Unexpected Shaq Attack!

I return from my longest hiatus from blogging. These days, words like ‘writing’, ‘publish’, ‘manuscript’ and ‘paper’ have a different meaning in my life and they are seldom used in a leisurely context. Graduate students are not paid very much, but what we are given in over-abundance are chances to bitch, moan and complain until we start getting annoyed with other grad students who do the same. Laboratory life moves on while me mutter curses under our breath, swear revenge on instruments that never seem to work when you need them most, plot elaborate schemes to start a blood feud with someone who messed up your experiment and day dreaming about reviewers and editors spending the rest of their lives in medieval oubliettes until they accept your paper without questions.

It’s not all about morbid fantasies though. The flexible work schedule (at least in my group) is a perk and so is the warm and generally pleasant climes of Atlanta. I did try to relish every opportunity to exploit the low fuel prices here and drove two-thirds the way across the country, but a historically bad blizzard in New Mexico smothered my R&R plans. How we managed to escape from the snow and frost is a story for another day – especially since it seems to get more adventurous and death-defying as the memory grows older.

In less exciting times, I have picked up a new hobby of listening to podcasts; a throwback to the radio era. I appreciate the opportunities it affords me to enjoy content while not having to devote my visual attention all the time. I also find that podcasts are a better way of sustaining your attention while driving than listening to music. My subscriptions vary between comedy, sports, pop-culture to just plain absurd. The last category is the one that led me to write this post.

Last year, around August, I heard the news that Kobe and Shaq had cleared the air on their now notorious feud. As a Laker fan, it is tough for me to not reminisce about the good ol’ days when Shaq was carving up other centers and Kobe was lighting it up from the perimeter. They were the most dynamic duo in NBA history and along with Magic-Kareem and Jordan-Pippen, they are a lock for one of the greatest one-two punches in basketball annals. But things didn’t always seem peachy and after the debacle of the 2004 Finals, the duo were split. To their credit, they found success individually, and of late have been nothing but complementary of each other in public.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Shaq had a podcast on podcastone.com and this was the venue for their reunion. I listened in to the recording one day and really enjoyed the two of them talking about their past and share stories about their Laker days. Particularly in light of how Kobe’s career has come to a disappointing culmination, it was a bitter-sweet moment for the Laker fan in me.

Apart from the conversation, I noticed that the podcast had a generally pleasant vibe where Shaq and his co-host John Kincade had an excellent on-air rapport and that neither of them took themselves too seriously. The conversation topics would always be light-hearted and Shaq would put his trademarked humorous twist on everything ranging from basketball to racially-charged incidents. I have always believed that the reason why Inside the NBA on TNT is the best TV show is that Shaq and Charles Barkley have built up enough equity with the American public that allows them to make off-the-cuff comments that are seldom misconstrued. People generally like them and even if they disagree to their views, they understand that there is no malicious intent behind their strong positions.

I caught up with the previous episodes of ‘The Big Podcast with Shaq’ over the next few days and became a regular listener on Mondays. The segment that brought the most laughs consistently was called ‘Borderline’ which was organically conceived when one of them said something which could have been classified as ‘borderline offensive’. So every time that happened on air, Shaq would yell out ‘Borderline’ and the guys would get a good laugh out of it. Soon it became a running segment where they would play audio clips that involve comments that were unintentionally borderline and funny. This varied from news anchor fails, commentator gaffes, clips played out of context and interviews where folks would say something asinine. The word ‘Borderline’ morphed into the podcast equivalent of “Shaqtin’” – two terms to describe public embarrassment that were coined by Shaq.

I had started following Shaq, his co-host and his producer on twitter. One fine day before the Thanksgiving week, I saw a tweet where John asked anyone who is interested in playing a game on the podcast to tweet the producer, Rob Jenners. So I tweeted him and he got back to me asking me if I can wait by the phone at 4:00 pm. I didn’t even check my schedule and I said yes; all the while being extremely pessimistic that this had all the build up towards an epic letdown. Nevertheless, I waited near the phone and to my elation, I got the call around 4. It was Rob and he told me, ‘Stay on the line, Krishna. Shaq will be with you shortly’. By then I was smiling ear-to-ear and eagerly waiting to talk to the big fella.

The game that they were playing was called Buzzer Beater. The idea is Shaq and John would each give these ‘cryptic clues’ to a listener and they would have to identify what they are talking about. I was mentally prepared put my bachelors and master’s degrees in engineering to good use. I had a sinking feeling that if they asked me anything about rap/pop music or college sports, I was a sitting duck. But to my greatest surprise and slight embarrassment, the category was ‘Fast Food Chains’. It’s almost as if Shaq knew me!

I will link the podcast below so you can listen to the exchange for yourselves (I come in around the 49:40 minute mark). Shaq heard my name, discerned that I am Indian and said he wants to team up with me because “Indians are smart”! Hooray for positive stereotypes. So anyway, I go on to do well in the contest and John’s listener counterpart fell apart in the clutch and that helped me and Shaq win the game! Maybe Shaq and KC are the next Shaq and Kobe, amiright?!

I ‘won’ an autographed picture from Shaq and was sent to my home a few weeks later. Shaq calls himself the Black Godfather and prefers the Spanish translation for added effect. I have never been an autograph hunter but that looks like a great one to start with!

So I get my 15 seconds of fame and some bragging rights with my friends. It has also come in handy as a conversation starter – “So the other day I was talking to Shaq and… Oh did I not tell you already?” #humblebrag and all that.

This past Friday, I was having a spectacularly craptastic week where none of my experiments went to fruition and I couldn’t wait for Friday to be here. But Murphy’s law struck and one of my over-the-weekend experiments had failed and leaked all over and I was called in to fix the situation. I had to rush to the lab at a moment’s notice and was frantically making my way to the lab when I saw one other than the Big Diesel across the street. At first I thought I was trippin’ but nope it was him alright. He was walking (on the street like a regular person!) in the same direction as I was going. The expression on my face is akin to the one Laura Dern’s character had when she first saw the dinosaur in Jurassic Park (that metaphor is apropos to this situation I hope). I yelled out “Borderline” and he heard it and laughed and looked up from his phone. I said “Shaq! I was on the podcast a few months ago and we played buzzer beater” and he said “Oh! That was you? I remember you.” He proceeded to give me a fist bump and then walked on. I have never been a fan of selfies and on top of that I was so completely star-struck that it didn’t even cross my mind. I just went to the lab, cleaned up the experiment and all I could think of was how I will never wash the hand where Shaq gave me the dap!

I always thought that if I am ever around celebrities I will always play it cool and act normal. I guess not. It was my first real celebrity encounter. I had seen Mohanlal up close during a quiz competition where he was the chief guest. My friend yelled out ‘Laletta’ and he turned around and looked at us. On my first day at USC, while taking a walking tour of the campus with my roommate, we fortuitously ran into Amir Khan at the USC Cinematic School. I had seen Sachin play in an IPL game and the closest he got to us was when he fielded near the boundary and I watched Kobe (and a very young and then little-known Steph Curry) play in front of Jack Nicholson from the nose-bleed section at the Staples Center. As far as big celebrities go, no-one gets bigger than Shaq! The moment got to me and I was caught Shaqtin’!

In the end, this made for a fun story to tell my friends and get me back into blogging after a prolonged rut. Kobe has always been my favorite Laker player, but off-the-court, I think Shaq is the boss. His antics on TV and the podcast are good for solid laughs and as a celebrity he is always been a huge supporter of community initiatives. Shaq and Chuck have the best on-screen personalities for any athletes and NBA fans are lucky to catch them on TV every week during the season. Turner doesn’t do live audience tapings for Inside the NBA. If they did, I’d be pitching a tent outside the gates until they let me in – considering that Studio J where they tape the show is literally right across the street from Georgia Tech.


This is the autographed picture that I got for being on the podcast. Despite the best efforts from USPS the photo was not bent out of shape after they stuffed it in my mailbox.

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Year-end clearing rant

Heeeeeer’s KC! Looks who’s back, after a prolonged and unforced absence from the blogosphere. Honestly, even though I had an inkling that Sachin’s retirement would cause a vacuum in my life (and the Indian middle order), I severely underestimated the impact it would have on my desire to write something every now and then. For the last 13 months, I have been bereft of ideas that I could foster into a rant or a short story. That, and the debilitating toll that graduate studies take on my cerebral bandwidth contributed to the extenuating circumstances under which I abandoned my blog.

So during this self-imposed exile, I accomplished a few milestones that think are worth consideration. First and foremost, I defended my PhD proposal, arguably the most important and arduous requirement that needs to be fulfilled en-route a doctoral degree. I also had the opportunity to present my research work at the annual conference of chemical engineers which, fortunately for me, was held in Atlanta this year, which meant that I didn’t have to go through the harrowing air travel routine before a nerve-racking presentation. Fortune favors the cowardly, apparently.

On the recreational side, I had the good fortune to make three epic road trips during this period. In all honesty, all three of them warranted a dedicated post, but lethargy and procrastination and yada yada yada, you get the picture. The first one took place during the X’mas break last year when a couple of friends and I drove to Florida. We covered Miami and Key West during the first two days, spending a lot of time in the invigorating sun shine of the appropriately named state. The next two days were spent in Universal Studios, Orlando where I indulged my inner nerd at the World of Harry Potter. The phenomenal work that they have done to recreate Hogwarts and Diagon Alley, along with the actual ride itself paid dividends and interest for the long waiting times that we had to endure.

The next one was over this summer and also involved elaborate travel plans that came together like clockwork. I took the bus (that’s right) from Atlanta to Chicago which saved me a few hundred bucks, but cost me about 14 hours. For someone who had to endure 50 hours of railway travel and 5 hours of back breaking bus ride four times every year to get to Pilani and back, that was no big deal. From Chi-town and rented a car, went further north and west to Madison, Wisconsin and picked up a few friends. From there we started our excursion to Niagara Falls. On the way, we made sure to have pit-stops in as many states as possible, so that I can add to my tally of states visited. Erie, Pennsylvania was the best of the lot, where we ventured into the Presque Island State Park. It is a beautiful strip of land jutting out into Lake Erie, with multiple white sandy beaches and a tranquility that is unmatched. It was so blissful and cathartic for me that we stopped on our way back too. As for Niagara, I think all that needs to be said has been said over and over again. On board the Maid of the Mist, right at the focal point of the Horseshoe Falls, we were treated to one of the most breathtaking views of our lives. Millions and millions of gallons of white water cascading over the precipice, combined with the bright sunshine, the viewing angle and the velocity differential at the top and bottom of the falls produced a spectacle that looked as if there was a cotton candy machine in heaven spewing clouds into the realm of men.

The last trip took place after my proposal defense when an impromptu journey was planned that doubled as a celebratory undertaking as well as an opportunity to recuperate from the duress of the presentation. We drove to New Orleans, Louisiana and spent the weekend there, getting to dabble in a lot of activities that make NOLA such a vibrant city. A little bit of Bourbon street jazz, a stroll through the French quarter, a venture into the mosquito infested swamps, indulging in some Creole cuisine and finally a visit to the Oak Alley Plantation; a beautifully preserved location where unspeakable atrocities took place in the antebellum South. It was like picking up a leather-clad volume with golden typeset and arabesque engravings, only to reveal blood stained pages inside.

Between these three trips, I drove somewhere between 50 to 60 hours and covered nearly 4500 miles of terrain spread across 12 states. Coming to think of it, I should have signed up for a PhD in geological survey.

Eventually I hope to cover all 50 of them. Looks like a I've a lot of work to do.

Eventually I hope to cover all 50 of them. Looks like a I’ve a lot of work to do. (The pushpins show the places that I’ve been to, as of today).

In less exciting turn of events, I also purchased a Kindle Paperwhite. I never thought I’d transition to an electronic reader, given my proclivity for printing even the smallest of journal articles to read. Holding a book in one hand and curling up under a blanket on a cold day with steaming cup of tea on my bedside table has been the definition of my comfort zone for far too long. But here in the US of A, woe betide anyone who wants to buy a book. You can buy a toaster and shell out less dough than if you were to buy a best-seller off the shelf. That, and the lack of storage space and planning ahead to an unenviable task of hauling all the book in the likely event of a change of domicile told me that the time was ripe for a foray into the dominion of virtual tomes.

I surprised myself with the alacrity that I showed in acclimatizing to the e-reader. To help things along, I started off with all the Harry Potter books; familiarizing myself to a new concept by amalgamating it with something that I could never dislike made sure that I compensated for the prejudice I had against electronic reading. It might be the wisest investment that I made this year because, thanks to all the free e-books that are available on Amazon.com and Project Gutenberg, I was able to enrich myself by perusing some of the most lauded literary works spanning multiple centuries. Starting in February, I have been able to read Les Miserables, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a few volumes from the Jeeves collection, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, The Canterville Ghost, The Bhagvad Gita; not to mention re-reading The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo and all seven Harry Potter books. I also checked out a few unheralded titles from the Kindle library including a gripping murder mystery titled My Sister’s Grave and an engrossing sci-fi trilogy called the Fear Saga.

I am not getting paid by Amazon, but I can tell you that I’d recommend this device to anyone with a penchant for reading. The battery life is out of this world, the adjustable lighting is a boon and ability to stockpile books without sacrificing real-estate are just a few among the notable upsides. But the thing that sealed the deal for me; purging me of the guilt that came from forsaking the aroma of a newly purchased book and knuckle-crack that runs through its spine when I first open it and jotting down my initials on the inside and losing myself in it for hours; that to me was the in-built dictionary. I know that is an anticlimactic description; the first part of that convoluted sentence was written by the right side of my brain and last part by the left side. I sacrificed the visceral pleasures and a chunk of my humanity for something thoroughly utilitarian. But having the definition of an unfamiliar word literally at my finger tip is a luxury that I am loath to part with. Also, it remembers that words that I looked up in the past so that once in a while I can do an audit and see how many of them I retained. I guess I can satisfy my olfactory and tactile needs with an occasional trip to Barnes and Nobles – surreptitiously opening and smelling random books like an erudite cokehead.

I have skillfully staved off going an entire calendar year without a blog post. I hope to get back into the habit of writing one every month or so. Or maybe I’ll be back next December with another space filler. Who knows?

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Dream Journal – Final Entry

I have read several dozen articles/blogs/interviews regarding Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement in the last few weeks. Most of them seem to remember the exact moment when they fell in love with the child prodigy who had ensnared their attention with breath-taking stroke-play and inimitable innocence. Unfortunately, I don’t have such a tale for you. I remember being enamored with cricket since the quarter final of the 1996 world cup, but I cannot put a finger on the definitive ‘I-have-seen-God’ moment. Mohammed Azharuddin captured my imagination for a while, because of his propensity to score quickly; as a naïve kid who had no patience for the grinding nature of test cricket, I thought he was our best batsman. I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had tried!

It doesn’t matter that I remember the first moment; I have plenty of ‘best’ moments to last a lifetime.

I was spending the summer vacation at my aunt and uncle’s place with my cousins in 1998 when the ‘Desert storm’ happened. I remember the grainy pictures and raspy audio commentary from the antique TV set (those days when ‘tuning’ into a channel meant losing a thumb in the process!) Tony Grieg was going nuts over the barrage of boundaries and sixes that were being pummeled all over the Sharjah stadium. And then it happened again, a couple of days later on Sachin’s birthday when he single handedly won us the game and series. I have never celebrated even my own birthday with such fervor and passion that I displayed on that day; 15 years later, I don’t think I ever will.

Later that year, as he was scoring his 9th and final ODI century in that calendar year (against a hapless Olonga and Zimbabwe in Sharjah), a banner was raised in the stands that read ‘Welcome to the 21st century’. I remember explaining it to my mother that it was not a premature celebration of the impending millennial event, but rather a congratulatory note for Sachin on scoring ODI hundred #21.

When India and Pakistan resumed their cricketing relationship after an unbearably long hiatus in 1999, there was palpable excitement to go along with the sheer competitiveness and one-upmanship that underlines this bilateral association. As Sachin was taking India to the verge of an improbable victory against possibly the finest bowling attack he had ever faced, I couldn’t help feel jubilant. But like the San Antonia Spurs in this year’s NBA finals, I tasted the proverbial champagne a little too early. Even as I watched our last 4 wickets fall for just 4 runs and India meekly surrendered to the bowling might of Pakistan, I knew that I had witnessed something akin to a Shakespearian tragedy. In retrospect, that was the same year that Brian Lara scored his virtuoso 153*. If only India had mustered another 12 runs, the water-cooler discussions involving these two behemoths would have taken an entirely different aura. If only.

It is going to be tough going through life without THIS to look forward to.

It is going to be tough going through life without THIS to look forward to.

In the same year, India played in a World Cup Tournament in England. Having lost a close encounter to South Africa, India was desperate to notch a win against Zimbabwe. When I tuned into the broadcast, I saw a jubilant Zimbabwe supported relishing the prospect of facing India sans Tendulkar. I watched with bated breath to hear about what I thought surely would be an injury setback. But it was far more tragic; Sachin had lost his beloved father. He had flown back to India for the final rites, as any son would. Sure enough, India lost the plot and then the match too. But in a shocking move, Sachin came to face Kenya in a must-win game. I was too young to realize that he was crying behind those abnormally large shades he wore that day. I watched as he unleashed what was surely his most emotional innings ever. My father, a renowned Tendulkar cynic and my uncle were in attendance too. As Sachin was in his stance to face the last ball of the innings, I quipped “It’ll be great if he finishes off with a six and end on an even 140”. And he obliged. India reveled and rejoiced the moment, yet I wonder how many people fathomed the pain that Sachin had to endure to leave his family behind and fly back to England, let alone score a hundred on arrival.

The 2002 tour of West Indies was not a particularly pleasant one for me. As an unabashed Tendulkar apologist, I would often have to fend off hordes of friends and classmates who would denigrate Sachin’s triumphs and aggrandize his failures just to spite me. He had scored a hundred and a duck in the 2nd test which India won. He was being troubled regularly by Pedro Collins, whom he later acknowledged as one of the two most difficult bowlers he had faced (care to guess the second?). A second ball duck in the third test didn’t make my job easy in defending his case against an increasingly vicious classroom debate. The weird time zone difference meant that I couldn’t watch any of the games live. I woke up one day in the morning, offered a sincere and vehement prayer to all the Gods to cut him (and me) some slack and tuned into Star Sports to watch the highlights of the last night’s play. As the second wicket fell, my anxiety reached a crescendo and to my utter horror I watched him getting out first ball to that wretched Pedro Collins again! I bawled like a baby, half in disappointment and half in anticipation of the horror that was awaiting me in school. I guess my sad countenance betrayed my inner feelings (or it might have been the fear of me going ‘Hulk. Smash’ on them); either way, my friends didn’t rile me too much that day.

The 2003 WC was a tough pill to swallow, partly because it was right in the middle of my 10th grade board exams. There was a severe curfew on watching TV, World Cup or not. My first exam, the always dreaded Social Studies, was scheduled on March 4th 2003, a couple of days removed from the most anticipated match of the WC – India vs. Pakistan in SuperSport Park, Centurion. I had a system in place – I would watch only the first over of the Indian innings and then resume my studies. My mother and sister, not burdened by the plight of long-dead Mughal emperors were upstairs watching the game live. I had an inkling that India was doing well in the chase, as they hadn’t switched off the TV in disgust! But after a while, my mother appeared on top of the stairs with a sheepish grin and told me, “You should come and watch this! Sachin is scoring like a maniac!” I ran upstairs thinking ‘To hell with Austro-Hungary and their petty politics, this is India vs. Pakistan!’ But sadly as I started to watch, he was dismissed by a scorching delivery from Akhtar. I sat down in remorse and despair, somehow feeling responsible for his dismissal! The least I could do was to wait and see if India won the game. That remains the only time to date when my parents wouldn’t chide me for watching cricket when I should be studying (for my board exams, no less!) Even they were mesmerized by that innings. It was a night when India collectively forgot their troubles and slept without a care in the world.

23rd March 2003, a day after my exams was all done. First Saurav Ganguly at the toss and then Ricky Ponting at the crease would break Indian hearts. Kapil Dev, during the mid-game break proclaims solemnly “We have Sehwag, We have Sachin. But we are going to lose this game.” And soon after, as Sachin began his most painful stroll back to the pavilion, his foreboding proved true. As I switched off the TV and trudged back downstairs crestfallen, my father asked me “What’s the score?” and I said “Australia scored 359. Sachin is out, first over” and he knew better than to ask me anything more.

It was back to the bitter days when tennis elbow sidelined him and noteworthy innings were few and far between. I had an argument in college with a few friends who were all pro-Ganguly supporters. One of them told me that Sachin’s aggressive batting days were history. I took that slight seriously and told him that he would hit 4 sixes in an innings before the year was over (this was in September). The very next day, Sachin scored a 141 against West Indies that included 5 sixes! As I walked into class the next day, I spotted my friend and raised my hand; all fingers outstretched and mouthed ‘5 sixes’ in his direction. It was his birthday, so I chose the high-ground and didn’t pursue the argument; I am magnanimous in victory as I am humble in defeat!

2007 had a slew of innings were he would be dismissed in the 90s. One particularly memorable one was against Pakistan on the eve of the worst exam I ever wrote. Let’s just say, the score on my Control Systems final exam were less than the times Sachin lost his temper on the field! He finally broke the curse with a resplendent 117 in the CB series final against Australia. I was busy that day as it was the photo session for 3rd year class of Chemical Engineers. I was walking back briskly towards the nearest hostel common room when I heard the ear-splitting cacophony that could only mean one thing. A Tendulkar hundred.

India were facing England during December 2008, when the country was still recuperating from the wounds left behind by the monstrous terrorist attacks in Mumbai and I was on a train on my way back from Hyderabad to Kottayam after my six month internship. One of the quirks associated with my Tendulkar fanaticism is the reluctance to check the score on a mobile device. I knew India were chasing a steep target but resisted the urge to follow up. As I reached my home, I quickly dealt with the pleasantries and rushed switch on the TV. Kevin Pietersen was being interviewed (not a good sign, did they win?!) but when he said “We thought the target would be enough, but not when Sachin plays a masterpiece like that”. I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down to hear the full story. When they showed the scorecard that read ‘S. Tendulkar 103*’, I almost shrieked in delight, much to the dismay of my mother who was still displeased at my cold-shoulder treatment upon seeing her for the first time in months!

I was going through a tough phase personally in 2009, with no immediate prospect in sight. The only consolation was that I had to restrictions on how much cricket I could watch. That’s when the 175 against Australia happened. When Praveen Kumar was run-out and India fell short by 3, what I felt can be summed up by what John McClane said in Die Hard 2 – “Oh man, I can’t ****ing believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same s**t happen to the same guy twice?”

The trauma from this match was ameliorated completely when the 200* against South Africa was scored. Towards the end of the innings I hardly had any nails left and more than enough urine in my bladder. I had hardly shifted from the position I had assumed hours ago; my legs were very close to being permanently unusable. Dhoni was hogging the strike, leaving Sachin with only the occasional chance to cover the excruciating distance between 190 and 200. At 199, my father came back from work and joined me in watching it unfold. I implored him, “I know you like to bother me about Sachin, but please not today. He’s on the verge of being the first man ever to score a double hundred in a one-day game.” We watched together as it happened and I ran out of the room in delight, wanting to hug and hi-fi someone! I called my friends and exchanged semi-intelligent voices over the phone. I logged onto cricinfo.com and noticed that the site was down. As I came back to my senses, a feeling of impending doom took hold my mind. “India will somehow manage to lose this game”. It lingered until South Africa lost about half their side with the target not nearly in sight. That day, I wished I was born a year younger so I could watch that innings in a hostel common room with friends.

My first couple of semesters at USC were infinitely improved due to Sachin scoring a couple of double hundreds in tests and the World Cup victory. Now that I think about it, I think that was the happiest I have been since I started watching cricket.

The now-notorious 100th 100 happened when I was at the University of South Carolina for a graduate school recruitment weekend. I got a text message from my father that read “the grandfather has scored a hundred, finally”. I didn’t know how I felt about it. I watched in horror as Bangladesh chased down that total with consummate ease. The feeling was worsened by the fact that I was sitting atop an 18 story revolving restaurant. My fear of heights and the fact that India had lost the game combined to make it one of the worst days in my life.

When he announced his retirement in October 2013, I welcomed that news with a feeling of content. I wanted to watch him play forever, but I also wanted him to preserve his legacy. The naysayers were gaining on him. Anyone supporting him was automatically a sycophant and anyone questioning him always had to be level-headed and rational (according to themselves). I knew that people would gnaw at his one flaw than reminisce in the plethora of memories he had given us. That is human nature and I had begrudgingly grown to accept it.

I was dreading and savoring the moment as I went through the gamut of emotions accompanies with watching him bat. The anticipation for two wickets to fall, the agony until he sees off the first ball, the relief of opening his account, the exhilaration of his first boundary. When he played his signature back foot punch after reaching his fifty, I sucked in my breath and simpered like an idiot. And then he was dismissed by an innocuous delivery that left me catatonic. I turned off my bootlegged online streaming site and powered down my laptop. Barring an unlikely event of a total collapse by India and a second coming of Viv Richards, I knew that was the last time he would bat for India. I knew that he was too old and too proud and that his first name wasn’t Michael to stage a comeback. I don’t need to describe the feeling as I went to bed that night. If you’re still reading this, chances are you felt it too.

India’s bowlers made short work of the opposition and soon the presentation ceremony was on. Ravi Shastri fumbled through his quota of gaffes and finally had the good sense to yield the stage to Sachin. I watched in muted surprise as the shy, introverted, intensely private man we had all come to know unfurled what was surely the most heartfelt and sincere farewell speech ever. How he managed to stay balanced in that moment is beyond my comprehension. As he concluded his words, I couldn’t help but join the thousands at Wankhede and millions across the globe in chanting ‘Sachinnnnnnnn, Sachin!!’ one more time. With that heart-rending sign off, he proved once again that Tendulkar the batsman may have fell short of expectations occasionally, but Sachin Tendulkar the human being is second to no one.

He epitomized what it meant to be an Indian, a stance from which he never faltered.

He epitomized what it meant to be an Indian, a stance from which he never faltered.

I went to sleep not wanting to believe that when I wake up, Sachin Tendulkar will be a former Indian cricketer. I knew that the days were I would feel unselfishly happy at another person’s happiness were behind me. I knew that never again I would have a week when I would mentally map out all my activities so I could watch cricket in peace. I knew that I would never have to hold my pee or lose feelings in my legs just so that someone somewhere could be successful. I knew that from now on, all my prayers would be only for me, my family and my friends. I went to sleep hating the fact that I am a Muggle – without a wand to siphon off my memories and without a pensieve to stick my head into, and stay there forever.

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Thank You for the 24 Years

By now, all of you reading this would have gone through at least one newspaper article or online post that’s been created in the aftermath of the big announcement earlier this week. Having read most of them and seen numerous video highlights pertaining to the man who made the announcement, and spending a significant amount of time bawling like a child, unable to wrap my mind around the fact that life as I knew it for the better part of two decades is about to change irreversibly forever, this is my attempt to attain closure. It’s a preemptive recuperation effort at healing an emotional laceration that will continue to hurt many Indians like me for years to come.

I remember the day when I started watching cricket; back in 1996, on the day that India look on Pakistan in the World Cup quarterfinal and uncorked a bottle of whoop-ass on them. Even though our euphoria met with the same fate as the Hindenburg, I was enamored with the 22 yards for the rest of my life. And as I grew more astute about the game, I realized that there was one person on whom our entire team entrusted their hopes and our entire nation dedicated their prayers. He was such a ubiquitous figure in our lives that his physical features – the curly mop, the short stature and the squeaky voice became trademarks; so famous that to date he remains the only cricketer my grandmother can identify (by first name, no less) who has played since the fall of the Soviet Union.

It has never surprised me to see Sachin’s fans including myself deify him. What did surprise me was when I realized that there are others, millions of them in fact, who had irrevocably placed their trust in this man and continued to suspend their lives when he took the field. I saw reports in newspapers describing how people prayed for him to score a hundred, or cursed and cried when he was dismissed or secretly prayed for two wickets to fall so he could come to bat or even turned off the TV and sulked for the rest of the day regardless of the outcome of a game involving their own national team – just like how I always did! It was an exhilarating moment when it dawned on me that this fanaticism for Cricket’s Greatest Hero was contagious. Yet, unlike any organized religion, this devotion was not fabricated. I didn’t start doing all that because I saw someone else do it; it was completely organic. I did it because I knew it was the right thing to do!

Why did we switch off the TVs when he got out? It’s not that we disliked the rest of the team. To us, watching the rest of the game felt like a chore. Bereft of its most elegant virtuoso, it seemed like a statistical menagerie that needn’t be seen live. The visual and often visceral pleasure of seeing his stroke-play is what gave most of us the will to get up at ungodly hours without complaint and camp out in from of the TV.

Until I experienced air travel for the first time, I knew that Sachin was the only reason I was not an atheist. I haven’t prayed before any of my exams nearly as much as I do when Sachin is batting for India. Just like there are species of flora and fauna in the Amazon that aren’t found anywhere else on the Planet, there is a plethora of emotions that I go through when he’s batting that I don’t experience anytime else. It rises to its crescendo when he takes the crease to face the first ball and is only abated when the helmet comes off, the eyes look up to the heavens and the bat is lifted to acknowledge the adulation that pours in from all corners of India.

In the years to come, it is likely that a movie will be made about his life. If I were to make it, I wouldn’t show how he went from childhood prodigy to demigod in a matter of years; it would follow the life of an Indian fan whose life had known only one constant for 24 years – the gamut of emotions that are ensconced in his mind while watching a small fellow take on the meanest bowlers the world had to offer and gifted them nightmares. Plus, good luck finding a bloke to portray him convincingly! It’s insanely difficult even to shadow bat like him!

Is Sachin greater than the game of cricket? Perhaps not. Do we Indians try to make it look otherwise? Of course we do.  Some of us refrain from admitting it in public, because it seems like the wrong thing to do. But let’s face the truth; we do care more about how Sachin does than India winning a bilateral series against Sri Lanka. The collective attention the rest of the team receives is dwarfed by the cacophony when Sachin is dismissed by a debutant. Somehow it happened and how much ever we deny it, it’s not going away. Sure, just like how the NBA moved on to Kobe and LeBron after MJ retired, we’ll find new stars. But there’s something so magnificent about these remarkable athletes that they leave an indelible wake, just like supernova remnant in the space reminding us of the power that it once enshrined.

I think I can speak for the majority of his fans that we do not envy his success, his riches and most definitely his public scrutiny. Personally the only aspect that I envy is his work ethic. I say envy because I am sure it’s unattainable. I do wish I had it in me to reach the top in whatever I do, stay at the top with inconceivable consistency and keep honing my craft with deliberate attention regardless of divine talent. I also wish I could deal with criticism and unsolicited attention the way he does. It is just humanly impossible, yet he does it so effortlessly that we decided he had hit the cheat code and enabled God-mode.

Just like he has unabashed apologists like me, he also has attracted some unrelenting critics. The last couple of years have been tough for us because their voices were beginning to catch up with ours. I’ve come to terms with ignoring trolls who cook up numbers and misinterpret facts, but there are two arguments that always make me cringe. First one is the infamous Ferrari deal. It’s my knowledge that Jaswant Singh, the finance minister of India at the time offered Sachin a tax break considering his contributions to cricket. It was an unsolicited favor and he accepted, because it was a 1.13 crore rupee benefit on a car he didn’t even intend to buy. It was a gift and not a prize so the deal fell through and Fiat ultimately paid the money. I just would like to point out that all of us are guilty of voluntarily applying for legal tax breaks and it’s always the legally minimum tax that we want to pay and not the maximum. The second one is about him not being a better match winner than Brian Lara. Of course, Lara has the magnificent 153 which rightfully belongs in cricketing annals as one of the greatest innings ever played. Sachin came close to emulating that in the same year against Pakistan but fell woefully short thanks to yet another collapse by our team. Lara is a great player but isn’t even close when it comes to runs in winning efforts (and Sachin isn’t at the top of that list, so it’s not even a relevant comparison). Sachin had 14 match honors in Tests and 62 in ODIs. To me that means that in a format where it is possible to shut out the opposition by scoring runs as opposed to depending on bowlers to take 20 wickets, Sachin is the greatest player and there isn’t even a close second.

I am going to wind down what’s probably one of the last entries in my effort at a Sachin Tendulkar hagiography. I will be up and watching all four of his (possible) final test innings, hoping rather pessimistically that his reception to the crease won’t be truncated by commercials and besmirched by fawning commentary from Shastri. It has been so much fun and however much I tried to ignore it over the last few years, I have to begrudgingly accept that it’s coming to an end. I have to offer my sincerest thanks to Sachin Tendulkar for all the happiness he gave us for 24 years, for being the patron saint of hope, an epitome of decency and humility, for making us feel good about our value system because we believed in someone incorruptible and never having embarrassed us for picking the wrong role model.

For someone who has been a professional cricketer for almost as long as I’ve been alive, I cannot imagine what life would be like when you’re no longer padding up for India. I can only hope you adjust to it better than we are going to.

From the First to the last, the celebrations have remained consistent, reflecting how batting brings him inner peace and a superior understanding and respect for the game of Cricket

From the First to the last, the celebrations have remained consistent, reflecting how batting brings him inner peace and a superior understanding and respect for the game of Cricket

(soon after the 5 minute mark, watch him play a cover drive. Cricinfo live commentary described this as  the most beautiful cover drive you’ll ever see. I agree. Just watch the slow motion replay. Then watch again. Weep silently.)

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Expert’s guide on making an entrance and shocking your friends.

During my 3 month hiatus from this realm, I was doing intense research and extensive planning. The former speaks for itself, so it’s about the latter that I am going to write here about. Some of you might have seen on my Facebook wall that I recently served as a groomsman at a friend’s wedding. Now, this is no ordinary friend and this ain’t no run-of-the-mill wedding!

The Setup: I made my decision to go to India for the wedding by early January 2013. The hunt for the cheapest air ticket started soon and ended in February although calling it cheap would be akin to calling Shaquille O’Neal ‘tall’. I decided to keep this impending itinerary to myself; partly because I wasn’t sure I’d be granted vacation but mostly because I like surprising friends by making grand entrances.

By the end of May I had taken care of my vacation plans, but only a handful of people had any idea that I’d be visiting India soon. I swore my parents to secrecy; I had to divulge the information to them since I needed someone to pick me up from the airport at 4:00am! My mother and I lamented the shortage of quality time I’d get to spend in India, but we both agreed that it’s better than having nothing.

My itinerary was such that I was left with a Saturday and Sunday with not a thing to do. I decided to visit the Big Apple during this period and check off another star from the ‘to visit’ list of American states. If you’re wondering about the latest count, it is ‘7 down 43 to go’ as of today.

I reconnected with 3 friends, all of whom had not seen me in almost 9-10 years! I had gone to high school with Abhilash and had met Sreejith and Ashwin at the ‘2003 NTSE coaching camp’. I felt blessed to have such great friends who would take time out of their busy lives to rekindle a friendship after such a long time. Our rekindling had some extra fire, thanks to an ultra-spicy Indian dinner from a NYC restaurant!

This is where the magic begins!

The Pledge: Now, understand that between February and July, I had to lie through my teeth to my friends about the plethora of reasons why I wouldn’t make it to the wedding. The gamut extended from vicious graduate school professors to crippling poverty resulting from global economic fluctuations. Naturally, even right before the outbound flight from JFK, I had to maintain constant contact with them lest I become conspicuous through my absence. This is where Whatsapp becomes a double-edged sword!

The Turn: I boarded the 12 hour flight from JFK to Dubai hoping that I’d be able to connect back on Wi-Fi from the Dubai airport hotel. Although the airline had provided complimentary accommodation and transport, their tariff on services like phone and internet severely dented my plans. I forgot the exact AED rates, but it looked something like:

30 minute internet access: 1 kidney

2 hour internet access: Both kidneys

24 hour internet access: 2 kidneys and first-born child


I was getting a bit worried that my absence from Whatsapp was beginning to gather attention. Later I would learn that it was naturally associated with a graduate student’s plight of self-induced captivity. I was getting close; the 4 hour journey from Dubai to Cochin was needlessly exacerbated by a busy landing strip at Cochin. Patience might be a virtue; mine was getting gnawed at, painstakingly.

Family reunion at the airport is always fun. After the hugs and the handshakes and the cursory nod between my parents acknowledging my latest weight gain, we drove back to Kottayam. There’s always the added benefit of stopping at my grandma’s place where the World’s Greatest Cook was waiting for me with piping hot idlis and chutney. Half a dozen poor idlis met their quick and painless demise before I even took my shoes off!

Now, it was time for the showdown. As I said before, this isn’t an ordinary friend. Most importantly, it’s not just one friend, it’s two! So that’s two of my best friends – getting married – to each other. How could I miss this eh? Rajesh, the groom, and I had known each other since we were in the 5th grade. We started off in an indifferent manner, both competing to be among the best in our class. Then we became sort of frenemies when he discovered my Achilles heel, my undying devotion to Sachin Tendulkar. That’s when the emotional scarring started. I believe he was threatened and intimidated by my bulging …umm… intellect and had to use psychological tactics to extract morsels of schadenfreude. Towards the end of high school, we had a major fallout, but 2 months removed from the pleasure of my company, he was visibly devastated and came crawling back to me and I took him back; the benevolent magnificence that I am. Despite being substantially older than me, he never caught up to me academically, so I threw him a bone and let him win by 1 during our 12th grade exams. His ego took a major hit that day and he left India vowing never to enter into direct competition with me.

16 years of torture and torment has forged such a robust friendship between us that even the fires of Mount Doom would come up short.

Leaving the shores of India for easier hunting grounds led him to meet his second true love – Thushara a.k.a The Bride <insert Kill Bill reference here>. When Rajesh and Thushara had begun their budding romance, I was amongst the exclusive few who were privy to this information (the other being Panku, who is now a globetrotting sailor going by his nickname of Renjith). By virtue of being his confidants, we became friends with her, way before anyone else knew about their relationship.

Now she is the antithesis of Rajesh, with a pathological need to keep everyone happy in her company and never shit on other people’s beliefs! Despite being great friends for 8 years, I had only once met her in person (in 2008) but the magic of Skype and Whatsapp helped form a sibling bond between the two of us. That’s not always fun, because I subject my siblings to medieval torture!

The Prestige: So I walk up to Rajesh’s house in Kottayam on the sunny morning of July 31st 2013 with the intension of shocking the living hell out of him and to say I succeeded would be a gross understatement. He was barely out of bed when he saw me, and the bear-hug that ensued made sure that I redeemed my airfare through happiness points. I am usually stoical when it comes to emotional displays, but his morning breath ensured that there was no dearth for tears!

Soon he regained his composure and was back to business-as-usual with backhanded compliments and good natured ribbing. We decided to withhold the information until such time when we could shock Thushara. As luck would have it, she was visiting Kottayam on the same day for some wedding shopping. The location he chose to stage this drama couldn’t have been quainter; a sidewalk opposite a timber mill under the blazing tropical sun.

He had brought her there under some clever ruse of meeting someone else and she had agreed unenthusiastically. But the moment I got out of the car and gave her my patented Million Watt Dimpled Smile, she broke out into an unabashed and unbridled fit of laughter. She offered me her lemonade, either out of sheer shock or for the lack of a better welcome gift. After a quick exchange of pleasantries all of which were drowned in her laughter, we decided to take a picture together and meet at a later time when she was less traumatized!

The rest of my vacation was deluged in a flurry of activity – wedding shopping, suit tailoring, bachelor party, wedding eve party, the wedding ceremony and the sumptuous feast, the after party and a whole lot of wholesome fun. It was a very eclectic fusion of Indian and Western weddings, so I got to play the best man dressed up in a suit while enjoying the beats of drums and cymbals under the constant threat of a tropical downpour!

My parents expressed surprise at how much time and effort I willingly invested in this wedding; they’ve known me all my life as a curmudgeon who steers clear of weddings like ships from the Bermuda Triangle. I couldn’t be happier for Rajesh and Thushara, but this wedding meant something more to me. It was a litmus test that proved one of my long-lasting self-doubts; I knew I could be a nice person when I wanted to!

This picture was taken immediately after our reconciliation after an epic fall out. Notice how relieved he looks to have me back as a friend!

This picture was taken immediately after our reconciliation after an epic fall out. Notice how relieved he looks to have me back as a friend!

Too bad you can't hear the giggling in this photograph!

Too bad you can’t hear the giggling in this photograph!

I hope Rajesh and Thushara are reading this. And I also hope you guys know you owe me big! I endured 6 pairs of take-offs and landings, 36 hours of excruciating air-time and incalculable amount of mental anguish just to be at your wedding. In my books, that is enough rewards points to earn me the rights to demand that your first-born be named after me!

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Taking over the reins of Cricket

I think this is the right time to declare my candidacy for the office of the president of the Board of Cricket Control in India. As an avid fan connoisseur of the game since 1996, I think I am more than capable of handling the businesses of the richest cricket governing body in the world. Also, as a person who voluntarily signed up for graduate school, not once but twice, I put forward a water-tight argument regarding my inability to use my intellect to make a decision that will result in personal financial gratification. Moreover, my doctoral thesis is not being funded by BCCI and I pledge no conflict of interest, i.e. I will not use the monetary resources of the BCCI to expedite my graduation.

On the eve of the championship game of the 2013 Indian Premier League, I find it deeply disturbing that the cricket has become a mere sideshow and the real tight race is between the Mumbai police and Delhi police to bring home the Fairplay award. It saddens cricket fans all over the world to see two teams comprising of individuals with unblemished personal records like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Michael Hussey, M.S Dhoni, Jonty Rhodes, and Stephen Fleming etc are now being scrutinized with extreme prejudice.  In the unlikely event that all the implicated personnel are exonerated, the public will continue to view cricket through a shroud of deep suspicion and contempt. It’s not what these men deserve, but the vested interested of some unscrupulous individuals have brought us here. It may not be as serious of an issue as racial profiling, but you can see the tangents being drawn here; a few stupid individuals who made astronomically asinine decisions have now made it difficult for everyone else to lead a normal life. Way to ruin it for everyone, guys!

India loves cricket more than anything else. Even amidst all the crises that are riling our country, we invest our time to follow the developments in the latest spot-fixing scandals. Apparently, rape, billion dollar embezzlement, Chinese invasion, bureaucratic ineptitude and all the other crap that is raining down on the country have been put on hold indefinitely so that we can figure out if it was a $50,000 pay-off or an errant booger that made Sreesanth ask for a towel. The cries for justice are not entirely resonating with me; most of the Mumbai Indians fans are hollering to have CSK sacked because seemingly that is the only way they can best them in a playoff game!

It is imperative the BCCI clean up Indian cricket or let it forever be shunned as a shambolic and farcical circus. This is where I come in as the savior, the eleventh-hour messiah with all my revolutionary ideas and tactical maneuvers. If elected into office, I promise to:

1)      Make sure that the Indian domestic talent in IPL teams are not wasting their time 10 months a year (and some more for many) warming benches and fetching water. Why not send them to non-subcontinental countries to play T20 games under their current franchises so they can experience some of the conditions that await them in the future as Indian national team members? Also, being away from home during off season will reduce the probability of them concocting plans with their bookie cronies and playing under the banner of a team will hopefully bring in sentiments of entitlement. So what’s in it for the foreign cricket boards? Well, BCCI is a cash-rich cow, they can milk it in terms of ground fees and other benefits. Many foreign teams will be willing to have their domestic teams play against the Indian franchises if there is a trophy to content for, like an IPL overseas edition. Boards like WICB and NZC should see the benefit in allowing this.

The Pukekura Park botanical garden/cricket ground. Now why wouldn't you watch a game of cricket being played here?!

The Pukekura Park botanical garden/cricket ground in NZ. Now why wouldn’t you watch a game of cricket being played here?!

Seriously? Why wouldn't you?!

Seriously? Why wouldn’t you?!

2)      Ensure that the current process of auctioning players is scrapped and there is a new system under which salary caps and player trading is put in place. I think that will help the small market teams and also benefit some of the local Indian players to compete at the same level as their severely over-valued foreign counterparts. An amnesty clause will also keep players like Yusuf Pathan from pigging up on a huge piece of the cake and getting complacent. This way the franchises themselves have to spend less during the months of April and May but can continue to pay the domestic players (who doesn’t have a national contract) while they play abroad. So the franchises have more chance of winning silverware, players get acclimatized to foreign conditions, have a steady income and people get to watch more cricket. It’s a win-win-win!

3)      Remove the most ridiculous clause in the BCCI constitution that says ‘no administrator shall have direct or indirect financial interests in the matches or events conducted by the board except the IPL, Champions League and T20’. What the hell? It was amended to include the conspicuously devious phrase once the present president took office. Indian Penal Code should make such an amendment to section 302 to say ‘all activities that end another person’s life is punishable by law excluding murder, homicide and manslaughter’. Talk about being caught with your hand in the cookie jar!

4)      Have all the domestic first-class matches held on equal number of turning pitches and seaming wickets. Our test team has been woefully inept at matches held on fast wickets in the last two years despite having some of the best batting talents in the world. Before we blame our batsmen for being obsolete on foreign tours, let us examine the bowling resources. When India was the top ranked test team in the world, it coincided with the fact the Sachin Tendulkar was the top batsman in the world, VVS Laksman was the best closer in world cricket and Sehwag and Gambhir were as formidable an opening pair we ever had. But what people often forget it that fact the Zaheer Khan was the deadliest old ball bowler in the world during the same time. Soon, Zaheer lost his way and the Indian team was getting trounced by everyone. My hypothesis is that a batsman is as good as the bowler he practices against. How can you expect our batsmen to do good against Dale Steyn or James Anderson if all they get to face in the nets are long hops from Ishant Sharma and Ashok Dinda?! To validate my hypothesis I present the case of Ricky Ponting’s ascent to the top of the world (coinciding with McGrath and Warne having their best years), Viv Richards dominating the world (while Malcolm Marshall or Michael Holding or any one of the fearsome pace attack was holding fort at the other end) and presently Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis operating with Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel in RSA while Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott teaming up with James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann.

5)      Scrap all bilateral ODI series involving India and Sri Lanka (and other rare occurrences involving other teams) and lobby to have the Champions Trophy reinstated. If only two teams are playing each other in a limited over game, no more than 3 games are necessary and more than 20 overs a side is overkill. ODI tournaments are fun only when all the top teams are involved. Obviously, there’s the World Cup every 4 years for the associate nations to vie for. As I have previously proposed in a blog post, we should have ODI tournaments for all the top teams in neutral venues like Sharjah, Dubai, USA or Canada. All teams that have won the ICC WC trophy once will get an automatic pass with the last spot being up for grabs for England, New Zealand or any associate country which happens to be higher than them in the ODI rankings. This should happen every 18 months or so.

6)      Kick out Ravi Shastri, L. Siva, N.S Sidhu and all other cliché-vending-machines from the commentary box and put in people who actually know what they are talking about and doesn’t embarrass India on air.

7)      Put an end to cheerleading in IPL games. It is another aspect that makes IPL look like a wannabe cool kid but only exacerbates the ignominious condition of women in our society.

8)      Retire the jersey #10 from Indian Cricket. That is long overdue. Will implement awards that commemorate achievements by our legends in cricket by immortalizing certain numbers. Gavaskar (10122), Ganguly (183), Kumble (619) and many others deserve the respect that we been parsimonious in dishing out.

I think that ought to secure my case as the clear frontrunner for the office. I can already see the panic in N. Srinivasan’s eyes as he tries to dig up incriminating information about my past in desperate attempt of character assassination. Ha! Too bad I have the long-form birth certificate issued by the state of Kerala securely locked up!

P.S: If you’re reading this, look beyond the ideas and condemn me for the personal propaganda, I pity you and fart in your general direction.

P.P.S: Anyone who is living in Mumbai near the BCCI headquarters, please drop this nomination in a sealed envelope. I will reimburse you for your trouble by naming you the principal coordinator of the reinstated Kochi IPL franchise after my election.

P.P.P.S: If you are a faculty member of the Georgia Tech Chemical Engineering department and wondering why one of your graduate students is wasting time blogging about a sport you do not understand, please, please, please understand that this was done on the Memorial Day weekend and no research resources were consumed in the writing of this blog. Please don’t starve me!

Posted in Cricket and other sports | 2 Comments

The Summer of ’89

Do not worry, I am not about to attempt my own version of Bryan Adams’ song.

Going through my previous posts, I see that most of them have an autobiographical element, especially in the beginning. One could make a crude timeline of my life since 2010 by reading the intro to the posts, but why would anyone want to do that?! Just in case someone does, I’ve not updated the blog in a long time thanks to my new full-time occupation i.e. being an under-paid, over-worked graduate student. Like every self-disrespecting person who chose this career, I too have earned by God-given right to complain and bitch about everything around me!

Now, let’s check back to 1989. Why 1989? I was born in 1987, so it’s not like I remember anything from back then. Nevertheless, 1989 holds a special place in my universe and it was very recently that I realized the uncanny coincidence that became inspiration to this particular blog entry.

1989 apparently was the year of longevity. (Snake, according to the Chinese, but that’s long enough). 4 phenomena that were incepted in 1989 have impacted my life with varying intensity. The first, and most definitely the least influential entity, is Dilbert – everyone’s favorite satirical comic strip about office life. Dilbert has been making mornings a little easier on thousands of commuters by injecting an ounce of humor into the otherwise bleak and morose daily news. The strips are outlandish and outrageous, yet we can relate to each one of them through instances in our life, official or not. I picked my own favorite from the lot; surprisingly the protagonist is not Dilbert, neither the nefarious Dogbert nor the unapologetically counterproductive Wally; it’s the wedgie-enforcing, sneakers-sporting dinosaur named Bob. The strip was published on March 1st 1992 and is now immortalized in the form of a coffee mug that adorns my desk in my office in Georgia Tech.

My favorite Dilbert strip, printed on my coffee mug!

My favorite Dilbert strip, printed on my coffee mug!

Later that year, Fox made a rare good decision by airing the first episode of The Simpsons, an event that would change television and pop culture forever. The never-aging, antisocial, yellow skinned family soon became the cynical, yet hilarious barometer to the American way of life. Bart Simpson’s entry into Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 20th century should alone be enough to lend credence to the impact of The Simpsons. Homer remains my personal favorite character, animated or otherwise in all of television. Even now, when the quality of the show is dwindling as the writers squeeze episodes into the 25th season, Dan Castellaneta and his magical voice continue to have a direct line of communication to my funny-bone. Homer and his blissfully ignorant face are imprinted on my favorite T-shirt.

Of course, anyone who knows me would have guessed one of the 4 factors aforementioned. In mid December of 1989, Sachin Tendulkar debuted for India. 100 centuries and several thousand runs later, he remains the 2nd biggest factor that keeps me from becoming an atheist (2nd to airplanes, of course). I have dedicated several posts in his honor and several more will follow in the future, so let’s move on.

The final entry among the four is also the only one that’s no longer active. It is also the only case where I haven’t purchased any memorabilia or souvenirs to publicize my affinity. But there is no doubt as far as I am concerned that Seinfeld remains the best show that ever aired on TV and still continues to hold the throne even after the final episode was aired on this very day, 15 years ago. It remains the funniest, the gutsiest and definitely, the most quotable show I have seen in my life. Before watching Seinfeld, I had thought F.R.I.E.N.D.S was impressive, but now I am almost ashamed to admit to have watched it!

What makes Seinfeld so good? It breaks free of the conventional mould of sitcoms, it violates almost all the unwritten rules of television and it contradicts and parodies itself so often that it becomes too cool for itself. The nihilistic, anti-establishment undertones of the show are masked by the laugh riot that pervades through the 180-odd episodes. Whereas normal TV shows strive hard at endearing the characters to the audience and always try to tie a neat little bow at the end of each episode, Seinfeld exists for the sole reason of making you laugh. It doesn’t care if you think the characters are jerks, in fact the worse they are the better it is! Seinfeld treats socially awkward and inappropriate situations with such disdain and outlandish attitude, it becomes likeable from a different perspective, that of an outcast, a contrarian, a rule-breaker. To someone like me who conforms to most social rules (albeit unwillingly at times), it is a portal into a world where boorish, selfish people are the kings.

Only in Seinfeld would you find characters breaking up with someone and cite reasons like man-hands, big noses, low talker, high talker, close talker or just nothing at all. Imagine F.R.I.E.N.D.S or Frasier, where they would spend the final 5 minutes of the show trying us to convince how the events that led to this breakup were not really the fault of the characters; that everybody HAS to be loveable. Oh please! Seinfeld took it to a new level when they nonchalantly killed off an important character and acted as if nothing happened. And of course they got away with it! Jerry Seinfeld, quite easily one of the worst actors ever to lead a series has such an easy time holding the show together due to the quality of the writing and the ability of his co-stars to just hit it out of the park. Elaine, George and Kramer have such abominable traits that they make excellent channels for humor. Frankly, that’s what I want to see when I switch on the TV. With recurring characters like Newman, Jackie Childs and Frank Costanza, the laughter remains refreshing and incessant.

Elaine is a freak of nature. I don’t know how Julia Louis-Dreyfus manages to get more beautiful as every season goes by, but that’s a whole other discussion. Two notable instances are in The Contest (best episode, hands down), when George explains how his mother ended up in traction (she looks genuinely amused and equally adorable!) and another time when she breaks the news to Jerry that their relationship was based on good acting and lying (Fake! Fake! Fake! Fake!) My favorite George moment is when he tries to explain to Jerry why he had to ‘extricate himself from the middle of having sex with Tatiana to cater to his gastronomical quandary!’ Kramer of course has provided so many moments of jaw-dropping genius that it is difficult to pick one. I mean, could it be the Pinky-toe saving, mugger bashing, bus driving adventure? Or his impromptu endorsement of Hennigan’s Whiskey? Or maybe his avatar as a P.I where he investigates Jerry’s accountant for doing drugs and chugs a beer while smoking a cigarette? His pimp-walk? I don’t know. It is a cornucopia of rib-busting shenanigans!

15 years since the last episode was aired.

15 years since the last episode was aired.

Anyway, even after 15 years of syndication, Seinfeld provides a solid laugh every time I come across an episode on TV. It’s like you unearth a whole new level of ‘funny’ on repeated viewings. Seinfeld has provided so many anecdotes and phrases that fit right into any situation or conversation. I swear every single time I greet someone with an elongated Hello, I am tempted heavily to follow it up with a Newman!

I also realize that three out of the four have also a 1998 connection. The final episode of Seinfeld was aired in 1998, The Simpsons had all their best episodes out by 1998 and of course need I say more about 1998 and Sachin?

If you come across any unusually enduring event that had its birth in 1989 and still continues, be sure to lemme know via comments!

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When the Buss left L.A, forever.

Third month of the 2013 and only the first blog post; how ghastly! I’ve been trying to find something to write about, but inspiration has been tough to come by lately. One of the main reasons for such prolonged dormancy is the fact that I now live in Atlanta and unlike L.A., I don’t feel the urge to venture out and explore the urban milieu. I did visit the world’s largest aquarium, but the experience was ruined by the two-hour wait to get inside and hordes of children storming the exhibits and poking the aquatic fauna. I’ve not been able to get cheap tickets to a Hawks game, but that has more to do with my inability to afford a view from close quarters and also unwillingness to settle for a seat closer to the Moon rather than the center-court.

Oh and did I mention that fact that I am doing my PhD at Georgia Tech? Yes, I am caught in the paradox of choice; how to do justice to all my free-time and the plethora of fun-filled activities affordable to me thanks to the king’s ransom that I receive at the end of each month!

Speaking of Atlanta, the Hawks and Georgia Tech, I must confess that I do miss the SoCal triumvirate of Los Angeles, the Lakers and USC. I think it is the right time to pay my respects to a man who magically connected three of my favorite entities for such a long time.

Dr. Jerry Buss’s association with L.A dates back to the days when he came to USC for his graduate studies. He got his MS and PhD in Chemistry, probably walking down some of the same hallways and corridors I did while earning my degree. Thanks to a fortuitous investment of $1000 he made in an apartment complex in the 60s, he wrote his own success story which rivals any that were written in Tinseltown. In 1979 he purchased the Los Angeles Lakers and forged what became the greatest owner-team relationship in the history of team sports.

Dr. Buss’s vision transcended the existing paradigm and conceived what we nostalgically reminisce as the ‘Showtime Lakers’. In his first year, along with his fellow rookie superstar Magic Johnson and all-time great center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he ushered in the first among the 10 championships in the modern Lakers era. The Lakers dominated the 80s and won the battle against archrivals Celtics by winning 5 championships, while going 2-1 against the Cs. The greatest basketball rivalry was rekindled, the NBA was resuscitated after the doldrums of the late 70s and the stage was set perfectly for His Airness to take it to a new level.

Just as MJ was loosening his stranglehold on the grand prize, Dr. Buss had already composed the overture in his next magnum opus, the teaming up of the most breathtaking 1-2 punch in the NBA history. Shaq and Kobe brought the gold, the glamour and the drama back to L.A. Phil Jackson was at the helm of yet another unrelenting armada. Even as Shaq and Phil left with seemingly irreparable wounds and Kobe was beginning to lose it after failing repeatedly, it was Dr. Buss who brought things back to normal with his patented brand of grandfatherly wisdom and statesmanlike diplomacy. Phil and Kobe back together; 3 finals and 2 championships later, everything was A-OK in Lakerland. For the man who bought the Lakers with the sole purpose of beating the Celtics, #10 must have been pretty sweet. Beating the Celtics in game 7 was something no previous Laker team had accomplished.

Dr. Buss’s impact in basketball is visible to anyone who follows the NBA. The Lakers incite such fierce fandom, the kind that is born when winning becomes a habit. Jack Nicholson, undeniably the greatest fan had his directors move around his schedule to fit the Lakers home game calendar! This sort of respect and devotion even from a man who has a legitimate stake at being named the greatest actor ever is only possible due to what Dr. Buss did for L.A.

I think the greatest tribute anyone said about a peer is the one that the incomparable Orson Welles gave to the most affable movie star of all time, Jimmy Stewart. He said, among other things, “Hollywood never got Jimmy Stewart, he was the conqueror.” Dr. Buss never let the intensity and scrutiny of L.A. get to him, he simply did what he did best and L.A took him in.

Dr. Jerry Buss, a champion then, now and forever.

Dr. Jerry Buss, a champion then, now and forever.

Basketball fans are constantly embroiled in debates to find the greatest ever. MJ vs Kobe vs LeBron, Wilt vs Russell, Phil vs Red; no possible permutation of advanced stats could never ever find answers to these endless quandaries. But you know what we never hear? Who is the greatest team owner ever? That’s because we never ask questions to which the answer is obvious.

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A year that ended in a tear

So here I am, sitting in Atlanta with just under 7 hours to go in the year 2012, trying rather unsuccessfully to pen what would be the last blog post of the year. A year that was academically gratifying to a great extent, but rather forgettable in every other sense. I moved out from Los Angeles into Atlanta; from a smorgasbord of exhilarating activities to em… the city with em… a very busy airport, perhaps? From the land of movies to the home of television. Chronologically, a step ahead, but mentally it is definitely a penalty. Before May, I was living in a rather unique, hard-to-find, good ol’ fashioned houses rented out by a land-lady who was as eccentric as the orbit of Pluto. Now I live in a nondescript assembly line apartment where my neighbor could be anybody from Charles Manson to Oprah and I would be none the wiser.

Twenty four months ago, Lakers were back-to-back world champions, Nadal had all but one grand slam titles in his pocket and Sachin was having the greatest of the greatest year in test cricket. But now, Lakers are at a mediocre 15-15 and no longer even the best team even in L.A, Nadal’s career is in jeopardy and Sachin had to say adieu to the format that he defined.

Sachin’s career over the last three years was akin to the reading the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix. Just like Harry came into possession of a Firebolt, won the Quidditch Cup and discovered that he was no longer a family of one, Sachin scored the first ODI double hundred, added two more in tests and was instrumental in defeating Australia 2-0 in tests and retaining the #1 ranking in tests. Much like Harry, who didn’t have an outside chance of being in the Triwizard Championship, let alone winning it, here was Sachin, in his 22nd year and 6th world cup, top scoring for India and threatening to make 500 runs in the grandest stage of all for a mind-boggling third time. And much to our horror, the triumph was followed by the cataclysmic reversal of fortune in England and Australia. Harry had to pay a huge price for not being able to master occlumency and shut out Voldemort’s mind games; Sachin, who had seemingly mastered the art of isolation for 99 hundreds finally found the pressure of expectations overwhelming enough to affect his craft. To some of us, realizing that Sachin will not play in ODIs anymore resonates to losing a Godfather.

For some of us, Sachin is the boy who lived, the boy who put us in the world map of sports, someone who could carry the team and not gloat in the face of success nor complain in the agony of defeat. Someone who could step up even in foreign conditions and dominate the best of the best and make believers out of staunch skeptics. Before him, we were a country that put musicians, film makers and politicians in contention for our highest civilian honor, but excluded sportsmen because why bother? Out of this phenomenon was born a hitherto unseen stratum of hero worship that very soon evolved into deification. Then came the flawed logic that would define his career over the last decade and a half:

  1. The Postulates – Perth ’92, Sharjah ’98, Centurion ’03, Auckland ’94, Chennai ’98, ’99 and ’08, Gwalior ’10, Cape Town ‘11
  2. The Hypothesis – Sachin Tendulkar is GOD.
  3. The Logical Consequence – He is infallible
  4. The Contradiction – He can fail at times
  5. The Deviation from the proposed model – He is human

Naturally, any theorem with aforementioned characteristics would not stand up to scrutiny. But that’s not an issue as we are not dealing with a scientifically minded sample space. This is religion we’re talking about. The expectations weren’t rational to begin with. Also the inability of the untrained minds to understand Bayesian probability gave rise to the despicable notion that Sachin was not a clutch player. (Explained as simply as humanly possible here: http://senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-do-people-criticise-sachin.html)

In short, we set double standards for a man and expected him to honor our whimsies. And for more than 23 years, he actually succeeded more often than not. Yet, we hold him accountable every time the team lost. He had to bail out his teammates even during the years when he could have had his jersey retired. You can’t blame them; even when they took India to victory on one of his off-days the chatter was focused on him than the bigger picture.

The greatest of them all

The greatest of them all

Yet, his career has seen the most extraordinary highs. Where else in sport could you see a team more thankful to a player than India were for Sachin on April 2nd 2011, when the whole team took turns to carry him on their shoulders and do a victory lap? For a brief moment, it was all about winning it for Sachin than it was for winning it for India. A couple of unrehearsed post match interviews were the tell-tale events on that wonderful evening.

I’ve been listening a lot to Adele’s Skyfall theme; somehow the lyrics seem very appropriate at this juncture:

This is the end, hold your breath and count to ten

Feel the earth move and then, hear my heart burst again

Let the Sky fall and when it crumbles we’ll stand tall and face it all together…

… I know I never be me, without the security…


There is still the consolation of being able to watch him in test cricket. But any Sachin fan worthy of calling himself a fanatic would whole-heartedly agree that it was the shorter and more colorful format that defined the greatness of the little man. So pardon me if you don’t see me wishing you a happy new year on Facebook or whatever, because to me a year without seeing Sachin playing in Indian colors is as dull as it gets.

Thank You Sachin, cricket is forever in your debt.

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A Review of Lincoln & A Tribute to Spielberg

2012 has been a tough year for movies. There were two heavily anticipated summer blockbusters (Avengers and TDKR), some that flew under the radar and charmed the critics (Argo, Looper) and of course, the last edition of Twilight, making its appearance like a ball of vomit that knocks you out just when you thought you were done retching.

And then there was Lincoln. Steven Spielberg, the Merlin of Hollywood has outshone his peers again. The man who has to take unjustified flak for overwhelming sense of grandeur in his movies or for choosing hope over despair in most of his climaxes has painted a smaller target for his detractors.

Any of you who have had a history lesson after 1865 would know that Lincoln was assassinated. So don’t chastise me for spoilers! And you should flog yourself senseless if you thought this is about Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter!

Right from the beginning, I got a sense of austerity that is seldom seen in Spielberg movies. He could have gone to town with the opening civil war scene, like he did with the invasion of Normandy beach in Saving Private Ryan, but instead chose to dedicate screen time to show us why Abe Lincoln is the most revered president in the history of the US of A.

Daniel Day Lewis has quickly become a top contender for my favorite actor spot. That’s saying something, as I have seen him in only 3 films! I had to convince myself repeatedly that the quivery shaky voice, the soft and pitiable gaze and altogether affable appearance of Lincoln is being portrayed by the same man who petrified the audience by personifying evil in his rendition of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. The Pringles mustache and the baritone were gone, but the chin curtain and the top hat did not prove to be major distractions for him from adorning a Dumbledore-esqe persona just as easy as the Plainview Voldemort.

Spielberg has seized the chance to shut up most of critics, especially the ones who bellyache about his apparent inability to direct comedy. For a historical biopic, the movie is rife with humor and never does it look out of place (or time). (That’s one thing that has always vexed me about period pieces; how could humanity survive troubling times with no humor, with Charlton Heston-like men chewing out pitch-perfect monologues and barely cracking a smile?)

Tommy Lee Jones is the perfect foil for DDL’s Lincoln; a rambunctious and outspoken Thaddeus Stevens, who played an instrumental role in bringing the 13th amendment. It was like the unstoppable force and the immovable object turned out to be friends after all.

The supporting cast is quite stellar with the considerable talents for Sally Field, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Hal Holbrook and James Spader on display.

I must commend Spielberg on his depiction of the assassination of Lincoln. In retrospect, I was wrong to expect anything different from a man who had the vision of not showing the shark till the end and still pull off the greatest thriller of all time!

Spielberg may finally erase the only blemish on his resume, of not directing any actor to an academy award. The fact that Robert Shaw (Jaws) and Ralph Fiennes (Schindlers’ List) did not score a win remains a travesty. But if justice prevails I cannot see how DDL and TLJ cannot secure wins, and Sally Field isn’t nominated. Spielberg has tough competition in the best director category from Ben Affleck for Argo. I sincerely hope Zero Dark Thirty is a bust; even the trailer is a total snooze-fest.

The academy did him wrong when they gave the best picture prize to Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan, so this time it is more likely to be a chance for redemption for them rather than a day in the limelight for Spielberg. Here’s a man who was rejected twice by USC School of Cinematic Sciences during his early years, only to be sitting now in USC’s board of councilors! (to think I could have called him a fellow Trojan. Sigh!)

The most fascinating story I heard about him is that upon returning to CSU Long Beach after 34 years since dropping out, he submitted Schindler’s List in place of the short film that students needed to graduate! That was after it won 7 Oscars and found its place on the Mount Rushmore of War movies!

Normally I would have a tough time picking a favorite from this lot – Jaws, E.T – The Extra Terrestrial, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, Minority Report, Duel, The Adventures of Tintin, Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Munich, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lincoln; I could go on and on.

But there is no substituting the movie which put the love for the silver screen in my brain. Animatronic or not, there isn’t a single sci-fi movie from Metropolis to Inception that look less convincing or less dated than Jurassic Park. It is a tough call to put dinosaurs ahead of a holocaust masterpiece, but while the latter appeals to you intellect, the former is pure testosterone and there isn’t enough blood in my body to balance that logic!

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