Archive for September, 2009

The legend of Ryan Giggs

Monday, September 28th, 2009 September 28th, 2009 Aabhas Sharma

I think, or rather I am pretty sure, that I once lost out on a job just because in the interview I said Ryan Giggs was my favourite footballer. Why I am sure of it is because till the point of that  fateful question, the interview proceedings were going fine. There were jokes about the industry, things like what I would be expected to do once I join and it did look like I had all but clinched the deal. That was until Giggsy struck. As soon as  I uttered his name, the interviewer shot me a look as if I had committed the biggest act of blasphemy by not naming the then flavours of the season Ronaldiniho or Zinedine Zidane. “Ryan who?”, came the retort. “Sir, he plays for Wales and Manchester United,” I replied matter of factly. That was it. All smiles gone, the interview came to an abrupt end and I was asked to wait for the call back from the organisation, which never came.

But such is the legend of Ryan Giggs. Despite playing over 800 games for one of the biggest clubs in the world, winning almost everything there is on offer for a player, people still don’t know who he is. I won’t be surprised if many of you who are reading this wouldn’t have heard of Giggs.

Football in today’s times is not about the World Cup or the European Championships which are held every four years. Club football is much bigger than international football, a direction in which I think even cricket seems to be heading with the surge in popularity of T20 and the IPL.

Giggs has never played in a World Cup as Wales never managed to qualify for the finals. Yet ask any football fan and who is clued in about European football would say that Giggs is one player who they have admired the most. Signed up by United at the age of 14, Giggs has been the epitome of loyalty, professionalism, commitment and consistency. In an era where players swap clubs every two years, Giggs has been at United for over two decades and his performances have been stellar.

Just like a vintage wine, he is ageing beautifully. Even at 36, at times he is one of the best players on the pitch and yet you will never ever hear him giving media bytes or being in the news for the wrong reasons. He lets his football do the talking and it’s a pity that not many could see him performing on the international stage. Then perhaps he too would have been spoken in the same breath as some of the illustrious names. Or perhaps he never swapped clubs and got into the news for inflated transfer fees. Perhaps then my esteemed interviewer would have also heard of him and things could have turned out totally different in my life as well.

Something to remember

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 September 24th, 2009 Rrishi Raote

When travelling one is always on a search for the memorable experience. It may be a vista of snow peaks or a moon-sickle of sand, a good meal in warm company or a treasure-filled museum. Whatever precisely it is, it is something you take back with you to your humdrum life and work, and hold on to, when the holiday is over. Something of that joy and release must survive to remind us of how good we are away from the daily nonsense. In its simplest form such a memento is just that: a keepsake, an aide-memoire, a souvenir.

Since I am unencumbered with a fortune, my souvenirs are usually super-cheap, and usually on paper — maps, to be precise. In any new town, I try to purchase a map of the locality. Sometimes the search (impromptu and laid-back, it’s true), is fruitless. In tiny Foligno in autumn 1998, which to me was just a place to change trains on the way from Rome to Perugia in Italy, I asked at the railway station newsagent for a map. The nice-faced man behind the counter looked at me in surprise and said, a trifle helplessly, “We don’t have one. This town is too small.”

Now this was surprising, because every little place in Italy which boasts some history has a stiff sense of pride and a powerful local feeling. And Foligno, despite its modest size, is ancient, older even than the Buddha.

Denied a map of Foligno, I am left with a memory as a souvenir: my friend and I walked out onto the street, which led straight from the station forecourt into the heart of the old town. This was passeggiata time, the slice of evening when the Italians ditch their work gear and stroll or stand about in the chief piazza wearing their best clothes and accessories.

What a sight! Foligno was far better dressed than any other town I had seen. How unreal it was to walk through a town where nobody seemed to be working, and everyone looked like a millionaire, or a millionaire’s girlfriend. Even the dogs were beautifully dressed and groomed, and all were kept on such a tight leash by their masters and mistresses that they had to stand straight, or be throttled. In the neighbourhood of such perfection I was quite content to be drab and travel-stained, secure in my inferiority.

I then formulated the following Rule of Italian Culture: “The smaller the town, the better-dressed the people.” I suppose there was also the underlying memory of the Lucknow of my childhood, where chikan, chiffon and fine cotton suits were the norm among the classes. It must be a universal rule. How many people in their 20s can claim to have divined a universal rule of sociology all on their own?

Anyway, that was the memory I saved from Foligno. On a recent trip to Uttarakhand, by contrast, with no local maps to be had, I had to content myself with an eye-catching pebble. Its mica surfaces are winking at me right now from this desk.

Devi needs a break

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 September 23rd, 2009 Sohini SenSohini Sen

Having spent 20 years in Kolkata I had swore to never spend a single Durga Puja outside the city -  ever. As a matter of fact I never thought that Puja could exist outside..

At home the excitement was always more about what we would wear, where would we go..and the daily plans of those four - five days. We would start planning as soon as school declared holidays, would shop two-three months in advance and go on silly diets which never worked. And every year we would have the same routine…meet up with friends, eat out and fall sick,  go for bike rides, return home late and promise mom that next year onwards we would spend double the Puja time with family.. Which never happened actually since each year the circle of friends miraculously increased. Dussehra..or Dashami would bring with it gloom and sadness since the celebration was over. Lazily, people would start thinking about office again, some even taking that difficult step of going to their workplace. Others would just somehow extend their holidays or go on their annual trips with a huge family, lunch boxes in tow..

But here in Mumbai I realised work doesn’t just stop because one part of the country is rejoicing. As a matter of fact, other than the blaring sound of
make-shift pandals for Dandiya, nothing gives you a clue that it is Navratri. People go to work, students to school. they somehow always have the energy to return and go dance, or meet up with family, or go out to eat. Maybe that is what makes Mumbai so different. That is why people say it is “fast”. After all, the city of dreams - the city that never sleeps - can’t just stop functioning just cause the Devi has managed to kill another one of those demons, now, can it?

Rest in peace Nitin Luthra

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 September 22nd, 2009 Abhilasha OjhaAbhilasha Ojha

My instant reaction was to delete the email from my account the minute I saw it. It was a mail from a leading private bank and it was about World Heart Day on September 27, 2009. It was about a free checkup that the bank had organised in partnership with another leading diagnostic centre.
This time, however, something had changed. For a change, the mail — which also gave details of WHO’s report, putting the number of those who die because of cardiovascular diseases at 17.2 million globally — wasn’t merely all about numbers. Suddenly, I could put a face in those million numbers.
I never knew him personally, but I’d met him very briefly — and only recently — at a party. He was from Mayo and being from the same school it was natural to smile at each other, wave our hands and go over and immediately find a connection and start talking about school, about the friends and other people that we had in common.
It was shocking, then, to wake up to the news of Nitin Luthra’s sudden demise. A close friend of mine, who had called up to inform us about his sudden death, had met him only three days ago at his place for dinner. Nitin had passed away in the wee hours of Monday morning, leaving behind his family, including his parents, his young wife and his four-year-old child.
The 33-year-old defence journalist had worked with Reuters and Dow Jones Newswire. He had moved to India Strategic only recently and I’m sure he had grand plans about the new job and for himself. What went wrong? Everything happened – it seems — almost immediately. Nitin, very unfortunately, had a cardiac arrest and had passed away.
I don’t know if there will ever be a way to console his wife, his parents. I don’t know if there ever will be a way to tell his little son just what happened to his daddy. I don’t know if they’ll ever heal. I don’t know how they’ll tell his little son that next month, on his birthday, daddy won’t be home.
I don’t know if his loved ones have even slept. I don’t know if they still think of it as a bad, bad dream wishing it had never ever happened. I don’t know how his parents must be feeling. I don’t know what his wife must be thinking.
I wonder what breaking stories Nitin was planning the next day. I wonder how he must’ve waited to wind up his work for the day, planning out his next morning, his next vacation, his next outing with his wife and child, his weekend break, his Diwali, his New Year’s Eve. Was he tired? Was his body asking him to stop working and thinking so hard? What happened? What went wrong?
Our generation is blamed of leading unhealthy lifestyles, we don’t exercise, we don’t eat, we’re junk food junkies, we’re this, we’re that… It’s all true, I suppose, and there’s no point denying that. Pollution levels in our city have exceeded permissible limits, we work too hard, in fact, we feel proud of working 24×7 and those who manage to come home from work by 5.30 pm (I don’t know anyone in my circle who actually manages to come home at a decent hour actually) are often made to feel guilty. And sure, we don’t eat fresh fruit, juices or even include enough fibre or have a healthy, balanced diet. Simply put, we are wrong, wrong, wrong. In more ways than one, we are wrong.
But once you look at Nitin’s four-year-old son, once you look at the emptiness in his wife’s eyes, once you see the helplessness and anger and rage and grief in the eyes of his parents, what is the answer that we will give them? How will we console them? What will – and what can – we say to them? WHO’s report will no longer be just about numbers for them. In that number there will be a name and a question for Nitin’s family.
 Why did Nitin die? They’ll search for an answer to that question for the rest of their lives.

Commonwealth chaos

Friday, September 18th, 2009 September 18th, 2009 Aditi PhadnisAditi Phadnis

He can take heart from the fact that if the Commonwealth Games are a washout, it won’t be because of Suresh Kalmadi alone. Several countries are getting really leery about the security situation and want a guarantee that no terrorist attack will occur while the games are on.

The high commissioner of one such western country was arguing earlier this week at dinner that sporting federations in his country were extremely reluctant to come to India: not because India was unsafe per se, but because you never know who might take it into their heads to bomb an international sporting event.

A former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief argued that if sporting federations were going to opt out of the games on these grounds, then we might as well shut down embassies and high commissions. Sporting groups, he said, are generally fearful of risks. And while being risk averse is fine, surely law enforcement authorities have not become so effete that they will be mute spectators to a country’s sovereignty being undermined.

At the end of the day, every country, including India, has to take a call: how must we fight terrorism? By bowing to both terrorists and sporting federations? Because if that is going to be the case, we might as well forget about anyone taking part in world sporting events like the Olympics in the future.

But then, it is also true that if an incident like the Lahore cricket match, where the Sri Lankan team was nearly blown up but for the sagacity of one bus driver, takes place the confidence of sportsmen is deeply shaken. That’s why the British badminton team withdrew from Hyderabad and earlier the Australian team declined to take part in another sporting event in Chennai.
 
If is clear that the Commonwealth games, in addition to being a sporting and managerial  challenge, are also going to be a security and defence challenge. It is a cliché but India’s prestige is at stake.

What if?

Friday, September 18th, 2009 September 18th, 2009 Pablo ChaterjiPablo Chaterji

‘What would I want to be doing if my present job didn’t exist?’ This is a question we all ask ourselves at some point or the other, for different reasons. With most people, unfortunately, it appears to be a case of hating their jobs so much that their only succour is in fantasizing about what might have been. For those of us lucky enough to enjoy what we’re doing, the question arises more out of curiosity than anything else - ‘I love my work, but what else might I love doing just as much?’ The answer to this query, for me, has always been split into two very distinct and divergent career paths.

More than anything else, I’ve always wanted to be a musician – specifically, a blues and jazz musician. From the time I was a child, I’ve been musically inclined and have had a pretty good ear for it. I used to take piano lessons at one point, and was told that I was something of a star student – I even won a prize at a competition at the prestigious Calcutta School of Music. The problem was that I was an 8-year old kid who was lazy, didn’t want to practice and who wanted to go out and play instead – so I gave up playing the piano, an utterly brain-dead move I regret to this day. Still, formal music training had further developed my musical senses, so a few years later I was able to teach myself the guitar without too much trouble. Blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll fell naturally and very easily on my ears, and before long I was devouring all the classic names – Clapton, Chuck Berry, Freddie King, Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and many others. Every time I heard Freddie King’s electrifying ‘Have you ever loved a woman’, with his gut-wrenching voice and searing guitar work, my hair would literally stand on end – it still has that effect, as a matter of fact. I often sit back, put on a CD, close my eyes and think of myself playing guitar in some smoke-filled dive bar, and it’s an intensely satisfying feeling.

The other thing I’ve always wanted to do is be a vet. I’ve had an abiding love for animals from as far back as I can remember, and they seem to feel some sort of kinship with me as well. In school, we had two German Shepherds with whom I was to be found hanging out rather a lot, and at home a large tabby named Ollie was the resident cat. While in college, I regularly volunteered at the Madras Crocodile Bank, learning how to handle snakes and crocodiles of all sizes and shapes, and scaring the wits out of tourists by producing baby pythons from my shirt pockets. Wherever I go, I seem to attract the dogs in the vicinity as if I was a very large piece of bacon – I don’t mind this one bit, but it becomes a point of contention among the BS Motoring mob on occasion. I began reading the books of James Herriot, the legendary country vet, more than 20 years ago, and can still (and do) re-read them any number of times. His captivating stories, filled with humour, charm, sadness and, above all, an unabridged love for all his many patients are the perfect antidote for a bad day at work.

Of course, in reality I’d probably be booed off stage if I attempted to play anything, and as for being a vet, I’d pitch over sideways at the first sight of blood. Still, none of that really matters because it’s all in the realm of fantasy, something to daydream about every now and then. Besides, I already have the best job in the world.
 

Shedding some more weight

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 September 16th, 2009 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

2.jpg

Thin is the current aesthetic that is obsessed on by majority of the world’s population, and the makers of consumer electronics do their selling to that population. Hence, logically speaking it was inevitable that computer manufacturers would follow suit and make thin a rage in the computer world too.

It all started with Apple Air — the craze to have an ultra thin notebook, and today every vendor is chasing that dream to have one in its consumer portfolio. Just imagine laptops an inch thick that multitask and edit multimedia content, and cost only Rs 25,000 - Rs 45,000? Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are betting they aren’t too good to be true. The world’s thinnest laptops, usually the province of executives and the well-heeled, are set to go mainstream this year — thanks to cheaper but still-powerful processors from AMD and Intel. This new category, tagged ultrathins, floats somewhere between the high-end suave looking professional laptops and the affordable lot of netbooks.

msi-xslim2.jpg

So, now we have Hewlett-Packard’s Pavilion dv2, Acer’s Timeline series and most recently, Dell too has added its Inspiron Z series in the ultrathin market. Dozens of other ultrathin offerings from just about every computer maker are expected to hit retailers this festive season.

Analysts assert that post the success of netbooks that have screens under 11 inches along with smaller keyboards, there has been a surge in demand for an intermediate computer that blends attributes from both ends of the spectrum. The new ultrathins have screens ranging from 12 to 15 inches, with a standard-size keyboard. And yes, they all ape Apple Air in design. There was a time when I stood outside Apple Store in Mumbai, along with a crowd of people, staring at the display Macbook Air model through the glass with a look of longing, and sorrow in their eyes. So there is no denying that an ultrathin devices can strike a cord of lust into the hearts of even the most cynical and battle-hardened of geeks.
What is interesting to note is that Acer, one of the first companies to introduce a cheap Intel-powered ultrthin laptop, expects revenue from that segment to account for 15 per cent of its total sales by the end of 2009. So, could ultrathins be the growth driver for the struggling PC industry, trying to recover from one of its worst downturns? Perhaps.

H1N1 doesn’t spare the priest

Saturday, September 12th, 2009 September 12th, 2009 Praveen Bose

Ashok Kumara Bhatta, a pujari by profession, is now well-versed with the H1N1 virus. Not that he is a part-time doctor or that he has contracted it. But, its fear has hit him where it hurts the most. His income has fallen drastically, to put it mildly. He is finding it difficult to make both ends meet now.

Being a pujary at a small temple in a corner of the city, he mainly depended on the people calling him home to perform pujas. Most of his clientele are IT professionals as that part of city had a significant number of people working with IT firms. They also made offerings when they stopped by the temple on their way to work every day.

Bhatta has hence had to increase his knowledge about the virus that has created so much tension in the hearts and minds of Indians, mostly the urban well-heeled Indians, today. He has learnt that the N95 mask manufactured by an MNC can help him. But, he can’t afford it. It cost about Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 in the black market today in many parts of Bangalore today.

The pujary, fortunately has been working to hone his marketing skills ever since the global slowdown hit Indian shores and had affected the offerings being made to the temple.

Mohan, who had to perform some rites for his father who passed away a year ago, came face-to-face with the marketing skills of Bhatta. Bhatta offered to perform some rites for free. In addition to that, he is also ready to give a discount on his rates. He told Mohan: “I can perform rites to your specifications and make it shorter if you want me to.”

While there is talk of a recovery, Bhatta is yet to feel the benefits of any trickle down effect.

Seems, not even God is spared the impact of the credit crisis brought on by the greed of a few in the US or the H1N1 virus.

Making it Simple

Saturday, September 12th, 2009 September 12th, 2009 Praveen Bose

I sit down to write a blog. Spend some time on it. I do a spell check, check the blog for errors, and then I click on the upload button. Voila! I get logged out.

I log in again, after the server goes up, to check if the blog has been uploaded. Alas, it was not to be. The server had gone down I am told. My spirits too went down with it. It is not the first time though technology has betrayed me. Well, actually I am frustrated by my dependence on technology.

It not only has allowed me to indulge in the pleasures of writing nonsense (what I call random thoughts), it also sends me through an emotional roller coaster as I am also thinking so many times before posting the blog if there will be a negative comment from a kind-hearted reader who took time to read the blog posting.

Oh, I forget. When writing the blog another worry (only at home though) is if the power supply will stay. The fear of power cuts, often forces me to cut short whatever this man with no powers wants to say.

I am not sure now about the UPS’ capacity too. I had bought one that will stay for half an hour. But, its capacity is down now to about five minutes. Its elementary Mr Bose, the now-friendly electrician of the ‘reformed’ electricity supply company seemed to say. “It is normal ’saar’ for the UPS to behave so.” The quality of power is responsible for reducing my UPS to just a not so useful accoutrement with the PC is what I have come to understand.
I feel I am only complicating my life with my pretensions of being tech-savvy. I feel it would be better for me to be be back with pen and paper. Wish I could find an easy and cheaper way to write with a pen instead of typing on the keyboard and exposing myself to the possiblity of developing the ‘carpel tunnel syndrome’ too.

Well, I am indeed a worried man.

Don’t jump the gun

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 September 2nd, 2009 Aabhas Sharma

As the nation basks in the triumph of its football team’s successful defence of Nehru Cup, I am often left wondering whether we miss the big picture when it comes to Indian football. Not to take away any credit from a significant achievement on the part of the team, I do feel that such victories papers over the cracks which are littered all over Indian football.

Last week I was talking to Baichung Bhutia and one could sense the anger and disappointment in his tone when talking about the state of affairs football finds itself in.

Bhutia said that no one expects the team to win a match let alone a tournament when it steps on the field. So when a victory like this comes along, we are led to believe that all is hunky and dory with the sport, when in fact its quite the opposite of it.

One might argue that these are steps which need to be taken if we want Indian football to become a force to be reckoned with. It is something I absolutely agree with. But along with such baby steps, football needs to take giant strides in all other areas.

We still need infrastructural development if we want to capitalise on such achievements. Two years ago India had won the Nehru Cup but still the overall scenario remains as bleak as ever. Players still complain about lack of facilities such as no training grounds, not enough money being pumped in the sport. And this is after they have achieved a significant bit. God knows what all they would have had to put up with if such victories also didn’t come by.

So we should of course take great pride in achievements like this. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves by believing things like Indian football is headed in the right direction.

On the pitch, it may well be doing so. But off the pitch, there are a lot of changes which the game is crying out loud to be implemented. And no matter how successful we might get on the pitch, if off it things don’t improve, achievements like this will become a thing of the past and quickly forgotten. The authorities need to build on this rather than resting on these laurels and bask in the glory of it.