Identity Proof

It all began when the conductor asked him to show an ID proof and the young man retorted, “if I didn’t have the ID card, how did the conductor give me the pass?” The gloat in his eye was obvious.

“It will be a case, saar. That conductor would simply have asked if you had a proof. You must show your ID along with the pass,” shouted the conductor before moving away.

The talkative man who was sitting quietly opposite to him began his rant, and I still think our smart young lad should have listened respectfully.

“Ah, ID is a must. Anything will do, your voter card, PAN card, or even a xerox copy of your Aadhaar card. Who is this man, your father, isn’t he?” he said, pointing to the lean old man in blue lungi folded to his thighs.

The young lad wasn’t listening fully. He had ear-phones on and was idly scrolling down his smart phone that fit neatly in his large palm. The talkative man repeated his query, nodding his head, as if sizing up the arrogant brat in front of him.

“Namma chikkappa,” he said. My uncle.

Then the talkative man turned his attention to the old man who was neither as smart as the nephew nor had a phone to shoo away strangers giving unsolicited advice.

“Say you were lost. You were lost in Majestic. You randomly move here and there. A policeman stops you and asks your whereabouts. What will you show? How do you prove?”

Clearly, the old man didn’t expect such a situation. His grey brow thickened and he nodded his dark and weather-worn head in approval.

*

Elsewhere in the BMTC bus, a man standing behind me was talking on phone, advising his friend which phone to buy. The man before me checked a few Marathi jokes on his WhatApp-friends group, half-watched a video and slid his phone into his pocket. He did a couple of squats to relieve his aching calf muscles. Evidently, he had been travelling a lot today. All the while, our bus was stuck in a sea of four-wheeled vehicles called the Saturday evening rush. It didn’t move an inch for twenty minutes.

“Where are you from?” the talkative man continued his enquiry.

“Sira,” the young man replied.

“And why did you come here? Had a court-case? A land dispute?” I was astonished at the ease with which he asked.

“No, he came to sell the produce from our farm,” said the young man.

“You should not come to the city! Get somebody to carry your stuff. Just sit and enjoy your time in your farm. Why this trouble?” the talkative man said pointing to the daily pass of the old man who had no document to ratify his identity. The exchange was getting interesting, and as it began to take shape, our young man interjected, “Leave it saar, all this for an ID card.”

The talkative man grinned widely. He had been expecting this, and how ready he was with life advice! “See old man — these young guys — they don’t know the problems of us, the old. Whatever you say, they don’t listen. It simply doesn’t get into their ears.” Rightly so, because the young man in question had his earphones on and had given up; he held his face in his cupped hands and pretended to be asleep, and not listening. Before our bus moved any further, he was fast asleep.

The talkative man peered out of the window and spat on the road, almost on the car that sped by.

“Sira is developing these days, isn’t it? Companies are now opening offices in Tumkur. Did you see how they developed Nelamangala?” As everyone in Bangalore knows, development means a real estate boom and companies are software companies. The old man, it seemed, knew none of this, and he gave another nod.

“The same developers who developed Nelamangala are now working near Tumkur. I know the agents there. No agents or commission, they’ll come to your house directly. Good price also. I also know some ministers…”

For a moment, in that congested crowd on a Saturday evening, a life — or if you like, a livelihood — hung in a balance. A pause hasn’t been more pregnant. The old man did what he did the best. Nod. It meant nothing, and the talkative man got going.

“Have you got children, old man?”

A nod.

“When you write off your property, just give them their share and don’t bother what they do with it. These young people, we can’t say what they think. Leave it to themselves.”

How cunning, I thought.

“Listen to nobody. This is what any advocate will tell you.”

“Hahaha! But listen to you, shouldn’t we, sire?” I mumbled to myself. When he peered out of the window to spit again, I grabbed the talkative man by his collar and threw him out of the window. In my mind, of course.

*

Now the tired man before me became really tired, not of the monologue as I was, but of the traffic. “Where are we? I can’t see out of the window,” he asked the talkative man. He said where we were stuck in the traffic. “Where are you from, mister?” he asked the tired man.

“Maharastra.”

“Mumbaiyaa?” The question didn’t just mean Mumbai, but a sense of belonging to the city which he wanted to show that he had.

*

The rant continued, and the old man stopped nodding too: “I left Mumbai in 1997, and even when I go there now, I will definitely find work. I graduated in 1984. Do you know how old I would be now? Do you? I still continue to work. I was at NIMHANS today. They manufacture something, and they said that I must help them. You know what I said? ‘When shall I come?’ ‘Monday morning.’ ‘So, Monday morning it is’. Money is not important to me. I need contentment (gently pats his heart). I have got cars and vehicles. But I travel by bus everyday. Once I even ran into an accident. Driving is not for me. I have two sons, both are software. I can call them to pick me up, but I don’t. I have neither given nor taken from them a single paisa after they found work. One is asking me to marry him. I said ‘find a girl yourself and tell me, I will do it’. Today is a Saturday, means a holiday to them. One has gone to Kerala, and the other is somewhere else. You should know things about the world, swami… Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Dubai, Singapore. I have seen the world…”

The talkative man spat once again from the window. The old man — what would he do? — looked at his daily pass and cleared boogers with a blue towel.

*

I left the bus in Malleswaram to attend to more important things; but I wondered, what will the old man and the young man tell each other when they alight from the bus and rest for the day?

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger is a rags-to-riches story of Bangalore’s (most) successful but unnoticed entrepreneur. Between the rags and the riches is a gut-wrenching tale that bares the rotting soul of the country even as it is buzzing with trade and commerce. The narrator, who calls himself The White Tiger – an animal that takes birth only once in a generation – is typing away his story in the dead of night as letters to the visiting Chinese Premier Mr. Wen Jiabao in a silver Macintosh laptop bought from Singapore.

We are immediately transported to the Darkness – to the plains of North India – where the mighty Ganga flows. In a dramatic scene in which Munna, our protagonist, goes to Benares with his family to bury his dead mother at one of the ghats, the river sucks in the black liquid that is the remains of her. Like her, the Ganga sucks into herself everything that is born from it. The seas bring in Light: all the places on the coast are prosperous, but wherever the Ganga flows, there is Darkness.

This is a novel of tragedy and despair. Take for example Munna’s household: the womenfolk of the family work all day in their kitchen. Then they would fight each other, throwing plates, pulling hair and all, and the fighting was over, they would heal the wounds and sing songs to one another. All their lives. Or when Balaram (that’s a name Munna gets from the teacher) is removed from the school and put to work in a Tea shop, he is crushing the coal when his brother Kishan asks him, “Are you angry with me that you are removed from the school? Crush the coal thinking it’s my skull.” Or when Balaram visits the village the first time after he joins as a driver to Mr. Ashok, the family cooks for him a lavish meal of chicken. Balaram suddenly has a vision that the family is eating away the flesh of Kishan, as they did the same thing earlier with his father before he succumbed to tuberculosis and died a painful death. Balaram never returns to the village.

A great deal of the story is about the Rooster Coop.

Go to Old Delhi,and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundred of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them.They know they are next, yet they cannot rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with humans in this country.

“This is the Rooster Coop. This is the reason why without secret police, without gun-firing, Mr Premier, a handful men of this country have trained the remaining to perpetual servitude…Everyday, servants from Surat carry bags and bags of diamonds to Mumbai in trains and nothing ever gets stolen… The trustworthiness of servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy.”

When Pinky madam, wife of Mr. Ashok, the America-returned son of the landlord (called the Stork: it is said that he has the habit of dipping his beak into the poor) crushes under a Honda City the ‘little black thing’ in cheap green fabric on the night of her birthday, Balaram is falsely accused of the killing. Hundreds of drivers from the Darkness fill the cells of Tihar Jail for the crimes of their masters. Even the judges who sentenced them know this; they all are a part of the coop. Balaram is devastated when he hears this, but his family is not. To them, it is the ultimate mark of loyalty to the master.

Why does the Rooster Coop work and what happens when one tries to escape it? To both questions, the answer is the family. It takes an animal of a human being to escape from the Rooster Coop and face the news of his family being hunted and beaten to death. Or run away from that too! It takes a White Tiger to escape the Rooster Coop.

When Balaram is plotting to kill his master – his master who fills the red bag with stacks and stacks of cash to pay as bribe to the politicians to get his family’s coal business running in Dhanbad – and abscond with the money, his nephew Dharam is sent to Delhi from the village to make a living. The moment when Balaram slaps Dharam hard in the face just as he arrives captures the tension and anger: just at the moment when he would escape the vicious coop, a new arrival from the village drags him back.

Eventually, he escapes Delhi with the money and his nephew after killing Mr. Ashok. He zigzags his way down south to Bangalore and listens to the city, as he did in Delhi as a driver. The last part of the tale is how rises to be the owner of a fleet of twenty Qualis vehicles, all air-conditioned in Summer, and runs a successful taxi service for IT employees.

*

Supplement The White Tiger with ‘Bihar is in the eyes of the beholder’, some fine feature writing by Vijay Nambisan and two movies par excellence: Gangs of Wasseypur I and II.

Towards a scientific history

The article ‘Why do our scientists not speak out?’ by renowned scientist and science populariser Dr. D Balasubramanian appeared in the column Speaking of Science in Science and Technology feature on The Hindu on Thursday, November 13.

The Prime Minister’s remarks at a hospital inauguration on genetic engineering and plastic surgery being known in ancient India – citing mythological episodes for illustrations – drew criticism from historians and media persons. [In fact, plastic surgery was known. It is the parallel that is drawn to the story of Ganesha that stirred the debate] Though this criticism makes valid points on how it is rather fanciful and non-scientific to replace history with mythology and other elements of imagination, it falls short of talking about the science itself. It is this gap that Dr.Balasubramanian fills. He says the debate is an important and a necessary one, at a time when concerns are being voiced over the ideological influence of the political parties in power.

The author has articulated the idea that myth and science have to be carefully differentiated before assessing our scientific heritage, citing examples to show that both had a fair share in ancient India. It is pointless to use either side of the debate to denounce or deify the history. By stressing that the conflict is really between rational thinking and imaginative fantasy, and that the onus is on scholars to build the narrative of our past, the author steered the discussion away from religion and fundamentalism over which naysayers cry foul. This is the greatest merit of the article along with its clarity of thought and coherence.

[This is a part of an assignment to analyse a good piece of (print) journalism in my course Journalism for Scientists. It is unfortunate that there are not many science popularisers in the country; surely we can do better. Dr. Balasubramanian, a first grade scientists himself, is an inspirational figure in this field. He has written prolifically in science columns in newspapers. Do take time to go through the archive of his articles. I love to know what you feel about this post and the article referred to. Please comment, start a discussion.]

What I want to hear from Tendulkar’s Playing it My Way

You have all seen the excerpt from Tendulkar’s autobiography due to hit markets this Thursday:

“Just months before the World Cup, Chappell had come to see me at home and, to my dismay, suggested that I should take over the captaincy from Rahul Dravid. Anjali, who was sitting with me, was equally shocked to hear him say that ‘together, we could control Indian cricket for years’, and that he would help me in taking over the reins of the side.”

The publishers and marketing people have done a swell job in bringing forth the controversy that was widely publicised yet less talked about: in the words of Sourav, that (2005-07) was one of the worst periods in Indian cricket. Clearly, the coach was not listening to the cricketers who were in their prime form; in fact, he did go after each of them and appeared in the media for the wrong reasons.

Now, if Tendulkar is telling his story of his career, and be – we have a reason to believe – brutally honest, then there are sooo… many stories to look out for. My favourite list:

Note: This is rather a testimonial to Tendulkar himself and the wonderful stories cricket matches and gossip have given us over the past twenty years. (Twenty years! I shuddered while I typed it.) We would definitely want to go over them again, and see them in the book itself.

The happy occasions:

The Sandstorm Innings:
Almost nothing can go wrong when Sachin made up his mind to beat the target. So it did happen that India needed 285 to beat Australia in the Coca Cola cup in Sharjah in1998; an interruption that came in the form of a dust storm. The target was then revised to 276 in 46 overs. As it often happens in Indian cricket, there was another important number: score 237 to get ahead of New Zealand and get into the final. Tendulkar is said to have told coach Anshuman Gaikwad that he will go with full force at the Australian attack – Kasprowicz, Fleming, Warne, Moody and (Steve) Waugh. And how he did! The second dust storm of the evening followed, apparently. Australia saved the match but Sachin’s ton helped India get through.

The final face-off happened on Sachin’s birthday (turned 25) and India once again had to chase 273. That innings was nothing short of historic; watch it for the technical brilliance and intent on display and the verve of Tony Greig (the English cricketer who eventually groveled), one of the finest commentators of the game, who dwarfed Ravi and Sunny (both Mumbaikaars) in his praise for Sachin. He whacked, he pulled, he drove, he lofted. He didn’t stop. If you like some drama here, Sachin didn’t take off the helmet as he usually does, as he reached his fifteenth ton. India comfortably reached the target even as Sachin (134) departed after being adjudged lbw by Steve Bucknor.

So with his 98 vs Pakistan in Durban, 2003 WC. How he sent Shoaib’s delivery flying for a six over third man will be talked about for many more years.

His masterly peers: Bhogle, Dravid and Ganguly
Harsha Bhogle, one of the ‘Few Good Men’, was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for the Benson and Hedges World Cup in 1992, and has ever since been a voice of the game. Like Sachin, he too started early; at 19, while studying in Hyderabad, he was already a commentator at the All India Radio. Harsha is the best loved commentator of our times; he can make the ordinary (and some mediocre) look glorious. Take a look:

Michael Vaughan makes a mess of Sachin Tendulkar’s stumps after the latter has played a gem of an innings. A dismissal as soft as they come and people are crestfallen. Shoulders droop in front of TV sets, and in comes Harsha, “Oh what a shame! It was reminiscent of a soldier who survived the war when all the bullets were flying by his nose and then got run over by a bicycle in his native town!”

In the match when Tendulkar scored 200*, MS took charge in the final overs of the game and kept blasting boundaries. Then came Sachin who softly caressed the ball to a boundary. Here is what he said: “We have a surgeon at one end and a butcher at the other.”

Tendulkar and Ganguly have the highest opening partnership runs (6609 in 136 innings) in ODI cricket; 1300 runs ahead of the second best. With Dravid, Tendulkar shared a memorable partnership in the middle amassing 6920 runs in 143 innings – ahead of Jayawardena and Sangakkara, the duo who, it looked, batted forever. The stories of the rise to the top of the Fab Four (Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, VVS) and the team itself are our best memories of the decade that went by.

A few sad ones:

Match-fixing controversy
At the turn of the century, it looked as if Cricket lost its audience in India. Match-fixing made news and several players (including Indian) were implicated. Under the leadership of a new skipper (Ganguly) and coach (Wright), India staged an extraordinary and a less-known comeback. We want to read more on this.

Nervous nineties and the defeats
Tendulkar got out in nineties twenty-eight times and had to wait twenty-three innings after his ninety ninth to get his hundredth ton. He has a dubious distinction of scoring for a losing cause, though stats clearly show otherwise. Yet, there are stories…

Particularly heart-breaking is his knock (175) vs Australia in Hyderabad in 2009. Chasing 351, it looked like a sand-storm all over again. But Sachin fell cheaply for a slow delivery, and the rest failed to get the required nineteen runs of seventeen balls. India lost by three runs. His majestic innings won the MoM. Watch this for the sound of the ball hitting the willow.

The long wait for World Cup
Sachin was a part of all world cups from 1992; he was the top scorer in 1996 when India lost to SriLanka in a forgettable semi-final in Eden Gardens. In fact the match was ‘awarded’ to SriLanka. Again in 2003 he was the player of the tournament; he fell for 4 in the final as India buckled before the mammoth target set by the Aussies. Then there is 2007, which I am sure is written about. That was Guru Greg’s time.

The wait ended in 2011. I really want to read what happened in the dressing room after the openers fell and before MS Dhoni promoted himself up the order. That was the best gamble ever. Dhoni says it is Gary(Kirsten)’s decision but he may be downplaying it. That night Virat Kohli said – and is widely quoted thereafter – “He carried the burden of the nation for twenty-one years; so it’s time we should carry him on our shoulders”. Sure he filled the void left after Sachin’s retirement. Kohli’s phenomenal rise post 2011 made everyone sit up and observe. His important part in the final chase in 2011 – calming down the nerves after two important wickets fell in quick succession and generating runs nevertheless – didn’t go unnoticed.

*

Now the inevitable question – after Sachin who? A refined question may be: will we get another Sachin the cricketer and Sachin the person. We can bank on our enormous cricketing talent but Sachin the person is clearly a product of his times. All along his career, his strike rate stood sturdily at 86. For now, we have Kohli the person, Dhoni the person. What is important – as far as cricket is concerned and wherever cricketers can make amends – is to win matches. That is what the stalwarts of the age that has gone by insisted on. పేకాట పేకాటే!