Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Washing dirty linen in public....

When the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (IIMB) advertises itself as the place to be, the city of Bangalore is the Ace card up its sleeve. Compared to Ahmedabad and Calcutta, the other two top-IIM cities, Bangalore is a well-developed city with a nice young crowd and happening hang-out places. Foremost among its qualities is however is its amazing weather, Mediterranean-like the year round. In a way it typifies the Kannadigas: amiable and reliable.

For the sizeable population of IIMB that hailed from hot places like Bombay and Delhi, the weather was pure bliss. For a few slothful male students, the author being very much one of them, the absence of sweat presented 2 years of escape from the most arduous task that man has ever conceived- the daily bath.

Frankly, I had never really enjoyed bathing. Having being born with elaborate planning skills, I almost always stared down the clock showing 15 minutes for school to start, with me yet to get dressed. With my schedule heavily packed in every other way, I strived to fit my bathing somewhere in between. In the process, I created and subsequently bettered several world records for the fastest legitimate bath (Legitimate implying the involvement of some quantity of water, and not necessarily of any kind of soap). I did make an effort to start liking bathroom singing, but at that speed, rapping was the only genre I managed to master.

What perhaps annoyed me most about a bath was its purpose, especially on holidays. (The argument just grew stronger after I discovered the existence of deodorants.) Some wise friend then drew my attention to a recent research by some MIT PhDs: women seemed to be attracted very strongly towards male body odour! It was a breakthrough study, its significance heightened considering their last major finding was that male rats blinked 320 times between the times of 12 am to 2 am. I immediately applied the concept to my dealings with the opposite sex. The results were as lacklustre as before, but my belief in the strategy remained intact- my casanova looks had probably never allowed it to be put to use.

Which gives you an indication of the elation that I experienced on reaching Bangalore. And I was, by no means, alone. It was especially a pretty sight during tests, dishevelled students turning up in dirty clothes and scratchy hair. The guys' hostel had an official capacity of 300 but in reality was populated with millions- ants, bacteria, rats and even fungi lived together in peaceful symbiotic harmony. Some like my dear friend Aman took it upon themselves to create mini-worlds of their own- the moss discovered in his room in the 1st year fetched more press coverage than the seniors' final placements. Changing rooms after the 1st year was an emotional process, not for the students but for the cleaners.

Understandably I revelled in the atmosphere. Days, weeks and months passed by with the soapcase lying ceremoniously on my window sill. The only parameter used to decide whether to take a bath or not was the ability to stand one's own stench. However, just like a criminal hardens enough to beat the lie-detector, Aman had gone beyond that too. But somehow the experience taught me how to respect the bath. It DID feel nice after having one.

Human behavior has an amazing ability to adapt itself to the changing environment. Flustered with the deplorable levels of hygiene on campus, the clean guys came up with the solution: they decided to beat us at our game, to subject us to such a level of dirtiness that we would throw in the towel, literally. And thus was born the Birthday Hoosh.

Traditionally limited to a spanking of one's posterior, the Birthday Hoosh was ingeniously adapted to include a variety of food items being imparted to every part of the victim's body except his mouth. Despite the fact that the offerings were washed down with an ample quantity of water (which, by the way, constitutes a legitimate bath), the presence of egg and cream left the victim high and dry, and having to take a bath. The move worked, and IIMB soon started witnessing an increased usage of toilet soap.

However, soon, weak people like me found themselves being the wrong end of every complimentary hoosh, and the unkempt rebel within me was fast finding his voice. The proverbial last straw came in December 2004 when two of the women I was linked to celebrated their birthdays one after the other. If having a bath the first night seemed cruel, the thought of having another in the space of 24 hours pervaded me with an utter sense of guilt. Was I going to let all those months of hardwork go down the bathroom drain? No way. It was a determined me as I hurriedly washed the creamy cake off my face and took my books for the 1 am consulting prep meeting with Sudha.

Mention must be awarded here to Sudha, who despite herself looking straight out of the pages of Dracula, was a stickler for cleanliness. I had a near-brush with her fury when she first unilaterally decided to, and later refused because I hadnt taken a bath, to tie me a rakhi. (Looking back, that was a nice escape.) Sudha had drawn a laxman-rekha just inside the door, beyond which no shoes or dirty feet (except her own) could transgress. If you dared to break that rule, an irritating alarm was ready to go off- usually Sudha herself did the honours. It was in such trying circumstances that I arrived at her door that fateful December night.

My initial skeptism about my unbathed state slowly gave way to confidence- the washed face and the deodorant were doing the trick. Soon we were in the midst of a heavy discussion, and as was our wont, it turned into a heavily-debated one. Not ready to cave in, I defended my idea vociferously in my usual hands-all-over-the-place style. And then it happened. As I agitatedly lunged forward to protest against Sudha's comment, a thick blob of cake disloged itself from the recesses of my ear, wobbling in its trajectory as it landed straight into Sudha's lap.

There was a momentary silence as I made an emergency prayer to God to somehow ensure she wouldnt notice it. God refused to help, probably he himself was pretty disgusted with the sight. And then Sudha erupted, her scream carrying the mixed emotions of recognizition, disgust and utter hatred. Terrified, I ran back to my room to sleep behind bolted doors. We never had a case meeting again.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The awakening...

Life always seems to me a never-ending race. What makes it difficult is not the constant running, but the fact that its a 100-meter sprint and a 15-km marathon all combined into one. Juggling between our varied priorities,we struggle to maintain that ideal balance between short-term happiness and long-term success. Some of us become masters at the sprint, while others focus on the marathon, albeit not knowing when it would come or whether they would be able to cross the line.

I had a pretty lacklustre start to my race- a pretty ordinary childhood laced with the occasional flash of brilliance. Despite blessed with an utter lack of sporting skills, I ambled about playing cricket all day long in the backyard. Books were considered a taboo among the crass kids in my locality, and creativity in music or the arts was a virtue I never knew existed in me. Hobbies were as permanent as a Casanova's keep: they came as fast as they went.

VJTI marked the turning point in my life and my attitude. Shrugging off my inept social skills and confidence, I exploited to the hilt my biggest virtue at that time-my boundless energy. All along I had plodded along life akin to a two teams meandering away to a Test match draw. Now life had got a purpose. I realized that organizing events in college provided me with self-worth and a recognition, an identity. It was a positive spiral. The enthusiasm grew. For two months in 2003, I practically lived in the VJTI quadrangle, not even stepping into a class and going home at 12 am. I'd achieved a lot. Life was good.

And then IIM happened. And the first rays of reality simply burnt my sleepy eyes. Superhumans confronted me at every step, people who had academic distinctions all their life, were also great sportsmen. Music afficionados who could speak about Led Zeppelin's history and Statistics with equal ease. The list was endless.

My natural reaction was to struggle to come to terms with my relative ineptitude, and then to rationalize. Obviously if I had been backed at an early age, I would have learnt sports. Oh, I never had the money to buy a CD, how could I ever develop a taste in music? But, try as I might, I was increasingly accepting the truth: Despite my talents in certain areas, I had just wasted 22 WHOLE YEARS of my life. As I looked back over the years, I could see nothing constructive except my financial independence at a young age.

Beautifully captured by Pink Floyd (probably lyrically the most superior band ever) in their single Time from Pulse(1995):

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in the relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

The reality shock did however jolt me into action. A lacklustre summer internship at Britannia which I so completely hated was a blessing in disguise: it provided me with ample time to make a new beginning. I started reading extensively, from fiction to current affairs. I was an utter simpleton when I entered IIM- reading a daily newspaper used to take me 5 hours simply because every news was news to me: I knew absolutely nothing. But I read and I read in the 2nd year of MBA- magazines, google, answers.com. I just fed myself with every kind of information, not caring whether it was important or not. It was just the hors d'oeuvre I needed to drum up the hunger for knowledge.

Pure genius is an utterly useless virtue by itself, and yet such a potent weapon when applied to every aspect of life. Brain-dead for 22 years, its almost like my mind is growing up now. Theres a restless curiosity that drives me every moment in every direction. Like a dear friend once wrote about me "..a kid in a toy shop, who likes evrything he sees...". And as I scurry around trying to savor every second of life, Im finding things in myself that I never knew existed.

Its been a false start to the race, but Im gearing myself for a photo-finish. And Im happy running, as long as I keep changing lanes :)

Its all in the game...

Being a cricket fan in these parts of the world doesnt get you much mileage. Cricket is a poor cousin to soccer- while soccer is a religion, cricket is a pastime sport. A bit sad, considering that this is its very home. A look around the world, and except in the subcontinent, the story is very much the same. The question is begging: why are there only 12 national cricket teams part of the ICC, as opposed to FIFA's 250? On a broader perspective, what makes a particular sport so popular that it is an universal religion? and relegates some other to permanent oblivion?

I turned to Malcom Gladwell's bestseller "The Tipping Point" for inspiration- the book in which he talks about how fashion trends and word-of-mouth spread in much the same way as an epidemic. But unfortunately Gladwell shuns away from applying his dear concept to sports, very surprising because Gladwell himself is a passionate sports enthusiast.

Surely it has to do with the game, and then also with the circumstances of its becoming popular. Cricket's long standing nemesis has obviously been its duration- most people dont like the idea of spending an entire day waiting for a result. In some way, it ties with the concept of "Instant gratification" that marketers tout nowadays- people want return on their time and money IMMEDIATELY. And wot the heck, 35% of all test matches have been a draw, so sometimes there isnt even a return! Cricket enthusiasts may argue that there is a lot of excitement even in a draw, but when you are looking at attracting new eyeballs, its not too good.

The decline of West Indies since their heady domination of the 70's has long being attributed to kids taking up basketball and baseball instead of cricket. Could then the answer be in the excitement that it provides to a player and spectator alike? I could theorize that football's status as a religion is because of the delirion that some moments provide to the spectator and a player. A solo goal can send a crowd into raptures. Most of the times, it prompts wild celebrations by the players themselves, with kissing and hugging and chest-baring not uncommon. Simply because one goal can decide a match. One penalty awarded dubiously can crush an entire nation's hopes. Cricket simply does not have those moments. Commentators' favourite line "You havent won until the last ball is bowled" is ironically cricket's undoing in a way- it implies that consistency rather than a momentary flash of brilliance is the key to victory.

But then basketball is also similar to cricket in that sense, and is a far more popular sport. Could there be other answers? Part of the excitement in soccer and other ball-games is probably due to the presence of all the players on the field, in the heat of the action. A team event versus a one-on-one duel is more exciting because it has the added ingredients of team-work and multiple points of action(there are more players you can look at, and chances of exchanges between players are more). Could it be that cricket being essentially a 11-on-1 game loses out on that count? More importantly, there is only one point of action- the ball. At any time, only 2/3 players are actually involved in the game- the rest, like us, as mere spectators, standing at their places.

A final point: its not so much about the game spreading to different countries as much as the quality of the game being very high in all countries it is played. In fact, in terms of spreading the game, cricket has surprisingly done well inspite of its obvious shortcomings- there are 74 affiliated national cricket federations in the world as opposed to soccer's 204. (Source: a bit unreliable, http://www.johann-sandra.com/popular.htm) The issue is rather that of these 74, only 8 are worthy of even participating in a world tournament. Compare that to football, where as many as 207 teams have made it to the World Cup finals! Is it that cricketing skills are difficult to impart? Or is it that though it has spread, it is yet to permeate at the grassroots level? Is it the lack of sporting models for youngsters to look up to? Any clues?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Leaving on a high...

How do you want to leave this world?

Its a topic that most people are uncomfortable discussing...but nevertheless a very interesting one: whats your death style? prefer to wither away in peace, or exit with a bang?

Fittingly enough, death been given more than its due footage in Indian cinema...be it the superhuman hero in the 60's, who made it a point to say a few words to every family member/ friend/ enemy around before he breathed his last, or the dramatic heart attack that chose the most happiest moment to make its entry, portraying death has always been a great dramatic moment.

Which makes me notice that Shah Rukh Khan has been involved in some really absorbing on-screen deaths. Expectedly so, because it really suits his naturally over-dramatic personality. The last run he makes in Devdas, to see Paro one final time, and then falls dead at her doorstep. Or that poignant last moment in Ashoka with a quiver-full of arrows in his back...

But my all time favourite remains Kal Ho Na Ho...and watching that movie is what has prompted me to think abt this topic. Even as Shah Rukh lies on his deathbed, the life he infuses into that scene is unmistakable. As people cry all around him, he refuses to be overcome by the situation, and instead delivers some last minute feel-good dialogue. Hes dying but hes leaving behind his enthusiasm, his energy.

I saw and I knew it: this is how I want to die. In the limelight, extracting every bit of last-minute glory. Cmon, whos going to remember you after you die, anyways?

Dying in my sleep would be such a SHAME. you are gone and you yourself dont know it. I would rather pass away in pure daylight, so that everyone can be around me in those last moments. So I have it all planned. That last day when doctors would have given up hope. Phone calls being made to every single friend/ relative I know. The hospital overflowing with well-wishers, clamoring to catch a bit of me. Those rosy testimonials. Probably, finally some one will acquit me of those Maadu allegations. (Or may be not, I may extract a last-minute treat from them "Ab to jaa rha hun yar, banta hai"). And amidst their sorrow, Ill crack a silly joke. And laugh over it. And bring a smile to their faces. Touche. Time to go.