Saturday, November 28, 2009

Corte Madera (Nov 2009)

A few days back I got a mail from Nachiket gauging interest in a short hike. Nachiket is one of those supermen hikers and the lowest end of his 'short hike' just about intersects with the highest end of my 'killer record length hike'. Normally I would have run for dear life after seeing such an email but I really wanted to do a hike. I had been active and about and all that recently. I could feel the stamina coursing through my veins. The problem was that whenever I hear or see the name Nachiket I remember Prajakt's story of black mountain. Prajakt did black mountain with Nachiket. He did his best. Ran up, ran down. Stopped very little. Almost lost his lungs with all that heavy breathing. And he still had to suffer the humiliation of having Nachiket go up and down, get tired waiting, and then go up and down again before Prajakt could get back. Suddenly I had one of my brilliant ideas. I responded with interest after adding a few more slowpokes like me in the list and, after much wrangling and bargaining, we pulled Nachiket down to a reasonable altitude 7 miler called Corte Madera.

The night before the hike I did my last check. Water - check. Snacks - check. Spare shirt - check. Sunscreen - check. Electrolyte - check. whistle - check. compass - check. I was totally, completely, supremely prepared. I had thought of every minor detail. I had even gone to the extent of freezing my water overnight so that I could have cold water during a hot hike. I was a pro.

The morning of the hike I was up early and rushed to the starting point. That's where I had my first jolt. My two snails had backed out. They had pitilessly left me to the wolves. As our car approached the trail head I nervously eyed Nachiket and Parag (another superhuman).
"I .. er .. um .. if it's OK with you guys, I'll take it a little slow. You know .. um .. my .. er .. knees are not what they used to be and all that"
"Sure .. no problem", said Nachiket. "Hope you got your poncho."
"A .. what .. oh! .. that .. um .. no. "
A poncho is used to protect from rain. I remembered that all my hikes had been nice hot summer hikes. A winter hike is probably a different beast. Why! .. oh why! do I get myself into these scrapes. We got out of the car and the cold hit me. It was single digit degrees above zero degree centigrade and I had a thin sweatshirt. I glanced over towards Parag and Nachiket and smiled. They dint seem to be taking it much better. A poncho is just plastic. It stops water, not the cold. We had a small discussion and decided that it was OK to carry on since it should get warmer as the day progressed. We started off and I realised I could comfortably keep pace with Parag and Nachiket. The cold had frozen my joints. I felt no pain. It was a liberating feeling. "Maybe these winter hikes are not such a big deal", I thought to myself as my mojo slowly returned. I even dared to strike up a conversation with Nachiket on the intricacies of pro level hiking. I was looking for an opening to start off on my badminton glory days but he dint take the bait. I think he had been warned. We were at this stalemate when the hail started. It killed us. There was no respite. The temperature dropped to below zero. The ice melted into little streams and drenched our feet. It melted on my cap, backpack, sweatshirt and drenched all of that too. Soon I was a shivering shaking mess. Meanwhile, that block of ice that I had labouriously frozen in the freezer last night stayed the same. Like a fool I was lugging along 2 kg of ice and had no water to drink. So much for preparation. Comfortably ensconced in their ponchos, Nachiket and Parag looked at me with pity. We reached some sort of a plateau. "This is the peak" I begged .. but they plodded on. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, we reached the true peak. I spent exactly 30 seconds there. Then this chilly cold wind also started. I shot down the mountain and reached the car in record time. Parag and Nachiket were awestruck by my stamina. They had never seen anyone climb down so fast. It was a good half hour before the shivering abated and I could start the car. We wasted no time in rushing off to soup plantation for hot soup and more hot soup. Note to self: The next time I have a brilliant idea, get the largest stick I can find and beat myself on the head hard and long until that, and future brilliant ideas, don't dare come anywhere near me again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Meghana (Nov 2009)

Sometime in Feb of 2009 Pratibha missed her period again. It was exciting for us. Sona is a very sweet girl and we were ready for the next one. A doctor's visit confirmed our hopes and we started planning to welcome the newest addition to our family. Sona was firm that she wanted twins. One boy and one girl. She would call them googoo and gaagaa. Much to Pratibha's relief, the old man above did not listen to Sona and instead, by the fifth month, we came to know that we would be having a girl. Sona took this setback in her stride. She said she'll call the baby googoogaagaa.

Pratibha's pregnancy moved along quickly. Like any other pregnant woman, she suddenly became extra religious and superstitious and, not satisfied with doing poojas and prayers at home, she started attending group prayers (also called kitty parties) with her friends. One day she and Sona were at one such party .. er .. prayer. The apartment in question had its balcony opposite to ours. All of a sudden fire alarms went off in the building that had my apartment in it. The women got onto the balcony and watched with interest as fire trucks and firemen swarmed the building. They cracked jokes about careless people and commented on how eventful the day was turning out to be. It was jolly good fun until they saw a firefighter on the balcony of Pratibha's apartment. That's when they realised where the fire had stared. One burnt kitchen later, we moved to a new apartment.

By the start of the ninth month Pratibha's mother had joined us to help out with the first few months and my responsibilities diminished. Sona was born a month early, but this one seemed to be in no hurry to get out. She was due out on Nov 2. She let us all go to a pumpkin patch on Oct 24th. She let us all go trick or treating on Oct 31st. She even let me go for a game of Badminton on Nov 1st (Now that had Pratibha nervous as, a long time ago, my mom went into labor with me when my dad had stepped out in similar fashion for a game of badminton). If Pratibha had gone into labor I would have suffered a fate worse than Judas, but all was well, and I got away with some freezing looks and tart words.

The night of Nov 1st I had some work in office and I got back at 2 in the morning. At 3 pratibha woke me up saying she was in labor. I din't panic, I was no hack at this. I had read all the books. I had even taken a 1 hour birthing class. I was ready. At the end of this they'll be falling at my feet asking for directions.
"Whats the time between contractions?" I asked trying to sound like one of the doctors in those ubiquitous hospital TV shows
"7 Min's" she replied
"why did you wait so long before telling me" I screamed in panic.
" You came in at 2. I thought I should give you an hour worth of sleep" She said in a voice dripping with sarcasm
"uh .. hmm .. er .. yeah .. thank you"

These wives have turned the trick of throwing it right back at you into a fine art. At 5:30 contractions reached a spacing of 5 Min's. Pratibha's mom had been goading me to take her to the hospital since 3 and finally I obliged. I took her over, they checked her, told us she wasn't even dilated, and sent us back. Now in addition to a wife in labor, I had a livid mother in law. "How could they send you back". "Why cant they admit her" "This never happens in India". I did the most logical thing. "er .. mom .. I got some stuff to do in office .. probably half an hours worth of work. I'll be right back" And I took off. I got home when she had cooled down. At 10:30 I took pratibha back to the hospital. we hung around the grounds, walked a little bit, and when the pain became unbearable, we went in. It's very easy to differentiate the first time and second time mothers. The first time mothers want to experience every aspect of the pregnancy, including the pain. They think that without that the event is not 'complete'. The second time mothers just want to get it over with. This time, as soon as she got admitted, Pratibha asked for the epidural (the injection that kills the pain). It was a long labor. Extended all the way till 6:00 in the evening. Luckily they had monday night football on TV. So I managed. Finally the doctor came in and talked to us about a C section. She said the baby is too big for Pratibha's frame and a normal delivery might not be a good idea. We agreed and, after a delay while we waited for the room to be free, she was rolled into the operating room at 7:30. By 7:45 we had our baby. It would be a another 4 days before she comes home and sees her big sister for the first time (No kids in the ward because of flu fears). That was the toughest four days of Sona's life. She cried every night. But now Megha is home for her sister to love and play with. Googoogaagaa .. we all love you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What ails Indian sports

I was paging through random blogs when I came across this post. . To hear a fellow Indian say that we are somehow inferior to foreigners. That really hurt. But that got me thinking. What ails sports in India?

Having once played top level badminton, I can assure you that there's very little more that I, or many of my mates, could have done in terms of effort. I have seen players from other countries play and there is very little that differentiates them from us. After coming to USA I realise that elite athletes here don't work any harder than us in training. So where does the difference come from? To understand that, take the following analogy. Consider two kids. One from one of the proper metros in India, say Bombay. The other from some less developed town, say Kohima. Both decide from a young age that they want to make it to the IITs. Let us even that the chap from Kohima is smarter and works harder. What are his chances of beating the guy from Bombay? The guy from Bombay has an entire system at his fingertips. People ahead of him have excelled and shown the path to success. People around him are currently doing research and figuring out ways to make him better. What chance does the guy from Kohima stand. If he makes it to the top 1000 in the entrance he should be applauded. Not treated as a loser. Similarly, for any Indian sportsman, just to make it to Olympics, is an incredible achievement. He would have overcome tremendous odds and made huge sacrifices to get there We should not speak lightly of his achievements. Obviously I'm not talking about the ones born with the proverbial silver spoon and who trained in foreign countries.

So what is the problem with sports in India. The glaring one is the lack of a sporting culture among the general population. The orientation toward that needs to start at schools. But we have our limitations. We are a developing country. First lets get all our kids to go to school. Then we can focus on improving the school environment. So that's a far away goal for now.

What else can we do? It is laughable to say that the government doesn't help. Why should the government develop sports in India. What return is there on that investment? Is that how it is done all over the world? Few people realise this, but India does have an excellent structure to nurture sporting talent. Sports authority of India have set up sports camps in numerous states. Kids come it at roughly ten years of age. Assuming they pass a few physical tests, they are housed, fed, trained and given an education, all at government cost. If they make it to the national team, they often get a job in the public sector. Unfortunately, like everything else in India, this structure is rooted in corruption. Bureaucracy eats away most of the funds. Camps get cancelled, gear does not arrive, coaches run from pillar to post to get basic facilities allotted. Even so, the skeleton is in place for a sport to grow. Then why doesn't it?

To understand that we need to look no further than that malaise that has spread to all walks of life in India .. political goons. In every sport in India, these scoundrels are kings. All they do is sit with a begging bowl in front of the government. Government funds are just a means for politicians to pay off their goons with taxpayers money. Once the funds are allotted they fall upon it like rabid dogs. They go on tours all over the world. Umpiring workshops, fact finding missions, booze parties etc etc. And when the last penny is spent, they pick up their begging bowl and sit again. These monsters actively ensure that sport does not grow in India. That is in their interest. If the sport grows, money flows in. And once it becomes a business, businessmen with a nose for profit will step in. Then the sport will become professional and organised and there will be no place for these goons. These guys know that and they will never let that happen. Cricket somehow managed to slip through their fingers. So Cricket is the lucky one. It isn't the one killing all other sports.

Is there a solution to this mess? Yes, but it's going to take some time. As I mentioned before, our biggest problem is that we, as a nation, don't care too much about sports. Each sport needs love and attention. Be it tennis, badminton, squash, we need people who are willing to nurture the game, grow it from the grassroots. People who will stand up and question injustice. And that cannot be just one or two people, it needs to be a movement. To that end, we need to start Amateur leagues in cities. Leagues for people of all ages and skill levels. Not just for champion sportsmen. Leagues that are outside this corrupt system of ours. Small clubs, weekend matches, a season ending playoff and a rolling trophy. Once there is a critical mass of enthusiasts the corruption in our present system will come down by itself. And it will happen. One day these leeches bleeding my beloved badminton dry will wake up to a sport so huge it is crushing them under its weight.

And oh! my friend who wrote that blog .. please don't call us inferior. We are what we think we are. We have survived thousands of years and thousands of invaders in this land we call home. We drove out Alexander, we drove out the Moguls, we drove out Genghis Khan and finally we drove out the British. If we were inferior, we would have been a footnote in history, not the second most populous nation in the world.