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Saturday, June 24, 2006


R Sriram, MD & CEO of Crossword Bookstores resigned this week. Easily the most visible face of the reading fraternity, if there is indeed one,his immediate plans are of now unannounced and there are faint rumours of his joining a prominent firm of the retail industry.
"Crossword was founded in 1992 by Mr R. Sriram and Ms K. Anita along with a young team for India Book House Limited and the first Crossword store opened on 15th October 1992 at Mahalaxmi, Mumbai.

The current promoters Shoppers' Stop Limited, India's leading department store chain and ICICI Ventures, part of India's leading financial services group, took over the Company on 31st March 2000
. "

Some of the measures that Crossword has tried out with varying success in the forlorn hope of making reading a lifestyle statement are layouts of capacious reading space and furniture in stores, ubiquitous voucher and gifting options, annual literary awards and The CEO recommends series. My surmise is that the existing business model itself is also now perhaps seen as open to question-my past digs notwithstanding.

Sriram had made himself accessible to most media and was consulted on topical issues including during the Harry Pottery show. Seen as a genial and gentle sort who had found his calling in his role and successfully blending what may have been a personal interest with business elements, I cannot help feeling that somewhere somehow this is the beginning of the end. And if he does indeed change sectors, a few bibliophiles would at least consider themselves betrayed now that Davidar’s blue mangoes are splayed across icy Canadian contours.

And I guess we always knew that commerce would trump idealism anyday, so why am I even bothering ?

PS- The world’s most talented legspinner submits his apologies as being temporarily inconvenienced and his consequent inability to impart his legendary skills of bowling a googly to admiring acolytes.During a recent office vaccination drive, he, ever the smooth operator, was dragged kicking and screaming to the doctor who duly inj(f)ected him with the mandatory immunity shot thus rendering him unwilling to rotate his shoulder as needed for a googly, as aspiring leggies would know.


Thursday, June 01, 2006


One of the many disadvantages of speaking not being able to speak sotto voce in a crowded public place is the obvious one that folks around you overhear, and exercise their freedom in judging the sequence, stream and sanity of an individual by a few garbled words. On my last trip back from Bangalore, we—my badminton-loving colleague, Brian Tellis and Neale Murray & I were raving about our favourite players, all brought upon by Saina Nehwal reaching an important seminfinal and to which we shall return in a moment, when an angular youth gently brought himself down to our heights and politely enquired if we were interested in the game. On my replying in the affirmative, he beamed and we chattered away happily for some time.

It turned out that he was Ajay Jayaram, 18, a former India No. 1 in the Juniors, still No. 1 by ranking and currently ranked No. 9 in the Seniors who had come in to attend a camp held at the Padukone Academy in the Garden City. I embarrassed myself by not being able to place him and after we had yakked about other promising youngsters like Jishnu Sanyal, P Kashyap and Anand Pawar ( Uday’s son) , I guess the ignominy was all mine in not remembering his name especially when we met. Truly shameful !

We spoke briefly of the pressures of balancing a not entirely fruitless academic career, he a First Year student at Poddar, but mostly of game styles. He was visibly dismayed by the fact that his too was a typically “ Indian’ game—lots of poise and finesse at the net and around the court but perhaps a little short on the strength and power that a speedy player uses to stifle any challenge which an opponent of the above style can mount. Such a game, like most other ball sports, is a visual delight but will almost continually not win titles. Aggression, speed, muscle matter and Indians don’t prize these attributes.

And which brings back to the exploits of the young North Indian lass who has chosen to settle in Hyderabad—coach S Mohd. Arif and now P Gopichand will ensure that her potential does find an expression in an arena that many before her have floundered. She ended the long unbeaten streak of Aparna Popat earlier, who had last lost to an Indian in 2001, G Jwala if that makes a difference. What I like about her game is that unlike almost all of her ilk, she has a no-nonsense power game that thrives on foot speed, competent but never spectacular racquet control especially at the net and tremendous upper body strength and flexibility. Not since Manjusha Pawangadkar have we seen one so direct in approach and simple in style, and not lacking in effectiveness too. Grace and sinuousness aren’t really her forte and that is perfectly fine, as long as she works on her stamina and mental strength. Tipped for higher laurels, this World No. 86 hopefully will do her coach proud one day. And with a playing style that will remain antithetical to the Indian deities of sophistication, aplomb, artistry and a mindless craving for felicity of shot-making at the expense of winning points, games, matches, titles.



As if words that spell disaster weren’t quite enough, the Big Yellow magazine has a national contest going called the N G Bee. (Why that unfortunate insect is cited for all these heists in the United States is beyond me but I don’t want to get stung ). The winner this year was a chappie called Bonny Jain, an Indian-American resident of Moline, Illinois who saw off the challenge of two other precocious teenagers of Indian origin.

The bespectacled fella was almost immediately off to swot for the Spelling Bee contest, which he had entered into last year and done rather well.

I am reliably informed that our American brethren are largely mystified by the demands of geography and can barely identify their own country on the map. Happily, this doesn’t seem to spur them on to spending inordinate resources correcting this potentially dangerous aberration.
In such a country, little wonder perhaps that the winners would be nerdy bookworms who have nothing better to do than memorize large tracts of faceless data just for the prestige of hauling in a meaningless annual affair. And little wonder that so many of these kids are of Indian origin. Living out the dreams of their beaten parents, toiling, perservering……. All just to be seen as successful in a land that is and will remain alien to them !
My gripe remains that of all dazzling array of things possible in a land, folks choose to bury themselves in a pastime that comes naturally to them. Crashing bores !

At least the actual bees make honey …


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