Running Against The Odds..

A feature from Rohit Brijnath in The Straits Times last Sunday. Carried now in asiaone.

The runner lies in bed as the darkness quietly gives way to light. Soon, just like you, she’ll slip on her Asics, tug on an old T-shirt and drip sweat onto the uneven road before her. But first, unlike you, she has this conversation with herself:

“Eyes clear. No double vision.”

Good.

“Ear fine. No deafness.”

Good.

“No disorientation as I rise.”

Good.

I’m OK. I can run. I better run. It’s what helps me feel OK.

Today, the runner is fine. Today, disease hasn’t come calling.

The runner, 46, is my friend, who has spent 20 years huffing down paths, 20 years hectoring herself (“You’re too slow. Go home.”), 20 years examining herself with infinite optimism on weighing scales, 20 years chasing the minute hand of a watch.

She presumed, just as we do, that she understood Personal Best, this notion of meeting challenge by rummaging through your brain for unknown and extraordinary parts of yourself. Like a climber perched on a rock face, running allows for an insight into faith, an observation into courage, an appreciation of our limits.

We’re never quite sure who we are, or what we have, and the road is our stern instructor. Yet there is no teacher nor any journey as awfully demanding as disease, for it brutally asks: What fight have you got left? How much faith do you own?

My friend the runner knows this for she has multiple sclerosis.

MS, which afflicts more than 2.3 million people worldwide, is an untrustworthy mongrel of a disease, which attacks the central nervous system. It is a stripping away of myelin, the substance which protects nerve fibres and helps messages travel smoothly between the brain and the body. The result is messages that come slower, are distorted or never reach.

It is not fatal yet is absent of cure. Its severity is varied yet it can leave you later in a wheelchair as it did with Betty Cuthbert, the four-time Olympic gold medallist in sprinting from the 1950s-60s.

MS – more prevalent among women – came to my friend in 2005 with the stealth of a sudden invader, stripping her of her Asics, wrapping her in a hospital gown, and sliding her 10 times into MRI machines which snarl and scan her brain. Regular runner has turned wounded walker.

The disease manifests itself in no single ugly way. One attack leaves her head feeling like a plank of wood – as if in an act of cruel magic, it has separated from the rest of her body – and her feet feel as if she is walking on a floor of cotton wool. Another time, her skin pulls painfully tight, as if it is shrinking and, she says: “It’s like my fingers are trying to burst.” She knows how to pick up a glass yet now she has to consciously tell herself how to grip it.

She’s a writer, typing furiously in intelligent, delightful sweeps, but one attack – she has had six – causes her to lose minor motor control and her fingers turn disobedient and clumsy. She is enchanted by music, yet she once couldn’t hear clearly for the disease draped one ear with an invisible purdah. She’s an ardent speaker, yet a combination of MS and steroids – used to combat it – once left her speaking with the slow slur of a drunk.

Some days, this is not a body but a machine of faulty wiring and misfiring connections. It is a terrifying loss of the self as she knows it, a breaking up of her being into uncertain, unworking parts.

It brings fury yet also fear: “That I won’t be able to live this life I have lived before. Not this fully functional life.” That the next attack will be too much.

It is why she has to run again.

To run is to feel whole, to find evidence of normality. To put foot after foot on a trail is “a reminder I can still do it”. To run again for 30 straight minutes is proof of life as she remembers it.

And this is where her Personal Best differs from ours. Because before she can think about going further or faster than she did before, she has to first get back to where she was before. Because once she’s finished with MRIs and medications and hospitals, she – who has been running 6km – is empty. Her tank bare. Forced to relearn how to run those miles again. So she starts from nothing. From zero.

It takes two months or more after an attack before she can lace up her Asics again, and she’s like a child finding her first steps as she begins: 90 seconds walking, 60 seconds running. It is a life lived in perfect obedience to the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa’s haiku:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

My friend adores sports and so she’s familiar with runner Wilma Rudolph’s tussle with polio and swimmer Eric Shanteau’s battle with cancer. She knows these stories, but it’s different when it’s your own story. Adversity can be imagined, yet you can’t know your response to it until it is there, before you, asking, questioning.

Irritation comes, anger arrives, but she knows that running, and sweating, and challenging, promises more than sitting at home wrapped in depression. “I get up every day. I tell myself I am going to be better. Even if they’re fractional improvements.”

She pauses.

“You have to give yourself the best chance to fight this disease.”

Bravery is mostly an anonymous tale, played out privately every day across the planet by extraordinary people whose names we just don’t know. My friend is just one of this vast tribe, whose heroism lies in a stubborn reclaiming of their bodies. After an illness, they get up and walk again. One step, then a mile. After an accident, they rise and cycle again. They take back life, they seize it. And only they can understand how exquisite the reward is.

Because one day, after two months of early morning runs, after two months of rising, checking her hearing, checking her vision, my friend gets there again. To her 20 minutes of running. Then 30 minutes. “Yahoo!” she shouts triumphantly into the morning. Madly, she texts her friends. They understand, for this is victory of its own curious, courageous sort in a race with no end.

She loves running, my bespectacled friend. Loves the humming feet of the long-distance runners and how their impassive faces suddenly crumple and twist in effort as a race ends. Loves running in Ethiopia and listening to locals grin and chant “run, run” as she jogs downhill. Loves silencing smart alecs who mutter “old woman is running” and then go quiet after they watch her do another round of the park and then another. Loves how she can sense the returning strength of her body and its capacity to rebuild itself.

Running isn’t really restoring my friend, her spirit does that, but running is her route to revival. Disease will always lurk on the periphery, but she’s not looking back, only ahead. Looking down the road. Looking at a number.

She runs 6km these days, but wants to reach 10km by next year. I hope she gets there, but in a sense it doesn’t matter. Her eyes are clear. Her ear is OK. Her balance is fine. My friend is running and it is wonderful for it only means she is repaired.

 

Of Memories, Loss and Love ..

Rohit Brijnath in this morning’s Straits Times.

In a drawer in his bedroom, inside his neat house, next to his wallet and his watch, lies the card. It is like any other card, a piece of folded, white cardboard. It is like any other birthday greeting, full of wishes from her and exclamations of love. Yet it is like no other card because he doesn’t know if this is her last love letter to him. Not because she is going anywhere but because her memory is. She isn’t falling out of love with him, it’s just that she just might forget how to love him.

This is not a Valentine’s Day- approved love story. It has no happy ending, but then love stories often have elegant beginnings, it is their conclusions which are rarely tidy. Relationships fray, romance fades, companionship grates, disease calls. It’s when you know love isn’t a one-off bunch of exquisite flowers, but a grittier and more persistent virtue. Love is cleaning diapers, it is hard work.

This love story is about two people: Raj, 67, a man built of chunks of muscle and wit and gentleness; and Bobbie, 63, an elegant woman whose beauty has not yet been sanded away by time. They met in 1978 in Kolkata, travelled to another land, had a son, then three grandchildren and live amidst movies and books in a corner of Melbourne.

It is a neat and familiar suburban picture, except for this: Raj loves Bobbie, and Bobbie has dementia. Every year he gives her a Valentine’s Day present. Now she doesn’t know what the day means.

Raj cannot precisely summon the day when the threads of his wife’s logical brain and memory began to fray. Was it summer when she began to repeat herself? Was it spring when she watched television and kept asking the same questions?

He can’t remember, he just knows that over seven years, like a slow, unfixable leak of reason and recall and feelings, Bobbie’s momentary lapses have turned into a dreadful pattern. She knows the way back home from the shops but cannot recognise friends. She has forgotten familiar tastes – she relished curries, now she abhors them – yet rises in delight when her son steps through her door.

The death of neurons turns the brain into an erratic, clumsy machine which no potion can fix and no surgery can mend. Your wife is there before you and yet a terrible theft is under way, a hollowing out of her which you cannot stop. It imprisons you in a vice of confusion, helplessness, sadness, yet within this changed life Raj has not forgotten how to love Bobbie. He has just gently renegotiated the terms of this romance.

He is her listener. And so she will speak, and repeat, every day from a similar script, yet he will never silence her. He is her chef. He will wake at 5.30am to make her lunch and then return from work to put together her dinner, faithfully putting on a plate all that she likes. He is her compass and he is her detective. When she says her mouth is burning, he will investigate and find she has used detergent, not mouthwash.

He is her guide and he is her friend. He will take her shopping and stand mute as she gathers endless items and then pays the incorrect sum because prices and mathematics elude her. He just inclines his eyebrow at the shopgirls who are now his accomplices in a compassionate routine: surreptitiously they will put away items, yet never ruin her day.

In books, love is built of a scaffolding of shared words and sharp dialogue. In films, two characters meet, tenderness is expressed, feelings are returned and they bend for a kiss. Here, love is more silent and undemonstrative, here there is a limited exchange of the normal vocabulary of affection, for Bobbie cannot easily express emotion. So, on almost every day, nothing is taken by Raj, but only given.

It is as if he has embraced the idea embedded in the author Anne Morrow Lindberg’s words on changing love: “Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”

But then sometimes, for no apparently scientific reason, the tide turns. Sometimes, from nowhere, Bobbie loves him back.

Last year, Raj comes home on his birthday to find a bottle of bluish liquid waiting for him. “It is what you like to put on your face,” she tells him. She has bought him mouthwash, but she thinks it is after-shave. It is what he used to like, now it’s only the colour that remains with her. She also gives him a tracksuit, but it is small enough to fit their grandson.

It doesn’t matter to Raj: He just thinks of her walking to the shops, he imagines her rummaging through her memory, he considers her gesture – and then he sits down, this friend of mine, and he weeps. Her buying this bottle, he knows, is a profound act, for it is as if love has transcended dementia, as if for this brief, wondrous moment it has defeated the disease.

Love – even if it is quick flashbacks, sudden shards of recollection, unconnected pieces from a past – is possibly among the last of Bobbie’s memories. Old memories of this greying, bespectacled man who has spent a life alongside her, memories so deeply imprinted they are still defying erasure. On a recent night when I visited, when he bid her good night, she took his hand and kissed it, once, twice, four times, seven times. She never did this before, but these days she does and he cannot explain it. Except to say that he is grateful.

It is when he tells me about the card, the one he now keeps in his drawer. On Jan 4 this year, as she always did, she gives it to him. It is his birthday but she has bought him a wedding card and it is a beautiful mistake.

Inside she scrawls a message in her altered handwriting, but this year, like last year, she signs off in a way she has never done before. She writes, “Your wife, Bobbie.” Is she reminding herself who she is to him? Or is she telling him, Raj, please, don’t ever forget who I am to you?

A sportswriter’s love letter..

Have always considered Rohit Brijnath’s writing as love letters to sport. This probably captures it best. From the Straits Times this morning.

The end of the world as I know it has arrived. Because there is an athlete in my house. And it ain’t me. I was supposed to be the sportswriter jock. Friends were supposed to ask me about form. Quiz me on pain. Now they flick me off like cheap lint and talk fartleks and carbo-intake with my wife.

This is wrong. My wife spent her life yelling: “Don’t put your sweaty self on the sofa.”Now it’s the other way around. On Sundays I close the curtains against the heat and she goes and runs into it.

It’s mad, it’s beautiful. After nearly 25 years since I first saw her in a badminton skirt that played hell with my blood pressure, I am learning sport from my missus. At 50 – older than me which cuts the fragile male ego even deeper- she can run further, and faster, than I ever could.

These days I hit the 5km mark on the treadmill and think I’m Rocky. She did a marathon last December after starting to run for the first time in January 2009. I know women are smarter, tougher, but this is plain cruel. Maybe that’s nandrolone she ingests in the morning? So I checked. Bah, vitamins.

My wife wasn’t keen on watching sport. She wonders why there are Gunners in football and if Formula One is a maths problem. Except now there are seven pairs of sneakers in the shoe rack and only one is mine. There is a skyscraper of sports books on the bedside table and they’re hers : anatomy of a runner’s body, Born To Run, Murakami’s musings on running, Runner’s World, a running manual.
It’s an education I tell you. For me.

My wife’s running told me you have to find the right sport to suit your personality. I crave the tension of playing someone; others, like her, relish the freedom of the lonely road, the company only of the ticking watch, the fight against the painful voices within that cry: “Stop.” It’s told me that there’s no time set to fall in love with sport, or as a line in Time’s recent cover story Forever Young reads: “The meaning of age has become elusive.”

What is age-appropriate anymore? The laws that applied to middle-aged people –  without being unreasonably risky – have been run over. A 76-year-old climbed Everest; a 92-year-old has just run the marathon. The road in front is only as hard as you make it out to be.

When they, the so-called has-beens, line up at the marathons – 3,367 of 54,982 at last year’s Standard Chartered event were 50 years and over – it is like they’re reinventing life’s finish lines.

Abruptly, my wife has become another person, immersed in timings, shopping for Vibram FiveFingers, sending me off to parties alone. I have to guess my Glenlivet calorie intake, she charts hers at home on a graph. But I am a new person, too. I have a minor degree in sports-bra selecting, energy-bar buying, vaseline-slatering. I thought Hammer Perpeteum was a WWF wrestler till it turned out to be endurance fuel.

When she leaves the house she resembles Clint Eastwood with her gunbelt of tiny, powder-filled bottles and assorted armaments of chest strap, shoe sensor, heart rate watch. The woman’s a walking gadget display. But she’s challenging herself at 50. She’s discovering a person within she hasn’t met before. She’s found a private space which I, rightfully, am not invited to.

I am learning close up from her – and her tribe in this city whatever their age – about perseverance. Because I don’t have it. But true athletes are conquerors of pain, they step through walls of exhaustion that are impenetrable on first look.

It reminds me of David Halberstam describing the rower Tiff Wood in his book The Amateurs: “When he thought of rowing, the first thing that came to mind was the pain. After the first 25 strokes of a race… his lungs and his legs seemed to scream at him to stop. The ability to resist the impulse, to reach through it… while others were fading, made him a champion.”

It’s what my wife is for me.

She comes home, calf complaining, glutes aching, but her face shines with a satisfaction I wish I could feel. In last year’s marathon, her first, she ran 32km, cramped, stopped, then forced herself to limp the last 10km. It’s a story that is echoed in lanes and roads across this land. I used to think people who didn’t run the entire race didn’t deserve the label marathoner. I was wrong.

Now, I like the fact I sleep next to a warrior – except for those damn 5am alarms. Some mornings, semi-awake, I see her shadowy figure slip out, a stranger in tight shorts on a journey of her own invention. There is no medal beckoning, no grand prize, but just the most precious of victories to be won on a silent street of no applause. Victory over the self.

The Olympics Curtain Raiser ..

On 08/08/08, the Olympics begin in Beijing. They like that number and consider it auspicious. Lucky even. The Olympics are, of course, more than just that.

Take a look at this piece by Rohit Brijnath carried over the weekend in the Straits Times.

Its called :

Natalie is courage, she is self-belief.

Often in sport, we speak of it, this idea of human spirit, this triumphant mesh of hope, courage, self-belief, this staring down of adversity.

It is hard to define this spirit, but we know it when we see it. Because it makes us feel puny, because it lifts us, because it reminds us of the potential of the human race.

This spirit is Karoly Takacs, a gifted pistol shooter of the 1930-50s, losing his right hand in a grenade accident, learning to shoot with his left, and eventually winning Olympic gold.

It is Cliff Meidl, a plumber, hitting a power cable with his jackhammer, getting a 30,000 volt shock that cracked his skull, burnt his toes, resulted in three cardiac arrests and 13 surgeries on his legs that were almost amputated. Ten years later, he competed at the 1996 Olympics as a kayaker.

And it is this young woman.

Her name is Natalie du Toit, she is 24 years old, and she owns a laugh that is almost musical. And in August, at the Beijing Olympics, when the women line up for the 10km open water swim, you will see her.

She will be hard to miss because she will be the only one there with one leg.

Look at the leg, it is okay, she is used to it. On the phone from South Africa the other day, we spoke of it. Never has an athlete with such a disability qualified for the Olympics, and it is understandable you will look at it.

But eventually get over the leg. It is part of her, yet she is more than that. She does not want to be seen as a symbol for anything, she is not bridging a divide, between abled and disabled athletes.

She is just, she says firmly, “an athlete trying to get better”.

What  Natalie du Toit is telling us is, please, look at my ability, not my disability.

Natalie did not make the Olympics because a car ran into her in 2001, which led to a through-knee amputation. She made it because it was a dream she would not get go of, a dream held on to so ferociously that even a car could not run over it.

“The Olympics have nothing to do with my disability,” she says, “it’s a dream I had as a six-yer old.”

Four months or so after the amputation, she was back in the water where you cannot see her leg or the lack of one, back in the water where she is herself.

There is a cheerful matter of factness to her voice, an unwillingness to pity herself or sell a sad tale, so you must imagine her world then. A body unable to balance itself, unable to push itself off the wall, unable to kick during sprints to the finish, unable to do what it once naturally could.

And then wonder at the self-belief that surged through her, her appetite for work, her ability to wear pain, her stubborn refusal to accept her quest was over. It was an acceptance of a challenge that was, well, Olympian.

Ask her about inspiration and she points to Lance Armstrong. “He cycled when it was snowing, in the cold, when others were scared of getting injured, ” and she is not referring to teh cyclists cancer but his intensity. “It’s about putting in that little extra,” she says.

And so she did, slowly, steadily the mind constantly teaching the body to adapt.

Long ago, she said of her return to the water : “It was not nice seeing little babies beat you. So I just had to train harder … get up with the guys … get up with the seniors … get back to the level I was swimming at before.”

She got so far that a year later, she was in the 800 metres freestyle final at the Commonwealth Games, an astonishing feat for no disabled athlete had swum in an able bodied event.

And then three weeks ago, in Seville, she qualified for Beijing by coming fourth in the 10 km open water world championship.

On her website, he motto reads, “Be everything you want to be”. And because she has lived it all these years, she is finally where she wants to be.  At the Olympics.

Natalie, who does not use a prosthetic and compensates with a thrower’s upper body, says, “I never thought of being disadvantaged”, but she is.

Which is why coaches, she said, told her to try the 10k, “because there are no turns and not much sprinting so you don’t lose as much.”

Its a race that demands from the mind, for as she says” after one hour you’re already aching, you start to hurt, but everyone is hurting, and you have to raise your game”.

Quitters are not invited to this contest where elbows fly under water, and at the World Championships, Du Toit exited with a black eye and says that one of her male teammates had a cut cornea.

And then there is the seaweed, which is the only time her voice raises an octave, for she says, “I hate seaweed”, believing as she does that sharks occasionally linger there.

Ask her about Beijing, and gold is never spoken of. “I just want to improve”. she says.

A medal ? “If it comes it will be a bonus”. What she is clear about is her effort. “I will try my utmost,” she says, and that we believe.

So when the Games commences, remember this name, look for this swimmer. She will probably be easy to recognise, only because of the wide smile on her face.

After all, a medal would be nice, but Natalie du Toit will know that just being in Beijing is proof of the power of a child’s dream and the strength of a woman’s spirit.

Black & White

Childhood was a wide eyed concept of reality. Every thing was 70 mm. Every thing was magic, everything was fantasy.

By the time one entered ones teens, one was still starry eyed about love, longing and life in general. Being a 17 year old was a challenge in itself. Being realistic itself was beyond imagination.That was a long time back. Decades back. It was an entirely forgettable decade ‘personally’. Not playing any professional sport, loving sport at the same point in time and being from a middle class back ground was an impotent mixture. It could never work. It never did. But one knew of 3 guys, who also came from a middle class back ground, were doing very well as sportsmen even at that age and were being tipped to be destined for glory.

Every one had read of the SRT – VK partnership and one felt that these guys were achieving what one had dreamt of, but never had the talent to really target. Somehow one couldn’t feel connected to the duo as Shivaji Park seemed an elitist joint, wrinkling its nose at people from the northern suburbs. The fact, that SRT lived in Bandra and Kambli in Kanjurmarg (if memory serves one well) was overlooked. They played at Shivaji Park. End of argument. The 3rd guy on the other hand, stayed in the same suburb. One would see him on his scooter once in a while and what would one give to be on his scooter (just like being in his shoes). He was one of the most famous guys in town and he knew it. He was touted as THE future cricketer of the sleepy suburb who would make the country proud. He would be our answer to that high brow Shivaji Park cricketer. He was Abhijit Kale. One never managed to talk with him but was always aware of his presence on that one main road in the small suburb. That was the only road guys would walk on, trying to impress some girl who was more beautiful than Aishwarya Rai and more intelligent than a Judith Polgar (there’s this saying in Sanskrit – prapte tu shodashe varshe … –  meaning that once you reach the age of 16, even a donkey looks beautiful).

We moved on in life. Luck favoured self. He kept on playing cricket. And he was doing well. One hoped he would still make it in the big league because of his talent. He had the talent, one believed. SRT had already achieved icon status then. (Well before anyone had heard or imagined an IPL.)

But somewhere down the line, frustration started building up. Being on the same pedestal with SRT at the age of fifteen wasn’t helping him secure an assured place in the Mumbai Ranji team for 3 years. He shifted to Maharashtra where he found a permanent place. The overwhelming ambition of playing for the country fuelled intense competitive spirit. But he always remained on the fringes. He was good but he was no good. The selectors were not willing to hear his side of the story. A first class average of 50+ wasn’t getting him in a test team which boasted of the Big 4 in the middle order. Maybe at that point in time, regional loyalties of selectors also played a role in denying him his chance. The more he was overlooked, the harder he tried, the more bitter a person he turned into. As normally happens in cricket, the harder a batsman tries to hit a ball, the more awry goes his timing and the more the chances of him getting out.

Cricket, being a team sport, makes an individual player subservient. As in any team sport. A player has to first be in the team to showcase his talent. A player’s team has to win consistently for the player to be noticed. In a rare instance, one might find an individual shining in defeat and making it big despite his side’s poor showing. Especially rare in cricket where one reaches the big stage only when one plays for his country. (voices may be raised about IPL but there’s some time to go for that to be irrevocably proved.). To be in a team one is at the mercy of the selectors. Team sport vis-à-vis individual sport makes a fascinating study. One’s dependence, or lack of it, on others, being a substantial difference. As a Tennis player, one might feel hard done some times with a draw (at the start of one’s career, say on the junior circuit). But all the Tennis prodigy has to do is to go and win every single match in a tournament there is to win. And lo behold, (s)/he has arrived. Success in a team sport has too many external variables. Individual success of a player and his team’s success may be interlinked but not necessarily so (Ask SRT’s many detractors). The external variables were not favouring Kale and time was running out. He was getting close to 30, still not considered for an India cap. Still not financially secure.

In April 2003 he was selected to play an ODI against Bangladesh. Gathering from the reports one has come across, some time then he was offered a contract by Percept D’Mark with a clause which specified that if he did not play within a year for India or India ‘A’, the company would not be bound to pay him his money. This information came from a statement by Kamal Morarka, the then vice president of BCCI.

In November 2003, two selectors – Kiran More and Pranab Roy – brought two charges against Kale, who they claimed tried to pressurise them and offered bribes to get selected into the team, The evidence offered was a few phone calls made to More, Kale’s mother’s visit to More’s house where she pleaded for his inclusion in the team, and Kale’s meeting with Roy at an airport. There was no witness to confirm any verbal offer to bribe. Whether it was a question of his being pressurised by the system or being naïve in dealing with the case, one doesn’t know. It was two men’s word against another. A country was stirred into action when similar accusations were termed ‘baseless’ using the same rationale. But Kale wasn’t Bhajji and the selectors were not ‘Australians’.

In June 2004, he was banned from cricket up to Dec 2004. He obviously hadn’t played between Nov 2003 and June 2004. Now how does a ban affect a player? And how does one respond to career threatening events? He didn’t take it too kindly. With a few years of cricket left in him, almost no chance of making it to the national team because of the taint and shattered dreams, he tried picking up the broken pieces. There was too much going through his mind. Extreme focus can some times easily turn into complete disinterest from a shock. To add to his woes, he shifted teams from Maharashtra to Tripura on an impulse for being left out of the team. What followed was a barren period. Dec 2006 was the most recent Ranji trophy appearance for Tripura. Since then it’s been a walk through wilderness again.

This article was a culmination of a lot of issues that one has come across. It was about a journey of a person one felt close to. It was about a journey that went wrong somewhere. History always likes winners. Most of us do as well. But it may be just one small incident that can change one’s claim on history.

The other issue has been a fresh approach by the current selectors and the news of a Rs 1 crore bonus paid to the selectors after the CB victory. Maybe this will reduce the chances of more Kales suffering from the system.

The Percept D’Mark contract clause in the AK saga and the current mad rush to sign up u19, fringe players – hoping for a gold mine some where at the end of the rainbow, might see such incidents revisited.

Kiran More left the BCCI and has now joined the ICL.

Kale in marathi means ‘black’, hence the title ‘Black n White’

Last heard, Abhijit Kale will be player/coach at the Linden Park Cricket Club playing Division 3 in the Kent League for the 2008 season.

Posted by Rahul.

Right Choice, Baby !

With all the IPL auction dust settling down, the per ball income for Ishant Sharma calculated, the anguished cries of non Indian socialists the world over (How can a nation with so much poverty, display such obscene wealth) heard politely, reasons for the success / failure of the league analysed to bare bones, Ricky Ponting’s self targeting jokes laughed at (Though the best joke might still be out there – Saurav Ganguly captaining Ponting and Akhtar – now that has the potential to be a winner. The only competition to this one maybe the top order of the Bengaluru team viz.,  Jaffer, Chanderpaul, Dravid and Kallis – that’s a separate topic for discussion), Mike Hussey’s SMS to his brother relayed the world over, Bhajji’s post auction shopping spree well documented, SRK’s touching gesture of ‘giving back something to the people of India’ by buying the Kolkata team members well appreciated, Mrs. (!!!!) Preity Zinta (that’s Lalit Modi, not me) overcoming the shock by buying Irfan Pathan for a shocking USD 925K. One can go on and on but guess the reader has got a crash course of the notable headlines during/ after the auctions. If this was the trailer for the league, one hopes that the actual movie lives up to the trailer.

In all this glittering glamour (or is it glamorous glitter), there were a few stories that stood out. The underlying theme of many of these stories was – “Sacrifice”. Maybe it’s a strong word to use. Maybe modern day human beings are unused to such strong actions. Maybe one can call it “compromise”. One just wants to draw the public attention to the men and their stories. One is not trying to pass judgments here in terms of who is better ‘morally’. Nor is one trying to portray the participating players as petty money minded individuals. They are professionals and have as much a right to secure their financial future as, say you and I. But what drove the exceptions to renounce the lure of instant riches. Was it their own internal voice or was it circumstances that drove them? The 3 men that most attracted one’s attention were Justin Langer, Michael Clarke and VVS Laxman.

The first two have been adequately covered and hailed by the Australian media. Justin Langer will honour his commitment to play for Somerset instead of joining the Jaipur team. “When you go to your grave, people will remember what you did with your life rather than how much money you made…” he said. Noble thoughts indeed! One wonders what he felt when he initially signed up for the IPL. Because a person with such philosophical bent of mind would have not signed up for such money making soulless machine. One may give him the benefit of doubt for having second thoughts. But was that related in any way to the fact that he was not bought in the first round of the auction? One wouldn’t want to question his ‘integrity’ (its become a buzz word now days in Australia. It seems one has to take a spelling test before being signed up by CA. Current test players are exempt. That explains Symonds.), so one leaves it at that.

Michael (Pup) Clarke is an interesting contrast. He decided against joining the IPL to spend time with his ailing father. One of the biggest sacrifices made by a player! He also pointed out to the fact that he had a hectic international career which needed him to rest and recuperate. Fair enough. Now let’s read the entire text of the letter sent to Mr. Lalit Modi.  “With no disrespect to the IPL, I feel my body and mind needs a break and with the hectic international schedule over the next 18 months, I feel I need to freshen up and a break will do me good. By trying to continue to advance my profile and reputation with the Australian team, I hope to one day become an asset to your tournament. The Australian newspapers have gone overboard in praising Clarke who stood his ground after being caught in the first slip at the Sydney test. He hasn’t rejected IPL totally has he? But yet, one respects his family commitments and his personal ethos to reject IPL as of TODAY…  

One Hyderabadi has been at the forefront of this ‘sacrifice’ business.

VVS Laxman downgraded himself from an “icon” status to a normal citizen status. He went ahead and told the owners of the Deccan Chronicle team that he wanted to buy the best team that money could buy. He didn’t care about what he was paid. Today VVS is paid less than a fourth of what Andrew Symonds gets. He reminds me of Laxman from the great Indian epic ‘Ramayana’, where Laxman threw away his kingdom and went to the forest with Ram. He was the supposed KING but went on to become Ram’s right hand man. Even Hanuman the “monkey” competed with him for Ram’s affection. So what were the modern Laxman’s compulsions? VVS has never been an integral part of the Indian ODI team? He never could make it to an Indian T20 team in his wildest dreams. He chose the next best option (Did he have any another option?). He was named the captain of the team. And paid LESS! MUCH LESS!

So which Hyderabadi is one talking about? It HAS to be Pullela Gopichand. Being an All England Champion in 2001, he won money which isn’t actually even going to get some pocket money for most of these kids. And YET he refused to endorse a soft drink because he thought that no youngster should drink a cola because it’s not ‘healthy’. AND he sacrificed a lot of money for that. To me ‘he’ has been the biggest ‘sacrificer’ that I’ve ever seen. People forget so easily. And not getting the money is easily forgotten than getting that money. So can we please stand up and salute the guy..

Maybe Hyderabad still has some Nawabs left. Hopefully I know at least one. But maybe he doesn’t play cricket …

Posted by Rahul