Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar finally decides to put a full stop to his story.

Well finally the question which a few years ago was asked in inaudible whispers, but lately had become completely audible whispers, has been answered. Will he? won't he? When will he? should he? shouldn't he? Where will he? were all being asked.

The game of cricket has always been a game of talent skill and above all temperament. Special talents bordering on the genius come but once in a generation and the cricket crazy nation India was lucky to get one such in the form of a young cherubic boy named Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar,who burst on the scene 24 years back. He had even before starting his international career, been noticed as a prodigy waiting to burst on the scene. Many a talent of this kind has fallen by the wayside and examples of such so called prodigies and the next Bradman's and Gavaskar's have flattered to deceive. The fact that Sachin was able to carry these huge expectations as one of the youngest player ever to have ever played first class and international cricket and do that throughout his 24 year long career put him in bracket above lesser mortals. The numbers are staggering and his records in all formats except T20 are better than all of his contemporaries and better than most cricketers past and present.

The spectacle of Sachin 's batsmanship in his early heyday,. was a sight for the God' s. He dominated bowlers all over the world with superb attacking skills and also ground them with his immaculate defense. His colleagues and opponents almost without exception respected him and put their best effort to get his scalp. A team man and mentor to the younger players, he was a role model for the generations of cricketers who grew with him became players inspired by him.

However, does all this make him the greatest or the God of cricket? I think not for reasons I wish to write even at the cost of displeasing some of my readers. Over such a long career the proportion of match winnings in the finals of important tournaments are few and far between. In fact Sachin seems to get India into the finals but it is the other players with the  better temperament who have won us the major tournaments in Sachin 's career. His slowing down when approaching personal landmarks, sometimes detrimental to the team's interest and failure to perform as a captain remain the flaws in his great career.  Towards the later stage of his career his batting lacked the authority and class of his best times. However being such a great and powerful cricketer, Sachin went through turbulent times in Indian cricket, but never took a public stand or expressed his opinion on the raging controversial issues of the day. The  saddest cut for me is the fact that the BCCI arranged a farewell series for Sachin against convenient opponents rather than a contest against the greatest test side with the fastest bowler of the day. While many may think that I am a bit harsh in judging the man, however the greatest need to excel on every parameter.  Therefore the other big names in cricket also do qualify to greatness  equal or even more than the great Sachin.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Rahul Dravid: A class apart

Greatness is defined in many ways and is always relative and comparative, however in the rare cases a person excels in his field, but even if he is not the greatest he is a class act, a class apart. Rahul Dravid well and truly in my books comes in the latter category.

Even if statistics and numbers are taken as a measure of greatness, Rahul is a legend, but Rahul's greatness lay in terms which are immeasurable. In a career spanning almost two decades, there is not even a whiff of controversy. No tantrum, no cheating, no dissent, no wild gesture, no show of inappropriate emotion, no financial impropriety, no indiscipline. I doubt there can be any person in any field who can play at the highest level for so many years in this way.

At the same time, despite his great qualities, he was not lacking in passion and exuberance, but like his game, everything was measured and precise. While he was a copy book, technically sound player, he had the unique ability to reinvent himself and adopt his game to the format, he played in. Around him the trio of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman were far more talented, but Dravid equaled them and surpassed them in commitment, preparation and execution. While he could perhaps never bat like a Sehwag, he played second fiddle and was the sanity counter-point when they batted together. He was the architect of many major test triumphs in his long career, but in his moment of glory he remained humble and self effacing to a fault. While I am unable to quote his exact words, I remember him saying something to the effect that cricketers merely played a game and should not be worshiped as heroes for the greater heroes in life are the soldiers teachers and the workers. He exemplified selflessness and selfless play, as none in my living memory could ever do.

Education makes a man and Rahul Dravid intellectually seemed miles above his contemporaries. He was a keen student of the game and remains so till today. The man who always shunned the lime light has played his last game on the field, but he can never fade in my memory. Personally, I rate him higher than any cricketer, from any country. In this day of instant gratification, poor attention spans and external flashiness, the solid, steady and ever reliable Dravid stands out as an icon, a Kohinoor diamond, unique, incomparable and a role model for generations to come. May Indian cricket have the wisdom to honor its most selfless soldier and utilize his service in coaching, administration, mentoring or in any other capacity deemed fit.

Rahul Dravid Good-bye and Good luck!!!!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

My Travel Down Under

These are a few observations and thoughts about the continent and country Australia, my own observations with love for all and malice towards none.

While Australia and India qualify to be literal continents, they are really a melting pot of different people and cultures. While one is a nation of immigrants, the other has a bewildering mix of indigenous cultures and people as different as chalk and cheese.

The contrast that hits one in the face is the inverse relation between population and space. Australia with large barren spaces, with majority of its people living in Sydney Melbourne Brisbane, Perth  and Canberra but still the populated zones not nearly as densely populated as small towns of India. On the other hand dense cheek by jowl urban slums and large rural populations, with  less space and small land holdings characterize India.

The sheer noise, odours and vibrant colours contrast with the very standardized look of every center street or town with nearly the same mix of shops establishments and facilities. The cool climes along with chilly winds and green clean surroundings contrast with the heat and dust and dirt and grime of Indian streets and towns.

While both are multi-cultural societies, there is an Indianness among the Indian citizens which gives a unity in diversity, this contrasts with only a small occasional encounter with what is known as the typical Aussie bloke. The white Aussie blokes have become a rarity in their own land. This being my fourth visit, the number of Indians seem to certainly on the rise.

The Aussie lead stories on TV seem to be often about club football or accidents or local crime rather than politics or national or international headlines. India has its argumentative adversarial politics, rising to lofty debates and plunging to disruptive mudslinging but with never a dull moment. The elections, budgets debates on migrants are insipid non events, but the final of AFL (Australian Football) a game restricted to Victoria and a few clubs in other states is billed as a grand Final and virtually brings the state to a standstill. I do not think a world cup cricket final at the MCG will create a similar frenzy. Over a lakh of people gather from 9am in stadium for a game starting in the afternoon, with free flowing alcohol and pre game entertainment seems as important as the game. While Aussie football is a game of brain but of much more brawn. The audience certainly is mostly similar and high on spirit. The females come to gorge on the guys. I think the Indian cricket lovers are certainly more intelligent including the female following.

As parents of a differently abled child Australia stands out for the access and facilities for independent travel. The civic sense, courtesy and patience shown by co-travellers to senior citizens and the differently abled is truly exemplary and worthy of emulation. The focus on community living and independence is very great and achievable due to the availability of more space and smaller population. However the crumbling family structures and broken families being the norm rather than the exception, the disabled are left in the care of volunteers or employees doing a job. The possibility of over use of sedatives remains a fear, even though we saw no direct evidence to support the  same.

Retail therapy and acquisition of material objects is something where Australia is miles ahead of India. The Woolworth's, Coles, Target's, Myers, Miller's, K Mart, Office works, Aldi's, Harvey Norman's, Bunning's and Masters jostle with the 2$, reject  shops and local Chinese and Japanese ones. But the downside is that the sheer absence of a local area touch to retail trade makes it a boring repetitive experience. India on the other hand has lots to offer in the informal off the street shopping experience, which varies with the local community and it's needs.  While down under despite integration the different communities have shops giving them the stuff to make them not feel homesick.

In terms of food cuisine Melbourne caters to all kinds, however Indians miss the spice and a vegan like me was sometimes struggling to get healthy options. Once on an occasion I was eating in the ubiquitous MacDonald's the only available vegetarian food was a garden salad and an apple pie which was available on what was called the loose change menu. However Mediterranean salads and outlets serving asian food, sushi rolls with brown rice avacados and veggies were the among the better choices, vietnamese rice paper rolls were good too, but we had to clarify that the rice paper was edible and not a packing material.. The variety of fruits and exotic chinese veggies were things that we enjoyed and gorged on. I wonder weather everything was local or global as the ecological footprint of imported stuff had a real price far more than the marked one. Frozen processed stuff off the shelf was cheap and the average aussie used all that very often.  I am really unsure how toxic or detrimental were these choices in the long run. Cheese, chocolates, cakes pastries, breads were a staple elements in the Aussie diets and rampant obesity was seen too. However, being a sports loving nation they burnt their calories and there were many fit persons too. For a nation so particular in preserving its bio-diversity, the huge consumption of meat and meat based products along with dairy products and the rampant use of non biodegradable packing material was really irrational. The fact is that as nation the Aussies are among the worst offenders in terms carbon foot print. To top all this the rampant use of SUV's creates further damage.

Water waste in showers are routine, however awareness and water saving taps showers and sparing use of water is increasingly being done. Water wastage is certainly decreasing in Australia and lot of rain water harvesting is being done. We in India need to learn from our friends down under and implement these measures too.

Driving in Aussie cities and towns and country side is an absolute pleasure. Top class roads, well marked, with excellent road discipline and no over speeding makes travel up to 500 km. possible in about 4 hours driving time. This seems a distant dream in mera bharat.

The city walks promenades, river fronts and beaches along with the tourist spots have always been well maintained and give tourists excellent infrastructure to comfortably enjoy the tours. our visit to Buchan caves near Lakes Entrance was indeed spectacular and educative too. Our trip to Ocean grove living in a wonderful house with scenic locales was great too. We will cherish these visits and sites for years to come. We were also witness to a wonderful tulip garden show in Lilydale near Melbourne, an example of the influence of dutch culture in Oz. The spectacular tulip beds colours and local farm produce were a totally different facet of the Melbourne we knew from the past.

Parties in Oz the family ones are hard work for the families hosting the parties, but over the last four visits I see changes and the ability to handle large numbers and the family team work in handling these parties has become much better. The guests too seem to pitch in with food help and co-hosting making parties a happy tension free affair. Our relatives and close friends in Oz have now become much more informal and our comfort levels in parties has increased over the years. We are indeed grateful to all for making our daughters birthday party a memorable affair, the like of which she has not had in India.

Our three weeks were not used to do the usual tourist tours as we had already seen and experienced those before, but were spent in spending quality time with family especially my nephew and niece. While they are growing up and rapidly becoming part of a multi-cultural society, we are happy that we have much to share and interact with them. Sometimes i wonder if we will have relevant stuff to share in future, but these apprehensions that we had at the start of our tour disappeared at the end of the three weeks and in the end we wished we could stay for a bit longer.

Goodbye Australia we will come again and we would like to have all of you friends over in India  whenever you wish. We have lesser space than you can offer but we will try and make up with our spirit of "Atithi Devo Bhavo" translated as the desire to treat guests as we would treat God.