Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chaanta Laga

The “obnoxious weed” (courtesy Matthew Hayden) is at it again. A couple of weeks into the Indian Professional League, Harbhajan has usurped the most entertaining factor in the league: the cheerleaders. Somewhere down the line after the mind-numbing display of batting over the first two weeks, the matches are beginning to be regularly lop-sided. I get it though. IPL is not about the cricket. It’s about entertainment. It’s about Shah Rukh Khan jumping in the aisles and Preity Zinta rushing to the ground to give “her” team a good old hug for finally winning a match. It is about the razzmatazz and the ability to satisfy the short attention spans of the viewing public. The format of the game is biased towards the batsmen and it takes an extraordinary bowler by McGrath to dictate terms. We’ll get to that later. The debate on the merits of this form of the game can be endless. To get back to the top selling points of IPL, the cheerleaders were heralded as the great “innovation”. Vijay Mallya brought to India the pom-pom wielding Amazons from the Washington Redskins. Their presence was warranted so much that Dravid and co. were banned from the ground while they perfected their routines. They hogged the limelight, they hogged TV time by jumping to action anytime a four or a six or a wicket came about (and there were plenty of those to come by) and the hogged the radars of the moralists who are worried about the length of their skirts upsetting the rather delicate minds of the Indians who apparently can’t keep their eye on the ball.

They had the center stage, until Harbhajan arrived. He captained his side, the Mumbai Indians, to a third successive loss in the IPL. Perhaps his patience gave way. Perhaps the culprit, the man who can single handedly bring down India’s cricketing reputation down, Shantakumar Sreesanth, needled him a wee bit too much. But it happened nonetheless. Harbhajan’s hand rose above his head where you couldn’t fault him for not bending his elbow enough, and it came down with the grip of a doosra, one that an inexperienced Sreesanth couldn’t be faulted for not anticipating. It landed on Sreesanth’s face just in the right area sending his head into a spin that he couldn’t handle. On being thus dismissed, he let his disappointment known. Tears rolled down his face uncontrollably and the rest is televised history.

Perhaps Harbhajan took his loyalty to his team too seriously. Aren’t these players a bit like hired mercernaries? Would a Pollock really care Mumbai wins or Bangalore does? What’s his loyalty to the city? As per the franchise system he might get transferred somewhere else. These matches are a bit like matches I played in our building while growing up. Two strong players would be captains and the rest be picked turn by turn. Everyone just played to get their chance to do their bit with the bat and ball. Winning would be a bonus. No teams would be the same over two days and it really was entertainment. Perhaps this simplistic view of the IPL is necessary for me. Cricket after all is my passion and I’ll love IPL, even if I end up treating it with the partiality of a step-child. While IPL doesn’t give me the satisfaction of watching cricket, the least I can derive of it is the entertainment. For that, I need to thank Harbhajan and congratulate him for topping my charts. It’s a slap in the face of the all-domineering cheerleaders.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Interview

He treads intrepidly
Through the claustrophobic
Passages of memory.
Failure closes in
Garbed as questions;
Attempted yet Unanswered,
Much like life’s mysteries.
A circular linked list,
A binary search,
Oh, and your toughest challenge please.
He swats them aside; these thoughts
Straightens his tie
And walks right in
“Good morning”, indeed.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dough aur Dough Paanch

The aroma of mouth-watering, spine-tingling, soul-uplifting food spreads outward from the kitchen. About fifteen feet away, I am going through my justifying a day of leisure by gorging on EPSN’s collection of twenty-five greatest cricketers. The smell makes me stop at a eulogy to Viv Richards’s legendary World Cup final performance. Even the King can’t arrest my attention any longer. There is Ambrosia in the house, and as is the norm, it hasn’t been cooked by me. I have been spoilt by riches to which I have direct access: great chefs. From my grandmother to my mother to my wife, I have had access to some terrific cooks. I can’t leave out my roommate back in Texas A&M who was the Indian Association’s chef-in-charge for our entry into the International Food Day contest. Luck by chance, I have nothing to do with it. I was blessed into a family of great cooks, and I don’t remember asking my wife how she cooked when we dated. It is in these circumstances that my inability to cook is highlighted to the extreme. Am I driven by the abject desire to cook badly so I don’t have to cook at all? Does my devious mind deliberately misunderstand the emotional reactions insufficient salt can’t bring about? No, no, absolutely not. It is said that when one of the senses if impaired, it heightens the others. Perhaps my lack of ability to judge when a vegetable has crossed over from being cooked to being burnt has helped me memorize directions better. Who knows?

I learnt to cook a few days before I left India for the US. My abilities till date had been limited to boiling milk in the kitchen that I dutifully did. With generous doses of training from my other and recipes written in my own hand-writing to avoid any contention, I headed to braver shores to try my skills. Alas, as Avinash and my other roommates would agree, the results were far from desirable. It is as if I couldn’t get it at all. The recipes might just as well have been a regional language movie I am watching. I could grasp the story but not the intricacies. The chick peas swam in a sea of excess water, the pulao often turned brown as it stuck to the bottom. The jury was out, and I was limited to cooking once a week for everyone’s benefit. Marriage didn’t change matters much, with my wife’s fabulous cooking and the wondrous division of labor that all married couples duly agree to in order to function as good roommates.

Years have passed and I have exercised my right to cook once in a while. Yet, the tag has stuck. That I am an ordinary cook has been written into my hand (metaphorically) like Vijay in Deewar. The self-deprecatory jokes (and this article) don’t help either. As is my wont, I generally go onto the internet to look for recipes for things as simple as Alu Sabzi. As an engineer, I have an analytical mind that can follow detailed instructions. I have attempted to apply these skills to cooking. But how does one contend with improper specifications: what does a ‘handful’ mean? What size of the spoon were they referring to? What is Nigella called in Gujarati? I grapple with these question and my soul searches for answers as my daal rightly falls short of salt. I may be an ordinary cook but I aspire for greatness too. Perhaps my heart will once find the right balance of spices to make Alu Gobi, or ambition will take me into making a concoction involving paneer. Till then, I struggle in the shadows and let the experts do their work. I reassure my guests at every dinner party that I had nothing to do with the food. They breathe easy. But it will change one day. A dish would be present in the mix that no one identifies as tasteless or off or difficult to eat. It will be cooked by me and no one will know the difference. That would be the ultimate compliment. Redemption will come.