded on Wimbledon’s centre court yesterday. Roger Federer walked all over centre court, carrying his trophy. In his corner, quietly sat the valiant Roddick. Teary eyed, with the runners-up plate, wondering what went wrong, but there was a difference. With those teary eyes he was looking at Federer parade and Roddick was giving his conqueror the most generous applause. It was genuine, it was dignified, it was tragic, and it was magical. He wasn’t moping and grumpy. He took his defeat like a sportsman. He lost to a man who did not play better tennis than him, but that did not stop Roddick from applauding one of the greatest feats in modern day tennis, 15 grand slams.
Maybe, Roddick’s day in the sun will come. Perhaps he would be a champion one day. He taught me the old lesson sport has been teaching me since forever, that why a defeated sportsman is not a loser. Maybe, he's a champion already...