Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Worst commercial of 2014: Lufthansa

There have been commercials; and there have been horrible commercials; and then, there have been those eerie commercials that leave you thinking: is the advertisement good or bad for the product?

Tired of making clichéd lists for the year, I thought of identifying the most irritating television commercial of the year. That award should go to the Lufthansa commercial below.


 I own a Star Alliance membership card (warning: this is when I start showing off) that it has Lufthansa written on it. I came close to discarding it.

***

Let me give an introduction on what the advertisement tries to do: it tries to convince the Indian audience that the airlines is more Indian than German, which means it tries to pass inedible microwaved yellow goo as daal. The authentic German Lufthansa would ask “chicken or pasta?” and serve dry rubbery mush and call it chicken.

Let us look at the video. It involves a kid. They have named him Aryan. They must have tried to send a message across by calling him Aryan; unfortunately, I could not grasp it. This may be some very authentic Indo-German joke that eludes me.

The grandfather and grandson start in a room, walk over a bridge, and stroll past a park to bad-mouth Germans. The punch-line-in-apparent, of course, is “their movies are always gray; probably they have not even heard of Bollywood!”

Erm, the last time I had heard, Indian producers send movies to win awards at Berlinale. It does not work the other way round. I have never heard of German movies competing for the Filmfare.

There is also disapproval about food, though they are not going to stay in Germany. They are going to New York, and, in all likelihood, they would at most have a stopover at Frankfurt. So why prejudice your grandson before he reaches the age to take his own decisions?

They are going to USA (they also ride a Japanese car, but let us not get into that). Should the discussion not revolve around American food and movies?

Let me put myself in the old man’s shoes. Suppose I am flying KLM the first time. Will I try to form an idea of Dutch movies before I fly? Will their Bollywood-awareness become a condition?

Here is a list of what I will try to find out:
1. Whether they are usually punctual.
2. What I can and cannot carry (the list is usually the same).
3. The dimensions and weight of the check-in and hand-baggage.
4. The stopover time.
5. A Google Images view of the air-hostesses (or female flight-attendants).

***

But even that is not my point here. They are namaste-ed by an attendant; the grandson is obviously confused, given his grandfather’s moronic inputs. They get seated.

Lufthansa plays an Indian movie. They also serve Indian food (I know they are flying business-class, but what airline serves six colour-coded gulab-jamuns?).

 
Whatever you do, Lufthansa, do not make them diabetic; and why are they colour coded?
 The poor child has every right to be confused. He even looks out of the aircraft for some unfathomable reason. Then, unable to control his confusion anymore, he blurts out: “grandpa, we’re in the wrong plane!


This expression has to win an award of some sort; I wonder how short the air-hostess's skirt was
Then, the grandfather takes his glasses off in what he probably considers the most reassuring gesture in the history of mankind, and utters: “no, no, everything is fine.”

Think of the child. Think of the poor child.
1. He was told what to expect on flight.
2. He finds that things are ridiculously different from what his idiot of a grandfather had taught him.
3. He obviously thinks there is something wrong.
4. His grandfather tells him that everything is fine, without offering an explanation.


If I were that kid, I would have grown up as the most confused individual ever. I kid you not.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

PK and Rajkumar Hirani: a few words

Courtesy: Bollywoodlife.com
Read the original article on Ideetube.

***

No one, even Rajkumar Hirani himself, will place the man in the pantheon of Bollywood’s greatest directors. It is difficult to say who will make the cut, but one can safely assume that Hirani will not.

But then, again, Hirani’s movies never fail to touch a cord; they work well with Indian audience in the same way that vada works with paav. They win awards, you seldom get tickets unless you go via BookMyShow, and you can take both the dudes and your girlfriend to them.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, this is not a PK review. This is an effort to understand the man. PK had its high points, but once you have seen OMG Oh My God! you will be almost expecting every turn in the movie. The only twist in the movie is rather predictable, and the clichés are, well, clichéd.

Of course, some things clicked. Some of the one-liners and satirical plot points are contemporary, but it would be unfair to give Hirani credit for that. It is akin to Rajiv Gandhi’s Bofors strategies: they were certainly not part of Indian military strategies, but they ended up being helpful at the turn of the millennium.

But then, the movie is magical. This is not the Aamir Khan magic that keeps you glued to your television sets at ten in the morning on Sundays; neither is this the Anushka Sharma oomph that had made Band Baaja Baaraat work. This is different.

This is the genius of Hirani. As I mentioned, Hirani will never come remotely close to be the pantheon of Bollywood’s greatest. But take a minute to consider the Who’s Who of Bollywood: consider Bimal Roy and Raj Kapoor; Guru Dutt and Yash Chopra; Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Ramesh Sippy; Shyam Benegal and Anurag Kashyap; and more.

Visualise them, sitting, with sombre faces, making small talk, waiting for some coveted award. Hirani does not belong there. But he will gatecrash. He will gatecrash and embarrass Yash Chopra on those chiffon saris and Raj Kapoor on waterfalls, or Guru Dutt on his antipathy towards straight eyebrows.

Worse, he may end up giving a completely unexpected jaadu ki jhappi to, say, Bimal Roy, scandalising the entire table.

He is that cheeky, Hirani. You will not be awed by him. His characters turn up from random nooks and corners of your life, preach inanely, laugh and leave you in splits, and disappear, just like that.

Munna had Circuit. Phunsukh Wangdu and PK are lonely. Munna was simple. Wangdu made things simple. PK is perhaps too simple. Neither is real. Yet all of them are. They will catch you unawares if you confuse yourself and will end up simplifying your lives.

That is the risk you run if you get too close to a Hirani movie: you end up questioning yourself. That is what the man can do to you. He has probably overdone things a bit with PK, but he will turn things around. Wait for the next one.

Till then, enjoy your comfort zone.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Peshawar aftermath: the horror of the what-ifs

Courtesy: Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Facebook group
A day went by after the Peshawar horror. A second day went by. The second night seemed too long. Maybe I was too affected. Or maybe I was human. Or maybe I was too human. Or maybe insane.

But then, I am not known for losing my composure. They generally say I am devoid of emotion. They are true. Or maybe I am the emotional one and they are devoid of emotions. Or maybe both are true. Maybe it was because I am a parent. Or maybe despite the fact that I am a parent.

It did not matter. I tried to sleep. Then something hit me.

What if… what if… this became the norm? What if massacres became so commonplace some day that we would not care anymore?

Parents in Peshawar will probably be too scared to send their children to school. But what if… what if… they stopped being scared? What if it reaches a stage when everyone accepts violence as a part of our lives?

When I was in my tweens all my parents were scared of were kidnappers. We were told that random kidnappers prowled across the nooks and corners of the city, and would swoop down upon us at the first opportunity and carry us away in large gunny-bags.

Parents of five-year olds are scared of worse things these days. Growing up I had no idea about the existence of words like paedophile. Or child abuse. And now, this. Those kidnappers seem almost toothless when put into perspective.

What if such massacres become commonplace some day? What if parents of the future have to go through experiences so gruesome that mass execution of children seem tame in comparison?

The very thought left me in cold sweat. More than the thought of children desperately crying out for their parents when asked to stand in a queue in front of a firing squad without a chance to protest or hit back; more than the thought of a wounded child gagging himself and silencing himself with a tie; more than when I got to know that Class 9 had only one survivor — a boy whose alarm did not work that morning.

Those parents at Peshawar, checking the hospital lists frantically, have been shattered. We had come down crashing with them, as did humanity. We cried with them, and, as is the norm, we shared Facebook posts, changed our wall pictures, and made hashtags trend on Twitter.

All that will subside. All that has started to subside.

There will be an encore. We will rise again.

This will become commonplace. There will be revenge, mostly without proof or vindication, mostly on the innocent. We will simply like or favourite or retweet.

That will happen because something more horrific will be in news.

That will happen because something will churn our insides to such an extent that the Peshawar incident will seem as innocuous as kidnappers with gunny-bags seem to our generation.

That is what I am scared of.

That is what left me sleepless last night and is making me type my fingers to numbness at two in the morning. The what-if bit of it.


Maybe things have just begun.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Beyond capital punishment

Cricket was not held up. Humanity was. In fact, humanity was pushed back by a few centuries, perhaps millennia, at Peshawar — a city that was synonymous to Arbab Niaz Stadium to me. Till yesterday.

I was determined. I would not read news. I would not check the trending hash-tags on Twitter. I would not see the pictures. I knew what had happened.

I read funny things. I cracked jokes. I read funny one-liners. I watched cricket. I checked obscure cricket statistics. Sitting in the newsroom, I would prepare myself for The Gabba.

I was scared. Not because of what may happen to me, but because we were now devoid of hope. They would not spare children. Remember those cute commercials that say all children are created equal, and it is only when we grow up that the chasms are created?

These children were denied a chance to grow up. Those bastards denied them the chance in the name of religion, or whatever it is that teaches them that murdering children is a way to make this planet a better place to live.

I still decided to stay away from this. Not like an ostrich, but perhaps because the 37-year old father in me did not have it to take this anymore. Then two things happened today.

***

The Test at The Gabba had got over. The one at Centurion had started. All eyes, however, were on the one at Abu Dhabi, where Pakistan was supposed to take on New Zealand. The two-minute silence was expected, as were the black bands.

Shehzad, Pakistan’s wonder-kid, broke down when the stadium rose to a silence. Waqar, Moin, Mushtaq, Younis Khan were visibly traumatised. Irfan, all of 7’1”, looked as small as any of us as he prayed under his breath.

Even that did not break me. I pretended everything was normal.

What broke me was a solemn, sombre, gloomy Afridi.

It was then that it hit me. Afridi was the man who was not supposed to grow up. Afridi was the man who was not supposed to change. The short speech was so unbearable that I almost wanted to mute the television, but could not.

Be professional, I told myself. I could not. I had to make excuses to leave for the restroom. I am a parent. My daughter goes to school. I felt claustrophobic.

Afridi broke me today.

***

I kept myself hooked to the other match, at Centurion. Enough was happening there. I calmed down as the day progressed. Then I checked social media, and saw this headline.


What if I was the only one, left in an entire class, across sections? What if I turned up at school to see I was the only one? What if walked inside an empty school to know that I was the only survivor because the alarm did not go off in the morning and my friends were all lined up and massacred to death by (probably, I hope not) the smiling guy who sold sweets outside the school?

My Class IX memories involved trying to woo a girl, watching cricket and Chitrahaar, listening to Vividh Bharti, and a routine that shuffled between tuitions-school-home and home-school-tuitions (sometimes tuitions-school-tuitions home as well). I am happy with my childhood.

This boy’s Class XI memories would involve his alarm clock not working on the most dreadful morning of all.

***

Go ahead, Pakistan. Do not rest till you dish out the worst to these creatures. Capital punishments will not suffice. It is too soft a punishment for people who can take up arms against children. Do something beyond my limited imagination.

Remember the images. A group of children, being asked to queue up, with full knowledge of what was about to follow. Imagine their horror. Imagine the horror of the parents crying in panic as they looked up the list of the dead.

Dish out something to them — the kind of which the world is yet to see. Take something away irretrievable from them. Something. Something. Something.

Please.

PLEASE.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Friendship, tuberculosis, shuddh Hindi, and apology

The ubiquitous tuberculosis patient. Courtesy: Telugu One

I have a friend. She lives in NCR. I live in NM.

Okay, fine. She lives in Greater Delhi. I live in Greater Mumbai. Etc.

She lived in the same city two years back. I lived in Mumbai. Not Navi Mumbai. Mumbai. On the other side of toll naka

She worked at a place that sounded fun. I worked at a place where a person who sat three seats away from me hummed "o mere papa the great" throughout the day.

We talked every weekday on email, mostly in Hindi, a language we were equally proficient at. Some of these emails were slightly non-trivial.

Here is a sample:

***

Me:
Aap kaisi ho jee? Aur aapka woh kaisa hai?

Friend:
Achche hai hum. Woh better hain. Mild petbyatha chhod ke baki sab thik. Aaj pet specialist daktar dikhaya, who has suspected one of the following:
1. Intestinal tuberculosis
2. Crohn's disease
3.Salmonella infection
Kalke ekgada test, colonoscopy karne jayega. Agar number 3 nikla, toh thik hai. 1 ya 2 nikla toh chaap ho sakta hai. Sigh.
Tumhara kya khabar?

Me:
Humen bhi tuberculosis hua tha kabhi. Usi avastha mein humne BSc Part I diya tha. Aur pass bhi kiya tha. Par woh intestine mein nahin, gale ke gland mein tha. Naw mahine tak chikitsa mein magn the hum.

Friend:
Gale ke gland mein tuberculosis kaise hota hai mairi?

Me:
Haan mairi. Yakshma jism ke jagah jagah mein hota hai. Aur aajkal Deoghar jana bhi nahin padhta hai.

Friend:
Humne thoda bahaut Google kiya abhi. 1 aur 2 ek hi sikke ka epith-opith hai. 3 safe hai. 1 ya 2 hua to maamla thoda sangeen hai.
Kitna strange hai. Mere papa ko bhi intestinal tuberculosis hua tha jab woh college mein padhte the. Six months laga tha thik hone mein. Operate bhi karna para tha.
Par aap ko gale mein TB kaise hua? Thanda lag ke?

Me:
Nahin. Abohawa ka dushan se. Gale ka gland ful gaya tha. Dhnok gilne mein takleef hota tha. Phir ENT ko dikhaya. Usne kaha biopsy karwane ke liye. Phir pata chala ke yakshma hai. Phir nau mahine tak dawaai khaya. 

Friend: 
Yakshma hua aur kaasha nahin, black and white Bengali film ka hissa nahin bana, toh kya kiya?

Me:
Nahin, kaasha tha, bahaut kaasha tha. Dhnok gilne mein jab takleef hota tha, tab bahaut kaasha karta tha. Par rakt-bomi nahin hua tha kabhi, jo hona chahiye tha.

Friend:
Hna. Phir poshchim jana tha, hawa badalne ke liye. Phir ek poshchimi mohila ka premey parna tha, jo tumhe nurse back to health karta. Roj sokale tum chhota bihari town ke outskirts ke chhota bungalow ke bahar chhota garden mein chair paat ke mithe roddur pohata aur kobita likhta, (punjabi, payjama, aur chador pehen ke) aur woh aake tumhe peyala bhorti bedanar rosh peelata. :D

Me:
Phir main Kolkata laut aake shushil patri se shaadi karta, aur poshchima ladki ko bhool jaata. Poshchima ladki ko biroho hota, aur ajibon kunwari rehti, aur porikkha deke collector banti. Aur phir kabhi train mein safar karte hue mera poribarke saath ek hi kamre mein jaati. Aur phir bahaut double-meaning-wala bakyobinimoy hota.

Friend:
Hna. Tum family man hota, mired in family troubles. Woh free-spirited career woman hoti. Mota kalo framer choshma pehenti. Aur simple sutir saree.

Me:
Train mein hum "tiffin-carry" kholta. Meri biwi use luchi-mangsho offer karti. Mere mukh phoshke nikal jaata "woh nirimish khati hai". Phir ghoralo poristhiti hota.

Friend:
Nahin. Nirimish se utna gondogol nahin hota. One of your myriad kids usey tang karti, aur tum bolte, "use chhod do, usey migraine ka problem hain." Phir godo godo ho ke jigyesh karte, "abhi bhi chaaye mein ek sugar leti ho?" Isi moment mein tumhari biwi bathroom se wapas aa jaati aur tumhe cold looks deti.

Me:
Phir meri biwi ek kitaab leke baith jaati, aur bachchon par okarone chillati. Poshchima ladki choshma utaarke so jaati. Main na-honewala menage-a-trois ka khwaab dekhta rehta.

***

Her woh had nothing serious, and got cured in double-quick time. She got married to him a couple of days back. I had promised her I would attend her wedding in Kolkata. I failed her. The gift will follow, but kid, this post is it for now.

I have tried to "pitch" the story to a few others (without any purpose), but nobody else appreciated it, let alone be impressed by my suave Hindi. This may have included you. Or you. Or you. Or, for that matter, you.

There are friends, outrageously good ones, but none like you.

Have a super life. Beam.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Interstellar survivor

Courtesy: Wikipedia
I have survived Interstellar. Or maybe I will survive Interstellar when I turn 15. From the back of the screen. With popcorn in my hand. Or with popcorn on the other side of the tub. Or with myself in the tub. Or maybe something else. From the other side of the screen.

I do not know. Maybe I watched the movie from the wrong side of the screen. Audience of Inox, did you see me watching the movie? I hope you saw Anne Hathaway look at me from the theatre. Ha ha, I know you did.

I am a terribly low-IQ person, you see (or saw; or be seen). I am not a man whose mind transcends five dimensions. I have not migrated to Murakami. Yet. I will. Or maybe Murakami will downgrade to me. Or perhaps he has already upgraded to me. Or perhaps he is inside the pages of Kafka on the Shore. Or maybe Murakami is Interstellar.

I am myself. Or maybe I am the fifth-dimensional simulation of a generation that lives and believes in the power of futuristic continuum transfunctioner. Or maybe even this is entirely what is inside my brain. Or maybe my brain is making up the entire thing.

You are reading this, aren’t you? Or will you be located inside the keyboard, vigorously changing the code that will keep me running in my adolescent days? Or were you be residing there? Will you ever be you? Have you always been the one who will prance outside the window half an hour from now?

What is space anyway? I guess space is a Möbius strip that inverts perpetually to reinvent itself and put our topological quasi-existence co-heaps that will someday lead us to the creation of Banach’s matchbox problem. Matching has always the role of Einstein-Rosen Bridges the moment it will be on the verge of getting created behind the scenes.

Blue bubbles.

More bl bbbls.

Ha ha.

Time. Space. Gravity. TARS TARS TARS.

Fardeen Khan is b[psdpsdo

jsdhjsd

kddppasd

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bollybook is here!



Once I was through with Bollybook I told had an online conversation with Diptakirti (being quoted verbatim here):

Abhishek: It has been ages since I read a non-fiction book and hated when it finished. I would not have minded if it was double the size.
Diptakirti: You said the same for Kitnay Aadmi Thay.
Abhishek: The "hated when it finished" bit or the "double the size" bit?
Diptakirti: “And — if only the book had been longer…I cannot remember the last time when non-fiction was this entertaining.”


Source: Penguin India
Bollybook is larger than KAT. In fact, now that I think (and look; I can see it as I write the review) it seems gargantuan. It seems almost funny that it had seemed too small when I read it for the first time.

Er, yes — for the first time. I have not read it ever since, but it is the ideal book where you keep want to go back to, and you pick it up without realising. After all, there is only so much you can remember after one read — the common factor between Satyen Kappu in Deewaar and Mahesh Thakur in Hum Saath Saath Hain, for example.

But enough of beating around the bush: Bollybook is a Bollywood lover’s delight. No, wait a minute, it is a delight for anyone, but it is a dream-come-true for Bollywood lovers across the internet.

Can you really make a list of Uttar Pradesh cities where the events of the movies have taken place, off your brain? You know about Amitabh Bachchan and Vijay, but can you tell what surname the many Vijays portrayed by the great man had? Or a list of could-have-been iconic shelved movies, or characters that were mentioned throughout the movie but never existed?

[Note: If you can, you are possibly Diptakirti, and need not read the book, unless you are working on the next edition.]

The obvious question is: where does Bollybook score over KAT? In other words, if someone has read KAT, why should he read Bollybook (though the cover is too cool to resist).

The answer is simple: Bollybook is way, way more comprehensive than its predecessor. It is the kind of book that will make you, after having read it, feel you are superior to the rest of the world (which you are, being a Bollywood buff).

What is more, Diptakirti (it seems odd to refer to him as Chaudhuri, despite the norms) has covered more ground with Bollybook. One of my complaints regarding KAT was the fact that it did not cover the early days of Bollywood. Bollybook has changed that: the superior research and hard work show.

I was also pleasantly surprised when I found that the book was updated till I thought was possible (is it still updating itself as I write this?). I got vivid images of the author sitting in the press and updating copy after copy on his own... but let us not come to that.

This is also a fun read (the same cannot be said about most anthologies and “list books”). Diptakirti has inserted random trivia, bonus entries, honourable mentions, jokes, footnotes, quizzes (some may turn out to be quite challenging), and has done everything with the subtle touch of humour he is blessed with.

All in all, a must-read, if you are a Bollywood lover; if you are not one (huh?), this is a statutory warning that Bollybook may turn you into one (which will be one of the best things to happen to you).

Buy Bollybook. Read it. Nod and smile while reading. Cover the answers during quizzes. Get that feeling of “come on, he won’t miss out on this move, right?” while reading every chapter. Bring the book out to show off during quizzes.

Oh, and do keep it somewhere safe. It may turn out to be that much talked-about anthology whose first edition you had somehow acquired. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dushshasan's day

Source: The internet.
I am not sure who has created this. Do not sue me, whoever you are.
Inform me. I will give due credits. If there is still an issue, I will take it down. 
They saw him emerge. The white robe was smeared with enough dust for the screen to freeze and run multiple Tide commercials. The grime-coated mane looked so shaggy that it seemed he would go into a “rose, rose, Nima rose” dance the moment he would come in contact with anything remotely similar to water.

The tired legs, refreshed by inexplicable magic that only grim determination is capable of producing, marched on. The boys heard his footsteps and turned around, one by one. His feet were clad in paduka of the make that echoes on wooden floors, but refused to do the same on loose, soft of dust of Haryana.

The man looked at the princes. The question in his eyes was unmistakable.

“The ball has landed in the well, Sir,” Yudhishthir told him. The great man believed him the way everyone has always done. Years later, this trait would lead to his downfall, but that is another story.

“Hm, but that is not a serious issue. That can be resolved. You can throw something inside and get the ball in the well,” boomed the voice.

"But we do not have anything with us! And what on earth can be long enough to reach that deep inside a well?" asked Arjun with genuine curiosity.

“Why don't you show us how to do it, Sir? We are hungry,” growled an irate Bheem.

“He cannot. All he has is a paduka, not a bazooka.”

“This is no time for puns, Dushshasan,” Duryodhan shut him up.

“Look at what I do,” announced the great man, and threw his own ring into the well.

Dushshasan reacted immediately: “The ring will be having a ball down there.” Duryodhan gave him a glare, but not very seriously. Encouraged, Dushshasan added: “He thinks he retrieve get the ball by giving him a ring.”

This time even Duryodhan smirked. If the ring is made of gold we can always call it a golden retriever, he told himself, but did not say it out aloud. The Duryodhans of the world are all about glum personalities and fragile thighs.

“Look at what I do,” the great man spoke. “You may laugh today, but one day I will have a prestigious award named after me.”

“Is he Alfred Bernhard Nobel?” Arjun asked Yudi.

“Nope, does not seem so. Nobel will be born much later. This is probably Dronacharya,” an eavesdropping Sahadeb responded, “the son of Bharadwaj and Gritachi who was born in a pot.”

Dron picked up a handful of dry grass from the dusty ground. “He seems to have moved on from pot to grass,” Nakul interrupted, celebrating silently the fact that he had beaten Dushshasan to the pun by a millisecond.

The princes watched in marvel as Dron uttered a few mysterious words that could well have been in Hebrew. Then he took up a blade of grass, which, by some magic, had turned dart-like; he pierced the ball with the blade, went on to hit the first blade with the second, the second with the third, and so on till he formed a well-length rod of dried grass converted into darts.

Then he pulled the ball out of the well. Then he did the same and pulled the ring out as well. A confused Duryodhan tried to ask him why dropping the ring was essential, but he was interrupted:

“Go, kids. Tell Bheeshma that Dron has arrived.” And Arjun ran, for Dron was impossible to find despite the fact that he was searched by the police of as many as eleven nations.

And Dron was recruited. He was given a village, which later got the name Gurugram, and is usually referred to as Gurgaon these days, but that is another story.

[Note: The etymology of Gurgaon, as mentioned in the paragraph above, is generally accepted. It is for a reason that the metro station between Delhi and Gurgaon is called Guru Dronacharya. However, the tale serves no purpose to the story. I used it here only to show off my knowledge of Delhi metro, which is probably the most efficient thing the National Capital Region right now. It also has a station called Ghitorni, where you put a hard stress on the Gh while pronouncing. Try saying it.]

***

We all know what followed: the famous incidents involving Dron’s leg, Arjun, and the crocodile; Arjun’s pitcher and Ashwatthama’s pot; Arjun and the bird’s eye (an incident that has made its way into classrooms); Ekalavya, a significant chunk whose life was spent without the ability to give a thumbs-up; the Pandavs defeating Drupad’s army in a violent battle; and Dron taking control over half of Panchal.

The others became experts at combat as well. Bheem and Duryodhan, for example, showed became Aces with Maces, and were sent to complete their PhD under Balaram. There was much else that happened, but everyone knows about all that.

***

Let us now get back to that fateful summer day (I am assuming it was summer; it adds to the effect, with dust and a near-dried-up well; basically the entire package) when Dron arrived in Hastinapur, the Pandavs and Kauravs were left bewildered.

Despite being outnumbered by a hundred to five, the Pandavs had always been the stronger of the two sides. Dron’s appearance tilted the scales even further. Not only were the Kauravs bashed up by Bheem, but they also had to be very, very scared of the prowess of Arjun.

Dushshasan was affected the most by the incident. He had kept the ball as a memento. As the young princes lost interest in ballgames and moved on to bigger things (ballgames were not, after all, everyone’s ballgames), Dushshasan grew more and more interested.

Ballgames meant a lot to him. They played ball every day, and for longer hours every winter. An annual contest between Pandavs and Kauravs typically marked the advent of spring. Reduced to five members a side, the contest was inevitably won by the Pandavs, who were led by their ace player Bheem, who could muscle the ball anywhere.

The matches followed a familiar course. Dushshasan could hurl the ball really, really fast, and could even move it in the other. The other four Pandavs, terrified of his pace and foxed by his wiles, succumbed one by one till Bheem came along and plonked him all over and even outside the ground. 

It was the same story every time.

Nobody seemed to care for the contest this time, but Dushshasan kept hoping. He urged Duryodhan to go for it one final time. “I will bowl us to victory,” he gloated. Duryodhan seemed amused, took some cajoling, but went ahead with it. He loved his brother too much.

The Pandavs accepted the challenge, especially Nakul and Sahadev: it was their only opportunity to be treated as equals.

***

The big day had arrived. Six long sticks were placed on a bare strip, three on each side. The princes had arrived with well-polished planks of wood, specially obtained from the beautiful mountains up north.

The ground was covered with spectators. They knew it was going to be the last of of its kind for the current generation of princes. The next fixture may have to wait for decades.

Yudhishthir and Duryodhan walked to the strip at the centre, accompanied by Bheeshma, the most eligible bachelor of the era. It was decided that the Pandavs would get the first share of the ball.

Duryodhan and Dushshasan were, of course, there in the quintet. The others were selected randomly: Chitrasen, Durmukh, and Vikarna made it. Duryodhan sent Chitrasen and Durmukh in first.

Arjun started proceedings with nagging accuracy, and soon the sticks went flying, sending Chitrasen back to the makeshift tent. Duryodhan walked out and smashed a couple here and there.

He had managed to cross ends before Arjun was through. It was Bheem’s turn now, and he hurled a missile that hit Duryodhan straight on the thigh. Duryodhan yelled in agony. It would not be the last time that it would happen.

Bheem soon hit Duryodhan’s paduka, and went into a war cry. Vidur raised his finger spontaneously. Dushshasan walked out and glared back at Bheem.

“I will rip your chest apart and drink your blood,” warned Bheem.

“Who do you think you are, Count Dracula?” mocked Dushshasan.

Bheem did not answer. He grunted, and sent down one that was too fast to be encountered. The ball took the bat, the sticks, and Yudhishthir (who was standing behind the sticks) along with it. Ripping his chest apart and drinking blood had to wait.

Had he played a few centuries later Dushshasan would have had a zero against his name on the giant scoreboard. Unfortunately, Aryabhatta had not yet been conceived, so the spot remained blank.

Vikarna and Durmukh ran about a bit, and when Arjun pitched one to Vikarna’s left he went for it; the ball grazed the edge of the plank and went to Yudhishthir. The Pandavs needed to score only nine.

The Kauravs had half lost the battle there. Had the Kauravs scored 50 they would have stood with a chance of a fight, but eight? It was a matter of two hits from Bheem!

Duryodhan took first ball, and Nakul and Sahadev played him out cautiously. They had run four times, twice when each was facing Duryodhan. Devoid of all hope, the eldest Kaurav threw the ball to Dushshasan.

Dushshasan ran in. The paduka made a soft, characteristic plonk-plonk when he reached the crease. Sahadev knew the ball would leave him and acted in anticipation: only that it did not.

The ball swerved in, as if by some magic, and knocked one of the stumps straight out of the ground. Arjun followed, same fashion, next ball. Bheem walked out.

Dushshasan had bowled to Bheem before. He knew the strongest of Pandav brothers had little technique, but whenever he connected, it cleared the ground irrespective of whether he had timed it well. Bheem was all about power.

It was a dry day — reminiscent of the one when Dron had stepped into Hastinapur. Bheem took guard. Dushshasan took his time. He had apparently bruised a finger. The attendants ran in with random medicated oils.

Then Dushshasan ran in to hurl the ball again. He knew exactly what he had to do.

Bheem saw the ball early. He went for it. He simply waited for that sweet sound that would send the ball soaring over the marquee, resulting in victory for his side.

[Note: The cliched phrase “into the stratosphere” would have sounded a lot cooler here. However, the term “stratosphere” had not been coined till then.]

He was wrong. This time the ball swerved almost absurdly. The movement made absolutely no sense as the ball crashed into Bheem’s paduka and rolled on to the stumps.

Duryodhan was the first to celebrate. He ran in and embraced his younger brother. The Kauravs rejoiced: this was, after all, their first chance at beating the Pandavs.

It took them one more ball to decide the match. Dushshasan’s ball grazed something on the way and Vikarna flung himself to his right to pouch the ball in spectacular fashion. They shouted only half-heartedly, but Yudhishthir — being the person that he was — walked.

***

Once the festivities were over, Duryodhan cornered his second brother: “How did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Move the ball into the Pandavs. That is what I do. You move it the other way round. I have seen your grip. You bowled with the same grip.”

“Oh, that. Remember the day when Dron arrived?”

“Yes, so?”

“Remember the ball he recovered? It still had that long rod of grass sticking out from it. As all of you went to the palace, I sat idly, next to the well, scratching the ball absent-mindedly.”

“So?”

“I started playing with it since then, hurling it randomly, the way I had always done. The ball started swerving — you have to believe this — in the other direction!”

“Really?”

“Yes. Then I started making marks on one half of the ball, leaving the other intact. All balls behaved that way. In fact, it worked better in dry days. Then I asked myself, why not use something like oil to smoothen up the other side? It will simply increase the difference in smoothness levels between the two sides.”

“Makes sense; and all this time I had used oil to smoothen...”

“Let me finish. Oil had the same effect. It was just that the ball swerved the other way. Now, for Sahadev and Arjun, I had already scuffed up one side. To be doubly sure for Bheem, I thought of applying oil on the other. But I did not.”

"Why?"

"Because I have never practised with an oiled ball. It struck me that a much better alternative would be to scruff up the already soiled side more, and more, and more. I used this dagger..."

***


Somewhere in the 20th century a fast bowler woke up with a start. He told his colleagues: “I had this strange dream, you know. Will someone give me an old cricket ball and a soft-drink bottle?”

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