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World Cup 1983 to 2011 – My Personal Journey

It’s hard not to react to this world cup in a very personal way. Most of the videos of player interviews that I have watched since are very personal, very emotional. Even the interview with Gary Kirsten, the South African coach sounds very emotional, almost in an Indian way. Most of the columns I have read since, blog posts I have browsed through seem to bring forth a personal, emotional aspect from the writer’s perspective. Here are some of the examples

I am no different. This event made me re-start my blog again, which I wasn’t able to continue for a while now due to work pressure and simple laziness. But this time, I had to come out and express myself.

This was the first Monday in a long long time, when I was visibly happy. My non-Indian colleagues would ask in their casual American way, “How are you?” and would get astonished at a very strong “I am happy” response. The entire weekend was dedicated to the match. Friday night and Saturday morning for obvious reasons, but during the rest of the weekend all I did was catch some sleep, get up and stare at my lap top- soaking myself into the videos, the pictures, the player interviews, the match reports, the ball by ball commentaries ( yes, I watched the match live), everything and anything that was written about the match, I lapped it up. By Monday, day end, I must have seen more than 10 hours of videos, clicked on thousands of pictures, most of them for repeat viewing and must have read every major blog, every major Indian newspaper and Pakistani, thanks due to some drone named Shahid Afridi. The amazing thing was, I was still not done. That’s the impact this world cup win has had on me and it seems I am not alone.

I figured out many years later that we had won the world cup in 1983. No, I did exist back then, I am not that young. But I existed in a remote hilly place in the Kumaun region of Uttarakhand state, located in lower Himalayas, also known as Shivaliks. My remote village back then didn’t have access to newspaper or radio. I landed in a small UP town in 1986 and woke up to a whole new world beyond the snow covered Himalayan peaks. A world that had organized sports, cricket being one of them. Before that I thought cricket was what we played after school on the un-even staircase fields of Kumaun where if you hit the ball too hard, sometime it took up to 30 min to recover it.  I woke up to the fact that my country played cricket and were good at it. I heard that some guy named Ravi Shastri was a star player and had won a very expensive car called Audi, in one of the championships. I still remember seeing the pictures in one of the old copies of Cricket Star, I think that’s what the magazine was called back then. It took me few more years to realize that India had won the biggest prize in 1983 and to fully realize that it was a very big deal, particularly keeping India’s one day record in mind until then.

After that, it was an overdose of pictures, replays and stories of that 1983 story. Some of the stories were repeated so often that they had started to acquire the shape of Hindu mythologies where stuff gets added by the narrator himself. 1983 was forever etched in India’s pop culture memory, and Kapil’s Devils were made out to be heroic almost to the same extent as Jai and Veeru from Sholay. Sholay and 1983 were probably the only two threads required to connect any two Indians around the globe.

India hit the rock bottom in 80s before slowly climbing back up in 90s, the stories with cast of characters such as Rajeev Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, PVN are by now well documented and repeated often. India cricket had hit rock bottom in 1999-2000 after the match fixing scandal. That’s the time it lost many fans, some never to return, except may be now. In 2000 Saurav Ganguly began the  re-building and found and groomed Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj and Sehwag, the mainstays of the team ever since. By 2003, the confidence was back and we almost had our moment before we had the meltdown in finals. The team in 2003 was stronger in some ways, particularly the bowling department where Zaheer, Nehra were both in form, spearheaded by Jawagal Srinath. But it wasn’t destined to happen back then and it didn’t. After the shock of 2007, I had given up on world cup dream, simply because of how difficult it seemed. You had to win 6-7 matches on a trot, based on my 2003 memory and I don’t remember our team doing that in recent past, except the T20 world cup. But, was happy to be proven wrong and loved it.

I wouldn’t go into the match itself as we all experienced it. This was probably the most watched match by Indians. Every friend and friend of friend I meet every neighbor, every acquaintance, present, past and future colleagues, in India and abroad have seen this match. But would love to comment on the change in mind set that I notice in the youth brigade. May be I am getting old now, but people like Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli or Suresh Raina definitely don’t belong to the generation of Indians we knew. Even Harbhajan and Yovraj were considered young no so long ago and aggressive, were different. They had just learned to give it back and were sometimes too loud and brash. But the generation of Gambhir, Virat and Suresh is one step ahead. There is certain calmness, some maturity about their aggression, the way they handle pressure, the way they are confident about who they are as Indians on the global stage, in some sense our generation never was, even when the hugely talented Saurav, Rahul and Sachin were part of the team.

Seeing these people, watching them play gives me inspiration and confidence that there is something right about India, that there is hope. Beyond the cacophony of our overcrowded cities, the dust bowls of our perennially broken and under construction roads, beyond the abject poverty and suicide of the farmers, beyond the sheer enormity of the population explosion, beyond the stupidity of our media and Bollywood, beyond the massive corruption among our leaders, beyond the almost defunct local governing and civic system, there is hope. Call me a romantic, but I can see it almost feel it on my nerves that lead from the eye to the brain to the heart that the road gets better and smoother ahead for India and Indians.





Traveler’s Destiny

Monk to Asoka “You are not an ordinary human being. You seem to have a great destiny.” “What is my destiny? To rule? To be a great king?”, asks Asoka.  “No, even bigger than that”, says the Monk. “Whose destiny is bigger than even kings”, asks Asoka. Monk, “ A traveler’s destiny, when he completes his journey.”  – from the film Asoka.

We are travelers, moving away from the single source we originated from billions of years ago. While we have no or little control over the need to move away, from the one original source, we do have the innate need within us to go back, in our own different ways. The desire to go back to our roots, from the point we started our own min-journeys in this super journey of human kind and life itself, is something that defines us.  How we deal with this basic desire, defines in a great deal, what we make of this life span.

The year was 1985, Indira Gandhi had just died, one of her murderers still being tried in court. Rajeev Gandhi was still the hope of new India and still talked about taking India into 21st century. In the summer of 1985, I set foot on the border of my village catching a bus for the first time. Little I knew that the journey I was starting on, was to continue on and one to longer and longer distances, farther and farther away, to places I hadn’t even heard before. Every step I took, corner I turned, every place I left behind, I it got fainter and fainter but the hope always stayed in my heart with a wish to go back, some day.

I was well into my adult life until I kept seeing the first house I grew up in, in my dreams. The house would be there in very vivid colors and I would be able see and almost touch every bit of detail. The smell, the texture, the trunks, the trash everything would show up. Not only that, I could close my eyes any time and transport myself back inside the house, live there for a minute or two before returning back to present moment. Then suddenly one day, I realize that I was losing those brain cells on which the house of my early years was imprinted upon. I was finding it harder and harder to remember the details; it was slipping away from me. It was not the best house, I would live in bigger and better houses, but this was the house I was born in, this is where I came from and not being able to recall the source as clearly was disconcerting at first.

Now, I remember the house through this poetry of Gulzar sab. I have no idea what Gulzar sab is describing here, but it sounds to me as if he is describing my first house, the house I left far behind, whose sand print is almost gone.

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To be continued…

Dibakar Banerjee and the rotten Indian Middle Class

Originally published on

I am a big fan of Raag Darbaari by Srilal Shukla, perhaps the finest satire ever written in Hindi literature,  I would eve suggest in entire Indian literature.  I would rank it right alongside Joseph Heller’s Catch -22 in terms of sheer breadth and depth. The subject of Raag Darbari is Indian village life, the type portrayed by Shyam Benegal in Sajjanpur and Well Done Abba, except the tone is sharper and humor far more loopier.

I appreciate the genius involved in writing quality satire. But at least in the written form you have the luxury of enough words and space to build up situations and describe characters. Doing it on screen in a two hour film should require super human skills. That’s why it’s so uncommon to find good black comedy in Indian cinema. We had our Jane Bhi Do Yaaro in 1983 which remains unparalleled to this date but it had silly situations and mad cap comedy even though irony was fully alive throughout in the film.

However what Dibakar does through his films is completely beyond any comparison. He combines satire and realism with such devastating impact that you have no choice but salute the man’s brilliance. Dibakar’s films are well loved and celebrated on PFC  , all three of them almost developing a cult following, but I don’t think in our busy lives we have time to appreciate how difficult it is what Dibakar does in his films . His films portray a certain literary quality, with enough humor and masala at the surface, yet far more deeper and cutting edge in the satire when you look deeper. You can laugh at the situations or cry at the sad reality projected through the characters and situations, while the characters remain completely oblivious of it. His characters are too sure of themselves, too busy living their lives, unaware of the irony that surrounds them.

There was a subject called Machine Drawing in engineering college that used to bamboozle lots of good students, including the author of this post. It required some other type of quirky intelligence to ace the subject, asking you to see shapes and dimensions that were completely beyond some of us. What Dibakar does, cannot be taught or learned, it requires similar type of quirky genius, the domain of only rare human beings. The accuracy of his observations and their subsequent portrayals on screen without wasting reels after reels of screen space requires you to think in an unknown hidden dimension. It seems as if Dibakar was peeping through the gates, doors and windows into our lives holding his camera and just edited the film afterwards. Right from the first scene in Khosla Ka Ghosla, where his camera pans through the gate into a typical middle class home where Maruti 800 is parked and newspaper guy on bicycle throws morning newspaper, the tone is set, which he maintains relentlessly through all three films he has made, coolly upping the ante in OLLO and LSD, every time we think he is done startling us. In KKG, he enters through the gate and takes his seat right on the couch in our small drawing room, on a coffee table that serves as dining table and as a drinks table when we learn to make ‘on the rocks’ to befriend our grown up son who belongs to another generation and another class, out of the myriad subclasses existing within our class. KKG is not that severe on expose, and only focuses on the timidity of typical Indian middle class, shows us what a scared life we live afraid of everything and everybody around us. We are scared of the real estate agents, the police, the government, the real estate sharks and even our own kids. The film exposes the complete lack of backbone in us, chipped away piece by piece by the daily grind of life around us. Anupam Kher’s character could be any of us, is in all of us. He is the guy in checkered coat, in R K Laxman’s cartoons. But at the end of the day, KKG remains  a straightforward good versus evil tale, an underdog overcoming a goliath story. I think Jaideep Sahani was the major factor there. It was his script and he kept Dibakar under control.

In Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (OLLO) however, Dibakar’s camera doesn’t leave any corner unturned. He walks right into the by lanes of Delhi’s middle class life , places his tripod and zooms in through the attached walls of the multiple houses illegally constructed by violating all sorts of municipal laws and encroachment on the narrow gullies. He exposes the classes within classes that exist inside what is typically referred to as the Great Indian middle class. Very swiftly he shows that there is a different class on one side of the car’s windshield versus another. Dibakar shows complete lack of interest in the yuppistan typically portrayed by Ranbir Kappor in Yashraj or Karan Johar films, representing only 10 % of the India. The subject of Dibakar’s attention in OLLO is the bystander who watches yuppistan from the sidelines and belongs to the 50% in the middle. Remaining 30 % of Indians don’t count, not even among the bystanders. Dibakar is very cruel in exposing the complete hypocrisy and way of life of this bystander class.

ctvv bhi chaida mainu, lcd bhi chaida mainu
laal mercedes chaidi mainu, laal kila bhi chaida mainu
haa haa chaida ho ho chaida

mainu chaida chaida chaida chaida
(chaida chaida chaida chaida) – 3

Above lyrics from a song in OOLO sum up the film for me. The 50% class has been given a long shopping list by the top 10 %, the government and multinationals and their whole life they are busy filling up their small houses with crap from this list they don’t otherwise need. Dibakar is not interested in exploring a Deewar type heroic story of mother not accepting money earned by son’s paap ki kamai. He knows how we would go to any length to collect all this stuff we need or don’t need. He shows how we have problems with bad deeds of someone only until we don’t benefit from it ourselves.

Dibakar’s control on his medium is complete allowing him to zoom in any small yet complex aspect of his plot and say everything there is to be said about it within a scene or two. For example, Jagrata, a common nightly event in North India where bhajans are sung to the tune of vulgar filmi item numbers and scantily clad girls dance on the stage to keep the crowd going, blurring the lines between a jagrata and mujra. Ram Gopal Verma made an entire film in trying to get behind the breaking news channels. In one or two scenes in OLLO, Dibakar is able to say whatever he had to say and much more effectively than RGV. I can go on and on.

Just when you think Dibakar’s epic telling of the great Indian middle class has been done, he comes up with third part of his trilogy. This time he takes his hand held digital camera and plants the camera right ahead into the private moments of his characters. Even in KKG or OLLO, he seems to hold a hidden camera. Otherwise how do you explain the pitch perfect acting performance by each and every cast member?  It seems as if there wasn’t any camera visible to these people when they were performing, so damn natural they all are.

I would like to add this piece from Time magazine about the death of Indian dream.,8599,1827371,00.html

The article talks about the class of people who work in malls and how they cannot afford pretty much anything from the glitzy shops they work in. It amazes me when I discuss this irony with my friends and they don’t seem concerned about the risk of instability this fact causes in the society. Their retort is there have always been class divide in India and people just accept it as a way of life. But the big difference to me is in the way the new found wealth of a small section of the society is not just dangled, but thrust from every direction in the face of the very people who cannot afford any of it. 30 years back, there were no civic amenities in the villages and life was pretty primitive compared to developed countries or even our own big cities. But back then, at least, there was no television with hundreds of channels each selling the illusion called India shining. I wonder how that villager feels today when his surroundings haven’t moved an inch in last 30 years, but he is told that somebody in the rest of India is catching with the rest of the world in terms of wealth and health. No wonder farmers commit suicide in villages that are not even 50 kilometers away from our big and successful cities.

It’s amazing how Bollywood chooses to completely ignore this class that looks through the glass doors of the multiplexes and shopping malls but cannot afford to go inside. Mumbai Meri Jan had one such character played by Irfan Khan. In Love Sex and Dhokha, Dibakar’s camera doesn’t spare anyone. From those who run the shops to those who work in them and the ones who do shopping in them, all of their worlds come alive and he shows their worlds collide. He wants to draw our attention to the fact that young India is not just the one existing in yuppistan, but also the one that makes and propagates MMS clips, the one that becomes the subject of it and the ones that dies in honor killing. The auteur himself maintains a completely neutral tone throughout. How cruel!

Which team are we talking about?

The following is from Can you guess which national team are they reffering to…?

To me it sounded like Indian Cricket team wt World Cup T20 and the premier league sounded like IPL.

The clubs and their players have grown so rich that XXX’s national team and the structure that surrounds it could be in danger of becoming almost a symbol of decadence, at the heart of which is a fateful mix of celebrity, big money, player power and media manipulation.

The perceived arrogance that gave XXX a self-affirmed justification for running news conferences only for hand-picked television reporters, while ignoring questions from up to 250 accredited international journalists, was just one symptom of deeper problems.

The players, cocooned in a luxurious world of their own, failed on the pitch because of rigid tactics and bad preparation — clearly YYY’s area of responsibility — but also perhaps because of a lack of identity.

As individuals, each player seemed more synonymous with his club team than with XXX.

But the whole XXX hierarchy was responsible for the squad’s apparent air of conceit and disdain towards the wider spirit of the tournament.

Book Review: The Next 100 Years

It’s been a while since I read a good book on geopolitics. Tom Friedman, my favorite writer and the leading geopolitical thinker of our times, disappointed me with his last two books. The brilliant author of ‘From Beirut to Jerusalem’ and ‘Lexus to Olive Tree’, gave in to his marketing impulses and dished out obvious banalities of our times on topics such as Globalization, outsourcing, Bengalore, India and software industry. The excessive focus on India and software industry smacked of the same marketing opportunism that made Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai, Miss Universe and Miss World in the same year.

Fareed Zakaria, the other popular geopolitical thinker, is good, but not yet great. In his book, “Post American World”, he writes on the same topic and makes the same arguments about the rise of India, China and other BRICs countries that ordinary people like you and I can make.

So, with that as my mindset, when I picked up this book by George Freidman, I was really excited. The book opens all its cards in the very beginning. For a change, the author is not arguing that it’s going to be a century or China or India. He lays out his arguments very clearly and makes the case why the world would remain American centric for the rest of this century. You would say, ‘Okay so, what’s new about that?’, ‘Why write a book about that?’. Well, I had the same reaction and the author raises the same point. Then as if to make the book more interesting, he throws up new challengers that are likely to emerge such as Turkey, Japan and Mexico and introduces Poland as another likely world power in 21st century.

By now, you must have guesses; yes there is a world war three scenario in the book. An American centric book by an American writer about 21st century and there is no world war three, how is that possible.  So, no prize for guessing that one.  And also, no prize for guessing that Turkey is the one opposing America, having emerged as the new leader of the Islamic world, in the scenario laid out by the writer. However, it did take me some adjusting to understand other players such as Japan and Poland in world war three and which side they would come out on. But the writer does a decent job of making his case.

And then, the world war three happens and the writer cannot resist his temptation to describe a war scenario. That’s when the book descends into Science Fiction and that too straight from Star Wars. Basically, having made the case for a super powerful America and the huge gap between US and the rest of the world powers, the writer can’t figure out how and why the smaller powers would dare to challenge the only super power. And, the writer borrows straight from Star Wars. Yes, there is a battle star and once you strike the battle star, it is possible to challenge the empire. If it sounds ridiculous and farce in the review, it’s much worse in the book. The writer acknowledges that the inaccuracy of predictions increases by huge margin and goes right back to making that mistake.

Minus the science fiction, the book is a great read and does throw some nice curves at you. The rise of Mexico and the population imbalance as the basis for it is well thought out and well explained. Many people foresee a sense of natural justice in California being flooded my Mexicans, but the author extrapolates on it and builds a well thought out confrontation between US and Mexico towards the end of century.

Ek Hulchul Si

It’s rare that we get a perfect film soundtrack in Hindi film industry. Dev D is one such album. The problem with a perfect album is that there are so many gems in it, not every one of them gets its due. Ek Hulchul si, didn’t quite get the attention it deserves, because there were bigger catchier numbers in the album such as Emotional Atyachaar and Saali Khushi.

Try listening to this golden nugget, in high volume in your car, on a long drive.

Agar dil mein hulchul na jage de to kehna


Kash Laga!

Zindagi ke kash laga

Hasrataron ke rakh udaa


Choodi hui bastuyan jata hun bar bar ghoom ghoom ke

Milte nahi hain nishan, chhode the dehleeze choom choom ke

Only Gulzar saab can write like that!

Only Vishal Bhardwaj can compose like that!

Only Daler Mehdi and Sukhwinder can sing like that!

You’ll have to watch the whole film, if you want to make sense of the video.

Business of Religion

Lord Tirupati opens an offsite campus, for its devotees in Bay Area, California. I couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard it. It exactly sounded like it is, an infomercial about a top tier business school opening a campus right in your neighborhood.  A gruffy man in thick telugu accent was explaining how on very bhaari demand from devotees, Lord Tirupati will make an appearance right here Bay Area where His thousands of less fortunate devotees (from spiritual perspective) will be able to darshanam and offer their prayers and hard earned money to the Lord.

I am always intrigued by the business of religion, but it never hit me in the nose until a few years back. It’s one of those transformations you undergo when you turn from an I into an NRI. Back in India, religion is everywhere, it’s in the air you breathe, the water you drink. The point is you don’t notice the organized business like structur around religion. You fool yourself that you are doing it all voluntarily, nobody is selling you anything. You visit the temple on Tuesday because you want to. You offer prasad simply because your parents always taught you and it gave you a good feeling, not because the temple on the main nukkad and the crowd in it on Tuesdays gave you a guilty feeling that you are not remembering your Gods. You do get a bit uneasy when you get hit by the nosy and obnoxious pandas at Haridwar or any other religious place, but you ignore them as exceptions. But, here in the land of the westerners, where you are trying to retain the last few traces of Hinduism in you, to be able to pass onto your off springs so that they remember who they are when you are long gone, the business aspect of the religion is very hard to ignore. You realize that in the world of super powerful capitalism, everything is business. The Panditji you hire for doing small puja at your place has a day job and tells you his rate list for various rituals you may want to perform. You can ignore the first panditji you meet and go around asking for a more authentic pujari who has slightly bigger portion of the day dedicated to the service of the God, instead of writing Java code, hoping that the puja will be more effective and more authentic Gods will show up. Then you realize that this new panditji who didn’t tell you his price in the first meeting and said, “de dena, jo apka man kare” (Give whatever you feel like) was only better and more suave at his business. You realize that you ended up paying more money to him than the one with the rate list. What more, you realize that he has a way to upsell you to get more money out of your pocket. I once went to one such panditji and asked for advice to calm some grihas (planets for Hinglish), as we were going through some tough time and parents from India advised that we visit a panditji. I was taken aback when I was offered 5 different types of pujas, depending on how much peace I was looking for. I thought I was the one looking for advice here, but it I soon came to terms with the fact that I am in America where there is a choice for everything.

I then met a panditji whose holy attire convinced me that this is the Godman I was looking for. He was always dressed up only in a white dhoti, any time of the day you meet him. And, his house in Sunnyvale spelled religion. The auspicious atmosphere, the smell of agarbatti burning all the time and the cleanliness made you conscious of even your own breadth. I invited panditji couple of times to my place and he was perfect, did everything per the procedure, sang shlokas in pure Sanskrita and he even sang Om Jai Jagdish Hare perfectly, which I was a bit surprised about as he was a typical South Indian Brahmin, with limited knowledge of Hindi. I thought, what the heck, may be  Om Jai Jagdish became popular in South India too, after Rani Mukherjee sang it in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. My wife was a bit more skeptical; she thought he was adapting his marketing skills to be more appealing to his North Indian clientele.  I had one of those moments with wife, where you feel like saying, “Oh honey, you know nothing and I know what I am doing, so don’t worry”. Overtime pandtiji cajoled us for regular visit to the mini-temple in his house on Friday nights. On couple of the occasions I went, I was amazed to see the crowd in his small house and the garage that had been converted into a temple. There was puja, there was aarati and of course there was food. Before long, I learned that Panditji had now built his own full blown temple and was the defacto head of this new temple and wasn’t available for house calls as he was too busy. I used to keep getting chain emails and occasional cold calls from his devotees, after the full blown temple was set up. And then we had another one of those moments where wife says, “see, i told you in advance and i was right”.

Have you ever seen a better business strategy? Build early customer successes, convert them into references, spread through the word of mouth, leverage your early customers to scale up, grow and expand and before you know you are a large corporation, listed on Nasdaq.

When we came to Bay Area in 2000, there were two major Hindi temples. One was a church converted into temple and the other a brand new construction from scratch. Being the naïve, Hindu Indian, it made perfect sense to me and I felt like saying , “Amreeka is great”. After all, people need religion as a way of life and two temples made a lot of sense, keeping in mind the size of the Hindu population. Overtime, we saw new temples creeping up in every corner of Bay Area. If demand exists, supply would show up, says basic principle of market economics and in this case, we were seeing almost a glut of supply. And yet, every temple was doing thriving business. Even in the midst of the recession, when restaurants started going empty even on weekend nights, temples would always be full and of course their demands for extra donation wouldn’t slow down.  Gods are not easy to please and their service costs money. The temple in the church, ran a long running fund raising campaign for further construction and raised humongous amount of money. We paid our share too, it just felt good and all of a sudden we felt grown up and mature because we were contributing to a temple construction, first time in our lives. The temple committee ran hard to resist offers. For mere $11, you could offer a brick. Now isn’t that better than even the Godfather offer, the one that you can’t refuse. In fact if I remember, so impressed I was by the sincerity and commitment of the temple committee that I sold the plan to many of my friends and appealed to the guilt in their minds and forced them to donate.

Construction did take place, we got a new façade, that made the temple look more like temple and less like church. Of course, the original walls were kept intact, the carpet from church days stayed and so did the benches in the halls. The bathrooms also remained intact as they were too scared to be remodeled, after all they were blessed by Gods of two religions. But a lot of construction did take place in the back side of the temple, the side you cannot see and the side where the temple houses its priests and other staff. Some of the atheists may find faults with that, but hey people serving God also need places to live, don’t they? And, what’s your problem, you did get your receipt and claimed tax exemption it, didn’t you?

Hinduism is not the only religion run as an organized business. Christianity and Islam have been doing it for centuries. Even though Hinduism is supposed to be the oldest religion, Christianity developed most of the business principles that then got adopted by other religions over time. But unlike Hinduism, Chritianity is run like a monopolistic, all powerful business empire, with big money and strong lobbyists in every part of the world. Any slight bit of resistance is quashed easily by all means, mostly bought by money in this day and time. Hinduism is a little less control freak and anybody and everybody is allowed to set up a shop, associate themselves with any of the hundreds of big brands from Shiva, Vishnu and Lord Hanuman to countless others. Hinduism is like Indian democracy, anybody with slight bit of ambition and entrepreneurial skills can start a part or set up a temple and secure the future of the next 7 generations of his family.

There is a positive side to organized Hindusim too. Even big brands like Tirupati or Vaishnodevi have a big volunteer side to them. Big business houses or people who believe that the almighty has been generous to them, donate lot of money and offer services to young and old, rich and poor who visit the place from far and wide. On the positive side, they don’t try to control anyone or advertize to anyone to come and visit them. The brands exist and keep growing stronger every year because of the faith in people’s heart.

Coming back to Tirupati, I didn’t mean to disrespect or hurt the feelings of the believers. I visited Tirupati once and like any other big shrine in India, Tirupati was full of devotees from far and wide who had come there on their own, without anyone telling them or advertising to them. The temple is obviously very rich, keeping in mind how much money gets offered by rich and poor and the management does an excellent job of keeping order. When I went there, I stood in a line that took 4-5 hours after which I found myself locked inside a big hall. I enquired around after finding someone who could speak Hindi and was told I was in hall number 26. There were 25 halls before me, full of people in them and our turn would come after they were done. It was almost like going to a ball game or IPL game, whichever one you like. There were vendors selling idlis and other snacks. After waiting for another 2-3 hours, I panicked, climbed the netty wall and jumped on the other side of the hall way. Two security personnel came and I requested them to just escort me out as I was no longer interested in darshanam and had to get back to Chennai, then Madras for my job next day. The security personnel showed pity on me and I was asked to get in another line that took only 3 more hours to reach the deity. I got my 3 seconds in front of the deity before I got ushered away, politely yet forcefully. Later I learned that I could have completed the whole process if I had paid some extra money and got into a different line, instead of the line for common men.

My experience of going to Vaishnodevi, was equally full of heroic tales. The hero was my newly married wife back then, because of whom I was visiting the temple for the first time in my life. She was heroic for tolerating me for the entire duration of 14 mile hike while I cribbed and whined the whole way. There it was not the wait, probably because we had gone in off season, but the sheer length of the hike to get there that made me panic.

I do not have any personal problems with religions being run as organized business, as long as they don’t turn into an organized mafia like business or try to control or kill people. I try to stay conscious of the fact that I came to the temple for a specific purpose and should not get distracted by the rampant commercialism around me. After all, they are not forcing me. They are appealing to the guilt inside me, but making the whole act very dramatic so that you end up offering more than you came planned for. But hey, that’s still better than some religions that turn people into killing machines or try to overtake people’s daily lives. Besides, organized business nature of the religion makes it accountable to the clientale in some direct or indirect form. But still, the idea of bringing Tirupati maharaj to Bay Area is a bit too ludicrous. Leave Lord Tirupati alone, please! Let people come to Him, they way always have.

Analysis of Team India’s paralysis

Back in 2007, when India won the world cup T20,

– Virendra Sehwag was recovering from loss of form and motivation under Greg Chappell. He was considered fat and unfit, almost like Yuvraj today. He was almost thrown out of test team and was struggling to hold spot in one day. His revival started with this tournament.

– Gautam Gambhir was in and out of the team, didn’t have a permanent place in the batting order. He had occasional good inning to his name but nobody took him seriously.

– Yusuf Pathan, who? That’s exactly what we all asked when we saw his name in the batting line up. It turned out he was Irfan Pathan’s brother and that’s how we knew him back then. It turned out he had a penchant for hitting sixes, was a useful off spinner and was cool under pressure.

-Among bowlers, Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan were recovering, were struggling for form and were desperate to regain their mojos and prove that they were long term prospects for India. Only RP Singh was in any kind of form, among the bowlers.

-We all know Joginder Sharma, who bowled the last over in the final was an unknown back then and still is an unknown.

– Above all, India had a new captain, the cool dude as he was known back then, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He played the game, exactly the way it should be played- with passion and certain nonchalance and yet remained emotionally unaffected by it. That may sound normal, but we all forget that these were rare commodities in Indian captains of the great past.

What happened rest, is history we all know. Ever since then India has struggled in T20s, and particularly badly in the last two world cups. All sorts of experts have analyzed the causes, as they did last year and we see a pattern of probable causes and solutions that range from plain myopic to so long term that they would produce results only in 15 or 20 years. People have blamed IPL and their parties, fatigue and above all, the inability of our batsmen to handle short pitched bowling and our bowlers to bowl at 150KPH consistently for 4 overs.

But we are all forgetting that, none of this mattered in 2007. These were the exact same batsmen, a few changes here and there, very similar set of bowlers. None of our bowlers bowled above 150KPH for 4 overs in their entire life, forget about a single match. In fact, we had plain medium pacers back then, RP, Irfan and Sreesanth. And it’s not like WC 2007 was played on flat sub-continental pitches, it was played in South Africa.

We can argue that the format was new in 2007 and Australia weren’t taking it too seriously back then. Now flip the argument, and see the irony of it. It’s India who is not taking the format seriously now and that explains it all. In fact it’s not just T20, now a days India is not taking any ICC tournaments seriously. Our fearsome and obscenely rich board wants to organize its own tournaments, on pitches and conditions where India can win consistently or regularly enough and we well know about how they betted everything on IPL, a tournament fixed in many ways such as 4 foreign players per team and designed to produce thrilling entertainment, not necessarily cricket.

But it’s not just the board. In fact BCCI or its policies didn’t win us world cup 2007. Yes they took credit for it, organized a big shameless celebration through the streets of Mumbai and hogged all the front seats at the ceremony in Wankhede, but the fact remains that we won the WC not because of BCCI but despite it. In fact BCCI back then, took the game and format even less seriously than today. They sent a second rung team devoid of the then stars such as Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly and Zaheer Khan. It’s the rag tag bunch of players they sent to South Africa that surprised one and all. They enjoyed their cricket, showed will to win, many of them saw it as a lifetime opportunity to revive their careers or establish themselves in the international arena.

That’s what was the big missing piece in 2009 and now in 2010. The team lost the freshness, the bloody-mindedness, the strong desire to prove themselves individually and as a team. They lost the appetite to play the sport, enjoy their game and win it. There is a certain fatigue about this team and it’s certainly not physical, IPL parties and all. The fatigue is mental. It seems the team on both occasions wasn’t able to figure out why they are there, why they are playing this tournament, who they are playing against, what kind of preparation they need to make, who is supposed to play what role and stuff. In that the IPL being staged so close to the world up dates, second time in a row played a big role. The team barely had time to see their families for a day or two, get together or prepare as a team. They were all flown to Caribbean and probably met in the team bus or woke up in the dressing room and saw who else made it to the team this time. You can blame it on the greed of our players and their inability to take a stand or their own personal decisions about attending IPL parties etc. but the reality remains that their bodies and minds were struggling to understand why they are supposed to appear on the field of cricket again, after non-stop cricket for 60 days in a row, intermingled with parties, cheerleaders, models and Bollywood babes being thrown at them at random. After being asked to become mass entertainers by Mallya, SRK, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty, they were being asked to be sportsmen again, within a span of 4-5 days.

I am not saying the technical issues such as inability to play fast bowling or quality of our own bowling are non-issues. But they matter far less in T20 than they are being made out of. And, for God sake, the solution is not to bring Tendulkar back and beg him to revive the fortunes of our T20 team. We should get used to the fact that very soon Sachin wouldn’t be around to save our ass in any form of the game. In T20 particularly, you need flamboyance of youth and dare devilry, you need 4 or 5 players who have the average talent but far bigger attitude and stronger spirit to make it in the international arena. Yes, you need solid backbone as well. But we have that in the form of Sehwag, Gambhir, Dhoni, Zaheer, Nehra and Harbhajan and Yuvaraj when he is in form. Around these people, we need new Pathans, new Rainas and new Utthappas, people still unexposed to the fear of Australian fast bowlers and willing to square cut them or even hook them and given full confidence by the captain to do so.  And players who feel like their lives have been fulfilled by IPL, they have actually achieved their self actualization in life, should be left in the backwaters of Bollywood to play extras on the film sets and occasionally appear in TV shows and play some more IPL games.  Life should go on without these souls!

Age of Innocence!

Original post, first published on Passionforcinema –

There is always a certain period in our lives that defines us, for the rest it.  For me, it was the 10 year period between 1984 and 1994.  I sometimes feel as if had lived my entire life during that 10 year period and now am i am living the same life again and again. The first 5 year period, i.e. the time between 1984 and 1989 was the time during which i lost my innocences. The second 5 year period, i honed my methods to deal with this world, as i had uncovered it by then. It still remember the day, Indira Gandhi was murdered and somehow i started becoming aware of the world around me. two years later, i found myself transplanted from  remote hilly village to a small town and thereby i started a journey that I am still continuing, a journey that took me to a larger and larger cities and finally beyond the frontiers of the country i was born in.

In the blog post below, that i wrote for Passionforcinema, i recapped the period of 1989-90. The post was mostly about cinema but in a way it was my tribute to my friends of that time, that i slowly lost touch with but i will never forget. Friends like Kamal Kishore Srivastawa, Rajesh Malpani, Vipin Pachori, Vivek, Tarun Maheshwari and many others. I still remember the special show of Maine Pyar Kiya that Kamal organized at his place, especially for me. These friends helped shape me, taught me many life lessons and helped prepare me for the longer term life battles. Whererevr you all are, i will forever be indebted to you.

Here’s the post as it was published on PFC…

The whole day, week, in fact month had gone by in a blurr. Whatever life was left in us after the brutal 3 weeks long board exams was sucked dry by the competitive exams, one after the other. REE, JEE, CEE, they came in all kind of acronyms and each one hit you harder than the previous one forcing you to question your will to live after spending 3 non-stop hours solving math, physics and chemistry problems that we would never see again in our lives. Finally, on one May afternoon, the nightmare ended and last of those exams got over. Luckily for the last exam, I had gone with my friends, not with someone from the family and we decided to have some fun after it. Our idea of a fun in those days as 116-17 year olds, was to be able to watch a film.

We all had a new crisp feeling of freedom in our minds and we could have watched any film we wanted, since we were in a different city. And we wanted to watch them all, because we were pretty deprived of film watching in those days. I was particularly deprived of films, except the Sunday evening film on DD and occasional visits to theater with the family, I hardly got the opportunity. But fascinated I was even in those days. I had had multiple bicycle accidents simply because I was too busy staring at film posters that used to be on every major wall on every street corner those days. I was particularly obsessed with film posters in those days, those large posters that used to show almost full scenes from the films on them. I would imagine myself sitting in theatres watching those scenes unfold on screen with all the sights and sound. It used to be a mayavi world for me that held a special attraction. For some reason, I don’t get that feeling anymore, visiting those air-conditioned multiplexes.

Back to the story, we decided to head out to the nearest theatre and watch one of those films that were tormenting me from the posters for past few months. A friend suggested Maine Pyar Kiya, running to houseful shows those days. I was’t very enthused because the film had two newcomers and a pigeon on the posters and didn’t seem to have any fight scenes. A good film in those days for me, meant lots of action, rona dhona, fights, emotions, songs in Oonty and everything else. I was suspect that I would like this weirdly named film. But my friends who were savvier than me were hell bent on watching MPK only. We went looking for the only theatre in this fairly large city that was running the film and after lot of dhakka mukki, we could get tickets, albeit for the front row only. By the time we settled down – Salmaan Khan was already back in the city and the first song was on – Tum Ladki ho…Main ladka hun. And everything looked so different, so fresh, the music, the cinematography, the sets, everything looked polished and well done and we weren’t used to it. This was a case for instant love at first sight for all of us. We fell in love with the film, but more importantly with the heroine of the film Bhagyashree. So madly we were in love that we didn’t mind that we were sitting on the first row. Despite the front row seat and sprain in my necks, this was the finest film viewing experience in my life. Yes, like other things, film viewing also has a time and place value. To us, Bhagyashree became Madhubala and Nargis and Nutan and every other name we knew combined. She was the epitome of beauty and more importantly innocence.

We all went our ways and I landed up in my engineering college. This love for Bhagyashree lasted several months for all of us. I just couldn’t like any other film for some time after that, so perfect was MPK, the film for me at that time. And I realized that, I wasn’t alone. Bhagyashree started a new trend of being on posters that adorned the walls of hostel rooms, fully dressed up, unlike other contestants on the walls. She was the one of the most popular faces on the posters that sold on footpath in those days that would end up on the walls of boys’ hostel rooms -only behind Samantha Fox, mostly without clothes and Madhubala in one of her classic back and white poses.

After these many years and after watching several hundred films since then and having lived through multiple growing up phases of Bollywood, it makes me chuckle how could we like Bhagyashree so much, with not beautiful enough and definitely not sexy face and that squeaky voice. But in those days, we were in love, head over heels. And, how did we explain our love for her – the innocence in her face. That’s what we called it – “Oh She has so much innocence on her face”, not even sure if that was correct English. May be we were trying to characterize her baby face, her squeaky voice, her cute smile, I have no idea, we called it “Innocence”.
Oh yes, for a brief interval in Bollywood, innocence was the defining characteristic of a Hindi film heroine. The phase was started by Juhi Chawla who appeared in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, a year before in 1988, a film that I saw after Maine Pyar Kiya. Compared to Bhagyashree’s character, Juhi’s character was more real. I have come across many such north Indian girls who grow up in highly protected joint family environment, totally oblivious to the world outside. I am, in fact, married to one such person. So the plot background and characterization made Juhi’s innocence much more believable. Combined with that her dialog delivery style, using ‘Hum’ instead of ‘Main’ for herself and her pristine beauty made her instantly popular.

But Bhagyashree’s popularity was something else. When you put it in perspective of her later performances and realize how little talent she had, it’s just amazing how much impact she had with one film. Her decision to retire with one film and settle down in a married life with the lover of her life, made her aura grow even larger.
So impactful were these two heroines that for a while, they overshadowed their more talented and equally great looking male counter parts in the films. Not that Aaamir and Salman didn’t become popular, in fact they were the rage of the generation, but the love shown by masses for the heroines was something else. Aaamir was immediately hailed as one of the great acting find, even though the comparisons with Kumar Gaurav and dangers of becoming a one film wonder remained with him until much later when he found his groove. Salman was ladies’ heartthrob. He was what every girl wanted to be with and what every buy wanted to be like. For the boys, who wouldn’t want to be like him- drop dead gorgeous looks, rich spoilt brat who car races with his dad on his phoren return trip from airport to a his big palatial house. Heck, you wouldn’t even mind tolerating a squeaky voiced heroine if you got everything that Salman’s character had going for him in the film.

Maine Pyar Kiya was Suraj Barjatya’s first film. After this super fresh approach he went on over drive and made Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and reached his peak after which a decline set in. Maine Pyar Kiya had some great dialogs, again a rage of the time, just like the heroine of the film and brilliantly spoofed in Om Shanti Om by Farah Khan. “Dosti Ki hai janab, nibhani to padeegi”, “No Sorry, no thank you” became catch phrases and equally popular was the thunderous dialog delivered by a boyish looking villain, Mohnish Behal in his debut film, “Ek Ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte, yeh to ek bahana hai, tarapti hui ration mein, dhadakte huye dilon ki pyas bujhane kay”, yeah, something like that.

Anyway, back to innocence – as I said before, it became the single most important characteristic for heroines to have in those days. We saw several new faces debut but no one made the mark quite like Juhi or Bhagyashree. Ayesha Jhulka charmed us in Qurbaan and even more so in Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander before sputtering out with films like Khiladi and eventually settling down into marriage. Divya Bharati seemed fully capable of carrying the innocence genre forward, but her journey got cut short by her suicide. Even Nagma made her debut as an innocent and fresh face in a Salman film, anyone remember “Kaisa Lagta Hai..” from Baaghi? I still remember that because I had two Butanese students as my neighbors in the hostel and they were fascinated by the tune so much that they would not just listen to it all the time, but would try to sing it too. Can you imagine, two chinki dudes, singing “Kaisa lagta hai” in their tone and with no idea of what the lyrics meant?

There were many more – Pooja Bhatt, Manish Koirala and some unknown Gulshan Kumar heroines. The biggest make over was achieved by Anu Agarwal who went from a almost lingerie model to an innocent face in Aashiqui. Aashiqui was probably one of the most anticipated films of our times. The music was so popular that our hostel mess manager played the album non-stop for three days during breakfast lunch and dinner for an entire week on the stereo player in full volume and no one complained. Immediately after Aashiqui came and became a runaway hit, posters of Anu Agarwal showing her midriff a little too much in a button open jeans appeared and made hysteria. It was almost like a Disney heroine, appearing in a porn video. In those days Mahesh Bhatt used to claim that he could make any even dead wood act. The way careers of Anu Agaral and Rahul Roy went after the super hit debut, proved him right.

The age of innocence in Hindi film industry didn’t last that long. The new queen B of tinsel town had arrived in 1988 , the same year Juhi had become the face of the new generation in QSQT. Madhuri had a quite start at box office during the peak of the torture era and went unnoticed until she stormed the box office in a bold new avatar in Tezaab. 1988-89 was a turning point in Bollywood in many ways. On one hand QSQT brought back the trend of musical love stories with fresh faces, on the other hand was Tezaab, the ultimate masala film and both were big hits. From then on, Madhuri made her own rules. In an age of innocence where most heroines were trying to play coy on screen, Madhuri gave us dum Dama Dum, Dhakdhak and Choli ke peechhe, a complete opposite of the innocent character. The innocent age beauties couldn’t stand the heat from Madhuri and wilted away. Juhi tried to repeat her innocent act in films like Tum Mere Ho and Love Love Love opposite Aamir, but it didn’t work because the films were simply bad but in many sense, times were also changing and audience were moving on to Madhuri. Juhi did prove her versatility later in Hum Hain Raahi Pyar Ke. Bhagyashree came back from retirement to deliver turkeys after turkeys on box office. Ayesha Jhulka and Nagma etc, disappeared without trace. There were few other faces in between, like the one in Sanam Bewafa and Manish Koirala who tried playing the innocence card but failed after their first films. Madhuri once and for all shattered the innocence image with films like Dil, Beta, Ram Lakhan, Khalnayak and many others. Even when she played the Barjayta heroine in Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, she played it in her unique style which was more sassy than cute.

The period from 88-89 to 1995 was coming of age period, not just for the people of my age and the Hindi film heroine, but also for the Hindi film industry and the nation as a whole. In the period of Dev D, it’s hard to understand but the seeds for most of the major changes we see today in our cinema were sown during that period. On screen the heroine changed from innocent baby face to sexy and a more rounded figure, literally and figuratively. The nation as a whole underwent the biggest transformation with the opening up of economy, opening up of media, mini-explosion of channels, and several other changes. With Rajeev Gandhi’s murder, our generation had lost the naïve dream of taking the country into 21st century and leading the world once again. But with the Manmohan Singh showing the way, we realized that we can dream again, even if it was a different dream. It’s not just the Hindi film heroine, but our society as a whole lost the innocence and matured overnight due to sudden exposure to the world outside.

It was a brief period, but it was a beautiful period and would always remain as great memories in the minds of all of us who grew up during the times.