Has anyone heard of Windsor Manor?

I went to Windsor Manor (now ITC Windsor) after years.

Most of the autowallahs looked at me as if I was talking about a foreign country.

Old Airport Road? JP Nagar? They queried. I think only the 10th or 12th autowallah had heard of it.

Sigh!

When I came to Bangalore in 1988, there were only 3-4 5-stars including Windsor Manor which was a landmark and every autowallah knew it very well.

Windsor Manor was also the famous setting for Kamal Haasan’s Pushpaka Vimana film in 1987 (The Windsor Manor bridge scene with the dead beggar is iconic) and was once the hub of the high and mighty.

New Bangalore has slowly been crushing Old Bangalore out of existence and at least people like me have been denying it for years.

When’s the last time you did something for the first time?

I am not at all a great traveller and I was always dragged to trips first by my parents and then by my wife. So it is but natural that when I visited Sri Lanka for the first time, I would experience a truckload of firsts.

Listing some of them…

Saw a complete rainbow…

As rain was playing hide and seek with us throughout the trip, I noticed a complete rainbow on the horizon of the ocean standing on a boat. I realized that all the rainbows I had seen in my life were partial and faint! Maybe that’s why “A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” was phrased. The other end isn’t usually seen by an observer.
This one was simply breathtaking and was a perfect semi-circle. It was so strong that it looked as if giant hands had painted it on to the sky. As they say, there’s a first time for everything even if you’re on the wrong side of 40!

Saw a double rainbow…

Within a very short time of the above incident, I saw a double rainbow and didn’t even know such a concept existed! This happens due to light reflecting twice inside the water droplets and the order of the colours is reversed in the second rainbow.
Such things makes one realize how cut off from nature we actually are. I also saw the night sky rich with stars after ages. In the olden times, mankind used to sleep under the black velvety sky and look up in wonder and awe. Sleep must have been sound and full of great dreams.
Today we know all about the Big Bang, the history of the universe, the composition of stars and can see tremendously faraway star images on our computer screens via the Hubble Telescope but we fail to notice the beautiful night sky right above our heads every night thanks to light pollution!

Saw a pet porcupine being taken for a walk…

We saw an old woman walking with two leashes and noticed that they ended in two porcupines! There was a full-grown one and a baby one and both of them were being taken by this lady much like you would walk pet dogs.
I am not good at reading animal expressions but the porcupines actually seemed smug and happy!

Saw an iguana crossing the road…

I didn’t know Sri Lanka had iguanas! Saw one crossing the road ever so slowly. It was a fun sight to watch and looked ever so grand. The traffic in this country is disciplined and follows the speed limit and I didn’t see a single road kill on my trip in Sri Lanka, something quite common on Indian highways.
There were iguanas even in the hotel premises and they look kinda cute. I can understand why they are popular pets in America.

Went whale watching…

The rainbow incident happened when we went whale watching, another first for me. While the whales we went to watch here were much smaller than those I had seen on TV, it was a good experience all the same.
They kept surfacing in bits and people kept running all over the boat to catch a glimpse. In the end we saw two whales together and the boat guide smiled and said, “Now that’s a couple: One girl and one guy!”

Was woken up by monkeys dancing on the roof…

While sleeping in a resort at the centre of a wildlife park, we were woken up quite early in the morning with monkeys jumping on the roof. It wasn’t a one-off event and the noise continued for quite some time. It was almost as if they were disco dancing on top.
Outside the window one could see both monkeys and wild boars. A resort employee told us that we were unlucky for a few days back one visitor saw a leopard staring at him through the window early in the morning!

Saw flying fish fly…

I’ve heard a lot about them and seen them on TV, but nothing beats the experience of seeing a fish defy the laws of gravity for what seems like an indefinite period.

Swam in a lagoon beach…    

I’ve been to many beaches but never a lagoon beach. That’s when a rocky barrier cuts off a body of water from the main beach and you are saved from the aggressive waves which scare many people from going deeper into a beach.
It’s quite a different experience where the waters are much deeper and much calmer. The waves come and go quite gently. While all the children were initially quite disappointed, they soon got the hang of it and didn’t want to leave.
My wife also managed to go neck deep in sea water for the first time in her life.

Used a moving walkway…

OK, this is pretty minor, but it happened all the same. While escalators have become ubiquitous part of city life, moving walkways not so much in India.

Drank from a water fountain…

Another minor thing, but a first for me: Both the moving walkways and water fountains were in the new terminal of Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport.

Used a Jacuzzi…

I have been to many resorts with Jacuzzis, but this was the first time there was one in our room. We were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to get a room the size of our flat and the bathroom the size of our living room.
This was the first time we had a personal Jacuzzi and it was a great experience.

Went on a (sort of) road trip…

As I said that I’m a very unadventurous fellow I’ve never been on a proper road trip. Sri Lanka is a small country and many of the packages consist of a vehicle at your disposal and a different hotel booked every night in a different city.
One day we were at a historic town. The next day at a wildlife resort. Another day at a hill station. Yet another at the beach. It was a totally different 8-day vacation for me.

Fed an elephant…

Fruit baskets were for sale which could be fed directly to elephants, so my son and I made the most of it. It was the first time I put food directly into the mouth of a big elephant and held its trunk.

Saw a baby elephant being bottle-fed…

We were told that there was a very unique daily event of baby elephants being fed from a large bottle of milk. Sure enough there were many baby elephants in a circle tied in chains. While most were trying to break free, one kept pulling and screaming.
It didn’t let up and kept pulling and screaming. It pulled so hard that it finally fell down and it started bawling loudly. It would have been a cute sight had it not been for the chains.
I couldn’t take it and went off. That’s another thing about the human race. Our cruelty to animals is so inbuilt and natural that you don’t even notice it anymore. I’m sure all those mahouts take great care of their elephants and love them, but still…

Saw a man being hacked to death…

Our boat was about to leave for whale watching when suddenly a few people jumped down from two wheelers and started attacking a man with machetes. The man fell down and the attackers hacked away meticulously as if they were chopping wood.
It was all a surreal blur from a distance and we hardly saw anyone’s faces but a mesh of figures. Soon they sped off. What was left was an old man with a long flowing white beard who had seen the ghastly incident. He started bawling like a small child. As our boat made its way towards the ocean, the old man’s cries got fainter and fainter but they still stuck with us for the rest of the trip.
The whole boat full of foreigners was stunned into silence. Some never recovered. Some fell asleep on the way and many more became seasick. We noticed a bunch of plastic bags and wondered why there were so many.
That bunch got over with people vomiting into them left right and centre. Then another one… Then another… Maybe the hacking had something to with it, I wouldn’t know. But the whole day was like that. In the afternoon we saw our only road accident in Sri Lanka. The front part of a large trailer got detached and crushed an SUV.
Elsewhere we were shown spots where people had lost their lives in the tsunami of 2004. The death toll of that disaster in Sri Lanka alone was 35,000. We also visited the memorial of a rail-disaster where up to 1500 were killed when tsunami waves knocked down an overcrowded train.
All around us people are dying and we are usually more traumatized by minor illnesses and incidences that inconvenience us in our mundane lives.

Visited Sri Lanka…

Of course all this happened on my first visit to Sri Lanka a beautiful country that I fell in love with. If India suddenly became cleaner, more disciplined and less populated, it would become Sri Lanka. People talk of India matching up to Europe and America.
I think we are way behind even Sri Lanka which is in the process of rebuilding itself after the extremely long civil war.

Mistaken by my wife for…

In a large shop my wife was looking totally lost and I went and stood next to her. She looked at me and asked, “What material is this… How much… Where does it…”
Then she looked at me blankly and said, “Sorry I thought you were the salesman!”
She later attributed it to a new T-shirt I was wearing (a gift from her no less!).
This after I had been separated from her for just two minutes and married to her for 15 years!
The first time I was mistaken by my own wife for a salesman!

With that trivial first, I end this pretender of a travelogue…

© Sunil Rajguru

The day Indira Gandhi died…

“Where were you when… such and such a thing happened?” is such a cliché.

But you still want to task that question.

Today is October 31, the day Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

I was a school student when it happened in 1984, and certain things still stick to this very day…

AIR revives Indira: In the ghastly act, her guards pumped 30 bullets into her body at about 9.30 in the morning. She was officially declared dead by the doctors an hour later. But since President Zail Singh was out of the country, the government didn’t declare the news before evening time.

Doordarshan kept saying that she was “serious” all day. One All India Radio broadcast in the afternoon even said something to the effect of: According to unconfirmed sources, she may have regained consciousness!

Such a media blackout is unthinkable in today’s Twitter Age where everything breaks instantaneously and universally. Of course everyone knew the truth in India through word of mouth, but there were still many who thought she would survive till the official confirmation finally came.

The Kid on the Bike: The moment we got the news, one of my school seniors and neighbours screamed “Indira is dead: Now Vajpayee will be Prime Minister!” After that he cycled all day in the neighbourhood shouting “Vajpayee for Prime Minister.”

To me it seemed quite bizarre considering the fact that I had heard Vajpayee’s name for the first time in my life. But his words became prophetic as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did indeed become PM after 12 years.

The Fateful Speech:Mere khoon ka ek ek katra is desh ke liye kaam aayega,” (Every drop of my blood will serve the nation) is a popular statement she made in a political rally days before she died.

This was the talking point for everyone for months on end after Indira’s death.

But when I entered journalism, some seniors told me that she never made such a statement.

It was a figment of the Congress’ imagination and part of their propaganda!

Seven Years Later: In 1991 Indira’s son, former PM Rajiv Gandhi, was also assassinated. But this time it was after 10 in the night when half of India was either asleep or blissfully unaware of the tragic news.

I fell into the latter category. I took my morning walk and when I returned home I saw (what was to me at least) the most shocking “Breaking News” ever.

“Rajiv Assassinated” was above the Times of India masthead.

My late sister’s journalism teacher had told her that such an event was a rarity and happened very few times in a newspaper’s lifetime.

Of course, now the times have really changed.

Today if you are a rich industrialist with a few crores to spare, then you may be able to announce your son’s birthday above the Times of India masthead, with the way it’s going!

© Sunil Rajguru

Does anyone use Sloan’s Balm?

When I was small, I had a sprain that wouldn’t heal. My relative told me that there was a balm that was extremely painful and extremely effective and he’d recommend it to me if I was up to it. It was a brutal “one-day” solution. I didn’t know what he meant but I said yes all the same. He handed me a yellowish-orange extremely smelly balm and told me to use it sparingly or else face the consequences. I put in on and rubbed it and wondered what the fuss was all about. Then I felt a mild burning sensation. It steadily got hotter and hotter and my relative was looking at me amusingly from the corner of the eye.

Then suddenly my hand caught fire! (Or at least it felt that way) I could hardly bear the pain and I didn’t know how to describe it. It was as if a dozen hot needles had been poked in my hand or simply someone had poured kerosene on it and set it on fire. The hand got hotter and hotter and I simply felt I would faint! My relative calmly told me to hold on. It would eventually go away. Eventually meant a few hours and in that time, nothing else mattered. No house. No relative. No work. No thoughts. It was me and my burning hand. By evening, the burning started receding, just like a fire that had been put out with embers steadily cooling. I felt a tingling even as I slept.

When I got up in the morning, I was totally OK. And despite the pain, I was converted for life. As my relative said, “Use other balms 10 times, use this one only once.” But I can see why it’s unpopular. It smells. It leaves stains on your clothes. And of course, it burns like hell. My wife can’t stand the sight of the bottle and says that I’ve used it so many times, that my body is probably immune. When I have multiple body aches, she calls it a Sloan’s Bath. Though my wife did inform me that her grandmother uses something more potent and rare called Sloan’s Liniment. I was mighty impressed.

I have recommended it to people with adverse reactions. Once when my late sister was limping for days, I gave her a bottle. The next day morning I got a firing.

My leg burnt. I couldn’t sleep all night. I got out of bed at 2am. I put my leg in running cold water. I kept it in a bucket for one hour…

When she finished pacing up and down with her tirade, I pointed to her leg. She was no longer limping. She was cured. “But the pain wasn’t worth it,” she said and stormed off.

Once I gave it to my flat-mate and watched in horror as he took a huge amount and started massaging his leg with it. I warned him of the consequences but he wouldn’t listen. He said something to the effect of “Mard ka bachcha” (Loosely translated to mean “son of a macho man”). My friends and I watched as he sat sure that nothing would happen. Then the tingling started and the pain multiplied. My friend got up started pacing around. He was putting a brave face and having difficulty in controlling his pain. Then he let out a scream and started heaping choicest abuses on Mr Sloan and his extended family.

As all of us watched the comic scene, he suddenly picked up the bottle and threw it out of the window with all his might. I ran to the window fearfully, for it faced the main road. If it hit a passing motorist then broken glass and Sloan’s would combine to unleash such pain, that the motorist would surely file a case of attempted murder. Luckily, it had fallen safely into the ground. I could only hope no man or animal would poke its nose into it. I realized that I couldn’t recommend it again to anyone.

It is also a tough task shopping for it. If I go to 10 medical shops, then 5 shopkeepers are sure to look at me as if I’m speaking some foreign language. When I finally do get a bottle, the shopkeeper opens his notebook and scribbles. (Customer came and bought the entire stock (1 bottle) of Sloan’s Balm) I’m serious, when I ask for a second bottle, I don’t get it.

I read somewhere that Sloan’s has capsaicin, which is an essential component of chili pepper. That explains it. If you eat chili pepper, you’ll feel as if your throat is on fire. If you use a balm which has a chili pepper component, you’ll feel as if your body part is on fire…

Hello, is there anybody out there… anybody using Sloan’s Balm?

More importantly, does anybody want to use Sloan’s?

© Sunil Rajguru

10 programmes I once loved on Doordarshan…

There was a time when Indian TV had only Doordarshan. Colour TV was difficult to imagine. A remote was an unheard of concept. And multiple channels? Ha ha ha!

Strange but true: This government owned unprofessionally run non-24-hour TV channel was all we ever wanted. For us, Doordarshan (or DD) was Santa Claus who had at least one gift for every person in the family. DD probably peaked in the eighties and after that satellite TV took over. Last month, DD completed 50 years.

Here’s looking at 10 of my favourite programmes in no particular order…

Weekend Movies: Our home box office
The high point of every week was the Sunday Hindi movie. No matter what they showed, you still looked forward to it. Blockbuster or flop, millions would sit glued to it week after week right till the very end. I never missed the weekly regional movie too. It was a glorious peek into the culture of every state and national integration at it best.

The World This Week: The ultimate news capsule
When this was first aired, we were all blown away. Nobody thought news could be so slick and sexy. Prannoy Roy became a superstar overnight. If you missed this, then you felt as if you had missed the entire news of the week. But if that was cream, then the 24/7 news channels of India today are definitely highly diluted and adulterated milk.

Buniyaad: Saas Bahu ka baap
There was a time when Master Haveliram and Lajoji were the most watched admired couple in India. This epic, from the maker of Sholay, spanned decades and we didn’t feel like missing a single episode. The first serial for me that probably became a habit. (I always found India’s first soap Hum Log a tad slow)

Bharat Ek Khoj: India’s history channel
Even if you didn’t like Nehru, you couldn’t dislike Bharat Ek Khoj, based on the book The Discovery of India. This serial, which lasted roughly a year, took you through India from the Vedic period to Independence without sounding like a history lesson.

Karamchand: Desi Sherlock Holmes
We heard at that time that Pankaj Kapoor became the highest paid TV actor with this serial and he deserved every Rupee. Just like Hardy’s “Here’s another fine mess you’ve got me into”, the eccentric Karamchand’s “Shut up Kitty” became a national rage.

Byomkesh Bakshi: Classy and gripping
I had never heard of Byomkesh Bakshi or Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay in my whole life but when I saw this Bengali detective serial, my first thoughts were, “It’s right up there with Sherlock Holmes.” Sterling performances by Rajit Kapur and KK Raina.

Quiz Time: The battle of the brains
For me Siddhartha Basu’s university quiz is still the gold standard for quizzing in India and he’s still the ultimate quizmaster. The suspense and drama beat KBC, Dus Ka Dum and Bournvita Quiz Contest all put together.

Mr Yogi: The original What’s your Raashee?
By 1989 standards, this was quite an exotic concept and Mohan Gokhale seemed like an exotic actor too. This was a fresh serial and Om Puri as the sutradhar excelled. Our bumbling NRI and his 12 heroines enthralled us.

Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi: The original laugh riot
Shafi Inamdar, Swaroop Sampat, Rakesh Bedi and Satish Shah were the perfect cast. The script was perfect. The comedy was perfect. Indian TV is yet to better this serial. We looked forward to what avatar Satish Shah would come up with in every episode.

Chanakya: Vedic magic
While we had heard so much about Chanakya and his Arthashastra, to see it come out on the small screen was really different thing altogether. The atmosphere transported us straight back to the Vedic era. Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi was Chanakya incarnate.

…and 4 “imported” ones…

Secrets of the Sea: The precursor to National Geographic
Jacques-Yves Cousteau has no idea how many millions of Indians he introduced to the wonderful world of televised nature. In an era starved of good educational and enlightening multimedia this was an hour of pure bliss.

Oshin: The most famous Japanese girl of that era

The dedication and toil of this 7-year-old girl bowled all of us over. We cried with her and rejoiced with her. We grew up with her.

Jungle Book: Chaddi pahan ke phool khila hain…
The cartoon was good, the story was good, Nana Patekar’s voice as Shere Khan was good… but the only thing that sticks is the title song penned by Gulzar.

Talespin & Duck Tales: High octane adventures
Kids of today who have 24 hours access to multiple cartoon channels will never understand the weekly anticipation for these two serials. Disney’s wonders travelled all over the world in these adventures… and we travelled with them.

And to think all that on a Black & White TV!

© Sunil Rajguru

How to play cricket with a hockey stick and some old socks

Take a few old socks. Roll the first one into a ball. Take another and wrap it onto it carefully so that the shape is maintained. When it reaches the correct size, stitch the final socks neatly so that you are left with a very strong and sturdy ball…

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Why would you want to convert old socks into a ball anyway? Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. There was no shortage of necessities and no shortage of inventions at Sainik School Satara, for the hundreds of boys away from home. One was the necessity to play cricket. Footballs, football grounds and football sessions were abundant. After football, basketball and hockey ruled. Swimming and horse riding were regular affairs too. The only problem was cricket. There were simply not enough balls, not enough bats and definitely not enough sessions in our packed hostel routine.

But we wanted to play cricket. So one genius had a brainwave. What was the one thing that every hosteller had? A hockey stick! What was there no shortage of? Old socks! And what could we find in every study room? Chairs. So the game of hockret (hockey+cricket) was invented (most people pronounced it as hockrate, but I think I’ll stick to hockret). (I think the game could also be called sockret. In that case, the inventor would be Sockretis)

The game is played thus: The back of a chair serves as a wicket. The freely available hockey stick replaces the rare cricket bat. And our good old hockret ball (as mentioned in the introduction to this article) replaces the cricket ball. All the other rules are more or less the same. Now there are many advantages of the hockret ball. What happens when it hits a window? Voila! It magically bounces off! What happens when it hits someone? It pains for maybe not more than 30 seconds. What happens when the ball gets lost? No need to buy a new one. You just pool in your stock of old socks and sit together and stitch up a new one. Luckily, enough of us could handle a needle and a thread to make sure that hockret balls were never in short supply. They were better, cheaper and safer than even tennis balls. So we could set up a game of hockret anywhere: On the road, in a small alley, in a ground or even on the boxing ring.

Hockret also came with its own set of innovations. One of them was to counter the contentious LBW rule. Nobody ever wanted to be an umpire and if anyone ever became one, he was just short of having his head knocked off by a dissenting hockeystickman. What were we to do? Even TV replays and Hawkeye together have eluded consensus among commentators, so what hope was there for us always fighting mere boys? Someone came out with the bright idea of the Rule of Three. “Let the ball hit the leg two times and all is forgiven. The third time it will be out.” It doesn’t matter if the ball would have hit the stumps or not. Three chances is all a batsman got. Not only was this proposal accepted, it was a roaring success. It also gave you the freedom to kick the ball out of harm’s way if the hockret ball was heading towards the stumps.

Hockret allowed you the freedom to chuck. That way, it was more like baseball, since the hockey stick is also pretty thin, like a baseball bat. It let someone like me, who was a failure at playing the “propah” game of cricket, a chance to finally get a few wickets and hit a few boundaries. I still can feel  the grip of a hockey stick and the pleasure of clobbering a soft ball.

Over time, we found that NCC stockings also led to tougher and heavier balls and the dynamics were also different. (Just like Kookaburra versus Dukes balls!) If the ball fell in water, it became all the more unpredictable. Not only was it heavier, it would hit really hard if it came on to you and splash water all around. So hockret’s only disadvantage was that we couldn’t play it when it rained. Mud made it totally unplayable and that’s something that couldn’t be simply wiped off like a leather ball. Football still ruled the monsoon season.

What really made things addictive, was indoor hockret. We had dormitories with 13 beds on each side, so they had pretty long corridors. People started playing in the dorms and that could be done at any time of the day and night (Of course one had to be evading authorities all the time). At times they lasted all day. I think one batsman even claimed to have made a thousand runs in a day! Brian Lara, eat your heart out. Some of us would even play this during our study holidays before the exams. I think it did lead to some of us getting fewer marks than we ought to have.

The hockret we played showed no resemblance to Test cricket or even the one-day variety. The bowler would try to get a wicket with every ball or at least stop the ball from being clobbered. The batsman would try to hit every ball for a 4 of a 6. In fact I think the current T20 is the game closest to our good ole hockret. That’s T20 cricket + baseball + hockey. No wonder it was so irresistible!

I wonder if they still play hockret at our old school or has it become extinct by now.

© Sunil Rajguru

Sainik School Satara Houses and Mess

Bad handwriting-wallahs unite!

You have nothing to lose but your pens…

I have one very big weakness that I am ashamed of. That is my handwriting. Whether it’s signing my name, writing someone a brief note, or even noting down a phone number, I find it quite awkward to see my squiggly handwriting on a piece of paper. Recently at a parent-teacher meeting, when the principal talked of a handwriting developing a man’s soul (or something to that effect), I was squirming in my seat.

In my whole life, I have met only one person who could read my handwriting with cent per cent accuracy. For some strange reason, it was my chemistry school teacher. Being surrounded by symbols, maybe he found my handwriting another form of some vague symbol language which he could decipher. However, that man was one in a million. What about the rest? To save those poor souls of visual torture, I soon switched to writing in all capitals. Funnily I was pretty good at that. It came out very neat and uniform. I developed a good speed at writing in all caps. In fact, I completed a written test in such a fashion during a job interview well before the stipulated time. The project manager who checked my paper was totally taken aback.

I remember when I wrote my first letter at the age of 10. I was dismayed by its look and feel. Should I post it or should I not? I dumped it in the letterbox and ran. I dreaded the thought of writing letters after that. That was till I discovered a wonderful invention lying at home. It would give me the most legible and official handwriting in the world. Our trusted Olivetti typewriter. After some coaching from my father, I took a 15 paise postcard and inserted it into the typewriter. Then I started typing with my index finger at a rate of probably ten words a minute. After a couple of hours, I looked at my masterpiece. I was thrilled to bits.

From then on it was just me and my good ole typewriter. Slowly I started using one finger from each hand and that itself gave me great speed. I became a letter-writing maniac. I would sit in a closed room and type out a dozen letters in a single sitting. Before I knew it, I was writing hundreds of letters a year. Some letters even rambled on for thousands of words.

I remember the time when I used to study in hostel. I would be back to the primitive, ancient and un-co-operative pen. I used to struggle to write even a hundred words. How I wish the typewriter was allowed in the classrooms and examination halls. I would have happily lugged the device had I got the chance. (Even though it felt like a ton of bricks for a small boy) I got the same feeling when I joined the Hindustan Times, which was doing all its editing by pen and paper at that time.

As a student, I once went to buy vegetables for my mother after a helluva long time. I was shocked jab aate dal ka bhav pata chala. Or rather tamatar ka bhav pata chala. They were going at Rs 20 a kilo. The last I had bought tomatoes, they were 20 paise a kg. I decided to write a Letter to the Editor on this 100-fold inflation to the Times of India.

Now I don’t think I would have sent one if I (a) had to write it out with my ineligible handwriting or (b) had to go to the job typing shop just for a couple of lines. My typewriter saved the day and I saw my name in print! That was a great byline for me. I started bombarding various newspapers with postcards and got published with great regularity. The postcards became inlands and the inlands became A4 sheets. Finally, the letters became articles. I eventually became a journalist. When I look back, the typewriter played a huge role in me getting into the media in the first place.

I always thought that the typewriter would be one buddy that would stay with me for life. But unfaithful me changed all that and went in for a friend sleeker, faster and more innovative than its predecessor: The PC. Today the computer is so widespread and part of our “basic necessities” that it is difficult to imagine that once you would find it nowhere in your neighbourhood.

But the computer and Internet are the true socialists of the world. Whether writing emails, word documents, Facebook scraps, PPT presentations or the like, we all have the same “handwriting” in any part of the world. We are all equals in cyberspace. Now that’s true progress!

© Sunil Rajguru

How I got hooked to cricket…

New Delhi 1971. The whole neighbourhood had gathered for my naming ceremony. My father’s side seemed to have a great fascination for Ps. My grandfather’s name was Pundlikrao. My father’s is Pralhad and sister Pratibha. I was to be called Prakash, but the God of Cricket had other ideas.

While the pandit was busy chanting shlokas, one neighbour was in a faraway land. In England, to be precise. India’s new star was batting. Suddenly the neighbour put his transistor down and yelled, “Gavaskar has scored a half-century! Gavaskar has scored a half-century!” Soon the baby was forgotten and there was an atmosphere of jubilation all around. My neighbour walked to my mother and said, “Bhabhiji, now you have to name your son Sunil. Who knows, he might open the batting for the Indian team one day.” Protests were useless and my parents relented. My father is a great cricket fanatic, but little could he have guessed that my skills would be so rock bottom that I wouldn’t even make it to the B team of my hostel dormitory (which had only 26 inmates in the first place). But then a man lives on hope. At any rate, I was saved from having the same initials as my father.

At the age of six, my father got transferred to London. England is a country whose national game is cricket, but national craze football. Cricket was alien to me. Football was home and it seemed the easiest, simplest and greatest of all games.

One Sunday, I saw my father glued to the TV for hours. It was an India-England Test match. I decided to sit down and watch, much to the delight of my father. I sat and sat and sat and sat… Nothing seemed to be happening. A man would throw the ball. Another would block it with the bat. A third would pick it up and give it back to the first. After six balls they would change ends (sometimes you do need an ad break to make things exciting) and repeat the monotony. An occasional “run” would bring about some action. Could this actually be a game? This seemed more like a brilliant cure for insomnia. I kept asking my father for details, but he kept saying, “Sshhk, don’t disturb!” “Disturb!” I muttered to myself, “What is there to disturb? There’s nothing happening in the first place!” I got up and went. My father didn’t even notice.

“What a weird game! Give me a football any day,” I thought to myself, “And I always thought my father was such a sane man!”

Then we returned to India: A country whose national game is hockey, but national craze cricket. So I said, “Let me give a good shot at this game.” I found that I couldn’t bat (even touching the ball was a monumental task), couldn’t bowl (the wide is my all-time favourite delivery) and couldn’t field (falling was much easier than stopping the ball). My friends found the whole story of my naming ceremony hilarious. So I slowly lost interest.

Then India won the World Cup in 1983. Everything changed forever.

I thought everyone had gone mad. This seemed to be India’s greatest event of the year, maybe even the decade. There must be something to it. And we were World Champions after all! So I decided to find out what it was all about. (Off the field this time) I started reading books on rules and followed newspaper reports. I watched matches and discussed them. The complexity of the game started fascinating me. Like millions of others, I became hooked.

I think two things attracted me to cricket. The first is my fascination for numbers, statistics and co-incidences. I think you’ll agree that no other game in the world can offer such a rich scope for figures. Secondly, at my heart I am a chauvinist. For me it’s either India or bust. The Indian football team doesn’t even participate in world cups. I can’t even remotely imagine an Indian challenging Roger Federer and winning Wimbledon. We don’t even exist in the scheme of things of most games on the planet. Where does that leave you? Abinav Bindra’s feat was great, but watching shooting doesn’t take too much of your time. Cricket is the only game where you feel you can rule the world and kill all your spare time to boot.

It affects even those people who don’t watch. My classmate gave one such example. It was Reliance Cup 1987 time. My friend and his father were going through a crowded market. Suddenly the whole place went berserk. There was clapping, shouting and cheering all around. A man came out of the shop screaming, “Chetan Sharma’s got a hat-trick! Chetan Sharma’s got a hat-trick!” Much to my friend’s surprise, his father got carried away and joined the group of revelers. He shouted “A hat-trick for Chetan Sharma,” and danced with the crowd (even on one leg at times, much to the shock of my friend.)

When the din died down, my friend’s father left everyone speechless when he asked, “Who is Chetan Sharma? What’s a hat-trick? And what’s going on?”

***

The only negative was that by the time I reached college, cricket began to rule my moods. A match day was greater than my birthday. A Test match rest day was unresting. (Thank God they abolished those) If India lost, I was in the pits. A victory and the world suddenly seemed a beautiful place. When we lost to Pakistan for the umpteenth time in Sharjah days, I punched the wall so hard that I fractured my knuckles. I stopped watching cricket for a few years. (Javed Miandad’s last ball six was still vivid in my mind) When I started watching again, match fixing happened. So I stopped watching for a few more years. Actually this trend started when Gavaskar retired and I didn’t watch the subsequent Test matches played by India.

Then I realized that such an extreme approach doesn’t work, especially when one is working and has a wife and kid. The difference in time zones of various cricket playing countries doesn’t help sleep and moods either. So my mantra is: As long as India is winning, enjoy it to the maximum while it lasts. When India is losing, shut off. Totally. Don’t watch the matches or news channels. Don’t read reports and don’t waste your breath discussing it all the time. It’s not worth it and there’s so much to do in our lives today, use the spare time wisely. After all Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble all gave it their best shots. And despite everything, Dhoni is still the best man for the job. But his life depends on cricket while mine doesn’t. That puts a lot of things in perspective.

Thanks to this philosophy, I must say that I enjoy cricket more nowadays than in the past.

T20 World Cup? What T20 World Cup? All I know is that the India-West Indies series begins on June 26. If we lose that, then there’s always the ICC Champions Trophy in September. If we lose that, then there’s always…

Much like that famous line in Casablanca: We’ll always have Lord’s, 1983 and Johannesburg, 2007.

© Sunil Rajguru

15 Things I never thought could happen when I was a kid…

1. A non-Nehru descendant completing a five-year-term as Prime Minister and actually getting re-elected after that!
- Jai Ho!

2. Pakistan cricket becoming irrelevant in the world and India.
- Arre baba, IPL ka matlab Indo-Pak League nahin hain.

3. A mobile phone becoming one of the most common of devices.
- Mere paas Star Trek ka kam se kam ek device to hain!

4. An Indian picking up two Oscars on one night for Bollywood songs in a Hinglish movie.
- Jai Ho again!

5. Prabhakaran actually getting shot and killed without a fight.
- Do tigers just roll over and die?

6. No years of waiting for scooter, gas, phone,…
- Instant ka zamana aa gaya hain, aur bahut accha hain.

7. A Western type lifestyle and roads jampacked with cars.
- Watch an old Hindi flick, roads look so empty and only the hero is so well-dressed and educated.

8. A non-Russian becoming the World Chess Champion and that too an Indian to boot.
- Vishwanathan: Jaisa naam, waisa kaam.

9. An African American getting elected to the White House.
- Now that’s Change we all can believe in!

10. Coalition governments actually lasting in India.
- NDA doesn’t just mean National Defence Academy and UPA is here to stay.

11. Indians buying out top world companies.
- Mittal and Tata: What an appetite!

12. India becoming an IT powerhouse.
- When will Microsoft be toppled? Maybe the answer lies with India.

13. Veerappan getting caught and killed.
- Sandalwood? That’s the Kannada film industry.

14. The Berlin Wall crumbling. Communism falling. Russia becoming almost irrelevant in world politics.
- One world. One Germany. No USSR.

15. A Governor of Indian origin getting elected in a US state. Indian origin CEOs worldwide.
- So there is such a thing as Indian leadership after all (But currently only outside India).

And 15 Things I’m still waiting for…

1. Toppers and professionals outnumbering criminals in Parliament.
- “Hi! I’m an IIT Gold Medallist and Politics is my first choice!”

2. The Kashmir dispute getting solved.
- The Indian and Pak heads of states walked into the sunset saying, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

3. India becoming No. 1 in Tests and actually staying there for a few years.
- “First it was the Windies. Then the Aussies. Now these mean Indians!”

4. India producing the fastest bowler in the world.
- “Aur isike ke saath Lucky Singh ne 100mph ka barrier cheer ke rakh diya!”

5. India playing in a Football World Cup.
- “India scores the decisive goal against Argentina and enters the quarter finals!”

6. An Indian company wholly producing a Windows or iPod type of product.
- Hail India, the new powerhouse of patents.

7. America playing cricket and India playing baseball.
- Slamdog Millionaire!

8. India becoming an economic, military or cultural superpower ahead of America.
- China door raho, tum hamse takkar nahin le sakte.

9. India making it to the list of 10 least corrupt nations on the Transperency International list.
- Corruption, woh kis chidiya ka naam hain?

10. A Bollywood production which makes $250 million in the US box office
- Farhan Akhtar? Abhay Deol? Anurag Kashyap? Abhi-Ash ke beta/beti?

11. The extinction of farmer suicides and local blood-sucking moneylenders
- Article in Economist: The Indian farmer is now a model to the world

12. India 100% electrified along with a pukka road and school in every village.
- Elections 2030. Bijli, sadak aur paani to aa gaya, ab mudda kya hain?

13. The entire MiG-21 fleet to be grounded and replaced by the latest fighter jets.
- F-22s anyone?

14. Dalai Lama returning gracefully to a Free Tibet.
- Tibeti-Chini bhai bhai.

15. Communism getting totally wiped out in West Bengal and Kerala and the states becoming the economic powerhouses of India.
- In Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram, they have something that’s called Communist Museums.

Bottomline:
Ek eighties ke schoolkid ke nazariya se dekho to ab India main kuch bhi ho sakta hain!

© Sunil Rajguru

Never the right size…

Once a girl told me, “Your dress sense is awful. You wear clothes in any combination. And all your pants are either too loose or too tight.”

While I agree that I am quite careless in matching colours, the second part of her statement isn’t entirely my fault. The problem is that I’ve had too many ups and downs in my life. Literally, practically and weight wise. Especially my weight. I have been falling ill at regular intervals throughout my life. Each bout sees me shedding fat.

My first such experience was at the age of ten. I returned from living in England and I lost 7 kilos adjusting to the new climate. I looked like a stick. Chicken pox after matriculation led to a drop of 6 on the scales. Twelfth class illness: 8 kilos. But the real weight killer was tonsillitis during graduation. After it all died down, the final count was 16kgs! I think I feel lighter by a few kilos even if I have a stomach infection. So what am I supposed to do?

I have my own Newton’s law law vis a vis gravitation:

Whenever my weight goes up, it must come down

Now you can imagine what havoc this must be playing on my clothes. I can’t comfortably wear a pant I bought when I was down when I become up. That’s also the case the other way round.

At one point, I calculated a mean weight and decided that all my pants should be stitched according to that. If I was over this average, I would tell the tailor, “Stitch the pant extra tight as I’m going to lose at least five kilos.” Or, “Make that extra loose!” The result was that all the tailors of the neighbourhood thought I was mad and never listened to me.

That leaves me with clothes of extreme dimensions. Imagine you’re wearing a very tight pant and you go for dinner some place. You eat and eat and eat and become so full that your stomach gasps for breath. Your hand goes to your belt to make it loose. The only snag is that there is no belt. It’s your pant that’s tight. Ouch! So you can only painfully grin and bear it when the warm hostess keeps piling your food with more and more food.

When I start gaining my weight over a period of time, my shirts become tighter and tighter and even tear. I feel as I’m the Incredible Hulk in extreme slow motion. (He Minutes Hulk. Me Months Hulk) Everyone outgrows their clothes as they grow older. For me it’s a lifelong process.

People gave me all sorts of solutions. Wear elastic pants. Yuck! Wear suspenders. Hmm, I can’t see myself in them. My sister finally told me, “The answer lies in India. Become ethnic. Wear a kurta pyjama whenever you go out and lungi when you’re at home.”

I fear that I may be forced to take her advice.

© Sunil Rajguru

Of adages & reality

When I was small, I was battered with golden sayings, proverbs, adages and maxims of all sorts. They were there in our ‘Thought for the day’, school diary and liberally in our teachers’ speeches. All of them got registered on my mind as truths of life, but as the days progressed, they started to make less and less sense.

Take ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’ I don’t know about the healthy and wise part, but I haven’t heard of a single wealthy man who doesn’t go to bed late. Another gem is, ‘Speech is sliver, but silence is golden.’ Saving a few situations here and there, I don’t see how far you can go with silence. You have to be a good talker to make your way around the world.

But I’ve faced the greatest problems with ‘Practice makes a man perfect’. There are certain people who have a natural talent for a thing and are near perfect with their first try. And there are others like me who for years persist and get nowhere.

For example, take football. I watched stars on TV do wonders with the ball and got attracted to the game. I started playing seriously at the age of seven. I played during the breaks, after school and in my spare time. After three years, I was still where I started. I joined a boarding school where we used to play football daily. Let alone master the ball, I never could even score a single goal in a single match.

Once in a match, 22 players were crowded near a goal. I got disgusted and came out. To my luck, the ball popped out of the melee and landed at my feet. I excitedly took the ball and started running towards the opposite goal. The whole crowd froze, staring at me in silence. After some time the opponent goalkeeper also took off.

I thought it would be simple, but the ball just wouldn’t stay at my feet. It moved far to the left, then to the right and then to the left again. I was zig-zagging desperately as the goalkeeper gained on me. I reached the goal after what seemed like ages. I fumbled and kicked the ball to open my account. But out of nowhere, the goalkeeper dived and it was a save. I passed out of school and remained goal-less after a decade of football.

It’s the same with my handwriting. I had the most atrocious handwriting in class. My teacher told me that the more I wrote, the better it would get. I patiently wore out practice books and even chose a greeting card with beautiful handwriting to imitate. I don’t know how many hours I spent in all that and was it worth it? Today, after all that practice I have a handwriting that looks like, as my sister puts it, ‘squiggly ants’.

When I became an adult, I was exposed to two things — shaving and driving. When I shaved for the first time, I ended up with blood and leftover hair on my face. A thousand shaves later, I am just marginally better.

Each time I ride my scooter, I say my prayers. When my father started to teach me to drive in school, he was a very frustrated man in a matter of weeks. Today, after being on the roads for 7 to 8 years and driving in a tough place like Jodhpur where nobody follows any rules, I am what I was.

And it’s the same with a dozen other things.

(This article appeared as an Edit Page Middle in Deccan Herald newspaper in 1995)

On a razor’s edge

I hate shaving. Period. The very sight of a razor is enough to give me the creeps. I’d rather go to work unkempt than indulge myself in this daily ritual.

But it wasn’t always like that. When I was small, all things connected to shaving including ads on TV had a great fascination for me. I just loved watching my father put thick white creamy lather on his face and see the razor remove all the hair along with the foam like magic. I used to frown whenever I saw any uncle or bhaiya with a stubble.

So there I was looking in the mirror everyday and rubbing my cheeks hoping to see that elusive sprout of hair. One of my schoolmates, as eager as I was, used to shave his face with a dry razor even though he was as barren as the Thar desert.

Then one day, I finally saw it coming! I monitored my chin carefully every morning and patiently watched its progress like a farmer watching his first crops sprout. I soon got a good stubble and it was D-Day.

Armed with all the implements, I started. Phase I. Cool. Working up a lather and applying it on my face. Phase II. A disaster! I took the razor and removed the cream, I got a cut. Then another cut, then another… I washed my face and looked in the mirror horrified. All I could see was patches of blood alternating with patches of hair.

After a few more rounds of shaving I was still left with an unsmooth chin. “Don’t worry,” I was assured, “it happens to everyone the first time. You’ll soon get the hang of it.”

So I waited. In vain. Days passed. The days became months and the months years.

Everyone gave me suggestions. “Rinse your blade after every touch.” “Use warm water.” “Use the right angle.” Nothing changed it, I still looked like an injured warrior with a rough chin after shaving.

“I finally decided to get away from it all and grow a beard. And that’s when everyone started picking on me. My relative, a spinster, looked at me with disgust and said, “I simply can’t stand men who don’t shave.” One girl started calling me Devdas, while another remarked, “You look quite primitive,” relegating me to the status of a Stone Age man. A friend put his arm around my shoulder and exclaimed, “My, don’t you look depressed!”

This sentiment was echoed by others and I failed to understand the negative response my beard was getting. Even the college dean singled me out of all the people who didn’t shave. Bang in the middle of a lecture he gave me one of his cold icy stares and froze the class for 10 seconds before saying, “But why have you stopped shaving?”

The last straw came when one of my best friends refused to go out for a film with me and my beard because I looked to mean and resembled a beggar! I had had enough and decided to shave my grown beard. In my first try, it remained intact. With more than a dozen tries, it finally came off with a record number of cuts.

My friend engrossed in his paper looked up at my blood-stained face and said, “Now you look much better.” I was back to square one.

In a science fiction novel I read, the hero, thanks to a futuristic device, shaved just once a month. I wait daily for someone to come out with such an invention.

(This article appeared as an Edit Page Middle in The Indian Express in 1995)