Monday, 23 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises and how! Wow!

[Batman - The greatest superhero of all time.]
Superheroes, a breed of extraordinary beings that transcend the barriers of age, sex, race, religion, mystical creatures that shock and awe us, inspire us to greater things, who wouldn't like them? We  dream how exciting and expedient it would be to sprout wings and fly or spin spiderwebs with the mere flicking of our wrists, but often conveniently ignore the fact that these superheroes, well most of them, aren't possible in real life. That makes the ones that are all the more likeable and desirable. I can think of only Batman and Ironman as the two superheroes that are possible, of course considering you have all that money to splurge. And for some reason, Batman was the one that always intrigued me. A man leading two lives, a vigilante cleaning up the streets of a rotting corrupting city at night, someone who works without taking credit for it, yet indulging in theatricality and show with flashy gadgets and toys, and still a rather vain person, who is not beyond all human emotions, particularly anger and vindictiveness. He is the most believable superhero there is, and thus the most adored.

[Just love this dramatic poster. The collapsing buildings reminiscent of Cobb's falling world in Inception.]
My fascination with Batman was further boosted by the genius of Christopher Nolan when he rebooted the Batman series; the earlier Batman films look awful! Nolan is known to make amazing films, films that just blow your mind, whether it was with his first one Following [1998], Memento [2000], The Prestige [2006], Inception [2010] or the Batman trilogy, starting with Batman Begins in 2005, followed by The Dark Knight in 2008, and the last instalment, The Dark Knight Rises this year. Nolan has transformed the Batman franchise into one of the biggest, most talked about and highest-grossing franchises along with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, the Star Wars saga, and for some unfathomable reason, the Twilight series. He has proved time and again that he is, without doubt, a cut above the rest. My top three favourite films of all time are all Nolan. When I first saw The Prestige, I couldn't believe that someone could come up with something so good, and it became my favourite film, but was replaced within two years by The Dark Knight, the most perfect film anyone could ever make, a flawless gem, which again was replaced by Inception in 2010 for its sheer brilliance and ingenuity. Although, this time The Dark Knight Rises could not dislodge Inception. but let that not take anything away from it.

What often happens with me, is that I have exceedingly high expectations from almost everything, films, books, my favourite athletes, ... and I am rather fastidious, exceedingly difficult to please. It would have to be just perfect for me to really like it. And after tasting the deliciousness of his earlier movies, Nolan's latest did taste a little bit off. But it still was an amazing film. The direction was outstanding as usual. The character's of the film, having grown on you due to the earlier two films, now seem even more genial, especially Lucius Fox, played by Morgan Freeman, the genius who designs all those awesome things for Batman, the coolest being his latest flying Batmobile and the Batcycle, and I still can't get over how smoothly and coolly the Batcycle's wheels swivel and enable the bike to stop and change direction. Another lovable character is Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred, portrayed by Sir Michael Caine with perfection; the quintessential butler who does everything for you, cares and loves you like a parent, never gives up on you and eggs you on, yet does not shy away from taking a hard stand to convince you from taking stupid decisions. The villain in the film, Bane, portrayed by Tom Hardy, was nothing compared to Heath Ledger's Joker. Probably the mask hindering the acting capabilities of an otherwise fine good-looking actor. Joker shall forever be the villain to beat, for Heath did bring something never before seen to a film character.

[The Rise of the Dark Knight.]
I was surprised at how well Anne Hathaway did her job as Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, especially after her horrendous performance at this year's Oscras, co-hosting with James Franco. She looked stunningly sexy in that lycra dress of hers and her feline grace. The incredibly dapper and dashing Joseph Gordon-Levitt played Blake's role to perfection, and the way they reveal at the end that he is Robin, was a nice way to leave a window open for possible future sequels. Oscar winner Marion Cotillard played her part well as Miranda Tate and the twist at the end where she is revealed to be Talia al Ghul was shocking, to say the least. My cousin, with whom I had gone to see the film, did mention in the forced interval that we have here in India, that in the comics she was Ra's al Ghul's daughter, and I brushed it aside, chiding him for always Googling and Wikiing everything and reading up the wrong stuff; well he was right then. Earlier, both Marion and Nolan, when questioned on whether Miranda's role would be similar to the one in the comics, had very smartly denied that, although in the end that is what happens. Christian Bale was of course great as Batman and Bruce Wayne, but when you think of it, very many actors could have pulled off the role as it does not require much acting, with a mask masking your expressions most of the time and a voice that is hardly yours. Nolan seems to have stuck with actors he has already had the pleasure of working with; a large number of them having worked with him in Inception. Maybe this comfort level is what makes the actors deliver power-packed performances.

The music and score for this film was by the great master Hans Zimmer and unlike the earlier two Batman films, James Newton Howard did not return to work with Hans. Hans, who has earlier produced masterpieces for films like The Lion King [1994], Gladiator [2003] and Inception [2010], wowed us once again with music that is grand and moving, giving you goosebumps and making you want to get out of your seats and become a masked saviour the minute you exit the cinemas. The main Batman theme is just out of this world. I loved the way Batman makes his return in the dying stages of the film, with his insignia burning over the bridge and him indulging the cops in a sensational chase.

It wasn't the acting or the music or the direction that let me down just that little. It was certain parts of the story. I think the whole welled prison, though it mirrored the title as Bruce 'rises' from it and even as his fellow cellmates are chanting 'deshi basara', meaning 'he rises' in Moroccan (Ra's al Ghul was an Arab), made little sense. The prison seemed to be one that did not have any guards, and if no one did leave or enter how did the prisoners get their supplies? Why would anyone just leave ropes lying there for prisoners to escape? And why was Bruce biding his time in the dinghy cell, waiting until the very last hour to go and save Gotham? That big a fan of theatricality, huh? And of course those stupid moments when every second is valuable and instead of saving the world you have the hero making out! I found it extremely stupid that Batman did not kill Bane when he had a chance right in the beginning of the movie when the flying mobile is first used and Bane is right there at the edge of the terrace of a building and within shooting range. Also, as Catwoman too said, why did Batman and Bane try and use muscle-power rather than fire-power when sparring with each other? Was it to satiate their mighty male egos? On the dialogues end too, I preferred those legendary ones in The Dark Knight rather than these ones. I was half-expecting Alfred to interrupt one of their fights, shooting Bane and shouting 'Step away from my son'; that would have been a good touch to it. However, the end of the film was really good and positive, with them revealing Blake as Robin and good ol' Alfred greeting Bruce and Selina at some quaint café in the lovely city of Florence. For us die-hard Batman fans, there is hope, despite what both Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan said about there being no Batman sequels after this.

Despite my criticism, I would still say it is one of the best movies, with great action and acting, unbeatable music and direction, and multiple twists and turns that make you wanna stay through the whole three hours, which is pretty long for a Hollywood film, although you just wish it would never end. The film is gripping and a blockbuster entertainer. I am most certain it will smash all box-office records with the frenzy it has generated. And it has generated quite a riot. The day it was released, a deranged man, James Eagan Holmes, donning protective gear, set of smoke canisters and fired in the audience at a Century cinema in Aurora, Colorado killing 12 and injuring 58. Why is it that a majority of these mad men and psychos are always from the Unites States? However, this incident did not mar an otherwise great box-office weekend for The Dark Knight rises. I am going to contribute to that further by going for the film a second time this week, if not more, for the next big film seems to be The Hobbit, and there is still some time to it. Hope the rebooted Superman series, with its first film Man of Steel coming out next year and produced by Nolan, though not directed by him, is just as stupefying as the Batman reboot.

Rating: A well deserved .

False Felicity From A Fake

[The obverse of the East India Company coin, which I perceived to be a rare find.]
A part and parcel of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is, among other quirks, Compulsive Hoarding, where I find it extremely difficult to discard items, though worthless and valueless for the most part, rich in nothing but emotional wealth, and I always find myself running out of closet space, with the result that I do hijack empty cupboards and nooks and crevices in the house; well until recently, when I moved everything to my room and realised just how much crap I had accumulated over the years. I have collected everything from books, sea-shells, toys, Legos to items of worth such as stamps, coins and currency notes.

In a materialistic world, one adores things we get for free or as gifts or at throw away prices. It does not matter whether the thing possesses any utility or not, all that matters is the price at which it was obtained and the bargain is further sweetened if the thing is indeed an object of desire. Recently, I, well actually my father, acquired a certain coin at a really cheap price and was I ecstatic!

One day, when I was over at my friend's place playing cards, my father called me up on my mobile phone and asked me what would be the fair price of a certain East India Company bronze coin. He does this often, being full aware of my interests, and always gives me a holler when he spots something that may be valuable in his eye. The East India Company was granted the Royal Charter in 1600 when it started trade with India, although it was only after the decisive Battle of Plassey in 1757 that 'Company Rule' began in India. So the Company coins are available right from the 1600s to 1858, when after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, later re-christened the First War of Independence to make it sound grander, the East India Company was disbanded and control of all its activities and territories was brought directly under the British Crown, then sitting primly on the head of Queen Victoria, one of my favourite rulers of all time even though she was an enemy at that time Thus began the days of the British Raj with the Queen's Proclamation of 1858 at Allahbad. Now one of the first things you do to ascertain the price of a coin is take a look at the year, but I was engrossed in the game and just said anything under 500 bucks should be a steal.

When my father got home that day, I was really excited to see the coin, like a kid waiting for his father back from a trip, expecting a toy. I was even more excited when my father told me he got it for ₹ 50, which is dirt cheap for such a coin. That day, he had taken a cab to work, wanting to avoid driving through all the crazy Bombay traffic, and on reaching office, when he alighted and paid the cab-driver, he was surprised to find in all the change that the cabbie had, an old bronze coin. He asked the cabbie if he would sell it to him, on which the cabbie replied, in Hindi of course, translated here for your convenience, 'I don't want to sell God. You can have it for free.' The coin had an image of some Gods. I was actually surprised and happy to hear that a poor cab-driver could be so righteous and satiated. So just to be nice, my father handed him a fifty for him being so nice, which he reluctantly accepted. He called me right after, and when I told him coins of the Company usually are upwards of 500, the businessman in him gloated, just a little, at the serendipity. I had also experienced a similar moment when a photocopy guy handed me a Saudi coin instead of a 50 Paise coin and I know exactly how you fell.

[The reverse of the coin that brought me back to ground.]
I felt a wave of felicity hit me when I saw the obverse of the coin, it depicted one of the most common and oh-so repeated scenes from the Ramayan, with Ram, or should I say Lord Rama, in the centre, flanked by his consort Sita on his left and brother Laxman on his right, with Hanuman paying obeisance at Ram's feet, for these coins are rare. I had a couple of Company coins with Hanuman or a crab, depicting the Zodiac sign Cancer, on the obverse, but never one that had that scene from the Ramayan. The words 'Shri Ram Darbar' were inscribed on the face of it in only the Devanagari script and not in English, which I found a little weird, but didn't doubt it. However, my happiness was short lived when I flipped the coin over to the other side. On the reverse, there was the usual 'East India Company' along with 'One Anna' in English, and also Urdu. But what was so strange was the year when it was supposedly minted. It read 1939! That told me it was a fake. I should have probably realised that on seeing 'Shri Ram Darbar' in just the Devanagari script, or 'One Anna' not mentioned in the same script, although such coins are not uncommon, but somehow I kept thinking it was a real find. Well, at least until the year brought me back to ground here. The Company did not exist post the Queen's Proclamation as early as 1858 and ever since all coinage was in the name of the British monarch, who in 1939 was actually George VI, the guy on whom the film The King's Speech is based and father of the incumbent one, Elizabeth II.

On some internet research, the layman's, and the lame man's  answer to all questions, I found out that there are a lot of these fakes doing the rounds. I could of course dupe someone by selling it to them. However, despite my atheistic beliefs, I do have morals, and decided to keep it with me as a reminder that one must never get overjoyed about anything without having complete knowledge of what it truly is, not that it would make that much of a difference to a rather stoic person like me, who rarely displays emotions in public, save laughter, which I expend like a spendthrift. It shall also be a reminder to ask ten different questions when someone else is buying stuff for you. And for all of you out there trying to collect something of value, all I'd like to say is 'Inspect before you invest.'

Saturday, 14 July 2012

30 the new 20 for the King and Queen of Tennis

[The Wimbledon 2012 Singles Champions, tennis's own royalty - King Roger Federer and Queen Serena Williams.]
As I have mentioned before, 30 years old in a game of tennis just stand for 'old', nothing more. A game that is physically challenging, where there are no teammates, at least not in singles, where the match has no time limit, and you have a gruelling packed season. It becomes difficult, well nearly impossible to achieve what you did in your 20s. No wonder you have such few champions who are in their 30s. But then again, that is what describes them - Champions are those who defy age barriers to redefine the game's barriers. They fine tune and adjust their games so that they can continue to gun for glory. Just as Sachin Tendulkar may no longer be whacking sixes off the cricket ground like he used to in his 'Master Blaster' days, but he continues to shatter records and cement his position as the greatest cricketer of all time, the greats of the game of tennis too did the same, making subtle changes in their games to achieve victory. Last week, at the Wimbledon Championships, which were marred a bit by the rain and controversy surrounding the £ 80 million roof on Centre Court, two players, both past champions but of late written off by most to never again win a Grand Slam, did just that, proving all those people wrong and making it the first time in the history of the 126 year old Championships that both the winners of the men's and women's singles were over 30 years of age; just the third time at any Grand Slam. Incidentally, the winner of all the doubles titles, men's, women's and mixed were over the age of 30, with the exception of Frederik Nielsen. So much for the old tag!

[Serena thundering yet another ace.
Don't mind the exposed purple rear.]
On Saturday, Serena Williams trumped the timid Pole, Agnieska Radwańska (how can she even play tennis when she has just no power whatsoever! She is a pusher!), to pocket her fifth Wimbledon crown, her fourteenth Grand Slam Singles title. She also became only the second tennis player after the legendary Martina Navratilová to win at least one Grand Slam in three different decades. The gutsy American, who bowed out of the French Open in the first round in both singles and mixed doubles, was written off as being tool old and fat to win. However, she silenced her critics with a powerful performance all through the tournament; maybe the early exit at the French Open motivated her to muscle through the draw here. She started off her hunt for the title a little slow in the earlier rounds, but picked up pace in the third round match against the Chinese player Zheng Jie, in a great three-setter where she thundered with 23 aces, a new Wimbledon record, and picked up her game in the quarter final to send the defending champion, fourth ranked Petra Kvitová of the Czech Republic, packing in tight two sets, again firing 23 aces. She bettered her own record by serving 24 in the semis, against second ranked Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a new Wimbledon record, and probably for most aces in a woman's match, even though they played only two sets. That is a whole set of aces! Her service motion, often described as the best and most consistent of any tennis player, male or female, was the talk of the tournament, and it did not disappoint her, with a bag-full of of unplayable serves and a plethora of massive unreturnable serves and again a bunch of aces, 17 to be precise, (and that includes one particular game in the third set where Williams fired down four aces back to back to finish the game) in the final against the third ranked Pole, Agnieska. That meant Serena finished the tournament as the ace leader with 102 aces, more than even any man (Philip Kohlschreiber, the men's leader, finished with 98), which is unbelievable, given that she was stretched to three sets only thrice, while the men play best of five sets!

[The amazing Williams sisters claiming their fifth Wimbledon and thirteenth Grand Slam Doubles crown.]
Serena played an amazing versatile game, abundant with drop shots and lobs, and did not shy away from coming to the net and volleying, something the doubles play has improved in her. She is also one of the finest returners of serve in the game and hit blazing returns, not even giving the server to complete their service motions on some occasions before she has hit a winner. She also moved much better and hung in those longer rallies, but of course she played her usual heavy ground strokes and as Vijay Amritraj rightly describes, 'first-strike tennis', where she pounds the ball as if she wanted to tear it apart, swinging her racquet wildly at the ball the way an aborigine would have his bow at an explorer. The rain-delay at the end of the first set put a halt to Serena's momentum, just when it looked like she would run away with the final, which had only one-way traffic, and allowed Agnieska to win the second set. However, that just pushed Serena to grab the decider and with it the title. She was ecstatic on winning her fifth Wimbledon, tying her with her sister Venus, Charlotte Cooper Sterry and Lottie Dod, and her first Grand Slam since the 2010 Wimbledon, which is extremely impressive, especially considering that just a couple of years ago she was battling a respiratory disorder and even holding a tennis racquet was doubtful. All that time off court has further boosted her hunger for victory. She jumped higher than her flowing skirt, which has revealed far more purple than anything Thai Airways, and then went on to hug her coach and father Richard and sister Venus, who always cheers her on and is genuinely happy in her younger sister's victory and her younger sister matching her own Wimbledon achievements; quintessential caring elder sibling! The two of them also played that day to clinch the doubles title at Wimbledon, their first tournament together since the 2010 Wimbledon. This gave them their fifth Wimbledon together and thirteenth Doubles Grand Slam. That is thirteen wins in thirteen Grand Slam finals! In the Doubles' Final, Serena seemed to be the one pulling the team through most of the match, but Venus also picked up her game in the second set and played exceptionally well on their serves. The win must have given Venus some much needed confidence after her first round loss to Elina Vesnina. They instilled my belief in them and I most certainly was right in saying this isn't the end for the Williamses. They shall return stronger during the Olympics and defend their titles and scoop up some other ones as well. What I did not like about all the doubles finals at Wimbledon was that the finalists were given no opportunity to address the rather sparse crowd gathered post their matches! Hope they change that soon. And why were a lot of Serena's early matches scheduled on Court while players who hadn't even won a title at Wimbledon or were not even ranked number one ever graced the Centre Court? That is disrespect shown to a former Champion, one who has notched up four titles there. They should avoid such instances.

[Federer trumping Murray to regain his throne.
Is that a pineapple sitting atop the trophy? Just wondering...]
On the men's side of the draw, the first week brought up quite a surprise when Rafael Nadal, the world number two and my hero, bowed out of the competition in the second round itself to a hitherto unknown Czech by the name of Lukáš Rosol, who has won only a handful of matches at the professional level. Rosol played like a maniac and surprisingly, much to the frustration of dear Nadal, and whatever he touched seemed to go for a winner or an ace. The early loss of Nadal, meant that Roger Federer had a real chance, for Federer has lost seven Grand Slam finals to Nadal. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, that I wanted Federer to win for just one reason, to equal Sampras' records - of seven Wimbledons and weeks at number one, with at least 286, and maybe surpass it. He did exactly that. Like Serena, he seemed sluggish in the first few rounds and his genius seemed to have gone, especially in the third round clash against Frenchman Julien Benneteau, where Federer recovered form two sets down to win the match and thereby preventing another shocker. He pulled up his socks in the latter rounds and his master performance was against top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semi-final, where he displayed his Midas touch and beat the Serb in four sets. It was almost certain that the winner of that match would also win the final, for on the other half of the draw, after Nadal, the best player was Andy Murray, but he just doesn't seem to have it in him to break the hold of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer at the top of the game.

I personally don't like Murray, who looks more like our ancestors from whom we evolved, and do not enjoy his game much (and despite a hint of Schadenfreude, found it exceedingly hilarious when he got dumped by his girlfriend a couple of years ago for playing virtual tennis and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on his Play Station 3 for hours). However, in the first set of the final that he claimed, he played an amazing game and it seemed like he would beat Federer. He is the first Brit man in a Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin, who made it to the last two way back in 1938, and could have become the first male Brit to win it since 1936, when Fred Perry won it. No British player has won here since 1977 when Virginia Wade won the women's singles title, the same year the Queen celebrated her Siver Jubilee. So there was heavy hopes on him to win it for the country in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year. He had the burden of an entire nation, and unlike other sports (where also United Kingdom doesn't seem to win the most important title be it football or cricket), he has no teammates to lighten his load. Royalty too extended their support, Prince Charles visiting Wimbledon earlier after 42 years and Prince William and his wife Katherine watching him play in the quarters, the latter also coming in the final with her sister, which saw the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameroon, and other notable guests cheer for him from the Royal Box. Murray-mania swept over the UK and prices for the final crossed an astronomical £ 45,000! That is insane, about ₹ 40 lakh (4 million) for one match! Some cinemas were even screening the final in 3D too to cash in on the craze. Alas, they were disappointed! For all they got to see was Murray losing the final to a mastercraftsman. Federer glided on the hallowed grass at Wimbledon, with his deft touches and glorious backhand, and the shot of the tournament was his disguised off-forehand drop shot in the fourth game of the third set. That was a message that the old Federer was back.

He went on to win the match, the most crucial part being winning the monumental sixth game of the third set which lasted 20 whole minutes and which say Murray fall thrice. Federer played the final a lot better, or so it seemed. His brilliance and artistry overshadowing Murray's tenacious effort. And as Federer realised he had finally won the title, his seventeenth Grand Slam and seventh Wimbledon, equalling Pete's seven, he did his usual, collapse to the ground. His box, with his coach, parents and wife Mirka with their twin girls Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, was beyond joy, for even they knew that being over 30 in a young man's sport and performing the way he did was rare and an unparalleled effort. The win also propelled him to the world number one spot for a record-equalling 286th week and hopefully he will surpass that. Murray could not hold back his emotion and his tears as he grasped for breath while making his speech. His mother and others in his camp too joined him as did thousands in the Centre Court and millions across the nation in shedding a few tears. Your heart does feel for him. Despite what Murray himself or anyone else says, the pressure does get to you and maybe that is what prevents him from making it large at the big stages. Just to comfort him, maybe they can now re-christen Henman Hill at Wimbledon to Murray Mound or honour Federer by naming it Federer's Folly or Federer Fields.

[The cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, with his wife Anjali, sitting behind the tennis legend Rod Laver in the Royal Box watching the men's semifinal matches on July 6, 2012, Day 11 of the Championships.]
Why is royalty making a comeback here (the Queen had visited last year, her first visit since 1977 when Wade had won)? Is it due to the increased popularity in the wake of the Will-Kat wedding? Anyway, Wimbledon did receive it's own royalty in the form of tennis greats such as Martina Navratilová, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Rod Laver, Goran Ivanišević, Virginia Wade, Martina Hingis, Manuel Santana and other distinguished guests such as Kylie Minogue (and her toy boy hottie Andrés Velencoso), players of the English Cricket Team, David and Victoria Beckham, Sir Cliff Richards, and my favourite cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and his wife Anjali, among others, warming seats in the Royal Box and then enjoying some nice evening tea and snacks in the Royal enclosure. This year the event got a lot more publicity due to all those guests, Murray making the final, the controversial roof (although the sound of the tennis ball being hit under the closed roof and as its echoes is magical), and it also being a stage for the Olympics which are round the corner, for which they have already grown grass separately, to replace the worn out courts, wow! The men's final had an average audience of 11.4 million in the UK, which peaked to 16.9 million, which is tremendous, yet it fell short of the all-time record achieved during the 1980 final between Björn Borg and John McEnroe, which had an average viewership of 17.3 million. Maybe a Federer-Nadal final at the Olympics will beat that. Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Cable's Cables Entangle and Strangle

The Indian Government is often known to make stupid legislations, wasting time on undesirable pointless issues, when they could be concentrating on much graver issues at hand. Thousands of villages all over the country have no electricity, except probably Gujarat thanks to Narendra Modi (and no, that is not just the Gujarati in me), and what they spend their valuable time in the Lok Sabha on, of course that is on those days when they attend? Power generation, energy conservation, development of renewable sources of energy? No sir, they find it rather prudent to debate on the digitisation of cable television. Maybe the television sets in these villages work without electricity; must file for a patent.

The government, through the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2011 seeks to digitalise cable television all over India. They had earlier set a date of June 30, 2012 for the four metros, Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Madras, although the latter two can hardly be called metros with their dull boring life and hardly any diversity of any kind. Like always, deadlines, which are mere numbers carrying no significance, like zeros before a group of numbers beginning with a non-zero digit, were extended given how slow the digitalisation was, with installation, or rather sale of set-top boxes not picking up, largely due to the wait and watch policy of most of us, not knowing which service provider to go with or waiting for some last minute enticing offers and discounts. The deadlines are now fixed at October 31, 2012, although I am sure that that too shall be extended. The digitalisation move was recommended by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India),  looks like they needed some more attention after the 2G and 3G scams and mess. They next aim to target cities with population exceeding 10 lakhs (1 million) and then by 2014 they wish to achieve complete digitalisation of cable television across the country. I'd say that is pretty ambitious, given how slow it has been in the four metros itself, where the purchasing power is much higher than the rest of India.

Sure digitalised cable does have it's benefits - a wider range of channels to choose from, elimination of unwanted crappy channels (for me that would most certainly be the horde of Sun and Surya channels), finer quality with High Definition making it's entry, introduction of boxes that can now record, play back and store your favourite shows (finally!) and most importantly access to the idiot box and with it the whole idiotic world for far flung places, where it was earlier impractical and unprofitable for cable to reach, now all that has to be done is set up a dish and you're good to go. However, digital cable has opened up a can of worms as well, increased cable costs, probably jumping up to at least thrice the cost of your regular cable, not to mention the high installation charges and costs of the set top box, and even the most basic of packages, with barely any interesting channels, costs more than your erstwhile monthly cable bill, with the service providers fully exploiting the fact that television is now more of a necessity than a luxury in this country. Add to that the need to remodel your houses to hide all the additional hideous cables and wires that now need to attached, and the fact that you no longer have complete access to all channels, at least not without additional costs. Gone are the days when out of boredom you would randomly watch a weird atrocious show in some strange language just to get a good laugh. Also, with most of India receiving rainfall for a good four months in the year, and the service being disrupted by even the slightest drizzle, that could result in a long time without television. I can imagine the nightmare when my favourite players are battling it out on the tennis court and right at match point it pours, not where they are playing, and your connection goes! Also, service providers now do not provide a lot of channels like TV5 Monde Asie or Masti Channel among others, for god knows what reasons! So that's a no French movies and series, or late night listening to Bollywood classics from the Golden Era. Urgh, why do things have to change? Whoever said change is good!

Due to the whole confusion ensuing the Act, most cable providers stopped their regular subscription to certain channels throughout the months of May and June, and the channels that were sacrificed where largely the English and sports channels, for most of the populace cannot not watch Balika Vadhu do her stupid bit everyday. Tennis would be shown only if Sania Mirza plays, which is never, given how abysmal her play is. So I could not watch the first couple of days of Wimbledon as my cable guy had stopped subscription to Star Sports! I tried getting Airtel Digital TV, it had the best rates, most channels and best service, but sadly their dish couldn't be put up as only one of the rooms in our house faces the South East, where it should be facing (we has just finished painting in it and didn't want to have it done again) and the building didn't give permission to put it up on the terrace. I didn't have time to fight it over, which the belligerent me shall pretty soon, and I chose the other alternative Tata Sky (as there already was a common dish in the building), which is not half as bad, but it overcharges and has horrible service; forget the rain, even if someone sneezes over the dish it stops! After five hours that it took the unqualified engineer, more like a beggar off the street, to extend the chord and instal it, not to mention a good hour or two speaking to their call centres to ascertain the actual price of installation, for the beggar-engineer thought he could take me for a ride, just like he did most of the rich fools I have as neighbours, by over-charging me and not agreeing to what their own website and customer care executives said regarding the charges!

After the ordeal was over and finally it was working, I couldn't wait to watch Wimbledon. I had already missed Venus and Rafa's shocking first week exits (couldn't believe the BlackBerry status updates nor the newspapers on that!) and also that of Max Miryni and Daniel Nestor, and did not want to miss more; but I also wanted to continue my routine and go for my jog. Maybe they lost because I did not support them! So making full use of the new set top box, I put the match to be recorded, the hi-def version of course, and went for my run, knowing all too well that I was going to enjoy the recorded action later on, without any advertisements, with freedom to pause, rewind and forward, along with a bowl of nice pakodas while it poured outside. Rains and steaming fried food - the ultimate combine! As much as I am averse to change, I cannot deny that it is good, well most of the times.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

In Seventh Heaven

[The two finalists at the French Open 2012, Nole with the runners-up plate and Rafa with the trophy he nearly owns.]
And history is created! Rafael 'Rafa' Nadal pipped Novak 'Nole' Djokovic two Sundays prior, to capture his seventh French Open crown, and in the process providing decisive evidence to settle the question of who is the greatest clay-courter of all time, him of Björn Borg.  As I had mentioned in an older post, that after capturing the title at Monte Carlo by beating Nole after 7 straight losses in finals, Rafa surely had gotten a bit of his confidence back, and beating Nole again in the Rome final further boosted it. At the start of the French Open, his favourite tournament where he has achieved tremendous success, it looked like he was back to his usual invincible and destructive form, storming through the draw, dropping no set en route to the final and thrashing some of the best claycourters, his own countrymen, Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer, like one does flies with a swatter. His shoes, the left one with '6' emblazoned, for the six titles he has won there, and the right one with his stylized bull, he seemed to make his intentions clear. In the final, waiting for him was Nole, who in contrast, had to work really hard to get there, having two tough five-setters in the fourth set (he was down 2 sets to 0) and quarters, but surprisingly beating Federer rather comfortably in the semis. It was the first time in the men's game that two same opponents contested the finals at four consecutive Grand Slams. Nole was bidding to win his fourth consecutive Grand Slam, to become only the third man to hold all four of them at the same time, just like Rafa was bidding to do at the Australian Open in 2011. However, he was denied.

[Nadal ready to charge and batter the ball. Again he opts for bright fluorescent colours that many would shy away from wearing, although he carries it off really well; just love his shoes.]
It would have been amazing to see Nole get that record and join the elite club of Don Budge and Rod Laver, but being a die-hard Nadal fan, I wished for something different. Right from the start of the match, Nadal looked like the better player, serving better and bigger, hitting massive forehands and defending his territory and crown with increased tenacity. He was playing from god knows how many feet behind the baseline, yet would make it to the net to return a delicate drop-shot played by the Serb. His body language was far more positive, and the pressure of the fourth consecutive Grand Slam on the Serb was pretty evident. However, he too played some classy shots and did not shy away from taking risks and providing entertainment to the delight of the French crowd, after all everyone wants their money's worth. There were a lot of break of serves in the match but, Nadal always seemed to get the break and then hold his own when it mattered the most, him winning the first two sets. In the second set when Nole let Rafa break his serve to lead 4-3, he got so angry he smashed his racquet into the chair which had Perrier written on it, much to the joy of the crowd. Wonder if Perrier can sue him for that!

With Nole looking agitated and Rafa going from strength to strength it looked like the match would be a short one, and for a third time Rafa would win the title without losing a set. However, when he was leading 2-0 in the third, Nole found that extra something and raced away with the 6 games in that set, and the first 2 of the fourth set as well, much to my shock and amazement. It seemed as if Rafa wasn't doing much! There had already been a rain delay before and another one came in at 2-1 in Nole's favour in the fourth set, but not before the best rally ever that I had seen, a 44 point gem, where at multiple stages you thought that it is going to end now, oh there is no way he can return that ball, how did he fetch that... ultimately Nole winning it. The second rain delay forced the final to be continued on Monday. That was disappointing, because we had all gathered at my friend's place and it was getting really late, close to midnight, and we didn't wanna impose, for it was a big group of people, nor did we want to miss even a minute of the match should it start. We all left his place after waiting for quite some time, after we made him promise he would update all of us if the match started again and we still hadn't reached our respective houses. With the kind of money these tournaments generate, why can't they put a decent roof up, at least on the main show courts, to avoid such delays and disruptions, especially when they know how whimsical their weather is?

[An emotional Nadal breaking into tears after winning a historic seventh French crown. Wow, those are some washboard abs!
That was the lovely watch that got stolen. Inspector Jacques Clouseau, where are thee when thy country needs thee the most?]
Luckily, it didn't start that day. On Monday, it seemed like the new day had helped Rafa regain his composure which he had lost briefly for a set. He exploded from the get go and after a couple of ups and downs, finally claimed the set 7-5 and with it the title. Rafa got emotional after the win, breaking into tears and then jumping into the crowd to greet and hug his family and friends - coach and uncle Toni Nadal, his father Sebastián Nadal, his girlfriend Maria Francisca Perello (Xisca), and his friend, compatriot  and Los Angeles Lakers player Pau Gasol, with whom he had a touching moment, and others. He, with the trophy by his side, even posed with a whole bunch of them, for who gets to that elusive seven!  Nole spoke a large portion of his speech in French. Nadal followed suit, giving his entire speech in French for the first time, which pleased the crowd, but maybe not that much, for his watch was stolen; luckily it was recovered later. The French have a reputation for being rude, although I have never encountered that in France, but thieves! And that too in under the watchful eyes of hundreds of spectators and cameras, that takes guts and audacity! Maybe a job for Inspector Jacques Clouseau. This was Rafa's seventh title, helping him edge past the Swede Björn Borg's six. Nadal now is the only player to win the French Open seven times, and shares the record for winning any major that many times with Pete Sampras, who won an equal number of Wimbledons. With Rafa being only 26 years old, and at least half a decade of tennis left in him, it looks like he may win a whole bunch of other majors. The title boosted his Major wins to eleven, putting him in fourth place on the all-time list, tying him with Borg and Laver. Rafa is also the only player to win three different tournaments more than seven times, after winning the Monte Carlo title and the Barcelona title earlier this year for a record eighth and seventh time respectively. No one has even won two tournaments seven times. Such is his genius and dominance!

[Nadal biting the trophy in his typical trophy. No one has bitten La Coupe des Mousquetaires more than him.]
With Wimbledon already under way, and as I has stated in my previous post, that this being an Olympic year, I hope Rafa regains his Wimbledon title and defends the Olympic Gold, after all that is a title whose points you enjoy for four whole years. Federer's love for the grass courts at Wimbledon is no secret, and with age not on his side (this will most probably be his last Olympics), he will be pushing harder than ever to win the one thing that has eluded his glorious career, a Singles Gold Medal. The ex-Federer fan in me wants him to win Wimbledon so that he can equal Pete Sampras' record for seven titles and also for the number of weeks spent as World Number 1. Federer is at 285 weeks, and just one short of equalling Sampras' record. I just want him to get that, so as to put an end to the debate as to who is a better player, him or Sampras, for Federer is undoubtedly the greatest the game has seen, given that he won all majors, even the French Open once and finished as runners-up on four occasions, while Sampras could only manage to reach the semis, that too, just once. Let Federer beat Sampras' records, and Rafa is most certainly going to get there. He won't get the number of weeks at the top record, but he will easily end up with the most Majors. Hope the Wimbledon and Olympics have plenty of amazing tennis.
[Rafa posing with his prized 'possession'. Is it just me, or does he look like a lot like the pictures of Jesus Christ with his long flowing hair?]

[Cheers to Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi for capturing the French Open Mixed Doubles crown; left on her own, Sania could have never even won any Major, and finally Hesh breaks the jinx of not winning a Mixed Open crown with the same partner again.]

Saturday, 23 June 2012

This can't be the end for the Williamses

[The Williams sisters - Serena and Venus.]
A father passing by the closed door of his teenage son's room, hears something not too pleasing. His anger boils and he barges in thundering, "What the hell are you doing? Watching porn?", only to have his anger subside and turn to embarrassment and laughter as he realises his son was watching a tennis match between the Williams sisters, their grunts louder than airplanes, reverberating through the room. His initial reaction was justified given the way they grunt and moan while playing just the most amazing tennis.

Growling and grunting, fists and muscles pumping, abs stretched, running down every ball and returning it with such venom and power that it makes the opponent cower, and serving up aces that slice the air faster than a bullet departing a gun, intimidating and scaring opponents, surely you are talking about the likes of Nadal or Djokovic? Well, in this case no. All of the aforementioned statements hold equally true in case of the Williams sisters - Venus and Serena. Two of the most fierce competitors to step onto a tennis court, they have revolutionised the rather slow women's game with their powerful groundstrokes, heavy hitting, most consistent and fastest serve, arguably the best, and the ability to perform at Grand Slams and other important tournaments unlike any other. They play a rather 'high risk' style of tennis, going for the big shots and for the kill each time rather than prolonging the rallies, and are more often than not rewarded. I like to call Serena, the rhino for her aggression, power, bulk and the way she charges down the court, while Venus I call the horse for her slender frame, long legs, higher stamina for longer rallies and amazing court coverage. They are the ones who decide the outcome of nearly every match - winning by their superior performance or losing by a poor show, very rarely giving the opponent a chance to decide the outcome of a match by a superior showing. Almost every time, it revolves around them.

[The sisters in doubles action at the 2010 Wimbledon, the last major they won together.]
They have dominated the women's game for more than a decade. Serena the winner of 13 Singles (sixth on the all-time list), 12 Doubles and 2 Mixed Doubles Grand Slams, the most of any active player on tour, male or female, and has also won 2 Olympics Doubles Golds, while Venus has 7 Singles, 12 Doubles and 2 Mixed Doubles Grand Slams in her kitty, the second highest among active players, only behind her younger sister, and also winning 2 Olympics Doubles Golds and a Singles Gold. Serena has won over $ 36 million in prize money, the highest among women athletes and fourth highest among all players, and is trailed among women by Venus, who has over $ 28 million in prize money. During their careers, 4 times have they held the number one and two rankings in singles, the latest being in 2010 and have also held the top spot in the doubles rankings in 2010. They were the first pair of tennis players, and until this year's French Open when Nadal and Djokovic matched their feat the only pair, to contest four consecutive Grand Slam Singles finals from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open, with Serena winning all of them. Since 2000, every Wimbledon save two, featured at least one of the sisters, them winning the title nine times out of ten finals, four of which were contested between the two! Need anyone say more?

[Eyes fixed on the ball during a match at the 2009 US Open.]
Nearly every tournament they contest, they are among the hot favourites, although why they do not perform at their best at minor tournaments escapes me; but as long as they outshine the rest at the Grand Slams, who cares, for it is ultimately these that are remembered for generations. However, right from the start of their careers, their game was riddled with injuries, reducing the number of tournaments they play drastically, sometimes being out of action for months on end. In 2011, both the sisters were out of action with life-threatening diseases, not knowing whether they would be able to hold a racquet again, but thankfully they did. All this leading to slip and rankings and the rise of other players. However, the truth remains, as long as there is a Williams in the tournament, she will be among the favourites.

This year they both played fewer tournaments, although Serena won 2 tournaments before the French Open, while Venus made quarter-final appearances at some tournaments. They looked in fine form to offer a tough fight at the French Open, with Serena being a title favourite, however she lost in the first round to local hero Virginie Razzano (ranked a lowly 111 in the world), although Serena was up in the second set and just 2 points away from victory an astounding nine times in that set! She looked emotionally unstable, and even while she was still leading in  the second set, she broke down, her eyes welling up and the usually aggressive fierce athlete, who has scared not only opponents, but also line judges and chair umpires, looked a shadow of her former self making far too many unforced errors and having her massive serve desert her. It was her first loss at the first round of any Grand Slam in her entire career, that is, one loss after making the second round 46 straight times! Virginie had the crowd behind her, but she lost in the next round itself. I hate it when some nondescript player ousts a favourite, has their 2 minutes of fame, never to be seen again, but in their single most important victory, change the course of the tournament; not that Maria Sharapova did not deserve to win it. She, who has described herself on clay as 'a cow on ice' played a much consistent game throughout the tournament, and even though I do not like her that much, I would agree that she deserved to complete a Career Grand Slam. Serena was also competing in the mixed doubles at the French Open this year, for the first time since 1999, with compatriot Bob Bryan, but unfortunately lost there too in the first round. Venus too did not play well losing in the second round in singles to Agnieska Radwanska.

Does that mean there are done and dusted? Serena, aged 30, and Venus, 32, are certainly past the prime years in an individual game like tennis, and with it becoming increasingly competitive and with the emergence of youngsters, it looks like they have a tough task ahead of them in their twilight years. Roger Federer at 31 surely seems to be way past his prime, not winning a major since the 2010 Australian Open, and struggling against the top two players, although you want him to win a couple of more Grand Slams. However, with the Williams sisters it is different, having spent a lot more time on tour and at the highest stages of competition, they have far more experience and firepower to overcome any obstacle. They, and probably Sharapova and Samantha Stosur seem to be the only female players playing a power game, having enough strength to compete even in the mens draw. Maybe another round of Battle of the Sexes is due. When Serena, my favourite tennis player, though not many of friends agree with me there, won the 2010 Wimbledon, I remember someone posting on Facebook, "Soon a man will have more Grand Slams than Federer", and expecting it to say Nadal, again my favourite, I scrolled down to realise, it was a joke aimed at Serena! That can surely be possible, (no sexist undertones there), given that she probably has bigger muscles than every male player save Nadal.

[One of those rare occasions when their fashion sense appealed to me.]
Many people may have written the two sisters off as old, and particularly Serena as too fat to win (when in fact that is all muscle), but I certainly have not. I may not like their fashion sense (it is just hideous), or Serena's verbal rants (she has anger management issues, clearly), but of one thing I am certain, that they are among the best players, and Serena is most certainly the best active player. She lent the women's game stability after Justine Henin's sudden and premature retirement in 2008 (why did the little genius have to retire? I liked her even more then Serena), when in its aftermath, the world number one position changed five different pair of hands more than five times, until she claimed it and cemented her position at the top, and since her injury-laden off season again was held by a bunch of different players. The last 6 Grand Slams were won by all different women, 4 of them winning their maiden Grand Slams. Change and variety are good, but beyond a point it becomes annoying. With Wimbledon starting day after tomorrow, their favourite tournament, and this year being a special one with the Olympics at Wimbledon on grass, where they have achieved tremendous success, one can only hope that they perform their best, in what may be their last Olympics appearance. I want nothing more than an all Willaims final at Wimbledon with Serena clinching the title and them winning the Doubles title there too, competing together after two years, but more than that I want Serena to win the one important thing she has never, an Olympics Singles Gold and also get a Mixed Doubles Gold, making a return for the first time in the Olympics since 1924. The phoenix shall rise again!

[Serena roaring during the 2010 Wimbledon final.]
God speed to the goddesses!

[Hope the Indian doubles players sort out their own mess before the Olympics and send a team that can win us a medal.]

Sunday, 17 June 2012

An Atheist beholds Divinity

For someone who is an agnostic atheist, the words God or divinity are rather incoherent, their meaning and usage restricted to exclude the very thing they represent! However, three Saturdays prior, that changed to some extent! I finally got to meet God, well not one, but actually two Gods! I beheld divinity in it's truest form and boy was I thrilled and touched to my very core.

[Can a better concert please stand up?]
It was my last examination that Saturday, the 26th of May 2012, and as I had mentioned in my previous post, I was in my "crazy-exam-wackadoodle-mode", and two weeks of studies had drained me enough. However, this time around, I was looking forward to something more exciting than the post-examination careless enjoyment with gay abandon, that evening A. R. Rahman was coming to town! It was probably his first time in Bombay and I was thrilled beyond belief. I am a huge fan of him, and have been one ever since I heard his music in Roja, the first film in which he provided music that was also released in Hindi! His music is so fresh, entertaining, something that transcends everything touching your heart (I would have said soul, but my atheistic beliefs prevented me) and transporting you into a completely different world, music that makes you want to live in a musical, breaking into happy dances every now and then, no matter your environment. Fifteen Filmfare Awards, four National Awards, two Academy Awards, two Grammys, one Golden Globe, one BAFTA and Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian honour, need we say more for the Mozart of Madras, the God of Music?

I was so excited, that I had planned the whole thing much before the day of the concert. The minute I glanced at the advertisement in the newspaper, I had decided that I was going to go, come hell or high water and made some frantic calls gathering  a motley crowd, that included my mother and brother, his girlfriend and family, cousins, friends and friends of friends, most of them not having met each other before (although we did have an insane amount of fun), everyone united by their love for Rahman's music. Everything was planned and that day, I rushed through my examination, not that I needed to, but the anticipation was too much to bear, and even though it was a theory paper, I surprisingly finished my paper with 46 minutes to spare and a hardened finger-tip from the speed and intensity with which I had written; and past experience had taught me that going through your answers is always a disaster, resulting in you changing right ones to wrong, so I left. I was picked up from my examination centre, as planned, and we made our way to the D. Y. Patil Stadium, a novel way to stage a concert. We reached way too early, for the seating was on a first come first serve basis, and we wanted decent seats. The tickets we had bought were for ₹ 1800, which was a lot for a 3 hour concert, but it's Rahman, the god of music and don't you pay a similar amount for the 'VIP Darshan' at Tirupati? We had to wait in the swooning summer heat for about 2 hours before they opened the gates and let us in. Our seats were on the field, with some other rows in front of us, and a majority behind us, so we had a good view of the stage. Even the seats on the stands were up for sale, for a much lesser amount, given how far they were.

[The stage so beautifully lit.]
By 6 in the evening the whole stadium seemed packed, but the sun hadn't mellowed down that much, not only annoying the hell out of the anxious crowd, but also raising tempers, for many in the crowds had already started picking fights over miniscule issues! One snooty lady with an extremely fake accent, oh I hate those wannabes, reminding me of that bimbo who had come to watch The Vagina Monologues, who always arrive late and want decent seats, argued for a really long time with some other poor group where one of them had left his seats briefly to attend nature's call. Late comers can't be choosers! But, that was our Schadenfreude, at least until the rock-star arrived. We also stuffed ourselves with food and drinks, high in price, low in quantity, and and even below low in quality! However, we didn't wait for long. It was scheduled to start at 18:30 hours, which for some reason never happens, but they started at 19:00 hours nevertheless, and Rahman being the thorough gentleman that he is, took to the stage without any further delay. He didn't act like various other artists who get mediocre talent to start proceedings and then arrive for not even half the time promised!

[Rahman in action. The voice of God is indeed sweet!]
He started off with Nadaan Parinday from Rockstar, I just like one song from the film Tum Ho, but the whole atmosphere is so spell-binding, you find yourself instantly humming the tune and your feet tapping, and before you know it, you're on your feet swaying and dancing, as if an elven lady hath cast a spell bewitching on thee! He and his troupe of artistes sang many gems such as Ishq Bina, Rang De Basanti and Roobaroo, the brilliant Roja title track, of course he had to sing Jai Ho, which I don't particularly like a lot, Dil Se, Jiya Jale, Ting Ling (this was the worst! Is it even a song?) and Sadda Haq, which again I don't like very much, but the raging crowd sure did not agree with me on that one, for when he sang the latter, everyone was up on their seats, invigorated and passionate! He also sung a couple of Tamil songs, which weren't that bad. One of my favourite songs and the best one that night was Lukka Chhuppi. It was so touching and they screened a video of the great Lata Mangeshkar singing it in the back, which was a nice touch. I wish they had done the same for Asha Bhonsale's Jiya Jale, but I was disappointed.

[An animated Mohit Chauhan.]
Rahman was accompanied by many artists, but the catch of the night were Mohit Chauhan and Javed Ali, who won many hearts with their voices. Rahman even called two college kids, who produced alien, but amazing music from their throats. However, the most marvelous performance was the jugalbandi between violinist Ann Marie Calhoun and sitarist Asad Khan; the performance gave me goosebumps, especially Asad's notes, which were just out of this world! That spell-binding performance made me want to learn the sitar next, that is, after I can produce some sound out of the flute that I own and violin which is next on my list. They changed the stage a couple of times to suit the medley of songs, of which the qawwalis were the clear winner. They had the singers seated on mattresses in chaste white clothing, with Rahman on the harmonium, and the background had lovely images reminiscent of a dargah and arches typical of Islamic architecture. The whole Sufi atmosphere brought me to the verge of theism! They started with Arziyan from Delhi 6, a true gem, and then moved on to Khwaja Mere Khwaja, Kun Faya Kun and other mystic tracks. It was just ethereal. The lasers and lighting was amazing throughout the concert and added to the magic of the night.

[Two of the greatest sons of India.]
The most special part of the night was when midway through the concert they announced that a very special guest was present there and that person would be called on stage. Now of course, it is no secret that a lot of stars and starlets attend such mega events, and everyone expected someone like Ranbir Kapoor to come since they were doing a lot of tracks from Rockstar. However, it was a wonderful surprise when they announced that the special guest was none other than the greatest cricketer of all time, Sachin Tendulkar. The minute his name was announced, before he could even get on the stage, the echoes of "Sachin Sachin" shook the stadium. Everyone was on their feet, many of us on our seats, and just chanting his name. The crowd relented only to give him a chance to speak, and as soon as he was done, the started again It was unbelievable to witness the kind of support, love and adulation he commands! I've seen him up close when he had come for an ad-shoot in my building, and have seen  the frenzy even when he is at the non-striker's end in a cricket match, but to behold the euphoria he generated at a non-cricketing event is un-fricking-realistic! He truly is the only India who can command unopposed respect and support. The crowd was in a delirium, witnessing two gods, together, praising each other, two individuals, who are true gentlemen, simple, humble and down to earth beings bereft of controversy, beloved by all and above all securing the love and deference of the masses, excelling beyond expectation and imagination in their respective fields and two of the greatest sons of India bringing it glory and pride like none other. They should most certainly be awarded the Bharat Ratna, none deserve it more; but more on that in a later post.

The concert went on till 10 in the night as promised (Damn the curfew restricting loud music beyond 10!). Rahman performed the whole three hours and did not act like many stars who perceive that time spent on stage shares an inversely proportional relation to their stardom. Fools! That is what sets him apart from the rest. If he wasn't singing, he was playing some or the other instrument, but his presence was throughout the show. I was amazed at how many instruments he could play with ease and finesse, the weirdest being a guitar with piano keys. The night ended with him singing one of the most moving patriotic songs, his rendition of Vande Mataram! It was spectacular. Although I was a little disappointed that he didn't my favourite Rahman number, the oh-so-moving and getting-tears-to-your-eye-song, Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera from Swades. But then again, he has so many great songs to his credit, that he must have been confused as to what to pick and what not to pick.All in all, a wonderful three hours spent, where we were awed, moved and uplifted to a different world, where our passions were ignited, all worldly cares and troubles obliterated, and we were left with joy and ebullience. One of the best concerts ever! That's the closest an atheist like me could have come to divinity and God, thanks to the two present there! Do not miss it the next time he comes to your city or the attendees and the youTube videos shall make you regret that for a really long time.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Of exAMINatiOns and Acid Tests!

[Oh that dreaded word again!]
I have always loved this particular style of word puzzles, the name of which I know not, where a thought, idea, expression or saying is  smartly represented through other words. This particular one - examination, represents acid test, with the 'amino' acid hidden in examination, meaning a test. Although I may love this puzzle, I most certainly do not cherish what it represents so intelligibly - Examinations! Growing up, they weren't as much a spot of bother as they are now, for then not only was there hardly anything to study, well easy for  me to say that now, but also, Mum would ensure that you had studied everything at least a dozen times before the examinations! Over time, as she let go, I became more and more lax; from finishing the entire portion just in time for the examinations to the first time when you appear for one without having studied that last chapter in the book. That particular time you are as scared as a rabbit entering a strange burrow, not wanting to see the insides or feeling the stomach enzymes of a mean snake on its soft velvety skin. But over time you get not only used to the routine, but increasingly gutsy! As the syllabus increases and with it your daring, you find it increasingly difficult to finish everything and soon there comes a time when you have done just 30% of the portion till the day of the exam and that's when you start freaking out!

Being blessed with a great memory that very many envy, I realised that I could very well manage to start studying on the very last day, stay up the whole night with just a cup of piping encouraging coffee and manage to do study enough. That way, you end up wasting just a week in the whole year, getting time to pursue all your interests and hobbies. Maybe your score may fall by a few single digits, but you still manage to be among the toppers, i.e. no regrets whatsoever.  Initially, not many believed that was how I rolled, given my scores and success (I may have let go of my modesty here just a teensy bit), and dissed me, not that I cared  a bit. Some even tried the technique, who found it profiting. But you must know that those examination days require my full dedication and commitment, a simple code which means no physical activity (it tires you), no television except during eating (you waste a lot of time for it is difficult to shut it quickly and your eyes strain), no music (you don't want the tune stuck in your head, but somehow it always does creep in), limited talking (the gossip seems even more interesting) and unrestricted eating (you don't want your mind to wander)! All this results in putting on a few extra kilos and finding even the most drab thing interesting; I swear one of the days when nothing interesting was on the television, I found myself laughing at dubbed versions of worthless Tamil movies with even more worthless names like Indra the Tiger and Sivaji the Boss, films I wouldn't even dream of watching, ever!

The lack of sleep also takes its toll on you, your eyes becoming as bloodshot as a savage starved rapist, your hair dishevelled and curly for when you're studying you tend to play with it a lot, your nail growth slows (yes I notice such frivolous things as well) and your mind not in its place! I live like a zombie, doing random things and marking my presence only physically and acting like a machine, doing what is to be done, but beyond that, not knowing anything. Once I was so lost I was going to fill my water bottle on the day of the examination from the tap in the bathroom (in India nobody does that!) and once I erroneously and unexpectedly swallowed the seed of a black jamun! I hope my stomach acids were as strong as those of a crocodile; which could very well be the case for during those days, thanks to my cups of coffee and lack of sleep, the acidity in my belly is at its peak. That's not the only thing troubling my stomach; the tension and almonds consumed to aid my memory causes diarrhoea, while the coffee constipation! Oh woe be the cyclical assaults on my stomach that seem to be changing more frequently than the tides! Well, clearly they are acid tests! I may have even started hallucinating at times, for every time I walked out of the room and back in, I could confirm that fact that my alarm clock had been shifted just a little bit; well so much for being an atheist and non-believer! Your back also hurts from the lack of sleep and staring down at the dreaded book all day long. All you want to do is rest, but toil you must, to enjoy the spoils later. I then came up with a solution to beat the extreme boredom while pulling an all-nighter - napping for five minutes every hour, just to freshen your mind and relax your body. I even managed to master the technique of waking up exactly when I wanted to, in time to switch off the alarm before it rings, and one of my most cherished accomplishments, sleeping with my eyes open, where both your mind and body rest, but at the same time you do not descend into deep sleep.

I have realised, I now cannot seem to do well without the pressure of the last day. I may start studying a month ago, but in those thirty days I may manage to read not more than ten pages; I have a wandering mind, that treads to places ranging from what I shall do after the examinations to even lofty dreamy ones like the acceptance speech of my Booker Prize! However, come the last day, I manage to finish a five hundred page book in a day. Performing under pressure seems to be my forté. And as far as the Booker is concerned, I shall get there one of these days! Everyone had advised me against this vice of mine, but I seem to be sucked too deep into the vortex to recover! However, I do realise the shortcomings of my method of study; it may do me physical damage or maybe cause my mind to blank out, thank god nothing like that has happened so far. But I cannot deny the fact that I am being stupid. I may not exactly have had good luck during examinations, from a scary and scarry accident on the examination day to illness and other problems, but I certainly shouldn't add to that my idiocy! So this birthday I had decided, among other things, that I shall try to complete my syllabus much in advance and give the exam whackiness a rest. Let's hope I do not disappoint myself this time.
X X X X (that's me crossing fingers in my hands and toes in my feet!)

P.S.: Examinations and other things prevented me from posting all month long. And a belated Happy Birthday to me!! May the 13th always be lucky!
Oh and a warm welcome to my brother Monish who just started his blog a while ago.