Cutting Power

There were several titles I had in mind for this post. Ultimately, I chose to go with this because it did two things: first, it reminded me of the phrase “cutting chai”, and second, it was premised on the fact that you could point to an individual taking decisions on whether load-shedding was necessary – a fact that in the moment that electricity turns off, is not something you think of.

I was introduced to the concept of load-shedding on my vacation trips to India. Invariably they gave me angst, because it meant the television would turn off (which I am grateful for – since it cultivated my reading habit), or that the fan would not work. In Bangalore, my grandparents had a small diesel generator that powered essential supplies even when BESCOM decided to carry out these exercises. In Pune, we didn’t have one till recently – and on the warm days that sometimes came by during the monsoons, I detested every bit of it. Living in a country that thrived on its large power source (oil), we never had electricity shortages, or cuts of any kind. It was a privilege I grew to appreciate.

Things sort of normalized for me when I relocated. I was fortunate that the community we stayed in had a diesel generator, but even when the power went – for an extended period of time, I don’t think it aggravated me as much as it used to when I was younger. There was more information: what the purpose of the load-shedding was, how long till we had mains supply back. There was also a lot more awareness about how non-renewables were being utilized to produce electricity, and the finiteness of everything. It made sense to reduce, or step back from heavy consumption for some time, if we could.

I didn’t really anticipate that these would continue at University.  This was largely because I felt like a University – an educational space could not function without electricity in today’s age. That is a presumption that is flawed in its own respects, but the first power outage I experienced on campus definitely shocked me (yes, I see the irony). I remember being in the night mess, having just ordered some food – when the power went out, and our campus was enveloped in darkness. In the distance, I heard some crazy screaming from the boys hostel – and I didn’t really understand how so many people could be united in their ability to yell into the void without any “guide” so to speak. There was no “leader”. No call & response system. Just a cacophony of people screaming “OOoooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOOOOOOo” into the darkness.

I laughed. The power came back within two minutes, and things returned to normal.

Then exam season struck in second semester. That was when I recognized the power that anonymity vests within an individual. In the darkness, it is impossible to see who instigates something. With the kind of pent-up anger people had against the examination system and against the University at large – not anger I could relate to in my first year, I heard some of the most colourful insults, the source of which was definitely deep-seated. Oh, how I howled from my room. I was still too scared to venture forth in the dark – but I listened intently for the new slogans that my seniors came up with and the kind of responses they received. You could distinguish pretty quickly between chants that were received with universal acclaim – they produced the highest decibels, and chants that were centered around inside jokes, or things that only a particular group would understand, which led to sound being emanated only from one part of this oval we reside in.

I’ve previously argued that you could use all that sound energy to power a generator in some way.

Last night, the power went out for some time around 11:45PM. I sprinted out of my room immediately – running to the center of the hostel so I could get a better listen of what rage people would choose to let go of. We didn’t have exams, nothing stressful per se has been happening pan-campus.

Which provided opportune moments for comedy. Last evening was arguably one of the funniest nights this campus has seen. The rhyme schemes were inventive, they were relatable, and they got random juniors who had no idea what the fifth years were screaming about to join in for the choral response.

The wardens roamed around using a torchlight trying to find the source – because the comedy poked fun at them after a point. But when they shone on one set of people, the chants began from the other side of the oval. The synchronization was lovely. The outage lasted about 20 minutes at most, but when I met one of my batchmates after, he quipped that, just for pure entertainment value: living the darkness was worth it.

I hate to say it, but I agree with him.

There’s this entire practice I feel like I’ve written about before, but is worth repeating. In Flogsta, students scream out their woe every evening at 10PM. Every single day. It’s remarkable.

I sincerely hope & pray that we have a few more this semester. Some during exams. They shouldn’t last too long. Just enough. For the entertainment value.

Mann ki Shakti

While I have a preference for Nesquick and Milo, and University provided me the option and love for Cavin’s, I am a true believer in Bournvita. We bought it several times at home, including the 5-star special they had come out with once. My introduction to Bournvita was at a friend’s house. Him and I stayed in diagonally opposite flats, and I visited his house daily to play cricket for a few hours in the evening. Over the years, he became my elder brother, giving me French tuition when I needed it in Grade 5, and teaching me several things about standing up to peer pressure. He inculcated in me a strong love for reading – because that was all we used to do on several days in his house, and a true love for barf ka gola. Most of all though, he taught me the delight in revelling in a cold or warm glass of Bournvita – and soon, that became a part of my routine at his house as well.

When I arrived at University, I learned a couple of things in my first few days. First was the fact that we had a strict firewall on the internet that was difficult to bypass (Psiphon’s efficacy was coming to a halt), second, was that my seniors were extremely cynical about the University, and third, that every single day at 6pm, they would play “Hum Ko Mann ki Shakti Dena” on the loudspeaker above the girl’s hostel. This would happen religiously at 6pm every day. Without fail. For five whole minutes. It would require most conversations taking place outside the hostel to be carried out at a volume higher than normal – to cancel out the overpowering sound. It was irritating at first, because my earphones and headphones were defenseless to the music, but also because it was extremely shrill, and unnecessary. I didn’t understand it at all. Of course, I understood the lyrics and the kind of empowerment it sought to spread, but I did not figure out why on Earth we were being subject to this on a daily basis. That too on loudspeaker.

It felt cult-like, to be frank. I was, and remain, on the questioning side of belief systems – where I question, relentlessly, and read, as much as I can before I formulate opinions and beliefs. Then I hold them personal. It’s very rare I speak about anything I believe in: either in conversation, or for oratory purposes. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s how I operate. I’ve been raised as a religious person, but my parents have given me the opportunity to be inquisitive and understand what I want to believe in, and the freedom to discard beliefs that I feel do not meld with the identity I wish to cultivate. That’s been liberating. It was how I entered this University. I also entered with a deep-seated dislike for the ruling Government party, which was backed by a religious fundamental organization. Listening to this song every day at 6pm, I associated it with religion immediately – it felt like we were all being turned in some way to believe what it said. You’d see this in behavioural patterns while roaming around at 6pm. If the loudspeaker didn’t start, people would converse about it – not several people, but a few murmurs would definitely be audible. When the song came on, outside the mess especially, you could hear people humming along. And I wondered: is this not how organized behaviour and conditioning begins?

As time went by on campus, I got used to it. The song evoked no feelings in me, except for the realization that it was 6pm. On most days this meant I was pleased because we’d have dinner in about 2 hours: and news of any meal gave me happiness. On some days, it’d mean I’d step out of the library for a while to look at what was happening on the cricket field. On other days, I’d carry on with whatever I was doing. I remember being on a video call with a friend once, and making them listen to the song in its entirety so they could experience some part of my day. At the end of my fourth year, I told my roommate that we wouldn’t have to listen to this on the daily ever again after we left. It’s almost improbable that any other University or organization plays this song as an anthem, almost. To me, any GNLU alum ending up at such a University or organization would beg some serious questions about the mysteries and ways of the Universe at large.

Over the previous semester however, I began to not hear, but really listen to the song. To understand the depths of its secularism, in a lot of ways. Arguably, there are shades of grey in the lyrics: of religion and a sense of greater purpose, but, for the most part, I would argue, the song’s almost about screaming out into the void – a war cry, a battle chant, to help you navigate through the day. At several low moments, I heard the song every day at 6pm and realized I had made it through another day, another 24 hours. That I was alive, and I was fortunate to be exactly where I was, and that it was okay to be where I was. That was a comforting realization. Then there was the realization that it almost mimicked the last verse of the prayer I used to say at my primary school: God, Grant me kindly thought. The sense of nostalgia notwithstanding, the one realization that donned on me at the time was that in all of these songs, prayers, we seem to seek out desires that our heart reflects, or wants. Belief in self, a desire to be and do good, and other such things. Things you could express quietly, or loudly, or however else you want. Or things you don’t need to express at all.

And each day I listen to the song at 6pm in my final semester, I recognize that when I leave this University, there will be no daily expression of the things my heart wants but refuses to perhaps express and say out loud. There will be no automatic brain realization that it has become 6pm, for I will have to seek out a clock, or some other mechanism to recognize what time it is. Absurdly, starting out from where I was: I will miss hearing this song. I will hope that it stops – for I still feel it is quite unnecessary to be playing this out loud, and in the deepest pits of my heart, I know that I crave for some adventure where somebody steals the loudspeaker, or the CD that plays the song, or some other device. But I also know, in equal measure, that this song, thisshrill, loud, piece of music, whose lyrics I know by-heart, is what makes this University what this University is. While arguably this University would be this University without this song as well, it’s an additional layer of identity.

What I also know is that I will probably leave University and go back to drinking Bournvita out of a glass at some point daily. For I know, now, that sometimes you need an external manifestation or representation of what Mann ki Shakti means, and the Tann ki Shakti would be an added bonus.

The Bells of Taco

You guessed it, I’m writing about food again. Yep, it’s about fast food as well.

There is a lot of fast food in this world that brings me joy. Taco Bell is perhaps right at the top of that list, apart from the burrito I consumed on my solitary visit to Chipotle. Now that I typed that out and realized how many fast food brands I’ve discarded with that singular statement, I must admit: I keep offering superlatives and rankings of all the fast food I consume, but I love all the fast food I eat equally. There is something about it’s greasiness that gives me tremendous joy – joy that is incomparable to much else. Over the summer I really hope I can figure out how to make these things healthy; not just by consuming them in moderation, but in the manner of their preparation, without compromising on much taste. However, that is a project for much later. For now, I must revel in Taco Bell.

As with several other components of American culture, I was introduced to Taco Bell in Grade 6, by my American classmates who were astounded that I had never consumed a chalupa. I was amazed by the fact that this was as popular as McDonalds, because in my mind – Ronald Uncle was the epitome of fast food popularity. It was dumbfounding for a while, till I logged on to the internet and discovered all the advertisements and the amazing Cool Ranch Doritos Tacos, and so much more. I knew I needed to have it. I was fortunate – because within a year, on one of my trips to Dubai, I discovered they had opened a Taco Bell location there. My mother and I took an excursion, quite literally, to Dubai Mall – and she gave me company throughout my consumption of this foreign food. I was in love, immediately. The food was fantastic, without a doubt – but what I absolutely adored was the brand itself. The branding on the sauces, the product names, their fillings. It was delicious.

My tryst with tacos, however, ended in tragedy, because a year later, I discovered that Taco Bell was shutting down in Dubai. That was one of the only locations I had access to, and to see it disappear made me quite sad for some time. Life, however, moved forward.

Within a couple of months of the Dubai location shutting down though, we found out Taco Bell was entering India – and better yet, they were inaugurating it in Bangalore. I was uber-thrilled. Despite how far away the location was from my house, I didn’t mind the travel. I made a singular visit till Malleswaram and got to dine on that Mexican-American cuisine like a champion. The good news machine followed that up by informing me that they were opening a Taco Bell in Whitefield in some time. Two years later, that dream came true as well. To make things even better, it was right next to my mother’s workplace.

My mum knew I loved Taco Bell. I had professed this at home on several occassions. She was also cognizant of the fact that I would be leaving home in a couple of years; and so, in her own inimitable way, began one of these traditions that I look back on so fondly. Maybe once in two months, I’d finish school, and instead of going back home, I’d go to her workplace, hang out with her – grab a bite (a large bite, I might add), at Taco Bell, and then head home. She couldn’t eat too much cheese, but she loved the nachos, and began to understand why these Americans wouldn’t stop talking about the brand. The free-fill cup and how economical everything was – it was absolutely awesome.

The Bangalore Taco Bells mean a lot to me. I met people I fell in love with, and lost, all over Taco Bell. I met friends from a life in the past, over Taco Bell. I was introduced to mutual friends, and new friends, at a Taco Bell. Whenever I visited the city, it became a pilgrimage destination. On one of my trips, I wanted to meet a senior of mine, but he didn’t have enough time to step out of work. I was on my way to the area his office was in, and I delivered tacos to him. The joy on his face is something that was imprinted in my memory almost immediately. Similarly, a lot of my closest friends – on their off-days, are people I will buy tacos for. One of my best friends & I make it a point to eat pretty much only at Taco Bell every time she visits the country. So much so, that this time, we ordered Taco Bell to my house when she came over to chill.

My travels and internships have taken me to two other Taco Bell locations. I visited the Taco Bell in Delhi with an alarming frequency, because it was on my way home on several days; exactly one stop away from the PG Hostel I was staying at. When I was fortunate to secure a trip to the United States of America, I was lucky enough to stay at an Airbnb that had a Taco Bell 2kms away. It was the first thing I ate in Washington. I didn’t enjoy it as much – their understanding of vegetarianism is slightly confusing and limited, BUT their free-fill cup was absolutely massive. It remains one of the highlights of my trip to that foreign field.

Earlier this week, I discovered Taco Bell had launched a location in Ahmedabad. This fact was revealed to me by an instagram story. I did not ever anticipate that they would open up a location here. I immediately sent photos to two University seniors who were understandably jealous that this was not available during their time here. One of them is visiting campus soon, so we made plans to go there when she does come. I couldn’t wait that long though, and last evening, when I was out in Ahmedabad, I met another senior of mine at Taco Bell. It was delightful.

Nay, it was otherworldly.

You see, Taco Bell gives me warmth on a cold evening because I have a standard order when I go there. When I eat their burritos (and I eat them each time), I feel like I have been clothed in a warm roti. Chewing on a cheesy double decker taco, and appreciating the textural variance that brings it fame – I feel transported to a land of adventure, with each bite bringing me a new flavour. When I close my meals out with a chocodilla, I feel like Remy, from Ratatouille – this amalgam of cultures and flavours that only ever leads to an explosion.

And so, I knew I had to share this with people. I texted my roommate and figured out he had never eaten a taco. One of my friends asked me to get him back some. I returned to the hostel with a bag of Taco Bell feeling like Oprah: tacos for you, tacos for you, tacos for everybody.

I have one semester left here. Not even one full semester. Just three-quarters.

Taco Bell Ahmedabad, we shall meet again, you have my word.

Sharing my Room (and allied conversations)

I’ve blogged elsewhere about my roommate and his hard work, his dedication to his craft, and things about him that inspire me. However, this is my last semester: my last opportunity to witness that up-close. No time in the future will ever be like time in the present, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is something that deserves acknowledgment. My roommate and I got around to acknowledging this a little more intently last evening when we realized that we’re almost one month into our final semester. That leaves us with three more before we graduate. Just three more months of living together. When we sat and charted out our paths and what we’re hopeful of doing once University comes to a close, we came to the realization that it is unlikely that we will meet for some time. Although the refrain was, “we’ll make plans to meet”, and “I’ll come visit you”, we both acknowledged the truth of it – first, that it would take some effort for us to meet (unlike how things are today), and second, that even if we do meet, we’re unlikely to interact in such close quarters – the way we have as roommates. That impacted us both, so we shut down our laptops and spoke to each other for the remainder of the night till we fell into a slumber.

Prior to arriving at University, I had never shared my room with anybody. I am a single child, without siblings, or cousins who are my age – and consequently grew up with the privilege of having my own sanctum. A room that I lived in alone – that I took decisions about, of my own accord. Aside from my mother’s usual interruptions (to prepare me for the noise that the hostel would bring, she claimed), not much really interfered with how I lived my life. It was one of things I was definitely a little intrigued by before I came here. Who would be my roommate? Would we get along? How would two individuals live with each other in such a small space?

I arrived at University to be greeted by this boy – this marvel of a human being who has been with me ever since. We’re from very different backgrounds, him and I, but we’ve managed to become close friends. That isn’t because of too much conversation, or too many shared interests: in fact, we speak to each other very little as compared to others, and I think we share a concrete interest only in cricket. Yesterday, however, as we took a trip down memory lane – to what our last four and a half years had brought us, a couple of things became clear.

Perhaps the biggest realization from last evening was that there was nobody on campus who had seen us the way we had seen each other. When you stay on a residential campus, it is difficult to have any sense of privacy at all. Perhaps with intangibles you’re fully in control of: like information, but tangibly, it is tough to find space when you need it most. You’re constantly surrounded by the same people, you share a washroom with several individuals. Then you return to your room, and you’re never really truly alone, even though you might want to be. Which is when you become used to having your roommate around. An acceptance of the fact that he is a part of your world, that this is as alone as alone gets, and that it is okay to be vulnerable, to let down any guards you may have, in front of a third party. It takes a lot of trust – a lot of which develops through things unsaid and small gestures unnoticed, than the bigger things. But it happens, and so it took place with the two of us as well.

My roommate has seen me break down several times on campus. He saw me struggle with a back injury few people knew about in my second semester. In my fourth semester, when I was angry and I refused to attend classes for some time, he helped me piece myself together and energize myself for the rest of law school. When I celebrated accomplishments in my sixth and seventh semesters, he celebrated with me – in the room. In my ninth semester, when I cried, he offered me water – not so that I would stop crying, or feel comfort, but because I needed more water in my system for the tears to fall out, so I could let go of everything I was feeling. I’d like to think that I helped him in some ways too – and he’s acknowledged this publicly, but what makes me the happiest is that this boy, this wonder of a human, knows where his worth truly lies. That isn’t an overnight discovery, it is rare that any discoveries are. A lot of that discovery has taken place in this room: and although several people see the final product, not many can speak and attest to the kind of self-doubt that arose through that process of discovery.

There are few human connections I value more than the one I share with my roommate. He has taught me to think more critically, to acknowledge my privilege, to acknowledge my ignorance. More importantly though, he has taught me to share. To share a piece of my soul with him in a confined space, not through words, but through routine, and habit. To share a piece of my world, not because he wanted it, but because we needed to be able to understand each other better in order to live with one another. There are so many things I feel like we still need to say to each other – and I’m glad we’re both aware there’s only so much time to do it in. It’ll force us to let everything out, to leave nothing unsaid, to leave no bit of gratefulness unknown. It’s why I’m so lucky that we shared that realization yesterday evening. If nothing else, it’s made us recognize that we both need to go out to McDonalds together soon.

I don’t know if I’ll have roommates in the future. Only time will tell. Whoever enters my life though, the bar is set pretty high.

Kobe

I’m dreading writing this. I’ve been thinking about it for hours now, and it was all I could think about while sitting in class today – that there are these words and feelings that are bottled up inside of me that are begging to spill out, and I am unsure of whether I’ll say things correctly, or convey things appropriately, but they need to be said.

I was awake last night when news of Kobe Bryant’s death was first broken by TMZ. A friend of mine, a former basketball teammate sent me the news: and I broke. I couldn’t believe it at all. Earlier that evening, LeBron James had overtaken Kobe to go third in the all-time scoring chart, and Kobe had tweeted out a congratulatory message. I saw that tweet, and then saw LeBron’s post-match tweet and interview about the kind of player that Kobe was, and what Kobe represented to him, and to the game of basketball, and I was pleased. Kobe got to play a few seasons with people who picked up the game professionally because he inspired them, and I imagined, for some time, what that must be like. To be able to communicate with people who made life decisions because of you: without you knowing, without you trying to create that impact on them. In these circumstances, to hear he had passed away on his way to a basketball game was devastating. Then more details emerged, the fact that he was with his daughter, and that he was with another family, and with a basketball coach. Nobody can tell us what all of these people thought, or said in their final few minutes: but Kobe was with people who loved a game he lived. Before I say anything more, my thoughts and prayers are with his family – who have lost two people, and with all the other grieving individuals, who must cope and make it through life without people they loved truly, madly, deeply.

I first heard of Kobe Bryant in 2008. I had never taken an interest in basketball before that, and never really cared for the sport, or for the people that played it. I read the Sports section in the newspaper daily, but glossed over anything that wasn’t football. This was till I was introduced to basketball: a gradual introduction that took place in the worst of ways. I sucked at sports – all truth be told. I had no talent, no stamina in any sporting arena, just a lot of passion for sporting activities. My introduction to basketball first took place culturally. I was surrounded by American students who followed basketball, baseball, and American football, and I heard about these franchise sports – being able to compare it only to the IPL at the time (which was still young), and spent countless hours on Wikipedia trying to figure out how they worked. How were league databases maintained, who were the leading franchises in the history of the NBA? What was a “lockout”? Each time my classmates mentioned a new, unrecognizable name, I remember lodging it deep in my memory, only to retrieve it when I went home and had an opportunity to Google it without shame. I used to remain silent, not contribute too much to the conversation surrounding the sport – because I’d be mocked with “not being from the area”, or being a “glory hunting supporter”. These are not phrases I care for too much today, but they stung at some point in my life. I did my research, meticulously, and I understood what the Lakers franchise represented, and how odd it was that they were still going strong in 2008. I decided before the 2009 Finals that I wanted the Lakers to win, having followed them for the season. That’s how I became a Lakers supporter.

I still sucked at the sport though. Oh my goodness, I was woeful. I’d get hit on the head by the ball, fail to catch it, commit some violation or the other every time I received it, and genuinely, from under the rim, fail to make the ball go into the net. Naturally, I was picked last when we played, and I often lost in games of “Around the World” that we played during lunch. I still loved playing. My mom got wind of the fact that there was a coach coming to teach basketball in our community. As with every other time my mother has heard about any coaching facility, I was signed up. I was told that I was at a “developing” age, and that basketball would help me grow taller if I played regularly. While I didn’t care too much for that, I think I was really pleased that I would get to learn the game – from a Coach, my Coach. That I would be taught, not mocked for my inability. One particularly rough day, I remember thinking I’d be able to play competitively with my friends. I enjoyed that though.

My Coach taught me several things: skill-based especially. However, if my passion for the Lakers and for Kobe Bryant was at the surface, with him, my support of the franchise, of this individual became something innate, something visceral. I’d become super-defensive if anyone critiqued him. I watched the NBA YouTube channel religiously and tried to pick up how he thought about the game. One day, after Kobe had hit a buzzer-beater, I remember asking my coach how on Earth he had done it at the wire. It wasn’t that there weren’t great buzzer-beaters in basketball already, it was just that I couldn’t understand how people were gutsy enough to take the shot – and what happened if they missed. My coach told me Kobe had hit that shot enough times to know how to hit it in his sleep, and know that it would go in. I knew I wanted to be able to practice to a level that basketball became muscle-memory that day. It drove me through Grade 7. Kobe dropped 61 points at Madison Square Garden that year – a scoring record that blew my brains out at the time – before I learned that Kobe had an 81 point game too.

When I moved schools in Grade 8, I was surrounded by a crowd I was way more comfortable with. Basketball was something I carried with me, and it was pretty nice to see that my friends, my classmates, whom I spent 5 years with were people who were open to playing pretty much any sport on any given day. When we played basketball, it was all super fun, and we all had our own pockets of understanding of the sport – our own little ways in which we played. It was around this time I bought my first pair of basketball shoes. I asked my dad if I could have them, because I had begun playing a little more seriously – I was going for coaching twice a week, and playing every day at school. When we went to the store, I saw a pair of basketball shoes with the Laker purple and Gold, and an NBA logo on them. We couldn’t afford a pair of Kobe’s, or any of those signature shoes – but to be able to wear a franchise I supported on my footwear for 3 years made me incredibly happy. I wore those to my first tournament win, my first-ever interschool basketball tournament, and to pretty much every interhouse tournament game I played till I outgrew them.

Moving schools introduced me to another basketball fan – the same person who sent me the news of Kobe’s passing. I poked a lot of fun at him for several reasons, but him and I got along on the Court, and off the Court really well. Basketball helped us bond. He called himself Jordan, something we all laughed at. I laughed too. In my head though, if he was Jordan, I knew I wanted to be Kobe. I yelled “Kobe”, as did several of us, when we threw random things into the dustbin from afar. We kept talking about the “Mamba Mentality” in school, especially on the basketball court. We were a terrible school team, honestly: just a few talented individuals off of whom the rest of us piggy-backed our entire school careers, but we had SO much fun playing the game – loafing around the court calling each other Kobe whenever someone made a good shot. Everyone was Kobe. Except my friend, who was Jordan.

As I grew older, I started to read up more about Kobe Bryant – to understand why some people didn’t take to him the way I did. I learned about the complaint of sexual assault and adultery, the charges that were brought, and the apology that came about. I remember being uncertain of whether that was post-facto responsible behaviour or whether I anticipated more, and trying to figure out where I stood on the incident at large. I thought then, as I do now, that this man I had placed on a pedestal was still, human after all. That he had caused trauma, and that he would have to take responsibility for it in some way.

I learned about his bust-ups with Shaq, and prayed that they’d be friends again (something I was supremely pleased about). Reading about that bust-up taught me about what an “ego” was, and how competitive individuals thrived on building that. I wasn’t sure who I placed more blame on for the subsequent poor years the Lakers had, but I definitely knew Kobe was responsible for a lot of it, which made me sad.

When the Lakers began performing poorly after 2012, a lot of the news was centered around how Kobe needed to go. He was the perfect scapegoat in a lot of ways, ageing, becoming plagued with injuries, and preventing the rise of what the media labeled as precocious talent in a similar playing position. I could not care less. I wanted Kobe to play for longer, to have one more good season with the Lakers. To make it to the playoffs, to the Finals. Dwight Howard and him fought – which was upsetting because it affected the team. I remember seeing Howard & him make up at a game this year, and then seeing today that Howard wanted Kobe to help him out at the All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest – a public acknowledgment that the beef was all done with, that they had grown past that as individuals, as adults.

Howard is robbed of the opportunity to do that.

When Kobe announced his retirement through “Dear Basketball”, I cried. I cry quite often – or atleast have tears streaming down my face, or get choked up when I read things that affect me deeply, and you could see that it pained him to go. I couldn’t believe this man wrote poetry to say goodbye. Kobe allowed me to discover The Players’ Tribune: and so many stories since. His last game, those 60 points versus the Jazz? Peak Kobe. Beautiful.

I tried to follow Kobe post-retirement the way I had followed his career. We didn’t see him at Lakers games too much – he wanted to spend time with his family, with his daughters. His poem was animated into a beautiful short which won an Oscar, but whose greatest achievement will remain that it made me cry. The Oscar means that the Academy will feature Kobe in the In Memoriam section in a fortnight, and I’m not sure how people will respond. Last evening, at the Grammy’s, which took place at Staple Center, Alicia Keys said that they “were standing, heartbroken, in a home Kobe Bryant built”. She could not have said it better.

Kobe Bryant introduced me to Kobe beef, because I was a vegetarian who did not know that there were different grades or qualities that beef could have. Kobe spoke Italian and I was shocked that he had an upbringing where he was a foreigner: I wondered how he endured racism. Earlier this month, when racism in Serie A (the football league) was at a high, I remember reading an article where he called for education to combat the issue – and I agreed with him.

When LeBron moved to the Lakers, Kobe welcomed him. Kobe, post-retirement, just spent time coaching his daughters team – he was with her at a Lakers game, coaching her in a clip that went viral. He was supposed to go on to own a team, or become a General Manager, or coach a team in the NBA, or the WNBA. He was so fiercely proud of everything his daughters did, and it stood out every time he spoke about them in public.

I don’t play basketball as frequently anymore – not at all, in fact. I play when I go home, back to my home court, and when I’m asked to join in for the intramural competitions that happen at University.

This morning, I woke up really early. I had a disturbed sleep. I checked my phone first, and saw that everything had been confirmed, that last night wasn’t a dream – that Kobe was actually dead. I saw the outpouring of grief, the fact that players weren’t sure how to play, but knew that Kobe wanted them to play. My roommate was asleep, but I wore my shoes and I walked down to the basketball Court on my campus.

I stood in front of the Court, in the dark, just looking at the markings – replaying this one sequence I have of Kobe that’s absolutely stuck in my head from a game versus Toronto where he received the ball at the 3-point line, drove in, faked, and hit the perfect layup – right from the corner of the little square above the net. That epitome of what I was taught a layup needs to be. It’s one of the only things I can still do half-decently in basketball, and Kobe was, and always will be the yardstick I hold myself to.

I came back to my room today after classes, and before writing this, threw out some scrap paper, right from one end to my room to where the dustbin lay on the other end, instinctively yelling out “Kobe” like we did as kids. I felt like I channeled his spirit, but I missed the shot. That was when it hit me that he was gone.

Too soon, God. Too soon.

Calling (Family)

My grandparents and I have a weekly conversational schedule. We speak week-on-week, mostly on Sundays, and for the most part, this is how it’s been all of my life. International calling used to be expensive when I was a child, so calls were quite short, but I remember dialing their number on occassion and hearing the cheer in their voice that basically made the money immaterial. It was why we were so pleased when video calling over the internet became a possibility in our lives. I don’t recall communicating too frequently over Skype, or GTalk, but I do know that the possibility existing made for more real-time communication, and my maternal grandfather and I spoke on IM for quite a while.

Anyway, I’ve always spoken to my grandparents most weekends. As I’ve grown older though, I think there’s lesser I’ve spoken about: I’m not entirely sure why, but I don’t give away too much. Just the regular – I’m doing okay, I’ve eaten all my meals, and yes of course, I will dress appropriately for the weather and not allow myself to freeze. This is even when I am unwell. In fact, I genuinely believe that my grandparents have found out that I have been sick only through the blog. And then I’ve not heard the end of it on call over the weekends.

I spoke to them today evening. My paternal grandmother is with my parents at the moment so we speak more frequently, but I called home to Bangalore. It was a short call, but it clearly meant a lot to my grandmother that I had called at all. We hadn’t spoken for two weeks, and I had spent a little bit of time last week wondering what stopped them from calling me – before realizing communication works as a two-way street, and that I would take ownership to speak to them over the weekend. I didn’t really talk about anything special. My grandmother asked about my results and I deflected, refusing to answer anything marks-oriented. She asked about an internship stipend and I told her I wouldn’t be discussing anything financial with her. Finally, she told me about happenings from the extended family that I had followed on our family group: her gossip, and I acknowledged it. I didn’t crack any jokes or poke jibes at her. Yet, she chuckled in amusement anyway.

I spoke to my grandfather – him and I don’t speak and have long conversations unless he’s telling me a story or I’m telling him a story. We prefer texting or e-mailing to much else, and face-to-face interaction has always been the highlight of speaking to him (because of how expressive he is). I got to catch up on his health though, and then he relayed messages my grandmother wanted to relay (but knew that I’d get upset if she asked about them), which is always enjoyable.

I’m not sure what it is about these calls that make them special. There’s no khaas khabre, so to speak. They’re just ingrained in my routine and in my life: they always have been, and they always will be. Family, man, some things are just inexplicable with them.

Mother, Memory & Mumbai | Em and the Big Hoom, by Jerry Pinto

Introduction

I’ve been searching for this book for two years, trying to get my hands on a copy without much success. Till I found the digitized version of the book on the Internet Archive this afternoon, and thus successfully immersed myself in the storytelling of Jerry Pinto for the rest of my Sunday.

It becomes clear almost instantly that this is a tale that is extremely personal. This isn’t some specific trait in the book itself, but an amalgam of several features: the first-person narrator, the creative use of dialogue, the emotional responses, and the anecdotal knowledge attached to every interaction. Pinto makes you very aware, right from when he first mentions Sir JJ Hospital, that what you’re reading is a part of him. A little bit of research after reading the book confirmed this for me: while this is a piece of fiction, there are blurred lines between the source of his inspiration and the words that find themselves on paper. Pinto’s own mother suffered from bipolar disorder, and the original version of this story was accurate to a fault, leading to its abandonment. A rigorous editing process (clearly) led to a draft that was originally 750,000 words being cut down to its final form (definitely way lesser than that number). Everyone knows these nuggets about Pinto and his writing, and there are enough interviews available on the internet to indulge you more.

I’d like to focus on what made the book special to read for me. There are a few spoilers ahead, and I do hope you won’t mind them. If you’re going to stop reading this piece here because of those spoilers, here is a short summary of my “review”: please read the book, for it is a fine piece of literary fiction that will warm the cockles of your heart and take you on a journey where you know about the horrors that lie ahead, but you wish to go on nonetheless.

Moving ahead.

Plot Summary

The story centers around the narrator, his sister Susan, his mother: Em, his father: the big Hoom, and his Grandmother. Em has suicidal tendencies and suffers with issues with mental health. The book is told through a series of interviews, conversations, and anecdotes from the narrator’s interactions with Em and the big Hoom. Em’s health forms a large part of the narrative structure and arc, forming the focal point of a story about a family that is collectively navigating the human condition.

I found three things particularly poignant about the way this story was told

Conversations

Writing in past tense, the narrator never puts himself at the center of any part of the story, except where he experiences grief. Most of the story is told through conversation, which accomplishes a few things. First, it moves the plot forward naturally, without much effort. The narrator at no point defines a moment of time when these conversations are taking place, and the progression of the conversation serves a useful tool to examine Em’s condition in all of its phases. Mental health isn’t a linear, tangible concept, the way physical health is, and Pinto uses conversation to showcase the highs and the lows of her condition. Second, it allows for the narrator to insert reflections on what he’s just heard at any point of time – enabling for engagement with the narrator’s character. I appreciated the use of conversation as a tool because it allowed for us to get a better glimpse of the narrator’s thoughts without being stuck through pages and pages of reflective material. Finally, it allowed for the creation of character voices in a manner that’s unique to conversational tales. In introducing characters: Susan, the Big Hoom, and even Granny, Pinto is able to give them a unique inflection – in their tone, in the manner they speak, and the value they add to the discussion taking place. Em’s personality contrasts the Big Hoom’s in subtle ways, and Susan’s relationship with the narrator develops through things said but left unsaid – especially toward the latter half of the book, when there are multiple episodes of grief. It also allows for a more clear picture of character consistency: Granny’s inability to string together sentences in English throughout the book speaks to her own history and the various languages she thinks in and hears.

Love and Helplessness 

A universally accepted fact is that it is difficult to see the ones you love suffering. A mature understanding of this helplessness one faces at times is the realization that there is only so much one can do; and with mental health, it is often understood that some battles are personal – and are confronted personally. The narrator gets exposure to this in his youth, which naturally leaves an impression on him for the rest of his life – and you get a sense for the depth of that pain of helplessness where Pinto describes an interaction with Em on one of his hospital visits after she suffers through an evening. He sits by her and holds her hand, in an attempt to provide her with some comfort. Em acknowledges this act, but in acknowledging it so, pushes the narrator forward to doing his own work – rather than sitting by her and watching her. That scene was particularly numbing, and Pinto’s description of seeing his mother suffer shines through here, along with the recognition that the narrator is caught in two minds about moving forward and staying back.

This helplessness also shines through in an attempt to reconstruct Em’s life through the novel as best as possible to try to find a trigger for her suffering. At various junctures, and in different circumstances, the narrator comments: perhaps this is when things go awry – to figure out a tangible externality that impacted Em so. We leave the book without full knowledge of Em’s condition, of what her trigger was, and whether she’s always felt this way. His understanding of nuance in mental health, of how sometimes there is no definite moment, or definite circumstance you can point to for how you are feeling, and the complexity of brain science shone through. This investigation into Em’s condition is left incomplete, and it feels like that was deliberate – a decision I fully endorse.

Loss

Loss is a part of the book. It is ingrained in every chapter, every story that the narrator and Em recount. The loss of memory, Em’s slow deterioration, and eventual death. Loss is first presented to us as a metaphor: pianos that were thrown from boats when Catholics migrated to India. That pain, that loss of music, it pokes at you in subtle ways throughout the book before culminating in the final few pages. Nobody knows how to respond to this loss, and there is no appropriate response – and you can see the confusion that spreads through Susan, the big Hoom, and the narrator (presumably Jerry) – in their decision to consume alcohol instead of tea, before realizing tea suits them better, in the copious amounts of food they’ve ordered. Pinto completes this story the only way it should have ended – with Em’s life being told to an extent, with mystery over parts of her that nobody understood, and parts nobody will understand. Humans are complicated beings, and Pinto is not worried about hiding from that truth.

Additional Remarks

It is pretty evident that there is a lot of love in the book itself. The authenticity of the story shines through at all points – there is no question about that. Pinto reflects on Bombay in a manner that unique to Bombay authors, something I found when I read Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City as well. Bombay is a city with a confluence of souls – an understated part of that city that reveals itself only when you stay there for sometime and revel in its personality. In several ways: in interactions with minor characters who make recurring appearances, in the description of Em’s household and her childhood upbringing – that is brought out. And it’s beautifully done.

Pinto also tackles taboo subjects – like sex, with an aloofness that allows for it to seep into regular conversation in the narrator’s household. Em’s personality is a large part of this, but you can see the distinction in which a mother brings it up with her son, viz a viz a father – who gives him an encyclopedia and explains things to him. There is humour, but you need to search for it, and this contributes to some of that.

Conclusion

A wholly befitting ***** (5 stars). Phenomenally written, with a journey that comes from the heart. I choked up repeatedly, which is not what I had in mind for this evening, but I would gladly do this all over again.

Alumni

Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve written about the kind of feelings seniors make me feel. I wrote that post as a first-year at this University, when the then fifth-years were always the people I looked at for inspiration when I felt low, or unhappy [which was rare]. It was comforting to know that there were people who had, at that point, gone through the journey that I was going to undertake, and turned out, quite okay. Everyone’s on their own journey and path in life, but when you’re faced with new surroundings that you feel uncertain in, it’s nice to know that there are people who have become comfortable in these surroundings over time. I loved my seniors. Across all batches, I do think that each batch that exits this University leaves this place with a little more life imparted to it. That isn’t only because of the fact that there are more people who live here in each batch. It’s because experience gets added on the past layers, like the rings in a tree-bark.

It also means there are always more people to reach out to for help. Chances are that someone in a senior batch will relate to what you are feeling at any given point of time. Seniors are that weird bridge between parents & friends. They really do care for you, atleast, my seniors did for me – in a way that is both parent-like, and friend-like; making my closest senior-friends, family to me.

For the last four years, I’ve become a senior student to some junior batch entering the University. I don’t want to comment on what or who I am as a senior: that is far too self-indulgent. What that journey has meant, however, is that I’ve always welcomed my seniors back to campus when they’ve become alumni. This weekend provided another opportunity to do that.

Last night I went out for dinner and spent time after that meal with two alumni. Just me  & one of my friends, and them. On that table, and throughout that period of time, I was the happiest I’ve been in quite some time. Nostalgia is a good friend who keeps you company when you’re around people you feel like you know from a past life, which is what these seniors feel like.

It’s weird to think that I’ll join them as alumni of this University in a couple of months. It’s also liberating in a lot of ways. My life here, on this campus, feels like a life I’ve lived to the fullest – and it’s an appropriate time to move forward. To seek fresher pastures, to open new chapters on that journey. I’m grateful that my University is trying to build an alumni culture, and I’m hopeful that it is a network that begins to become more interconnected as it grows. The value of people who share experiences is that they breed familiarity. Very often, that is enough to make someone feel comfortable in uncertainty.

Life’s always going to be filled with that uncertainty: so I’m always going to hope I have friends who are seniors, who are alumni, who are kind and willing to spend time with as we figure it out.

Naturally, this is a way of saying that seniors give gyaan very often. It all comes from a good place, and it’s often very helpful.

Dark Blue (Da Ba Dee)

Yes, the title of this post comes from the Eiffel 65 song. Yes, I apologize in advance for getting the song stuck in your head again. No, I do not feel too terrible about it. In fact, because the song is stuck in your head, and before you read the rest of this piece, please watch this video – and the rest of the series explaining how viral songs have been made.

As always, I have a story to tell. However, I’m not fully sure about the shape it will take. You’ve chosen to embark on this journey with me though, so I am hopeful you will read this all the way through.

The first time I heard the word Oxford was actually in Grade 3, because one of the textbooks we used was published by Oxford University. I can recall looking at the typeface that said Oxford and pronouncing it, the word rolling off my tongue. I remember finding the same word in my School Diary, specifically on the pages that outlined the curriculum our school followed. I remember laughing at how odd the string of letters “GCSE” looked, and muddling it up as “GSCE” when I relocated to India and tried to explain to my friends that I too, had studied a foreign board prior to receiving education in India.

When I was in Grade 8, I was introduced to this idea in more concrete terms. I never really understood the connotations of curricula, or Oxford, or Cambridge, or what these boards meant. I do remember that my parents and I spent a long time discussing the value of pursuing an education with the Cambridge International Examinations board. When they took that decision, with a little bit of my own input, I spent a lot of time on different forums on the internet reading about whether I would be missing out on some learning that the Indian boards offered. My Science teachers in high school assured me that wouldn’t be the case, and I’d end up learning the same stuff, but in a different form – a form that meant I would retain and process the information given to me differently as well.

As Grade 9 and Grade 10 passed on, Oxford and Cambridge became a more frequent part of my vocabulary. Those were years I spent indulging myself in my education, but also trying to figure out what to latch on to next. When I decided I wanted to study either Law, or Economics, and I made the decision to pursue my A Levels, my parents and I had a bit of a sit-down, where we discussed what I could do next, and where I could study. Abroad, Oxford and Cambridge stood out in both disciplines. The London School of Economics featured highly as well. My academic ambitions at the end of Grade 10 were basically that I wanted to apply to these Universities, and do my very best to try to become the first person from my high school to go study there.

My high school offered minimal college counselling. In Bangalore, this whole college counselling business is a very serious affair, with high school students spending large sums of money to ensure their applications are prepared in advance, but also meticulously to ensure they get into the University of their choice. Naturally this places individuals who have financial backing at a competitive advantage, but financial backing doesn’t mean everything. Those college counsellors eventually end up telling you the same stuff, academically: the kind of track record you have in high school matters to the University, and thus, in your final two years, keeping up good scores matter. Given that my high school was young, we had few alumni abroad, and we were figuring things out for ourselves. I was particularly fortunate to have a mentor at school who had awareness about education systems in the UK. That, coupled with my own research skills meant that at the end of Grade 11, I had figured out I was going to apply to Oxford to study Law.

You see, the UCAS undergraduate system forces you to “pick” between Oxford and Cambridge (at least, it did at the time I applied). You are not allowed to apply to both Universities in the same admissions cycle. I subsequently did a ton of research, and after sitting with my parents, felt like I wanted to study at Oxford a little more than I wanted to study at Cambridge – hence the decision. Nothing personal. I honestly wish I could have applied to both Universities. I loved the opportunities they represented equally. However, having elected to apply to Oxford, and a set of 4 other institutions, I began to tailor my application – my statements, my reference, toward the requirements of that University. At the end of Grade 11, I felt like I was in with a shout. My high school support structure felt that way too. Everyone was incredibly encouraging and supportive of my application endeavours, and I felt really privileged to have that support around me at the time. I look back now with fond memories of that time – and not without reason. My teachers got my predicted grades ready on time, my administration was super efficient in helping me figure out documentation. It was all very, very lovely.

Now the A Level system my school followed made us take board examinations in 11th and 12th Grades. This was where I hit my first snafu. I had scored really well in Grade 10, but come Grade 11, my Physics grades began to plummet. While my results were great elsewhere, my Physics grade was a “C”, and I received this result in August 2014, when my Oxford application was due in October 2014. It was nerve-wracking. I broke down tremendously on the day I received that result. I was really upset with myself: because the grade sucked, but also because I felt I had screwed up all my chances at Oxford. By this point, I had become obsessed with the University. I spent ages on forums finding out details about the University and its constituent colleges. I went to sleep dreaming about waking up in one of the locations the Harry Potter movies were filmed, and I daydreamed about attending bops.  I was super excited to potentially study there, something I felt I had lost all hopes of.

I applied nonetheless. I secured an interview, which I attended via Skype. Then I got rejected by Oxford. The day I got rejected is vivid in my memory. I had seen on an undergraduate forum that applications had been sent out, so I was quite certain I had not gotten in as yet. The delay sucked. I couldn’t take it anymore so I called up the admissions officer for my particular college and asked him about the status of my application. He asked me to wait for 30 minutes as he was e-mailing out decisions as we spoke. I asked him “does that mean I didn’t get in?”, and he responded with “please wait for your e-mail”. I was certain I hadn’t made it. I got confirmation of this within 5 minutes of putting the phone down – when I was downstairs with my mother. I read the decision on my phone, and then I went and bawled my eyes out for about 20 minutes. I cried into my beanbag. I was distraught. It was very messy. My mom tried consoling me but she couldn’t, really.

About 20 minutes later I decided I’d apply to do my postgraduate studies at Oxford, when the time came. I also decided I would apply to become a Rhodes Scholar – another prestigious award I had been introduced to through my research. All of this happened on January 10th, 2015.

I had received some offers of admission by that time, but having been declined a place by Oxford, I was more convinced of pursuing legal education in India. I was preparing for the Common Law Admissions Test, and I poured in all my energy into that and my board exams – to ensure I met my conditional offer from other Universities. That entire period, I watched the Oxvlog project, discovered SimonOxfPhys, and religiously watched Jake Wright’s videos – all with the sole intention of becoming more determined to get into these Universities in the future.

That determination, at that age, came from a place of anger. I was upset that I did not get a seat at Oxford, and I felt deprived of a learning opportunity I felt I merited.

This year, 2020, is the year I apply for postgraduate education. I am older now than I was then, but my dreams remain quite similar. I want to learn at these institutions: this Oxford, this Cambridge, these venerable institutions that have rich histories and legacies. I want the opportunity to learn what it is about them that makes them special. I don’t want to merely look at them from the outside, or hear from others how being educated there is an experience unlike any other. I wish to go there, to for example, spend an evening walking past the Radcliffe Camera, or in the halls of the Lauterpacht Center.

I want to eat at the Spoon’s in Cambridge one day, and visit all of these places I’ve seen in Jake’s vlogs.

I fulfilled my childhood dream of applying for the Rhodes Scholarship this year. I didn’t get it, which made me sad for a few minutes again. One of my University batchmates did, which made me incredibly pleased for him, as did one of juniors from high school – and I was so happy she did. They are both, as I am sure the other Scholars are too – worthy recipients.

Today, I submitted an application to the University of Oxford. Thankfully, postgraduate applications do not require you to sit and select between Oxford and Cambridge. I clicked submit, and I felt lighter in my heart. I fulfilled another childhood promise I had made to myself. My anger, my disgust, from when I was 16 – I had fuelled and channeled into being determined to give the application another shot later in my life, and I was pleased that I had not let any of that go.

Being rejected by Oxford at the time was the bluest I had been. I didn’t go to school for two days after my rejection letter came, choosing instead to spend time at a friend’s house playing FIFA. He was bunking school too, and we played FIFA the entire day. It felt like it was the end of everything at the time. Remarkably, in a lot of ways, that was just the start.

I hold all these educational institutions in high regard. All of them, every single one. Not just the Oxfords and the Cambridges – which have an air of elitism to them today, but Open Universities too. They perform a vital public function of imparting education to individuals interested in learning, and making people feel enthusiastic about learning things. While I’ve applied to all of these institutions today, at the core of my application, and at the core of everything I want at this point in my life, is the opportunity to learn more. To read more. To get access to knowledge that I feel I will get access to if I attend these institutions. To gain exposure to a network that will give me that access. To unlock my own intellectual capacity, because I know that being in a new academic environment will challenge me – for I have spent 5 years in one academic environment now.

I do not have a preference among these institutions. I know that I will be happy to be given the opportunity to learn if any of the institutions I have applied to deem that my application matches what they are looking for. Completing the Oxford application gave me a ton of closure though. It enabled me to let go of some residual anger and sadness from when I was younger. To look at that entire experience as being so formative, and kick-starting this entire sequence of events that led me to where I am today.

When admission decisions come this time, I will not be letting myself feel too blue. After all, I still have oxygenated blood pumping through my system (this was a bad joke, excuse me).

I’ll just be looking out for more opportunities to learn new things – things I’m interested in learning.

And learn them I shall.

Sampling Music

The art of sampling music has fascinated me for a very long time. It makes music feel like an art form that builds upon its own history, and samples help to track the evolution of the art form in more concrete terms, so to speak. I remember first hearing the word when I began learning how to use FL Studio to make music, and downloaded a ton of these freely available sample packs and sounds to listen to the kind of nuances in sound that helped produce a song. Eventually, I learned how to use tools within that software that helped me create my own samples. One of the nicest things I remember doing was taking a sample from Myon & Shane 54’s Summer of Love remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” and saving it for repurposing in one of the piano tracks I recorded. But those are tales for another day.

Music samples split people into camps quite frequently: one camp who believe that sampling should not be permitted because it takes away originality and discredits effort very frequently, because the creator of the original sample never gets due credit for inspiring another song. The flipside to this is the argument that sampling should be permitted, because once music is out there, it belongs to the creative commons.

Mark Ronson has an excellent TED talk on this that I’d urge you check out. Quite frequently, most songs that you end up enjoying on the radio on most days, or that become chart-toppers, contain samples or pieces of inspiration from prior music.

I was listening to the Vampire Weekend album, Father of the Bride on repeat yesterday. It’s an album that I took to quite quickly and absolutely fell in love with. There’s this song on the album called “Hold You Now”, which I adore – because it introduced me to Haim, but also because it begins the narrative arc of the entire album. In a lot of ways, Father of the Bride, as an album, reminds me of Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown. However, I digress.

That song, “Hold You Now”, contains this crazy sequence that sounds like gospel choir music in the middle. I wanted to figure out what that sequence was, and found out it was indeed a sample of gospel music called God Yu Tekkem Laef Blong Mi. That confused me: I couldn’t recognize the words, although I was quite certain I knew their meaning. Turns out this is a language called Pidgin English. What made things even crazier is that this sample they used is a Hans Zimmer sample.

I’m on the side that samples should enable creative growth. It’s weird if a sample is used to make a note-for-note version of another song. Sometimes, however, the result can be beautiful, as it was here.

Cricket Commentary

I’ve always lived in an era with telecast and televised matches. My stories of cricket commentary coming on the radio, and tuning in to hear people’s voices as they called ball-by-ball are therefore limited by the experience of my parents and my grandparents. What excellent stories they are, though. Television provides the visual experience: of actually being on the ground while a match takes place, and new technology, including the spider-cam, enables you to see the size of the ground, pitch conditions, and everything in between. Thanks to excellent audio mixing, the atmosphere from the stadium isn’t lost on you either. You’ll always hear the crowd’s chants, cheers, and jeers in the background. It makes for lovely viewing. To think, therefore, that some individuals in the pre-telecast era had the burden to ensure that all of this got through to the tuned-in audience just through their vocabulary and the power of their voice – and that they succeeded (because cricket didn’t just become popular overnight) is wonderful.

Yesterday I listened to an episode of the 22 Yarns podcast with Harsha Bhogle. First, I have to commend Gaurav Kapur for a couple of things. The man really knows how to diversify his personal brand, and go crossplatform. His YouTube show Breakfast with Champions is excellent – although it’s inspired a bunch of copycats, it’s ability to retain originality in format and unstructured conversation is delightful. Now, this podcast? Even better.

The entire Harsha Bhogle episode was devoted to understanding cricket commentary better. It provided some lovely insight into how commentary partnerships are cultivated, how feeds are so-well curated and ready-to-go, and what goes on behind the madness of the entire production. There were nuggets of nostalgia, where Bhogle speaks about his start in commentary: after IIM, commentating on a Ranji Trophy game in Hyderabad. It got me thinking about how much of my life has been shaped by some brilliant cricket commentary.

The earliest cricket I remember watching, in vivid detail, is the 2003/04 India-Pakistan series. Shoaib Akhtar was at his peak, being the Rawalpindi Express that he was, the entire series was being telecast on Ten Sports, and Cyrus Broacha hosted the show during the innings break providing for comic relief and grand prizes, including a car. I can’t remember specific phrases, but I remember being introduced to successful Pakistani cricketers through the commentary rotations: these include individuals like Ramiz Raja. Very soon, I picked up on cricketing history purely because I heard people’s voices in the commentary box, or saw their career statistics being pulled up on screen in order to reference their personality. Quite often when this happened, you could see how they tried to deflect attention away from these statistics. When doing live commentary, especially on a Test match day, it almost appeared that the Days played, gone by, they didn’t matter anymore, and all that mattered was the Days of cricket that lay ahead – session after session.

Cut to the creation of the IPL, and the entire frenzy of Twenty20 cricket leading to innovation in commentary generally: the capitalistic and entrepreneurial attitude that has invaded the sport has led to sponsored segments for everything, including Sixes and Fours. Always begs the question: how do commentators remember which sponsor to call out when? Do they make mistakes? How are these rectified? Bhogle provides answers to all of these, and you realize, only then, that so much more happens behind-the-scenes in order to ensure that your cricketing experience at home retains the appearance of glitch-free seamlessness.

Since I’ve joined University, I’ve been following more matches on ESPNCricinfo than watching them live. There’s no voice there, but the commentary retains liveliness. I wonder how they do it: the reporters and scorers ensuring updates ball-by-ball, staying ahead of all of their competitors. What keeps them going?

It’s clear pretty quickly that it’s their love for the game. Nothing will ever come close to sitting and watching a day of cricket – aside from perhaps playing the sport for an entire day. I remember thinking in high school that we needed to open up commentary as an inter-house competition: to allow students from each house to do commentary on the games that were taking place on that day. Even if people didn’t enjoy it, and the commentators weren’t top-notch (none of us would ever have been on our first try), it would provide a record of games gone by. An archive of every moment.

Commentators breathe live into that archive with their words: capturing what everyone observes, but nobody really notices. That’s the essence of their job, and it’s people like Harsha Bhogle who have done that for several moments in the cricket I’ve watched and enjoyed.

Desk Conversations

For most of the last four years, I sat on the same desk, with the same two friends next to me at University. I didn’t speak much; I’m not really much of a class conversation-person because it’s difficult for me to speak in hushed tones and have a meaningful conversation. In my first year I paid attention to classes, in my second year, I slowly moved toward reading, in my third, I slept, and in my fourth year, I began reading. Last semester I ended up moving desks to sitting on a different corner of the classroom. This semester, I’ve been away from those friends and that desk as a result of a split in divisions. It’s weird what that does to you. Now my roommate and I say bye to each other in the morning and don’t see each other till we get back post-classes; when earlier, we said “I’ll see you in class”, and he ensured I attended the classes necessary to keep attendance in order.  It’s not that my surroundings are unfamiliar to me: the new section consists of half the population from my old class, but it is a change – a change I’m not entirely convinced we needed in our final semester.

In any case, it means I now sit with different people. Like I said earlier, I didn’t speak too much in class. I did speak with my deskmates from time to time, and have been called out for speaking too much by one professor in particular, but other than I that, I mostly kept to myself while class was underway.

Today, however, presented the chance to catch up with a friend I’ve been trying to catch up with since I got back – but whose schedule is so distinct from mine that we’ve not found a slot to meet. So we sat and caught up on our winters, on the things we read, the things we did, the things we saw. I’ve become close to this friend because his background is so different from mine that I love the perspective he brings to my life. He was the first person from University to ever visit my home – despite not being from Bangalore, the first friend from campus that my mother got to properly meet. In catching up, the one thing that became apparent to me really quickly is that we had very, very different winters.

Both of us stayed with family, but he stayed without the internet. The impact of the internet on our everyday lives is something I’ve been acutely aware of for a while now, but it is only interacting with individuals whose internet supply is cut-off by the State that you recognize the kind of liberty the internet allows you to exercise. I’m not entirely sure what you can do in rebellion, but there are organizations working to figure out that internet access in this country goes unrestricted, and they deserve all the support they can get.

Naturally this meant two professors (of three) called us out for talking. In one period I was asked to switch spots, so as to not disturb the professor at all. I would, in my first year, have been scared about the repercussions of this – the kind of impression this incident leaves on the professor, etc. Today, however, I’m glad I took the opportunity to catch up with my friend. This professor won’t remember my face tomorrow anyway. Desk conversations are worth having when you can have them. They’re a quiet rebellion. Like the paquetas in Cuba which ensure the internet reaches every individual through an informal market.