Sunday, December 25, 2011

Influence



My family nickname I share with a dog. I really do. Satyajit Ray, the legendary film director also translated Herge's Tintin comic book series into Bengali, my native language, during his stint as a magazine editor and he named Tintin's white terrier Kutush (Snowy in English, Milou in the original French). That's what my folks call me at home. Kutush. I once met an aging white pomeranian named Kutush at someone's house. I am sure there might be a lot of Bengali household dogs named Kutush yet I feel un-insulted. Incredibly!
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At this point, readers may be forgiven if they think of me as someone with some serious low self-esteem issues but I assure you that this is not the case. The name Kutush is also indicative of the youngest, which I am in my big group of first cousins, but I never feel burdened by the canine connection. If anyone ever needed proof of how much of a fan of Herge's comics I am, here's my calling card. I share my nickname with the Bengali translated name for Tintin's dog and I don't mind!
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It's next to impossible to have grown up in an urban Bengali family and not know about Tintin. I didn't even grow up in Bengal, have extremely limited acquaintance with Bengali culture despite my parents' sincere efforts and have hilariously inept Bengali reading abilities. Yet the boy reporter of a Belgian comic book series, written in French, then translated into English, the version familiar to me would exert an overpowering influence on me. In fact, I would so far as to say that it would define my life, at least the life I hope to live.
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Mom and Dad used to buy a beautifully drawn and coloured Tintin comic, ostensibly for my elder brother and then play sneaky hide-and-seek games with it to be the first one to finish it. My first memories of 'reading' are those of browsing through the spectacular imagery of my brother's and by default my parents' well binded Tintin collection with my sister, both of us significantly younger than our elder brother. My first knowledge of world geography, history and culture in exotic places like South America and China were through these comics. A lifelong interest in science & technology, travel, and as-yet-beyond-science phenomena like UFOs & yetis were concretized by the various adventures that Tintin and his friends found themselves in.
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I have read them all many times over and at one point had all their plots memorized too. Beautiful mansions, ancient mysteries, fascinating global locations, glamourous vintage cars, ridiculously funny jokes & situations, potent social messages on racism & corruption lived side by side effortlessly on those immersive pages. Even as I go to watch the 'movie' on the big screen today, I am mentally prepared to be disappointed. The only reason I do go to watch is that Steven Spielberg is involved, the person behind the single most memorable childhood movie of my lifetime, "Jurassic Park". Something may just come of it but even if does not, as seems likely, given the impossible standards I'll put the movie up against, it may provide a glimpse, a fleeting glimpse of that adventurous world.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Denial



There was the slouch and there was the swagger. The open top button of his cricket playing uniform be it Tests or ODIs, the amulet around his neck he let hang out to watch his 'supple wrists' come into play. The TV commentators' repeated use of the words 'soft hands' when he was batting and 'sharp catch' when he was on the field. The all-white helmet he wore and the routine "The boys played really well today..." nature of his post-match presentation talk irrespective of the match's outcome. My first clear memories of watching Indian cricket sometime back in the early 90s didn't feature victory too much. Yet they have staying power as if bound to my psyche with strings of silk.
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Then came that dreadful night of 1996. Why? Why would anyone choose to chase under lights at the Eden Gardens, notorious for being the wrong place to chase runs under the lights? Why in the World Cup semi-final? The whispers grew louder. Psssttt... do you know what happens in the Sharjah matches? Psssttt... did you not wonder why so-and-so played in such-and-such manner? The accusations were horrifying, the crimes were unspeakable. Whether that particular match had any undue influences exerted in its sad result will remain a debate quite irresolveable, rearing its head up even recently but the fact was our way of looking at and investing real emotions in Indian cricket would change forever in the next few years to follow.  
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I refused to believe. No, no. Not him. I thought of the reluctant ease with which the bat was held, almost unwillingly and the casual flash it took to reach the ball. The unlikely angles created when a fullish delivery outside off stump was dispatched to any of the leg-side boundary boards. I remembered the time when, on his favourite ground of the Eden Gardens, Lance Klusener, taken for five consecutive Hyderabadi fours in the first over after lunch, looked flabbergasted. How he walked up to the youngster  immediately after the over to tousle his hair, smiling and offering his commiserations to the beleagured debutant. Once when he didn't catch Curtly Ambrose cleanly in the slips, even though the batsman had walked, he called him back to the batting crease. He the ever cheerful sportsman, a gentleman cricketer, supremely and dominantly competitive in the arcs traced by his bat but never a trace of ugliness in his on-field behaviour.
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Children are creatures of instinct. Swinging conditions or sharp bounce or footwork were fancy terms too much for an immature brain to process. The appreciation of those handling such conditions via technique would come as I grew older. All I understood and appreciated in the beginning was the flair. And that, he had plenty of. Our heroes, sporting and otherwise tend to be put up on high pedestals, especially the ones that drew us in our formative years, aiding the belief that they were not subject to other worldly human flaws. To the unbiased logical mind, the facts of the match-fixing enquiry were clear-cut and so was the decision. But in a place where there should be searing anger, there is only a dull pain and a lasting refusal to accept reality. No, no. Not him.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wannabe



There was tremendous excitement in the air and you didn't need to be students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Nuclear Science and Engineering (MIT-NSE) department to feel it. It was apparent from the delighted faces of those who emerged from the darkened corner of the classroom which served as a display location for their experiment. "It's working. It had never worked when we were testing it out earlier. But it's working today!" They seemed thrilled. Something was happening.
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On 30th April 2011, MIT opened the hallowed doors of its classrooms and labs to the general public in celebration of 150 years of its establishment. The students were displaying their past and current projects and professors from the faculty were on hand to chat up anyone who was interested. I was there with a couple of friends, curious to investigate in further detail what makes MIT MIT. We had only just begun the campus walk-about, starting at the MIT-NSE when the commotion about the experiment began.
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We entered the classroom and saw this dimly light glass enclosure filled with a light fog. The technically inclined would know it as the cloud chamber set-up filled with saturated alcohol, a sub-atomic particle detector experiment first performed 50 years ago. The three MIT students who were in charge of the set-up stood behind it beaming smiles of pride and smugness. We looked inside to see an occasional puff of smoke, a thick trail left behind some invisible object and then a random thin little line farther away in the chamber from the original trail.
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Enquiries revealed that a perpendicularly charged electric field and the alcohol vapour combination were leading to the trails being formed by alpha particles (a lonely helium nucleus devoid of two electrons) and the stray electron. The students were beside themselves with joy as they explained that the thick trail was from the heavy alpha particle and the thin one from the lightweight electron. They hadn't been able to make it work before but now that they had visitors and live demonstrations, it was actually working.
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I was happy for them and said "OK... that's really cool!" A friend who was accompanying me on the other hand was very quick to judgement "All right. So what is the practical use of this experiment?" It caught the happy trio of future nuclear science scientists totally off guard. They sputtered, adjusted their glasses, shifted their feet and gulped "Well... you know... it's like... well this... you know..."
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I offered a solution on their behalf to my friend who was still staring them down "Well, it's exciting because this is proof that something you read about in textbooks really exist. You can't see them particles even with the most powerful microscope, yet now in this room, you have just re-proven that they are indeed there." The rescued trio joined in "Yes, that's it. Yes, that's it." The doubter seemed satisfied with this explanation and we moved on more visibly 'practical' and 'cooler' exhibits displayed around the campus like a self-driving robotic Land Rover. This, no one had any problem appreciating.
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What is 'practical'? In one sense, all practical is, is knowing fruits of which tree can be eaten and knowing what it takes to make babies. How does being aware that the earth moves around the sun and not the other way around help in any way? We are not leaving this planet anytime soon, are we? Why should anyone fuss over quarks, carbon polymers, gene transcription, jungle survival tactics, the depths of outer space, religion, history, art, literature, insects, sociology, elephants, sports statistics and all those other weird things that a section of humans have a passion for?
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Because we can. Because we have the ability to. Without undermining the massive importance of practical knowledge and common sense in success, curiosity is an attribute that is all too frequently laughed at unless you end up being Albert Einstein. Then the world will be all of a sudden like "Wow! Genius!" before going back to Tweeting about their favourite participant on "Dancing with the stars" Yet entertainment too is a direct result of someone's curiosity about the question "What will attract the most attention and loyalty from this huge pool of human TV viewers?"
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Questions need to be asked, answers need to be sought. A sense of wonder is a very useful disease to have instead of going "Duh! This town is so boring. I wish I were hanging around in Vegas instead! (Not a bad option at all, I agree, but for how long?)" A sense of wonder at what makes that little flower sprout in the midst of your grassy backyard and a sense of wonder at all the disparate centuries of research (scientific & artistic) that came together to make that smart-phone (4S or Nexus) that you now hold in your hands.  
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Of course, the sea of knowledge is too vast for one ship to navigate. You may only ask some questions but rest assured that someone else will be asking the ones that you did not. Life is sure to intervene with its mundane chores but one should be never so busy as to not be able to pause and be amazed at everything that has been achieved thus far and what lies in the future. I do not claim to share the same levels of enthusiasm about alpha particles and electrons as those students from MIT-NSE, but the important bit was that I understood.
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It's like shopping!

I have often tried to decipher the underlying reasons behind this. The stark and persistent differences between the Uncleji and the Auntyji type of questions. Back from my first ever overseas stint, I was obviously OK with talking about the experience, but only if I was asked the right questions. Unclejis asked the interesting ones like "Did you ride a Harley-Davidson?" and Auntyjis asked numerically oriented ones like "So how many months did you say you had spent there?" 
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I could almost hear the mental calculator going clickety-clack multiplying the number of months by the average amount of dollars an US tripper is assumed to save per month. Never mind that my savings were next to nothing, all of it salted away on travel trips but I wasn't revealing that to the Auntyjis yet. This lack of funds would be my trump card, my escape route, when the real emergencies arose.
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Then in the midst of one busy afternoon at work, the lightning bolt of logic struck, of why Auntyjis should be so obsessively concerned with data collection and match making. There was such a variety of 'products' on the 'market', in all sizes and shapes, qualifications and employments. There were good deals and bad deals, steal one-off deals and fake too-good-to-be-true deals. There were shelf lives of the products involved too, priceless when high stakes bargaining was in progress. Sometimes it was with the window frame of mind, and other times it was with a serious frame of mind. But this was a urge they could never ever resist. This was shopping!
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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chaudhary chai



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"Ch... ch... ch... chai, chai garam, Chaudhary chai! Chai garam!" [Tea, hot tea, Chaudhary's tea!] comes the familiar pitch from the tea vendor strolling the passageway of the second class sleeper coach of the Ahmedabad-Howrah Express train. It is not even light out yet an occasional voice can be heard requesting "Oh chaiwallah!" Probably someone who had an early morning stop to get off at and didn't want to sleep through ending up at some station further ahead.
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Who was this Chaudhary anyway that his brand-name held such sway at 4:00 AM in the morning in the dozing trains of India? The most famous Chaudhary I knew of is the comic book hero Chacha Chaudhary, his "thinks faster than a computer" brain and his proportionally-large-because-he-is-from-Jupiter sidekick Sabu.
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I am awake but drowsy. There's no sleep that comes even close to the one induced by the slow rocking of an Indian Railways long distance route. And there's no better time to catch up with it in a non air-conditioned coach than the cool pre-dawn hours. This is the beginning of the school summer holidays and we were on our annual journey across the width of the country from Gujarat to our native city of Calcutta. The day was going to get hotter, sometimes unbearably so.
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Even if stirred by the occasional disturbance like a chaiwallah or a passenger dragging his dozen odd pieces of luggage and his complaining family to the coach door for a 2:30 AM disembarkment, it is only a minor interlude in what may either be called a dream like wakefulness or awake-like dreamfulness. The rattling rhythm of the charging train and the gusts of wind bursting through the girdered windows will soon mollycoddle all dissent back to slumber.
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After much debate and final resort tantrum throwing last evening, I have robbed the middle berth of the three tiered bunk structure from my sister, at least for this the first night of the 2 night journey. I like the link chains that suspend me in mid-air as opposed to the solid structures of the top and bottom bunk. I push against them and feel them yield under my minor weight. I feel a little bit like Alladin on his flying carpet, cruising through the fading darkness on an Indian mission far away from his homeland of Arabia.
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How many towns have we passed, I wonder, and how many forests? Was there any tiger in the undergrowth watching us scream by, his terrible magnificent eyes glowing in the darkness and the long toots of the train horn carrying for miles around in the quiet of the night challenging his domain. I think ahead of the day to come. Of the many tunnels we will pass in the daytime, cut away through nature's heart, causing everyone in the train to flip the lights on. There's that comic I bought from the Wheeler's stand which I had saved up for today. And aam-panna (a unripe mango fruit concentrate) that mom will serve when the noon-time sun heats up the tin can of a coach.
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All that action is quite some time away though. Right now, almost everyone in the compartment is still fast asleep. I poke my head out beyond my bunk and look at Mom and Dad in the lower berths, beneath me and in the one opposite. Dad is tuned out totally. Mom is a light sleeper, in anticipation of that mythical thief who will whisk all our luggage away or in anticipation of the smallest moan of discomfort from her kids, but even so, she is far from awake. Not a good time to reach up and yank that loose lock of hair I see dangling very temptingly over the edge of my top bunk either. It's my sister above me and a bawling "Mummyyyy!" at this odd hour would cause a whole lot of Mom's justifiably cranky anger to be directed at me. 
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So I think further ahead to Calcutta, my once-a-year visited birthplace which for me holds all the attractions of a holiday resort. Attention and adoration from relatives for being the rarely-seen cousin that lives 'far away' expressed in the form of sumptous food, gifts and general pampering have their unique charm. Another summer of browsing the Enid Blyton and Hardy Boys treasure trove of a book collection at Bopi's (my aunt's), at least one mandatory trip to the Alipore Zoo, the New Market toy and confectionary stores - the list of wonders was never ending. 
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Before I know it, the sun is up and about. The queues at the wash-basins to brush needy teeth grow long and the train floats by strange rock formations, green fields, industrial towns belching red smoke, platforms serving lip-smacking tit-bits of food and the customary troops of waving school-children. Something about a passing train causes all children to involuntarily smile and wave. They seem to know. 
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That this train will march on to its destination. And then march back. As it had done for decades before and will continue to do so for decades after. Bringing new people to new destinations and new lives as it once did my family and taking them on to what their indefinable future held for them. The kids may have never heard a line from an Eagles' song I would hear later in life and indeed the Eagles would have never heard of the kids either yet they share a sentiment, in equal parts comforting and cautionary. 
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"You may lose or you may win... but you'll never be here again"
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Boy scout


It was Diwali night and I was thinking of a dead man. To be more precise, a murdered man. A more ideal setting for the use of that favourite 90s Bollywood villain one-liner "Kyaa zaroorat thi hero banney ki?" [That's what comes of trying to be a hero!] couldn't be found than in his life story.
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It really wasn't worth making such a fuss about. The Government of India was looking to expand and ramp-up at last the National Highway System of the country at the beginning of the new century and there were construction contracts being handed out. So was under-the-table money such that certain contracts went to certain private companies. Routine work. Routine corruption. No big deal.
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In steps Mr. Goody Two Shoes, an engineer named Satyendra Dubey. He didn't like what he was seeing. On the face of it, you could ask him, what was so wrong? People stole money from much more important public causes like rural education, flood relief and what not. A little exchange of money to ensure that the nation got its roads albeit made by a particular organization was never a real issue, was it? Thodaa bahut toh chaltaa hai naa? [A little give-and-take is always acceptable, isn't it?]
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Dubey in his immaturity reported his displeasure to concerned authorities; in fact even in a direct letter to the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee. In his letter to the PM, he also requested anonymity for the sake of his own safety and mentioned a grave threat to his life from certain groups who had their reasons to be dissatisfied with him and his "Do the right thing" boy-scoutish honesty. 
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His fears were not unfounded. One night in 2003, he was shot dead on his way home. Of course, there were arrests. The accused were proven to have the motive of robbing him of the suitcase he had with him and so they were duly punished. Obviously, according to the investigating agency, his murder had nothing to do with the information he was planning to reveal.
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Let's face it. There is very little or absolutely no incentive for being honest. Had he known for sure that he was going to pay for his vigilance with his life leaving behind a grieving family, would Satyendra Dubey have pushed on with his mission? He wouldn't have. A honest man, no matter how scrupulously honest, is of no use when dead.
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It's painfully evident that no bearded benevolent old man up there in the sky is striking down people with ill-gotten money or power. In fact, if you steal enough amounts of money and stuff the right mouths with it, you could build the world's most expensive house from scratch right in the country's commercial capital and be proclaimed a role model for the nation's youth.
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It was Diwali night and I was looking at the two short rows of diyas (earthen lamps) lined up on the pathway to our door. We had done a reasonable job with their cotton wicks and filled their boat like spaces with oil but in spite of all that, their time was limited. The oil would run out, the wicks would burn away and the dark of the moonless night would swallow them as if they had never existed.
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Was there any point in fighting the inevitable? Why not join them if you can't beat them? Watching a lamp quietly fulfil its duty in the face of insurmountable odds holds the key to that question. What is wrong is wrong, what is theft is theft and to call it out as so is not over-simplification, but an overbearing necessity, an imperative need of the hour. Being an honest man is neither a popular choice nor an easy one; it historically never was either. That one of them shows up every now and then is in itself some miracle of nature.
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When the vast majority conveniently day-dreams of some Squad of Anti-Corruption Superheroes who will come to our rescue seeing the Lokpal signal flashing across the Gothamnagar skyline, it is only an ultra-shabby excuse for inaction. For even the deepest darkness dare not cross swords with the smallest lamp. Never does its existence go in vain. Fragile yet potent, alone yet unafraid, transient yet inspiring, no one can contest the message of the little flame, lighting the only path forward to a brighter future.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

Compliment

Around about 21:00 on a workday evening in an apartment shared by three bachelors, it's a very typical scenario. The three individual rooms are occupied by three separate individuals hunched over their laptops pretending to be busy with something extremely important but very likely only passing snide comments an appropriately snide comment worthy photo posted on Facebook by a friend on the other side of the world. It's been close to 4 hours since they got back from the daily grind.
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But their attention is not fully on the screen in front of them. Rather it is on the large central space in the apartment aside from the three rooms. They notice that a very important portion of that large central space looks particularly unattended to and empty. It's called the kitchen and as the night rolls on, the possibility of another Doritos, milk and bananas combo for dinner grows ever strong unless someone acts up.
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There is always that hope. That a hero will answer the need of the hour. Dice the onions crying tears of hardship, toss the oil into the pan with grim determination, put together the spices as his arsenal to salvation, pop open the fridge for veggies or meat as the case may be to save the day. And there is also that fervent hope that that hero won't be him.
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Eventually one of them summons up the courage, feels the necessity of breaking through the tasteless tyranny of ready-to-eat food or fruits-for-dinner. Too much salt, too much oil, too much red chilly powder are all crimes easily overlooked for someone who signs up for THE JOB for the evening.
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No matter what gooey, sticky, burnt end results of the experiments atop a gas cooker may be, the only sentence being said during and after dinner is a constant re-affirmation of the effort put in by that one volunteer, the culinary soldier. "Khanaa bahut badiyaa banaa hai! Khanaa bahut badiyaa banaa hai!" [The food is really good! The food is really good!] Buried not so deep beneath that heartfelt praise is the desperate wish that come the next night, the reluctant chef concerned would be all pepped up and look forward to receiving that compliment again.
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[http://virtual-inksanity.blogspot.com/2011/12/compliment.html]

Monday, November 21, 2011

For those


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For those that are soaked in grime, sweat and blood,
The cause in them does trust, as indeed it must
They are the undaunted shelters, the very bridges to deliverance
Final hopes for a rescue, through forests impassable and dense.
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Here is the limelight now but they, strange men, seek not its glory
Yes, they, they must practice, practice and write a grand new story
The wise understand their greatness, the fools they look away
Men of honour, men of grit, far beyond what befits a poem to say.
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[Some well-intentioned but mildly corny lines written around Rahul Dravid's retirement from ODI cricket. Batsman extraordinaire, team-man exemplary and a gentleman unlike any other, he has been a true inspiration in every sphere of life and a tour-de-force for Indian cricket.
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Incidentally also my 400th blog post. Many thanks to the 50 readers still subscribed to my blog. It took a lot longer for me to get to this 400th post than I had expected. It is my laziness that robs me of the will-power to type out my thoughts but it is also my laziness that defines my thoughts. Forgive me for this paradoxical flaw. I promise to do better.]
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Will it, won't it?


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As a dog owner walking my dog down the streets of my hometown in India, there is one irritating question that gets thrown at me with alarming frequency. My dog is a tiny dog, a miniature dachshund, at a height of maybe 8 inches off the ground and a long tubular body. That's her in the picture above with her "Won't you please take me to the garden downstairs?" look. Many people assume her to be a puppy while she is almost 4 years old (28 in dog years) and has already long reached her full size, such are the dimensions of her breed.
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Now if she were an Alsatian or a Rottweiler, a casual observer wouldn't have been tempted, but given her minute size, folks are overcome by an intense desire to pet her. With their hands waving gingerly above my little dog's head, they will ask me "Kaategaa toh nahin?" [It won't bite, will it?] BTW in case you didn't know, beware of touching the head of any dog you are unfamiliar with, as an introduction. The dog won't like it or allow it. Kids asking this is OK and understandable but when adults act so juvenile, it really gets my goat.
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It is very difficult to explain to someone who hasn't been around dogs at some point in their lives that dogs are not purpose built mean biting machines and that they do not randomly sink their teeth into someone just because they feel like it. A human being is much more likely to bite without provocation than is a dog. On days when I am feeling nice, I say "No! No! Why would she?" Other times, I am tempted, really tempted to say with a smirk "Kaategaa toh kaategaa. Mujhe bolkey thodi naa kaategaa!" [If it wants to bite, it will. It won't ask me beforehand, will it?]
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Stamped


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In the ultimate tribute to the importance and influence that spending 4 years in a hostel 1500 kilometres away from home while at engineering school has had on me, someone who had known me for only about half an hour at that point and also was aware of the fact that I had graduated from REC Kurukshetra asked "So you grew up in Haryana, right?" 
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18 years of preceding experiences and conditioning, of being born in Calcutta, being schooled in Gujarat, it seems are now all moulded beneath that permanent Kurukshetra B. Tech Mechanical outer shell. \m/ Regional Engineering College, Kurukshetra \m/... \m/ Mechanical Engineering \m/ 
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Susegad


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I remember when I was 16. Class 10 it was and seniors & well wishers were firm in their advice. This is a very important stage in your life, they said, work hard now and then you can take it easy for the rest of your life. Strangely enough, they would repeat the advice when I got to Class 12. And then again when engineering college began. By the time, they began speak in similar analogies of the necessity of an MBA degree, of it being 'that' magic pill, I bailed out. Enough's enough. I had seen through their ruse. There was never going to be such a time, the so-called golden phase when everything was a joy ride. I just wish that they had told me the bitter truth about careers, ambition and satisfaction (or the improbability of that idea) up front. I would have set my expectations from life a dozen notches lower.
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I was 26 when I got to Goa. Off-season Goa. Not Goa of the night-clubs and rave parties. Goa of leisurely motorcycle cruising through bright post-monsoon greenery and half open beach shacks not fully stocked up for the crush of the upcoming 'season'. Goa of abandoned leaf overgrown forts and guitar strums surfing the sea breeze in nearly empty restaurants. Goa of cheerfully painted houses and early morning walks on the beach sand watching the fishing boats already on the horizon doing their daily quota of work before the inevitable crowds came a-calling (even if it was the off season). Goa of flickering candle light karaoke and eye pleasing co-diners that re-affirmed the fact that when it comes to beauty, what matters is quality not quantity.
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It was always there, not on some remote South Pacific island, but only a few hours drive from our very own beloved Bombay. It was there, not in some degree from an elite institution, never in some mega salary job in some mega financial institution and not in that futile race of which everyone is a condemned participant. It was there as I sat in the company of friends watching the sun go down to the symphony of the Arabian Sea. It was there as I laughed partly at the conversation and partly because I had finally found it. Susegad. The Life Easy.
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'Paagal' panda


I have a new favourite animal. It does not possess the fearsome glory of a stalking tiger, the sheer stage presence of an elephant or the calm, powerful gaze of a resting lion. If anything, it has a stuffed toy like cuddliness but its steadfast refusal to behave in tune with that perceived image is what makes me its fan.
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New York's Central Park Zoo on a cheerful mid November Sunday afternoon is awash with the colours of fall. Kids and their parents are out here in full force to make the most of this good weather. One particular enclosure is drawing a lot more attention than the others. Everyone's rushing in to catch a glimpse of Biru, the 1 year old red panda who has just moved into New York City from his Himalayan abode in Nepal.
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The red panda is an animal that might be familiar to most Indian TV audiences of my age group as the furry red companion to Mowgli in the Hindi dubbed version of the animated series "Jungle Book Sh┼Źnen Mowgli" which had achieved cult status back in the days when DD-1 was the only channel on air in India. Sunday mornings were dedicated to Mowgli and his life in the jungle by millions of kids around the country. And to call the real animal cartoonish. in proportions and colours, would not be too far from the truth.
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The lush red fur enveloping his body, the black fur on his feet like he had socks on, the bushy red tail and the teddy bear like face made him look like those simplified friendly animals that are drawn in books for toddlers yet this was actually how nature had designed him. The female component of his human audience couldn't stop "ooh"ing and "aah"ing, going on with their "How sweet!", "How cute!", "I want one!" before saying "Got to get his picture!" and whipping out their point-and-shoots or DSLRs as the case may be.
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This was where the problem lay. Biru had a female companion Amaya who was feasting on leaves in a far corner of the enclosure facing away from all the visitors. So it was left to Biru to be the sole model and ambassador for how beautiful an animal a red panda was. Except... that he wasn't much of a poser. Restless soul that he was, walking all the way around his reasonably sized enclosure clambering up a tree in front of the dozen or so cameras pointed towards him and clambering down it but the randomness of his movements made him every cameraman's nightmare. All the while, while he pranced about right in front of our noses.
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Here a tail, there a leg, here a blurred face, there a really sharp picture of some green leaves - as I looked into the image review screens of the other digital cameras around me, I realized that I wasn't alone in my failure. Biru ran, Biru jumped, Biru spun, Biru looked - but never for more than half a microsecond. Every passing minute, I heard people mutter to the tune of "Come on! Hold it! Get me a good picture." but if Biru understood human talk, he was playing dumb. Every flash or camera beep, would invariably be followed by a groan. No, not this time. Nope, not this time too.
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I had to return to the red panda enclosure thrice to be able to get the handful of decent pictures that I eventually captured and I watched wave after wave of grumpy disappointed shutter-bugs call this impossible task off, walking away with a slightly less rosy view of the 'cuteness' factor of the red panda. I love zoos because of my life-long reading and Discovery/NGC fuelled animal world fascination. This was one occasion where watching the humans outside the cage was even more fun than the animal itself.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Over-smart?

I have a smart phone, an Android one. For the past two times that I have charged it, when it reaches its fully charged state, it emits a polyphonic strum sound and then it activates the in-built music player. The song it's playing? A number from a Bollywood movie "Break Ke Baad" named... "Dooriyan bhi hai zaroori" [A song essentially about the importance of personal spaces and time away from each other in any relationship]. Now I am for all the use of Artificial Intelligence in the right avenues but a phone telling me that it needs to get away from its charger in so artistic a manner... what do you call that?
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[http://virtual-inksanity.blogspot.com/2011/11/over-smart.html]

The Doors


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Of life and love and lust they spoke,
In mystic music 'n' poetic streams,
Fear and hurt found their niche,
Framing magic melodic dreams
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The question still stands open then
What to make of fate's crazy mores?
No answer for that one yet,
No one knows for sure
Me? I am just happy...
I got to see The Doors!
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(Wednesday, 2nd November 2011, Lupos Heartbreak Hotel, Providence RI:

It'd be a joke to say that I had always wanted to experience this. I loved the music of The Doors but heck, Jim Morrison was already dead by 1971, 13 years before I was even born. The 1960s and 1970s may have been a great time to be around but I personally am extremely happy to have been born in the 1980s, to have appreciated the world before the advent of Internet & Facebook and also be young enough to appreciate the world after. One hell of a lucky generation we are to have been born on the cusp of such a revolutionary technological leap. So this was out of the blue, an accidentally heard old-school radio advert of the surviving Doors men getting together to work their spell in a small but completely packed B-status performance arena, notably below par as compared to their glory days, and only 20 miles from where I was. It was, to use that nauseatingly overused but in this case perfectly applicable word, 'surreal'! This was a dream that I hadn't even dreamed of!)
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Saturday, November 12, 2011

11.11.11



What a curious way for a day with a curiously symmetrical date to start! Pulling into the office parking lot, it was easy to tell that it was one of those days, already blessed with the effervescence that comes out of being a Friday, a day where it feels perfect to let your mind saunter off into casual half-remembered reveries despite knowing fully well that at least 8 hours of time critical work lie ahead.
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We all don't need that kind of a day, don't we? When the air is crisp and cold and just a lil' cruel, and the forgotten leaves of fall race each other in 3 dimensional race tracks around your feet. When the morning light from the cloud covered sky is subdued but not gloomy, if anything, adding to the splendor of the last bright orange, red and yellow leaves that gamely cling on to their respective trees before winter takes them away in her snowy embrace. It's no use feeling sad for them, 'cause at the back of the mind, you know and they know that they'll be back.
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The walk to the glass door of the building from the car is only a short one but one can only be amazed at the speed and quantity of thoughts that can pass through a head in that brief a time period. Thoughts not only of misunderstandings and mistakes but also of happy accidents. Beginnings ground to dust, dust moulded to beginnings. Moments of unbearable doubtfulness and moments of eternal surety. On days like today you can't help but acknowledge how beautiful a shade is grey and that there is real joy to be found in accepting the unpredictability of the future. By the time I swipe my ID card, I am smiling an internal inner peace smile. After all, what is life, if not an adventure?
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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Waiting...


Tuesday, 01-Nov-2011
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"At first flash of Eden, we race down to the sea.
Standing there on Freedom's Shore.
Waiting for the Sun (3x)
Can you feel it now that spring has come.
And it's time to live in the scattered sun.
Waiting for the Sun (3x, pause, again slower)
Waiting.... Waiting.... Waiting.... Waiting.... (2x)
Waiting for you to - come along
Waiting for you to - hear my song
Waiting for you to - come along
Waiting for you to - tell me what went wrong."
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You may think that I have completely lost it but it's just that I spent an entire weekend at home listening to The Doors on my laptop in preparation for the real deal tomorrow evening. Robbie Krieger & his guitar are 65 years old and Ray Manzarek with his meandering keyboards is at a doddering 72. Morrison is on a never-ending vacation away from earth since 1971 and John Densmore has given up drumming due to hearing problems. Maybe I need to do a reality check and tone down my psychotic levels of excitement...
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Going by setlists at their previous venues on this tour, they'll be skipping my personal favourites like "Hello, I love you" or "People are strange" or even the above mentioned "Waiting for the sun". Maybe they'll fall asleep on the stage. Maybe Jim Morrison's stand-in would such an eye-sore that I'll have to march out mid-concert. Maybe a drugged out hippie from their golden age would burn the Lupos Heartbreak Hotel in Providence down to the ground before the show even begins. I don't know! All I know is that I'll be there to watch it happen. Live. In person. Sakshaat. THE DOORS.
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There are classic rock bands and there is THE classic rock band. There are great lyricists and then there is THE American poet. There is beautiful music and there is HAUNTINGLY beautiful music. Creative inspiration unparalleled this band and their songs have been to me over the years. I hope this night to be, I pray it to be, I will it to be... of significant and everlasting impact.
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As time swims by, we all will learn,
Surely someday, all leaves must turn,
Shadows flit past, chase and run 
Live their life, waiting for the sun... 
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jim's song



This is the one occasion in my life where I can justify screaming in excitement like a teenage girl. On November 2nd 2011, on what would otherwise have been a very ordinary Wednesday, I will go to watch the two of the three surviving members of The Doors, Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek perform live at the Lupos Heartbreak Hotel in Providence. Yes, THE DOORS.
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For most, Jim Morrison was The Doors and The Doors was Jim Morrison, and I agree with that to a certain extent. But without Manzarek's trippy keyboards, Krieger's catchy guitar loops and John Densmore's perfectly timed drum rolls to flow into spaces left by Jim's spoken poetry marathons, there would have been no defining sound that draws in fans (like yours truly) decades after the group ceased performing.
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With Morrison's infamous 1971 death by ODing in Paris at the age of 27, the Doors were a closed chapter in rock history but beautiful enough for music enthusiasts to keep flipping back to those pages and reading them over and over again. In an appropriate tribute to their uber charismatic lead singer, Robbie and Ray despite it having been 30 years now (since Morrison's death) playing the Doors' songs around the world refuse to play "The End" at any of their concerts. The reason they give is simple. "The End" was Jim's song. He owns it.
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Who was Jim Morrison then? Rockstar with a voice inestimably addictive. Poet and philosopher of seemingly infinite genius. The only guy who could walk up to a woman, say "Hello... I love you... won't you tell me your name?" and actually pull it off...
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Friday, September 23, 2011

Nomad soul feed


I know it's just another ad for another commercial product and it's foolish to so enamoured by it. But come on, it's a car after all and sometimes you feel that an ad has been tapped right out of your nomad soul. So without much further ado, here's the transcript from an ad I saw and was simply blown away.
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"People don't make a list of websites they wanna see before they die...
They don't fill photo albums with pictures from an online search...
'Like being there' is not like 'being there'...
It's OK... the Internet will be just fine without you...
That's why we built the Dodge Journey...
Your search engine for the World Wide World."
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PS: Not the exact same ad that I saw on the sportsgoods store's TV but almost the same till about 0:45 into the video
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guarantee



Wonderful job, NASA! So you send this 6.5 ton satellite up into the sky, let it hang around in the atmosphere for 20 odd years and then just let it drop back onto the earth but can't say exactly where? Then to calm our nerves they say that a satellite of this size crashes onto earth at least once a year so it is really no big deal. 
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No big deal indeed that even after burning up most of its bulk, the largest piece of the debris might still weigh 155 kilograms. 155 kilograms! Of flaming hot metal at a blazing speed with a 1 in 3200 chance of hitting a human!
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So much for planning life out. Plan your studies, plan your career, plan your savings, plan your future and then one random day a man made piece of junk from the depths of space might reduce all that planning to zilch or at least 160 pounds of human barbecue.
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No, this is not a call to abandon all focus in life on realizing that at the end of the day it is so spectacularly random. This is only a reminder that there is never a guarantee on how things will turn out. All we need to do is hang on for the ride, as long as it may last.
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Not so dumbo jumbo


If you have ever been a regular visitor to zoos, you would always find a lot of people from ages 8 to 80 pulling funny faces and making jeering sounds to make the caged animals like monkeys, lions and tigers 'come alive'. Also there is always this one guy who keeps telling the children "Kids! Don't do that. Animals don't like it." even if their indulgent parents wouldn't. That guy would be me.
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So naturally when I saw a baby elephant roaming around the Nandankanan Zoo in Bhubaneshwar with his mahout in tow collecting donations for tourists, I was a little concerned. A baby (that was almost my height at the shoulders) walking through crowds of insensitive face makers who come to zoos not to appreciate the animals but to tease them would definitely not enjoy the experience.
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But being outside the enclosure seemed to have an appropriate effect on the misbehaving crowds. They looked on in wonder at the spiky haired creature roaming amidst them, its dextrous trunk collecting the notes and coins that were offered to them. No one seemed to want to mess with it, baby though it was.
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I fished out of my wallet a Rs. 5 coin, the small heavy coin and was considering my other options when the elephant spotted the coin in my hand and headed towards me. It was my turn to be enamoured by the cute creature but a strange irrational fear gripped me.
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The trunk that was waving in front of my hand then seemed too huge to hold on to the little coin. I really thought that if I dropped it, the coin would fall right into his trunk and cause great discomfort to him as all animal lovers know that an elephant's nose is his trunk. Imagine someone dropping a 5 Rupee coin down your nose! So everytime the damp little trunk headed towards the coin in my hand, I just couldn't let it go out of my hand.
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The pantomime continued for nearly a minute with the baby elephant curling his trunk towards my hand, touching it but me clutching tight onto the coin. The mahout kept telling me "Koi baat nahin. Chhod do sikka. [Don't worry. Let the coin go]" but I kept ignoring his advice.
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The baby jumbo had by now decided that I was teasing him. The next time his trunk came near my hand, it gave my hand a real quick smack and before I realized it the coin was out of my hands. Not just out of my hands but neatly pinched by the baby's trunk. Handing it over to the mahout, he gave a long elaborate salute with his trunk as he had been trained to but I am pretty sure that his actions preceding that were out of sheer natural exasperation at my over cautiousness.
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"Leave this to the jumbo, dumbo." 
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Headshot


"Craaaaaaaackkkkkk"
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When I first heard that sound loud and clear, I asked myself "That cannot be the sound of the ball smacking my head, can it? It just cannot be..." The wild spinning of my head and the stars I was seeing at 5:00 on a summer evening as I went down on my knees replied "Yes, it was your head, dummy! Concussion. Concussion. Concussion. Man down!" The sport is called softball [in most ways similar to baseball] but I can tell you from personal experience that there was nothing soft about that ball. 
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I should've seen this in my future, taking into account my overconfident demeanour about fielding on a softball game. Given a chance, I would tell everyone how easy it was to stop a shot in softball with those huge gloves that the fielders use. "We don't need gloves in cricket", I'd say. After all, if there was anything in cricket I was good at, it was fielding at close in positions. So on that sunny Wednesday evening as the batter clubbed the ball in a flat long trajectory towards me situated in the left field [a sort of deep mid-off], I was relaxed and ready with my glove in "Come to Daddy" mode. Only to find the ball magically evade the more-than-ample glove webbing in front and smack down flush on Daddy's head.
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I was the star of the team now... in all the wrong ways. Team members rallied around me, "Look at my eyes", "Follow my fingers with your eyes without moving your head", "Stay on your knees", "It's going to be OK" and all those things you say to people who don't have too long left. The batter on the opposing team looked like he had just murdered a man and to be honest from the crunching sound that the ball made with my knucklehead of a head, I wouldn't have counted on myself to get back to the team enclosure.
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Ice pack to my head and still surprised at my being able to walk unaided, I went back to the benches and popped a couple of painkillers a helping hand had offered. This was going to hurt real bad in the night, I already knew, but an even bigger bruise was from the blow to my ego. A lifetime of above average cricket fielding laid to waste, in that single moment of idiocy. Now that I seemed OK, the jokes were already doing the rounds. "You thought you were playing soccer, huh?" and "We take two extra runs for that accurate hit!" are only two which come to mind.
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I took the field again after a couple of innings and on getting back home the rest of the evening was spent Googling 'concussion' to check if there were any warning signs to watch out for. Thankfully I had none but it was a timely reminder for people of my abysmal physical abilities not to get cocky about anything, even catching a flat long hit ball. On the positive side, my concentration levels out in the field for subsequent games have improved ten-fold. Unfortunately I have also earned a tag, a tag of dubious distinction, as the guy who took a headshot.