Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Seaward Bound

When I was quite small, my parents took me to Chandipur-on-sea, a small seaside town in Orissa. However, I don't have any memories of that trip save that of a deer in an enclosure whom I used to feed. Also, as I heard from my parents, the sea at Chandipur is not much worth remembering. After my ICSE examinations I went to the mountains in Nainital with my family. However, the sea remained unseen to me.

When I got Chennai as my joining location in 2005, it seemed like a very bad thing to happen. However, I thought, there was one small positive point about visiting Chennai. I would be able to see the sea for the first time in my life.

On reaching Chennai, one of the first things that I asked my friend Amit (he had reached Chennai only that morning) is how far the beach was from the ocean. He said he had no idea, but he had already been to our Guindy office and proceeded to brief me about the route from Chennai Park station to our office at Guindy. I was bored. The next day, we went to the Guindy office. After the first half, when we went to the rooftop cafeteria to have our lunch, I suppose I was the only one who went to all sides of the building and craned his neck and strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of the sea in the distance. All in vain... the sea remained elusive.

The evening was spent in looking for accommodation. We didn't find anything satisfactory. The next day was a Saturday, so we had an early breakfast and set out to look for a house. My mind was not on the job at hand, of course! At one point, we came to a road which sloped upwards, and we could not see beyond the highest point. However, the breeze and sand left little doubt that the beach started beyond that place. However, we didn't go up to that point. It was only in the afternoon that we found the perfect room for the two of us, and we told the landlord that we would move in the next day.

That night, Amit needed to get some money from the bank, and whichever bank his money was in (I don't remember the name now) had the nearest ATM near the Chennai Beach station. I was pretty excited. What if it was already dark? I could have my first glimpse of the sea in darkness. Besides, I had read that the sea is never completely dark.

Alas! It turned out that Chennai Beach is nowhere near the beach. After withdrawing his money, Amit and I were having dinner in a nearby restaurant. "Tomorrow we'll shift to the house in the morning, and we can go to the beach in the evening", I said. "Go to the beach? What's there on the beach?" Amit said. "Do you have any idea how much work we'll have in the evening? We'll have to buy a bucket, a broom, mattresses, pillows, plates, glasses...” his list went on and on. I quietly said, "Then you can buy that stuff while I go and see the sea.

Of course, I wouldn't have done that, but I also knew that Amit was being over anxious, for we moved in and finished all the shopping by the afternoon. So in the evening, when there was still light, we walked to the Eliot Beach in Besant Nagar.

Words always fail me when I try to describe this event. The Bay of Bengal lay stretched before us. First only the distant calm water was visible. Then we crossed a higher part of the beach, and saw the waves breaking for the first time. I went to the water's edge and called home, excited as a child. I turned and saw that the same Amit who wasn't too sure what I wanted to see at the beach took out his cell phone and dialed home. And as I spoke to my mother, the waves came and splashed on my feet for the first time. That was a unique feeling. The way the waves come and wash the sand from below one's feet feels so delightful... we were soon deliberately chasing the waves.

The beach was quite crowded. We walked along the water's edge with our slippers in our hands and our trousers rolled up to our knees. When darkness fell we sat down on an upturned boat and chatted, till the stars came out and lights started twinkling on the distant ships outside Chennai Port. Only when it was completely dark and deserted did we leave.

I went to other beaches too. Going to Marina was like a visit to the Howrah Station at office time. Mahabalipuram was comparatively empty and clean and we bathed there too. Pondichery did not have a beach... just a rocky seafront. The one I liked best was a deserted stretch of beach next to the Golden Beach Resort. Seven of us ran away from office one day after our PRP evaluation. Shreevallabh, Amit, Nisha, Spandana, Sushil and Kapil as far I remember... I don't remember if there was anyone else with us. We went to the deserted beach through a narrow path between two bungalows with gardens full of coniferous trees. We spent an hour there and were back in office before anyone could miss us. During the last week in Chennai, I walked to the beach every morning to photograph the sunrise, but unfortunately it was always cloudy. I saw the sea once again when I went to Mumbai, but that was way too calm for me to like.

The reason I write all this today is that I am going to the seaside once again. Tonight my parents, my sister and I are going to Puri. We have never been to Puri (most Bengali people have been there several times) and my sister has seen the sea only in Mumbai. So we felt a four day visit to the seaside would be a lovely way to relax. Last time I did not have my digital camera with me and so this time I'm looking forward to some good photography. We also intend to visit Konark and Bhuvaneshwar. Let's just hope the weather remains clear.

So I'll be back on this blog next week... till then, goodbye!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Cricket Match

Last Friday five of us went out from the office to have lunch at the Salt Lake City Centre Pizza Hut and ended up sitting at a table next to six players from the IPL Chennai Super Kings cricket team. Stephen Fleming and Suresh Raina were the only two people we recognised at that time though. Morne Morkel joined them after some time with his girlfriend. Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan and their team physio were among the others present. These days a lot of cricketers are staying in Kolkata because of the frequent IPL matches at the Eden Gardens. On 18th November 2003 I had the chance to watch a cricket match at this stadium. I'll narrate that experience here.

I had first mentioned my desire to see an international match at the Eden Gardens to Chirantan, my friend and Senior at college a few days before the India Vs. Australia one day match. Tickets were costly and hard to come by, so we never really considered buying tickets. A couple of days before the match, suddenly he goes, "Oh $#%*! My uncle is member of so-and-so club and he gets free tickets to Eden Gardens. I had forgotten that!" So he called his uncle and got a severe scolding on the phone. Apparently uncle had got Club House tickets (the best seats, where the VIPs sit) and he had given them away to somebody that very day. He however, arranged a couple of ordinary seats for us. Inspired by the fabled fox of the vineyard we said, "Who wants a Club House ticket? There one can't even swear at the players!"

When the big day came, I reached Chirantan's house dressed for the occasion. I was infamous as a good-boy-like dresser in college, meaning a person who wore sober coloured formals most of the time. I didn't want to present that nerdy image to the girls at the stadium, so I wore a strange combination of clothes that I thought looked cool. I wore blue denim pants, with the most colourful shirt that I had. Unfortunately that was a semi-formal checked full shirt, so I rolled up the sleeves and unbuttoned it all the way down the front. Since I was too shy to show my body or even my vest Salman Khan Style, I wore a round necked black T shirt below my shirt. Now this combination made me feel really hot, for the Kolkata sun is still fierce in November. Along with this I wore sneakers and a cap on which I had pasted the large "Intel Inside" sticker from my computer box. I also had some individual wires from inside a LAN cable that I had picked up when the college LAN was being laid. I twisted them as a bracelet and wore them around my wrist since they were saffron, white and green and I was supposed to be an Indian supporter. If you manage to stop laughing after reading about my dress, you can take a look at it here:
Anyway, we set out for the Eden Gardens, planning to have lunch somewhere on the way. As we boarded the Metro, it seemed everyone in Kolkata was travelling towards the stadium. When we reached Esplanade and came out into the sun, we suddenly realised what the size of the crowd was going to be. Huge masses of people were moving around all over the place, walking in the general direction of the Eden Gardens. The 200 metres or so that we had to walk to reach the stadium suddenly looked like a mile, and we realised we had no time to go and have lunch. So we bought half a dozen large guavas, somehow resisted the temptation to have the national flag painted on our cheeks (Rs. 5.00 per cheek) and joined the serpentine queue moving through the security barriers at a snail's pace. There were a large number of policemen all around, and there were mounted police controlling the crowd. Presently we heard a cheer from the people already in the stadium and came to know that the toss was over.

Our ordeal was far from over though. The policeman at the gate was very stern about not allowing any throwable items into the ground. Chirantan and I stared at each other as the realisation hit home that our lunch was about to be confiscated. I promptly buttoned up half my shirt and put as many guavas inside as would go without making me look like a suicide bomber, then each of us took one in our hands and started biting into them in the hope that even the policeman would not be heartless enough to snatch away the half eaten lunch from two hungry souls. However, eventually we managed to carry all of them inside by putting on our saddest expressions and convincing the policeman that we were students, from good homes, and we were coming from far away and had not eaten anything since last night, and we had no intention of wasting guavas by throwing them at the fielders.

Inside, the atmosphere was electric, as already half the capacity was filled. We looked at the seat numbers written on our tickets and snaked our way through the crowd to reach those seats, and then looked at our tickets again. There were some people sitting on our seats. We tried to argue that those were our seats. "We don't care for no seat numbers, sir!" answered one of them, "and we are not budging from here. You may sit wherever you find a place." One couldn't argue with such simple logic. Besides, the seats were filling up at an alarming rate, and even if we won the argument we wouldn't have been able to find a seat. So we scampered down to the nearest visible empty seat (in those days Eden had concrete galleries) and sat down. Soon a group of middle aged gentlemen appeared and demanded that we move from their seats. "We don't care for no seat numbers, sir!" I told them, "and we are not budging from here. You may sit wherever you find a place." He replied that he had been visiting the Eden Gardens for the last three decades and had never heard such nonsense. A bitter argument followed and we explained that we were in the same predicament as them. Ultimately all of us squeezed onto the same bench (a remarkable feat considering the fact that both I and Chirantan occupy about two seats each). The funny thing is, however, those gentlemen were true cricket lovers, and as the match progressed they discussed cricket with us freely as nothing had happened between us.

And as the match progressed, the same boring old story was repeated. Australia were batting, and they were hitting the ball all over the place. The onslaught continued throughout the 50 overs. Local boy Sourav Ganguly was not playing due to an injury. Once he walked outside the boundary and came to our section of the ground, and everyone stood up to get a glimpse. It was quite hot. I and Chirantan munched on one guava after another. The stadium was filled beyond its capacity of 110000 people… there were at least 10000 people extra inside. It made seating a bit difficult, but we enjoyed it very much when a giant ‘Mexican Wave’ started doing the rounds of the stadium. In fact Michael Bevan had to stop the bowler in his run up and wave to the crowd to calm them a little. On the other hand, the lack of action replays was a bit frustrating (the club house, with its TV sets, was not such a bad place after all!). Also, cell phones were not working; the presence of so many users within such a small area had clogged all the networks.

As the sun went lower in the sky, the floodlights were switched on one by one so that the light in the stadium remained constant. After sundown the ground looked like a dreamland… with the four giant floodlights switched on. And since those were the days before the cheerleaders came into cricket, our attention remained fixed on the players all the time, er… I mean most of the time.

The Indian batsmen fell like ninepins once they started batting. It was a sad sight to behold. The Australians’ body language was totally different from the Indians on the field. After each delivery, while the Indians had been walking sluggishly from their positions on the ground, the Australians ran up to the pitch, discussed something and ran back to their positions. I preferred to watch huge insects, almost as large as a man’s fist flying around the floodlights. A flock of kites took turns flying to each of the lights and feasting on these insects. There was a short spurt of good batting by India, but that was the time when I had gone to get some snacks.

When five or six wickets were down, Chirantan and I decided to call it a day. We came out of the stadium. Immediately, two men ran up to us and requested us to give them our tickets so that they could get in somehow and manage to see the rest of the match. We gave them those half-torn tickets (the other halves had been retained by the gate keeper when we had entered). As we moved away we saw those two men argue with the gate keeper that they had been sitting inside since the morning and had just come out for something and they should be let back in.

The ride back was uneventful, and relatively simpler as the main crowd had not come out yet. India lost the match that night, but for both of us it was a memorable experience. Watching a match from one’s home may be much more comfortable, but going to the stadium provides an experience that is quite unmatched by any TV broadcast.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Hero

Today is 25th Baishakh, Rabindranath Tagore's birthday by the Bengali calendar. I was thinking of translating one of his poems for this occasion. As I said before on this blog,
One of the earliest memories that comes to my mind when I think about Rabindranath Tagore is that of my mother reading Beerpurush (The Hero) to me. Whenever she took the Sanchayita (a fat anthology of Tagore’s poems) in hand, I’d tell her to read that poem at least once.
Here's Tagore's own translation of the lovely poem. However, that translation only tells the story. The structure of the original Bengali poem is not preserved. So I thought, "Why not translate Beerpurush?" and started on it. Lack of time and difficulties in translating certain phrases keeping the rhyme intact almost made me give it up. Then I found this on the Net:

I have a very skeptical view of the Indian animation industry, but this animation is so beautiful that I feel I need to change my views. It is the recitation of the original Beerpurush in Tagore's own voice, along with animation created along the lines of Nandalal Bose's illustrations of Tagore' book "Sahaj Path". I felt I needed to share this.

So I started with renewed vigour and translated the rest of the poem. Enjoy!

The Hero
By Rabindranath Tagore

Imagine, I’m on a foreign tour and

Taking mother to a far away land.

You are on a palanquin, mother,

Going with the door slightly ajar,

I’m traveling on my red steed,

Trotting by your side.

The hooves kick up a cloud of red dust

That flies behind us as we ride.


Evening comes, the sun drops down low,

By the field of the twin ponds we go.

It’s desolate as we look all around,

There’s not a single soul to be found,

You are by yourself, in your mind,

A little scared, thinking “Where are we?”

I’m telling you, “Don’t be afraid mother,

That’s the dried up river we can see.”


Hidden thorns cover the vast field,

The curved path in the middle lies revealed.

Cattle are nowhere to be found,

To the village they went at sundown,

Who knows where we are bound?

In the dark we can’t see properly.

Then imagine you called me and said,

“What’s that light on the shore that we see?”


Suddenly a war cry we hear

And see some people draw near!

Scared inside the palanquin

To the gods you start praying---

The bearers dropped their load trembling

In the bushes they have hidden in dread.

Imagine, I call you and say,

“I’m here mother, why are you afraid?”


Sticks in hands, bushy hair on their heads---

Their ears are stuffed with flowers red.

I call out “Halt where you are,

If you take a single step further

Just take a look at my sabre,

With this blade I’ll mince all of you.”

Hearing this they jumped up

And uttered their war cry anew.


“Child, don’t you go!” you pray

“Be quiet and watch me.” I say.

I rode on my horse in their midst,

There was a clanking of swords and shields,

The fighting was, mother, so intense

You’ll get goose bumps if you hear.

So many people ran away in fright,

So many others’ heads were chopped clear.


Fighting with so many people alone,

You think your child is surely gone.

Then I come drenched in blood and sweat

And tell you, “The fight has ended.”

Then from the palanquin you alight

And kiss me and pick me in your arms.

Saying, “Thank God my child was with me,

Or what a calamity it would be!”


So many events happen every day---

Why doesn’t something happen this way?

It would just be like a story then,

It would amaze all who’d listen---

Brother would say, “How can it happen?

My little brother isn’t that strong!”

The neighbours would hear it and say,

“Thank God she took her child along.”

(Translated by Sugata Banerji)