Friday, 30 July 2010

2058 - India's tryst with Football World Cup.



Last month newspaper front pages, news channels lead stories and anchors, Facebook updates, tweets, youtube links, animated (does not mean cartoon), discussions in upmarket cafes and attendance in pubs - all of India went ballistic (there is no pun about football on that word. There is no pun of any kind on that word you sleazebag!), with the World Cup Football Finals. Every stall on Bandra Linking Road made a killing with football jerseys. Teenagers rolled in muddy maidans turned to slush by the rains and also managed to kick the ball occasionally. To cap it all, Television Viewership Data (decided by meters placed in real households of real people defined as people without an internet connection), convulsively proved that nobody was having sex during the World Cup. Sorry. Conclusively proved that more people were staying up and watching football than the people watching cricket.

Football fever had finally arrived in India.

As is the current fashion, the frenzy whipped (I think I said go away, you sleazebag), by the media resulted in every newspaper, Dick and news channel beginning to dream of world football dominion for India. Columns were written by ex-national team football players, marketing gurus and John Abraham or Bipasha Basu, depending on who got paid more. Breathless news reporters covered gully football matches and Rakhi Sawant on football (there is a connection. Or two). The media took the Jabulani ball apart to reveal its bladder (yeah, even footballs need to pee), tracked down the company that makes it to New Delhi and celebrated India’s contribution to the world cup of football. Facebook was flooded with updates like:

India for the next world cup!

I look forward to cheering India in the world cup.

I saw two boys playing football in my lane. My heart overflowed with joy and hope and pride.

We can do it.

One day Jana Gana Mana will be played in World Cup Finals.

World cup here we come!

Football should be made compulsory in school. Marks should be added to tenth standard results.

It is three weeks since the World Cup Final and the frenzy has been un-whipped. (You still here? There are no links to WAG pictures here. Go away.)
The news of Diego Forlan, the man with the golden boot (remember him? No, no connection to the Bond movie), is arriving in India and it is not news any more.
Real and virtual media are back to reporting Dhoni’s wedding, Murali’s 800 and test century number 48 by ‘god’. Little boys are discovering that if they use a football to play cricket it is impossible to get out. Or are trying to convince the shopkeeper to take back the football because ‘I didn’t play with it even once’ and exchange it for a cricket ball.

There in lies the reason why India will not play in the World Cup Football finals in the foreseeable future. Be it rich USA or Europe or be it the poverty-ridden African nations and drug-torn Latin American countries, or rank outsiders Korea and Japan, it is only when little boys play a sport in every by-lane and every garbage dump can a country produce sporting talent. Money, infrastructure, sponsorships, schools, media frenzy all come later.
And what do you think they are playing in the lanes of Mathura and on garbage dumps in Dharavi?

But don’t take my cynical word for it. 48 years from now the Indian football team will participate in the World Cup Finals. That is because we have a government that is a keen observer of its electorate and its mood. It has noted the genuine interest developed in football by the entire nation and has appointed a committee to improve football infrastructure in India. This committee will travel to all world-class football grounds in the world. This committee will be sacked after three years for corruption and a new committee will start all over again. Ten years from now work will commence on building world-class football stadia in all the major cities in the country. After five upward budget revisions and 41 years later they will be completed just in time to bid for the 2058 World Cup Football Finals. The bid will be approved by the president of FIFA (who also will be a minister in the Indian government), and India will host the Finals. 
As the host nation the India team will get to play first round matches.

Don’t believe me? Well, I have it from the world's highest authority in football - Paul.

Friday, 23 July 2010

A hair-raising evening


This was supposed to be a post about the changing interiors of good old men’s hair cutting saloons in Mumbai. Yes, hair cutting saloons and not hair salons. About how the Formica counters, metal chairs that weighed a ton and mirrors facing each other to create infinite reflections have given way to wannabe swank expressed through square fake leather chairs and mobile plastic drawers that roll around on castors. This was supposed to be a nostalgic note about cheap men’s talcum powder tins sporting floral designs and white fluorescent tube lights giving way to free samples of multinational brands and tastefully concealed CFL lights. ‘OUCH! Have you cut me?!’ ‘Sorry sir, light is little dim and that is your sweat soaking your shirt...’

But one man changed all that.

Tall, broad of shoulder and deep of chest, long of hair and longer of mustache, sporting a centre parting, this man could have easily walked into a Tamil, Telugu or Kannada movie set wearing a shiny jacket and the crowd would have chased him for an autograph and made urgent calls to their giant cut-outs’ supplier or even to local temple builders.

Unfortunately he was in Mumbai and a barber. Yes, a barber. He had too much body and facial hair to be called a stylist. He stood between me and the newly redecorated hair cutting saloon that was now impersonating as a salon. I was not intimidated. It has been my boast that any barber can cut my hair since I know exactly how I want it. That has nothing to do with my knowledge of fashion, hair styling or a perverse interest in men’s glossy magazines. It is just my hair. I can ride from Mumbai to Goa on a bike without a helmet and if I were to reach there alive, my hair would be just the same as when I had left for my heavenly abode. Sorry, when I had left Mumbai. My hair doesn’t move. It has been compared to various animate (wild boar’s hide) to inanimate objects (bathroom floor brush) and yet nothing has come remotely close to describe its texture. This can't-be-ruffled hair style had been a cause of much envy among my friends when I was young. (Now they are jealous because I still have hair.) But to cut a long story short, all my life I have given barbers two simple instructions, ‘Trimming machine all around, but overall not very short’, and promptly passed away in the chair to the soothing hum of the hair trimmer.

But my man today was too much of an alpha male to take instructions. He used the trimmer only at the back and not on the sides. I opened my eyes to protest, saw him looking longingly at a pair of pointy scissors and promptly went back to sleep. I even had a vision of him throwing scissors and razors like the one and only Rajnikanth. I didn’t bother to open my eyes when he chopped off my side locks way higher than my preference. My slightly longish sidelocks are the only attempt I make at some kind of styling but I kept shut in face of a force beyond my control. But then, as the hair cut came to a close, I decided to use my adversary’s strength to my advantage. Yes, just like they do in kung fu. No, I didn’t invite him for a round of ju-jitsu, barber-style. I just looked at his enormous paws attached to forearms built like tree trunks and realized that in those hands lay the key to the perfect head massage.

To those who have always gone to a salon and hence don’t know what a head massage is, we have a question: ‘Are you a man?’ No, sorry. To those who don’t know what a head massage is, here’s the answer. First, it is not a head-only massage. The barber, (it’s not a spa so we can’t call him a masseur can we? Not at 50 bucks a head massage), the barber slaps your head, pinches your eyebrows and neck muscles, presses your shoulders and goes down all the way to your little finger, thumps you on the back and this is the true hallmark of a barbaric head massage – he straps a violently vibrating machine onto the back of his hand, rolls his hands all over you from head to back, and this is the signature thing – he puts his quivering little finger into your ear and holds it there until the vibrations buzz the very core of your brain.

Ah. I just love it.

I wasn’t wrong. The barber’s hands were tough and the thumps on back not only loosened all my muscles but also every bone in my upper body. He must have seen the appreciation in my eyes. Or fear. And in his enthusiasm got carried away and began to give me a face massage. It took me a while to find my voice. It is difficult to find it when you realize how an iron pan feels when someone is trying to dislodge tough grease from it using an industrial scrubber, but when I found it, I humbly requested him to stop. (I had some difficulty recognising my voice; it sounded like the voice of a man who has just mis-timed a leg split and hit the floor at high speed.) The disappointment on his face almost broke my heart. But I'd rather have a broken heart and not broken facial bones on any given day.

And when I returned home the wife remarked to the kids, “Looks like daddy got a face massage. See how white his face looks today!”

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A genetic story



I am a great believer in genetics and heredity. That way I can blame my forefathers for all my faults as well as take credit for the good things my children do.

This post, at least the part after the picture, has been written by my son and I am proud to take all credit for fathering his talent too.

Sometime last week my son was given this picture in school; I don’t know exactly when, his mother knows all these boring details, I just look at the big picture like genetics etc. The assignment, as the line below the picture states, was to write about the story in the picture.



Here’s what my little Shakespeare came up with:

There was a bird called Papu.
Everyday he used to be thirsty every time.
He once toppled down from the tree.
It was George’s pet.
He felt ill. He was in terrible pain.
George went to the hospital and he told his body was hot.
He was ill very badly. His body was increased a lot.
He was in the hospital for four days.
He had a head. A headache.

I just hope his teacher has patience in her genes. And a sense of humour.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Identity & Crisis


Today’s Economic Times (yes, I read the money papers. No, not because I have money. It is just like people who will never be celebrities read page 3), has a news report on its front page about unexpected problems being faced by the UID project. For those who read page 3, UID stands for Unique Identification, the government’s ambitious project to give every Indian an identity card.


The UIDAI (AI = Authority of India) says the problem is ‘Missing Biometrics’. Biometrics as you would never guess is the science and technology of measuring and statistically analysing biological data. It explores mysterious biological phenomena like why women get headaches at night. Sorry. Was joking. Well, this is what it is (though I still prefer the first explanation): Biometric verification is any means by which a person can be uniquely identified by evaluating one or more distinguishing biological traits. Unique identifiers include fingerprints, hand geometry, earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns, voice waves, DNA, and signatures.

To stop you from falling asleep let’s quickly move onto the problem: According to ET, ‘Scores of people the Aadhaar project (that’s the national language name for UID. I am sure there are other language names too. Most likely in languages from states whose regional parties support the government at the centre. No, not that centre.), will help the most, do not have the sharp, curving lines on their fingers… Millions of Indians working in agriculture, construction workers and other manual labourers have worn-out fingers due to a lifetime of hard labour, resulting in what is euphemistically referred to in technical literature as ‘low quality’ fingerprints. This is precisely the demographic (socio-economic strata of people), that UID aims to help – those that are outside government records and welfare schemes.’

There is a load of c*** in that paragraph. Let me point it out one by one:

1] Scores of people – One score = 20. And if it is only scores of people then it is not a big problem, is it? But it is a money paper. Their reporters are not supposed to be very good at language.

2] ‘those that are outside government records and welfare schemes’: our government has welfare schemes? Wow. Well let’s assume it has. But then, we all know that except for the politicians and bureaucrats, everybody is outside those welfare schemes.

3] But the first two are merely journalistic shortcomings. The biggest piece of s*** is something that I have a continuing rant against: our national disease of fixing the symptom and not the problem.

The millions of people who live on the fringes of society, who live under the poverty line and in conditions that erase the lines on their fingers and yet can’t erase the hunger in their bellies – these people don’t want an identity card. They want an identity.

I guess I should stop ranting against this syndrome now. It is all-pervasive and no one gives a damn either. And so we create infrastructure to hold international athletic meets instead of creating infrastructure to support sports. Or spend millions to build bridges over the sea to de-congest traffic instead of spending a fraction of that money to fix roads and make them drive-worthy. The current rage and darling of the media of course is the new rupee symbol. The rupee is almost one-sixtieth of the Euro, one-fiftieth of the US Dollar and almost half of the humble Thai Baht but, we are an emerging economic superpower, we are the next big thing so what the heck, let’s get ourselves a symbol.

That is what all this is about. It is a game called ‘Let’s play superpower-superpower’. It is not, ‘Let’s get ourselves a symbol’ but, ‘Let’s get ourselves a status symbol’. It is the same game that drives a poor farmer first to mortgage his land to have a big fat wedding for his daughter that befits his status and then, to commit suicide when he can’t pay the loan back.

But I am sure they will bypass the biometric problem by appointing a committee or two. Alternately, they will just say, ‘Go ahead! It is not a big problem. After all, the nation’s leading money paper says it is only scores of people and not millions’.
So we will march on regardless and spend the last paisa of the seven thousand crore rupees set aside for this project and ask for more because surely the population has grown since we started this scores of years ago, hasn’t it? And we will continue to ask for money until one glorious day, the last tribal in the remotest area in the country will have a Unique Identity Card. And when you ask him what that is, he will say, ‘I can’t read and write so they asked me to put my thumb impression on this card. Nice no?’

Post Script: As an aside, the irony is the UID project is headed by Nandan Nilekani, the man with an illustrious career as a leader in IT, an industry that has made its billions from a different form of manual labour. I wonder if the workers in that industry have also lost their fingerprints by handling the mouse for too long.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A cat and a movie

One Monday night we found ourselves at a friend’s place. Uninvited of course.  His wife was kind enough to open the door and he, to open the bar. We sat around, drinking and chatting and the night was following the usual pattern that would exhaust itself some time early in the morning. Until we were introduced to their cat.

It was a largish black cat and it had sat on a distant sofa, unmoving, and unseen by us. My friends had adopted it in Sri Lanka when it had been brought to them as a tiny kitten. It was a cat like any other. Except it had been born with two gaping holes where its eyes should have been. And it wouldn’t have lived for long had it not been for the seemingly random act of kindness on part of my friends.

Somewhere, not so randomly, the story of this cat is connected with a movie called ‘Blind Side’. It had come here in Mumbai, before the Oscars, had run to empty theatres for a week (we had caught a morning show that had four people including us; there was a couple but it didn’t count) and had gone away quietly.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, a white woman and rich housewife adopts a black boy from the ‘blind’ side of her town, treats her on par with her own kids, fights for him, gives him an education and turns him into a football player who goes on to become a legend.

It is a true story. And though it seems like the typical American Dream story, it is not. In fact, the blind cat and Blind Side are exactly the opposite of the Great American Dream Formula. That’s because, the Great American Dream is based on the power and determination and never-say-die attitude of the individual, of the common man/woman who overcomes every obstacle on his/her own and becomes successful. Whereas in real life and for most of the time all of us and especially the underprivileged among us need a hand that helps us, guides us and lends us its strength so that we can go on. In that sense the American Dream is aptly called ‘Dream’ – It is something that all of us like to see, to believe and it makes us feel good about ourselves when we come out of the movie hall with the salt taste of pop corn in our mouths.

Maybe that’s why Blind Side didn’t make ripples at the box office; it portrayed a truth that was probably too inconvenient to accept.

The stories of the blind cat and of Blind Side are also stories that depict that fine line between charity and humanity. Because charity usually is a one-time, top-down act while humanity is a trait where both the giver and the taker are on the same plane. Because a lot of time charity is about giving something while humanity is about giving up something. And not too many of us have the courage or the character to do the latter.

Blind cat stirred and jumped off the sofa and walked sure-footedly across the room. That’s when I realized that it was we who were blind.

My friend who took blind cat in is also a fine writer. He blogs at http://theopeniris.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Have a ball, a football.


The difference between the last world cup and this is social networking sites. When the last one happened, one or two from your pathetically small social circle asked you, “So what country are you supporting?” This time your aunt’s grocer’s son wants to know which country you are supporting and even has a point of view, usually vehement, on why you should be supporting some other.

(Don’t ask me why your aunt’s grocer’s son is following you on Twitter; he is, if I am not mistaken, your aunt’s grocer.)

Now the problem with the question, “Which country are you supporting?” is that you have to name a country. A simple and honest, “I don’t know,” is not only unacceptable it also sets off an avalanche of comments about your ignorance and suggestions about the country you should support. All your friends/followers start wondering why someone who has a mature, intelligent, well-informed and good looking follower like the grocer’s son can’t make up his or her mind.

So I did a little research into this phenomenon. I asked the corner florist, the neighbouring milkman and the building watchman.  I wanted to ask the grocer’s son too but he was out following someone.

The first answer was obvious once it was given:
India isn’t playing.”

But the spirit of investigation had truly got hold of me. I questioned the answer. (I do that often. Despite the habit having caused me enough trouble in school, especially in the form of wooden rulers coming down on knuckles.) And here’s what I got in form of an official response:
No comment.
Sorry. I was kidding. No money.

I dug even deeper. The answer:
All the money is in cricket you dumb Fff*.
(*Freak Football Fan)

I dug deepest. And when I looked up I saw members of BCCI (Board of Corrupt Cricket in India) looking down at me. I realized that I had dug so deep that the situation had turned grave. I returned home with flaming red knuckles.

The second answer was also obvious once it was given. The one given by the grocer while I waited for his son to return sums it up:

“See it is like this… I don’t know which country plays how in football. All the time the players play for club. One player play for this club today and that club tomorrow and every time he change club I take out calculator and change Euro into rupees and my blood pressure goes up. So how I know how this country play or that country play? And all the time clubs play match only at night,  so how I will know, no?”

At this point he got distracted by something behind me. I turned around to look. It was the grocer’s son. He had a black eye and limped as if he had been fouled on the football field. The grocer yelled, “Arre! How many times to tell… stop this follow business or one day someone’s brother will kick your footballs in!”

I completely agree with the grocer. No, not about the ‘following’ business but about the reason why I have a problem supporting a team. The last time I saw a country play was in Euro Cup, two years ago. Now, I change sides every other day. I started off by saying I would like the cup to go to Latin America. But after watching Uruguay’s Suarez using his hand to stop a goal, I supported Holland in the semis. Tonight, I am supporting Spain. But if Spain loses to Germany, I will support Germany against Holland!

It’s my mind and I will change it as often as I change my FB status update.

To end here is some fresh news from South Africa about what happened after Argentina lost to Germany in the semis.

Maradona picks up the Jabulani and says, “This is the ball.” He points at the goal and says, “That is the goal.” He throws it in and shouts, “How difficult is that?!” 

Messi replies quietly, “Now try doing it with your foot.”

Monday, 5 July 2010

Bharat Bandh – Politicians strike again.


The call went out, secretly, and managed to achieve the impossible – It got the leaders of all opposition parties together, in one room, to discuss a development that had affected everyone’s life.
(Rumour has it that even the leader of the ruling party wanted to join in but couldn’t because the ruling party couldn’t arrive at a consensus on who their leader was – The queen, the prince-in-waiting or a retired bureaucrat.)

Here are accurate excerpts based on more rumours:

Opportunistic, sorry, Opposition Party Leader 1: Yesterday my son-in-law came asking for an increase in his pocket money!

OPL 2: So did mine! All six of them!

OPL 1: Because, he said, with the fuel price hike he is really finding it tough to use the Audi Q7 I gave him as a wedding present.

OPL 2: So did mine! All six of them!

OPL3: It is a shame!  As leaders of the masses we have to be in touch with the last poor tribal in the most inaccessible area of the country and we need those SUVs to get there.

OPL 4: And because all the tribal areas are Naxalite areas, we need at least ten truckloads of commandos, four motorcycles, one ambulance and two fire engines (because I am a VVIP and am called upon to fight fires all the time), to protect us. And what do trucks, motorcycles, ambulances and fire engines run on?

OPL 2: So did mine! All six of them!

OPL 5: This, very clearly, is a plot by the ruling party. They know we are engaged in the progressive work of uplifting the masses from darkness to light. And if we have to be the shining sun that wakes them up from their centuries-old slumber of ignorance we have to have well-lit homes! And what do generators run on?

OPL 6: I second that sentiment on generators! The ruling party wants to sabotage our air-conditioning and lose our cool! But we will show them that we can turn on the heat too!

OPL 7: It is election year in my state. I have to hold rallies! And what do rallies run on? Trucks! What do loudspeakers run on? Generators! And how do I get to rallies? Helicopters! The ruling party has struck on the very fuel that wins us elections!!!

OPL 2: So did mine! All six of them!

OPL: 8: As you are all aware my party is the closest to the grass-roots, to the most oppressed, the poorest and the under-most of all underprivileged. And now I speak not in my voice, but with the collective voice of all those people. With the benefits of progress, technology, economic upturn and social networking denied to my constituents, with corruption siphoning off all benefits directed at them and with food inflation putting even the basic dry roti out of reach for them, how, I ask, how are they supposed to afford petrol to douse themselves and set themselves on fire to protest their plight?