Thursday, December 22, 2011


Margaret and I go back a long way. In the early days we would spend hours trying to pigeon-hole her wise-cracking, horse-riding, ever-charming boy-friend into one of the categories in this book she would carry around with her. ‘What kind of a dog is your man?’, was the title of the book and we spent many happy hours wondering if one of my closest friends was a noble and Great Dane or a mere German Shepherd, or was he a wild Blue-tick or a frisky Cocker-poo.

Today, that book sits forgotten in a dusty corner of their kitchen loft where Maggie stashed the book after they got married. So Maggie and I talk about real dogs, happy marriages, Sunday barbecues, kids – the ones they should have had and the ones they will have and other happy things. Then the other day, I mentioned Surbhi and Sahil (our protagonists from last week) to wise old Maggie and she sprang a concept on me…

But hey, I forgot to tell you about Surbhi and Sahil, and how their made-in-heaven-marriage collapsed in a heap around them. So yes, they split up. We could see them pulling away into different worlds for weeks and months and years but somehow they didn’t seem to. We would bring it up and they would just smile and brush it away. Then Surbhi met this boy, one of her students who happened to be a talented dancer. He had dreams in his eyes and music in his bones. He danced and smiled but more than that, he spoke and he would listen. And when Surbhi spoke about her dreams that danced in her eyes, she noticed that the sparkle caught the boy’s eye. She didn’t remember it having caught Sahil’s eye, not now, perhaps not ever… It made her wonder if Sahil understood her. She knew this boy did.

Then we got this message from her… She had packed her bags and moved in with her student. Sahil didn’t know what hit him. He ran after her and tried to bring her back. He didn’t know where he had gone wrong. Surbhi would always look up to him, in awe. When did the plot change? When did Sahil fall from that altar, and fall so low that she didn’t even want to look back or help him up?

Many moons have passed since then. Some of us thought that Surbhi might return, but she hasn’t yet. Sahil spends his evenings talking to whoever would listen, and we all do because he is now the Sahil of old, his voice quivering with passion, his eyes looking for the light and his heart pouring out love. But the woman who waited for so long to see it all was now in another man’s arms.

When I spoke to Margaret about them, she had a theory which she had borrowed from an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother. She called it the principle of ‘the Reacher and the Settler’. The way I understand it, here’s how this works…

In every romantic relationship, so say Maggie and her sitcom, there’s a wide-eyed reacher, (who could be the man or the woman, and let’s say it is the woman in this case), who knows that the object of her affection is way out her league, and a magnanimous settler who knows he could have gotten better but then affection, complacency, or perhaps just good old fashioned love makes him ‘settle’ for the reacher who is reaching out for all she is worth for the settler.

I wondered if that really was true, so I asked around. Funnily, it isn’t an easy question to answer. Most find it a little difficult to accept that they are the ones reaching out, and yet they find it equally difficult to accept that they settled for less than they could have. So they hemmed and hawed for a while and then went one way or the other. Meanwhile Margaret insisted that usually it is the settler who was more likely to stray, especially if life with the reacher would repeatedly remind the settler that there could have been more to life.

So was it really true, I asked myself. And between my wife and me, who was the reacher and who was the settler? It wasn’t a difficult question to answer though… Seventeen years ago, my knees were all but worn to the bone because I spent every waking hour on my knees by her side. Guess that doesn’t make me much of a settler. So a reacher I was. But then, if it is the settler who is more likely to stray, then why was I not worried and insecure about my partner? On the contrary, why did she at times tease about being the one more likely to stray? And then I remembered that I used to tease her in the same manner not so long ago. And there it was… an epiphany right there in that moment.

It dawned on me then that while every relationship has a reacher and a settler, those roles are like money in the market. In a healthy relationship, those roles change hands every few years and that is the secret to keeping a relationship alive and kicking. If couples get stuck in these roles, the relationship goes stale and is reduced to a habit. But a relationship is not a habit but a living organic dance between lovers and friends where each takes turns to lead.

And here’s the science behind the supposition. As an humble reacher, while I was jumping out of my skin and comfort zones, striving to better myself so I could measure up, inadvertently and almost imperceptibly I actually started growing into a better man. And then as the years rolled by, at a subconscious level, my partner sensed it and started playing catch-up instead. And so we played, reaching and settling and waiting to reach out again, and that is the dance of love that keeps us together, helps us grow and makes this relationship a new one every now and then.

The day we settle into our roles and stop reaching out and growing, this relationship will die. We could drag the corpse around like so many others do or just bury it the way Surbhi did, but love will surely stagnate and die, the day you stop trying.

It’ll be a new year soon, and between resolutions for losing that gut and kicking the butt, do stop and ask yourself if you are reaching out enough. And if you are the settler, ask yourself if you are you inspiring the reacher enough? And this question, dear reader will help you better all the resolutions you ever made and never kept… so stay in love and Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 15, 2011


Love doesn’t look like a bright red heart at all these days. It has just gone pear shaped, and all green. No one believes in it anymore.

Actually that might be little too harsh. What I meant was that no one seems to believe in eternal love anymore. All around me, and just as much around you I’m sure, couples who seemed to be forever in love are falling out and drifting apart, away from each other. It needn’t necessarily end in legal separation, but when you meet them, you can tell that the relationship has reached the end of its tether for the staleness begins to show. Why does that happen? Will it happen to you? Will it happen to me?

Well, I hope not and I’m not going to tempt fate by claiming to know how to make every four letter word work better for you just because I got lucky. No sir, and no ma’am, I’m a seeker, just as much as you are… But I will tell you a couple of stories about some friends of mine and maybe we both could learn some lessons on love, enduring and everlasting love as it was once meant to be…

So here’s the first one…

Sahil and Surbhi were batchmates of mine. Surbhi was the queen bee. Every drone worth his droning would be batting his hopeful wings, hoping to catch her eye. The only one who wouldn’t was Sahil. Surbhi was good at games, remembering names, extending a hand, playing with the band and all those other good things that rhyme. Sahil on the other hand was a shameless academic genius. And absurdly good-looking too. Class toppers are supposed to be nerdy, pencil-necked geeks. He wasn’t. He was more like Johnny Depp in contact lenses and a suit. We all hated him for all that, just as much as we loved Surbhi for all that. Then they got lumped together for some of the presentations. Surbhi was a brilliant speaker and a pretty good student herself and together they lit up every presentation they made. For all his ‘attitude’, Sahil was all jelly inside and Surbhi’s warm eyes and sweet smile had him eating popcorn out of her hands at the movies, and before you knew it he was eating sweets out of her hand at their wedding. Yes, they got married as soon as they could and this was a marriage that was made in heaven. Sahil doted on her and Surbhi was in awe of her husband. He was smart and rising rapidly up the corporate ladder, while Surbhi experimented with her career choices and eventually chose to become a dancer. She taught salsa at a popular dance school and spent her weekends teaching dance to handicapped kids and slum children. Sahil would brag about his wife’s good kind heart to his friends but when she would try and talk to him about her work, she couldn’t quite get through.

Sahil cared, and he wanted her to know that. Even though he wouldn’t always say it, he knew she would understand, that even though he was busy playing golf after work with his bosses, she knew he was proud of her.

Husbands, admit it. Within a few years, months and at times weeks of getting married, our wives lose us to the television, or golf, or the quest for the next big car and somehow our relationships aren’t the same ever again. It’s almost like we court obsessively till we tie the knot and then our passions go off on a vacation, only to return like an iron-curtain defector who returns occasionally for fleeting visits and is treated like a rare celebrity.

And wives, it’s not like we need less of your love just because you have a kitchen, a kid and a career that leaves you drained. But more of that later…

As time rolled by, Surbhi and Sahil got drawn into their parallel worlds a little more every day. Some of their friends could see that although they went back to the same house, they weren’t really at home with each other. Their worlds had grown too far apart. Their conversations were functional with none of that youthful chatter about dreams and each other anymore. Conversations were difficult without an event to hang on to. If you were to ask them if they had a problem, they would frown at you and honestly wonder if you had lost your bearings, for to them, life was meant to be this way. If there was a vacuum, they didn’t see it, until…

Wait! Surbhi and Sahil can wait, I need to tell you about Vishnu and Nida before we finish... In the advertising agency where they worked, Vishnu was the charismatic creative head and Nida was the awe-struck starry-eyed trainee. Flamboyant and forceful, Vishnu happened to be a good friend and a very popular, if at times moody boss. Nida was his talented and elegant protégé. In her eyes, Vishnu could do no wrong. She used to hate smokers and yet she found Vishnu seductive when he smoked. Vishnu could get rather loud and boisterous at times but Nida felt he was merely being passionate about his ideas.

And Nida’s sparkling effervescence didn’t go unnoticed. Vishnu liked her work. And he liked her energy and her chic and stylish presence. They went out a few times, “to discuss work”, and then Vishnu started dropping her home. Vishnu didn’t talk much about her but Nida seemed rather smitten. One fine day, they announced they wanted to get married. We weren’t surprised but their parents were. They came from very different families and faiths. This wasn’t going to be easy. Vishnu didn’t have much trouble really, but Nida had to run through walls of fire to convince her people that she really wanted to marry this man. At one point of time, she was ready to give up her ties with her family and the life she knew, just to be with this man. And Vishnu stood by her through it all. Her family blinked first and soon they were married, happily ever after, and so we thought.

Three years later, Nida packed her bags and went back home. She couldn’t bear the thought of spending another day with the man she once worshipped. Her god had fallen off the altar, his halo smashed to sharp edged shards that snagged her dreams and left them bleeding.

The truth is that Vishnu was still the brilliantly creative professional he had always been at work. He hadn’t conned her or lied to her. And neither did she accuse him of that. And yet, Nida, in her own words, “was sick of her marriage”.

I would love to tell you more about the hows and whys of love and why it got this way, but as you can see, we’ve run out of word count, so hang in there and watch this space next week. And while you’re at it, I recommend you switch off that television, go up to your partner and talk about their dreams. If you haven’t done this in a while, you just might end up meeting a nice new stranger. Good luck!


Thursday, December 8, 2011


So you want the magic pill? You want that quick fix that’ll help you fit into that pair of jeans you loved turning around in, and into those arms which once used to clasp at the elbows around your back but now the fingers barely seem to meet, and yes, in your partner’s dreams (it’s a family magazine and that’s what we will call them) where your torso is usually replaced by someone else’s from Baywatch or whatever else you watch… Well, you’ve come to the right page, but before I give you the methods, here’s a bit about the man…

It was a small spiral-bound little yellow book where I first saw his photograph. It was a black and white image of an oldish man. He must have been in his mid-60s. A shock of white hair framed a face that you couldn’t quite call handsome or otherwise. But considering the fact that he was way past his best-before date, this should sound like a compliment. It gets more interesting by the inch, after that.

A taut, strong neck, surprisingly unwrinkled, flows into a sculpted pair of traps and shoulders that look like someone put a pad over a pair of round river rocks. Then that barrel chest and heavy sinewy arms that hung unashamed on either side of a midriff that you knew could take a punch even if you did add an ‘a’ in the mix on a bad day. We’ll stop there, as far as the picture goes, but here’s what I found out about the man in the mix. His name is John McSweeney and he was one Ed Parker’s (Ed, for those not in the know was one of America’s biggest martial arts icons and his students include some of the silver screen’s most celebrated action stars) early star students. McSweeney rose to be a celebrated martial artist in his own right and came to be known for his punching power. It was said that a McSweeney right could drop a horse dead. When John McSweeney started teaching, he stripped his karate down, focusing only on techniques that were equally effective in a New York alley as they were in a Manhattan Dojo. With their karate shorn of all the trappings of tradition and techniques that were mere relics from a different battleground, McSweeney’s Kenpo students became a would be rapist or mugger’s worst living nightmare.

But that isn’t important here. You are not reading this to fight off rapists and robbers. You are reading this because you want to know to fight off the ravages of time, and of the lack of it. You want to know how you could fight off that double chin, that beer/bore children belly, the wasting away of those once robust arms... That’s what you care about and therefore you must read on...

You see martial artists need to train for three things – technique, endurance and power. For developing techniques boxers box, wrestlers wrestle and karatekas do katas. For building muscle and cardiovascular endurance, they all do roadwork of some kind... Cycling, running, rollerblading etc. And for developing the power to knock a man out cold in their punches and kicks, these super athletes lift weights, do endless calisthenics and hit the heavy bags. But what does John McSweeney do? We know he did not bother with tradition. He just wants to do what works the most in the least amount of time and so he tries it all but he knows he is looking for something else... Then one day, he goes to the zoo and stands in front of the tiger’s enclosure. Guess all these boxers and fighters find a kindred spirit in these big cats that have to kill to live... Remember Sylvester Stallone in some of those Rocky films? Anyway, our man, McSweeney, sees this tiger stretch out its feline form with a grace and power that makes the whole body quiver. And that was his Eureka moment.

John McSweeney thought that if the tiger could build its phenomenal power by just stretching and contracting his muscles with such intensity then maybe instead of lift ing weights he would be better off tensing his muscles till they could quivered and he might well approach the mind boggling power to weight ratio of a jungle cat. And so began Mc- Sweeney’s experiments and eventual love affair with what has come to be known as ‘dynamic tension’ – the act of moving a muscle through its range of motion while tensing it as much as possible. McSweeney developed seven primary exercises which he called ‘The Miracle Seven Tiger Moves’. There were three other exercises too but these seven would do for you for now. In McSweeney’s own words, his system is nothing but “contracting and extending your muscles with great tension while thinking into them. It’s the mind muscle connection...” that builds incredible strength, and if I may add, tones your body and builds muscle that is both strong and supple. And as McSweeney adds, you don’t need any weights or equipment. You can train anytime, anywhere. Most importantly this method of training, since it’s just muscle resisting muscle without any jerky snappy movements, is safer than most other forms of exercise.

Just remember to keep breathing, through both nose and mouth, exhaling when exerting, and inhaling when not, and not hold your breath at any point of time.

These workouts have a bit in common with the hard qigong moves of Hung Gar Kung Fu. Interestingly, the Hung Gar style of fighting and training the body found inspiration in the movements of the tiger and the crane. And yes, you should know that Hung Gar masters are known for their strength and vigour. So you now have a martial artist vouching for these workouts, and a centuries old fighting style endorsing the principles of these workouts, and last but not the least, you will now have yours truly giving his grateful perspective on the matter.

Last week I had expressed the constraints that tie us all down and while I had been meaning to get back to the workouts from the beginning of my early youth, now that I’m admittedly in the fag end of my early youth, life and its demands leave me no time for those happy hours in the gym. I had been looking around for some do-it-anywhere workouts and three months ago, I came across a book by John E. Peterson and Wendie Pett titled The Miracle Seven, the aforementioned yellow book, and that’s where I met Mc- Sweeney’s tiger moves.

I added them to my regimen which included calisthenics and yoga, but because of its convenient and comprehensive nature, I found myself leaning on the Tiger Moves whenever I was pressed for time. Soon I realised that while I might miss out on other bits of my workout, it needed very little other than desire to manage the tiger moves at some point in the day. I could do them in shorts and tees, office formals, shower cap or whatever else, wherever else. And I wanted to, because I saw my body go from soft and pudgy to toned and er... if you must know, some would say approaching a shape not too far south of what one might describe as.. er... rather athletic, even if I do say so myself.

John McSweeney says that the tiger moves are an ‘instinctual exercise system’ that will help you develop incredible strength, health and youthful vigour that would stay with you all your life, and develop proportions like that of a gymnast or a ballet dancer. Having stayed with the tiger moves for the last few months I’ve got to admit that I feel the only reason I might not be able to send you a postcard at 90, flexed and toned in my Levi’s 501s, would be because I would’ve a grown a modest bone or two by then.

Oops, I almost forgot, but where are the miracle moves? Well, I recommend you visit and let John Peterson and Wendie Pett, spiritual inheritors of the McSweeney legacy, take you through the moves that promise to reshape your life.

Hey, breathe... remember to breathe...! You are about to become what you were meant to be...


Thursday, December 1, 2011


I feel your pain, yes, I do! There was a time you used to be fit, and looked it too. No, it wasn’t a six pack tucked neatly into your low-waisters necessarily, but at least it was flat….ish. And the shoulders had the nice rounded look of one who knew how to work with his hands, if you know what I mean. But look at that lying wall of glass in the dressing room that tells you that you aren’t young any more. Look at those once proud shoulders that have caved in with the weight of keeping up with the kids, the boss, the deadlines and the EMIs. And whose is that thing you are wearing around your middle? That… that lumpy thing that seems to grow from you and yet doesn’t seem to be a part of you… where did that come from? Just the other day, you would fit into a size 32 and then it got a little tight and you thought you would start running every day and lose the extra bits instead of buying a new size. Then it was your birthday, or was it Diwali, when you got all these new clothes and they all surprisingly got you clothes a size too big. You meant to get them changed but when you tried them on, the fit didn’t seem too bad. So you thought you’d wear them for a while and then get them altered.

That was some years ago. And somewhere in the middle, the details got a little fuzzy. Every three months, you would start running, or going to the gymnasium or those kickboxing classes and then it would get too cold to rise early. In the evenings once the presentations got done, or once the kids went back to school or when you were done with the next round of tours. What’s the point starting and stopping and starting all over again, you thought. So you buy a new pair of trainers and a new gym-bag and sipper to mark this new resolve (or was it the new mountain-bike this time?), and there you go, working on the inches. This time they’re sure to go.

You remember the disapproving look your wife gave you when you tried to fit into that singlet that she bought you in a fit of madness on your honeymoon ten years ago, and that look drives you through the first four winter mornings. And then you get late on Saturday night, you have guests over on Sunday and your wife tells you how nice you look in that new tie and how she’d much rather you remembered to drop her over at her mother’s rather than fit into that singlet and before you know it, another three months have gone and your new gym bag is happy getting stuffed with old books and magazines you’ve removed from the library but haven’t yet decided to give away, just like the other two old ones in the closet, one stuffed with your stamp albums and the other with the stuff you didn’t want the kids to see.

So there you are, unfit, unshapely, unhappy and unfulfilled, on the cusp of another year-end, and wondering if you will ever get to be the way the photos say you once used to be, or hoped to be, depending on whose photos we are talking about here. What’s worse is that those gym-bags in the closet tell you that your plans of ever being a regular gym-rat or trail-cruiser will not work.

So maybe you should give up on the idea of sweating your way back to shape and instead try one of those new fad diets… Atkins, at-kin’s whatever… So what if you don’t lose even an ounce of weight? At least you’ll have something new to talk about when you meet friends over the weekend.

Or maybe you should just drop whatever else you are doing and quickly read the rest of this story. You might want to kiss the hand that typed these words…

John McSweeney is the man to kiss actually, for if you ask me, he has created a ‘do it anywhere’ workout that is arguably the best in the world. How can I tell? Well, like almost every other 30 time, for me, has proven to be a faithless lover. Like your story above, I too have struggled to squeeze in a workout every few months. I too have fretted over that unrecognisable man in the mirror and I too have wondered if I’ll ever become half the man I hoped to be.

But John McSweeney changed all that. It’s been four months since I first read about the man and his ‘Tiger moves’ and I have since gotten back into the best shape of my life (for the record, I was once a dedicated gym rat and I wasn’t really an embarrassment to the establishment).

I don’t mean to brag. The ‘best shape of my life’ might be just pooh-pooh stuff for you but the point is I went from being all puffy and soft to a point where instead of my friends buying me clothes a few sizes bigger than the ones I was stuffing myself into, they were actually saying things like “Ah! You’ve been going to the gym!”, while all I had been doing was just 15 minutes of McSweeney magic, anytime, anywhere.

Unlike weight workouts, I did not need to haul dumbbells and barbells and a bench around with me. In fact, I did not need a road to run on, bars of all sorts to push and pull on or even a mat to lie down on. All I needed was 15 minutes and the willingness to focus mind and body into a concerted effort that was bound to bear sweet fruit.

There have been times when I have been working a tight travel schedule and even then I managed squeezing in a quick work out while waiting at the terminal. When getting a work out is this easy there really are no excuses for missing one.

So watch this space next week for the rest of the story on the man and the methods behind the McSweeney miracle workout, but just in case my word isn’t good enough for you, then read up what fitness guru and author John Peterson says about his first meeting with McSweeney. “ McSweeney was 63 years old then… but looked a lot closer to 45 and moved like a man of 25. And he said he expected to stay that way right up to the end of his days… which was exactly what he did!”

Now show me a man, or a woman, who wouldn’t want people to say that about them when they are 63, and I’ll show you someone who would rather spend their fifteen minutes looking at the mirror wondering what ran over them, while the rest of us could just roll up our sleeves, and believe me that’s all the preparation it takes, and get into our ‘tiger moves’.

So hang in there folks, for your way out of yourselves …


Thursday, November 24, 2011


My hall of heroes has been awfully noisy for the last few months. Champions who inspired me through thought and deed have been keeling over like eager pins in a bowling alley. And on the 19th of November, another titan rolled over to forever rest in peace. This is my second elegy in two weeks and I surely hope I don’t need to write any more of these for some time to come. The name of this unassuming man once shook up an empire. His friends called him ‘Dolly’, but history would remember him as the man at the centre of the D’Oliveira affair.

His name – Basil D’Oliveira.

He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for a while now and I had written a story about him during India’s tour of South Africa. I reproduce sections from that story to remind you about a remarkable life that simmered with passion and a quiet dignity that humbled one of the cruelest regimes in history.

To tell you his story, let me take you to the time when he lay in bed, cold and dead, his eyes closed to the world for good. But if those eyes could talk to you still, they would have told you tales of all they saw…

For what they saw when they were young was a world full of hate and fear. Do you see that world now, a world far removed from here and now, many miles and many years away, in Cape Town, South Africa? You see a road and some kids playing cricket in the heat and dust of the afternoon. They’re playing hard, with enthusiasm, but you doubt they have the skills, except for the tall lad with a bat in the middle, whacking the ball to all corners with ease. Suddenly, you hear angry sirens… the game stops. The kids freeze, and once they know the direction of the approaching police car, the kids run in the opposite direction. The white policemen run after the dark-skinned little urchins, but they escape. It’s apartheid time in South Africa. “Coloured” kids go to jail for playing on the streets.

Anyway, you follow the kids on their run, especially the tall one with the eyes you know, as they run through streets and lanes, past hovels and slums, until one of the younger ones calls out to the tall one “Basil! Basil!! I think we’re safe now…” The tall one slows down, looks back at him, runs to him and puts an arm around him…the two friends are tired, but they’re happy…to be free, free to run and play. They look at each other and laugh, and laugh till they cry…

Basil grew to become quite the star in the local matches amongst non-whites (once hitting 46 in an eight-ball over), but he couldn’t ever hope to play for South Africa. Born into an Indian-Portuguese family in South Africa, he wasn’t allowed to play with white South Africans because the minority white government felt that it was beneath “white dignity” to mix with people of Indian or African origin. But as little Bas’ talents blossomed, so did his dreams. He was loved by his people for his brave and explosive batting, his tall hits and taller scores, and he’d like me to add, his steady, often inspired medium-fast bowling. But he’d grown too big for his ‘coloured’ boots. He wanted to play Test cricket. He’d watch the great white South African cricketers playing in the big stadium, and from his little segregated corner in the stands, wish he was there on the field, playing with them. He made up his mind to try the impossible. If his homeland wouldn’t have him then he’d try and play for the game’s homeland – England. Basil had a friend he trusted. A man he believed had a heart as bright and bold as that golden voice of his BBC commentator, John Arlott, a household name in every Commonwealth home with a radio. During the 1950s Basil was already on the wrong side of 25. Time was running out and he knew he was reaching for the moon, but he had to try. Arlott didn’t know of Basil when he received a letter from him that spoke of his dreams. But the story of a gift ed boy trapped by the colour of his skin touched a chord in his heart. Arlott wrote back, and thus the two exchanged letters and hope until two years passed. Then it began to wane. Basil was grateful for Arlott’s support, but he knew it was too late. He was too old now… Then out of the blue came a letter from Arlott. He’d persuaded an English club to hire Basil as a professional. The pay was meagre, but at last Basil would play as a professional.

Basil was delirious and his family and friends were so happy for him. In his dreams they saw their hopes of dignity and acceptance taking flight. But those dreams had come with clipped wings, only to flutter and shatter on the hard, cold floor. Basil didn’t have the money to pay for his way to England. But help walked in, in different hues. Friends, both brown and black, wrote letters and raised funds, and then Gerald Innes, a white South African cricketer, heard Basil’s story and put together a team of ‘whites’. They played a match, defying apartheid laws and its brutal police action, to raise funds for Basil’s journey. Years later, whenever Basil would be asked to add his voice to the crescendo against ‘the white man’s tyranny’, his memory of Innes walking amongst the spectators with a pail in his hands, raising funds for his cause, would always soften his stance. In England, it was a quiet start for the boy from the streets, walking behind his mates, looking for ‘coloured-only entrances and toilets’, but soon his great talent and greater hunger saw him take the leagues by storm. In five years, he’d become a British citizen, and perhaps because he’d lied about his age on arrival, was selected to play for England in 1966. He was 34 (or, more likely, 38). The old light in his eyes must have glistened for a while, for he must have shed a silent tear in prayer and joy that day… And then runs, dozens, scores and hundreds more flowed from his blade, and Basil scanned the horizon. England was due to tour South Africa and he was in form. This was the day he was waiting for, when he’d return to the land of his birth with so much to prove. It was a moment that he and his people had been waiting for.

But then the unthinkable happened. Basil lost his touch. It was 1968 and the Australians were touring. Basil was dropped after the first match. Four Tests later, they’d announce the team for South Africa. Basil was worried. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Prime Minister, one-time Nazi sympathiser, BJ Vorster was also worried. Not co-incidentally, Basil had been approached by a South African tobacco magnate to coach ‘non-white’ South Africans for more money that he’d ever seen. The ‘catch’ – he’d have to make himself ‘unavailable’ for the tour. Basil was tempted. He could secure his family’s future if he accepted… But, what of his dreams? And all those people waiting back home to see ‘Bas’, the ‘coloured’ Test cricketer? Though not in the team, Basil refused and hoped for a miracle.

It was the final ‘Test’ at the Oval and batsman Roger Prideaux fell ill. Meanwhile, Basil had turned out brilliantly in a county game and was picked for the final match. When Basil walked out to bat, he knew he was battling not just Aussie bowlers and the pressure of a comeback but also battling the South African government that wanted him to fail, as well as the weight of the expectations of every man of colour around the world. Basil scratched the pitch with the toe of his bat and took guard for far more than his team that day and slammed158 iron-willed runs that took England to victory, like in a fairy tale. What could stop his inclusion for the tour now? But alas, something did. The selectors were informed that the South African government won’t allow a player of ‘colour’. However, the English selectors maintained that, “Bas had been dropped on ‘cricketing grounds only’”. The nation erupted in support for Basil. But Basil felt betrayed by his adopted nation and maintained a stoic dignified silence even as the storm blew and grew. Then, as luck would have it, Cartwright, a bowler, was injured and Basil was recalled to the tour-team. But before a bemused Basil could join the team, Vorster exploded in Bloemfontein, calling the English team a team of “the anti-apartheid movement.”

Now the English couldn’t drop him and Vorster wouldn’t have him, and so the tour was cancelled. Bas felt sorry for his English team mates, and for himself, but most of all for his people back home. His integrity and proud dignity in the face of such rejection and betrayal stood out in stark contrast to the terrible racial bigotry in South Africa and the English sporting establishment’s tacit support. The West having hitherto turned a blind eye to South Africa’s excesses was now disgusted and embarrassed; it began to sever ties with South Africa. Within a year of refusing Basil, South Africa had become the pariah of the world, shunned and abhorred for its inhuman policies. If not for Basil D’Oliveira, the shy Indian boy from the Cape, who knows when, if ever, the world would’ve noticed, and who knows how much longer South Africa would’ve taken to become the great rainbow nation it is today.

So you might not have met, and you might not have known, but we all still owe old Bas for pushing the world in the right direction all those years ago. Nothing quite as dramatic as the story of the other Indian in South Africa who got thrown out of a train, but significant nevertheless… So do say a little prayer for him, for the world needs a Dolly, even if good old Dolly has no need for it anymore. God bless you, Bas!


Thursday, November 17, 2011


In the cold inky blue of a frosty Beijing night, the Red Theatre stands out like a bright red flame emitting warmth and light. On a night like this even without the pre-booked ticket in my pocket, The Red Theatre would’ve called out to me like the open arms of a long lost lover in city full of strangers. I hurried across the road, through the gates and up the cold wet steps of the theatre and entered a world draped in red and ochre.

The Red Theatre is famous for showcasing traditional Chinese performing arts like kung fu, but I would be lying if I said I had expected the theatre and the performance to be world class in terms of quality. To begin with, the theatre had this officious communist-sounding name, which by the way, was a huge improvement on the rather oxymoronish Chongwen Worker’s Cultural Palace Theatre; a name it went by before Mao’s (Zedong) China became Yao’s (Ming, the former iconic NBA star) China. And secondly, Chinese production values have always emphasized quantity over quality.

But having said that, I did expect the very highest standards of ‘performance kung fu’ even if the platform was going to be loud and kitschy. But boy, was I wrong. The auditorium was well appointed and the stage impressed with its scale but nothing had prepared me for the brilliance of ‘The Legend of Kung Fu’.

I sat mesmerized as I saw the sublime blend of music and martial arts weave together a magical tapestry that told the tale of a young boy at the Shaolin temple and how he found enlightenment through kung fu. Halfway through the show, my neighbor, a fellow Indian, shook his head and said “isn’t it sad that we have nothing like this in India. Our classical music and dance is all fine but nothing compares to the virile vigour of a martial tradition. Our national character would have been different if we had a proud martial culture rooted in our history like the Chinese..” I nodded in agreement but I was too distracted for a conversation. My whole being was funneled into the mystical world on stage - beams of light, blue yellow and red, dancing in circles around the stage, catching the actors, skilled martial artists all, in shades of light and shadow - as the story unraveled its seductive charms.

Suddenly a little boy appeared, not on stage, like I first thought, but like a vision in my head. That little boy danced with the lights and the music for a while and then the stage faded while palm trees appeared around a lake where the child jumped in and began to swim across it. Once on the other side, he pushed his long dark hair away from his eyes, removed his tunic and wrung the water out. It is then that I realized that the boy wasn’t Chinese but Indian.

A voice…! The child looked up. Someone was calling out to him. I followed his gaze and saw a bunch of soldiers from another time, carrying shields and javelins. I wondered if these were friends or foes, but then I saw the child smile and run towards them. Ah, friends! This boy seemed to be a prince of some sort and this was some ancient kingdom by the Malabar Coast. The stage had faded completely as I got immersed in this story in my head.

The boy grew up nursing a keen interest in the ways of war as well as the scriptures of his chosen faith – Buddhism. He was the son of a king and he had the best teachers in the land instructing him on both paths which seemed to converge in his heart as he pursued their truths. He found that the way of the warrior, one who dedicated his life to the pursuit of excellence in his chosen martial art and then forged his will in the furnace of war for truth and justice found the same sense of enlightenment as those who meditated on the teachings of the Buddha and the scriptures for years in seclusion, and often sooner.

The boy was named Bodhitara. And as his understanding of the truth grew, so did his resolve to share it with the world and help them find the same peace that he had found. As the third son of his father, he was not bound by the same responsibilities that chained his elder brothers to the throne and so he left his kingdom, Kanchipuram, in modern day Tamil Nadu and became a wandering monk who spent his days sharing the light with the world.

Bodhitara was now known as Bodhidharma and he travelled across the length of India and then found himself on a vessel that was sailing east and after battling storms and pirates it dropped anchor in a Malaysian harbor. Bodhitara did not stay here for long and moved north towards China. However, he did linger long enough to leave behind his martial teachings which metamorphosed into the Malaysian martial art of Silat.

Along the way, Bodhidharma met kings and philosophers, learning and sharing, teaching and training all he knew of the way of peace and the way of war. And then he reached that famous Buddhist monastery in the mountains called Shaolin. But Bodhidharma, now known as Damo in China, was disappointed. The monks in the monastery were in poor physical and mental condition and their weak bodies just couldn’t handle the rigours of sustained meditative practices and nor could they defend themselves against the bandits who often raided the temple.

Damo went into a cave and stared at a wall to meditate on the problem. And it is said he meditated for many years. If you go to Shaolin today, they will show you the cave where Damo meditated. At one point, he felt his eyelids go heavy with sleep and so he cut them off and flung them to the ground. Where his eyelids fell, so runs the Chinese legend, sprang up a little plant whose leaves, when brewed, helped the monks stay awake through their austerities. Today, they call it tea.

When Damo found his answers, he went to the monks and taught them techniques to strengthen their bodies against disease and dacoits. Some of those teachings were inscribed in an immortal classic, versions of which survive to this day – The Muscle/Tendon changing classic or Yijin Jing. And these teachings that Damo brought with him all the way from India’s southern tip were the pillars that held up the Saholin Temple through wars and famines and floods and fires and laid the foundation of Shaolin Kung fu and qigong.

“Rise son, and honour the teachings of Damo…”, said the old master on stage, and mention of Damo’s name brought me back to performers on stage. The master continued, “… and as you honour his path, you will find the way to enlightenment.”It’s a sad irony that ‘Damo’s way’ became the way for a land far away from his own, but in his homeland, the twin arts of Kalaripayattu and Marma Vidhya (the art of striking the vital points), in which he trained with such passion to become the warrior ascetic, have been languishing, forgotten and forlorn, like an old senile grandfather left to die in a corner of the family courtyard.

About 155 years after Damo was born, sometime in the sixth century A.D., a minister from the Chinese Emperor’s court was returning from his travels and chanced upon Damo on the Pamir range that separates China from Central Asia and asked the revered sage where he might be going, to which the sage replied he was headed home. Then the minister noticed that Damo was walking bare feet and was holding a sandal in his hand. When the minister asked him why, he replied “you’ll know when you get back to court.”

Once there, the minister told Emperor Wei about his meeting. The Emperor was shocked when he heard that for Damo had died three years ago. Damo had been buried behind the monastery in Shaolin but when they reached his grave it was empty except for one sandal.

If only Damo could have brought Kalaripayattu and Marma Vidya back from the dead the way he himself returned from his grave, perhaps my neighbour wouldn’t have been lamenting the absence of a martial tradition in India.

The curtains came down on the show and we stood up and gave the performers a standing ovation. But I left the theatre with a gaping wound in my heart, regretting the fact that we had squandered with apathy and neglect the very riches that have enriched our neighbours so…


Thursday, November 10, 2011


Every time I open my book of heroes, a gust of wind blows a leaf away. And swirling with it into the great blue beyond disappears another life well lived, another inspired moment, another story that tells you that mortal though you be, these winds will carry your story on their lips into eternity if only you have the courage to dare.... To care.....!

This week, i’m interrupting ‘The Dragon’s Den Diaries’ to pay my dues to an inspirational light that shall flicker no more. Join me if you care.....

I was born the year he retired and so for a long time he did not show up on the radar of my adolescence. Then I watched a prize fighter in cricket whites smash the bejesus out of Kapil Dev and co. Until then I had eyes and heart for only two cricketers. Fast bowlers both, from across the border, one a proud pathan named Imran Khan and the other his left armed protege, Wasim Akram.. I thought batsmen were wimps to hide behind helmets and chest pads while these long haired warriors unleashed thunderbolts and lightning like gods from the heavens. I had no time for willow wielders until one day I saw this powerfully built dark Hercules swat those thunderbolts off his nose and into the stands with the arrogance of lion at a dog show and I sat up and took notice. They called him Vivian Smokin’ Joe Richards. But why’d they call him Smokin’ Joe? I learnt they called him that after a heavyweight boxer called Joe Frazier, a man Richards admired and in him, more than any other cricketer, found his true inspiration . And why did they call him that? Well Joe Frazier was a relentless fighter who used to steam in at his opponent. But more importantly, the two smokin Joes had another thing in common. They were giant-slayers in a land of giants. Both of them were less than six feet tall, taking on opponents who were much bigger and taller and yet they had the power and the panache to remain standing even as they knocked the stuffing out of their rivals. While Richards took guard against big tall fast bowlers during his career and left them cowering in fear with his onslaught, Joe Frazier at 5’10” was rather small for a heavy weight boxer. And yet, he stood toe to toe with some of the most formidable men to ever step into a ring, and more oft en than not, emerged triumphant.

But there was one cowardly giant that Joe found impossible knock out. He fought till his breath lasted and he fought hard and true. But on the 7th of November, the once mighty Frazier was knocked out cold by a contender he couldn’t see. Liver cancer snuffed out Smokin Joe’s light and there would be no rematch this time.

Joe’s legacy, much like his personality, simmers under the surface. He didn’t fight for the black man’s pride the way Ali did. Nor did he have the wit and charm and focussed humanitarian spirit of a George Foreman. What Frazier did instead was inspire with his courage and passion. Born into near poverty in a racially charged environment, young Joe fought for dignity and pride long before he started fighting for money. And yes, he fought for the love of the game. For why else would he spend his afternoons at an abattoir where he once worked, practising his punches and pummelling butchered carcasses while his colleagues rested. And of course he fought for us, the little guys. No matter how big your opponent, watching Joe lashing out at the big guys helped us believe we were no less, even if the inches be so....

The Joe Frazier story, beyond the trilogy of Ali fights and the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ was one that revealed itself to me in patches, first as the icon for an icon and then in dogeared books and grainy black and white videos. But in every story I read, and in every picture I saw, I saw a man who seemed to fear no one and love every one. That’s an epitaph few would complain about....

Rest in peace Smokin Joe for your stories will forever be blowing in the wind.....


Thursday, November 3, 2011


It had been a long day. Grey and near freezing, there were a million needles flying with every gust of the cold old winds that whistle their way through thousand-year-old ramparts and shiny new towers jostling for space in this ancient city that has flourished and floundered and flourished again in the shadow of the Great Wall. This was day one in Beijing. Dusk was settling in and darkness fell with a sudden eagerness that surprised me as I wandered around the hotel. Cloudy and windy, and ensconced in a bluegrey smog since I had landed, Beijing hadn’t really opened her doors and pulled me in. It was more like she kept me waiting at the door, cold and lonely, out on the threshold, to see how much I wanted her. I wasn’t in the mood for trials of love though and I just slumped down on my seat, comfortable, but homesick, wishing I was somewhere else, where the sun didn’t need ‘the people’s permission’ to shine. The bus drove past the proud yet scarred heart of the city – Tiananmen Square. The vista dwarfs our own Rajpath the way Yao Ming would dwarf Tendulkar. And the place makes you feel differently too. While an India Gate tries to look good and impress like a handsome and hopeful kid on prom night, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square is like a dominating patriarch, grand and powerful, generous when so disposed, yet forbidding when not. ‘I have a lot to give’, the square seems to say, with the massive monuments to ‘the people’ all around the square and Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, glittering in the corner of my eye, smaller, but far more distinct than the massive sprawling structures around it, with a golden star anointing its crown, but ‘you better behave yourself ’ it says, with a deep soft rumble, ‘or you might not like what I give’, it warns. I was impressed, but it didn’t feel any less lonely. I wandered some more and saw the cold streets and pavements empty themselves of shoppers and drifters. The roads were still busy though with people rushing home from work. I wondered as I wandered, what might be a good way to spend an evening in a city where no one knows me, where few can understand me; and where I have a lot of time, a little money and the unfamiliar feeling of having nowhere to be... And then I saw it, a building with a bright red grid facade and a bold neon sign, ‘The Red Theatre’. And across the top half of the facade was the towering cut out of a bald man looking like he wanted to sit down, but someone had taken his chair away. He didn’t seem too happy about it either. It was the cut out of a Shaolin monk doing tie ma bu or horse stance – a signature Shaolin Kung Fu, hard yet meditative, stance that denotes power, endurance, calmness and balance. I’m a sucker for macho moves. In that sense, I haven’t yet grown out of my teens and so in the warm glow of the lights from the Red Theatre, my mood brightened up and I rushed to the ticket counter. It was a full house. I would have to wait for the next show. That would take another 90 minutes, but with some time to burn, I hopped onto a bus and thought of taking in more of the sights of Beijing before returning for the show. The bus, like the rest of the city, was as slick and modern. Except for the people to remind me, this could have been any first world capital city. Actually that’s being unfair. Very few first world cities, Berlin is the only one from the list of great cities that comes to mind, that compares with the scale, history and stately grandeur mixed with modern development and opulence. Most other first world capitals would struggle to encompass the range of extremes that is Beijing.

We drove past the diplomatic enclave of the capital and the brilliantly lit golden facade of the Beijing Hotel, perhaps the city’s oldest and definitely one of the world’s grandest, at least on the face of it, just took one’s breath away. I must have been looking at the hotel with a lot of longing for I stood up from my seat for a better view when I heard a voice under my armpit ‘vewee nice but vewee vewee expensive!’ I followed the sound under my armpit to its owner and saw a young lad in his mid 20s, or could have 7-8 years either way and I might not have known any better, shaking his head at me. I smiled and nodded. And then I went back to looking at the hotel as it floated past my window. ‘You ken see Tiananmen Square and even little Forbidden City from hotel’, the boy volunteered. So I asked the lad if anybody could get rooms in the Beijing Hotel or did one have to be a diplomat to be allowed access? ‘Why not? Ken have...If money, ken have room...’ My thoughts wandered to the Ashoka Hotel in Delhi, which would qualify as The Beijing’s Indian counterpart and that’s where I realised that while both India and China have had similar beginnings, the Chinese leadership has always sought one thing with dogged determination that Indians at the helm can never be accused of having too much of, and that is a fist full of pride. The difference between these two states, if you ask me, and my teachers would tell you that you really shouldn’t, but if you still had this manic urge to go ahead and ask, I’d say that beyond the complications of a functional democracy and the virtues of a planned economy, beyond the distractions of a free society and the constrictions of focused growth, the primary difference between these two nations lies in the value these nations and generations of their leaders have attached to pride, in their national identity and in their legacy. I am not saying that one is better or worse, just saying it like I see it. So that’s my two-bit insight as far as our comparative economic cultures are concerned.

I was lost in one of the toilets of the Ashoka when I heard the self-appointed guide under my armpit exclaim ‘tha iss the Forbiiiiden Ciiiityyy’. And in the evening light I saw the hulking silhouette of the once forbidden city rise above the traditional slanting roofs of the old quarters of Beijing. In the darkening gloom, the Forbidden City wasn’t little by any means but did look very forbidding indeed. Home to China’s emperors for more than 500 years, these palace grounds were off limits for most commoners and death was sure to follow anyone who wandered uninvited within its walls. Today, thousands flock within these long dead walls, hoping to snatch a glimpse of what it must have been like to walk within these hallowed walls as a designated god, with a world beyond that is all mine for as far as the eye can spy, with queens in the palaces and concubines in the pleasure chambers, life must have been rather busy indeed for China’s rulers. But more forbidden tales for later. For now, I had a show to catch... And a show that would remind me of home, for reasons both good and bad.

I had reached the Red Theatre in time to catch my show, and while I waited for the curtains to rise, there was a polite announcement in accent-free English.... ‘Wait a while, please be nice!’


Thursday, October 27, 2011


As autumn slowly meanders into winter, India’ homeless would gather around a handful of winter shelters and hope to survive the cold hungry nights. Invariably, there would be too many homeless and only a handful of shelters. Yet again, the winter will exact its pound of flesh... But just in case you come across one such and are unsure about what to do, here’s an old yarn from the vault…Hope it helps...

It wasn’t long into the afternoon when we first saw him… We were a little lost and needed to stop and ask for directions, but that hot summer afternoon, on that usually busy bridge across the Yamuna that connects what Delhiites fondly call ITO, to the sprawling industrial pastures of Western UP, there wasn’t a soul to be seen… as we trundled along slowly, we saw him bundled in rags by the pavement… We stopped to ask, he got up… a ghastly sight with his long matted hair gathered in greasy clumps, his sunken cheeks stretched over high cheek bones and at his chin grew a scraggly beard… his filthy and tattered clothes seemed to have grown brittle with dirt and age and his skin was dry and scaly… There are many such homeless tramps on our streets so I didn’t think twice about rolling down the window and popping the question when the stench hit us and we saw flies buzzing around what must have once been his left shin. His left leg below the knee had swollen like the stomach of a dead cow and near the shin was a gaping hole. “Gosh, he’s got maggots in there!” My friend Eravee exclaimed… “And isn’t that a bone sticking out from that wound?” I looked and realised that it was so. The man seemed to feel no pain though. He casually started peeling dead skin from his foot and then looked at me as if to ask why I had disrupted his slumber… So I stopped staring and asked him the way to our destination. He mumbled and pointed to his left … we drove off ….

“This is the capital. How could a man with a shattered rotting leg be lying around on a busy flyover without anyone stopping and doing anything about it?! It’s shocking!!” I exclaimed. “What’ll anyone do,” asked Eravee … “What did we do? Aren’t we walking away too, just like everybody else? We aren’t doctors; we can’t take him home and the condition he is in, can’t even take him to a hospital… We don’t even know if we’ll be able to pick him up without worsening his condition. And then who cares for him, pays for the treatment etc? He obviously has no one to do this for him… really, who cares? Would you… could you, or I take on this responsibility?”

“But isn’t there anything one could do? How could we allow something like this to happen in front of our very eyes and not react? I mean, this is not someone being robbed or raped on gunpoint wherein concerns for our own safety stop us from stepping in and trying to help, right? I’m sure there is something we could do to reduce this man’s suffering… isn’t there?” I asked…. “I don’t know…. I’m sure there are some NGOs we could ask around for,” Eravee wondered aloud. Hmm, NGOs… these days, isn’t there one for everything one could think of (and thank God and their funding organisations for that)? So, we called a friend of ours who we knew would’ve been busy spilling coffee over her keyboard at that hour and asked her if she could find out about an agency that was committed to providing medical aid to the homeless. And that resourceful little Samaritan called us back with a handful of options. Eravee called on two of those numbers and sure enough, we got a response from a certain Mansoor who promised to reach the said spot and attend to the tramp… We were relieved. We felt that even as we drove off, we hadn’t ‘walked away’ from our responsibilities … aah, the moral high ground offers a great view… of oneself.

However, when I called that evening to check with Mansoor about our patient’s health, I found out that apparently they hadn’t been able to locate the man and had left without him. I was upset and grew skeptical of this Mansoor. I asked him why they couldn’t spend more time looking. He said he tried his best… Disappointed, I arranged for a meeting the next day with Mansoor at the venue so that he wouldn’t have an excuse this time… he agreed… and sounded rather somber…

Next day, I was late and reached the spot more than an hour behind schedule… I was afraid that Mansoor might leave, citing the delay as an excuse, so I called him to assure him and he assured me in turn, saying I’d find him there. We were supposed to meet at the mouth of the aforementioned bridge and that is where I found Mansoor and his friend Mr Tingle. We drove up a few metres and we found the man just as we’d left him… There was a dirty rag tied around the wound. I couldn’t go near him because of the pungent odour and grime around the man. But Mansoor gently put his arm around the man and started talking to him… he had my respect… I strained to hear the man but couldn’t understand a thing. Mansoor tried to explain…“His name’s Babu Rao. He’s from Andhra Pradesh. He came here looking for a job and can’t quite remember how he injured his leg. He seems to have lost his mind a bit,” he surmised. “Now what?” I asked. “Well, it’s a terrible wound… he’ll need a surgeon. So we’ll have sent to a charitable hospital. But we’ll inform the cops first… the ambulance wouldn’t take him unless the cops are present. Don’t worry, it won’t take long, but we’ll have to be here till they arrive.” I nodded… Mr Tingle dialed 100 and informed the cops while Mansoor called CATS* on 1021099 (a friend of mine suggested we could also try dialing 1092). Within 15 minutes, both the ambulance and the cop car had arrived, but Babu Rao wouldn’t budge. Mansoor put an arm around him, “Kya hua baba… kyun nahin jaoge…” Babu Rao mumbled… “He fears that he’ll be jailed… the homeless are terrified of the police”. With a compassionate patience, Mansoor explained that they were only here to help. Rao seemed to trust Mansoor and after a lot of cajoling, he agreed and was carried into the ambulance. “Don’t worry… he’ll live,” the ambulance driver called out as they drove off.

“We couldn’t sleep last night”, Mr Tingle said as he saw the ambulance off … “We felt really bad about not being able to rescue him yesterday. There’s so much that needs to be done for the homeless but we just can’t seem to do enough. Two years ago, in Fatehpuri, the government had set up some temporary night shelters to protect the homeless from the biting cold of Delhi’s winter nights. Mansoor and I had gone to help and inspect the arrangements. Outside one of these tents, at about 9:00 p.m., we saw an old man haggling with the caretaker. “The caretaker’s not letting me in… please ask him to let me… it’s so cold outside”, the old man complained in desperation. We rebuked the caretaker and asked him to let the old man in. The caretaker apologised and showed us in. Inside, the shelter was bursting at the seams. Equipped to house 60 inmates, it was packed in with more than 250 people. It couldn’t have taken in ant without squashing it. It was so difficult telling the old man that there just wasn’t any space left . Our words took the fight out of the old man. He nodded… he understood… The caretaker emerged with a couple of blankets and we wrapped them around the old man as he sat down outside the tent. We promised to look around and let him know if we found a place for him and left . After hours of searching and calling, we finally found a shelter which had some room. We rushed to Fatehpuri. In the December mist, we could see the old man where we’d left him, wrapped in blankets, sitting outside the tent, his right hand holding on to one of the tent’s ropes. As we got closer, we called out to him but he didn’t budge… So Mansoor patted him on the shoulder and then on his bare arm. Mansoor froze… the old man’s hand was cold and stiff … he was dead! We felt so hollow, so helpless that day. And this feeling hounds us all the time…. because of our countless limitations, we can’t always provide help on time, and are haunted by the thought that would it be too little… too late. When Mansoor called last night to say that they hadn’t been able to look long enough to find this man, that old helplessness returned. We were feeling sick in the stomach as we waited, unsure if we’d be reaching this man in time… I’m so glad we did…” The enormity of their task was obvious… I asked him if there was anything we could do to help. Mr Tingle smiled, “Just let people know that they don’t need us to help people like Babu Rao. Just call the cops and the ambulance (take note, folks, the numbers are up there for Delhi and each city will have its own) and insist that you’ll wait for them to show up. They’ll do the rest. Just remember the numbers, and please don’t hesitate to help. The homeless aren’t always junkies and losers but oft en people from decent families who’ve been pushed out of their homes in distant villages by catastrophes and feuds. They come to our cities seeking shelter and a livelihood. We might not have the means to offer them that but don’t they deserve at least our compassion? Remember, circumstances, whether ours, theirs or of those who we love, could change, have changed, in an instant… I always believe that if we keep doing our bit for those in need, providence too tries its best to let us keep ‘doing’, never ‘needing’…”


Thursday, October 20, 2011


While the world watches the Les bleus collide with the all-blacks this Sunday to decide which set of massive sweaty arms get to drape themselves around the Rugby Union World Cup Trophy at the Eden Park in Auckland, a few kilometres away, in a quiet room in a hospital lay a man who wished he was there...

As New Zealand’s all-blacks line up, eyes rolls, hands meeting thighs like claps of thunder, and heavy feet beating the turf as one, the french team would look on, bemused, and hoping that there was a glint of steel in their cold unblinking eyes. But the Haka, the Maori war dance, melts even nerves of steel and that man lying in his lonely hospital bed would know that... He would know that more than most for he had seen that fear in those that stood and in those that fell before him. It all seemed to be from a time oh so long ago... He just didn’t feel like the same man anymore. He would see the muscled backs and burly bottoms swathed in the blacks he once wore with pride huddle into a scrum and he would wish he was there; he would see them running along the flanks, drawing blood on the field and gasps from the crowd and his heart would ache for him to be there... And then he would remember that it is not just his heart that’s aching. He is in pain... Some would say he is dying.

The teams would be locked in battle, the crowd would be cheering and screaming and then some would go silent while others would be beating their chests and roaring... Whistles will blow and trumpets would blare and yet, through all the frenzy and the feasting, through the tears and the celebrations, the colossal shadow of a giant would still linger... not a soul would leave the ground that day without having spared a thought or a prayer for that man in that extra-large hospital bed not too far away.

Jonah Lomu is a giant among men when he irons out the kinks in his 6’5’’ frame and stands tall but even lying down, his sprawling frame commands respect and reverence. Strangers speak in hushed tones in his presence and even when speaking of him, I wouldn’t be surprised if rugby fans went down on one knee and took a bow every time someone spoke or heard his name.

Here in India, he isn’t really a household name but then nor is Sachin Tendulkar in Brazil, Russia, China or Chad... That doesn’t diminish the greatness of Tendulkar and so you get my drift ... This 36-year-old man once strode on the rugby field like a Goliath and there never was a David ever in sight. Jonah Lomu is closest thing to God that has ever graced a rugby but this man wasn’t always this formidable force of nature that would mow down opponents like a bowling ball exploding through the pins. There was a time when little Jonah would cower behind a bed and shiver with fear while his father swore to thrash the living daylights out of him if he could lay his hands on him. It didn’t matter what little Jonah might or might not have done for that hissing spitting electric cord that became the emissary of his father’s wrath seemed to find him anyway, stinging his eyes with teenaged tears and marking his body with the pain and humiliation of abuse and shame.

In the little boy’s heart, confusion and despair gave way to anger and hate. The strength in his sinews grew, keeping pace with his hate and his anger, until one day, when his drunken father stumbled in to slake his thirst for violence on the back of his own son’s back; it was the last straw... Jonah lashed out in self-defence and sent his father sprawling to the floor.

From there, the young Jonah got into carjackings and gang wars and found rugby in the nick of time.

Not only did he have great size and strength but also a great burst of speed available on tap. And this made Jonah into a rare genetic freak who was both strong and fast. They started calling him the freight train for his ability to just charge through an opposition line-up. Jonah was invincible on the ground and a rockstar off it. Records and opponents tumbled and Jonah seemed to do no wrong. But while the world celebrated his triumphs, inside him, his body was imploding. Nephrotic syndrome, a debilitating kidney disorder had been gnawing away at his insides even as the world was raising a toast to the magnificent physicality of Jonah’s exploits on the outside.

The man who could do everything but fly was reduced to acknowledging that he now found it difficult to walk. Without a kidney transplant, Jonah was staring at continuing with dialysis thrice a week and looking at slowly rotting away alive to a horrible sad slow death. Someone donated a kidney and all was well for a while. In fact he even considered a comeback but as soon as his dreams started taking shape, his kidneys failed him again. Sometime around the time the current World Cup began, Jonah, still barely 36-years-old, was rushed to the hospital yet again... Secrecy shrouds his current condition, but whatever it be, it wouldn’t be good. So while we wait to crown the new champions this Sunday, let’s also spare a thought for that man lying in that hospital bed not too far away from the action and send out a little prayer his way too...

For all the runs along the flanks and the thrills in our hearts and spills at your feet; for making watching rugby not just a sporting spectacle but a transcendental experience and for blowing our minds with the power of your passion, we wish you, Jonah Lomu – an all-black, all-heart braveheart, a speedy recovery. And for those of you who are still wondering what’s the big deal about this big guy, check him out in his matchvideos, finish shaking your heads in disbelief, come right back here and join us in our prayers for his well being... Until then, hang in there Jonah, and don’t worry, the world’s hanging with you... Get well for good, soon!


Thursday, October 13, 2011


Death, I’m told is inevitable… But what if it is imminent?

If I knew I was going to die, what should the colour of my death be?

Should it be the pale white of a clinical death, away from the eyes of onlookers, on a tiled floor smelling vaguely of disinfectants mixed with a sudden terrified burst of faeces and an impending sense of doom, and the sudden cold touch of death as the lights go out? Or should I choose a deathstreaked with vermillion… the colour of blood and sand and the setting sun… the colour of a life, short though it be, but one spent in the pursuit of passion… Taunting fate, venting hate and even in death, becoming great... There is pain in this death, but there’s pride too… And even though my corpse is dragged through the sand leaving a trail of blood and gore in my wake, there is a strange dignity in dying as more than just a mere hunk of meat…

Dead though I am, in which death do I find more of me? Which should I choose to be my destiny?

Pacifists, humanists and animal rights activists all over the world are celebrating the death of the bullfight in Catalonia, but I wonder if the bulls are joining in the celebrations. The question is – does the Catalan ban on bullfighting make life any easier for the bull? Those well-meaning activists who are celebrating the end of what is an indefensibly barbaric spectacle need to ask themselves that question, and the answer cocking a snook at them is ‘no!’, for the bulls, if anything, are now doomed to an even bleaker future.

To understand why that might be the case we need to account for two things, the first being the bull’s perspective, and the second its alternate fate. For the first, let me borrow from Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemmingway’s seminal classic on the corrida. Hemmingway described the fighting bull as a wild animal unlike any you might hope to meet on a farm. He, the bull that is, descends from the same ancient stock of wild cattle that once roamed the plains and hills of the Iberian Peninsula. It is a creature whose magnificence was shaped by natural selection of his desire to roam, to fight, to mate and to protect his herd. It does not stoop to the toils of farm work, nor bend and bow to the huts and tuts of a cartman or his yoke. It just lives to be free and to fight for it, if it’s not. The Spaniards find both, nobility and beauty in its form and in its fierce spirit. Perhaps, that is why they pay to see a fellow man dominate this force of nature. Incidentally, the best matadors or bull-fighters, like Jose Tomas, used to be right up there with Real Madrid and Barca’s soccer stars in terms of popularity, endorsement deals and salaries not too long ago. And even now, they might still rank ahead of cyclists, golfers and tennis stars in their home country. The fighting bull, Hemmingway would insist from his grave if he could, would happily choose to go down fighting in the ring than meet his end in a meat factory. You might say Hemmingway was an aficionado and he loved and found inspiration in the life-and-death drama of a bull fight. But allow me to insist that I’m not an aficionado, and for the record, a vegetarian by choice (except for the odd portion of fish which my mother and my wife made me promise I would taste if they cooked it or when I’m out at or by the sea where procuring a vegetarian meal might increase my carbon footprint far more than if I was to consume what’s locally and immediately available…Makes sense? Do say so if you think it doesn’t for I’d happily give this up and just do the ‘right thing’) and yet I too must agree that given the limited choices, most living beings, including you and me, would choose a death in the afternoon over death for an afternoon’s meal.

And this brings us to the question of ‘what next for the fighting bulls of Catalonia? What does the future hold for them?’ Do they now get to live out their lives munching daisies in the sun while making love to all the cows in their harem? The sad truth is that they will perhaps get to live even shorter lives, sold to the butcher for veal and steaks. At least the bullfight gave the bulls something to die for… a chance to go down with honour, with dignity, expressing the full might of his genetic potential, as a near equal to the man in the ring and with a chance to take his killer down with him. In the old days, bulls that killed the matador were allowed to live and fight again, but they became too good for the man in the fight for they learnt from every fight. So, we changed the rules. Now, even if the bull wins the bout, he is put to the knife in the corrals. So much for our sense of honour.

But that really isn’t the point here. The question is, how does it matter if bulls are killed in a fight or in a factory as long as they are killed anyway? If anything, the tradition of the corrida allows a bull to be true to its nature, or even some perverted version of it, even if for a few moments, that life on an industrial farm as a tenderloin steak on legs would never allow it. If a battle is to be fought, it must be fought for the bulls and to better their future and not merely to protect or titillate our sensibilities. This ban serves only our motives and not the bull’s.

So what do I suggest, you might ask... And so I dare to say that before we talk of ending blood sports like the bullfight and even horse racing, we need to first create a world that refuses to confine and consume animals for mere sensory pleasures. Otherwise, these animals would only get condemned to an even bleaker and shorter life. I don’t want to drag you into a debate on vegetarianism in this issue but would want to reiterate that if we are celebrating our victory of rescuing the bulls from the ring only for them to end up in the pot a lot sooner, then that’s no victory at all.

Of course it would be ideal if every animal in man’s service could be set free to roam in an eden that could give them food, freedom and shelter, but that is a utopian dream that would take long to come true.

Instead, until such a day when bulls are free to roam without worrying about ending up as ribs and chops, instead of destroying cruel traditions that engage man and beast, we should perhaps look to modify the terms of engagement and make life richer and better for both. To understand what I mean, let me introduce you to Bushwacker, one of the happiest bulls in the world. Bushwacker is one of the top-ranked bulls in the Professional Bull Riding circuit. Unlike Spain’s bullfights, bull riding is a sport that evolved from the cowboy culture of the Americas. The goal for a bull rider is to try and last as long as possible on the back of a one tonne bull that is bucking and jumping for all it’s worth – a test of skill and control over raw power and gravity-defying agility. Man and beast meet as equals and part ways after battle, with respect in one heart and relief in the other. Blood might be spilt, bones might be broken, but neither by design. The riders are sporting celebrities and the bulls are as prized and feted as racing thoroughbreds. And until such a time as we can find space in our hearts and heartlands to allow fellow creatures to just be, that’s the way bullfighting should have gone. The sport should be modified to retain the art and the spirit of machismo without necessarily ending in death for either man or bull. And that’s a bullfight worth fighting for...


Thursday, September 29, 2011


September 27 is World Tourism Day, a day that celebrates the impact of tourism on our shared values as a global village. And this special issue you hold in your hands is about rediscovering forgotten stories. So I thought of rummaging through my list of forgotten stories and looked for one that would both question as well as be the answer to our shared values as global citizens. Here’s what I came up with.... Hope it helps....

“Amsterdam is an amazing city! It has this really nice ambience!! You must go there”, GA was gushing. He had just returned from his honeymoon, and of all the sights and sounds from Champagne to Cologne, all he could remember was Amsterdam. “It has..”, GA leaned over conspiratorially, “a legal red light area, red lights(!), women on the streets, everything legal”. “I’ve heard that it’s got these really beautiful canals?”, I asked. “Canals? Oh yeah canals! Yeah, yeah, nice but you’ve got to hear this, they have live sex shows, can you believe that? Really nice!” GA had a glazed look in his eyes. “Really, that’s interesting…”, but GA wasn’t listening. His eyes had that faraway look of a man reliving some past glory. Amsterdam cropped up again in a later conversation with an elder cousin. He had just returned from a vacation to Europe. The Dutch capital was yet again the star of the itinerary. “Oh, it’s really nice”, he said. After a moment’s silence, he added, “They have sex shows you know”. My jaw must’ve dropped a bit for he quickly added, “It’s perfectly respectable there you know, I went there with my wife!”. He had the hurt expression of a diabetic caught with a mouthful of rich creamy chocolate cake in his mouth. “It’s low calorie, and I gave most of it to the dog too,” he seemed to say. “Of course dada! But is that why you liked it so much?, I asked. “No, no, it has…, it has this…, this really nice ambience”, is all he could muster. Nice ambience, eh? This I had to see. So, not too long ago, I was travelling with friends and family and had stopped over in Antwerp (just about a couple of hours from Amsterdam). On a really grey day, while most of the group seemed happier indoors, the missus and I, along with some Belgian friends, left for the El Dorado of civil liberty – Amsterdam.

Other than the obviously popular red light district, controversial Amsterdam honours homosexuals with a Homomonument and sells marijuana legally in stores and cafes. One can even buy a ‘good death’ – euthanasia, just as legally in this city. It’s a heady cocktail of sex, drugs and death. Understandably, not many seem to notice that Amsterdam is a beautiful city. The bottlegreen canals that run through the city and the lovely little boats make it one of the most romantic cities in the world. Along one of these canals, stands a brick red house, where there once lived a young girl who lived a short sad life and wrote a moving memoir, now famous as Anne Frank’s Diary. And then of course, there is the Van Gogh Museum which is impossible to enter because it is always, either too late or too full.

De Wallen, the red light district was a short walk and a long wait away. Narrow lanes, awash in red hue, flanked by shop windows, each with a bed, a chair and a rather friendly lady, pressing against the glass pane as if her parents had locked her in and gone off to the beach, and here she was all dressed up (down?) in a bikini and nowhere to go. Every time we’d pass a window, a resident lady of love would look at me and smile. Her eyebrows would dance, she’d wink and… Phew, for a moment I felt like Brad Pitt in Nymphtown. No wonder this place was popular. There were groups of Americans on a guided tour, walking past posters of all assortments and shades of human and non human couplings, and ushers at theatre gates announcing, “Show is on! Show is on! It’s alive! It’s alive!!”. “That’s Dutch for it’s all live”, said my Belgian friend. “Have a feeling they do it on purpose when they see the Americans. Never know what draws them”. Behind the bright lights though, the truth is that having legalised prostitution, the Dutch government ensures that sex workers have both rights and responsibilities. The use of condoms is mandated by law, and human trafficking is limited. Pimping is illegal and prostitutes are protected against exploitation by law. This has ensured that the scourge of HIV/AIDS is contained to such an extent that only 7 per cent of prostitutes are affected, most of whom are drug users and in all likelihood, contracted the virus from an affected needle. A far cry from the situation in India where prostitution is illegal, but trafficking and coercion is rampant and almost half the country’s prostitutes are HIV positive. The writing is clearly on the wall but someone’s yet to read it.

Back in Antwerp, someone from the stay-at-home group asked us “How was Amsterdam?” “Nice, uncle! Really nice ambience!” we replied, almost in chorus.


Thursday, September 22, 2011


Last week, I wrote about three unrequited loves and promised to tell you more. And since I began this story, it is I who must take it to its logical conclusion as well, for whatever it is worth.

I spent a lot of time thinking how I would tell you what I have to say. Should I try and make it funny, or should I reveal what I have to say through characters invented to meet the moment, and then I realised that today’s page is about being honest and ‘me’, and so I should abandon all ‘technique’ and ‘artifice’ and just say it like it is.

So here’s the story, bare and true…

I was a very confused kid in my teens. I believed I was good.

I had a strong sense of self-worth, like we all do. We all believe that we are talented, pleasant, likeable, even lovable and special. Like the rest of you, I believed I was meant for great things and that someone special and beautiful was out there waiting for me to walk up to her and carry her away in my arms. And I found her too, just a few houses away. She was my best friend’s sister and my sister’s best friend. The more I saw of that smile that lit up her face and my heart in the same breath, the more I wanted to see her beaming face. I would walk past her school bus-stand in the mornings half an hour before it was my time, hoping to catch a glimpse of her and I would spend my evenings playing cricket or soccer with one eye on the game and the other looking out for her, and soon as I’d see her or turn deaf to all the sounds in the park and hear her laugh and talk, like a delicate ankle-bell tinkling on a quiet summer afternoon, I would run in faster, hit the ball harder or at least hope to. More often than not, I would miss the ball altogether and end up hitting the ground harder, biting the dust and swallowing defeat. But come next evening, I would try again, and again and again…

This girl, who made me play an evening’s sport with the reckless passion of a ready-to-die for glory gladiator, hated my guts… How do I know this? She told my sister, who very dutifully spilled the beans on me just when and where they would hurt the most. She said, and I quote “Where’s that irritating brother of yours? I hope he isn’t coming to the park today. I hate him! He is such a painful show off !!”

Evidently, in spite of having strong potential references in her brother and my sister, this vacancy wasn’t going to be open to me. And yet, in less than five years from that day, as soon as I turned 21, I was married to her. Let me tell you how that happened. But before that, what had I done to deserve all that hate?

Well, after we fell in love and got married, I asked her if what my sister had told me was true, and if so, why did she hate me so, for, for the life of me, I couldn’t work out why someone like her should “hate” someone as…, you know… someone as… (such immodesty is beyond me, but feel free to fill in the blanks with superlatives of your choice) … as me.

So as I lay with my head in her lap one Sunday afternoon, and she playfully ruffled my hair with those hands I had dreamt of holding every evening in the park, and playfully asked her the same question again, hoping to hear something like, “I was naïve and I didn’t understand you and how you were so different… just too good to be true etc….”, she, I’m hoping involuntarily, clutched my hair tight and tugged at it and said, “You were obnoxious! Arrogant and irritating and….” By now she really was pulling at my hair and I realised her memories of the past had begun to influence her present actions and so I let out a little squeak. She hurried back to the present, let go of my hair, smiled and then did a lot of nice things that good sweet wives do, and then continued. “You used to bug me. You’ll ask me and the others some stupid obscure questions just because you happened to know the answers and you would try and pull everybody down just to try and prove that you were smarter than everybody else. I really disliked those bits about you at the time. You were nice and interesting, but this thing about you was such a turn off. And then when we met during our MBA, you had changed… changed so much, and for the better.”

Hmmm, so I had changed, suddenly, but imperceptibly, but how? And when? And perhaps more importantly, why?

When we look back on those years today, I begin to understand what she meant. I was the same nice guy if you will, then, that I am today and I knew it. But I was worried that the world around me did not. So in conversations and discussions I would make it a point to try and prove that I knew this and I had an opinion about that. All I wanted to do was to impress the person I was talking to. I wanted him or her to feel that I was intelligent and likeable. So I’d go, “Hey, did you know that Mikhail Gorbachev got the map of America tattooed on his forehead so that his grand kids could shoot at it with their suction-cup dart guns?” And once the joke fell flat, I would move on to the Socratic method of asking questions off the group, but unlike Socrates, I was not looking for the truth. I was just trying to make a statement.

Often, during these discussions that I would drag my closest friends into, my opinions would run up against those of others. Now you must remember that my beliefs were not mere beliefs but manifestations of my self-worth. So if I felt that Imran Khan was better than Kapil Dev, it didn’t matter how bitter and stupid the discussion became, I just wouldn’t let go of my stand because admitting to another’s opinion, to me, was like admitting I wasn’t good enough.

I wouldn’t stop there either. At the time, I must’ve been desperate to make my world believe that I could be funny. For I can find no other reason why I would try so hard to make jokes about my friends, pull them down and take pleasure in seeing others laugh at them, the butt of my, at times, cruel jokes. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the guys I would make jokes about. But at that time I used to think that I could be good only if I could prove that I was better than the others.

So, yeah, I guess I really was an obnoxious fool.

But why did I change? Honestly, I don’t know, because I’m telling you all this in retrospect. But here’s what I think…

Through all these years, I had a friend who saw the real me – a shy and desperate kid lurking behind this mask of complexes and unwitting arrogance, hungering for love and acceptance. He didn’t mind my discussions, he tolerated my stupid adamancy and he forgave me my rude jokes. He never once attempted to knock me down or hit back for trying to make him look like a fool or for cracking jokes at his expense. I could do all I wanted but I could never do enough to upset him, or even hurt him. I’m sure I must have, but he never let me, or anyone else feel that.

He understood me then more than I ever did, and I was only beginning to understand him, but then he was gone, just like that. He was just 19…

I never told him I loved him. And just when I wanted to, he was gone, forever. For hours, days, months and years, he stayed with me, in my head, replaying a lifetime’s adolescence shared together, from dawn to dawn… and shared dreams crushed under the wheels of a wayward bus.

But even as his memories tore at me, they liberated me. For the first time, I began to see him for who he was. I saw that he loved because he wanted to love, gave of his love honestly, unconditionally and without artifice. I saw that he was the most honest person I had ever known for he never lied to himself. And I saw that he had the courage to be himself, and the compassion to believe that he didn’t have to be good at someone else’s expense. And this is why he was so loved, by all of us, even by someone as emotionally insecure and parasitic as me.

His legacy touched and changed me and made me into the man his sister loves today. I am glad I changed but I wish he didn’t have to leave for me to learn my lessons… miss you…


Thursday, September 15, 2011


Every good story, I’m told, has a set-up, then a problem or a hurdle if you will, and then the climax. So this one is not going to be a good story, because the problem is the set-up, and we can’t talk about the climax. It’s a family magazine after all. But I’m going to tell it anyway because it is important… Doubly so for you if you think it isn’t. But it is absolutely vital for you if you are the kind who would publicly trash the idea of what I’m about to tell you and then slink away into a corner and hurriedly flip to this page to see if it makes sense… any sense whatsoever. And mark my words, in red if you please, for if you are going to do any of the above, consider this page some much needed therapy.

Now that I’m done with the hard sell, here’s the setup…

AP was one of the brightest students I’ve ever taught in a class room. He is tall, pleasantly tanned, well boned and fairly fit. When he is being a good boy, he speaks well enough to both entertain and inspire. He has read more books than you might have seen and seen more movies than you might have read about. And yet he is cool enough to stand toe to toe and go a few rounds with you in the muay-thai ring and he might bloody his nose but he won’t sully his reputation. So he is a nerdy-jock, or a jock-nerd, whichever the case may be, and a very interesting character but for all the time he was here with us, he couldn’t manage to land himself in a decent relationship. He might lash out by saying he never really cared much for a ‘decent’ relationship anyway but if you looked into those big brown eyes long enough, you’d know he was lying, more to himself than to you actually, but lying nevertheless.

Now, read what is to come very carefully for this could be you. AP could make the ladies laugh, he would listen like he meant it, and he could talk about the all the stars from Bandra to Beverly Hills, and all their toys and their trysts with bright blue pills. So what gives?

Why would a man who is a good talker, a good looker, a good listener and gets a tick on nearly every box that counts still go back home to an empty room or his guy friends if they had the time? Why should a man like him fail to keep even if he could find true love?

The second case file is from the family folder. It’s a cousin who is right now living in Singapore, alone and unfulfilled as far as we can tell from here, though he does make a fair show of being too happy and busy for a real relationship. This chap has an ivy-league education, a job that pays him for being smart and aware and he cruised into his thirties a short while back in a swanky new BMW convertible. So he has it all going for him you’d think, but here’s what the women he has been friends with for years, like the chorus of muses from a Greek tragedy, have to say about him… “He is a show off! How do you talk to him? He just won’t listen! Granted, he is an interesting character. But do I need a lecture about blood diamonds and Gujarati millionaires and the Antwerp diamond industry just because I happened to wear diamonds to our date? He is a great guy, has a good sense of humour and is really nice, but why would life be fun if I’m stuck with a guy who has a TV screen on his head that’s stuck on CNN and I don’t even have the remote? Sometimes I think he knows so much that he has forgotten how to feel…”

Now what do you do?

Ladies, before we go any further, you need to know that these stories aren’t just an effort to help my fellow men understand themselves better, but also their unheard cry for meaning and understanding. These are good boys who would make wonderful partners. Unfortunately they are misunderstood and are lost. They would need your help and your understanding, and the rest of this piece, to find their way back into your hearts…

So going back to the set up, let me wrap up part one of this story with a tail to this tale.

This one’s about a guy my wife used to know when she was in her teens. She didn’t like him much. But I’ve heard it said that this guy really liked her. But my wife, she couldn’t stand him. What was the matter with him? Well I was curious and so I asked her and she said “he was a pain to be around. Such a desperate show off... I knew he liked me.... And he was the nice sort but I could throw up as soon as I’d see him...”

As you can see, there’s a pattern here but here’s the first twist in the tale and that is the modern day fact that today, my wife is married to this very man who she once hated. You’ll be happy to know that she doesn’t throw up as often as promised either and by most accounts, including her own, she is happier than she’s ever been.

Ostensibly, there would seem to be a lesson lying in wait somewhere in there, for all three of us. But who is to know if my fortunes are a result of my methods or a moment of masochistic madness by the lady in question. Anyway, that is a story for the week to come when we explore that dark zone of enlightenment that lies between the problem and the climax. Until then, hang in there and check if your life is set up a bit like our setup. God bless if it is and God bless if it ain’t....


Thursday, September 8, 2011


Dates… I hated them while studying history in school. They ruined the story for me. And dates, I loved them when I waded into love. I looked forward to them, counted them, remembered them. I came to realise that whether I loved them or loathed them, in this life, there was going to be no escaping them.

Every month and week has its fair share of them. There are these private, insignificant dates that my life depends on not forgetting, like birthdays, anniversaries and yet to be kept promises. And there are those that are like ornate gravestones in the churchyard of time, marking the passing of one that mattered, one that ought to be remembered. There was one that went by last month – the 15th of August, when India awoke ‘to life and freedom’. And there is one coming up on the 11th of this month that is a bit of a gash on the butt-cheek of time…it still doesn’t let you sit down and say ‘I’m at peace with my world’.

But why am I pouring this soppy gruel down your page? Well, that’s because there’s another important date coming up – the 25th of October. It is the day when the Bolsheviks stormed into power in Russia in 1917 (the actual date is November 7th according to the Gregorian calendar but since the Orthodox church in Russia in those days kept time with the old style Julian calendar, the Russians still call it the October Revolution). And let us not potter around about the exact date for it really isn’t the point here. The point is that the course of history changed irrevocably that day, or so you think. But the truth is that all these dates, be it the 15th of August, the 11th of September or the date on which sprang the October Revolution, they all owe their existence to other forgotten dates that impregnated the seeds that flowered into days that shaped our world. This story is about one such date… one that lies forgotten, like an unmarked nameless grave. A celebration of an underdog from history’s date-file…

The year should be around the late 1800s and the month really isn’t important. Just picture a train running through the heart of Western Europe. Let me help you with that. It’s the dining car of a train thundering through from let’s say Cologne to London. It’s evening and you can see the countryside, fields of green and amber and blue skies streaked crimson and gold rolling out of your window and meeting far away in the horizon. Clumps of willow and birch stand like old ladies conferring at a tea party in the soft light of a setting sun. Every few miles, you see a farmer in a blue or brown beret ploughing the field behind a large draught horse. You look away from the window and take in a view of the carriage, the wooden panels, the embroidered drapes that look rich and feel cheap, the ornate little chandeliers, the heavy tables and the chairs that seem a size too small and the liveried waiters waiting on them and you wonder if you belong in here. You hear a little voice fading away and look outside the window to catch a glimpse of three little boys running with the train, their woolen jackets and shorts and schoolboy cap are all you can see as they stop to pant and wave their hands at the passing train and all the fine people who they can see but know will never meet.

The dining car is filling up now and the table next to you is taken by a middleaged German couple. The man is not very tall but heavily built. His hair seem to have known the discipline of a comb once but it’s all forgotten now, like the memory of a strict father that fades as a child grows out of his home and town. But it’s the whiskers you’d notice first, an unkempt explosion of hair and will that refuses to be tamed, almost like an embodiment of the man’s spirit. And his eyes, they seem to know what no one knew and believed what few understood. This man was hard to miss. The lady with him was of an aristocratic bearing, and seemed to be a gentle foil for the man’s obvious fire. The couple settles down next to you and they both smile and greet you and those around them. Supper is soon underway. The train is hurtling across France and it is dark outside. In the inky blackness, you can still see the silhouettes of the trees and the woods in the distance if you strain really hard but most of the passengers are busy eating or talking. But then everybody stops doing whatever they were at and stare when another passenger who enters the dining car with a spring in his gait. He is a very young man of middle height, a Prussian, but something in the twirl of his moustache, the twinkling eyes and the sculpted beauty of his contours suggested that the passengers were in the presence of a luminous star. All the seats were taken except for the one next to the middle aged couple and with a smile and a flourish, the young man walks up to the table, greets the pair and takes the last available seat. They strike up a conversation and soon it is all warm and nice, unlike the country outside that was simmering with the heat and dust of unrest and political change.

Suddenly, a loud explosion tears through the car and derails it. Anarchists had blown up the train with explosives lining the tracks. The lamps blinked, tables crashed, people screamed and there smoke billowing above leaping flames that had engulfed the upturned carriage. The middle aged couple had been crushed under a table and both of them seemed to have lost consciousness. Flung far away from them was the prone form of the young Prussian. In the light of the flames you could see the form stir and gather strength as it rose, slowly, but surely and then the man stood up, ran his hands over his muscled and seemingly indestructible form, dusted his trousers and must have been looking for his wallet when he heard a moan. He turned towards the sound. The Prussian saw the pile of splintered boards and tables and followed the sound to the place where the injured couple lay. With a vigour that would have done Hercules credit, he lift ed and tossed boards, tables and the beam that had trapped the pair underneath. Seeing that they were conscious, he gently helped them to their feet and the man and the woman thanked the young fellow for saving their lives. The man with the beard extended his hand and introduced himself.... “My name is Dr. Karl Marx and this is my wife Jenny. Thank you so much for saving our lives and for the pleasant conversation during dinner. We will always remember you....” The young Prussian smiled and shook the extended hand and said “My name is Frederick Mueller and I work as a model for artists.. It was nothing... how could I turn and run away from someone who is lying helpless while his life is in danger.... But we should make haste for the fire is almost upon us....”

With that, the young model guided Dr. Karl Marx and his wife away from the scene of the accident. As the flames flickered and spread, you could see the three silhouettes hurrying away into the inky blackness of the night. At that time, how were they to know that while one man’s books and ideas were soon to change the world, the other was going to take London by storm as the strongest man in the world... A man the world would come to recognise as Eugene Sandow, the one who would single-handedly start the body building revolution with his great strength and hitherto unseen sculpted physical beauty. Indeed, strange are the ways of fate and chance. I came across this incident in a book written by the great Bill Pearl, a physique champion from the 1960s. And although some details about the dates are a little fuzzy and the authenticity of the story thus gets a little diluted, I found it a story worth sharing and so here it is, hopefully garnished just right for you to wonder..... What might have happened to the Berlin Wall, to the October Revolution, to the war in Vietnam or to the cold war chess in Afghanistan, if Sandow had not had the nerve, the strength and the courage to rescue Dr. Marx from under the debris that fateful night? No one remembers that date today and yet it was the seed for so many others. So let’s hear it for the underdog be it one from a date-file, your life or the mirror, for in their own little or not so little ways, for don’t they all matter?