Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fast And Furious – From a Fast Bowling Fan

Fast And Furious – From a Fast Bowling Fan

Having a Malayali sounding surname means there are plenty of times when people mistake me for one. I am usually in a hurry to deny it and offer the unnecessary information that I am of Andhra origin. But there are two exceptions when I let the  lie, lie. The first is whenever a hot mallu girl approaches me to make small talk in the mistaken impression that I am a fellow mallu. The other and rarer occasion is when I face a mallu fast bowler. And that hasn’t been for a long, long time. But the reason those remembrances came back to me was when I was watching the Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson subduing batsmen with genuine pace by threatening to do serious damage to their bodies and psyches. Unbidden it brought back hallucinatory memories of facing tall, pacy, threatening bowlers in my college days. For  quite sometime i was lost in nostalgic fear of my past.

Now if you haven’t heard it before let me assure you that I was no way a great batsman let alone a college-team level player. But as an accident of joining a geek college filled with nerds who have only seen a cricket bat on TV before holding it for the first time on the pitch in a inter-collegiate match and also because my college male female ratio was disproportionately skewed to the female side by a 3 is to 1 margin, all available male students were automatically drafted into the team to make a playing eleven and barely making a eleven at that.

A small proficiency in playing street cricket, in the guise of bet-matches in the neighborhood streets had made me more of an experienced hand in the team than more than half the others so I was politely invited to open for the team as all others declined to do it. Anyhow the other teams in the inter-collegiate matches used to have genuine players- guys selected on sports quota, guys who knew which end was the handle and which the toe of the bat - you didn’t have to teach them to run for every single unlike some on my team.

Most of the batsmen in my team used the windmill style of batting where you close your eyes and swish your bat all around as the ball is bowled. If you are lucky the bat does not connect with the ball which goes back to the keeper. If you are very lucky it connects to the ball and goes past the boundary line. If you are neither it connects to the bat and goes straight to a fielder. And then there are days when the gods smile on you and the ball which connects falls straight down between two fielders and you scramble to run to the safety of the other end. But those lucky days are few and far between them. The usual over was 0, 0, 0, 4, 0, Bowled. And that how the batsmen of my team scored runs - either boundaries or bowled.

Now you must understand that prior to going off to the intercollegiate tournament we, the team that is, had absolutely no idea of the kind of opposition we would be actually playing. We just had a few net practice sessions where everyone used to clown around and take it easy. For really we had no option because we didn’t even have enough of a kit to go around because the college authorities used to look down on non-academic activities and other than giving permission to go play they washed their hands of the whole thing. Bats were scarce, balls were inadequate, pads were non-existent, gloves were a dream and there was a single abdomen guard (the cup-shaped thing which was used to protect our uhmm, delicate man parts) to pass around from player to player and which by the time it reached player no 5 or 6 was not fit to be worn without being doused in a whole bottle of dettol. I guess that alone made me decide to take up the job of opening the batting rather than anything else.

In every single match we played I had to face up to bearing the brunt of the fast bowling from one end while the swashbucklers on the other end used to come and go with regular metronomity. Truth to tell, I wasn’t even a mediocre batsman but more of a fasten the bunkers, lock the doors and lets survive this kind of hunkering opener. Whenever I went in to bat my only thought was to make sure I survived without getting out for my job was to keep one end up till the cows came home. That meant that I never had to put bat on ball, I could simply watch the ball move past me straight to the keeper while I tucked up my bat behind me.

And thankfully I don’t recall many balls pitched straight at the stumps forcing me to play unless it was by accident. The reason for this was simple- because remember this was the era of Glenn McGrath and the bowling in the off-side corridor theory. Every single fast bowler tried to ape McGrath and bowled straight past the stumps inviting the batsmen to hit out and nick one and playing on his patience. On the other hand if someone was like me, under no compulsion to hit out, then he could safely stay away from the worst of the bowling. My job description was to survive till the end and let the other batsmen hit out and make all the runs and I stuck to my job manfully

I don’t know if the six inches of the off-side corridor ever bought those fast bowlers many wickets but they seriously used to scare me off. The sight of a tall (for the average Indian) broad fast bowler running straight at you does give you something to think about doesn’t it, something like what the hell am I doing here instead of sitting in the library and reading like a good student. And by the time that thought is completed the ball is past you and to the keeper and you are forced to swallow spit, look up to see the bowler walking back so you can relax a bit and then crouch back into stance again. I don’t know why it was so but back then every team had fast bowlers of Kerala origin- maybe because they had the physique necessary to bowl fast. And in the break of play whenever a tall strapping Kerala fast bowler came up and said "hi" to me I used to respond enthusiastically with an "endha" hoping he would spare me the ignominy of ducking bouncers later on if he thought I was a fellow malayali. 

 Watching Mitchell Johnson putting the fear of god into the pom's and the saf's has brought all those memories back. Stuff I have never thought about for a decade or so have suddenly been coming back in bits and pieces when I watch the stumps rattling on TV. And whatever else is wrong with cricket nowadays, the most thrilling sight in cricket is watching a fast bowler let it rip. That is if you are not the batsman facing him. So what do you think? Are you a fan of batting, six hitting or bowling, stumps flying? Do tell.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fifty for Four.....

Fifty for four –Not a Cricket Story.

Now if you have come here thinking that is a post about cricket sorry to disappoint you it is not. The one about cricket is actually going to be my next post. This one is about more mundane matters like the shenanigans which goes on in the name of social service. I know, I know, I keep harping on this same topic again and again, driving you away, but bear with me, I need to de-tox a few festering thoughts from my mind and let go of the angst and anguish I feel. And what better way to do it then to blog about it. So here goes.

Yesterday I was at an orphanage for a free medical camp. There were four of us on the medical team - two children's specialists, a general medicine specialist and me. When we introduced ourselves to each other the other doctors said, only half-jokingly, that I would be the one with the least amount of work to do- just to check the kids and write the prescriptions for unlike them I didn’t need to deal with the sort of diseases which all kids carried. But in that they were mistaken as I ended up getting more and more patients than the others simply because the kids were very bright and as soon as they realized that I was the only one who was actually glad to be there for them while the rest had come for mere formality's sake, the kids started lining up in front of me even for diseases I was not supposed to treat. This did cause some muttering and murmuring among the other doctors but in the end they just let it go because after all it was less work for them.

So dealing with the large crowd of kids in front of me was a satisfying but tiring work and took all day till I finally took a break for lunch. When I enquired among the orphanage people for nearby restaurants- it was a new area for me and I had no idea where to go for lunch, the man in charge made, I suppose, a half-joking proposal that I could share their noon meal with them. To his surprise (horror?) I immediately acquiesced enthusiastically and went down to the common dining hall where all the kids were lined up with their plates. I grabbed a plate too and joined up the line in the back while the other doctors made faces of disgust and signs of vomiting at the quality of the food served to the orphanage kids and went away to a nearby "decent" restaurant to have their lunch after advising me to start antibiotics immediately for the umpteen number of diseases I was likely to get after eating that food.

I disregarded their prejudiced advice and stayed on with the kids and soon I was served with the same one scoop of lemon rice and one scoop of curd rice with lime pickle the orphan kids (all my patients) were being served and I sat down to eat with them in a sama bandhi bhojanam style. I didn’t do it to make a point to anyone else; I did it simply because I felt that for that one day at least I should share with their lifestyle, Oliver twist style. We take many things for granted in our lives and bitch about silly things all the time and it takes such occasions to open our eyes and show us the truth of the privileged lifestyles we lead. I was happy with that simple meal mainly because of the enervating company all around and I went back in a fully recharged mood to the auditorium where we had arranged our medical camp for the post lunch session. 

Meanwhile the group of three doctors who had gone restaurant hunting had returned in quite a bad mood from the local restaurant they had selected for their own lunch. They came up to me and asked me "hi did you eat that slop only from their kitchen or did they give you anything else?” I answered truthfully bewildered at this line of questioning "I only had what everyone else had". Then one of them piped up "Did you know that the volunteers from the NGO who had arranged this camp had ordered fifty full meals (packaged meals) from the Adyar Ananda Bhavan (a costly restaurant) for the camp participants and the food had been delivered here while we had gone away?". This was a surprise to me too and they could see it on my face so they started giving me more information "The cost of the food has been added to the camp expenditure account says the orphanage in-charge which means that the food has been written on our account- as if we had eaten it". I was perplexed at this creative accounting "but even so why? Why fifty meals for just four of us? And that too without informing us about the meals being ordered?” The child specialist was livid with rage "Exactly my point, why should we spend our own money to have our food when we are just doing charity work for free? Shouldn't they have given us food for the service we do".

I started to argue with them regarding the absurdity of this statement - given that what they earn in fees for a month would probably run the orphanage for a year but on reflection kept my mouth shut as I was sure they wouldn't understand the fine distinction between doing something with expectations and doing it for gratis. Anyhow the main point of interest here was where had the fifty meals gone and to clear it up I requested the orphanage staff to ask the two lady volunteers who had arranged the camp to come up to us so I can ask them what was going on. So imagine my surprise when I learned that the two lady volunteers from the NGO had taken charge of the food parcels and had already left the orphanage for their office concluding their business here for the day.

Well, I accept that given my limited knowledge I don’t really know what goes on behind organizing these kinds of camps and how accounts are written and settled but it seems to be a bit farfetched to write down fifty meals for just four of us and meals which we hadn't even seen too. If they had needed fifty meals for their home office why hadn't they ordered it to be delivered there directly? Why wait to take delivery here and leave with them? Or did they just write down the number in their accounts without ordering anything? Mysteries more puzzling than my limited imagination can give me answers for.

But what I can’t digest is that the money which such ngo's spend for these kinds of charitable events is our money - the common mans money which people like you and me donate for the needy. It’s not throwaway money but money which we could use too for our day to day life to make our lives better but instead we make the conscious decision to donate it to someone who needs it more than us. And money is not earned easily (not unless you are a politician) for I have known people, like my friends from the it industry, who work twelve straight hours a day not counting the two hours spent on commuting up and down the OMR corridor from their homes -who donate their money (as they have no time to donate) in the hope that some good may be done to society from their hard work and sweat.

To take that kind of hard earned money from unknown goodhearted individuals and to misuse it like this seems a betrayal of the worst kind to me. Nowadays social work seems to be a code word for eating off the rest of society. The kind of people who are involved in social work are mostly crooks and misfits who cannot earn an honest living anywhere else. And they seem to come up with creative plans for tugging at our heartstrings to fill their bellies with luxurious foods while poor little kids starve. I know it’s not fashionable to have a conscience nowadays but I wish such social cheats who champion the cause of the unfortunates with sweet words and make use of gullible people like you and me- just for once look in the faces of those kids- kids as young as five and six with no parents, no roof and no food before they steal the food from the mouths of such kids.

On the other hand if they had even a little conscience they wouldn't be doing social work would they? They would be doing some honest work, earn money and then do social work with their own money, not go around with a begging bowl asking for others money. So what do you think?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Common Man in the Real Estate Market.

The Common Man in the Real Estate Market.

(Disclaimer: I have no especial knowledge of economics, finance or on any of the subjects I talk below except for what I picked up from reading in the popular media- so the sources for this post are all out there in the public domain- in newspapers, magazines and television.) 

Suppose you want to buy a piece of land to call your own, to build your dream house where you can retire to in your old age (the dream of every working man and woman), what do you do to make it a reality? As a first step you go out with the so-called real estate brokers (which group includes pretty much everyone else except you nowadays) and you pick them up in your vehicle when they say, where they say and you grin and laugh at their inappropriate jokes and accompany them as they take you all over the city into places you never knew existed, while they keep eating masala dosas and drinking umpteen cups of tea in your name (this is for your work, isnt it?) and finally they deign to show you worthless pieces of property at humongous rates which you just cannot afford on your salary unless you are prepared to mortgage your unborn children and their unborn children too in the bargain. And every time you pass the bank where you took the home loan you are reminded of the evergreen classic movie “do bigha zameen” where the serf/farmer is tied to the hoe and pulls it himself instead of the draft bullocks- a burden which finally lays him under six feet of ground.

Seems an impossible situation right? You are given a choice of selling your soul to buy a house or going through the rest of your life dependent on the whims and fancies of your house owner. If the said house owner is barely tolerable – which means he doesn’t resort to midnight knocking at your doors to check if the noise he heard from your house was you drilling a new nail in his walls then you can count yourself very lucky. On the other hand there are other kinds of picky house owners who will give you every kind of exam (including a rectal exam if you let them) or sniff at your breath to test if you eat non-vegetarian (eggs and meat) food even if you swear on your favorite dead saint that you eat only dead plants and grasses like they do, if you ever go to them to ask to rent their house before maliciously declaring that they have now decided to let it out to only a certain specified caste or community and you sadly don’t belong to their choice of preferred denomination.

And then there are those ultra-conservative landlords who swear that those who roam around in the nights are anti-social elements even if they are honest rent paying tenants and hence strictly lock their gates at eight in the night (an hour after sun down) to prevent the crime rates from rising. Not to mention ecologically-minded landlords who decide to act with a social conscience and conserve water by making sure that all the groundwater stays in the ground where it belongs and consequently their tenants don’t waste the two buckets or so water they are supplied through the taps every day at midnight. I could share more and more stories of such crazy, avaricious landlords but the point is made I guess, so I will move on with the rest of the post. which is about how every tenant, the “everyman” people talk about wants and yearns and dreams of the day he will be the sole owner of a piece of land to claim as his own where no else can come in and order him to behave himself, rent paid on time or not. I am sure you can understand the desperation of the hordes of people out there who are searching for such a piece of their own to own.

But if by accident you happen to switch on the television, especially the financial channels where men wearing suits and ties talk in big, big words about the economy, foreign exchange and stuff like that which goes way over your head, so what do you hear day in and day out from these self same knowledgeable economic experts and financial pundits? You hear them keep advising you that you are about to be cheated in the real estate market that is if you are stupid enough buy any land or an apartment, that the real estate market is going through an artificial bubble and once the housing bubble burst prices will drop down to the pavements- so dont buy land but go and put your money on stock markets - buy stocks like Enron, Satyam etc. their only financial advice seem to be to repeat the same two phrases “financial markets and stock markets”. If you believe them the only way to real wealth is through paper money where you are handed a piece of paper which says you own such and such a piece of company but where in reality unlike the directors and other owners of the company who drive around in luxury cars and dine in fancy restaurants all you get is a letter to attend a stockholders meeting where you hear the bad news that the depression is killing that sector of the economy so their annual dividends is once again in the red.

Well, if you are fool enough to listen to such experts and postpone your decision to buy that apartment then you are merely wasting time, for the situation does not change even when the economy tanks or a recession comes on us from America or even when the promised real estate bubble turns out to be just a stock market bubble and the stocks of much vaunted “rising sector” companies like Satyam which were heavily recommended by the same economic gurus were the ones which pop like soap bubbles. More than a working knowledge of economics what we need is commonsense in such conditions. We need to remember that land supply is limited and hence land is a valuable commodity. That’s why the real estate market is soaring even during recession times. But it brings us back to our original question, when there is a large gap between the average income and average cost of land what can we do to change this situation?  

Well you can take the conventional route and apply for a mortgage at the bank and hock your wife and children to pay the EMI every month and barely make the two ends meet for the rest of the month. But our wise bankers and economists and financial gurus will make sure that you the common man cannot take this easy way out to divert your money from its great role in saving the national economy and financial markets. They will get the RBI governor to increase the lending rates which means your local banker hands rubbing gleefully will increase your monthly EMI payment rates thereby making sure that you have two choices – either sell your mother-in-law if you find a buyer for her or just abandon your plan to buy a home. 

You can’t beat the system ever for our bankers are clever enough to even punish the wise guys who seek to sell some ancestral property left them by an ancient forefather to foreclose their loan- for the bank will penalize you with heavy penalties for early closure of the loan- the only instance in the world where you get punished for paying back the money you borrowed. And as an alternative the banks will provide with easy loans to play the stock market and inject money into the financial system. For what they hate is real wealth- wealth which does not come from the stock markets. And to facilitate this- all rules, all laws and everything which the entire political and financial system of our great country India does is to force you into putting all your money into stocks, bonds and mutual funds- at your own risk of course.

And yet if you look around you can find a busy property market where even second hand apartments are going for crores of rupees and lands are changing hands every day. How do they do it? Simple. They have the help of those great benevolent gods of our times – our politicians. If a politician decides so, he can help you buy your favored piece of land with no hassles. He flicks a finger at his favorite bureaucrat who issues a government notification declaring the land as “needed for essential government purpose” and forcibly acquires it in the name of the government. The landlord is paid a pittance as compensation and chased off his property. Then the land is declared surplus to needs and is thrown off into the auction pool where it is finally divided between the politician, the bureaucrat and you – if you are lucky enough to know one of the two and are prepared to pay them what they demand for it. That is the easiest way land changes in urban centers in India.

Go look at any of the large IT parks where software companies have raised multistoried buildings and parks and food courts in acres and acres of land. Ask their owners how they were bought or acquired and you will find this tale behind every one of those land-allotments. Multinational companies and IT/ITES companies whose incomes from foreign remittances range in the billions of dollars- all of them get their land for free from the government as part of software parks and industrial corridors. No one pays a single paisa to the original owners except as bribes to the politicians and bureaucrats who sanction these land allotments under their discretionary quotas. This is a universal truth known to everyone but we keep our eyes closed to it willfully.

Every single company which prides itself on its clean corporate governance and is held up as an ideal for its probity and whose CEO’s and CFO’s are feted by our media is part of this fraud on the ordinary landowner and common man- the aam admi- you and me. There has never in the history of Indian IT industry or manufacturing history been a company which refused land from the government but bought it straight from its real owners. Why should they when they have the might of the law to do their dirty work? And that’s why everywhere you go around the cities and their suburbs you find large software parks and multinational factories- there is no greenery, no wetlands, no water bodies nothing but the concrete dust of large construction works. Amidst all these riches of land is the irony of the common man searching for a small plot of land to call his own. Of such contradictions is our great country India made. Will it ever change? What do you think? Will the common mans dream to own land remain forever a dream? Tell me your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

பசங்க பசங்க தான்

பசங்க பசங்க தான்

கடந்த மூன்று நாட்களாக நான் சென்னை அரசு பள்ளிக்கூடங்களில் ஸ்க்ரீன்நிங் கேம்ப் எனும் தடுப்பு முகாம்களில் கலந்துகொண்டு அப்பள்ளியில் படிக்கும் குழந்தைகளுடன் காலம் கழித்து கொண்டிருக்கிறேன். அங்கு நடந்த ஒரு சில சம்பாஷணைகள் உங்களுடன் பகிர்ந்து கொள்ளலாம் என்று இதை எழுதுகிறேன்.

பையன் 1.    

நான்: டேய் நீ வளர்ந்து பெரிய ஆள் ஆனதும் என்ன ஆகணும்னு நெனைக்கற?

ஏழு வயது பையன் : அண்ணா நான் பெரிய டான்சர் ஆக நினைக்கிறேன்.

நான்: ஏன்டா, நீ படிச்சு டாக்டர் இல்லை என்ஜின்னிர் ஆகணும்ன்னு ஆசை இல்லையா?

பையன்: அது எல்லாம் கஷ்டம்ன்னா. நல்லா டான்ஸ் அடினா மாணாட மயிலாட நிகழ்ச்சி’ல ஆடி உடனே பெரிய ஆள் ஆகிடலாம்.

நான் : அடப்பாவிகளா. டிவி எப்படி எல்லாம் மக்கள்’ல கெடுக்குது. 

பையன் 2.

நான் : என்னப்பா பண்ணுது உனக்கு?

பையன் : என் வயித்துல நாக பூச்சி இருக்கு ஸார்.

நான் : அது எப்படி டா உனக்கு தெரியும்?

பையன்: அப்போப்போ அது என் வயத்துல படம் எடுத்து ஆடி புஸ்ஸு புஸ்ஸு’ங்குது.

நான் : அடேங்....

பையன் 3.

நான்: டேய் கால்’ல என்னடா அடி?

பையன் : எங்கம்மா கரண்டியில்ல அடிச்சுட்டுடா டாக்டர்.

நான் : ஏன்டா? நீ என்ன பண்ண இப்படி அடிச்சு இருகாங்க?

பையன் : நான் தான் ஒரு பெரிய கல்லு அடிச்சு அவ மண்டைய ஒடசிட்டேனே. அதான் அவ திருப்பி அடிச்சா.

நான் : எப்பா நீ கொஞ்சம் தள்ளியே உட்காருப்பா.

இது ஒரு சாம்பிள்தான். இந்த மாதிரி நாள் பூரா என்னை சிரிக்க வெச்சுக்கிட்டாந்தாங்க. ஒரு பத்து வயசு கொறஞ்சது மாதிரியே இருக்கு எனக்கு. பசங்க பசங்க தான்.