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Monday 1 April 2019

# 62 - 1983

All of us were excited, except my mother, who looked worried.

“At least give me a number, do you have any idea how many guests might show up?”

My father scratched his ear, coughed a little, and mumbled, “At last count, around 20 confirmed guests.”

Maa was suitably shocked, “Even if I could manage the cooking, you know very well that we don’t have anywhere near enough plates to serve these many guests.”

Father knew this very well and under different circumstances he would immediately rush to buy plates and other utensils, and possibly a saree for Maa, but buying a 21-inch colour television specifically for the world cup meant that he had to be more calculative than usual.

“Don’t worry, I have clearly told everyone that tea is the only thing that would be served, they obviously understand.”

Yet, after a few minutes, I was made to rush to market to buy groceries and disposable plates.
Half an hour before the toss, the house was bustling with activity, I made a rough calculation, more than thirty-two people had shown up, well above father’s estimation, but knowing Maa, I am sure she had accounted for the extra people.

The young ones like me were fortunate enough to sit closest to the action, and for once were not being reprimanded about sitting too close to the TV, the adults sat directly behind us, the elderly ones were given access to the sofa and chairs out of courtesy, my father, while not the oldest by any stretch, occupied a sofa by virtue of being the host and the master of the house.
The womenfolk drifted in and out of the room, speaking in hushed tones so that the cricket experts on TV and outside of TV were not interrupted.

By the time the match started, the number of visitors had increased. There was barely any room for us to move, I had correctly predicted that going to the toilet would prove to be a difficult chore, so had finished my deed just before the first ball was bowled, and for the rest of the match, had decided to minimize water intake. Maa kept the pakodas coming and the tea flowing and the other women chipped in, there must have been forty people inside our moderately sized living room and twenty outside it.

Only us children and a handful of unrealistic adults gave India a chance, we were facing the mighty West Indies at their peak, the best bowling unit of all time, and Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, though worshipped back home, were yet to be fully regarded as gods.

The cracks on our fragile hopes started appearing early, the West Indian pace quartet ripped through India’s batting order as they were largely expected to do, the tail-enders however put up some fight, India ended up with an almost respectable 183.

The sun had begun setting and as much as we wanted to be hopeful, it was difficult. One of us kids wondered aloud if we should just go out and play some cricket while we still could instead of watching a match whose results were already a foregone conclusion, the rest of us who hadn’t queued in front of the loo, shushed him.

The second innings began, and within minutes, that legend of a man, Gordon Greenidge was out-  bowled. We started shouting and screaming in unison, and a few aunties somehow made their way inside the room, curious if we were happy or sad.In spite of all the difficulties, the pakodas, sweets, and chai managed to go from hand to hand until they reached their intended recipient.

No one was listening to the commentators any more, all of us gave our own take on the game, and for a while we thought that there was a chance, a chance for us to win the game.
And then came Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards - chewing gum, looking menacing without trying, and treating the bowlers and fielders with equal disdain. Boundaries flowed and once again the mood of the room turned glum.

Few of the uncles rose from time to time to leave, but the others, led by my father, cajoled them into staying, “we have come this far, might as well see the end of the journey.”

And then it happened - Desmond Haynes fell and King Richards departed soon after, Clive Lloyd didn’t stick around for too long either, and we sensed that slowly but steadily, the tide was turning, India was back in the game.

Jeff Dujon stood like a rock, defying the Indian attack and more than once the oldest man in the room shook his head in an all-knowing manner, “as long as Dujon is there, we won’t be able to win it.”
More tea, more snacks.

Dujon finally fell after a gritty inning, and then the end was quick. India had managed to do the unthinkable, the world cup was ours.

We celebrated as much as the Indian players on screen, irrespective of the age, all of us jumped, shouted and sang, there were some fireworks outside, and a lot of us went out into the streets to celebrate. People were calling on the landline to confirm that India had indeed won.

All of us were rejoicing well into midnight. On 25th June, 1983, close to four decades after our Independence, India had well and truly arrived in the global scene.

I still remember that night vividly, every moment from the match firmly etched into my memory, of course, it was India’s first world cup victory, how could anyone who saw the match that day ever forget it.
36 years on, it’s inevitable that my memories from that June night resurface.

It’s 2019, India is playing the world cup finals once again, and we aren’t the underdogs this time, in fact, we are on the verge of winning the match.

The living room in which I am sitting and enjoying what is left of the game is comparable in size to my living room from my childhood years.

But it’s just me here.

My wife isn’t interested in cricket and has gone off to sleep, my son is watching the match on his iPad in his room.

For some reason, I think of my friends who were in the room with me that night, I struggle to remember their names.

And I wonder what they are doing now. 

Work of fiction. Image from here.

Sunday 3 March 2019

# 61 - Short Story - The Boot Polish Boy

The hardest thing about the transition from college life to working life is the pain of waking up early, that, and the post-lunch drowsiness. 

In a flat occupied by 3 with only one toilet cum bathroom, we had to go through our morning rituals with Swiss watch precision, 5 minutes here or there could lead to a half-day absence and since all of us were staying away from home, we needed our leaves. 

Yet, we survived, always somehow managing to punch our cards or get our fingers scanned seconds before the clock read 9:31:00. 

The obvious casualty of this was our breakfast.

Usually, after marking my entry in office, I came out and treated myself to the most important meal of the day - a packet of Good Day biscuits and a cup of chai. I also utilized this time to button my sleeves and have my shoes polished. 

There was a kid, no more than 8 or 9 years old, who used to polish shoes in the vicinity, what was odd about him was that unlike other boys of his age who were engaged in similar professions, this one wore a school uniform and had a school bag too.

One day, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him, “Kya re, instead of going to school, you’re doing all this. Do your parents know?” As soon as I had uttered the words, I realised that there was a good chance that it was the parents themselves who might have coerced the boy into this boot polish business. 

Without the slightest bit of hesitation, he said “Nahin saab, I have started this on my own. You see, school is supposed to start from 9, but no one is there till 9.45, so I thought why not take this time to earn some money.” He tapped his brush against the box to indicate that I had to put my other foot up.

There was something about the boy’s earnestness that appealed to me. And while I continued to call him somewhat derogatorily as “Chhotu” and didn’t pay him any more than his usual 10 rupees, I did get him to polish my shoes when they didn’t need any polishing, and always gave a couple of my biscuits to him, even when I was left hungry. What I liked about him was that unlike many others he didn’t seem to be apologetic about what he was doing, and even if there was a sob-story, he didn’t peddle it. He did his business and went running back to school. 

I asked him once what he planned to be when he grew up, “bijness man” he said. 

-          “But don’t you want a job instead? Businesses may not always work, with a job you can earn risk-free money every month.” 

Naah”, pat came the reply, “I want to be my own boss. Naukri toh naukar karte hai.” 

The boy was something alright, even when he spoke of his family's financial woes, he spoke matter-of-factly, never seeking sympathy. 

One morning, once the boy was done polishing, I realised that all I had in my wallet was a couple of 100s and a single 500 rupee note, for some reason I handed him the 500 rupee note and asked if he had change, he shook his head unhappily and tried to hand it back, "Kal de dena aap", he said. 

"You give the change tomorrow", I said and rushed to my office, not looking back. I didn’t want the change, I wanted to help the boy, maybe because I had developed a liking for him, maybe because I knew that he would use the money for a better cause than I would, maybe because I was feeling particularly generous with my boss out of town and the day being a Friday, who knows. 

For the rest of the day though, I felt mixed emotions, on one hand I felt good about myself that I had helped someone in financial need, another part of me said that I had treated him like a beggar, which was everything he wasn’t, and yet another part chastised and humiliated me by pointing out that I wasn’t wealthy enough to be doling out 500 rupee notes to people who were financially less fortunate than I was. 

But over the course of the weekend, I forgot about it. And on Monday morning while dipping my biscuit in chai, I realised that Chhotu was nowhere to be seen. I asked the chaiwala and he was as clueless as I was. 

And just like that Chhotu’s guest appearance in my life had come to an end. 

I did see him once more a couple of months later, I was on my way to office when I saw him walking cheerfully, his shoe polishing kit in his hand, still wearing the uniform, the school bag slung over his shoulder. 

I couldn’t help myself, I stopped the bike and called out “Oye Chhotu”, he turned around and when our eyes met the colour drained from his face, he froze for a moment but recovered quickly enough. He was soon running and within seconds he was out of my sight. 

For some inexplicable reason, I felt a wave of sadness come over me, I am not sure why, but I think I lost something that day, something more than 500 rupees. 

Image from here.

Monday 18 February 2019

# 60 - An ode to 'Deewar'

I can't recall the first Bollywood movie I saw, but the first movie I remember watching was ‘Deewar’.

Back in the good old days of DD1 and DD2, we had a colour TV and a VCP (Video Cassette Player, Funai branded - if you must know), and one fine evening when I was probably 6 or 7, my father, returning home, proudly announced that he had rented the video cassette of Deewar, and he had brought mutton.

I knew that something special was in the offing because mutton (usually a Sunday lunch affair) was served to coincide with the start of the movie. 

How much of the movie I actually understood at the time is debatable, but I remember being awed, awed enough to watch it again the next day, and over the years, I have seen Deewar time and again, to the extent that I pretty much know every line, every pause, every gesture. 

But then, most people over the age of 18 probably do as well. 

Deewar was a special movie and had many firsts to its credit. A leading man who blurred the lines between being a hero and a villain (thereby introducing the term 'anti-hero'), a female lead with a morally ambiguous character, very few songs, and the list goes on. 

And unlike so many movies which were critically and commercially successful at the time of release, Deewar has stood the test of time, you would be hard-pressed to find faults in the movie even now, 44 years after its cinematic release. 

But what made Deewar really special was Amitabh Bachchan.

It is tough to imagine any other actor from any era playing the role of Vijay; of course, Amitabh Bachchan acted brilliantly, but there were bits where better actors would have faltered, and it was there that Amitabh Bachchan, the star, that came to fore. Deewar may have been a great film, but it was essentially a masala movie, and Bachchan played to gallery perfectly.  
What're ya looking at punk?

The thrill of seeing Bachchan emerge victorious in a fight where the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against him or the goosebump-inducing Salim-Javed lines still haven't lost their intended impact. The scenes, the dialogues, The cocky arrogance that Only Amitabh Bachchan  could carry so convincingly, who can forget the scene when Bachchan puts his feet up on the table coming to terms over his newly-acquired power, the coolness he exudes when he says that he doesn’t think he can pull off a seemingly suicidal mission, but knows that he can, the utter disdain with which he tells a gang of thugs that he had been waiting for them in their den when they had been out looking for him. 

As a teenager, on the extremely rare occasions that I managed to perform half decently with a cricket bat (my highest score is 21, the dream of scoring a half-century may remain unfulfilled) immediately after the innings I would run to the nearby tap, turn it on and place my head under the stream of water, a desperate attempt at highlighting how the efforts had taken their toll. 

Even now, every year, post-appraisal, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Main aaj bhi feke hue paisa nahin uthata,” to HR. 

Yup, that's me on the left. 

Unfortunately for Deewar, it released in the same year as Sholay, the biggest Hindi film of all time, and for the lack of a better word, a more ‘wholesome’ one. Sholay had everything Deewar had and everything that Deewar lacked - romance, songs, a larger than life villain, comedy, memorable supporting characters. But the fact that Deewar is more often than not mentioned in the same breath as Sholay is a testament of its importance.

They say that Bollywood is going places, that the stories are coming of age and that the era of the mindless blockbusters is finally coming to an end.

They say that with the Bhatts and the Kapoors in front of the camera and the Kashyaps and Hiranis behind it, things can only get better.

They are right, the times, they are certainly a changing, but call me old fashioned (or straight up old), but when it’s a Sunday and mutton is on the cards, there’s only one thing I prefer watching, and it’s not the latest critically acclaimed Ranbir/Ranveer/Alia/Kangana starrer.

Images are screencaps from here.