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Saturday, December 31, 2005


Just a rambling litany of things that struck me as pertinent that year—hence may bear no relation to material fact.
Many mentioned below could be reviewed later

Best Films seen in 2005

1) Finding Neverland
2) Maqbool
3) My Brother Nikhil
4) Shwaas
5) Monster’s Ball
6) Lakshya
7) Unnal Mudhiyam Thambi
8) Yahaan
9) Shrek 2
10) Dhoom
11) Khwahish

Worst Films seen in 2005

1) Sarkar
2) Kill Bull –part 2 , whatever
3) Hulchul
4) Saathiya
5) Sleepless in Seattle
6) The Hours
7) Black
8) Good Will Hunting
9) Page 3
10) ET Redux

Best Books Read in 2005

1) Abandon-Pico Iyer
2) Snow- Orhan Pamuk
3) The Brainfever Bird-Allan Sealy
4) Franny and Zooey-J D Salinger
5) The Point of Return- Siddhartha Deb
6) The Glass Palace- Amitav Ghosh
7) The White Castle-Orhan Pamuk
8) In Times of Siege-Githa Hariharan
9) The Long Strider-Dom Moraes & Sarayu Srivatsa
10) The Summer Book-Tove Jansson

Worst Books read in 2005

1) In Between the Sheets-Ian McEwan
2) Show Business-Shashi Tharoor
3) Ravan and Eddie-Kiran Nagarkar
4) Mammaries of the welfare state- Upamanyu Chatterjee
5) Delhi-Khushwant Singh
6) Siddhartha –Herman Hesse
7) Vernon God Little- D B C Pierre

( Enough. Let me not consign worthy books to this list )


Men of the Year: Ivan Ljubicic, Kenenisa Bekele, Frank Lampard
Women of the Year: Yelena Isinbayeva, Tonique Williams Darling, Annika Sorenstam

Farewell: Jan-Ove Waldner, Kelly Holmes, Todd Woodbridge, Graham Thorpe


Thursday, December 29, 2005


The Assamese film called Aakashitoraar Kathare.( which means A Tale told a Thousand Times) has its leitmotif the eternal predicament of a woman caught up inextricably in a man’s world, swept up in the turn of events that test, taunt and tease her to accepting the very existence that she decried and even sought to rewrite.

The intelligent and articulate protagonist, Aakashitoraar is a Social Researcher, doing a Project on the status of women in various tribes of the land. On one of her visits, a middle-aged Raghab Chowdhury , Deputy Commissioner in one of the outposts, who asks for her hand in marriage and her conservative family gladly acquiesces. Her initial sunny disposition on marrying a progressive man quickly clouds over as an officious Raghab fixedly deters her high-spirited attempts to continue her career, travel and pursue her interests. Saddled into motherhood which she really doesn’t want, she finally dissolves in an ocean of disenchanted tears.

While it could have trodden the familiar path of an angst-ridden , the lady director Manju Bora scrupulously eschews dramatic flourishes and lets the viewer feel the pathos of the characters. Some soulful flute notes serve as an accompaniment as do the other “tribal” music strains that form the musical background of the film. The antipathy of the urban intellect towards an arguably primeval mode of living adopted and perpetuated by the tribals, a track touched upon by Ray’s Agantuk, finds voice in an earnest young spokesperson-cum-social activist, who Aakashitoraar meets on her sojourns and it is he who speaks with an optimistic familiarity and feeling about the Hudum puja rituals and their subsumed significance.

Some spellbinding cinematic moments are in the symbolic reversal of direction of the train on the same train journey that Aakashitoraar undertakes, to indicate the change that will come over her life after wedding Raghab. Forced to play the urbane sophisticated but ultimately trophy wife in one of Raghab’s stodgy and stuffy parties, the songs that plays in the background are Ace of Base’s It’s a Beautiful Life and I’m Alive by Celine Dion, and the poignancy cannot be missed. Another visual impression employed by the director is for the protagonist to look sideways away from the setting and into the camera almost inviting the viewer to share and sympathize.

In some way or other, I imagine most Indian educated women would face these tribulations at some stage and my long association with Army life only emboldens me to say that the implicit subjugation of and complicit admissions made by women married to “career” husbands is a truth easily suppressed, sanguinely ignored and perhaps best forgotten.
(Ed-You conveniently overlook the opportunities that may be glossed over and potential wasted by even those women who may not be “educated”!).


Thursday, December 22, 2005


In the days of yore, I once had a classmate called Durlabh Deka. His first name caused much mirth as in our boyish minds and his distinctly Mongoloid features did little to mitigate the differences between him and his other schoolmates. He belonged to a town called Naugaon, Assam, a region in the news annually because of the flooding—a fact that his peers never let him forget. He had a prodigious memory for national capitals, he claimed to remember the capitals for all 153 countries that existed in those uncertain times. So conversation on the economic status of Azerbaijan would determinedly veer towards Baku, the rainfall of Angola could never be analysed without mentioning Luanda, and so on..

In those days, we played cricket inevitably with a large pole as the stumps, a rock-solid rock deposit of indeterminate origin and structure as the ball, and a contrived wooden piece of artwork as the bat. The revolting winds of bat dominating ball, sweeping across the world, were yet to affect us schoolboys and saying that batting on those uneven surfaces was precarious and fraught with probable damage to knees, ankles and toes.

Your’re a better man than I, Gunga Din !

Into this playing field stepped Durlabh, willing to cast himself quite willingly into an opener’s role, and first strike at that. While it would be a travesty to say that he coaxed magic out of that unshapely wooden contraption which we unbelievingly called a bat, he was quite effective in brandishing his wand this way and that. He flayed the hapless bowlers to all parts of the ground, he scattered those who dared to get in to field at close-in positions and usually if he stayed in for more than two overs ( We are talking of 8 & 10 over matches ) , the side was off to a smashing good start. And that was the problem—if !

His initial success achieved with an ungainly stance, elliptical backlift and no footwork outlived him and as the season wore on, bowlers got wise and were able to snaffle him in the first over. He self-destructed often enough to give the bowling side enough hope and surprisingly, he held on to his opener’s role by virtue of the fact that there were no volunteers for the slot, and on those days he did fire, he quickly put the game beyond the opponent’s reach. So although he failed more frequently than he succeeded, he continued because he could succeed and that was enough.. Never mind the statistics, he could succeed and that was enough. Never mind the (absence of) technique, he could succeed and that was enough. Never mind the conspicuous absence of planning, he could succeed and that was enough. He could succeed, and so he stayed.

Now, Durlabh unwittingly bears an eerie verisimilitude to a certain corpulent member of the Indian cricket team, who began with a bang but whose u. stance, ell. backlift and no footwork has caught up with him as the result of which he has managed two fifties in his last thirty ODIs and hardly any in his last Tests. He plays with gay abandon and it matters to him not what the team needs. He can only do one thing and he does it mindlessly, shamelessly, and irresponsibly. Yet short of admonition and flak, he has received that ultimate ode to success, the captaincy and has now acquired that ubiquitous sign of success and opulence, a designer pot-belly.

One is clueless as to when, how and where he will fire next, as he is himself, but where others would have given him the sack, India eulogizes him. He deserves to get dropped, but I have a feeling he won’t.


Monday, December 19, 2005


The forlorn, sullen and hapless figure of Chintamani Singh Lahoti sank into his oversized leather sofa. He kicked off his jootis and yelled to Praveen's mother ( translated) to make him a steaming cup of tea. Nothing to beat a hot cuppa when one was under the cosh and had run out of simple solutions. It had been another fruitless and exasperating day at Parliament today.
The smart ones had again strutted and preened as if they owned the place, and once again he and his cohorts had had to listen to the diatribe against people of his generation—those who did not use gmail, iPods, or even MP3 and whose linguistic proficiency in English was minimal, dwarfed by their political acumen and native pragmatism. His twelve-year old lad, Praveen ran in chased by his equally-irritating neighbour Rajeev. He knocked over a table , had his rose collection in disarray and came to an abrupt halt after being stopped in mid-flight by a sofa. Chintamani in his earthy dialect politely asked Rajeev to take his goodly self out of his house and buttonholed Praveen. “ Can you help with my work ? It’s in English. “ A remorseful Praveen hang his head, he had let his father down once again. That old family failing of the Raj’s language smote him hard as it had many generations before him. Chintamani ruefully shook his heavy head and drank his tea with his slurping almost audible in his native Rajnandgaon. Resting his head against the comfortable softness of the sofa, he went over the earlier episode in his mind.

The Likeable Kind Adorable leader was chairing one of his last meetings. He chided them for their pronounced silence in Parliament proceedings in contrast to the eloquent chirpiness of the rival party. We are in a minority, my friends, he droned on and we must be heard. His meandering mind drifted to the good old days when they , with a strength of just a handful, raised Cain and were seen as the most strident and strong of all. And today, these middle-aged men, purportedly Generation Next, sat silent. It was a tough call, he knew, to have all Parliament questions in English, as many of his colleagues had not a passing idea of this hitherto alien tongue. We must ensure that we ask intelligent, pointed, leading questions—that will show others our erudition and hold on the electorate, our Indian electorate, he said. Why then must the questions be in English, Sir, a lean leader of the Vindhyas asked. That is not the issue, the LKA leader screeched, the point is, we must be heard, our presence must be felt, we must change, he closed the meeting after cheery handshakes and he too knew, his coterie was not up to the task this time.

Over dinner, Praveen already tucked in, Chintamani was unusually quiet, a fact duly noted by that paragon of Indian domesticity-his wife Phoolwanti ( translated ) What is the problem, dear-you look very distraught ? Can I help in any way ? C clasped her hands to his and said ( translated ), I can only confide in you, P, these angrezi braggarts have made life tough. We have to submit at least five English questions on contemporary topics in Parliament tomorrow. And you well know my ineptitude in either. Praveen gets help from subject guides, cannot you do the same, she persisted. C smiled, how little his wife knew of matters of national importance-- published guides, he sneered. Don’t worry, something will turn up, she consoled him, ever the optimist.

Quaking with fear of scorn and disdain, unable to spend time with his beloved plants, Chintamani was driven to his workplace. He met his morose Party colleagues, they exchanged weak smiles and lifeless handshakes. After all, they shared his discomfiture with the task on hand, their education or lack of it had seen to that.
He heard a voice behind him, Arrey Mantriji, won’t you spend some time with us ? Anil Behra, in a ludicrous wig motioned to him to come over around the building –not here, would like to speak in private, he said. Yes, what is it, a breathless C who had followed him asked. Behra was with his colleague Suvarna Rani who was dressed to kill. Behra introduced his organization, Nag Daak sotto voce and his motto-to deliver information to whoever required it. We communicate stealthily , his pitch ended and C blinked twice. So what this bloke was saying was that he would give him some questions that C could pass off and submit as his own.
And how much would Behra want for this, er, service ? The response, which came from the glib Suvarna rattled him and he blanked out. Regaining his composure, he mustered up the presence of mind to say ( translated ) Okay, we shall see. We are ministers, we can commit nothing without proper examination of the facts. I will revert. Behra, thinking fast, sweetened his deal even as C was retreating into the foyer of the House—I could even help your other friends in similar distress, he said to the swarthy back of C, they need not be left out. I will see, C called. ( translated )

We are saved, P, all the results of your devotion and purity of mind, ( translated ) C gushed to his blushing wife at dinner. So, somebody came forward to help you, she goaded. C recited the day’s events with dramatic flair, he knew when he had an audience. So, ask, ask how much I am to pay for all this , C( translated ) bantered. Upon receiving an ignorant nod, C swelled up and recited the most satisfactory finale of the tale, No, Phoolwanti, you don’t understand, even I didn’t at first, I don’t have to pay them anything.It’s a new fangled concept, in fact they are paying me money to submit the questions, his triumphant explanation trilled on …..


Monday, December 12, 2005


Overstayed the Sunday night chill to watch an enthralling Davis Cup tie going the distance in Bratislava, the mercurial Croatia finally downing a feisty Slovakia 3-2, a contest I had called a 5-0 drubbing in favour of the eventual champions. How little we know ! (Ed—Er, you know !)

Hats off to the Slovaks under Big Cat Mecir—first Karol Beck, who even at his best may have been caught short, couldn’t pass a fitness test and then for the second set of rubbers, Karol Kucera , that old warhorse ruled himself out so it was left to a Challengers stalwart, Michal Mertinek to try and match Ancic’s prowess, who eventually won, incredibly, his first live rubber this year and won the Croats the Cup. Hrbaty’s victory against a fitter, stronger and an in-form Ljubicic would be one of the best Cup performances I’ve seen and made the tie appear far far closer than what it ought to have been.

After a slow start where they held off an inexplicably paralysed USA on their turf, where both Roddick and Agassi were outplayed by Ivan Ljubicic, the undisputed hero of this year’s triumph. The Bryan twins actually lost to Ancic & Ljubicic and that was the turning point..
Agassi seemed to run out of ideas and perhaps that waning American patriotism stemming from an Iranian lineage caught up with him-he’s missed most Davis Cup matches and although he has a great record, he’s hardly ever been there when it mattered. Of late, players like James Blake and Fish, and Richey Reneberg have catapulted themselves to undeserved fame. That other imposter, Sampras publicly eschewed the Davis Cup, and ended his career with a 15-8 record, a win-loss percentage that is just about what Leander has managed; despite Lee playing most matches against higher ranked opponents and Sampras, almost certainly the favourite in all matches. Again, his Hellenic ancestry may have asserted itself.

Having stopped the USA in their tracks, Croatia got better and beat Romania and Russia before reaching their first ever Finals. All credit to the balding Ljubicic—a single handed effort. The Slovaks have an even more unbelievable story. They humbled the defending champions, Spain before ousting Holland and then Argentina, all facile 4-1 victories, a truly remarkable team effort. Hrbaty, a former World Junior Champion, has had more success than other junior champs like him, Jason Stoltenberg, Nicolas Pereira, Leif Shiras, Oleg Ogdorov among others, and has been an outstanding team player, having won the Hopman Cup partnering the wispy Daniela Hantuchova, who I missed sorely during the tie.

Another curious aspect seems to be that although the home team gets to pick the surface, practically the climate and the players, the results show otherwise. Despite the overwhelming odds against the visitors, they appear to have fared well—in the past decade or so, teams like France, USA, Australia, Sweden and now Croatia have successfully conquered foreign conditions and worthy opponents. Some home teams have made hosting the tie in obscure far-flung outposts in blustery winds and biting chill an art form. So one will hear about venues like Gotenberg, Malmo ( hometown of Mats Wilander ), Nice and Sochi, a Russian hamlet by the Black Sea that the devious Russians Kafelnikov and Safin have tried to exploit without success.

My guess is that there’s no feeling quite like getting your hands on the unwieldy and homely Cup. Sober men have turned crooners –Alex Corretja couldn’t stop singing and serenading when Spain won the first time, Nicklas Kulti has played the guitar on National television and even Becker was jumping around when West Germany won. Mario and Ivan will celebrate long and hard !

Already the naïve public clamour for shorter matches and TV-decided schedules, led by the abrasive Americans and one can imagine the already wan interest dipping further. If the curtain does come down , it may be sport’s perennial loss.

And what do you know ? This year even Mary Pierce discovered for herself the boundless joys of team championships and sorely missed winning, losing out to Dementieva and the Russians in the finals of the Fed Cup.


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