Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Encounters of the Touchable Kind

 I was travelling for some work in the morning crushing rush hour in Mumbai's Central Railway. Typically , no place to stand, forget sit. I was squeezed in, in a weird position somewhere near the door to one side, and even if I wanted to scratch my forehead, I was probably going to injure 3-4 people with my elbow.

It is a truth , at least acknowledged in Mumbai, that even if there is absolutely no space in a train, sheer and blatant willpower combined with a not so gentle shove creates, along with several unpleasant things, some space.

Someone wanted to get off at the next station, and typically requested me to try and make some space for them to advance. I sort of moved maybe 1/100th of a centimetre to the right, only to sense that I had stepped on some one's 1-cm-squared portion of a hand or foot, The doubt arose because this person was sitting right in the doorway , and human anatomy combined with the assorted passenger height distribution made it impossible to see who was where.

What followed was a thump of a wrist on my ankle, along with some high decibel abuse in an unnaturally bass voice completely out of sync with the fact that this was a second class ladies compartment. I got about full three minutes of abuse in a completely alien language, possibly with special choice expletives thrown in, cursing me and probably my future five or six generations to some untold bad tidings. This was accomplished by a tentative waving of hands , and an animated shaking viscera, while maintaining precarious balance in the doorway, as the ever expanding crowd in the central passage of the compartment ensured that involuntary exits from the doorway were entirely in the realm of the possible.

With some previous practice,in the handling of folks causing trouble in local trains, and oblivious to everyone else, I asked this person to suggest how people could get off at stations, unless we moved. Wasn't it clear that some tolerance was required, and no one was fond of stepping on other folks limbs as a hobby? I got an answer back, in some language I didn't understand, with further wild gesticulation, jutting out of chins, and a distinct show of attitude.

Nobody paid much attention. These things happen several times every half hour. Some non-believers in non-violence even get into action, which is a distinctly dangerous activity given the location and the crowd. By and by , communication between me and this person, kind of exponentially decreased, everyone got a bored look on their faces, possibly implying what else was to be expected given folks like "us".....

The train was a minute away from reaching the half way junction Dadar. Probably the world's only example of how travellers literally "pour" out of compartments and "attack" compartment entrances to climb in , in a way that makes you wonder if the capacity of the compartment is infinite.

Anyway, here I was , trying to advance to the door, along with several others. Working young girls, winding their hair curls just so, hoisting their bags with their lunch, water bottles and all. Mothers with children, clutching school bags, that sometimes , give rough-and-tough anti-scoliosis treatment at the wrong age to young vertebrae. Vegetable seller ladies with their supreme disdain for faltu fashion, sarees firmly tucked in, huge baskets, looming over everyone, and two such ladies having a loud conversation across several passengers, on how someone was in trouble for not "paying up" someone. A chikoo vendor lady, trying to transport, with supreme confidence, hitherto never noticed in even our cricket team, several kilos of chikoos, unsmashed , from Thane to Dadar.

Normally folks sitting in the door get up , way before the train glides into the station, to avoid being trampled to death by the masses. I suddenly noticed my aforementioned "adversary", trying to get up, unsuccessful at putting weight on the hands , and unable to get a grip on something firm to lever ones self up. Without any thought and as if in reflex action, I extended my hand, which was gripped by a strong, almost masculine hand. Half a minute later this figure in a saree loomed up in the doorway, still holding my hand. Then it was let go.

Why ?

A grandly made-up face wreathed in grateful smiles, one hand was waved about my face (the other was clutching the entrance rod for dear life) , and this person touched both fists to the sides of the head, all the while again saying something , again, in a language I didn't understand. With lateral nodding of a slim neck, bedecked with false jewellery, heavy makeup, and a saree pallu carelessly thrown over the left shoulder, I was the recipient of smiles, blessings, good wishes , for god knows what life events,

A complete transformation from an "enemy" to a friend. For unexpectedly helping.

The person sitting in the doorway was a hermaphrodite, known in Mumbai local parlance as a hijda or , chchakka. An example of nature gone wrong during some process, but consequently, a life, completely changed for ever.

The reaction for inadvertently stepping on toes was an understandable enhancement over an already seething anger , against constant facing up to derision
from the general populace. An in-you-face answer to a population, (that shirks and shies away, treating these folks as untouchables), revelling in their own goodluck at being born completely of a single sex.

The helping hand was a purely involuntary affair. In the chock-a-block sardine like packing of humans in the compartment, thinking never occurred to me. Someone obviously needed help. Maybe there was a muscle condition or problem. Maybe a fatigue problem. Who knows. But we were taught always to go in there and help, and not worry over who it was ,how sick, how different, and how angry. Discrimination on the basis of caste.religion, sex, or age , by us , would have , always ensured gross parental non-approval. My parents were no more, but my reaction was almost automatic.

We got off at Dadar. Flowed out of the compartment is more like it. This person, still muttering something, which I hope were good wishes, got off, smiled at me and turned to wait for friends emerging from other compartments. I got several looks from folks who thought all this was too much. Some people just went shaking their heads, trying to ensure nil bodily contact with my friend as everyone pushed everyone else to reach the bottom of the stairs leading to the over bridge.

I waited , adjusted my dupatta, checked my purse to see if everything was in place. (You never know who has been active with single minded devotion to purses, in the exiting crowd). Hiked my bag over my shoulder. The density on the stairs was reducing and it was time to get going. As I angled myself to tackle the eerily sloped long ramp to the over bridge, I glanced over to my right. My friend was in the midst of more friends. Talking nineteen to the dozen in the same language in which I had been first cursed roundly and then blessed, even more roundly. A shake of the hip, a flip of the paloo, a wee thrusting out of the abdomen, and they were on their way.

I waved and the entire lot waved back at me. I felt good. I hope they felt good. The only folks who didn't know what to feel, were those watching us from the platform, still debating whether to display their sense of disgust, incomprehension, or wonder at what the world was coming too.

The Father of the Nation was probably chuckling to himself somewhere UP There.

60 years and these folks still have not learnt a thing ?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The super 5's.

Those in the sixth decade of their life in India might fondly look back on the sedate , tolerant pace of life in their childhood. Television had not yet made life,per se, a function of time, where you behaved like a statue, and stayed motionless, when india were 8 down, Sachin and Harbhajan batting , with 3 balls remaining and and 5 runs needed to win.

In those days, you basically had your nose to the grindstone studies-wise, and occasional bouts of disobedience tended to make you quietly switch on Vizzy's commentary of some cricket match, which you surreptiously listened to, as your mother explained to the neighbours how you were busy studying for the prelims.

The skies did not fall if you lost, and even if you won, at the end of the day, the tired cricketers probably got back into a train at Churchgate station and rode home, standing inthe compartment door, cursing umpire so-and-so in their tired minds, worrying about getting back to office the next day. No motorcycles, cars, huge cheques, but just a trophy.

Everything had a natural pace, with a noticeable lack of desperation.

Television taught the subsequent generations to expect more and more, faster and faster. A guy bowling at 130 miles per hour could smirk via-a-vis someone excelling at 129.8 miles per hour. One learnt how to be dissatisfied or exult for the most insignificant reasons. Everyone wanted more.

At the end of the day, the bandwidth of our minds was fixed, and so our attention spans decreased. And there was a great minimization, of what we did and what entertained us.

The days of "do it now" and "do it fast" had arrived.....

Today, 5 day testmatches have degenerated into one day internationals. Now that we have had enough of those, the 20-20's are upon us. And lets not even think about income generation, audiences , cricket boards, avarice, profits, politics etc etc

Switch to what would happen in 2020.

The year , that is.

Coming up, the Super 5's.

Each side gets to bowl 5 overs. No one can bowl more than 1 over.

There is no LBW, but there is HOW, otherwise called Hip Obliterating Wicket. A batsman trying to face a possibly high ball by twisting to a side and presenting a hip, not only gets hurt badly, but he will be docked one run. Shouting HOW'zzat will now take on a new meaning. Anyone whose run count goes negative must go back to the pavillion. And so you need to score nicely before trying such acrobatics.

There will be beepers set into the ground, where the bowler is supposed not to over step his mark. Every 2 beeps, and the bowler will bowl the next ball with his alternate hand; a right hander will bowl the "punish" ball with the left and vice versa.

There will be special circuitry incorporated in the balls and the bats, so that everytime the bat and the ball touch/snick/scrape, there will be visible sparks, enabling erring umpires to make decent decisions , and never mind the singing, hooting, waving audience. Anything hitting the pads will not even raise a whimper.

The third unpire sitting in comfort inside the pavillion, will hear an almighty clang in his ears corresponding to the spark, so as to wake him up from an English or possibly Soth African, Indian, Pakistani or West Indian stupor.

Beginning with the first over , all fielders will be within a radius of 10 yards. Every consecutive over they will move 10 yards further away . This will introduce a new concept of "delicate wristy batting" which would lead to something similar to "placed" shuttles in badminton, where guile and not power is the requirement.

There will be NO Duckworth Lewis calculations. The algorithm in use will be the latest Abhyankar Gokhale rule, which takes into account monsoon wind speeds, greyness of clouds, aeroplanes flying overhead, and , finally, certain sweet tasting items being placed strategically on the pitch.

Microphones placed near the batsmen will be automatically connected to an automatic translation system similar to the United Nations, so the quality of on-pitch "chirping" can be monitored, irrespective of the language and dialect used. This information will , again, be fed to the third umpire, and will also serve to keep him wide awake.

The third umpire has been made significant in the scheme of things, after a West Indies umpire functioning as one was found nodding off to sleep, because the ground umpires refused to refer anything to him. Rumor has it that his phone was always busy.

In case of a tie after 5 overs each, each side would nominate a batsmen who would face 3 balls blindfolded. The batsmen to make the most ball connections would win for his side.

In case the tie still existed after this, each side would then nominate a bowler to bowl blindfolded, to sighted batsmen. The side to connect most balls would win.

In case this again proved equal, as per the latest ICC rules, both the teams would exit the championship.

Microsft and Intel are in the race to design the chips to be installed in the sparking bats and balls. There is an ongoing litigation over whose logo the players should wear, and Mr L. Yadav, president emeritus of the ICC, has suggested a compromise in the form of a logo saying "Doodh" , as a fashionable version of the word "Dude".....

An additional point of worry has been introduced due to the advent of some newer cricket playing nations like China, Bulgaria, Albania, Brunei, Russia, and Iceland. The influx of fake circuitry and rogue softwares cannot be denied, and the BCCI has recently met where Mrs Chakde Dhoni-Sehwag , the chairperson, appointed the cricket software firm of Kumble & Dravid to investigate things........

In the meanwhile, great celebrations were the order of the day in Bandra ,Mumbai, where youngsters Arjun Tendulkar and Samit Dravid were being felicitated for their grand success in the singles and doubles events in the recently concluded US open Tennis Championships.....

And Sachin Tendulkar, out for a walk at the Promenade after the felicitations, looked up at the sky, almost lifted his hand up as if he were carrying a bat , then thought otherwise, smiled to himself , shook his head and carried on....