Monday, 18 April 2011

Not cricket

A couple of days ago, I went to Wankhede Stadium to watch the IPL 20-20 cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Kochi Tuskers. Thousands of words have already been written, and more will be written, about why Mumbai lost and Kochi won, so I am not going to add to that. Instead, I will write about things I saw but were not necessarily cricket.

We had to queue up, climb a flight of stairs to go up a bridge, cross the bridge, come down and enter the stadium. I had climbed the same bridge in 1987, when India met England in the World Cup semi-finals and had lost. 24 years later the cops and the organisers are doing a better job. However, when it comes to moving ahead in an orderly queue, ants are definitely more evolved.

Inside the atmosphere was chaotic. Mumbai Indians’ fans outnumbered the visiting teams by a large margin and it showed. There was a time when commentators said complimentary things about Mumbai’s cricket fans because they were knowledgeable about the game, were well-behaved and most important, applauded the opposition if it played a good shot or bowled a great ball. Not in this match. It was a partisan crowd. Hardly anyone applauded the opposition. Which is funny because no one is really from Mumbai. Except for the fishing community, who either doesn’t care about the IPL or can’t afford the price of a ticket. And yes of course, this is the IPL, a thing that most sections of the media choose to portray as some kind of war - between this captain and that, this owner and that, this celebrity or that, even this city and that. Team loyalty, in this case, has to be created and fuelled throughout, else who will buy the tickets or switch on the telly?

There was also a time when Mumbai was called the cradle of Indian cricket because it nurtured young cricketers who made it to the national team in large numbers. Today, it is still the cradle of Indian cricket because from the time a child is in the cradle Mumbai mums and dads start dreaming of making him the next Tendulkar and you see boys carrying cricket kit bags the size of a cradle in grounds around the city.

If all the shouting, waving, whistling and blowing your own vuvuzelas made you hungry, you could buy a vada-pav, samosa, roll, burger, sandwich, ice cream, soft drink and water at the venue. However, all choices were vegetarian. I wonder why. I wonder if the Mumbai Cricket Association recommends a vegetarian diet for sportspersons and fans alike and whether that was the reason why the Mumbai Indians’ attack lacked teeth.

Apart from a glitzy and large electronic scoreboard, there was also a traditional black and white one. It was being operated by an unseen pair of hands, manually. But no one paid attention to it – it still lived in the era of day cricket and was rather dimly lit.

We had tickets for seats in the Sachin Tendulkar Stand. Thousands of words have been written about the miniature bucket seats (in a city with a perennial water scarcity, the buckets are bound to be small – one argument goes), and the lack of leg room, so I will not add more. But I believe like all great architecture is inspired by local conditions, the architecture of the renovated stadium (and hence the seating), probably takes inspiration from Mumbai’s iconic space-crunched slums as made famous by a movie that was not about dogs but made Danny Boyle a millionaire.

There were two more stands named after Mumbai cricketers – Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Merchant. From where we sat, I couldn’t see any more. I am certain that most young spectators were wondering who Mr. Merchant was and why he had a stand named after him. Well, such is the effect of time. However, despite having played his last one day match in this very stadium 24 years ago, the same one I had attended, no one would have been wondering who Sunil Gavaskar is. After retiring, he continues to enjoy a successful career as a cricket commentator and manages to stay in the news. 24 years from now people will still know him because his son has followed his footsteps in to the experts’ panel, and every time someone wants to know who he is, they will be told, “Oh, he is Sunil Gavaskar’s son.” Of course Merchant, Gavaskar and Tendulkar are all cricketing greats from Mumbai and they deserve their stands.

No prizes for guessing who gets the biggest name of them all. The politician of course. That’s who the Mumbai stadium is named after – Sheshrao Wankhede, a barrister, a minor politician and the President of Mumbai Cricket Association in 1974 when the stadium was built.
Maybe I am being too harsh. For all you know young Sheshrao might have led his school cricket team to triumphs unheard of!

When the match ended, we retraced our steps over the bridge and out. There was no pushing, shoving, shouting or trumpeting. There was no waiting for the presentation ceremony either. Everyone  plodded, including a couple wearing rather strange headgear. On closer observation it turned out that the man was wearing a clown’s hat and carrying his wife’s hand bag. Maybe he had lost a bet. Or maybe it was some kind of superstition. Like one of the guys who works with me requested today, “Please don’t go to watch Mumbai play; every time you do that, we lose.”

Sorry Mumbai Indians for being responsible for your failure; won’t happen again.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The pizza, like the rose, by any other name...

Recently I had lunch at a new restaurant called California Pizza Kitchen. It's a high end kind of place where a pizza costs around 350 rupees plus loads of tax. The décor is faux something; I am not an authority on architecture or interior design but the place could have been described as ‘contemporary (word meaning a con that doesn't last too long), Italian’. For those who have seen the Godfather Trilogy at an impressionable age, the term contemporary Italian might inspire images of Italian men in sharp cut suits carrying AK 47s instead of Tommy guns. But hold your imagination - the term ‘contemporary something’ is used by the builder-architect-interior design industry to describe something that looks modern and very vaguely resembles something but you can’t say what.

But back to California Pizza Kitchen. The food, pizza and pasta in our case, was good. The two desserts we ordered, Red Velvet Cake and Tiramisu, were big, beautiful and finger-lickingly yummy. But what flummoxed me was the name of the place - I can’t get it out of my head and I keep wondering about it.

For those who know their geography, California is the place where a whole bunch of Indians work in the IT (not income tax), industry in Silicon Valley* and live in areas like San José (where the ‘j’ is pronounced as an ‘h’), and Bay Area. In fact, there was a time in my childhood when bright kids (described as kids who attended expensive tuition classes), would spell out their career ambition as, “I live in the Bombay Area but when I grow up I want to drop the Bom”. Only kids (and parents) in the know would ‘get’ what they were saying while the rest would wonder who they wanted to drop the ‘Bom’ on.
*Sorry, this being a responsible blog, we will not give in to the temptation cracking one-liners about Silicon Valley and Pamela Anderson.

For those who know their literature, California features in the novel, ‘Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck (not to be confused with the piano by the same name). But there are only a handful people who would make this connection. But there is a vineyard full of people who will connect grapes to California. “Napa Valley and California wines,” they will say as they enrol for golf lessons as the next step to the next level in the corporate world, “I have a white from my last wine tour, hic, that goes well with tandoori chicken”.

But California and pizza? That’s not a connection. (Well, neither is California and kitchen a logical connection, but if people are eating in that state one presumes they have kitchens too.) Of course, like closer home, where there is always talk about connections between Bollywood and the underworld, there might be a connection between Hollywood (located in California), and the Mafia which is run by Sicilians who are reluctant Italians and an inspiration for, among other things, the Godfather books, movies and TV series. But those who know their Godfather will vouch for the fact that the Corleones never ate pizza. Not on screen, not in the book. I mean what kind respect would you have for Brando if you saw him struggling to separate a slice of pizza while battling chewing gum-like strings of cheese?

So why would anyone name an eatery California Pizza Kitchen? Here’s an implausible theory or two.

Once upon a time, I used to live in a far-flung western suburb of Mumbai. (Yeah, I wasn’t bright and didn’t make it to the Anderson Valley, sorry, to Silicon Pamela, damn, I mean Silicon Valley). Parked on the corner of the highway and my poor lane used to be a Chinese Fast Food Cart. (Further down was a dance bar called 'Madonna'. But that's another story and this is a responsible kind of blog.) The Chinese Cart was intriguingly named ‘American Chinese Fast Food’. I used to find it funny. But not anymore. The owner was probably ahead of his time. Or, he had a bright son who had migrated to the Silicon part of America and had funded his father’s Chinese Food Enterprise. Or maybe he, the owner and not the son, made a fortune on his American Chinese Cart and has now launched the hip (not to be confused with the body part of the same spelling), and happening Grade I eatery called California Pizza Kitchen. Luck to him I say. But not without a little worry that soon it might turn into a trend and we will have restaurants with names like ‘London Dim Sums’ and ‘Paris Biryani House’ started by someone who made a fortune with a road-side enterprise called ‘Shanghai Wada Pav’.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Death of a writer, kind of.

‘I have neglected my writing,’ I say to myself, 'I am going to sit here for at least, no, for exactly twenty minutes. Apart from looking up occasionally at the sky for inspiration and at every girl who walks in, I am going to put my nose to the paper and write. And if need be, re-write. Maybe at the end of these twenty minutes, I would have written utter nonsense or my pen would have spent more time suspended over the paper instead of running on it, but I will get up happy in the knowledge that I have tried. It is this kind of discipline that made Somerset Maugham a great and prolific writer; he would sit in front of his typewriter for two hours at an appointed time every day. It didn’t matter whether he wrote or not. Of course I can’t spare two hours a day. Twenty minutes is all I can afford every other day what with Facebook, Twitter and checking my e-mail on the phone, exchanging and forwarding ideas, thoughts and videos over the internet – the days are so full with action that it is a miracle that I can find twenty whole minutes every alternate day for this. The internet is truly a democratic medium – it is fed and kept alive by common people like me and you; without us this wonderful thing will implode and wither away like an uncharged cell phone. Maugham had it easy. If he wrote a letter, he would get a reply several days, even weeks or months later and he could always blame the postal services if he didn’t feel like replying right away.

Anyway, this sitting in a café and working like Hemingway is totally awesome. Except that there are so many girls walking in every now and then. And the sky is barely visible through the gaps in the buildings, gaps that aren’t wide enough for inspiration to flow through. And it is sixteen minutes since I switched off the phone and I wonder how many text messages and e-mails I have missed or if the internet has imploded worldwide because without realizing everyone has decided to spend twenty minutes without checking it. And that girl three tables away has looked at me the third time and I believe in the old saying – third time lucky. It’s already eighteen and half minutes and honestly, what’s going to happen in the next ninety seconds that hasn’t so far? I have only one regret - The world just lost the next Maugham or Hemingway. Or maybe even Shakespeare.’