Bad handwriting-wallahs unite!

You have nothing to lose but your pens…

writing-933262_1280I 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.

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

post-384929_1280When 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

shaving-6256448_1280I 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)