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The Atticus Diaries
Bibliophile - atheist - reader of religious texts - B-School Grad - math-hater - part-time poet - wannabe bodybuilder - couch-potato - animal lover - non-vegetarian - software engineer - technophobe - day-dreamer - basketballer that never was - cruciverbalist - Indian - SriLankan - neither - marketing grad - financial analyst - another confused clueless speck living it up on good ol' earth!!

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Monday, January 21, 2008
On Days Like This...

Sometimes, a Monday can be painted an extra shade of blue... This was one... I walked into Starbucks with a knit brow. And sought refuge in the one cure that has never failed me in the last ten years - poetry! Here goes one of my old favorites from Seamus Heaney... I love its tone and imagery!

Hope you enjoy the poem... Next post soon... Starbucks is closing early and a cold, clear, moonlit Montreal night beckons...

The Skunk

Up, black, striped and demasked like the chasuble
At a funeral mass, the skunk's tail
Paraded the skunk. Night after night
I expected her like a visitor.

The refrigerator whinnied into silence.
My desk light softened beyond the verandah.
Small oranges loomed in the orange tree.
I began to be tense as a voyeur.

After eleven years i was composing
Love-letters again, broaching the 'wife'
Like a stored cask, as if its slender vowel
Had mutated into the night earth and air

Of California. The beautiful, useless
Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absense.
The aftermath of a mouthful of wine
Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow.

And there she was, the intent and glamorous,
Ordinary, mysterious skunk,
Mythologized, demythologized,
Snuffing the boards five feet beyond me.

It all came back to me last night, stirred
By the sootfall of your things at bedtime,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress.




Thursday, January 03, 2008
From Bhutan With Love!

It was the second day of our trip. After innumerable stops for photographs, we were finally inside the Paro Dzong. After a stroll around the premises, we sat down in the courtyard to wait for R who was still shooting in the dying light. And that's when the thought stuck me! As I looked around the vast, stone-paved yard lined on all four sides by the oil-stained balconies of the monks' quarters, it struck me that something primordial and ineffably beautiful was alive within those walls - something that our fast-evolving cultures had long lost... With a shiver, I sat waiting for it to gaze down at me from the intricately carved windows... Something timeless - a god, a Buddha or Time itself... And in my ten days in Bhutan, I could never shake off that feeling of being watched - of the enlightened eyes of what-should-have-been gazing with serene disinterest on what-is!
 

Enlightenment!INSIDE PHUNAKHA DZONGMONK IN PUNAKHA DZONG
Bhutan is a conundrum that our minds attuned to the treachery of modern-day South Asia will never fathom. It is the triumph of what we always had over what we have been desperately seeking in the course of our tumultuous descent towards occidental materialism. It befuddles you with imagery so full of stark contrast. Like how an old woman earning her living in hard labor can be so genuinely happy... Or why the babies never cry... Or how a monarchy has established a content society where education and health-care are free while our much touted Gandhian, socialist, communist and right-leaning ideologies have fallen flat on their faces!
 
Bhutan is at a fascinating stage of its evolution... It is beginning its first trysts with democracy. As one among the ever-friendly locals in Phobjikha put it - "Just because you are in the right path, you can't just sit there. You need to get a move on". So, the local newspapers are peppered with interesting snippets on democracy and rather cute candidate profiles where very learned opponents have very nice words for each other. And modern amenities are sweeping in too... Monks with cell-phones are a common sight... And I was equally delighted and distressed that people recognized my beloved Arsenal FC in a remote village! But joy or regret notwithstanding, Bhutan begins a walk down a path of no return! While I fervently hope that this beautiful nation does well, my inherent cynicism towards modern socio-political systems doesn't let me rest easy...
 

OLD VENDOR II - WEEKEND   MARKET - PAROPlayful Kid - Kiyuchu   TemplePRAYING WOMAN II
One question that we all had probably captures the essence of what Bhutan is going through... Some families in Bhutan send their children to monasteries to be trained as monks from a very early age. These young monks - such delights to  watch and talk to - always posed an uneasy question in our minds... Is it fair to condemn a child to celibacy and reclusion even before he can think for himself? Only when I pondered a bit further that I realized that we are not much better off ourselves! Did we choose the life we live? Is it any less unfair to push a child through years of often meaningless material education in competitive schools while his spiritual mind languishes?
 
Such is Bhutan's situation too, as it approaches important crossroads in its journey! As a nation, it has been reclusive and ritualistic for most of its recent history. While there seems to be little sense in denying a people access to modern technological marvels, may be it is wise to see how happier these innovations have made other societies. May be it's time to ponder why a more comfortable Thimphu had way less happier people than the smaller towns. And how will democracy affect this Utopian society where people have come to believe in the benevolence of the ruler? Will democracy just become an excuse for capitalist hegemony, corruption and nepotism as it has in almost every other nation? I really don't know! But I'd like to believe those betel-stained smiles that lit my days in Bhutan will linger forever!

Monks at Play - Paro DzongSchoolkids on Paro BridgeMuscle Monk
 
Come what may, I'd remember Bhutan as I saw it - a magical kingdom amid the mountains... Where colorful prayer-flags run across the hills like peels of laughter... Where the ancient chants of Mahayana Buddhism that resonate from the monastery walls transmigrate the soul to a different plane... Where the children had a thousand questions... Where white flags honoring ancestors flutter on the hilltops as a golden sun sets on the mighty snow-peaks of the Himalayas... Where the black-necked cranes fly into the morning mist with their mates... Where the yaks graze peacefully in the mountain slopes... Where most meals are served with salt in your tea, chilli aplenty in you food and warm concern brimming in your host's heart... Where walking in the midst of stunning scenery and magnificent dzongs still plays second fiddle to the joy of being in the midst of a beautiful beautiful people!
 

THE WORLD IS MY OYSTERPRAYERWHEEL KID IIPoof! Monday already!!!
Village Women - ParoSplash....The Tiger's Nest
 
More pictures from Bhutan and elsewhere at Atticus' Flickr Page

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Memo-Random

I usually ignore tags. But this one, demanding that I list down eight randomn facts about myself, came from one of my favorite cyberfriends - Moi  So, here goes...

i. I can spend incredibly long hours by myself doing nothing. In my childhood, I have spent entire afternoons in the terrace closing my eyes, facing the sun and soaking in the warm redness (that also explains my complexion :p). Even now I spend endless days watching the smoke spew from chimneys in winter or the clouds drifting by in summer.

ii. My oldest childhood memories include a five-wickered diya burning in a dark room, a snake slithering into a well, a small dog running through my legs, a dead body and a statuette of the Virgin Mary in a school hedge.
 
iii. I am the laziest person I know personally. There's not a single thing I have done that I haven't postponed at least twice. I can sleep through an entire weekend, getting up only for food and tea. I sincerely believe that the only reason for all human endeavor is to earn peaceful sleep. On that count alone, I am a zillionaire.
 
iv. A clear blue sky with kites or gulls circling way above makes me strangely depressed. It leaves me steeped in a this vague feeling between deja-vu and anxiety - like there's a message from a lost loved one for me to decipher... I don't know why. I think it is some subliminal association with crossing the sea from SriLanka in my childhood in rather troubled times.
 
v. Losing my religion is probably the worst thing that happened to me. I miss prayers and rituals. I miss standing wrapped in a towel in front of my little Ganesh statue, lighting the lamp, burning camphor and incense, mumbling a few verses and believing all will be well in the world. But my loss of faith has made me more responsible and humanist. Long live John Paul Satre.
 
vi. I am usually very happy. Most of my days are a colourful mix of beauty, laughter, some quiet and good coffee. There are very few days I recollect in the last several years when I have been down and out. I almost lost a loved one a few years back. Such things shake you up and give you perspective. You stop taking sunsets, autumn leaves and evening teas for granted! And you stop thinking thrice before burning $2,000 on a digital SLR.
 
vii. The one thing I longed for all my life I never really got - a father-figure, an inspiration, a real-life hero in flesh and blood. Though I have learned to stand on my own from a very early age, I sometimes still wish there was someone to look up to. Or that I'd moved to my grandpa's house a few years earlier.
 
viii. I think I'd write the last one later. (Please refer fact iii)


Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Moonraker

I don't care much for sunsigns. It was all so cool when I followed the Tamil version and branded myself a Leo. But the English one puts me into the Virgo cusp and my MCP conscience can't make its peace with the fact. And anyway, I think I am more of a moon guy. I wax and wane. All my life I have gained and lost weight with moon-phase regularity. I roll up into a nice rotund shape every few years only to struggle through hours and hours of gymming in the next few. I only wish the waning part was half as easy as the waxing!

The problem with gaining weight is that you don't have to do anything to accomplish that. It has a nasty way of sneaking up on you like a boring friend on a pleasant Saturday evening. There you are slumped on the couch downing a few cold ones, munching a bag of crisp fries, watching TV and procrastinating like any regular Joe and lo, a few months later you need new trousers! Then on Sunday afternoon you go buy those new pairs of loose khakis and catch an Arsenal game over a pitcher of Molson Dry at Churchill's pub on Crescent Street... And surprise surprise, less than halfway into the English football season, your khakis are tight too. But now you know it is tipping point because you are too damn lazy to even go out for a new pair of pants!

What's frustrating is that when I get into shape I always make my wardrobe decisions assuming I'll stay that way. So, I go overboard with muscle-tees, body-huggers and tight-jeans. Then the irreversible corpulence cycle begins. First there's this slight concaveness that doesn't quite show. Then there's a little extra-pounds that makes you suck your breath in every time a cute girl walks by. Before you know, there's a pot-belly which rushes out to greet the cutie even before you can breathe. And all you can do is stick to a few oversize shirts and wait eagerly for the north wind to start demanding winter-jackets again.

I always blamed Mom for the extra pounds. Not only does she cook the best damn meals but she also regularly knits her brow, looks the 80kg me up and down and brazenly asks if I was eating properly because I seem to have thinned down. But six months away from home and a good 10kgs "richer", I know it can't be Amma. I initially blamed the dryer for shrinking my clothes until my always-dried-on-delicate-mode gangbanger Nike t-shirt became a bit uncomfortable in the waist area. It can be anything now - steak, beer, chocolates, frappucinos-with-cream and did I say beer already?! But who cares - it's not about the blame game anyway.

A generously endowed friend of mine recently remarked during our frequent "gotta lose it man" conversations over butter-cookies that it should be easy for someone like me to lose weight! Because I have done it before and I know what it takes! No! And again, NO!!! Because... I have done it before and I know what it takes! It takes far too much!

But then, a fat man's got to do what a fat man's got to do. It's time to hit the threadmill again! Full moon day is over, amigos! So, if you ever wanted advice on how to shed those love handles and more, listen carefully coz this is expert counsel!

First, run reconnaissance operations down at the office gym to find a time-slot where 40-year old Frenchmen with six-packs and lissome Chinese girls running marathons won't KO your self-esteem. Don't bother going to those nice-looking downtown YMCA hangouts. Those musclar types there started that way! You need to be at the suck-in phase (see para three) to go there without feeling like a different species.

Next, go buy the most expensive pair of joggers, an over-priced original jersey of your favorite soccer team and high-end lowers. Also, get a fancy Ipod and cool headphones - the geekier the better. I'd suggest getting an IPhone and using it just for music - repurchase it at a full $600 from one of those suckers who got it before the price-cut. All these have nothing to do with fitness but they do make you feel real guilty when you don't use them! You can also buy a pair of 20-pound dumbells. They add a nice masuline touch to your living room if you put them next to the speaker-stands!  

There you are. You got your gear. You got your IPod. Now record songs that make you want to get out of the room immediately and start running like the wind. Himesh Reshammiya if your like Bollywood... And Christina Aguilera or JLo if you don't (will you please leave Brittney alone?) Another soundtrack that works is a short presentation by your super-boss! Don't waste time on all those yoga and tai-chi type exercises. The First Commandment of Fat Shedding - if your butt ain't achin, your work-out ain't flyin!

Now comes the most important part - diet! First, make a long list of everything you like! Be meticulous! Carefully classify them by meal-time, flavor etc! Now you know what you can't touch for the next twelve months if you want to have a chance of impressing the 99.998437% women who don't like fat guys (Stop looking for the 0.001673% now - they live in famine-stricken parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and most of them will eat you when they see you!). It's time for steamed vegetables, fruits, whole-grain cereals and black-tea! Which brings us to Commandment Two - if it tastes good, it can't be good for you. All those models going yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm when they eat bran cereal on TV, they either are good actors or were starved for a month before the shoot! The good part though - you can eat as much as you like. But unless you trace your ancestory to Texan ranch-cattle, there's only that much of steamed veggies you can take!

While all this gets your pretty much on-track, the best way to get results is to integrate fitness into your daily routine. There are several things that you can try at your workplace... Like getting your neighbour to throw stuff from your desk down every few minutes and crouching down to pick them up (most neighbors would gladly cooperate)... Like typing mails to your boss with your toes - it is a difficult stretch for your abs but it does have a feel-good factor about it... More evolved routines include keeping your mouse at your feet or running down to the recepient every time you send an email to see if it has arrived... With time you can try racing the email! All this does affect your productivity... But remember, your boss won't nurse you after your first heart-attack... Nor will your company reconsider that wardrobe allowance you asked for...

I begin my fourth battle with body-fat tomorrow... The moon shall wane again! I have the dumbbells, I have the Arsenal sweatshirts, Air-Jordans and Bose headphones... In a few months, I hope to turn a few French brunette heads in Downtown Montreal. If it doesn't work, there's always winter where we'll all look like hot-air balloons anyway... And a there's good old Canadian lager to assuage the ego for many moons to come...!


Friday, August 10, 2007
An Orphan....

Started this post a while back... It lies in my "Drafts" folder with a lot of work related gibberish. I like the way it starts. I'd like to know how it would end. But the flow is gone... On many a Sunday afternoon at Starbucks, I try to coax it back to life with Double Tall Lattes or Grand Caramel Frappucinos. But it remains the way it was left a long time ago, when some damned diversion drew me away from a moment of inspiration. Usually, I finish my posts in one sitting... The good ones at least...  So, this one's doomed I guess. But I like it too much to confine it to the eternal darkness of oblivion. Hence, here it is in all its unfinished glory...

Life once revolved around the dense branches of a banyan stretching to the ground in a sprawling green embrace. It started with a flourish at one goal post, pirroutted around abruptly at the other and then absently wrapped itself into listless spirals in the hot sands of the football ground on idle August afternoons. It was long before the 2000s warped living into a tedious blur of perrenial lack of time - back then, each day still began distinctly with sleepy sheets shutting out Suprabharatams and alarm-clocks, wound purposefully through a queer bundle of things that always mattered and finally petered out into dusk amid hesitantly dying conversation at the bicycle stand. Time - full of tomorrows - seemed to drip slowly from the casaurina trees after the rain.To know someone then was to know them sans pretences - to strike a chord with that pristine being within each human before life's disappointments force them to raise a weary hand in guard. There are some strange bonds sealed in such sunshine days that last a lifetime - if you walked a school's corridors together, you never really drift apart. And when chance's capricious hands weave your path's together again, it's like you've known each other forever.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007
All My Bags are Packed...

The things she'd touched lie around the house like fragments from a vivid, picturesque dream whose details are fading fast in the morning light.

Multi-coloured tourist guide-books full of meaningless rebates and proclivity to hyperbole that she'd collected diligently in the course of her month-long stay... The plastic daisies she'd rearranged in strict twin-colour combination at odds with my multi-colour bunches... Spices sorted and arrayed in idiot-proof order in the kitchen... My laundry all done and folded in the closet... Her pale yellow warning note on the burnt out fourth coil of my stove with the skulls she couldn't draw looking like twisted smileys... The bottle of Italian white wine from Wednesday night's dinner when I couldn't take my eyes off the candle-light dancing on her face... The jazz compilation on the DVD player from which she played Sophie Millman's Rocket Love again, again and yet again during our evenings at home... There's another strand of her hair in the washbasin - yesterday, she'd have cursed under her breath and flushed it away impatiently. Her potrait by a street artist lying next to the TV somehow seems more special than the scores of photographs of our Juneful of joy...

And now everything lies strewn like toys after the child has been put to sleep... Like it rained here all night - the warm, gentle yet incessant rain that trickles softly down like milk from a mother's breast... And in drying puddles and fading rivulets, the wet earth will try despairingly to hold on to memories through a long punishing summer.

Last evening again, she cried and I looked away. She had been brave - full of willed cheer like a little soldier, laughing at things that weren't really funny. But when the taxi radio played "Leaving on a jet plane..."  on the way to the airport, she hid her face on my shoulder and cried. It was too fucking coincidental...! If it had been the John Denver original, I would have joked about how it was she who was traveling, not me! But it was Chantal Kreviazuk with her strange penetrating voice like saxophone and single malt on a quiet evening. I stared into the setting sun over Lasalle as the taxi sped on. She said she hated airplanes because they took people away. She has said that before. I smirked and said they also bring people together. I, too, have said it before. Our's is a relationship steeped in goodbyes. Nobody told us that with two and a half years of practice, they'd only become increasingly difficult.

How long can two lovelorn lives keep flowing adrift of each other with just the promise of a tomorrow together keeping them from falling to pieces? I don't know! All these careful, calculated decisions we make with our meticulous and mercenary minds - how they come to tug at our hearts later!

On my way back, a reminder she'd kept on my mobile popped up dutifully to call me pet names and tell me she loved me... I fought down a strange hot gulp clutching at my throat and smiled stupidly into the dusk... May be, we need this pain to realize how much we need our loved ones to complete us. May be, that's just a hollow excuse to let me sleep alone on "your side" of the bed that night. I winced this morning when I almost called her name from the shower to ask for the towel that I could afford to forget all of last month. And as I picked my shirt, I saw that she had left her new blue saree behind. She hadn't worn it even once. I smile indulgently... Now, we'll have to wait till she's back here next April - the saree and I.

Goodbyes hurt and the pangs slowly morph into the vacuosness of waiting. But then, the only good part about being apart is that every day is a day closer to another exultant reunion with a crushing hug that lasts an eternity. Every dry meaningless morning spent staring into a laptop screen is another step toward those halcyon days on that mountain villa where we'll start a family one day... Every day spent apart is another day closer to where life shall have finally earned it's rest in a loving lap...

Till then, one day at a time...

Friday, June 29, 2007
Homeward Bound...

A nomad's existence is difficult to chronicle. It sprawls in abandon across vast praires like the wild mustard in springtime bloom. It wafts into the collective consciousness of all the lives it touches like an especially beautiful first line of a poem left unfinished. It clings as goodbyes to airport walls seeped in a faint smell of cleaning fluid. It fills mailboxes across the world with the unhappy colours of viciously impersonal advertorial newsletters dutifully delivered to old addresses. It flickers faintly as a thought-knit face on windows of express buses washed rapidly into asphalt rivers. It is survived by small personal effects left behind in numerous apartments, hotel-rooms, studios and hostels - concrete "homes" with the plurality denying all associated solace. The nomad is accursed to be homeward bound... Forever!!!

 

For as long as I can remember, I have lived such a life wandering. My childhood lies plastered in rubber-ball marks below multi-colour distemper on bedroom walls of rented homes. Across two countries and a half dozen neighbourhoods, I have played games, made friends, sworn vendettas, bruised knees and stolen mangoes. The longest I have lived in a house is five years of my early teens in a tiny rented rathole whose dull green walls my sister and I painstakingly painetd a bright pastel pink. Five years! That now seems an eternity. And after spending almost fifteen years within a hundred miles of Trichy, life suddenly pushed me off a precipice. I have been diving ever since in this kaledaiscopic tunnel - life gushing by like wind on a raptor's face. Now, a few thousand miles across the globe, home is a foggy concept with precious little definition. My mom and sis have moved into a house I am yet to see - overlooking the school playground where I once nursed fierce schoolday evening sporting rivalries and fostered lasting friendships for six long years. And yet, when I return home, I'll be a complete stranger - a premature ghost floating absently into a life long gone. Trichy doesn't have friends anymore - just memories by the satchelful!

 

My roots are wrapped lovingly around a few warm hearts - but my past doesn't allow me to confine them to a single place or edifice. And at some subliminal level, I have made my peace with the impossibility of putting all my loved ones again under one little roof - or even one city. Perhaps that's why I can call any place "home". Perhaps that's why I can miss Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta and New York with the same harrowing intensity that my heart reserves for Trichy. Or even Hatton, my SriLankan birthplace with an English lord's name, wherefrom forgotten uncles vroom suddenly into present day consciousness with their lonely untimely deaths. That's perhaps why I have now decided to make Montreal home for the next few years - this French-Canadian melting-pot where I came only as a visitor...

 

When my boss-to-be asked me why I wanted to live in this strange city of long forty-below-zero winters and humid Mumbai-like summer, I smiled and said, only half-jokingly that the Canadian beer won't let me go. I didn't bother to explain how the small-towner in me felt strangely at home in this chaos of humanity - where my best friend is a Moroccon, my local guide a Quebecois, fellow soccer afficionados a Spaniard and a Moldovian, my barber from Albania and my shuttle-drivers from Pakistan. Here, where I get better Srilankan string-hoppers than anywhere in Tamilnadu, my mind is free to rebuild a home from memory. With friends across the world just a phone call away, I can confuse my mind into a stupid feeling of comforting proximity. I have more time for myself each day than what my Indian workdays will afford in a week. But what I am afraid I have never told even myself is a scarier truth... That I might return "home" only to find it gone forever...


Thursday, May 24, 2007
Reading Rilke....

There are few other things that can snatch you away from the distractions of everyday living like poetry - a river-dip perhaps, or a child's kiss... But on dry warm days with neither the murmur of a river nor the laughter of a child, there Reiner Maria Rilke...

The lonely

Like someone who sailed distant seas,
I am with the ever natives;
the full days standing on their tables,
but for me distance is full of shape.

In my face a world reaches in,
perhaps deserted like a moon,
but they leave no feeling alone,
and all their words are inhabited.
 
The things which I took with me

look rare, compared to theirs -:
in their great home they are animals,
here they hold their breath in shame.


Memento

And you are waiting, expecting that one thing,
which infinitely enriches your life;
the mighty, tremendous,
the awakening of the stones,
depths, turned to you.
Dawning in the bookshelves
are volumes in gold and brown;
and you think of encompassed lands
of images, of the garments of
 women lost again.

And suddenly you realise: that was it.
You rise to your feet and before you stands
a past year’s
fear and guise and prayer.


A springtime wind

With this wind comes fate; let, o let
it come, all that surging and blind,
before which we will glow -: all that.
(Be still and don't bestir yourself, so it finds us.)
O our fate comes with this wind

From somewhere this new wind brings,
staggering from bearing nameless things,
that which we are over from the sea.

... If only we were it. So we would be home.
(The heavens in us would rise up and down.)
But with this wind, fate goes immensely
beyond us ever and anon.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Three Lines on the Street-Lamp Post

This is not another low-expertise high-emotion tirade on what ails Indian cricket. Neither is it a post-mortem on how insipid and prolonged this World Cup was. It has nothing to do with Sachin staying or Ganguly going. It's just a nostalgia trip back to a simpler time when a Rs.2 rubber ball, a coconut-palm branch and three crooked charcoal lines scratched on a wall were enough to make a Saturday disappear in frenetic, fevered cricketing under a scorching sun... To Sunday mornings overflowing with lime-juice mugs and murukku when even a test-match was a big affair drawing all neighbourhood kids to the one house with the cable TV (where we will continue to gather years after our own fathers proudly brought home the then prestigious connection)... To March afternoons when writing-pads would turn to bats and the day's question-papers to cricket-balls as makeshift exam-day pitches materialized as precursors to the summer-long season just round the corner... To siestas interrupted by the crash of a tennis-ball into a window-pane... To the wondrous touch of red earth on bare feet... To a time long before cola ads and Mandira Bedi when the gentleman's game was lovingly transformed in dusty streets into a rustic way of life... This is about small town India's roadsides and clearings in the '80s and '90s where to be a cricketer meant dark lean faces bodies streaked with sweat and dirt, blistered feet, improvised bats wielded with astonishing flair, last bounces of life squeezed out of dilapidated tennis-balls and a zeal to learn with nobody to teach - a far far cry from the white-clad school-boys who pad up in metropolitan maidans today!
 
Every year, our school closed for the summer on the 31st of March. And that very afternoon began the greatest annual cricketing event of our lives - the unofficial inter-class matches. As soon as the last exam was over at 12.30pm, the most enthusiastic among us ran to take possession of one of the better "pitches". Others rushed back after four-minute lunches. The scorers arrive with a frown of concern and huddle over their notebooks with neatly lined sheets for classes IX-A and IX-F. And by 1pm, the first ball was already being bowled under a 40 deg sun. Though strategies were clearly debated and decided in advance - especially while studying for the just-concluded exams - events always took a different turn. The guy who owned the bat wasn't quite happy batting 10th! The openers fall when the star batsman at two-down is on a nature break and the fleet-footed number-eleven snatches a few minutes in the sun! Venkatesh won't field if he is not allowed to bowl... There are only ten men... Count yourself! Out! Not out! Stop sulking! Go field in the covers! And slowly, a game emerges from the chaos... And at the end of the day, someone's left licking wounds and nursing a bruised ego and someone goes home with a story of childhood heroism - a 3-wicket maiden or a 30-ball 45 - memories that would be polished and pruned over the course of the summer to become veritable legends in the next school year. We would walk slowly home at 7pm - aching limbs and racing hearts heralding the arrival of summer - our voices fading into the dusk tinkling with the delightful aniticipation of sixty days of cricket!
 
Almost every year, there was a thunderous late-afternoon storm in that first week of April. The heat seemed to hang heavily in the air like unvented anger, the sky darkened like a frowning brow and the heavens opened with thunder, lightening and even small hailstones in a lucky year. And every year, after another match was abandoned  - only well after the puddles in the pitch became way too big for a slushy single - we'd walk back plodding unnecessarily through the puddles, pulling water from the branches on each other, arriving at one of our houses for hot tea, steaming snacks and gentle, extra towels smelling of naphtalene dug out from wooden almirahs and indulgent admonishments from the lady of the house. But that first week's rain marked a mere hiatus in the cricket. The skies soon cleared up, the puddled dried like fleeting memories, and in the rising dust and heartless heat, grounds across the township rang with "Howzzaaat"s. While we did play a number of other games - football with small rubber balls on ashpalt, tennis with wooden boards (where Becker and Edberg met at Wimbledon, Rolland Garros and Flushing Meadows on the same day and played out marathon five-setters cursing fluently in Tamil), chess on a quiet morning or cards in someone's garden - it was cricket in it's various forms that accounted for a good 90% of our vacation. Cricket with a hard-ball and "one-pitch catches", cricket with a stump for a bat in the bedroom with my uncle (much to my grandfather's ire), cricket on the terrace with younger neighbourhood kids where I played out epic innings of 500+ before bowling the opposition out for 3 or 4, cricket under the stairs with the girl-next-door risking a summer of ridicule if the guys saw us, cricket on the dry river-bed with the ball tossed full, cricket under street-lights with more time spent looking for the ball than playing, cricket with stolen mangoes or guavas when we couldn't pool Rs.2 from all our trouser pockets... Three lines scrawled with any handy marker on any wall became the symbol of our childhood... Our liberty... Our seasons in the sun!
 
And on rare occasions when we were too tired to play, there was always cricket to watch... Stars to emulate... The swagger of Viv Richards, the thunderous charge of Wasim Akram, the wristy flicks of Azharuddin, Srikanth's habit of staring at the sun - they were all acted out in exaggerated imitation the next day. Surprisingly, we also knew our cricket - a long time before statistics, over-analysis killed cricket - we knew our offbreaks, inswinging yorkers, leg glances and square cuts. With the little cricket we got to watch, we were never picky about who was playing. We watched a Dave Houghton scatter a Kiwi attack to all corners of the ground only to watch Zimbabwe lose a close encounter. Or Mike Gatting reverse sweeping a World Cup into Aussie hands (which we cheered because we all loved David Boon). Yeah, India playing was a bonus - but cricket was cricket even otherwise. And the Sportstar - that wonderful magazine that we read from cover-to-cover-to-cover-again - gave a human being that we could put behind the face we saw on the screen. We knew the gentleman behind the giant Courtney Walsh who refused to run Salim Yousuf out at the wrong end... How Mohinder Amarnath alone could hook courageously in the Indian team... How a dimunitive Gavaskar stood tall amid the hunting pace giants in the Caribbean... How Richards refused to wear a helmet ever... How a young cricketer called Brian Lara had scripted a further twist to his emerging legend by insisting on walking! 
 
Last week, one of the last legends of the cricketing years I empathise with slipped slowly into the sunset. Brian Charles Lara went with his head low despite having embellished the game with some its finest innings ever. In his rise and fall, he typified a generation of cricketers who were surprisingly human - a man whose great genius was sprinkled with weaknesses and quirks that made him all the more watchable. A man who forever walked a tightrope bringing some improbable, incredible, undeserving victories to a hopeless team - a team which deemed it below themselves to give their captain the customary ovation as he walked out on a glittering 16-year career. Lara - villain, hero, conundrum and virtuoso - hung up his cricketing boots last week. To me, and a generation of other street cricketers, our season of cricket in the sun slowly draws to a close. Here's one last time to all the many mates whom I  have shared a stand with in the dusty red pitches of BHEL Township in Trichy. And here's wishing the generations to come many such sporting memories with their own heroes... For to follow a sport is to fall in love... To be so entangled into its intricacies that its strokes and flourishes become part of your mannerism, its heroes part of your dreams... To follow a sport is to quickly blink away hot tears of joy in the middle of a warm March night when a young Trinidadian called Brian Charles Lara guides his team to a stunning victory against the might Australians half a world away...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Sunsets are Forever...

A sunset is a dissolution of the parochial infinitesimal self unto the boundless magnificence of the universal spirit. The slanting rays of a reddening sun blur the lines of your identity until you are one with a greater force - just an inconsequential little speck stuck to a cosmic wheel turning in inexorable and imposing monotony. At sunset, the observer finally blends into the observed and the spell of duality is finally broken...

And yet, a sunset is an intensely private experience. The mellowing rays creep and crawl into the deepest crevices of your mind like thirsty roots in a tropical summer - searching for this old memory or that hidden thought. Each fading shade of crimson, each passing cloud and each bird returning home can nudge you into a long labrynthine trip amidst a lifetime of memories hidden away in some timeworn depth of your consciousness. It involves a baring of the soul few other daily phenomena dare to demand. From the loneliest of riverside park benches in Montreal to the bustling yellow evenings on Mumbai's Marine Drive, expatiations around a setting sun are best embarked on in solitude... Or in the company of the rare few with whom your last pretences can be shed...  

Sunsets at home were always special... With Mom - sitting on the terrace and catching up on Trichy goings-on - sunsets were peripheral yet essential to the second cup of tea at 6pm... Sometimes, when Sis and I are both home, we'd convince Mom to stay a bit longer and watch the stars come up in the East. First love brought with it stolen sunsets from the Rock Fort's heights. During the placid, aimless flow of one day into another in Karaikudi, evenings went in reading and meditation by the temple pond... For the harassed software-engineer in Chennai, the sun set only on rare Sundays in the beach... Coffee, poems, Calvin and the bittersweet intensity of few days together in a long-distance relationship colour sunsets on the balcony with B in Bangalore... And I have also been lucky to share my sunsets with wonderful people during my Mumbai days... Oh, how we used to talk - of dreams, poems, music, books, love, family - going on and on long after the sun's given way to  the twinkling lights on Malabar Hill...  And New York beautiful New York - how I fell in love with mesmerising Manhattan sunsets over the Jersey shore!

Here in Montreal, the sun sets on solitude and reverie. And every time the sun slids below Mont Royal, the deepening purple of the western sky silhouetting the leafless trees, there's a weird sense of deja vu. Not only like I have been here before but also that I'll be here again. That this very sunset unfolded in my presence before - somewhere else, some other time... They say a human life is never lived in the present. Or even in a finite set of years on either side of here and now. It extends infinitely into both the past and the future. Our physical being - our instincts, our mannerisms, our looks - traces their origin back to some hungry ape who decided to walk on his hindlegs to forage better. Our roots - our values, our culture, our language - we inherit from the last several centuries of social changes that our ancestors lived through. And every step we take in the course of our life is forever unto the future... Forever!!! The ghost of time is forever haunting our doorsteps - urging us to linger longer, move faster, stay put or stop right now! Perhaps, nirvana is just a true heartfelt realization that time is a mere illusion... As many a philosopher pontificates, perhaps the world is just a here and now that constantly being created and destroyed all in an perennial cosmic nanosecond with memory just a regressive curse... May be... And may be then, it's just been one long sunset through all these years... With family, friends, love, poetry, music and a cup of tea all frozen forever in one heartening tableau in the golden yellow sunlight...

Orbiter Dictum:
Some of my fave sunset-shots below...

A Jet-Trail Across a Montreal Spring Sunset


Wild Grass & Mystic Fire - Manhattan, NY


Magical Marine Drive, Mumbai


Lake Winnipasakee, NH - Fall '06


Point Arena, CA - Sun, Sea & Silence


Lone Walker - Riverside Park, Manhattan


Winter Sunset - Montreal


Children at Play - Montreal



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