Friday, April 22, 2011

Dream Come True

At a time when Nintendo DS and Wii had not taken over as children’s only means of keeping themselves entertained, when the TV had just one channel, when computers were not considered home appliances and toys did not need batteries, at such a time if you looked into our Allahabad home you would find my sister keeping herself busy teaching students.

A teddy bear was the one student that was visible to us. The other students were invisible. You could call them imaginary, but then, they answered her questions, handed in assignments and got shouted at when they did not do their homework. My sister would sit on the bed surrounded by her invisible class and teach them using a slate chalkboard. She would take their assignments (which were probably some old notebooks of her earlier classes) and then check them using a pen. Day after day after day, that was her primary indoor pastime, and becoming a schoolteacher was her dream.

I remembered those scenes when she informed me this week that she had got a job as a teacher in one of the better-known girls’ schools in Kolkata. She is teaching mathematics to classes VI to XI and she’s even the class teacher of a section of class VIII. She was overjoyed when she walked into the classroom and everybody stood up saying “Goodmorning ma’am” in unison. Evidently, although I have difficulty in imagining someone referring to my little sister as ma’am, she is held in high esteem by her students. Coming to think of it, I realize that some of my own teachers at school had been pretty young when they taught us, and that fact never diminished our respect for them in any way.

I am so happy for her... I wanted to write a blog post on this occasion, and now that I have actually started writing it I realize I don’t have much to say about the matter. It is a thing to be felt and not described. When you see some near and dear one dream of something from early childhood and then see them achieve that goal years later in life, the kind of elation you feel is quite beyond words. At least my words.

But when I see some children of the current generation (especially here in the USA) I wonder whether they will ever get that feeling of achieving their dream. Imagination and creativity are actively discouraged these days and someone who sits teaching imaginary students would probably freak parents out. Besides, the other kids would label them nerds. They would rather play video games, visit online forums and watch TV when indoors. Everybody is happy that way.

At the cost of sounding like exactly a grumbling old man, I would say I am glad we were born in less prosperous times.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Superstition and a Coincidence

Are you superstitious? No? Not at all?

I don't stop when a cat crosses my path. I don't come back if someone sneezes when I'm leaving. I don't believe in most superstitions that a lot of other people do. However, there is something that I strongly believe - when the Indian cricket team is playing, they lose if I watch the match. I mean it. I have seen it happen too many times.

That is why when India went into the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup, I decided not to watch the high-tension match against Pakistan. I did steal a glance at the scoreboard time and again, and I tuned into the match only when Pakistan had lost six wickets and were already hoping to catch the early flight back home.

So India were in the final against Sri Lanka. In 1996, the semi-final match against Sri Lanka (which I was watching) had ended disastrously. In 1999, Ganguly and Dravid had murdered the Lankan bowling attack in an epic partnership that, curiously, I could not watch as I had to go shopping.

I watched the India-Australia final of the 2003 World Cup. I did not get time to watch all other matches fully, but the final was different. I sat in front of the TV and watched the match starting from the toss right up to the end. Or up to the point when it stopped mattering. People may blame Zaheer Khan for our loss, or Ganguly, or Sachin, but I know whom I blamed.

I was not going to watch the final today, at least not until an Indian victory had been assured. Let those guys at the university tempt me with their large-screen live screening of an HD stream, Team India comes first for me.

I woke up early and checked the score board. Sri Lanka was batting for about 15 overs then. I fell asleep again and dreamed that they had set up a score of 250. I woke up with a start to see the actual total was 274.

It was too high. But then, nothing was too high for a team that had Sachin and Sehwag.

I was still in bed when my friend pinged me from Kolkata. "Sehwag gone," she said, adding a ":(" at the end.

I asked her not to do a ball-by-ball commentary to me. It was a bad omen. If I wanted to follow the match I could have done it. I got up, brushed my teeth, and was about to have breakfast when another friend called.

"Sachin gone. India will lose today," she said. "So are you coming with me to the city for lunch?"

Around here, "the city" means New York City. Going to the city for lunch meant a several-hour long round trip on a weekend. It also meant I would not be able to see the end if India won by chance. I made up my mind.

"Meet you at the station at 12:15, " I said, and went to get ready.

Around noon, I called my cousin and asked him the score. He said we needed about 80 runs from 80 balls and had seven wickets in hand. He sounded confident that we would win.

We reached New York and walked to this North Indian restaurant. We could not decide whether to go in and have a go at the buffet, or walk to Saravana Bhavan across the street and gobble dhosas. We decided to go in and take a look at today's menu.

As we reached the buffet, we saw there was a small TV (or computer - I don't remember) behind the counter, and some of the staff were watching the match there. India was batting on 270/4. As I watched, Yuvaraj Singh took a single and the score climbed to 271. I looked at my friend and asked her whether the target was indeed 275. I could not believe my luck. And as she said yes, Dhoni hit the next ball out of the ground and the Mumbai sky lit up with fireworks.

Yes, I did not miss the ending after all, by an amazing bit of coincidence. I also called up my cousin again, just to make sure.

Saravana Bhavan was out of the question, now, of course. We sat down to have our lunch, and as the Indian team carried Sachin around the stadium, the restaurant suddenly started playing "Chak de India" full volume, much to the surprise of the Chinese and American customers. We looked up to see a small Indian flag hanging over the counter. By a strange bit of luck, I was in a small piece of India at this historic moment in a city that by and large does not know what cricket is.

Everybody has seen the visuals after that - the victory laps, the interviews, the celebrations. I will try to catch some of that stuff on Youtube in the coming days. But thank Gambhir, or Dhoni, or Yuvaraj as much as you want for this win, I know who else should be getting a tiny portion of the credit.