The pleasures of a Test match

From our broadcasting box you can’t see any grass at all. It is simply a carpet of humanity.” – Richie Benaud

I don’t remember a time when I was not fascinated by a test match. Cricket in it’s other forms, yes. Vacillating when it came to One Day Internationals, a resolute no when it came to 20-20s. But a test match played between 2 of the best internationally matched teams ? Count me in. Hell, as a kid aged 9, I would even follow the fortunes of Ranji teams in India and first class matches in England on the back pages of the dailies.

Testing a player’s grit, stamina and temperament, their ability to break down a mammoth 5 day affair into a couple of hours at a time, drawing out fascinating battles between bat and ball, these are all characteristics that test matches have dished out in droves over the years, inadvertently creating true classics of the sport. And these are oddly, the same things that are in short supply in the other formats. So it was no surprise, that when a dear friend called me up, to ask if I was interested in watching the 2nd day of the India v/s Australia test match at the M. Chinnaswamy stadium at Bangalore, early March of 2017, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.

I have some memories of an attempt to watch a test match earlier. That was a decade and a half ago, as a freshman in my engineering college. A classmate had an extra pair of passes to watch India take on the West Indies at the Wankhede in Mumbai on a rain-drenched weekend. On the 4th day of the test match, I distinctly remember traveling for more than 2 hours and setting my foot in the Garware pavilion end’s stands, only to discover that the match had already been wrapped up some time ago.

This time though, we arrived right on time. India, after having ignominiously lost the opener at Pune, had put in another dismal performance with the bat. A score of 189 had left even the pundits wondering whether this was the same team that had beaten South Africa and England so emphatically in the last 6 months. But nobody could have foreseen the fascinating duel that lay ahead.

Chinnaswamy stadium Bangalore
A carpet of lush green welcomed us, when Australia began their innings on the 2nd day.

Here, I have to put forth a few observations about watching a match from the stands, as compared to watching one on television.

There is an interaction between the spectators and the players, that is not immediately evident on a digital screen. Whether it is booing the opposition, or rooting for the home team, one can see the immediate effect the crowd’s loyalties have, on the playing teams.

It is a matter of give-and-take as well, because, in a session that leans towards sopor, a Virat Kohli can whip up enthusiasm with his gestures and ask the crowds to get going. At which point, the crowds, roaring, infuse an amount of energy that lifts drooping shoulders and spirits, and veritably the ball, the over and the session itself. Things that I never realized all these years, from television. Heck, at one point, Kohli even introduced a change in bowling just as Ravichandran Ashwin was getting ready to bowl his next over, just because the crowds started chanting Ravindra Jadeja’s name. This dynamism has to be witnessed first-hand, to appreciate the nuances that test match presents to the crowds, who are treated as much a part of the game, as the players themselves.

Then there is the rhythmic, thunderous beat that accompanies a bowler as he runs in to deliver. Ball after ball, in anticipation of a something that they hope would materialize, the spectators keep up the tempo. Like the background score accompanying a cinematic sequence.

Exchanges between spectators and the players, who are demi-gods in India, are as much a matter of pride and inspiration, as a matter of mirth and much joy. A kid no older than 5 or 6, shouted himself hoarse for every player that came to field near the boundary ropes. Only one, KL Rahul managed to hear the kid and looked up, and that acknowledgement, lent itself into a great cheer that rang through the stands for the kid. A dose of inspiration for the kid, who, you never know, could wield the armor for his country some day.

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As is wont to happen, we also overheard a bit of backyard punditry on the game. One that veered from the correct line and length to bowl to paeans on how cricketers from a previous generation would have coped with the situation.

As the hours ticked by, the Indian bowlers put up a great spell of bowling to restrict the Australian batsmen, but didn’t take too many wickets. In a match where fortunes swung a lot, not much happened on a Sunday when my friend and me happened to witness one of our favorite sports, live. But as we were to introspect in the days to come, our team began to claw their way back into the match and series on that very day. Us, with the players and the rest of the spectators, had played no small part in keeping the spirit of test cricket alive.

Ball by ball, over by over and session by session, as the cricketers toiled away, we had realized what a great microcosm of life, a test match was.


The featured image on this blog post belongs to a wonderful photograph, shared on Getty images and here: http://www.thecricketmonthly.com/story/1083469/the-end-over-jitters

A much better account of the test match we witnessed, can be found here: http://www.cricbuzz.com/cricket-news/93110/a-day-for-the-ages-at-chinnaswamy

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The romance of train travel

“The trains [in a country] contain the essential paraphernalia of the culture: Thai trains have the shower jar with the glazed dragon on its side, Ceylonese ones the car reserved for Buddhist monks, Indian ones a vegetarian kitchen and six classes, Iranian ones prayer mats, Malaysian ones a noodle stall, Vietnamese ones bulletproof glass on the locomotive, and on every carriage of a Russian train there is a samovar. The railway bazaar with its gadgets and passengers represented the society so completely that to board it was to be challenged by the national character. At times it was like a leisurely seminar, but I also felt on some occasions that it was like being jailed and then assaulted by the monstrously typical. ”
Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar

The aspects of uncertainty and serendipity in our modes of travel, are dying a slow death. Not that their presence is a particularly good thing, but I think it certainly keeps some of the romance alive in travel. Think about it, how many times have you fondly remembered the time spent at an airport, even if you were embarking on a life changing trip ?

Most of us are guilty of trading the romance of the journey for the guaranteed pleasures of the destination. While a self-driven vehicle comes quite close to fulfilling athirst for serendipity, nothing comes close to a journey by train. There is a true sense of letting go, almost unrivaled in any other mode of transport. I might be biased, attributable in no small measure to the fact that I was born in the family of an Indian railways employee.

Much into the late 90s, travel by train was an annual exercise. Although we usually traveled to our native place in Kerala, I cannot imagine the setting becoming any different for people traveling to other parts of India by rail.

Preparation for the journey would begin months in advance, for there was no way of knowing whether you were lucky enough to bag a precious ticket. Latest train timetables, even booking agents were consulted before booking. I recollect my father spending a night at the ticket reservation counters to better his chances at booking a ticket.

As the date of journey approached, there was a sense of importance accorded even to the act of packing luggage. Old luggage was first cleaned and polished with a wet cloth. Clothes, gifts and items indigenous to Bombay were neatly packaged at least a couple of days in advance. As d-day neared, meals were prepared and packed separately for each day of travel. Clothes to be worn for the journey were set aside separately, drinking water kegs were brushed and dried, and even footwear was religiously washed.

On the day of the journey, we would reach the boarding station at least a couple of hours in advance. Then as now, the grandiose architecture of the British era train stations in Bombay never ceased to amaze. There was the fear of getting lost in the milling crowds. But that was quickly overtaken by the temptation of snacking at the mobile food carts and the omnipresent chai-wallah. Before the advent of Coke, Pepsi and Bisleri, there was Campa Cola, Aarey and Gold Spot. The ubiquitous weighing machine contraption spat out not only our weights on a ticket, but also our horoscope for the day. There was the delight in discovering treasures at the old book stall, usually a HigginBotham’s, that was manned by a stoic book-seller, standing on a tiny island of space surrounded by reams of print. Then there was the mild exultation when you found your name on the reservation chart, even if it had already been confirmed months in advance.

The journey itself was as variegated as the lands you passed by. Crowds, electric poles, slums and the overbearing noise and smells of an Indian metropolis gave way to hillsides, rivers, pastures and farmlands overnight. The cacophony of metal rolling on metal was accompanied by the (mildly) wondrous smell of diesel fumes mixed with grease and the onomatopoeic chugging of the locomotive.

The food changed with the landscape as well. The comfortingly familiar vada pav and samosa of the city gave way to slightly soggy puri-bhaji as you ventured south, then to bland dal-rice and sour curd and pickle before reverting back to the tastiest idli-vada and fried plaintain you could have on this planet. Just when you were in the mood for a post-lunch snack, a vendor would magically appear out of nowhere, peddling freshly cut cucumber and tomato slices sprinkled with a spicy masala. Ice creams, even close to melting, were prized most heavily in the sweltering Indian summers. And most surprisingly, I never fell ill from the drinking water refilled from the railway water taps.

Conversations with fellow passengers were inevitable, as is wont to happen with people traveling to the same destination. Invariably, someone would turn out to be an acquaintance of a distant relative. Notes on the family size, the parents’ occupation, children’s ages and each other’s residential addresses in the metropolis were exchanged. I recollect a bank employee who stayed in touch afterwards, even managed to help us with some work later, just because we had the good fortune of meeting him on a train.

Boredom could be tackled with an exchange of comics and magazines. Not a day or night would pass by without somebody playing cards on the top berth.

Before you knew it, the morning or evening of disembarkation soon arrived. Hasty byes with co-passengers were exchanged, and a wave at the train as it sped by leaving you at your destination only with the promise of making a journey in the reverse direction.

Maybe I am naive in comparing my childhood memories with an almost certainly better mode of travel that my adulthood has seen. But every now and then, I cannot help wishing for the rocking lullaby of a train, whistling into the night, putting me to bed with happy memories made for the day and promises of more to come.


Get a taste of what travel by train was like in India, in the past few decades in this wonderful BBC documentary.

Snapshots in our memories

I was reading a Jim Corbett book  the other day. One of the pages mentioned Rishikesh in passing and all of a sudden, my brain pulled out a vivid snapshot of an extremely  beautiful evening that I had spent in Rishikesh, back in the spring of 2012.

It is a curious matter that out of the countless hours I have spent peering at scenes through my camera’s lens, none come close to the mental images I register while travelling. This blog post is devoted to 2 such snapshots and I will try to describe them to the best of my abilities, without resorting to any photographs.

An evening in Rishikesh

Back in 2012, I had spent a week’s time on the road covering Shimla, Kufri, Kullu, Manali and Dharamsala and had the misfortune of gulping down an old croissant in a  bakery in McLeodGanj. The next 2 days were spent trying to calm down a revolting stomach in Amritsar, before I landed up in the religious and cultural center of Rishikesh.

Here, while my stomach calmed down, the infection had not subsided completely. As a result, I was laid up for most of the day cooped up in a tent on the banks of the Ganges, shivering slightly with fever.

I distinctly remember that it was close to sunset then. My friends had cajoled me to step outside the tent for some tea, and break my languidness. As soon as I stepped out, I knew the moment was picture perfect, and somehow, my mind was feeble enough to dissuade my body from stepping back into the tent for my camera.

The sun still had nearly an hour to go down, and it had cast a golden yellow glow all over the surrounding hills. The forests on the hills were lit up spectacularly with this mellow sunlight, with odd patches of the spring foliage colored orange and vermilion providing some relief from the monotony of green.

The sunlight had also brought the otherwise chilly weather down, making it feel warm and salubrious.

In front of me, the Ganges gently babbled her way across hundreds of white rounded stones. There was an odd fish that we could spot in places where the river was shallow. On the opposite bank, there were 2 horses grazing on the sparse green grass. One had a rich lustrous skin, brown in color while the other had pale shade of white, turned slightly creamy due to the sunlight. Sometimes, the white one would gracefully toss its mane aside, without ceasing to graze.

I think I must have sat down on a boulder on the banks for half an hour, trying to implant in my mind, the beauty of everything that lay in front of me. It was a panacea, from the agony of the past few days and a memory of a beautiful moment, that I will carry with me to my grave.

A morning in Sakleshpur

In the monsoons of 2016, we were in Sakleshpur, in a colonial era bungalow surrounded by 7000 acres of tea estate. There, our previous day had been a sharp antithesis to the term monsoon capital, for we didn’t experience anything more than a slight drizzle, compared to the torrential rains that Sakleshpur receives every year.

Our host had told us that the previous 2 weekends had been a blur, with guests not even being able to venture out of their cottages due to the incessant rain.

Therefore, after a sumptuous dinner, we had gone to sleep amidst the cacophony of crickets and other nocturnal inhabitants of the estate.

The next morning, sharply around 6, I had woken up since it had grown deathly silent. I groggily pushed open the doors of our cottage and a veritable fairy tale setting came alive in front of my eyes.

There had been no rain at night, but the absolutely thickest fog I have ever seen in my life, covered miles and miles of estate ground and the forests beyond. I couldn’t see beyond a few yards.

The lights dotting the estate were still lit. The ground was wet and it smelt heavenly, and dew drops hung onto virtually every blade of grass. The fog seemed to be alive, darting in and out of places, revealing tea bushes in one instant and hiding them in the next. There was a slight chill in the air, but one that you wished would never go away.

It was a window of time when the birds had not yet stirred from their nests but the insects had all retired, so the silence was deafening. It felt like mother nature herself had a good night’s sleep and had woken up before everyone else, feeling fresh and wishing every one a hearty good morning.

That morning left an indelible mark in my mind too.

Ironically, I think I will visit these places again someday and try to capture vestiges of these scenes on a camera. Before I grow old and hopefully, before my memory fails me.

Nostalgia is a rabid dog

I don’t know why I keep going back in time to May-June 2010, this time of the year. It’s been 3 years now, but I still can’t forget my first memories of that place. There must be a stupid internal clock in my brain that has an alarm set to go off this time of the year. The reasons – maybe it was the place itself and the jaw dropping scenery it made me take for granted for a better part of two years. On second thoughts, maybe it had more to do with the ceaseless rain there. (Utterly magical) WordPress statistics for my blog tell me it is the incoming batch looking for information (on girls hostels mostly, going by the keywords – could be hormonally charged ‘bleddy freshers‘ or even concerned parents) on life in campus. For the benefit of those about to enter IIM Kozhikode, here are a few photographs you won’t find anywhere else, along with a few tips on what to expect.

Rains at IIM Kozhikode
The rains will lull you into thinking you’ve stepped into a resort. Bad idea in Term 1.
Rains at IIM Kozhikode
Scurry back and forth..and get drenched over 2 years
Rains at Wayanad
And you can see it raining in the hills of Wayanad on a clear day. Those enormous hills (the farthest ones) are usually not visible from campus, this is one of those rare occasions when they chose to reveal themselves
IIM Kozhikode Views
You might have to pinch yourself on some days to believe you are actually pursuing higher studies there. On second thoughts, a ‘higher’ experience it is, for some
The road in front of A-hostel
The road to the outside world…before you know it, you’ll be leaving this home for another one. BTW, I’d be indebted to anyone who could tell me what that red building is..is it just a palatial home ? is it one of the numerous institutions dotting the city ?
IIM Kozhikode Amphitheatre
No photographer worth his salt comes out of the 2 years without capturing the famous amphitheater. It is a poster boy for the campus, an iconic image seen every time the institute finds a mention in popular media. Seen here is a rare B&W capture
That IIM down south
That IIM in Kerala. This tower always reminded me of Age of Empires. Dunno why. Anyways, access to the tower is secured by a locked door – if ever you get a chance to go up there, drop everything you’re doing and just go.
Nightlife at IIM Kozhikode
Nights are when most of the ‘work’ gets done. Days are for sleeping in classrooms for most
A Hostel IIM Kozhikode - Diwali
Inside ‘A’ Hostel – decked up for Diwali. Fraternal bonding will be established and assumed, the status quo will always be challenged but eventually, the old will always make way for the new.
Hostel Room
My Room. A-36. (Trivia: Those sketches you see on the wall, they all have the letter ‘B’ in common – Brando, Bruce Lee, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, Batman aka Bruce Wayne – I noticed this only after I was done with all of them)

Ahh…now I get it. It wasn’t the place, or the rains or the nervous bundle of energy that a young guy walked with, late for the director’s commencement address, to the main gate on the sunny morning of 28th June 2010 when he asked for his hostel room number.

It was the beginning of an association with a fraternity full of brilliant young people, the experiences they made possible and the rough edges they managed to chip away off him.

Nostalgia is such a rabid dog. I am afraid, regret and longing, are rabider.

Memories of Bombay

Having spent most of my life in Vasai, I am always confused whenever somebody asks me where my home is. While Mumbai is a sufficient reply for outsiders, Mumbaikars themselves will tell you that Vasai falls well outside the city limits. True that, any time I had to go watch an English movie or pick up clothes from a mall, the first thing I would have to look for is the next convenient local train from Vasai. Don’t get me wrong, Vasai retains a quaint, old world Portuguese charm that will remind you of Goa in more ways than one. But it is simply a case of so near yet so far.

Home…

My father came to Bombay during the late 60s as a young, eager lad seeking a job in a city that was even then, known as the land of opportunities. He tells me that his first proper accommodation was in the railway quarters that you can still see near Matunga railway station. Upon a lot of pestering, he speaks of the charm of those days. Matunga was still developing into a fledgling hub of the south Indian diaspora in those days. It had not even been a decade since the trams had been taken off the roads in Mumbai. Local trains would run empty, even during peak hours. The rotating floor of the Ambassador hotel, visible from his office toilet at the Churchgate station western railway premises, would actually rotate. Cricket was still played at the Brabourne stadium. And you could actually photograph the Gateway of India and the Taj hotel without another soul in sight.

Churchgate station 1930
A file photo of Churchgate station from 1930
Dated photo of JJ Hospital
JJ Hospital. Wikimedia Caption for this photo reads: “Engraving of the Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy Hospital in Bombay by C. Rosenberg after W. J. Huggins and published by Collett and Co. in 1843. Inscribed: ‘Bombay Native Hospital. This engraving of an important Charitable Institution, founded, and constructed at the joint expense of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy & the East India Company, is respectfully dedicated to Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, by his obedient servant, W. J. Huggins. (This Building is 400 feet in length & 280 feet in depth).”

(Watch some fantastic photos of Bombay from an earlier era here.)

My earliest memories of the city however, are from the 90s.

Twice a year, my parents would see that my sister and me were fast outgrowing our clothes and we would go to Dadar to shop for new clothes. This trip would also conveniently be undertaken near the summer and Diwali school vacations so that my mother could purchase a few gifts for our relatives down south in Kerala, whom we would visit in the ensuing holidays. Dadar west specifically, used to be a teeming mass of humanity, all of them jostling to sell and purchase things with equal vigor even then. Suvidha on Ranade road would usually be our first stop, followed by a multitude of smaller retail shops on the same road. Bargaining and haggling was a given back then and my mother had developed into quite the expert, sometimes walking out of the shop and being called back by the exasperated shopkeeper willing to sell it at her price. My own opinion of these dresses was solicited sometimes, but it didn’t quite matter in those days. I digress too much, but once shopping was done, our next stop would be Visawa restaurant on the adjacent road. Now this is one Udupi joint that curiously enough, I haven’t read about anywhere. Queues here would extend long enough on a Sunday and we would have to wait our turn in the sun to get a table for four. Our typical order would be 3 South Indian thalis with me having to share a thali with my sister who would take it upon herself to polish off the Gulab Jamun entirely.

Sometime during my vacations, my father would take me to his office at Churchgate which would be my first real sight of town, as South Mumbai (how I wish they had retained the name Bombay. It sounds so much grander than its present moniker) is popularly known. He would point out Wankhede stadium from the outside (One day cricket was only just becoming the cash king of Indian sports then). Churchgate railway station itself, with its huge raised ceilings looked magnificent to my eyes. As did the railway headquarters bang opposite it. Eros theatre would look out from across the road at both of these buildings. Sometimes, we would go to fashion street to strike a good bargain on some clothes, if need  be. However, we would most surely take a stroll down DN Road and sometimes even Colaba whence he would point out various land marks (the Azad Maidan, the Oval Maidan, the huge VSNL headquarters, the police headquarters and the BMC headquarters, the gateway and the Taj hotel). I would stop at the book sellers on the pavement and peer at the tall columns of books. Once we took a taxi ride to the grand Victoria Terminus station which, I took for another one of those grand buildings built by the British. The fact that there was actually a railway station inside would astound me no end. Evenings would be when we would walk on marine drive. The setting sun, the strong breeze, groundnuts and coconut water would be a perfect complement to the experience. A few months ago, I was literally dying of thirst in Halebeedu in Karnataka when we saw a few coconut vendors outside. The coconuts, priced at 15/- each were enormous, the biggest I’d ever seen in my life and the sight of a little boy, unable to finish his coconut water elicited quite a few smirks and laughter, taking me back to the times on marine drive when my own stomach was too small to accommodate something similar. I also have faint recollections of visiting the Kochu Guruvayoor temple in Matunga as a kid and partaking of their ‘annadaanam’ (lunch).

It was only when I grew into my teens that I saw a bit more of Mumbai. Morning classes at Agrawal’s on Dadar TT would mean walking on the streets of Dadar, passing by Pritam Restaurant and eating the delicious, piping hot samosa at Damodar Mithaiwala. Mock tests conducted at a school near Podar college would mean walking through the charming bylanes of Hindu colony dotted with pockets of greenery on which the morning sun would cast an ethereal glow. Engineering days meant hanging out with friends at quite a few places in Mumbai. A bunch of us computer geeks would head over to Lamington road to shop for computer accessories. From Lamington Road, once we had to go to meet a relative of a friend and the taxi we caught drove through Kamathipura. For the first time in my life, I witnessed the seedy underbelly of Mumbai, a memory that even today, drives me sick at the depths of human depravity. Happier memories pervade though, with a sunny evening spent with friends at the Haji Ali promenade, wolfing down grilled sandwich and juices at the Haji Ali juice centre. I also remember battling heavy rain, slowing trains and clogged roads many a time, but particularly when once, 3 of us, hopeful of catching Spiderman 2 at the enormous Dome theatre in Wadala, found the shows house-full for the next 3 days. (It is only recently, that I managed to catch a movie at the Dome, travelling from Bangalore to Mumbai to catch The Dark Knight Rises, that too a show at 0700 in the morning on a Monday) Outsiders may balk at the level of flooding Mumbai faces every monsoon but I honestly feel that the city is at its most beautiful when it rains.

The reason I am smitten with these beautiful memories are because of two fantastic blogs (1 and 2) that I came across the other day. A quick Google maps view of the city confirms my fears – I still have barely scratched the surface of Mumbai and that too, after living for a quarter of a century in its vicinity.

Therefore, I have made a list of a few things that I want to experience before they die out or before life takes me to some other place distant from Mumbai. Listed below, in no particular order are some of them.

1. Eat in one of the few Irani restaurants that still dot the city landscape, at one of the famous South Indian eateries in Matunga and also try the buttermilk-in-beer-bottle at Bhagat Tara Chand as well as the lunch at Mahesh Lunch Home and Chicken ala Pouse at Samovar, Jehangir Art Gallery among others

2. Throng the crowds during the annual Ganeshotsav immersion ceremony, and watch the human pyramid formation during the Vijayadashamai celebrations in pockets of Central Mumbai

3. Take in the waves during the monsoons while walking the complete stretch of Marine Drive

4. Go to the Worli/Bandra fort and look out at the shimmering lights of the Bandra-Worli sea link as the sun goes down

5. Visit the Bhendi Bazaar – Mohammed Ali Road stretch during the nights of Ramzan…

…By no means is this a bucket list that seems to be bandied around by most people on social media these days. This is just my hope of a journey, rediscovering a city that I have tremendous respect for.

There are a great many of these things to discover in Mumbai and if you, dear reader, can contribute just one of them – well known or obscure, i’ll add them to the above list. 

Of small matters on Valentine’s day

On the occasion of yet another valentine’s day passing by (now I know what it feels like to watch a 5 test cricket series that ends without a result), I got a phone call from a girl. Her english was impeccable, she was courteous while speaking and she sounded kinda cute too. A little too harsh of me then, that I refused. “Ma’am I don’t want another credit card, I already have 3 from the past three years.” Heart-breaking for the lady, I know, but what to do. There is only so much joy that you can derive from having a credit card and not crossing your limits every month like your committed friends do.

So what do you do to shrug off the effects of the pink vapors pervading the atmosphere everywhere around you around 14th of Feb ? Like my awesome self, you can go bag 2 high-profile client meetings in a single day, tell the boss with a crack of the knuckles that it was just you warming up for the year ahead and walk off in to the sunrise (night shift you see). Not everybody’s cup of tea though. How about buying one of those men’s magazines that tell you about fitness secrets to ‘explode’ your arms, reading and re-reading that body language article to discern what that cutie in the cubicle across yours might be hinting at from the day you joined. Still doesn’t sound right no ? I know, I know. It usually ends up in a round of drinks in a friend’s house. What starts as a celebration of the single-dom of 4-5 men usually culminates in a re-assessed narrative of each one’s love story (one, that like Dodda Ganesh’s test career, never really took off).

Here is what I did. I lazily debunked all those theories about ‘locus-of-control’ from my MBA days and settled down for one of those balmy movies that remind you of how delightful Indian cinema used to be.

Chhoti Si Baat‘ is one of those Basu Chatterji gems that is perfect for a long afternoon.

Arun Pradeep – the Protagonist

Arun (superbly portrayed by Amol Palekar) is a shy, unassuming young man who is smitten with Prabha (Vidya Sinha, ethereal) whom he sees everyday at the bus-stop.

Conditioned by circumstances and his own personality, he fails at

Prabha – the woman of Arun’s dreams

every attempt to woo the woman of his dreams. The hurdles are his own inability to confess his feelings to Prabha, a rival – Nagesh’s (Asrani) superior social skills and a woeful lack of confidence. He ends up consulting roadside soothsayers, horoscope and personality building magazines before packing up his bags to engage the tutelage of Col. JNW Singh (played by Ashok Kumar, a show stealer in every scene and a delight to watch). Col. Singh, realizing that Arun’s love is pure and innocent in its intention and consummate in its devotion to Prabha, little by little, polishes off Arun’s insecurities and turns his feeble personality around.

Turning your life around is an art – so says the Colonel

The second half of the film, where a very changed Arun comes back and wins over Prabha is a sheer delight in the way it contrasts his previous attempts (his lunch date, his duels with Nagesh over table tennis and chess, the comeuppance of  the swindling garage owner) to win over Prabha.

This film has immense replay value and the reason behind its timelessness is a question I’ve pondered over, many a time. What stands out for me though, over the refreshing humour, the inherent simplicity in Chatterjee’s handling of the script and the chemistry between all the actors, is inspiration. The importance of believing in oneself and the ability to change oneself in order to win something.

While Chhoti Si Baat does seem to heavily draw inspiration from School of Scoundrels, it is in no measure inferior to the original. Wonderful acting all round,  with lilting music and tightly paced narration, it is no wonder that the film is a classic of Indian cinema. What delights me even more is watching the story unfold against the glorious backdrop of a South Bombay when it was not the teeming metro it now is. From the iconic BEST buses and bus-stops, to Chicken a La Pouse at Samovar restaurant in the Jehangir art gallery, to the Gateway of India and the office spaces (reminds me of my dad’s western railway office at Churchgate) – it is a little bit of a tribute to the beauty of Bombay as well.

Ah well…another 14th Feb and another blog post down. Till the next blog post then.

P. S.: You can watch the entire movie on Youtube here.

Aaj ka ye episode….

Flop Show
Flop Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Honestly, I never found Ulta Pulta funny when I was a kid. For someone who still doesn’t understand politics even in his late 20s, a satire based on politics and the Indian economy would quite obviously have been too dense back then. But Flop Show was an entirely different matter altogether. I didn’t know his name back then, but for millions of Indians, Jaspal Bhatti will forever be remembered as the brains behind one of the best comedy series on national television.

Aaj ka ye blog post therefore, dear reader, is dedicated to a few gems that I will always fondly remember with more than a chuckle, from Flop Show.

1. Doctor’s watch Episode

Bhatti as the doctor performing a primary checkup on his marwari patient (Shauq), elicits a dog like yelp from the patient. And then with great horror, realizing that his father-in-law’s watch was left inside the patient’s body during the surgery, decides to perform another surgery to remove the watch. The last few seconds of the episode, when the location of the watch is finally disclosed, is outrageously funny.

2. Contractor Episode

BN Sharma plays a thief who scans the local papers and pinpoints a shoddily constructed housing society to his protege. One of the best moments in this episode occurs when the protege implores his boss to improve his snigger, “Ustad, hasna to seekh lo“. Hilarity ensues when the contractor whom Bhatti files a complaint against, gets a commendation from the police for helping capture the 2 thieves, when the shoddy wall falls on them while they are committing the theft.

3. Ph. D Episode

Bhatti tries to off load his problematic car on to one of his hapless Ph. D students. Watch how this student tries to persuade his father to buy the car for him. In another scene, Bhatti asks Vivek Shauq about his experiment in the laboratory, to which he retorts with a straight face “Sir, chai bana raha tha sir“. Brilliance.

4. Meeting Episode

This episode is my favorite for it has umpteen moments of pure hilarity. “Ek to apne desh ke choohe bade uneducated hai, VIP ke fileon ke pehchaante hi nahi“. Bhatti’s great attention to detail ensures a seating plan for the meeting that has red points, indicating gulab jamuns and blue points, indicating where samosas will be kept. That is when his secretary asks him, “Lekin Sir, meeting ka agenda kya hoga” to which he replies “Agenda to kal bhi dekh lenge, lekin mind it, samose kacche nahi hone chahiye.

All these episodes and more can be found at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIstUOqFthY&feature=BFa&list=PLC8CC6F179F598DAA

Do take a dekko and write in about your favorite moments from Flop Show.