Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dhoni demands Motera pitch to be laid in every ground of India

It seems defeating India in India is going to be distant dream for visiting teams now. Captain M S Dhoni believes he has ironed out final crease from his winning plans! He revealed his plans in a press conference yesterday.

Blaming the curator of Wankhede Stadium for 'not understanding his instructions' Dhoni said, "My instructions were to make a pitch that offers turn from first day but was like Motera in all the other aspects. Wankhede pitch was not only turning but also had some pace and bounce which helped English spinners."

In response to questions that now that English batsmen have successfully negated Indian spinners what is his plan for next two tests, Dhoni said, "We have decided to not put our trust in the curators of other venues and  will carry Motera pitch to wherever we play."

When asked how can this be possible, how can a pitch be translocated Dhoni said if trees and houses can be moved then why not a pitch. He asked BCCI to train curators to make pitches like Motera as well translocate them when needed. He said BCCI should negotiate with other boards to allow them to play on the Motera pitch when India tours abroad.

When asked about defeat in what has been named as 'revenge series', Dhoni said, "Let them (English team) come to Motera, we will give them a taste of their own medicine." Gautam Gambheer and Virendar Sehwag seconded this opinion of the captain.

Dhoni stressed on the point that Cricket is not just a game where you need to bat, bowl and field better than your opponent, you also need to make wickets which suit you better than opponent. He said sole reason for Wankhede defeat is that "we missed in the last department".

When scribes pressed on the point that both bowling and batting failed, visibly irritated Dhoni said,"Itna tension lene ki zaroorat nahin hai. Bade bade deshon mein chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rahti hain".

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is KBC a chat show now?

Like millions of Indians, I too have always liked watching KBC (Even when SRK was hosting it and even though  I hated that 'Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls', the phrase which Indigo's Flight Crew seems to have picked up.) and tried to be on the show (all those SMSs coming to naught!)

For me the star of the show was not Amitabh Bachchan but the content (Senior Bachchan is omnipresent on the TV anyways!). It were the questions. The fun of testing one's own wits against that of the contestant. The thrill of knowing whether the answer was right or wrong. Gloating when it was right and nodding somberly ("Ahh, I was thinking of that one!") when you got it wrong. That was the fun.

In previous season, even though KBC threatened of being an extension of UPA's poverty eradication programs with virtually every episode featuring contestant who seemed to be screened after a look at their bank balance (and perhaps their 'Below Poverty Line' certificate) and being a showcase of their sob stories (I admit, some of the sob stories were touching), the show worked because the content was strong. There was no compromise on quality and quantity of questions.

But this year, the emphasis seems to be on chit-chat of the contestants with Mr. Bachchan. There is so much conversation that there is hardly enough time for questions. We know that contestants want to spend a lot of time with Mr Bachchan and talk to him, pay their (and their family and extended family members' and their locality's) tributes, express their love and admiration and talk about how they are the first person/boy/girl/woman/(any other gender) from their state/district/city/town/village/block/mohalla (thankfully we don't have any foreigners or aliens else we would have 'first person from Bhutan' or 'Neptune') to 'reach this stage', but there is only these many times when one can watch some one gushing over 'Sadi ke Mahanayak' and how they have already won a crore just by meeting him. (Curiously the contestants of 'Ghar Baithe Jeeto Jackpot' on the show give precisely this reason whether they play or don't play for the jackpot question!)

The fact that almost all the contestants seem to be competing with each others in indulging in what can only be called extreme flattery doesn't add to the watchability quotient. Add to this the sob stories which seem to have been concocted just to fill in the template of the show.

In a 90 minute episode of which perhaps 40 minutes (or what seems to be atleast 40 minutes!) are dedicated  to ads. Sony is the only network whose HD channel has as long ad breaks as its SD counterpart and what's worse is that the ad breaks on HD channel show only the trailers of its own now-pretty-much-horrible shows.

Unfortunately KBC-6 has become a two-way chat show questions and answers thrown in, rather than the quiz show it was intended to be. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Roopkund Conundrum - Part 3

Day 3:
The morning was sunny and therefore warm. And while everyone wore jackets, I could have been mistaken of roaming in New Delhi on an early November morning, due to my attire. I am not new to high altitude and I know that in moutains temperatures change faster than Mamata Banerjee's tempers! It is warm when sunny and cold when cloudy. I was improperly dressed and I had to pay the price later.

The rest point was at Patalnachunia where Maggi was being served. I can swear that there have been few occasions in my life when I faced such a huge dilemma: trek down the hill to savor hot maggi or save energy and time staying on course. The latter option was taken and we continued to walk after eating some of Anupam's snacks, but after a brief hiatus a well deserved tea break was taken at nearby fiber huts. The route to Bhagwabasa seemed to inspired by our guides as the visible path was roughly one third of actual path.

On the way, we saw many villagers scavenging the hill slopes for certain herbs which are reportedly extremely precious in international markets (read China). They seemed to be hung precariously hung on the slopes but were negotating the terrain with ease and expertise! The trek route was no more steeper than some of the earlier routes we had taken, but reduction in oxygen and decreased temperatures made the ascent more difficult.

Bhagwabasa holds religious importance for the people here. Bhagwabasa means 'Lion of Goddess' and the trek route is actually a piligrimage route taken by devotees of Goddess Nanda Devi every 12 years. But the temple here is that of Lord Ganesha whose black statue has earned him a unique name 'Kalua Vinayaka'. The view from Kalua Vinayaka can not be described in words. The snow capped mountains cover entire view in front of eyes, much like IMAX screen. But then whole scenery is monochrome, colors ranging from black to white including multiple shades of gray. There is almost no vegetation and all you can see around is snow or stones. Walking to the camp site involved a little walk in snow, which was in a state between frozen and molten and hence was walkable most of the time.

By the time we reached the camp site, I had caught cold pretty firmly. I could not drink water as the cold water hurt my throat badly and not drinking water pushed me in danger of getting dehydrated and being a victim of AMS. I think it was just Diamox that I didn't catch AMS too.

The camp site had couple of fiber huts and a number of tents strewn among smaller rocks. 10 of us got to stay in one of the fiber huts. In hindsight now I know that I got the worst possible position in that hut. The door opened on me and for neighbors I had Vikrant on my right (nothing wrong with him!) and footwear on my left! More on this later.

The water supply came from melting snow which meant that in the night and early next morning, there was no water! Washing utensils was a punishment and only utensils I used were the steel tumblers meant for tea (which was the only liquid my throat was accepting!). Going to attend nature's calls took much more effort now that even small walk on that amazingly Martian terrain was tiring and secondly because the cold wind pierced the exposed parts of body (you know which parts right?) like a hundred needles!

The next day trek to Roopkund was to start at 4 am and we slept early, or did we?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Roopkund Conundrum - Part 2

Day 2:

The trek next day was arduous. Steep climb which seemed never ending. But what brought me down to knees literally was not the terrain but that amazing food item which prevents me from being a pure vegetarian: egg!

We were given couple of orange candies, a made-in-Hyderabad-overly-sweet chocolate, a boiled potato and a boiled egg. On the way up, while Lalit and I happily ate our potatoes and he ate the chocolate happily as well, the egg was saved to be savored later at our 'resting spot', Aully Bugyal. 

'Bugyal' means meadow in the local language and though we were only too delighted to see the vast expanse which pretty much resembled Windows XP default wallpaper (from some angles), the ascent didn't end immediately. Small flowers; blue, red and mostly yellow, formed motifs on the green carpet. Snow capped mountains overlooked the meadow from a distance. The guides were right; reaching the meadow revived us.

After reaching the final resting point where most of our group was already resting, I ate the egg, took some more pictures and tried hand at playing ballgame. Others ate some pistachios and empty shells were retained for later use (which happened to be acting as currency in the game of Teen Patti, another major learning I had on this trek.)

The trek continued through the meadow and was more or less pleasant as steep ascents and descents were substituted by milder ones, we got a new company. Of insects. Big and bold and fucking too many! After getting used to insects sitting on our clothes, backpacks and even goggles, mules and sheep grazing at a distance presented a pretty picture.

We were instructed by the guides to run towards forest in case it rains, abandon our backpacks and sit crouched. I can't express in words how comforting the fact that "sitting in this position would ensure lightening would pass through your bodies but spare your hearts" was. My worry about letting electricity pass through my body without any 'heart-burn' was quickly dispelled by the fact that the forest was not so close that I could take a shelter there if rain came without a warning. Mercifully it never rained and my dilemma of saving myself or my rucksack, as I had a single waterproof poncho was never put to test. The grass was green but not something you would want to walk bare feet. And I am not talking about the ladybugs which were here, there and pretty much everywhere!

After walking a while, my stomach gave first signs of warning. I felt nauseated. A tablet of Digene was followed by another but they proved as effective as PM's austerity measures are in improving fiscal deficit condition. Vomiting sensation kept on increasing and I called Anupam to give me some medicine. The climb had started again and with each step my condition was worsening. I started walking extremely slowly and each step seemed to drain me out. There was nice scenery all around but taking out the camera to shoot anything was the last thing in my mind. I kept on drinking water and finally I vomited. What came out was my latest solid intake. The egg.

I was able to walk again but each new bend which promised to end the day's trek proved to be just another bend, revealing more path to be walked on. Finally when I saw the campsite I felt relieved!

Bedni Bugyal is in sort of a valley surrounded by hills on three sides. The grass is green and coarse and gets lots of natural manure in form of mule, sheep and goat shit. Talking of shit, this was the first camp site, where the loo was not confined to four walls. And though there was no ceramic throne to sit on, the view was exquisite enough to make everyone feel like king (or queen!). However the process got a new name here 'cathole' and a new accessory 'kudali', a small shovel used to dig a small hole in the ground which was to be covered with soil after use. There was a 'toilet tent' meant for ladies but how much they used it, I can't really say. I remember Nishant got really loud cheers from everyone when he took the shovel and started his catwalk to cathole.

The pitch here was better suited for cricket and the boundary was marked by stones, shrubs and a skull. The reduction in oxygen seemed to spur the players to improve their cricketing skills. (Or was it the maggi being sold in the local 'canteen'?) Talking of canteen, the place not only served tea, maggi, egg curry (with potatoes), customized parathas (I saw Mohit bhai giving detailed instructions about how to apply oil and fry it more according to his satisfaction) but also charged cell phones using a solar panel. That there was no mobile signal is something totally irrelevant.

Washing utensils after meals was turning out to be a challenge as the water was freezing cold. Though it didn't get frozen itself, exposing hands to cold water for a few minutes was sufficient to nearly freeze them. Perhaps that was the reason the camp fire was well attended and well appreciated. This was also our first night spent in tents and sleeping bags. These high altitude sleeping bags were pretty comfortable if you could get inside them and they were not smelly or their zips malfunctioning. I am told Shankar spent a major part of his nightc appreciating the intricacies of his sleeping bag.

(To be continued ...)

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Roopkund Condrum - Part 1

This is first part of a series of posts I would be writing 'documenting' my experiences of the Roopkund trek from 9th-14th June 2012. As I said 'my experiences', so everything in these posts is from my perspective. 

Day 1:

As the trek started with a descent, I wondered why the trek guides have not given any tips about how to walk down on a slope without hurting one's toes. I remembered the advice given by YHAI trek leaders during Sandakphu trek that one should try to put the heel first to avoid damage to toe.

Earlier everyone had lined for trek poles. Some knew the importance of these aluminum frame sticks with springs, while some took them just because everyone else was doing so. Every gram of extra luggage was left at base camp. Every other gram of luggage was on the backs of either humans or animals. (I was carrying my rucksack but what seemed like a real weight was my camera bag which kept on slipping from my shoulder. Talk of 'albatross hanging around neck'.)

The first day trek was described as difficult. Not because it was considered difficult by the guides (for them nothing was difficult, and that is totally another matter!) but because people had to get accustomed to trek conditions. And accustomed they got, not only with the terrain but also with the amazing fact that how much ever time or distance remaining, according to our trek guides the distance was always one or two kms which could be covered in only 10-15 minutes!

I have a problem with all sorts of 'treks'. Apart from some really far-flung places, almost all the trek routes are used by natives for their daily movement. And when you see local people walk these 'arduous' trek routes with ease, all your bravado goes out of the window. So while we huffed and puffed our way on the slopes up and down in our Quechuas, Woodlands and Weinbreiners some or the other guy comfortably crossed us wearing nothing but canvas shoes!

But on first day, such thoughts were the last to cross my mind.

My rucksack being a sophisticated one, didn't have an easy mechanism for keeping water bottles. It was made for 'hydration packs' which I didn't have any clue about till this trek. Ignorance was a costly affair as to drink water continuously (which was mandatory to avoid dehydration) either I had to stop, keep down the rucksack, take out the bottle, drink water, restore the bottle, wear the rucksack again and continue or just ask a fellow trekker to take the bottle out, drink water and ask him to restore the bottle. I chose the simpler option and for my entire trek Lalit was to play this role.

Didina is a tiny village, according to plains standard. Didina is a pretty big village, according to hills standard. It was to be the final homestay for next few days which meant beds to sleep on and a loo to attend nature's calls. Predictably much of the talks that evening and next morning revolved around movement, of the bowels, that is. For the first time I heard words like 'business' and 'duty' being used to describe the 'process' and appraisal terms like 'meets expectations' and 'below standards' to describe the 'outcome'!

However more than a 'performance' which could be rated as 'meets expectations', what gave me particular pleasure was that we took gully cricket (read: if ball goes in that area directly, it’s out) to a whole new height (pun intended, 8050 ft above MSL to be precise!) The minor fact that cricket was being played on the slopes of a hill, which happened to a terrace farm, caused no sweat on anyone's forehead (on second thoughts maybe it was due to the nice weather). Only hiccup was that the boundary behind the wicketkeeper happened to be a dry naala, and when ball would fall in that drain, someone would have to go down the drain but not before cursing the bowler with some 'parliamentary' swear words. Suneel got some of the mystery from his more famous namesake (Suneel Narine) and neither keeper nor Lalit would know why the ball would go in that drain with amazing regularity in his over.

While a few of us roamed around the village in search of something or someone to shoot (to apply Chaitanya's tips about how to shoot people!), the majority junta played dumb charades and after some usual fare, Mohit and Ankur would enlighten the gathering with their vast and deep knowledge about cinema which transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries. And thus all the Kannadigas, Telugus, Hindis, Marathis and Paharis would appreciate the enactments of those little gems named ‘Haseenon Ka Kabeela’ and ‘Gabbar Ki Shadi, Basanti Ki Suhagraat’.

The meals at Didina were something to write about. Local flavors ruled the roost as curries of a native variety of kidneybeans (rajma) and a local fern called 'Lingoda' was savored by everyone. Vikrant later confessed eating a little more than he would and his dietary excitement had nothing to do with food being tasty. 

(To be continued...)

Monday, March 19, 2012

'Hugo' is heartwarming. Movie Review.

I am a huge fan of Martin Scorcese. I liked 'The Aviator',  loved 'The Departed' and was blown away with 'Shutter Island'. And maybe it's just a coincidence that all the three films starred Leonardo DiCaprio for who m my respect has grown ever since his role of Howard Hughes in 'The Aviator'. 

But then 'Hugo' is not a typical Scorcese film. 

I had heard a lot about the movie when almost all the critics said that it SHOULD win the Oscar for Best Picture but it WOULD lose to 'The Artist' (and all of them proved right!) but never cared to find out what it was about. Also at that time the focus of popular press was largely on 'The Artist' due to its unconventional style and story and to a big extent on George Clooney's 'The Descendants', Brad Pitt's 'Moneyball' and Spielberg's 'Warhorse'. 

'Hugo' is a semi-biopic. It tells the story of one of the pioneers of early cinema and inventor of Special Effects, French producer, director, actor Georges Méliès (pronouced Melez) through the story of an orphan boy living on a railway station.

After the death of his expert watchmaker father (Jude Law) in a museum fire, young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is taken by an uncle to live and work with him as a clock keeper on Paris Railway Station. Apart from living in the clock towers, winding the clocks and stealing food to live, Hugo has to fix a humanoid automaton, which his father found in the museum. He is caught stealing from a toy store by its owner who takes his notebook containing drawings of the automaton and its parts. Hugo pleads with the owner to return his notebook but he declines. He is helped by owner's Goddaughter Isabelle in his quest and he returns favor by introducing her to world of movies. He shows her the automaton and reveals to her the reason of his efforts to fix it.  And then together they find something that reveals many secrets and changes many lives. 

Now why is Hugo so desperate to get back the notebook, what is the mystery of automaton and who is the toy store owner form the crux of the story.

The film won the Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects and I wonder why Howard Shore didn't win the award for best Musical Score! It is his beautiful and lilting score which brings that cozy and heartwarming feel to the story even though it is set on a buzzing railway station.

It's a period film and hence the look is obviously vintage but still contributing to atmospherics is Robert Richardson's cinematography which once again gives a soft feel to surroundings. The scenes of Hugo jumping across, sliding down or climbing up the stairs with huge gears, dials and wheels whirring about mechanically are spectacular.

Asa Butterfield as 12 year old Hugo Cabret is very believable. He doesn't try to evoke any sympathy as an orphan trying to make his ends meet while managing to stay out of the clutches of Station Inspector. Chloë Grace Moretz as Isabelle plays a copybook 'supporting character' who helps Hugo in his pursuit while risking the wrath of her Godmother Mama Jeanne (played by Helen McCrory, better known as Narcissa Malfoy in Harry Potter series. Also to be seen from Harry Potter are Uncle Dursley (Richard Griffiths) and Frances De La Tour who played Madame Maxime in Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire!)

But old Ben Kingsley takes the centerstage when it comes to acting honors. He plays a grumpy toy store owner who has a long kept secret behind him. (This is all I can say without giving out the crux of the film!)

I am sucker for movies. And this is a movie ABOUT movies which makes it even more endearing for me. As I said this is a not a typical Scorcese film but it has to be his most endearing movie, one which will bring smile to your face.
Absolutely must watch.