Thursday, December 19, 2013

I want a bully in my backyard

Finally, a genius and I have something in common. We made the same stupid (since we’re talking about a certified genius –no, not me, duh- I must clarify that I’m using the word loosely, and in place of the far more appropriate but far less zingy ‘ignorant’) mistake.

Dr. Carl Semencic, a Mensa member, and I, we both wrote a few words (in his case a best-selling book or three and a 1000 word article from your truly, but hey, so what?) about canis lupus familiaris, or the dog to non-Mensa or similar such riffraff, and ended up with a bit of a gaffe. Finding the cross of which too much to bear, on behalf of our shared intelligence, let me right that wrong here and now…

Dr. Semencic wrote a book titled ‘Gladiator Dogs’ (and two others – The World of Fighting Dogs and Pit Bulls and Tenacious Guard Dogs) that celebrated the undeniable prowess that lurks in the folds of muscle, sinew and jowl of the fighting breeds. And a few years later, and incidentally just about a few weeks ago, I happened to write about Indian dog breeds. And in both our accounts, a breed that should have rightfully taken its place at the head of the pack was forgotten, ignored, insulted and got passed over…

I can’t speak for Dr. Carl, but let me fix my error of omission in this very piece, so ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and say a little high-pitched prayer, for you will soon be in the company of the ‘Beast from the East’, the redoubtable champion of the blood-soaked pit, the pride of fighting dog-men, and one of the most formidable canines in the country and the planet – the Bully Kutta.

Before I go further, and before you self-righteous sorts begin howling like a wolf-pack at moonrise, let me soothe your hackles by taking a leaf out of Dr. Carl’s methods and announce that I do not approve of or support the idea of pitting one dog against another in a battle that inflicts pain or draws blood. I’m a vegetarian, for Christ’s sake! However, no book about canine gladiators can be complete without paying homage to this magnificent and brave beast, and nor can a listing of Indian breeds be complete without the Bully Kutta being given the bone (no not dog bone – a nylabone) of honour.

So what is this bully kutta? Chances are, you wouldn’t have seen one. They are rather rare and you wouldn’t find them in pet stores or most dog shows. They are a bit like erotic paintings – neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride; they feign outrage and so we pretend to hide.

But these dogs aren’t easy to hide. The easiest way to describe them would be to show you a Great Dane and ask you to add about 20 lbs of muscle and take away a couple of inches in height. But the bigger difference is on the inside. These dogs have the courage of a lion, the stamina of a wild ass, the power of a diesel truck and the tenacity of a Navy SEAL. In any other country, a dog of such impressive proportions and character would have been feted as our national dog but the Bully is popular only in pockets in this country and mostly with those involved with dog fighting, an illegal blood sport in India.

Er…here I should clarify that the Bully is often called the Pakistani Bully, but that isn’t necessarily so because the breed was created in Pakistan. In ancient India, in the high Himalayas, large wolf like dogs bred for protecting livestock from predators and thieves, fanned out along the mountains with their nomadic masters and into the steppes and plains and valleys of Asia Minor, Europe and Central Asia. From here, over the centuries, some dogs returned with the flocks through the cold and hot deserts out west of the subcontinent. Here, they mixed with the sleek and fast sighthounds that hunted antelope and gazelle on the hot plains of peninsular India and evolved into a formidable breed that was the combination of the muscle and moods of the mastiff and the speed and predatory instinct of the hounds. And to this mix was added terrier tenacity when the Brits and their game dogs took over the country.

It was this formidable combination that has made the Bully a champion fighting dog. And this canine heritage is the subcontinent’s to claim, irrespective of borders. However it is true that the Bully is far more common in Pakistan than India, but that is only because dogfights are still a part of Pakistan’s rural culture while stricter governance has pushed dog fighting into the armpits of the hinterland in India.

By the way, before I go, I must answer that question in your head. Is the Bully (pronounced like the word pulley with a little lingering on the ‘l’) called so because it is a bully of a dog, or is it because of the bully-breed (as in the bulldog of old, or the bull-terriers) influence? Neither actually! The Bully kutta got its name from the North-Indian word ‘bohli’, meaning wrinkled-kutta, and that’s of course hindi for dog.

 Next week I am scheduled to meet a traditional Bully owner. Following the meeting, I hope to be able to share some insights from the world of dog fighting, the men and dogs that mind it and perhaps discuss a way to keep the wonderful physiological and temperament markers in the Bully intact, without having to resort to the barbaric practice of dog fighting.

Meanwhile, you could take a stroll in the winter sun and take pride in walking on the land that was both mother and midwife to one of the most magnificent breeds to mark its territory  on this planet.


Thursday, December 12, 2013


Ubuntu – we are because you are; I am because you are… and a lot of what is, or could be, good in us, is because of you, Madiba!

Your long walk to freedom, freedom… from all that you owed us, from all the lessons you had to teach us, from more of the acid rain of hate we keep pouring on ourselves and would have been drenched to the bone with, if not for you and your compassionate example, Madiba…!

Farewell ye, oh greatest of fragments of The Great Spirit. The ocean of humanity that walks in your wake will miss you, but the nation that your vision fathered will miss you most of all.

The long walk to freedom may have finally ended for Nelson  Rolhilahla Mandela. But it has only just begun for the people of South Africa. It is now more than ever that their resolve to live by the tenets of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation will be truly tested, with the fading of the towering figure of Madiba who will no longer be walking by their side, holding the young fingers of the rainbow nation and guiding them away from every perilous prism lurking in the corners of history.

A lot of people who know a lot more than I will ever understand have eulogized the unparalleled greatness of Nelson Mandela for the world to get to know this great life and its lessons better. So I write these words, not because Mandela needs  yet another requiem nor because you might have the stomach for yet another obituary, but because like so many other unread authors, I too, on this occasion, have this irrepressible desire to speak of this man to the winds for it take them where it will…

If you walk across the hall of heroes from the beginning of time, you will be hard pressed to come across a name more luminous than Madiba’s. Mahatma Gandhi, the man Mandela had claimed as an inspiration, awash in the romance of another time, was a great man indeed. But compare the fractured and blood splattered legacy of partition with the unified harmony of the rainbow nation and you will have to acknowledge that the pupil has improved tremendously on the master’s design.

But let’s not belittle our heroes by pitching them against each other for that is not the point of this piece.
Instead, let us light a candle in our hearts to the examples that Mandela set. He said he is no saint but he performed miracles that merit canonization. Many saints have spoken of love and forgiveness. But tell me how many do we remember who have been born of men and had the heart to embrace their own oppressors and welcome them into their hearts with open arms and unconditional forgiveness? There would be some, though it would be tough to tell where legend meets logic, but admittedly there indeed would be a few… But tell me where would you find such a leader of men who not only forgave and embraced those who sought to hurt, harm, destroy and subjugate both him and his people, but did so without for a moment hurting their dignity and pride? And now I ask you, show me a leader of men who not only managed to forgive and win the hearts of his oppressors but inspired an entire nation of oppressed people to set aside their anger and hurt and embrace their former oppressors as brothers. Madiba indeed was a rare one…

During my time in B-school, I was taught about the roles and responsibilities of an ideal leader. And I grew up to understand that an ideal leader is one who knows who to, when and how to command, motivate, inspire and delegate. And for a long while, I felt that that alone was all one needed. And perhaps for most leaders in most scenarios, indeed little else is needed to meet goals at work and straddle the gap between wants and demands at home. But the extraordinary circumstances of Nelson Mandela’s life demanded extraordinary leadership skills. And it is only when I began reading about how he led his people and his country - blacks, browns and whites, together beyond the rainbow that I began to realize that truly great leadership, in any sphere – from sports to religion and even that swampland called politics, is not possible without spiritual awareness and integrity.

Next  week, the sendoff prayers for Madiba would have grown quieter and perhaps that would be the time to delve a little less into the man and to focus a little more on his methods. And until such a time as that Madiba, when we’ll invoke your undying spirit again, may you rest in comfort and peace. God bless…


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Gambhir Conundrum

Impressed?!! Well, you better be… A week ago, in this very space, I had suggested that out of favour opener, Gautam Gambhir had to make the team if India is to rule the cricketing roost in the half decade to come. Days later, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man many believe was responsible for the southpaw’s ouster, has suggested that the team to South Africa might have been better served with Gambhir’s presence than without.

To understand why Gautam Gambhir’s return to the team is inevitable, we’ll have to understand the whys and hows of his expulsion from the team. How did an opener who has proven the mettle of his skills and his character with commanding performances at home and abroad, in Tests, ODIs and T20s, lose his way and go from being the vice-captain to a non-starter?

When Gauti was dropped for the home series against Australia earlier this year, the story doing the rounds was his run of bad form since the series in England had led to his banishment. But the cold truth of statistics would tell you that Gambhir, with two 50s and some near half-centuries, was well on the mend if not back to his blazing best. Then why the boot?

Hidden under the ominous clouds of successive series losses at home and abroad was the darkening mood in the dressing room. The captain had publicly berated his once-upon-a-time deputy for his self-centred approach and then there was that infamous run-in with the man who usurped him as the vice-captain and the crown prince of Indian cricket – Virat Kohli. His success as the captain of the Knight Riders would have added impetus to the clash, intensifying his usually frothing-at-the-rim competitive confidence and also set alarm bells ringing in the Royal Challengers and Super Kings  lockers at the time.  Mahi of course has been a devoted team man and hasn’t shied away from taking a tough stand for what he believes is best for the team. And to his credit, his decisions have always been impersonal and purely professional as far as the world can tell. So Gautam’s time in the wilderness wasn’t only about him finding form but also reining in his attitude and aggression and channelizing it through his batting rather than letting it fracture the team spirit. And now that he seems to have both found form and also perhaps tempered his approach off the field, Dhoni seems to have no qualms about bringing the pocket dynamite back into the mix.

And it must be said that at that time, it was in the interest of the team for gambhir to take a break. Otherwise, in the wake of those losses to England and Australia, cracks of the kind that surfaced during the Waseem-Waqar tug of war in Pakistan and clipped the air-borne wings of what was then the most talented team in world cricket could have divided the Indian team as well and pushed it off the course to the greatness that is now within kissing distance for this team.
But now, gambhir’s return is inevitable. After all, good though he may be, Murali Vijay isn’t a patch yet on Gambhir’s championship caliber skills and mind-set. It is only a matter of time before Gambhir comes back into the Test side for another good run as the senior statesman in a very young team. And his replacement, when it is his turn to retire, would be another Delhi bat, Unmukt Chand. The 20 year old has the brains and the batting to make it big on the biggest stage, his poor showing in last season’s IPL notwithstanding.

What of the others? Virat Kohli has proven himself and has reminded of Sachin Tendulkar in more ways than one. The most striking comparison is the way in which Virat stood tall in Australia amongst the rubble of his team during a whitewash, just the way a young Sachin had done in 1992 with that legendary hundred at Perth.

Cheteshwar Pujara should be cementing his impressive credentials on the South African pitches while Shikhar Dhawan and the resurgent Rohit Sharma should be looking to convert their ODI successes on foreign soil into Test triumphs as well.

At this stage in the debate comes in the question of the sixth batsman. Should he be a pure batsman or an all-rounder. And who are the men most likely to battle for this spot?
Next week, I will offer my two bit to try and settle an issue which has needled selectors ever since the great Dev of Indian cricket decided to hang up his well worn boots.

But before I go, an apology to Ajinkya Rahane. How easy it is for us scribes to write off a man and all his future with a few callous punches of the keyboard. I thought nothing of all your sweat, toil, tons and dreams before dismissing your chances to living all those bathed in blue dreams of yours and binning them with my predictions. For your sake and for the sake of Indian cricket, I hope you prove me wrong and inundate us with greater riches than we on the side-lines have dared to imagine for Indian cricket. And until then do forgive me for calling it like I see it, that though your talents are undeniable, those that stand before you have proven hungrier and stronger so far…

Anyway, the curtains are about part and the first act of this epic contest shall soon be underway. May our hopes, and our horses, live up to their billing. Amen!


Thursday, November 28, 2013

In the wake of giants...

Question: How does the forest look when the Washington tree falls?
Incidentally, the Washington tree, the second largest tree in the world, a giant sequoia, collapsed partially after lightning struck and the resulting fire partially burnt the 255 feet tall giant down and then a snow load in 2005 ground it down to about half its once gigantic stature.

Answer: In the Giant Forest Grove (which is where the once colossal, now diminutive Washington still stands), where every other tree is a towering 200 ft plus sequoia, whether seen from the ground up or from the heavens above, the forest still looks pretty much the same.

Come December, when the Indian team sets sail for South Africa without its own towering ‘T’alisman, question is, how would they look? Look at Australia and the West Indies. When their cricketing giants put up their feet and rolled over in their hammocks, their heirs struggled and juggled with the crown till they dropped it down a bottomless pit. But the four great sequoias (Ganguly, Kumble, Laxman and Dravid) whose shadows lengthened over the Indian plains over seasons past, and the greatest of them all who walked away last, are not walking away from a forest stunted by the blinding brilliance of their greatness but from one where they have sown their greatness. And from those seeds, I suspect will grow even taller sequoias to take their place.

This tour of the moment’s greatest Test playing nation, on hard bouncy wickets against sea-fed winds and the most lethal bowling attack on the planet will truly test if these boys will grow into giants. It is this tour that will prove if this forest that Tendulkar is leaving behind will be engulfed by the fire storm called Dale Steyn & Co. or will they emerge as the giants their fans believe them to be, giving away little by way of comparison to the stalwarts that have gone before them.

It isn’t just the fast bowling that will prove to be a challenge for Virat, Shikhar, Pujara and Rohit, India’s young sequoias in waiting. The South African batting might prove an even greater challenge for the inexperienced bowling attack. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla own four of the most skillful hands to have held a bat and their will to impose their presence on the opposition has made them into modern day greats. And with them stands another giant who could well take on our very own Sachin Ramesh for the mantle of the greatest cricketer of our times – the unmatched allrounder – Jacques Kallis.

Be that as it may, I have a strong feeling that in terms of attitude, skill, toughness and mental preparedness, this might well be the best Indian team to take on the Proteas in their backyard.

Also, this team, save for one glaring omission, is also the nucleus of the side that will last for the decade to come and might also become India’s best ever Test team. Will that team also be good enough to be the best in the world, like it has threatened to be, and leave behind an all-conquering legacy like the Australian and West Indian teams of old? I do think so…

So let’s look at the team of tomorrow, which is pretty much the team of today, and see how they hold up against the greats of the past.

Flouting convention, lets start at the business end of a Test team – the tail. In this respect, test teams are like scorpions. The head might make an impression but it is the tail, the lethal weapon, that gets you respect.

India’s hopefully lethal weapons, their bowlers have come in for a lot of flak lately but this attack is quite different from the one that conducted affairs in the ODI series against Australia. And truth be told, it’s not like Mitchell Johnson and the band fared much better. So who will be the leader of the attack in the matches and years to come? Who will take the new ball and make those early inroads like Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan once did…er, in case of the last named, does…?

With discipline and skill, that viper like darting swing and innate cricketing intelligence, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will surely become a name that rival teams would prepare and plan for in the seasons to come.As a swing bowler, he may lack the pace of an Akram or a Steyn but as I have mentioned in previous columns, I remember batsmen from backgrounds as diverse as the Barbadian Desmond Haynes who honed his skills against the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Joel garner and Sylvester Clarke and Sanjay Manjrekar who learnt his cuts on the Mumbai maidans saying that the by then medium paced Richard Hadlee was still the best bowler they had ever faced because of his control over line, length and movement off the seam and in the air.

I’m not suggesting that ‘Bhuvi’ is going to become a Hadlee. I’m just saying that lack of pace needn’t hold him back and he has the skills and the acumen to become the sword arm for India.

And if you say it was another era, well I remember Glenn Mcgrath dismantling entire line-ups with deliveries no quicker than the low 130s. The key for these past greats was control over line, being able to read which length to use on what pitch against which batsman and the ability to move the ball late and enough – skills the bowler Bhuvaneshwar Kumar is evolving into will surely posses as the tours go by.

Complementing Bhuvaneshwar’s incisive seam bowling with his nippy pace, heavy effort ball and devastating reverse swing is the consistent and diligent Shami Ahmed. He isn’t frighteningly quick but swings the ball at pace, is consistent in his lines, has the heart of a lion. He has courage and character for though he has often spent long months just waiting in the wings, he has never let nerves spoil his party and has grabbed his opportunities with performances that have strong, steady and at times spectacular. His approach to the game reminds me of the solid workhorses – from Alec Bedser and Brian Statham to Courtney Walsh and Shaun Pollock.

These bowlers are steady in length and pace with the ability to slip in a real quick one every now at times. And they can move the ball off the seam or in the air. When there is something in the pitch or the atmosphere, these guys know how to extract the most out of it. And if there’s nothing happening, they can just plug away in the corridor, keeping things tight. Young Shami is in the same mould and with his hunger and passion for making his mark fuelling his performances, there is every reason to believe that he will be bowling will sting, irrespective of the conditions. And like Sourav Ganguly said in an interview “I have played Waqar Younis at his tearaway best, and Shami’s reverse swing is good as anyone else’s.”

Space and time will not permit us to run through the rest of the team this week. So we’ll save it for next time. But before I go, I would like you to meditate on one name that should continue to be a part of this team for the next five years to come. His name is Gautam Gambhir and he should have been on the boat to South Africa. As things stand, he didn’t quite make the cut. But never mind, he’ll be back soon enough, as would I with the rest of the team…

Until then, enjoy the cricket..


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Will This dog Have it's Day?

Where do you reckon I might have last caught sight of a magnificent but rare animal teetering on the brink of extinction? Would it have been the deserts of the Thar or the rain soaked cloud forests in the east? Am I more likely to have spotted this elusive beast on a lonely windswept crag in the Himalayas or in the dense forests along the Western Ghats?

Ah well, the answer to that question is a sad indictment of the rather staid travel itineraries that have governed my life and work so far, but I count my blessings wherever I find them, and on this occasion, I happened to run in to them at the taxi stand outside the Pune airport..

In the warm rays of a winter afternoon, I had seen the pair, gazing imperiously at the passing cars and the jostling crowds, unmindful of the smoke and dust, these two aristocrats looked past and through the hurrying haze that whirled around them, like they knew they were higher beings, living in this world but not of it.

The coat shimmering in the sun, that deep, deep chest harbouring the power to span the breadth of the Deccan in a leap and a bound and that faraway look in those big hazel eyes…. Ah! They were a sight to behold. The fact that these regal beasts were standing at the end of ornate leashes didn’t seem to matter. With their bearing, they still seemed to own the place.

At the other end of the same leash stood a man, professorial in demeanour, who looked like he would be more comfortable with a book or sketch-pad in his hand, and yet the incongruity of the trio, with respect to each other as well as their environment seemed to hint at a bond far deeper than was apparent.

Forgetting all about the conference I was to go to, and drawn like the proverbial moth to a flame, I walked towards their eminence with a question in my head…’what are they?’

Those of you who have had the misfortune of bumping into more than one of my earnest endeavours in this corner of the magazine might know that I’m rather unreasonably obsessive about a few subjects, dogs being one of them. I can usually separate a setter, English or Irish from Gordon, even if I be on the east bank of the Ganges while they be gamboling on the west (and that has nothing to do with what dams have done to our rivers), and same should hold true, if the dogs be terriers, mastiffs, hounds or curs. Then why couldn’t I put my finger on these sight-hounds (yeah I’d gotten the group but I couldn’t place the breed)?

“Excuse me” I ventured, “…er, what kind of dogs are these?”

The professor floated out of his thoughts and blinked back to the present as he looked at me and then at his dogs, like he’d seen them for the first time, as if wondering how they came to be here with him. His gaze took in the contours of the hounds and a wave of pride swept across his face… “Caravan Hounds!”, he said. “They are an ancient Indian breed, bred for the chase. Though more numerous than some other indigenous breeds, they are still very rare and nowhere near as popular as most of the Western breeds”

Ah! An Indian breed. No wonder I hadn’t seen any pictures of the breed in books or magazines. I have been collecting breed-books and reading about dogs ever since I can remember. I share my life with four dogs and two of them are rare breeds from different parts of the world. I can tell the difference between a Karabash, an Akbash and a Kangal – all rare and similar livestock guarding breeds from Turkey and yet I had never heard of nor seen a dog as magnificent as the Caravan Hound before. My point is not to toot on about what I know about obscure breeds. I’m just trying to impress upon the reader that even one as involved with canine trivia as I had failed to come across literature or physical evidence of one of the most striking native specimens of our canine culture.

And the Caravan Hound, though rare and endangered, is far more numerous than some of the other highly endangered breeds. The Kumaoni Mastiff and the Chippiparai are found in little pockets in their geographical enclaves. The Rampur Hound and the Rajapalyam are relatively better known but the Kinnauri Gaddi, the Combai, the Poligar and the Alangu are all extremely rare and extinction is a very real threat.

Most Indian breeds are either livestock guardians, (which means they don’t herd sheep like a German Shepherd or a Collie but protect the flocks from predators) or sight hounds (greyhound-type hunting dogs that chase and bring down prey). But why are these breeds languishing on the brink?

More dog enthusiasts in India would know more about rare  South American breeds like the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro or the South African Boerboel than they would about any of these Indian breeds.

Ironically enough, the very people you’d like to thank for keeping these breeds alive are the ones you should hold responsible for their decline. Not only have breeders of these indigenous dogs not done enough to spread information about these dogs but have done precious little to develop them. Many of these breeds have stagnated and become living relics of a long-gone past. The problem with most of these breeds is that they are hard-wired for the tasks they had traditionally been bred for. The hounds are snappy, often unpredictable hunters which are impossible to manage within the confines of an urban home while the livestock guardians need lots of space, bark through the night and are aggressive with strangers. Though these breeds are hardy and healthy, almost all of them are very difficult to train and little has been done by breeders to make these dogs easier to live with.

There has been an on and off ban on importing breeds from other countries because activists and law-makers want to preserve and protect the Indian breeds but as long as a Labrador or a Boxer is easier to live with and is more reliable and trustworthy with friends and furniture, the Rajapalyams and Gaddis will remain on the rural fringes of the Indian dog enthusiast’s horizon.

It would be a proud day for all of us indeed when Caravan hound registrations outstrip Golden retriever registrations in India and they even begin to find homes in other countries. But such a day will remain a dream until breeders work on making these hunters and protectors into reliable companions as well. Every shred of life has to stay relevant in the context of the present. All life that fails that test, no matter how magnificent, be it the Diplodocus, the Sabre-toothed Tiger, or heaven forbid, the Chippiparai, will eventually cease to be.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Of Cats, Gods and Tides...

Anybody remembers Bizarro from Htrae, the square peg in the round planetary hole in that ‘space’ called DC comics, where everything that happens is opposite of how it might happen on earth (Htrae is Earth spelt backwards)? I do… I was just a little older than a toddler when that bizarre Superman issue showed up on news-stands… But why am I dragging out that dusty memory from that worm eaten cupboard of my childhood? That is because a cousin of mine who happened to snag a job in the Thames and a husband and a baby followed, is returning home and she wanted to see a wild bizarre part of what was once her ‘native’ country.

I spread out the creased map on the bed and then my wife and I, we hurriedly went up north past a rather tempting but daunting Ladakh and the forbidding heights of Nanda Devi , and then scampered south, by-passing the far too comforting confines of houseboats in Kumarakom, hopped around the red-striped ‘ultra’ wilderness in the heart of the Naxal nation around the  Deccan and then gingerly circumvented the warm winds out west before scooting east looking for a holiday destination that could measure up to my cousin’s wishlist... 

 It was then that I remembered that from under the armpits of the city Charnock built, snake mighty rivers in search of the sea. And as cities and towns fall away, along their banks crawls a strange beast, a mighty forest that recognizes neither time nor space. It stretches beyond the realms of land and sea, beyond borders that divide countries and faith, spilling over into countries and oceans. Here, in the endless tidal swamp-forests, man - undefended by concrete walls, cellular technology and metalled roads – is reduced to being a mere mortal again. Governed by primal laws where great beasts rule, on land and water, where man still lives in want and fear. In this truly bizarre landscape shaped by the tides, land appears and disappears like a mirage, and water is the one true constant… It is an enchanted land where fish walk the earth while trees grow roots that refuse to dig deep into the earth and stick their arms out, through the earth and towards the sky. These are the forests of the sundari trees, and the Sunderbans, be you my cousin or someone else’s, are truly as beautiful and enigmatic and ‘out there’ as any land you could find in the pages of a comic book or a fairy tale.

But like all lands that promise adventure, the Sunderbans too are as treacherous as they are beautiful. While in the rest of the country, tigers slink away whenever man approaches, here the great cats stalk man as they would a deer or wild boar, to hunt and eat.

So great is the fear of the tiger that those travelling through the Sunderbans at night in their houseboats prefer to drop anchor in the middle of a waterway than risk being close to land. But the tigers won’t be denied by a mere expanse of water. These relentless beasts have been known to swim up to a boat, steal up to the deck or a window and then carry their victim through the waters to an undisturbed spot on the shore, where they can eat in peace.

Just in case as you read this, you think you would have jumped into the tidal waters to escape the tiger, I would strongly urge you to exercise extreme caution for those waters are home to the largest living crocodilian in the world – the salt water crocodile. And the salt water croc relishes the taste of man just as much as the tiger.

Then of course there are the bull sharks and the cobras and pythons and vipers. Every home in the region would have lost a relative or a friend to these hunters in the shadows and the shallows, for here in the Sunderbans alone, man has failed to manipulate the forces of the great wilderness and remained a mere subject to the laws of nature.

And yet, I say that this winter, in the gathering smog in your city, as you wonder where to head out in search of adventure, I say you can’t better trying on  a trip to these mangrove forests for size.

 The meandering waterways, the languid pace of life and your boat, the calls of birds and monkeys on the passing branches overhead and the glistening mud banks with fresh pug marks leading from the water’s edge to the forest threshold, all make for an unforgettable experience in their own right. But what I remember most fondly from my trips to the region is the magnificent camaraderie that is the very essence of life for the people who live in this inhospitable wilderness.

Away from the artifice and excesses of our city-bred lives, here in the lap of nature at her best and worst, the tide-people have begun to rediscover the meaning of faith and friendship. Unfettered by the web of meaningless meaning that our complicated lives spin for us in the ‘real world’, here in the surreal world of the Sunderbans, life is about staying alive and in the moment. God isn’t some deity whose tales have popped out of an ancient tome. Nor is God the one learned philosophers have tried to introduce most of mankind to through their own isms and prisms. Nay, not either. Instead God here is that sublime force that rules the lives of all who live here. These forces are represented by two deities, Bono Bibi, the goddess of the forest and Dakshin Rai, the divine spirit of the tiger… And though you might find two men in a small boat out fishing for crabs and their names maybe Koreem and Kanhai, but these men are neither Hindu nor Muslim. Their forefathers may have been before they reached this mystical land but once here, faith gets pared down to just the essentials.. And so these men, Koreem and Kanhai and their brothers you meet, will also be found united in prayer before every expedition into the forest as they stare down death at every step as they look for crabs, firewood or honey (so fraught with danger are these expeditions into the Sunderbans for the locals that their wives live like widows until their husbands return) . And when life has been reclaimed after each  such expeditions, these men and their families unite again to offer gratefulness and gratitude to ‘God’, their forest and their tiger, and celebrate their today the best they can, for who knows what kind of a tomorrow the winds might bring.

So visit the Sunderbans, dear cousin, or whoever else you be, for here you will stand on the little delta of your experiences, and witness the river of our primordial past empty itself into the oceanic basin of our present… now why should you want to miss out on a dip like that?


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Of Lambs And Lions

Cricket commentary on television has evolved into a fine art that is as entertaining as it is informative. Former cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar, Geoffery Boycott, Ravi Shastri, Sourav Ganguly and Ians - Chappell, Bishop and Botham sharing the box, the commentary box, with passionate scholars of the game like Harsha Bhogle and Tony Cozier makes for a delightfully enlightening experience for a student of the game. Facts and stats dance with tales and trivia for a whirling ball that seduces no less than the one being chased by the players and the stadium.

Today  while I watched Tino Best and Sheldon Cotterell crank it up to the high 140s against the Indian openers, talk in the box drifted to the heydays of the West Indian pace battery when Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and ‘Big Bird’ Garner had bounced and literally beaten the cricketing world black, blue and into submission for nearly two decades.

Sunil Gavaskar’s punchy eloquence, whether he wields a microphone or the willow,  makes him a star on every pitch in the game. Here he was recounting the time when 6’8” Joel Garner was asked by a lady in Australia if he his gargantuan dimensions were proportionate all over, and to which Big Bird replied that for him to be proportionate all over he’d have to be 8’6” tall. And not only did the original little master pick up hundreds in the Caribbean but also their charming island accent.  He recounted how the fast men usually pitched the ball in only their half of the wicket and there was usually nothing there for the drive… “if you want to drive, buy a car, maan…” they’d say… And while Gavaskar cut and pulled these gems out of his kitbag, I wondered how those legendary fast bowlers who used to strike fear in the hearts of fans and batsmen alike would have fared in the modern game.

The pitches are slower and truer, the protective equipment far better, the bats meatier and the rules, in games both long and short, tilted heavily in favour of the guy with the bat.  I thought of the just concluded ODI series between India and Australia and the batting slugfest that it turned out to be. Could these legends have done any better and walked away from such a series with their heads higher than their bowling average?

Would or could a Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli or Glen Maxwell or George Bailey have treated a Malcolm Marshall or Dennis Lillee any differently? Has the game changed yet again to increase the depth and breadth of the yawning chasm between the aristocrats (batsmen) and serfs (bowlers) and establish once and for all that bowlers are meant to be lambs fattened for that run-feast called cricket, and especially limited overs cricket.

My thoughts turned to the words of the victorious yet thoughtful MS Dhoni after the last game who wondered aloud if 300 was the new par for the game, at least on the sub-continental course.  And the underlying question was – Is this new avatar of the game with T20 improving shotmaking, new fielding restrictions liberating big hitting batsmen and pitches with as much life in them as a tombstone good for the future of the game? Will the tribe of bowlers currently reduced to being cannon fodder, like Christians being dragged to the lions in the coliseum in Rome, survive this relentless onslaught? Will they get reduced to or in fact be better off being replaced by bowling machines like Dhoni suggested, only half in jest…

After mulling over the thought for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is excellent for the game.

Here’s why…

• With every bowler getting mauled and runs flowing no matter who is bowling and at what pace or length, it is clear that bowling to save runs is an ineffectual approach for fielding captains and bowlers hoping to win games. Even the most potent bowler in the series, Mitchell Johnson, often bowling at speeds in excess of 150 kmph, went for more than seven runs an over in Nagpur and Jaipur.

• Containment isn’t an option anymore. The only option for the fielding captain is to take wickets. And bowlers who can take wickets, be it those like Mitchell Johnson, Dale Steyn and Lasith Malinga who force their will upon a game with pace and swing or those like Sunil Narine or Ajanta Mendis who use guile and spin or even chess players like Nuwan Kulasekra and Ravindra Jadeja who use unerring accuracy allied with subtle changes of pace and length to out think the batsman, will be the ones who will win matches. Only a bowler who wants to take wickets will survive in this new era of cricket. And so no matter who is batting, with what bat and on what wicket with what rules, attacking bowlers like Roberts and Lillees, and later like Waseeem  and Waqar, and Donald and Mcgrath, and Warne and Murali will always seek wickets, remain a threat, earn respect and spread fear, no matter how many runs they get taken off them.

• The first avatar of the one day game rewarded the dullness of economy over wicket-taking ability. And so the dibbly dobbly gentle medium pacemen who could turn their arms over for ten overs by giving away anything around forty runs and no wickets were valued more than genuine wicket takers whose aggressive intent could lead to them leaking runs on occasions.

•  Efficiency was killing the one day game. Overs twenty to forty, be it Sydney or Sharjah, made for a dreary spectacle. Batsmen scoring ones and twos and bowlers with neither pace nor imagination plugging away at good length without either the desire or the ability to take wickets. Thank God for these new rules and thank ECB marketing man Stuart Robertson for the T20 game , I say…

• Whenever the bat has oppressed the ball for long, there has always been a Prometheus who has emerged to redress the balance. If it was Harold Larwood and Douglas Jardine with Bodyline in the 1930s, it was Clive Lloyd and his pack of four in the ‘70s and 80s. The lords at Lords moved in on both occasions to nip the rebellions as best as they could and brought in rules to chain the rebels and so the fast bowlers were defanged by regulating the bouncer and spinners were reined in by covered wickets and the heavy roller. But not to be undone by the rulebook, Imran Khan unleashed his labour of love on unsuspecting batsmen with the craft of swinging the old ball. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis elevated it to even greater heights and pace and yet again the batsmen cried foul. This time the rules were helpless against reverse swing and with no moral (since there was no physical danger to the batsman) or historical foundation for complaint, reverse swing managed to add an arrow in the now rather bare bowler’s quiver.

• Spinners brought in the doosra and the carom-ball and suddenly you had bowlers being the difference between victory and defeat in T20.

• It is only a matter of time before an imaginative captain in tandem with a pair or trio of immensely gifted bowlers comes up with a plan to attack and take out wickets by the bushels in ODIs and begin an era of dominance in the game. Of course wicket taking abilities in ODIs and t20 games is bound to have an impact on the way Tests are played as well, so the series that was bodes well for bowlers in all formats of the game

• However, a little administrative support will go a long way towards re-balancing the game.

• There’s no point complaining about bigger bats and belters but surely the ball could do with some improvements as well. The seam for instance could be a little more pronounced. I remember how in the 90s, a ball manufactured by Readers was introduced into club cricket and it had a slightly more pronounced seam than the conventional Dukes (though still within the seam-height limit prescribed in the rule-book) and it caused a sensation with the extra bounce and seam movement it generated. The squeamish lords at Lords were yet again unwilling to persist with the revolution that threatened equality and went back to the Dukes. But it is only fair that for the game to survive, every improvement in bats or wickets should be followed by a corresponding evolutionary innovation in the design of the ball. Both predator and prey must evolve together. If one outstrips the other by too much too soon, it is the law of nature for both to go extinct.

• Lastly, the rule about new balls and fielding restrictions (which captains should read as more men in catching positions), will eventually force fielding captains to adopt more aggressive tactics. But they would feel truly empowered if they were allowed to bowl bouncers a little more often and with modern protective equipment, it is unlikely to be a life-threatening rule change. And the fielding side should be allowed to manually enhance the ball’s wicket taking properties and restrict ball-tampering laws only to actions that disfigure the shape and nature of the ball. Raising the seam with finger nails or scuffing the ball with the nails (as against rubbing it on the ground or on one’s boots) is akin to taping the bat or adding rubber grips to it. It is only fair that bowlers be allowed to ‘treat’ the ball just the way a batter is allowed to ‘prepare’ the bat.

Mark my words, the next great bowling uprising is just around the corner and cricket, especially limited overs cricket, is about to enter the most exciting phase of its illustrious history.

So hold your breath and don’t you dare blink for the game is moulting before your very eyes.

And when you see the bowlers being put to the sword again, pity them at your own peril, for who would have imagined that the Christians being thrown to the lions for the pleasure of the Roman nobility would one day rule over both Romans and lions…


Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Fitness Dive And The Final Wharf

It had been a long cold day. The queues to the Great Wall, the emasculative scale and grandeur of Tiananmen Square and the biting cold and oppressive grayness of a winter smog in Beijing had taken its toll on my ‘first day in the city’ enthusiasm. All I wanted to do was curl up with a book, a blanket and a large mug of hot chocolate when the bus took me past a large square building shining bright red behind a grid of lights. The rather imaginatively named ‘Red Theatre’ was hosting a show called the Legend of Kung fu. A montage of saffron clad sinewy bodies flying acrobatically and executing beautifully choreographed stunts flashed through a brightly lit stage in my head.

Warm room and hot chocolate versus braving the cold night for expensive seats to a kung fu show…. Hmmm, I must still be young for kung fu won hands down.

The show did not disappoint. A corny tale but beautifully told and the athleticism, power and grace of the performers made for a grand spectacle. It was there and then that I realized that if I was ever to draw up a list of fitness methods and rank them for what they do to enhance the human experience, Shaolin kung fu, has got to rank at the very top of that tall mountain.

And so let the drums roll, let the bugle call, and all rise to bow to the method that claims the prize – The Shaolin arts are the path of choice for both the beautiful and the wise.

Before you ask me why should you devote yourself to this system of Chinese self care, let me begin with telling that though the motherland for this system is China, the father of this martial system is India for it is a prince named Bodhidharma from somewhere in our neighbourhood who had taken the nuances and seeds of the system to the Shaolin temple (see issue dated: November 27, 2011 for the back story) and thus was born Shaolin temple kung fu.

But from a simple system of health and fitness, the monks nurtured the philosophy and principles of breathing, postures and forms into a martial art that integrates combat skills with fitness and internal health and well being with spiritual awareness. So straight away, you’ve got a fitness tool that covers more bases than anything else we have encountered till now.

Convinced? Come on, what more could you ask for? The Shaolin forms and calisthenics will tone and build muscle, give you an outstanding cardio workout and all that stance training like horse stance etc. will make you scream out and call people names but would also build fantastic muscle endurance. And it will do it all in a manner that would be good for your joints and build strength even in the tendons and ligaments which conventional strength training tends to neglect. No wonder you have had kung fu men like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li setting pulses racing and setting screens alight with their athleticism and world class fitness.

And as for power, Bruce Lee, who had trained in Wing Chun (a style created by a pair of Shaolin trained nuns) was famous for his explosive punches and kicks while other monks have been broken rocks, not boards or bricks but rocks, with their bare hands. As for aesthetics, check out the chiseled body of a man they call Sifu Yan Lei. Men’s fitness described his physique as one “that has been cut from solid jade”.

But Shaolin workouts aren’t about muscles alone. The first few words on Sifu Yan Lei’s website are “Qigong (the yoga like postures and forms that Bodhidharma brought to the Shaolin Temple) and Kung Fu is (sic!) not just for martial artists but for anyone who wants to live a long and healthy life”. Then it goes on to explain how qigong makes the organs healthy and strong, helps turn back the clock, builds immunity and generally gives the practitioner an energy boost that carries him or her through the most stressful of days.

And then of course, like yoga, qigong and kung fu train the mind and the spirit through meditation and breathing. Shaolin workouts push those who train in the discipline to connect with one’s inner self and the forces of the universe as much as with the opponents chin or solar plexus.

And lastly, Shaolin kung fu build courage and honour by teaching one how to defend oneself, but without losing control over one’s emotions or one’s punches.
Don’t take my word for it. Go out there and find yourself a Shaolin Sifu. It is an unbeatable workout that ticks all the boxes and far more than any other system that claims it can get you super fit and looking and feeling super good.

So there might be other systems that are better at building pure self defense skills, or better at healing the body or building huge muscles. But if mind-body fitness is what you seek, you could try kettlebells or clubbells and krav maga or yoga and yet there is nothing that compares with what those monks in the Shaoshi Mountain (that’s where the Shao in Shaolin comes from) have to offer.

We have our champion and you have your list. So don’t hang around the couch. The match is over and India has won. Let go of that remote and instead of gaping in awe as Virat Kohli crunches another one through the offside, get on your feet, pick something you’ll enjoy and stick with it for a while. For all you know, in months to come, your family and friends might be staring at you and your athleticism with a bit of the awe that they currently reserve for Mitchell Johnson and Kohli. So Happy Diwali and hope this series did a little to light your fuse… 


Thursday, October 24, 2013


There’s this strange thing about climaxes. The journey might be unknown but the destination is known. After all the climax is the reason why you got started in the first place. Through every curve on every winding road to wherever you want to go, you expect it. Through every shock and surprise and exclamation of delight or horror, the only guarantee is the climax, or at least you sure hope so. The nature of the journey, the lessons and experiences, tactile, intellectual and spiritual, prepare us for the finale but the enigmatic truth is that the better the journey the more difficult it is for the climax to not become anti-climactic.

And that is the dilemma staring back at me from the laptop screen this moment. Over the last four issues, I have shared with you, dear reader, all I have learnt about the world of fitness and we built up through a countdown of some of the best fitness systems in the world to what I believe are the top two systems on the planet for holistic health and incredible fitness.

The funny bit is that I had known all along that the two systems we will discuss today are the top two systems on my list. It was building the sequence that lead up to the top two that took a lot of time and thought.

We began with power lifting and body-building, two high risk-high returns workouts which primarily work the musculature and the skeletal structure. Then we explored lesser known, lost disciplines like club bells and isometrics – methods that were extremely popular about half a century ago but seem to have fallen out of favour due to the imbalances in these otherwise highly effective systems.

Then came the body-weight workouts - high rep and gymnastic low-rep systems that are surprisingly effective though a little too challenging for the average fitness enthusiast.

Nearing the top of the rack was a hard-core martial method followed by kettle bells. These two methods are incredibly balanced, relatively safe and bear fruit on all boughs on the fitness tree.

What more can be found on the altar of fitness that could offer even greater strength and health benefits than the above mentioned methods? And what could possibly be missing from these wonderful systems of health wholesomeness?

And the answer is internal health, and at the risk of sounding a touch un-cool, spiritual health. All these above mentioned systems, and some more so than others, fix most bricks on the fitness wall with aplomb.

Strength, endurance, cardiovascular capacity and even flexibility levels will be enhanced greatly through consistent devotion to the high rankers in the list. But what about the lungs and the kidneys, and the liver and the glands? Let’s not delve into greater anatomical detail, but really, what about all that clockwork that functions noiselessly usually, inside that rock hard and beautifully sculpted shell, to keep you running like a well engineered marvel of nature? Who is going to take care of that?

And to answer that question, put your hands together and welcome the runner up that ran the champion close – the humble homegrown and ancient system of, you guessed it - yoga!

First things first… What you know to be yoga and what is practiced in studios and gymnasiums around the world is actually asana, a mere limb of the complete system of physical and spiritual health known as yoga. Morality, meditation, restraints, and austerities are some of the other limbs of yoga but for the sake of our discussion let’s confine ourselves to the triumvirate that has the most tangible and scientifically verifiable impact on our health – asana or physical, calisthenics like postures; pranayama or breath work and lastly dhyana or meditation.

The primary difference, on a physiological plane, between yoga and other fitness tools is that instead of working on the body by building the muscles first, bones next and cardio-respiratory systems last, yoga work inside out. Each asana posture targets not just muscles and bone but different aspects of the internal systems like the endocrinal system or the nervous system along with other more obvious components of fitness.

But you knew that already, didn’t you? From Dr. Dean Ornish to Baba ram Dev, everybody who is anybody in the world of holistic health has been screaming from the rooftops about the benefits of yoga. This is why patients nursing chronic ailments oft en practice ‘yoga’. Even Western medical practitioners run parallel ‘yoga programmes’ in many hospitals to supplement allopathic treatments for their patients.

The real challenge for yoga is to prove it works the other way round… that it is a legitimate fitness tool and not merely a therapeutic one.

I was reminded of an article I had read in a 2002 issue of Yoga Journal which had pit three American yogis against Biodex machines and treadmills and the like. The yogis demonstrated flexibility levels comparable to gymnasts and acrobats and cardio respiratory fitness and lung capacity that on an average scored just below levels achieved by elite endurance athletes (but without pushing themselves too hard), had excellent body fat ratios and BMI (thanks to the overall healthy and conscientious dietary choices that are a part of the yogic lifestyle) and scored around the average mark in terms of strength. However, observers felt that the body takes a little time to adjust to the machines and scores might have gotten progressively better with more time spent on the machines. So there you have it… Scientific evidence that yoga works to keep you fit. As for muscle tone and strength, let a man no weaker than former world champion pro wrestler and current fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page tell you that not only does the practice of yoga heal and strengthen banged up joints but also tones and strengthens every muscle in the body in a way that conventional weight training couldn’t touch.

Yoga might not make you look like a body-builder but when done with passion and persistence and coupled with a lean nutritious diet plan, can give you the graceful lines of a diver and the aesthetic value of that can be understood if you take a look at the lean ripples on a young Greg Louganis or Bryan Kest.

Then of course there is pranayama, the practice of which gave Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, the grand sire of yoga a lung capacity that rivals the average lung capacity of a 25 year old Olympian at the age of 80. In the book Real men Do Yoga, a New York City fireman whose lungs had been damaged while he was busy saving lives during the World trade Centre attacks claims that even doctors couldn’t help him breathe and go for 20 minutes without coughing until he tried yogic breath work. The practice of pranayama improves lung capacity, and oxygenates the body like nothing else can. Pretty useful under stress or under water, I’d say…

Finally, the benefits of meditation have been trumpeted by far too many and far too often to be reiterated by me but just for the sake of completeness, meditation indeed relaxes the body and mind and rids both of stress and free radicals. And meditation also helps you focus and develop mental clarity and reign in and train that jumpy monkey in our heads.

Yoga attains a sky-high number two on the list because its benefits, while flooding the physical, soar far higher into realms and corners of our lives in a way that few other workouts can.

At this stage, we are left with little space to introduce the king of the heap who edged out the ancient and resilient yogic training system by a whisker, so I’ll bid you adieu for now with the promise that you will meet the champ next week. Meanwhile, get on the mat and give me a headstand. I’ll see you there in seven…


Thursday, October 17, 2013


In a forgettable film named Enough but in a memorable role as the furiously fisty, super toned mom-on-the-run, Slim, Jennifer Lopez, with that final flourish of a front kick that sent her abusive husband to his death, introduced Krav Maga to the league of the bruised and the battered. This Israeli martial art that emerged from the shadow of the Holocaust and emboldened a nation, becoming the chosen self-defense system for not just soldiers and law-enforcement agencies but for the whole nation – children, women and even the elderly. Today, it has spread all over the globe and is practiced with a view to improving not just one’s skills for staying safe on the streets but increasingly for its unique health and fitness benefits.

And this brings us to our rungs in the countdown for this week. First up, at number four, we have the striking arts. If you keep aspects of self defense aside (martial arts like boxing, kick boxing and muay thai are sports while Krav Maga is designed to keep one safe. Consequently, the most vulnerable parts of the body – eyes, throat and groin, are off limits in the former and the express targets in the latter), the striking arts, collectively, those martial systems that predominantly encourage striking with punches, kicks, elbows and knees, as opposed to grappling, like in wrestling or throwing, like in judo or groundwork, like in Brazilian jiujitsu (Krav maga has a bit of groundwork in its syllabus, but most of the time is spent on one’s feet in a Krav maga gym) – offer a tremendous all-round workout.

As a fitness workout, kickboxing, muay thai or thai boxing, krav maga and boxing have a unique edge over most other conventional workouts. A striking art challenges the body to exert balance, power and stamina, all in one intense workout. This is accomplished by going up against two unrelenting opponents – the timer and the punching bag (subject to the kind of strike being practiced, it could be a focus mitt, seed bag, strike pad or a heavy bag).

In most gymnasiums that use a martial art as a fitness tool, trainers use a combination of shuttle runs, calisthenics and bag-work (martialart speak for pounding away against a bag), and I kid you not, the intensity wastes you like few thing under the sun can.

I remember the first time I did a partner drill on a focus mitt (it’s those big padded gloves that trainers wear to help their wards develop striking proficiency against moving targets at different ranges), wherein one holds the bag for a minute while the other pounds away, and then we switch… and we were supposed to total ten minutes, which is just five alternate minutes each, but by the 50th second in round one, your insides are screaming ‘fire’. By the third minute, your veins feel like they are filled with liquid lead and your lungs with magma. Your kidneys beat like your heart and your heart feels like it will explode in your head… but don’t be alarmed. If it doesn’t kill you, and in all likelihood, as long as your doctor has told you that you are fit to exercise, it won’t, then it will definitely make you stronger. And strength in this context is not limited to the muscles and the bones alone. It also strengthens your heart, and perhaps far more than a round of jogging or aerobics ever could.

And cardiovascular fitness, along with muscular endurance and development, is the hallmark of our selections for this week. And so, entering the medal round, at number three, is the oddball dark horse called the kettlebell which does everything that a ‘martial arts for fitness’ workout can do and then some more.

Now, what is so special about this cannonball with a handle that it has become the weapon of choice for elite special-forces like the Russian Spetsnatz and the United States Secret Service, for martial arts legends like three-time Olympic gold medalist Aleksandr Karelin, and for the man the media anointed as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time – Fedor Emelianenko? But today, it isn’t just the Russians that swear by the bounce in the bell. Movie stars, football stars and athletes from track and field besides the usual suspects - martial artists and commandoes, are lifting kettlebells to achieve an athletic edge or an edgy athletic physique, whatever the purpose might be.

Super chiseled Mathew McConaughey lifts bells to ‘burn fat in a hurry and build muscles’ while Jessica Biel swings one too. And if she can’t convince you about why kettlebells rule, no one else ever will…. Why, even homegrown hunks like Hrithik Roshan have fallen for the bell.

And why are kettlebells so special? Well, for starters, the objective of kettlebell sport isn’t vanity but true-blue fitness. Swinging kettlebells won’t work the vanity muscles – bis, tris and pecs -arms and chest to the uninitiated, as much as conventional gym workouts would. But what it would do is work the muscles that we need the most to live long and live strong – the heart, the shoulder girdle, the back, all the way from the traps to the glutes, the core muscles and the legs. Steel grip forearms are a bonus. If you do it right, not only will you avoid injuries but would end up rehabilitating old ones. Secondly, unlike ‘the bigger (in inches or tonnage) is better’ mindset encouraged around most bench press booths, kettlebells are more about encouraging muscular endurance, correct breathing patterns, and learning how to maximize neural strength by working on the mind-muscle connection. All of this holds both body and mind in better stead as the years hurtle into the 40s.

Last but not the least, the incidental benefit of working on these functional fitness goals is a physique that admittedly looks more at home on a lithe vine-swinging Tarzan than on a ‘roid-raging mountain of muscle like that big green guy from Marvel. The latter makes for a fine spectacle, sure and marvelous strength goals are possible with such a physique. But for most folks, whether you want to show off a pair of jeans, a skirt, even the big green guy’s frayed cut-offs or a leopard printed loin-cloth, the former physique is the one they’d like to hold in their arms, or behold in the mirror. And as far as long term health benefits are concerned, on all fronts - muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and balance, nothing can beat and only calisthenics can match the completeness of the kettlebell.

So there you have it. As long as the body in balance is what concerns you, kettlebells are pretty much at the top of the pile. Sure calisthenics are great too but they aren’t weight-adjustable to accommodate varying levels of fitness like kettlebells can. So start swinging if that’s all you want.

If you think there’s more to being healthy than just a fit and strong body, then maybe next week’s methods are more up your street. But if Superman is all you want to be (Henry Cavil swings kettlebells too, by the way), all you need to do is wear the right pants, carry your kettlebell and find a phone booth where you can start doing your presses and snatches, and before you know it, your fitness levels will be soaring… up, up and away!

Wouldn’t hurt trying one on for size while you wait, would it?


Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Fitness Dive and the Ten Wharfs - III

What makes ordinary people like you and me into superhuman soldiers aka the US Navy SEALS who save the world in a week’s work? What built a delinquent young kid into ‘the world’s most dangerous man’ aka MMA legend Ken Shamrock? What sculpted actor-athlete Woody Strode into the ‘most beautiful male specimen of his time’ and prompted Adolf Hitler to exclaim that Woody had ‘…the greatest physique of any athlete ever seen..”

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the humblest fruit-seed on the fitness tree –b-o-d-y-w-e-i-g-h-t-c-a-l-i-s-t-h-e-n-i-c-s!

What? Why did you all stop clapping? Not cool enough? I know… I know… For those of you who’ve been brought up on images of beefy men benching a mountain and ladies in leotards beating the beats with hand-weights as the ideal path to fitness, calisthenics are merely an old fashioned way to warm-up…

In the third episode in this countdown, we will explore the oldest, and to its champions, arguably the best form of exercise known to man – bodyweight training, or as the old timers call it – ‘freehand exercises’.

What’s new about free hand exercises? Push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and squats… that’s all there is to them, you say… ok for beginners or to supplement a weight-training program but it can’t sustain a comprehensive fitness life-style. How can push-ups compare with bench presses or clean and presses when it comes to building lean muscle or athletic strength?

Well, here’s how…

First up, the endurance hound’s holy grail – The Special Operations Warrior Workout! This freehand training method has evolved from the trenches. Soldiers in the field of battle, from when they were fighting with rocks and clubs to assault rifles and grenades, they’ve always known that the key to surviving most life and death situations, be it cutting through enemy positions, crossing a desert or a swamp, surviving a plane crash or a ship wreck or years as a prisoner of war, the most essential ingredient to survive it all is endurance – indomitable and unstoppable mental and physical endurance that refuses to accept defeat until the goal is reached or the body gives up the ghost.

To this end, elite super soldiers like the Navy Seals and martial artists like Matt Furey and those from Shamrock’s Lion’s Den gym crank out push-ups and pull-ups and crunches and squats till their whole body is reduced to a quivering gob of jelly. They might throw around some weights too but the cornerstone of their workout is the extremely high repetition workout plan where numbers routinely cross a few hundreds and often get into the thousand plus zone. This kind of training not only builds great muscle tone and endurance but it does something which few other relatively low rep or training to failure type methods can achieve. High rep whole body training, which is usually infinitely more intense than high rep, single joint machine or weight training, with the mind focused on a certain goal or number, trains not only the body but also the mind to keep fighting and not give up - even as the mouth goes dry and the muscles burn with lactic acid build up; when cranking even one more rep seems difficult and you have almost a hundred to go; when every cell in your body screams out for a reprieve but you just clench your jaw and keep going.

This kind of training will tomorrow help a soldier with a bullet lodged in his thigh still grit his teeth and carry his severely wounded buddy through a swamp and a forest over days without food to safety.

What good is it for you when all you want is a chiseled bod to show off in a Versace gown or in your Speedos by the pool? Well, for starters, if you have a mountain of lard to lose, then high rep goal oriented training is not only your best bet for building high octane fat burning muscle while giving yourself a great cardio workout, but it also gives you micro goals that will keep you motivated while the mirror takes its own sweet time in revealing the truth.

And for those of you who are already in good shape, there is nothing as liberating as getting a great workout anytime, anywhere, with nothing but your own body.

And if the extreme athlete in you feels that squats without weights is for sissies, pick up Ken Shamrock’s book –Inside the Lion’s Den. Flip to page 36. “Give me 500 squats”, Masami Saranaka, talent scout for a Japanese fighting circuit, had demanded. The scout knew that high rep squats test the two most important weapons in a fighter’s armoury – legs and heart. Shamrock of course had obliged, but if you want to know if you are fit to fight, go ahead, give the 500 a try. Elite international fighters usually manage 500 squats, a 100 push-ups and about a 100 crunches. And Navy Seal tests need athletes to swim and run for miles, do hundreds of push-ups and crunches and manage about 20 pull ups at least to be competitive. Now I’ve given you the goal. See how you match up… And if this isn’t incentive enough, even an iron-warrior like Arnold Schwarzenegger has asserted in ‘The Education of a Bodybuilder’, that not only do freehand exercises build a great foundation of muscle but sculpt the body in the tradition of the heroic Greek ideal. Now do you have a problem with looking like the Farnese Hercules? I don’t!

So if high repetition bodyweight exercises can give you superhuman endurance, excellent cardiovascular fitness and a lean muscular physique then why would you need anything else? What’s missing in the mix? 

And the answer is strength. A 100 pushups in five minutes still wouldn’t necessarily translate into the kind of strength you would need to manage a single one arm push up. Traditional body weight training makes it difficult for athletes to increase resistance once a certain level of strength has been attained. Once you can do 50 pushups or 15 pull ups, the only way to progress further is to keep increasing repetitions. While that is excellent for improving overall fitness, such training does little for building strength.

But in penitentiaries around the world, many criminals who are confined without access to modern gymnasiums still want to keep themselves fit and strong. For some, it is a way to ward off boredom while for others it is a way to acquire strength and respect - vital weapons if one wants to survive in the brutal dog eat dog world behind bars and steel doors. These prison athletes began experimenting with bodyweight training methods with greater leverage challenges. One arm push-ups and pull-ups, one legged squats and the like. On the outside, acrobats, gymnasts and circus performers had also been training with these techniques to build enormous strength without becoming too bulky. The focus was on improving the body’s power to weight ratio. There are many names for this game. Some authors call it ‘convict conditioning’ while others call it ‘freehand acrobatics’. In essence, it is extreme bodyweight gymnastics.

Today, extreme bodyweight athletes like Jim Bathurst, Al Kavadlo and Bulgarian superman Encho Keryazov are exponents of an extreme bodyweight training lifestyle that not only sculpts fit and beautiful bodies but is one of the few training methods that make for great viewing for bystanders too. Some of the things that these athletes can do are straight out of a ‘Ripley’s believe it or not’ episode. And their lean and muscular physiques are almost impossible to replicate with conventional weight training.

Then why are freehand exercises figuring in the middle of the list instead of at the very top? No gym required. Extremely healthy training methods which are both comprehensive and relatively safe. The physiques they build are unique and aesthetic. So what gives?

Well, granted that all you need for these workouts is your body but to achieve exceptional levels of aesthetics and strength, you need a very fit and strong body to even begin some of these exercises. Most people reading this would find it difficult to manage even one pull up or one-legged squat. And I w if any wonder how many would have the mental fortitude and physical endurance to crank out 50 consecutive pushups. The problem with freehand exercises, while excellent for beginners looking to build a foundation before moving on to weights and cables, is that they are too demanding. Freehand exercises, contrary to the belief that they are too easy, are in fact a lifestyle choice for a select few only who have the willingness to forge both body and mind in a foundry that is a little too hot for most and therein rests its Achilles’ heel.

Ten reps and three sets of a moderately loaded bench press bar and about 20 minutes of running on the treadmill are nowhere near as intense as three sets of ten one arm pushups and 500 squats. And when the apparent results, at least on the aesthetic plane are pretty much the same, then why should one strive that much harder.

As long as ‘fabulous fitness’ is all you seek, indeed why should you, for there are better bargains to come in the countdown. Just hang in there for a week more… and if from a pull up bar is too much to ask, go get yourself a hammock instead.


Thursday, September 26, 2013


Now, where were we? Ah yes, in the middle of a countdown. Last week was spent delving into the respective merits and demerits of two rather popular training methods for those looking for ways to become fit and fabulous. We are looking for methods that not only pump the body with feel good endorphins and sculpt it in pursuit of our own aesthetic ideals but also make us healthier and stronger…

This week we take the countdown further and start the ball, or rather in this case, the bell, rolling with the system that’s number eight on the list…

This one’s an old favourite. The sheer simplicity of this method and its effectiveness in terms of quickly sculpting the body and building strength makes it one of the most valuable training methods especially for those who are constantly on the move and haven’t the time or the opportunities of visiting a gymnasium. They call it isometrics…

It’s a forgotten jewel in the pantheon of physical culture. Once a rage, no one tries it anymore. Worse, no one seems to believe in it either. That’s rather sad if you ask me for a lot of fitness enthusiasts don’t know what they are missing.

Consisting of host of techniques which basically involve the muscles pushing against an immoveable resistance, one can work the whole body within half an hour. Research claims suggest that isometrics is also one of the quickest methods for building strength within a certain range of motion and definitely the best for sculpting the muscles in a hurry. As for the naysayers, let me remind them of a man called Alexander Zass.

Once a circus strongman, Zass fought against the Austrians in the first World War and was captured while attempting to escape while carrying his injured horse on his back. Put into jail with his arms and legs in shackles, Zass exercised his muscles everyday by pushing and pulling against his chains. This kind of training, imposed upon him by his constrained circumstances, pushed his strength levels through the stratosphere. The prisoner managed to eventually break his chains, bent the bars of his cell and escaped to freedom. Isometric training was also the reason behind the legendary Bruce Lee’s amazing strength. Both Zass and Lee were small in stature but their strength surpassed that of many much larger men.

Then why does it figure so low in the list? Well that is because isometrics only build strength through a partial range of motion, and it does not teach the body the mysteries of leverage. That is why, though phenomenally strong, and perhaps even stronger than the greatest weight lifters of his time, by his own admission Zass might not have been able to match their weight lifting feats.

More significantly for you and me and others like us who are just looking for a method to help us improve our quality of life, our levels of fitness and our generally sagging popularity ratings, isometrics do little to improve cardiovascular fitness. Blood circulation definitely benefits from a regimen of isometrics but incorrect breathing can adversely affect blood pressure.

Thus, though excellent for building strength and tone, even and especially in the elderly, isometric training figures where it does on the list because of its inherent limitations as a method for comprehensive physical development as well as for the rather serious risk associated with incorrect training methods.

Next on the list, is an ancient Indian in its modern avatar – the clubbell!

Clubbell training’s origins are a little obscure. The mace or club is perhaps the most ancient weapon known to man. Early humans would have dragged around bowling pin shaped clubs when out hunting or during tribal wars. Later the club became the weapon of choice for the biggest and strongest soldiers in ancient armies. Even today, tribal warriors from the Maasai to the Maori carry clubs to signify their warrior ranks and have been used by these cultures as weapons of war as much as in hunts.

But the credit for using the ancient club as a training tool must go to the pehelwans of ancient India and Persia. Some sources suggest that the pehelwani culture and the club was introduced by Mid eastern invaders or the Mughals. However that cannot explain India’s own wrestling heritage that flows like the Indus, from the times of the Mahabharata and beyond, and east to west. 

It is no coincidence that most of India’s mythological strong men, like Hanuman and Bheem have not only been accomplished wrestlers but also wielders of the mace or club. Of course, the fact remains that the cultures of ancient India and Persia, shared a common border in those days and a fair degree of cultural fusion and exchange must have taken place.

Wrestling is a tradition for Indians and Iranians today. Traditionally, they have always done the same exercises and practiced similar techniques and have always been regional and even global superpowers in the traditional mud/pit versions of the sport. So what has been their secret?

Well, if you were to believe a rather loud mouthed septuagenarian Iranian living in Georgia, USA, Iranian and Indian wrestlers owe their edge to the ancient practice of club swinging. Hossein khosrow Ali Vaziri, a professional wrestling champion from the 80s who wrestled with the likes of Hulk Hogan would oft en bring his clubs to the ring and challenge fellow wrestlers and fans to try their hand at swinging the behemoths. Needless to say, few could lift and none could match Hossein’s numbers.

That was the modern west’s introduction to the old clubbell. Today, from the akhadas of India to the sambo clubs of Russia and right up to celebrity trainers in Hollywood, everyone is using the Indian club as it is called now, to strengthen and tone their bodies.

Martial artists and grapplers love swinging the club because there perhaps isn’t another exercise in the world that is better for building grip strength. Secondly, club training adds a muscular fluidity that is tough to replicate through conventional weight training. And it’s fun, which is why it is standing on the cusp of becoming the next ‘hot new workout of the season’. Women love clubbell training for it tones all the little muscles of the upper body and can be used for both cardiovascular training as well as heavy strength training.

Lastly, Mensa member Scott Sonnon, the man who ‘reintroduced’ the West to clubbells has emphasized the unique manner in which training with a club activates muscle function, strengthens tendons and ligaments and heals battered joints. With so much going for it, you would wonder why the oldest implement in the list isn’t also the most relevant…

Hmmm, I thought long and hard about this one. For all its virtues, clubbells should figure at the very top of the list. And it would have too, but for one glaring omission – the lower body.

Clubbell enthusiasts would insist that few training tools work the core like clubs do and while that may be true, the legs are undeniably not equal beneficiaries of a club swinging regimen. True you can do squats while resting the clubbells on your shoulders but in a static state, it is just dead weight and has none of the dynamic and ballistic benefits that the upper body enjoys.

Isn’t that the reason why the undefeated wrestling champion of the world, the Great Gama would routinely do squats with a heavy cement ring placed around his neck even though he was amongst the best club swingers of his time.

So there you have it… two methods that are unique and less known than most others and are yet brilliant at what they do best. A complete workout? Perhaps not. But do they have a place in most people’s lives as a supplementary training component, for example isometrics are great if you are travelling when combined with a run. Clubbells are a great anyway and perhaps the best when it comes to upper body training. If you could just add pistols and bridges to them, you might not need anything else and have more fun than most gym rats with your workouts.

The list will be back next week. Meanwhile, you tell that mirror that it lies while you keep working hard on the truth. Swing on…


Thursday, September 19, 2013


Remember what they say about teachers and doers? Those who can, do; those who can’t teach… well, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t, so I might as well keep on teaching…

It’s been a while since I lay a wager with my friends that I was going to get a six pack and uncountable extensions on the original date later, I’m still looking for them in them in the mirror, feeling for them under the tee or the shirt and a little layer that keeps swelling up like bread in an oven every time I whittle it down to near nothing.

So I guess I really can’t eh?
But all that searching for the right way, the best way, the quickest way, the surest way and so on, sure gave me a lot of plans to play with.. And while walking the walk has had its own share of hitherto insurmountable hurdles, talking the talk should be a whole lot easier…

So while I’m still running on that treadmill to nowhere ab nauseam, let me give you a quick peek into all that I found and my top tries for getting to good health, super fitness and someday that six pack package… No promises here, let me warn you…

Just my thoughts on what might work best in the long run..

So without further ado, let’s begin with the countdown to the best fitness workouts (according to admittedly an armchair pundit but one who oft en, though not oft en enough, does push-ups on the arms of the very same arm-chair) that could keep you fit and strong even as the metabolism slows down and the years run away before you seem to be able to catch ‘em…

First and therefore last but definitely not the least on this countdown is… put your hands together for the king of strength sport and a favourite with ageing gym rats with testosterone issues and aslopecia… the sport for true blue strength athletes -
At number 10 on the countdown…

I must apologize for my earlier comment about alopecia and testosterone. Who knows, I might be donning those tights and rubbing chalk on what might be by then, my massively thighs, on my way to a record deadlift . And I hope to have issues with neither at the time. A perfectly legitimate way to extreme strength, powerlifting training, the way of the big three, the bench-press, the dead-lift and the squat, is perhaps every human being’s surest path to finding and enhancing the limits of one’s strength potential.

And strength, unlike other athletic components like speed or agility, at least on the basis of anecdotal evidence, seems to be the last to fade. That is why a lot of Masters (above 40) level competitors post numbers not too far away from the big guys in the open category.

Joe Brodski, the 2009 United States record holder in the Masters 60-64 year olds category with a 315 lb lift at 220 lbs bodyweight is living proof that power lift ing has its perks.

“It (powerlifting) keeps my cholesterol and blood pressure down and I’m able to keep up with the kids at work”, says the tough graybeard who is twice as strong as most men half his age.

But while powerlifting is great for sagging muscle bellies, it is a sport that chases an extreme ideal, that of strength and more strength and nothing else and so it has its limitations in terms of enhancing all aspects of ‘fitness’.

And so at number nine, we have close cousin to the big lift sport, and everyone’s usual suspect for picking a path to the six-pack, bis-tris and bubble butt nirvana, the body-building workout at yonder gym.

In theory, workouts inspired by the body-builder’s goal of well defined muscles and a ripped look with low body fat is pretty much an ideal and balanced training plan. The focus is as much on a well rounded diet as it is on strength and cardiovascular training. If practiced in moderation, it is pretty close to what might be the perfect plan.

Seventy-one year old three time Mr. Olympia, Frank Zane, 82 year old five-time Mr Universe, Bill Pearl and 76 year old Masters bodybuilding champion and fitness author are living testimony to the power of weight training done right. For one who knows one’s body and its limitations, this method is as good as the ones at the top of this list.

But what keeps this method at nine on the list is the high degree of caution that one has to exercise because training with weights is a tight rope walk fraught with many dangers where either ego or ignorance could lead one down a path splintered with broken bones, worn out joints, torn ligaments and slipped discs. Added to that are the temptations of over-supplementation, an underground steroid culture and extreme diet plans that oft en sacrifice good health on the altar of vanity.

And so with its baggage of physiological and psychological red zones, body-building workouts, despite their innumerable benefits could climb no higher than number nine on this count down.

Next week, we will explore four more workout plans on this countdown, their virtues and their dangers and the shape of the ideals that one might reflect through bodies dedicated to these plans.

But don’t wait for me folks. Just because my dreams seem to take a while to bake is no reason for you to slacken off … so train on…

Now, where was I…? Ah yes… 1091… 1092… ..1093… phew… so see you.. 1094… at the end of this set..1095..and the week…!


Thursday, September 12, 2013


This one was mahogany red and while I was friends with all the dogs in the area, both pet and stray, this one just wouldn’t want to say hi. I would drift close to the gate and Jojo would slam into the gate on his side, growling, barking and spitting doggy expletives for all he was worth. But with his family, he was surprisingly gentle and affectionate.

Spurned thus, I gave up on him and went back to the ones I used to roam the streets with in those days. After some years, word trickled in that Jojo had turned on his master, that he’d ‘gone mad’ and so was put down.

These mad-dog stories abound amongst all who fear dogs. Some were bitten by a neighbour’s pet or a stray. Others have never been bitten but have inherited this fear of dogs from those they have heard these horror stories from – of dogs being unpredictable, of how they turn on their masters and how dog owners might assure them that a dog wouldn’t bite, and yet they snap at an unsuspecting guest.

So what is the truth? Undoubtedly, these dogs have drawn blood. So are they mad dogs? Are they rabid beasts that need to be put down at the earliest?

A few months ago, I met our bhaiya, Jojo’s master, at a wedding in the old neighbourhood and inevitably talk turned to Jackie’s madness. And here’s how the story unfolded…

It was the night of Diwali and the smoke and crackle of crackers and the leaping lights of the night had given poor Jojo a terrible fright. Leaving his customary spot in the open courtyard, the nervous dog ran into a bedroom on the first floor and hid under a table. As luck would have it, the first floor was supposed to be off limits to the dog and while the night echoed with the sizzle and screams of shooting rockets and bursting crackers, bhaiya’s father tried to coax Jojo from under the table. Since Jojo wouldn’t budge, the man tried to hold the dog by his tail and yank him out. On a night like most others Jojo might have submitted and quietly given in, but fear had driven Jojo’s mind into a zone that he didn’t know how to control. For the first time in all his seven years with the family, Jojo growled at a family member. The man thought that Jojo had growled because he had grabbed his tail and so tried to pull him out by his collar. Jojo snapped and bit the arm that had grabbed the collar. The growling and the biting convinced the family that the dog must have gone mad or rabid. He was locked and chained inside the room for a day, and though the family loved their pet, with young children in the house, a difficult decision was taken. Though the dog had regained his cheerful demeanor by morning, unwilling to risk their children, the tearful family called in an executioner who dispatched a very confused and otherwise normal dog with a few well placed blows from a big stick.

I’ve heard other tales of ‘mad dogs’ biting people I know. On each occasion, including the above mentioned incident, on asking about the nature of the wound, the ‘victim’ has revealed two tell-tale puncture wounds were the canines broke skin.

Now go to Youtube and check out videos of wolves and wild dogs on a hunt. These pack hunters literally tear their prey apart while it’s on the run. That’s what those teeth are designed for. Have you seen stray dogs fight? When they mean business, once a dog has gotten hold of their opponent, you’ll see them vigorously shake their head and neck in an attempt to tear off a clump of flesh. A dog the size of a Doberman has enough jaw strength to break a man’s forearm. So when a dog snaps and all you get are two puncture wounds, it doesn’t want to hurt you. It is just a dog’s way of saying “don’t bother me please… I’m not in the mood”. Admittedly, some dogs in the same situation will just growl, while others would walk away and some would just whine and bear it. But then, it’s the same with people. Some just handle pressure better than others.

I have been bitten thrice, and on each occasion, I was aware that I was the one who had made the mistake.

The point I’m trying to make is that most dog-bites are nothing but a dog’s way of saying ‘lay off !’

The world of dogs is full of rules and hierarchies and corrections for misdemeanors and is swift . We get bitten when we break or misunderstand these unwritten rules. Some dogs bite out of fear and others because we confuse them.

For instance, if you’ve been spoiling a dog by not giving him any rules, letting him climb on the bed, eat off the table, poop on the floor and pull you on a walk, you are effectively telling the dog that he is the boss.

Dogs are pack animals and live in a very structured family in the wild. The alpha dog has all the rights and the omega (the last in the hierarchy) has the least number of privileges. The pack takes care of all his needs but his privileges are limited and that fact is consistently reinforced. A pet dog should always be the omega in the family pack. And the dog doesn’t have ego issues about that. He does not understand equality or democracy. His primal mind craves order and structure. Without consistent rules, the dog, in order to silence the chaos in its head makes up its own rules. And since the one who makes the rules is the one in charge, the dog assumes the role of an alpha.  

Now this dog who’d trundle off the couch without a whimper whenever you felt like imposing a little discipline will suddenly refuse to budge. Subject to the dog’s breed, energy-levels and nature, attempts to physically remove a dog that has assumed alpha status would either be met by repeated attempts to climb the couch, barking, a low growl or even a warning bite. The last two are the most common methods used by dogs higher up in the hierarchy to enforce rules and boundaries for subordinates and pups.

Most dogs that snap don’t mean any harm. They know that their existence is tied to the pack’s well being. But they need calm and consistent leadership. If you don’t provide that, the dog would try and provide that, for you and the family.

A dog needs physical and mental exercise that matches the animal’s energy levels. A tired dog is a happy dog. But a dog with pent up energy would express itself through destructive, neurotic and even aggressive behavior. So pick a breed your lifestyle, time constraints and physical fitness levels can afford.
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t dominant aggression or territorial behavior but fear biting that draws the most blood in pet owning households. Most dogs lack the courage and the confidence to exhibit dominance oriented aggression. Instead they become biters because circumstance or nature has pushed them to the other edge of the aggression spectrum – a dog that is so insecure that it lashes out at its own shadow. A potential fear biter cowers when approached, fl ashes the white of the eye and the lips curl back in a snarl. It is important to just let the dog be until the moment or the mood has passed and the dog calms down and approaches you on its own.

Those of you who want to acquire a big macho dog to fill in for your own psychological inadequacies, be warned that you need a lot more help than what a dog can provide. If this is your reason for getting a dog, you’ll only end up with a maladjusted animal - a loose cannon that would end up hurting people and leave you with medical bills, law suits and eventually a dead dog.

Lastly, a word of advice for those who love their dogs to a premature death. Dogs are not children on four legs. They are dogs and are happiest being dogs. They don’t need pretty jackets and collars with bows. They don’t mind not sleeping in your bed and not pigging out on your table scraps as long as you can give them the rules of the house, exercise that meets the needs of the breed and a belly rub at the end of the day that’s says, so what if you are the omega, my life is still incomplete without you.

Here’s hoping that this piece goes a small way in helping you understand man’s best friend and the terms of that age old friendship a little better, and may the Iago of misapprehension never drive a wedge between you and your four-legged Cassio ever again.