November 28, 2011

The Football; The Bong

Last week after ages I played the game and kicked a ball so hard that my shoe threatened to fly off. And while kicking I started calculating the angle at which my side of my foot needs to touch the ball. And in one of those moments, in the turf laid down at the East Coast Park, I realized I actually miss football.

Every bong is born unto this world with the conviction that he knows football. So every 4 years, he or she trades the Indian nationality to support Brazil, Argentina or at times (surprise surprise) Germany. And when the world is normal, he supports Mohun Bagan, East Bengal or Md. Sporting. The reasons why Bongs love Football are many, but I believe it’s mostly economic. Cricket you see was a game that required significant investment even at the very basic level. For Football, it’s nothing. In fact, if you get a chance, do watch a movie called Africa United. It’s fascinating to see how a football can be made with a condom, a plastic bag and strings. Across Bengal, poverty has been a reality and that’s the reason why we chose to play football over cricket.

Of course there are these new breed of bongs, me included, who act as if they were born at Wembley and played Gulli Cricket with Alex. These guys support typically these teams – those born in the eighties support Liverpool as they had seen the Nineties, the next generation support ManU, the next Arsenal, the new breed without any respect for pedigree support Chelsea and there are whispers that some have begun to support the other ‘chesters this season. Few of the bongs seem to support Napoli and if you wonder why, please stop reading and never ever claim to have a Bong as a friend.

Now my football journey lasted every day since 1989 (till around 2001) for 5 days a week with balls ranging from an innocuous tennis ball on the basketball court, to half the playground as the junior classes, and finally with an actual football, to being the Class 12ers who could play along the entire field, whether they could manage it or not.

The best part about those days was the fact that at any given point in time there would be about 400 students running after 25 balls on a fairly large field with 6 goalposts and 50 goalies who preferred to call themselves “Flying Goalies”

The 2 guys the entire class of 2011 of the greatest school in Calcutta looked up to were Asif Pasha and Niloy Mitra. Of course there were other players, even better players than these 2 but somehow since the beginning till the end of our school life these 2 guys typically were our captains who chose the teams. Somehow I always ended up in Asif’s team and I am yet to figure out if it was because Asif chose me or Niloy did not :)

Anyway, as I said I have had a long and fruitful journey as a footballer. I started as a striker, given the fact in the penalty shoot outs I could shoot really hard and in the 30 minutes rarely did any match have any outcome :) Then as usual with other things in my life, duty called. And I figured out that my services were needed in the mid field. About the time when the world cup was happening I realized that my football idol, Kaizer had made Lothar a Libero. I still don’t exactly know what a libero does, but it sounded a pretty cool thing to say to people. (Or was it not Kaizer who invented it but was in the edition after Italia 90?) Being a libero was of course tiring and I decided to be a back and then a full back, which I defined as never having to go beyond the midfield. That’s when I made my most famous football quote, “the ball might pass, no one else would.”

But as we grew older, the effect was telling. I mean how many footballers have a 12 year long illustrious career? So that’s when I became the “Flying Goalie” though to be absolutely honest I never did much flying.

So I stood under the goalpost and the years flashed before my eyes. Was it this reason for which I had been trained? Was it for this reason that I had become a goalie? To salvage lost pride for the Foods team? I almost could hear Hollywood Sports movies go on around my head (and a little bit of Chak De India) – you know the inspirational dialogue bit.

And yeah these days the goalie does seem to get the captaincy, the cup and the babe! So fate had got me here for a reason.

All such notions were soon laid to rest. We conceded 14 goals in 4 matches. 10 of those were through my “safe” hands. To be fair to myself, I did save quite a few and apparently we fared much better than last year for which we promptly treated ourselves to a scrumptious lunch at Scumpy Murphys but still...

Fate got me here to have a nice laugh on a Saturday morning! Even she needs her funny moments!

Damn I should have remained a striker :)

November 23, 2011

Will You?

Will you let me look at you
Without a care in the world?
Will you smile again and hold
My hands as if we never left?

Will you let me have your worries
That bind you to the ground?
Will you laugh at the sun and sand
As we build our castle in the air?

Will you let me feel your pain
That makes me cry at night?
Will you believe in us once more
Even while we remain apart?

Will you sit with me, silently,
Tired as the day goes by?
Will you hold my daughter
Telling her a story about us?

Will you smile again with me
And believe I ask for nothing else?
Will you let the years between us
Seem like moments?

And as the sun goes down
Will you speak to me of yesterday?

November 16, 2011


The door opened by itself and I walked in to the soulful music of Dire Straits. As I slid my hands under the tap in the restroom of my favourite restaurant in Singapore, I realized this is also number 2 in my list of favourite restrooms across the world.

Working for SNDU has scarred me in ways more than one :) Fascination with restroom is just one of them. Very rarely does a job require you to look intently at a squat style Indian toilet with deep reverence in Andheri West and ask the lady of the house, “aap acid kyun use karte hain? Achha... saath mein detergent bhi?” and then on the next day admire pictures of squat toilets in South East Asia and understand similarities and differences! (True Story)

That was the moment in end 2007 when the tryst with restrooms started. And that’s why I get really irritated at times. What’s with the restrooms around the world? I mean has no one ever noticed how confusing signs can be? Given that selecting the wrong door can lead to some of the most embarrassing moments in a person’s life, I would have hoped that someone would have done something about it. You know, at least have some kind of standardization?

Let’s take one of the ad agencies I worked with. You had to stand in front of their doors to figure out whether the image was of a man’s or woman’s. Fantastic creativity! In fact, the first time I guessed it, I went WOW! But then when you are rushing, you can’t actually appreciate creativity, Can you?

In one of the now defunct pubs in South Mumbai, I was sitting with 3 people who had by that time drunk enough to visit the restroom multiple times. But what I wasn’t prepared for was scared shouts from grown up men as they ran out of the male restroom as my friend walked in straight into the last male bastion and later claimed famously, “it showed a figure wearing pants. I was wearing pants.” She later, when sober and in office, refused to accept that she had made this statement and the world lost one of the greatest feminist icons of all times!

One day, I was sitting peacefully in a restroom wondering about the world around me and then suddenly I heard voices. Now that’s not strange in a world with 7 billion people. I am sure very few people have personal restrooms in this world. In fact, that’s when I figured out one of the reasons I love travelling alone on work – I am the master of my own bogs!

The airports across the world can be rated according to the cleanliness of their toilets. Chennai and Calcutta would be amongst the worst while Dubai, Delhi T3 and Singapore can claim to be amongst the best. Sometimes in Changi I feel at few given points in time, there are more restrooms than travellers in the airport.

I still remember the awesomeness I felt at a Dubai restroom. It was my first international trip and I could feel the difference. In India, except perhaps at T3 in Delhi, you would shudder to use a public restroom. Women in India have it the hardest and more often than not, if you are observant, you will realize how women in India have learnt to cope. It’s a rare moment when I feel anger but I still remember I felt extremely extremely angry and helpless at that moment in Dubai. And that’s why I love Sulabhs in India. Maybe not the best amongst the world but for an average Indian, they often are lifesavers.

I blame it on our use of water without going into too much graphic details about it. Being both a water conservationist and a paper conservationist, you might choose to save paper, but do remember that water spreads. What does your culture ask you to use? With that disturbing thought I stop! :)

Enough about restrooms so here’s the last bit. My favourite restroom is the one beside Wimpy’s near the D gates in Jo’Berg Airport. I have been there about 4 times now and that’s the only restroom I actively seek out. It’s a place where the gentleman in charge of the restroom welcomes every passenger with a glittering South African smile and a statement – “Welcome to my Office”. I really tried to recommend him for his fantastic attitude towards his work but I could not find a feedback kiosk in Jo’berg.

It feels nice to be in a restroom beside your own where you know it is cared for.

November 06, 2011

The Queen of The Zulus

Seldom do we find people who do not revel in their country’s history and its glorious past. Countries which have been split apart in the twentieth century also speak of a nation from the past. The Greek Orthodox Christians in the Middle East remember fondly the Byzantine Empire in all its glory, the Latin Americans remember the grandeur of Chichen Itza, Indians can’t stop talking about the glorious heritage, the heritage varying depending on who you ask.

But there are Nations and People whose history has been lost in the sands of time. The fiercely independent American Indians remember their past only since the pale faces came in; the aboriginals of Australia seem to have lost the memories of their forefathers. Only legends live on in folk tales and traditions and art. Africa, the birthplace of humanity, too lost her history and also her pride along with it. The Zulus were once a martial race that defeated the British Army with just spears in the memorable Opening Battle of The Anglo Zulu Wars in Isandlwana.

I realized after some thought that strangely history is saved by our monuments. If a certain kingdom reigning in the Western parts of India had not decided to pay their respects to their Gods, an Island off the coast of Mumbai would not have the Trinity looking over the city from their hidden caves.

It might have been faith as was the case with many temples in India, it might have been a boost for the ego for most of the rulers once faith had deserted them, it might have been the aliens at the Stonehenge, it might have been technology in case of the Incas or the residents of Mohen-Jo-Daro or even at attempt at afterlife by the rulers of Egypt.

But wherever history has stayed it’s because of the monuments of the Generation. The only other way to safeguard your history is through the stories passed on from father to son, from teacher to pupil, from bard to bard, till someone decided to note them down as in the case of King Arthur or the Epics of the Greeks or the Indian epics.

Most of Africa’s history lives on through her proverbs and little else. It’s tragic to imagine that few would know how the Bubu originated in Nigeria or why the Zulus were able to establish a great kingdom even before King Shaka. This is one continent where I still feel the primal call of the wild in my blood even though I may be sitting in one of the most modern hotels with perhaps one of the best views in Umhlanga in Durban. The drum beats which I never heard seems to echo from the sea, beats that resemble who we are deep inside.

At night, the winds howl and whisper in my ears, the story of a Nation that lost her pride – of a Queen of the Zulus who will come one again to ensure that Pride Rock gets back her former glory.

Perhaps it’s this connection with nature that made Africans from the central and southern parts stay away from the grandeur loving nature of the Egyptian Rulers. Africa strangely has little architecture that has survived the onslaught of time (except perhaps Great Zimbabwe). Somehow it also leads me to hypothesize that the land was so bountiful that beyond saving their tribes from the blood thirsty nature of the early African rulers, there was little that one needed to do in order to survive. They lived as one with nature, not against her and thus while the Masai tribes went for hunting; they never killed to decorate their houses with lion heads.

I love the South African greeting – they are always “Proudly South African”. The bringing back of their pride is what the continent is waiting for; to unlock the chains of corruption that is binding them. The ills here are numerous – AIDS, teenage pregnancy, dependency on grants, huge credit pressures and the list goes on. Hope flickers, dim and rare to find.

But that’s the beauty of hope. Maybe my story is true. One day, perhaps, once again, The Queen of The Zulus will rise to take her rightful throne and lead the Nation to glory. Till then the drum rumbles as the world slowly begins to realize the potential of Africa beyond just her diamonds.