Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When cricket was not a religion

Sudhansu Mohanty

First Published : 29 Apr 2010 11:24:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 29 Apr 2010 01:41:27 AM IST

It was the summer of 1964. I’d just been introduced to the intricacies of cricket. The first Ashes test was being played at Trent Bridge. And the first cricket snap I pasted in my scrapbook was that of a debuting Geoff Boycott caught splendidly by Bobby Simpson, diving to his right at first slip, off Corling, for 48. At school, as we trudged back to our Class IV classroom after the assembly, we took great delight in exchanging notes on cricket played the previous evening in Old Blighty. I can still recall our animated discussions when Simpson scored 311 in the fourth Test at Old Trafford, and the masterly 256 by Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter’s dexterous 172 in England’s reply.
With cricket suffusing our young minds and governing our actions, the evenings had to be cricket only — no more badminton or table tennis. But then we’re diehard Anglophiles and we had to be back by 5.45 pm to listen to the BBC cricket commentary. And of course, read the Sport and Pastime. Cricket, Lovely Cricket, the weekly column by Alex Bannister was a must-read and in no time I’d gone through fifty-odd past numbers quickly borrowed from a cricket-crazy uncle. Such was the quick metamorphosis that by the time the same Oz team was in India, I was ready to receive them warmly in my young mind.
Even today, what seems an aeon, I can still recall the second Test played at the Brabourne Stadium. India was chasing 254 to win the match. Nawab of Pataudi had got out for 53 reducing India to 224/8. Hope of victory was quickly ebbing. Out trudged Indrajit Sinhji, the new gawky Indian wicketkeeper preferred over Engineer and Kunderan, to give Borde the company. The commentator’s voice choked with nervousness. Slowly as evening descended and we sat glued to radio, our hearts pounding and with prayers on our lips, the target seemed getting closer. The din meant India was getting there, and there was no earthly reason for us to panic in faraway Cuttack. Then with just two runs required, Borde drove the left-arm spinner Tom Veivers imperiously to the mid-wicket boundary. India had cantered home by two wickets. The sound and splutter of crackers that welcomed the Indian victory refused to die down. It was Vijaya Dashmi Day — October 15, 1964 and history was being made. We were on cloud nine.
The memory of that Dussehra evening is firmly etched in my memory. So much so that decades later I asked Chandu Borde the first thing when we gossiped in the walking tracks of the Poona Club how it felt to be in the middle trying to string a partnership with Indrajit Sinhji and take India to victory. He flashed a most beatific smile and conveyed in his own disarming way it was all very heady.
Borde’s face clouded over in the cow-dust hours of a winter evening as though he was facing the missiles yet again hurled at him by these mean merchants of speed. The West Indians were unarguably the world champions then in the 1960s and boasted of such cricketing legends as Gary Sobers, Frank Worrell, Conrad Hunte, Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Clive Lloyd, Seymour Nurse, Lance Gibbs in their ranks. And more importantly played cricket the calypso way.
“I still remember the two centuries you scored off them at Bombay and Madras in 1966-’67 Test series,” I said, my voiced tinged with admiration. “I shall always marvel at your efforts against the Windies as the best by any Indian batsman in an era when cricket was a sport and not a religion.”
We were chatting this time in the cricket pavilion of the Poona Club now fittingly named Chandu Borde Cricket Pavilion after he had inaugurated a cricket match our two offices were playing. “Today things have changed,” Chandubhai said, and without a trace of rancour. “We didn’t have the comforts cricketers have today. We travelled by train and stayed in humble hotels. And we were paid a measly sum.” He wasn’t complaining; he was only helping me to sketch the cricketing architecture in my mindscape.
Now I still remain the cricket buff of yore. But alas, with a huge difference. My visions of cricket have been in ferment — ever since the World Series Cricket in the late 1970s when it was ‘Kerry Packered’. Channel Nine TV changed all that I’d valued dearly and hugged close to my heart.
The once-gentleman’s pastime of the occident that combined the languid feline silkiness of oriental charm with the romantic English countryside, has now transmogrified into a monster industry of today with Hawk Eyes, Third Umpires, Match Referees, Slow Motions, Ultra Slo-Mos, Hot Spots, Snickometers, Extraaa Innings, Noodle-Straps, T20 cricket, IPL and cheerleaders adding to the cacophony of cricket played in 40-plus temperature, franchisees and big money bickering and scandal, and plethora of ICC rules to oversee quotidian infractions perpetrated by robotic mercenaries.
In throwback nostalgia how I wish I could play it back to my halcyon days and draw the collage in my mind much as I did when Trevor Bailey spoke in his measured, cadenced voice: “McKenzie comes in from the Hill-Port end and bowls… on the middle-and-off stump… the ball swinging away… takes the edge of Edrich’s bat and travels… to the third slip… who… dives full-length to his right and… and o… o… scoops up the ball in one hand… a splendid catch indeed by… Cowper!” and the measured, calibrated claps of the English crowd reverberating around the packed cricket stadium and streaming into the microphone. And I in my mind’s eye following the ball’s trajectory and journeying right off McKenzie’s arm — pitching, swinging, nicking the bat and landing in the hallowed hand of a diving Bob Cowper as other fielders leap cock-a-hoop in delight.
(The writer is Pr.Controller of defence accounts, Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)

On the passing away of civil service

Sudhansu Mohanty

First Published : 21 Apr 2010 11:02:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 21 Apr 2010 12:28:24 AM IST

Today we mourn the passing of a dear old friend, Civil Service. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: codes and manuals, standards and procedures, SOPs and protocols, work and service keeping the nation’s interest in mind and contributing terms of disdain as official and officialese, babu and babuese, mandarin and red-tape. Not to forget such unforgettables as that ‘everyone in a hierarchy rises to his level of incompetence!’
Civil Service started out with the intent of being civil in service. People well-bred and animated with noble thoughts were drawn to it and they set a standard that was accepted ungrudgingly, even when certain decisions went against their own private interests.
But the world began to change and so did independent India. Corruption, nepotism soon raised their ugly heads. The idea of a civil service morphed into something bizarre. Civil Service’s health began to deteriorate rapidly when he saw newer abilities — clever, ingenious, and overbearing — taking centrestage.
Civil Service lost ground when people pooh-poohed his sincerity and ratted on his inability to see the changing world. Civil Service lost the vim to live as offices became playgrounds of criminals who strutted about the world as larger-than-life heroes.
Civil Service took a beating when he couldn’t stop a senior cop accused of molesting a teenage girl from occupying the highest office in the state police and finally gave up the will to live, after yesterday’s villains were hailed today’s successes — if not heroes.
Civil Service was preceded in death, by his parents, Honesty and Truth; his wife, Fairness; his daughter, Neutrality; his son, Reason. Civil Service is survived by his following 11 stepbrothers (STBs) and one stepsister:
Pliability, who jumpstarted the metamorphosis, swaying to every crosswind and tilting at every windmill, testifies to being honest when it is the ‘rule of the honest’ (thank god for the temporary aberration!) and makes up for such aberrant time when the ‘propitious times’ come.
Malleability, who takes any shape. Being good inherently implies he is formless and can take any form the situation warrants. He thus emerges the ‘tall’ guy much as his opposite number is dubbed the ‘fall’.
Flexibility is the third son. He does as others desire — even does what others don’t want him to but dream him to! This is what distinguishes him from others. He is sui generis and destined to go up the totem pole. His reputation of flexibility reaches the pole before he actually goes that far!
Stretchability stretches till he snaps — hence is very altruistic! He allows himself to be pulled in different (even opposite) directions by invisible strings as though he were a marionette.
Magnanimity, is truly a candy stick, believes in giving as much to others as others want him to — even more at times if he could. ‘More’ makes him a star. In the process, he loses nothing but gains everything. It is a veritable win-win for all. This can be in the form of goodwill or money, even both. His Magnanimous GoI is always there to pick up the tab for the magnanimity dished out.
Filthy-lucre believes in making as much hawala transactions as is expected of him by him, and by others. He is the fulcrum that holds all attributes together. In a market-driven globalised economy, as a hardnosed practitioner of realpolitik and real-economism, he knows money is everything. So he does not tarry when the sun shines. He makes hay, which the original civil servant now lying dead called filthy.
Utilitarian is the narrative who sacrifices himself for use by others and for the utility of others; indeed, he is a philanthrope! His utility is his USP and he subsists in making memories of his past services. The beneficiaries are not ingrates. They fondly remember such utilitarian gestures and when the time comes for recognition their elephantine memory rewards him handsomely, often unasked. His climb up the totem pole is assured.
Drainy is the Siamese-twin of Utility, who has the ingenious capacity to drain the tax-payers’ resources for the greater good of his own numbers. It is, in fact, the lubricant that makes the wheels of governance run. Hence, in a way, this is the numero uno of all the stepbrothers.
Partier believes in partying at the drop of a hat and till he tires. A party is a melting pot. It melts the intransigents and melds them after him, who — now like putty clay — are ready to take the shape he wants them to. Of course, the parties have to be bacchanalian. He earns oodles of glory from these parties.
Garrulity carries DNA similar to Partier and has enormous capacity for endless chatter. He is a smoking hotspot of boasts, sleaze; he character assassinates civil servants. He thus has his fill, and endears and wows the august gathering.
Close on the heel of the last two, though born out of wedlock, is Cavalier who displays demonstrative smarts and derring-do. This is actually an outflow of the throughputs that the last few possess. Which is why, to the layman, it may border on magic realism and take one back and forth in rapid-fire motion to things that may seem and sound very surreal. But that is what it is meant to be: to put people in a trance.
I am not finished yet as Hallucinogen brings up the rear what with its Teflon-coat waiting to be given a fresh coat of paint. This stepsister shows the fertility to further fellow civil servants’ causes: promotion, scales of pay, cadre expansion — all at taxpayers cost.
The funeral procession was noticeable for the thinning attendance. None of Civil Service’s step-brothers-sister deigned to attend. They were busy in their own worlds. But the media in its curiosity (some say, even perversity) was present to tell the tale.
(The writer is Pr.Controller of defence accounts, Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)

Darshan for a nano-second

Sudhansu Mohanty
First Published : 14 Apr 2010 11:25:00 PM ISTLast Updated : 14 Apr 2010 12:37:37 AM IST

Since this piece has the potential of offending the devout and the devotees and raising their hackles, I must begin with my personal disclaimers. I am not a religious person; in fact, I am an agnostic. I pride in imagining myself a rationalist, though my incisive nephew Pronab has serious misgivings about my pretensions because of my fondness for Brian Weiss, and belief in the eternal soul and the transmigration of the same from one material body to another. I don’t visit temples on my own but I am not averse to visiting them when with others.
I planned the visit to Vaishnodevi only because my wife Shukla had evinced an interest a good quarter century ago to visit the Mata and we were, in any case, going to Srinagar. Given mine and my children’s agnosticism, for us it was going to be an experience, I thought.
Seven in the evening when darkness spread across the mountains and the lights shone brighter, standing at the base in Katra I looked up at the mountain trails high up my eye-line. I knew the Mata was even far beyond the serpentine paths — the gradient looked steep, the twinkling lights in the far high horizon seemed ineluctable. Our journey up indeed intimidated much before it had begun.
But we were determined — to make our experience count. We knew there was no battery-operated car since they don’t ply after six in the evening and we didn’t want to take the mule or pony or palki. So we trudged up.
Not so my legs. They cried for rest which I dutifully provided as Jai Mata Di, Jor se bolo, baithke bolo, haas ke bolo, pyaar se bolo rent the air. We were nowhere near the halfway mark to Ardhkuwari, which itself was only halfway to the Mata’s abode.
Reaching Ardhkuwari felt blessed. Now on, the incline wasn’t as steep as the one to it. The mules took a different route, so our path was cleaner and freer to walk. The thought of getting closer to the destination spurred us on. We quickened our steps and reached well past midnight and after a quick wash headed for the darshan.
It was a few days before Navratri and the place high up the mountain was abuzz with devotees thronging every conceivable space. A line — men, women, old and young, toddlers and bentbacks — snaked across as we wound our way through the milling multitude. Closer to the Mata’s shrine the grilled barricades caged the devotees in single-file to avoid stampede. I looked up the high mountain paths at the pony route lit up with bright lights ferrying devotees. It looked menacing.
“Leave medicines here,” the CRPF policewoman bellowed. “But they’re my BP medicine.” I protested. “No medicine can go to the Mata!” she fumed. Our darshan of the Mata was for a nano-second. My daughter Priyanka couldn’t see the deities as we were commandeered out of the tunnel. Back in the open I saw the same jostling. Around us, the din and bustle of pilgrims kept the place agog with wild excitement.
The walk down didn’t feel difficult. My son Prayag and I discussed the VIP darshan and the commercialisation of aarti priced at thousand rupees per head. “So while all devotees are equal, the privileged and the rich are more equal than the others,” he said, as we raced down the winding path to Ardhkuwari. By now our eternally braking knees were protesting. The guide enticed us to take the steps. By the time we had done the third flight of 500-odd steps my thigh muscles had cramped up. I could barely walk. I collapsed in a chair nursing my cramp and watched a pony struggling his way up with two gas cylinders on its tender back. The memories of palki-bearers and peethis resting en route came back to me in a flash. How hard it is for these people/animals to ferry humans up the mountain for devotees to have darshan?
Did the Mata wish this hardship on her devotees? Certainly not. No Mata worth her nobility would like her devotees take this trouble. No Mata would like animals beings tortured under the weight they’re made to carry to serve her devotees. No Mata would like her devotees with toddlers in tow to self-flagellate and stand in queue nightlong without the benefit of toilet, food and water for darshan.
It was daybreak. My mind still in a whirl, I tried to fathom the senseless human-created psychology of devotion imposed on poor senseless devotees trawling their young wards up the mountain path much against their wishes. For all the hardship and humongous loss of human hours, I thought if Mother Teresa wasn’t spot-on when she said, “Hands that serve are holier than the lips that pray.”
(The writer is Pr.Controller of defence accounts, Bangalore. The views expressed are personal)