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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What a beautiful world ! #2 – Grand Trunk Road

There can be no doubt about the fact that Steve McCurry is one of the greatest photographers ever. Award winning contributions to leading publications notwithstanding, there is a very humane, down-to-earth appeal that is immediately evident in all his photographs.

One of my favorite photo essays are his vignettes of the Grand Trunk Road, which crisscrosses the Indian subcontinent, stretching from Kabul to Kolkata, and is dripping with history at every turn. Virtually all of these photographs will transport you to a different era, in a different place.

Pay attention to the way he captures the proletariat in these places, going about their daily lives, against cinematic scenes unfolding in the background (for e.g., a coal fired train chugging over a bridge, crowded markets buzzing with action); narrating stories of an era long lost.


Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers,
barbers and bunnias, pilgrims – and potters – all the world going and coming.
It is to me as a river from which I am
withdrawn like a log after a flood.
And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle.
Such a river of life as no where else exists in the world.
– Rudyard Kipling, Kim

Kolkata

Here is the link: https://stevemccurry.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/river-of-life-2/

The “What a beautiful world” blog series is my attempt to share stories of our world, captured in the form of photo essays by other photographers.  


 

What a beautiful world ! #1 – Skardu

India’s neighbor, and erstwhile inseparable part of the family is no different when it comes to being blessed with an abundance of natural beauty. How naive it is though, to be a tiny part of a massive universe and see more of the differences between us than the similarities.

In his series of photo essays from the magical land of Skardu-Baltistan (geographically contiguous with Ladakh and the Tibetan plateau), Bukhari gives us a glimpse of the treasures his country has been blessed with. After going through it, there lingers a romantic hope that someday, may there be no borders.


 

“I was walking on a narrow strip, when a window of a nearby home opened, and a boy with green eyes and a warm smile waved at me. All my exhaustion seemed to just melt away.

I then, made my way to the main road, crunching over fallen leaves that had covered both sides of the road.”

Untitled


 

For it is such a beautiful world that we live in ! Click the link below to view the photo essay.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1174695

 

“Julley” Ladakh

A little bit of history and geography

Little Tibet, the last Shangri-La, Moonland, Broken moon, Lamaland. Ladakh has been fondly called many names by countless travelers in the past. One of these travelers, and chronicler extraordinaire, was a British gentleman by the name of Sir Alexander Cunningham. It was Cunningham who laid the groundwork for what was to become the Archaeological Survey of India. He visited Kashmir and Ladakh in the mid 19th century. In his notes, he mentions the earliest Chinese traveler to India, Fa-Hsien who seemingly referred to Ladakh as “Kie-Chha” during his visit there, circa 400 AD. “Kie-Chha” means a country where snow never melts and Fa Hsien described the natives of this country as “men of the snowy mountains“. Cunningham also cites Hiuen Tsiang, the great Chinese traveler, famous for his 17 year overland journey to India, “..from Lo-hu-lo (present day Lahaul) to the north, for over 2000 li, the road is very difficult, with cold wind and flying snow; thus one arrives in the kingdom of Mo-lo-so, or Mar-sa, (synonymous with Mar-yul, a common name for Ladakh)

However, it is these very characteristics – the rugged and unique geography, the barren land, and a climate that vacillates between unforgiving and downright inhospitable – that drive tourists and converts them into ardent devotees. Ladakh is not your typical vacation destination. People have been known to have come down with sunstroke, altitude sickness or frostbite; for an unfortunate few, all three at the same time. For the Ladakhis have a saying on the lines of, “Only the fiercest enemies and dearest friends will visit this land..”  Nonetheless, antithetical though the region may be to the idea of human life, life does abound in the fertile valleys irrigated by the great Indus and its tributaries, most notably the Shyok and the Zanskar.

Mountain Ranges near Leh
Google maps transports you right there ! To the north of Leh lies the Ladakh range, which in turn, faces the might Karakoram range further up north. To the south and west of Leh, lies the Zanskar range with its glistening snow peaks that you can observe from most of Leh town. The furrow that you see between the two ranges is the path that the mighty Indus takes. It’s basin – the seat of many of the subcontinent’s historic civilizations, irrigates India and Pakistan before joining the Arabian sea. Zoom in, in Google maps and you can see tiny green valleys dotting it’s entire stretch.
Scooter in Ladakh
From foot journeys to Bactrian camels to horses to automobiles and planes, Ladakh has seen it all. One wonders how much romance is left, in the older way of seeing Ladakh; at a pace that is at once leisurely and old fashioned, like the place itself. Well, to each his own.

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What a Jog

Many a time has an enthusiastic tourist made the long journey to Jog falls to end up with something like this.

Jog falls
Jog on August 15th

This was in the peak of the monsoon season, as you can make out from the greenery around. Supposedly, one of the highest waterfalls in India, its moniker ‘Joke falls’ among blogging circles is well-deserved going by this photograph. And to think, the state authorities have created a parking lot, a state tourism hotel, viewing areas to benefit the hordes of tourists. Just wonder whether somebody forgot to turn on the secret waterfall switch.

Honestly though, I have no idea if this is due to the rainfall deficit or the dam built across the Sharavathi river.

Either way, just compare the above photograph with Jog at its mightiest. This photograph was taken during the monsoons as well.

Jog Falls
Pic courtesy: Wikipedia. Copyright: Jog Roarer CC BY-SA 3.0 Sarvagnya

Mighty good, isn’t it ?

Musings of a baked post-graduate

I was at one of Bangalore’s famous bakeries the other day. Never had heard of any of their fresh baked cookies, never tasted any of them either; the only point of reference was my friend’s opinion. One taste of the cookies and I was totally blown away – incredibly tasty and soft, the melts-in-your-mouth variety.

We lost no time in ordering 100 gms of the plain cashew variety, 100 gms of the chocolate plus cashew variety and a 100 more grams of the almond filled variety.

Standing beside me was an elderly man dressed in a a dhoti and a white, soiled kurta. He was accompanied by a kid, probably his grandson. The kid was wearing clothes that weren’t worn out or soiled, but looked tacky all the same. He was trying hard to get the shopkeeper’s attention, all the while pointing with his outstretched hand at a mouth-watering chocolate pastry enclosed in the bakery window. His grandfather though, was trying hard to cajole him as his choice of pastry cost more than they could bear to spend.  You see, in the other hand of the kid was a 5 Re. note and a 1 Re. coin.

6 Rs. My own grandfather, when he was alive, would buy me things worth more than that from bakeries in that old town in Kerala. But that was way back in the early 90s. Almost two decades of inflated prices and scary increases in customer spending power hence, what do you get from a bakery for 6 Indian rupees ?

The plight of that kid and the old man made me shed a silent tear. I don’t think a lot needs to be said about the disparity in living conditions in a country like ours. I see a lot of money being spent by people around me, on things that are not really a need, only an object of desire born out of excessive wants. And there never seems to be an end to it.

I have never felt more strongly about the need to cut down on wasteful expenditure. I have never felt more strongly about the need to start giving back to society. In terms of money and in terms of intellectual and social capital. I hope one day I can really put all this education to good use. And I hope that quite a few of the students graduating this month from India’s elite management institutes will too. One day.

Hampi Trip – Part III

(Continued from Parts I & II..)

The lady at Lakshmi Heritage was kind enough to sew back the button on my shorts the previous day (Shorts or capris are necessary in Hampi’s heat, combine it with a linen shirt for maximum comfort) – extra points for the stay then.

Phaddu, a round shaped snack made from dosa batter, is a popular snack in Hampi and you will find various small shops selling phaddu early in the morning. Phaddu is what we had for breakfast on the second day, with spicy green chilli chutney and some very bad south Indian coffee for company.

After wolfing down copious amounts of phaddu, we asked around for motorbikes or bicycles available for hire. There are very few motorbikes available for rent, but you’ll find a lot of mopeds on hire at around 200 bucks a day + petrol charges extra. Bicycles are available at around 60-80 bucks a day, but be sure you have the stamina to ride the bicycles all day. The terrain is not really flat in Hampi and we saw plenty of tourists huffing on their cycles while climbing up the gradients on some of the roads.

Our first stop was the Virupaksha temple, accessible by a small walk down the road from our stay. The official website mentions that this is the oldest temple in Hampi, and one of the oldest ones to still remain functional in India. You can read up more about the temple here. The temple premises are inundated with monkeys and it would be a good idea to not carry eatables into the premises. I saw a monkey jump onto the head of a shrieking girl and do away with the ‘prasad’ that she was carrying.

Virupaksha Temple Gopuram Hampi
The gopuram of the Virupaksha temple
Inside Virupaksha temple Hampi
The roofs of shrines and halls inside the Virupaksha temple compound
Rudraksha mala Virupaksha Temple Hampi
Rudraksha malas being sold in the temple premises
Vijayanagara dynasty chart Virupaksha temple Hampi
The Vijayanagara dynasty chart displayed prominently in the temple
Monkeys Virupaksha temple Hampi
Monkeys monkeys everywhere
Monkeys Virupaksha temple Hampi
With antics to match the amorous sculptures
Elephant Virupaksha Temple Hampi
The elephant being readied for the day

The temple elephant, as in any other temple in south India, has been cleverly trained to pass on any currency or cash offerings from devotees to the mahout. Any eatables go straight into its mouth.

Elephant Virupaksha Temple Hampi
Seeking blessings

Moving on from the Virupaksha temple, we went to the banks of the Tungabhadra river. The banks themselves are a photographer’s delight with snake charmers, coracle rides, women washing clothes, hawkers displaying umbrellas, bangles, jewellery and other stuff made locally. If you plan to buy any of them, remember to inspect thoroughly and bargain hard.

For a sum of 20 bucks per head, a boat will transport you to the other bank, which stands out in sharp contrast to the earlier one. Here you will find lush green fields of rice plantations dotted by coconut and palm trees. There is so much greenery on display that it would be hard to not seek a moment of solitude to take it all in.

We hired a diesel auto rickshaw for all of us, a cool 400 bucks for the day and asked him to take us to various locations on that bank. He started off with the Anjaneya hill, where a temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman stands, and is believed to be his birthplace.

The climb up to the hill is steep, laborious and extremely energy sapping. It would be a good idea to do this climb as early in the morning or as late in the evening as possible. But once you do make the effort, the views from the top are to die for.

Hanuman temple Anjaneya Hill Hampi
Hanuman looks out from one of the walls of the temple
Tungabhadra Anjaneya Hill Hampi
A veritable lost world, that’s what it looks like
Panorama Tungabhadra Anjaneya Hill Hampi
Panoramic views to give you an idea of what it looks like from the top
Anjaneya Hill Hampi
Lush green rice plantations and coconut trees as far as the eye can see
Monkeys Anjaneya Hill Hampi
How can monkeys not be present in a temple devoted to the monkey king

The auto driver took us to Pampa Sarovar and a few other places on the same bank but these were inundated with devotees and we found nothing notable on any of them after the architectural delights from the previous day.

After lunch and a few snacks, we decided to call it a day in Hampi then and proceeded to Hospet where we spent some time at the magnificent Tungabhadra dam and then made our way back to the bus stand to catch the return bus to Bangalore.

P.S.

Hampi really stood out for me as one of the better trips I’d been to. Amidst the boulder-strewn landscape and all the ancient architectural marvels, you’d be forgiven for thinking that time somehow stood still in Vijayanagara. Do not expect a lot of creature comforts in Hampi and make it a point to stay in Hampi itself, not Hospet like many visitors do. An ideal time would be to visit it during Oct-Dec. Any later and with the tourist season starting, you’ll have to contend with crowds and higher hotel fares.

A special mention for the ‘Purple Grass’ restaurant in Hospet – they served a most scrumptious fare. Do make it a point to drop in if you plan to have dinner there, all the dishes are worth every penny. The owner’s name is Nuthan Shetty. Consult him for their best dishes and if he asks you on the source of the referral, remind him of a ‘Mahesh Bhupathi’ look-a-like and he’ll know.