Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Late Mid-Night Fiasco

‘Aarghh!!! What was that??’ Jiten screeched in the dead of the night, flicking on the lights at the same time.

He lay on his cot just near the door, a half tattered blanket barely covering him. He scrambled for his spectacles which lay somewhere near his pillow and adjusted them furiously on his now-wide open eyes! In the meantime, Amish who slept on the ground besides Jiten’s cot and myself were also half-sitting, half-slouching on our bedding’s, shooting curious glances at each other.

‘It was surely a crab’ Jiten spoke again, his eyes shuttling between the toe of his leg and all around his cot, under the blanket as also under his flimsy pillow.

‘It can’t be a crab!! It must be a frog! There are so many out here!’ I said, to which Amish just nodded halfheartedly, letting out a disgusting yawn at the same time. ‘Does a frog bite so hard? See my toe; the skin has been peeled off!! There is a small puncture too!’ Jiten retorted.

‘Whatever it was, let us sleep now! We can search for it tomorrow morning!’ Ajit bellowed, the frustration quite palpable in his quivering voice. Ajit was a giant, who got angry easily and someone who was very serious most of the times. Even we, his room-mates, rarely messed with him! He laid at an angle of 90 degrees, in the space between the cupboard and us, his head starting at my bedding and his legs splaying near Amish’s head!!

But Jiten had already decided that he was not going to let whatever it was, to stay in our room any longer. He had already launched the search operation in the room and as if on cue, I and Amish too looked under our sheets and shot glances here and there trying to spot the mischief monger. Ajit had already resumed his snoring after giving his verdict which he must have considered was set in stone!! After a futile search lasting few minutes, Jiten mustered some courage and began to ruffle around Ajit but was given such a terrorizing look that he immediately abandoned any further search in his perimeter!

Finding nothing, we all went to sleep again as Jiten finally switched the lights off.

10-15 minutes later

A shrill cry broke the momentary calm and Jiten put the lights on again.

Jiten looked surprised by what he saw, but at the same time had an I-told-you-so look writ large on his face. I and Amish were almost on the verge of having peals of laughter but we somehow managed to rein ourselves in. We saw a bewildered Ajit crouching on the arm-rest of the solitary plastic chair which lay next to the computer table and near the cupboard. I saw fear in his blood shot eyes. His bald head shone with thick beads of sweat giving him the look of a treacherous fugitive. Never before had I seen Ajit like that, he looked meek and petrified.

I, for a fleeting moment, imagined what would happen if the fragile arm-rest (it had already bent dangerously) gave in under his weight, a slight smile beginning to form around my mouth at the thought! Amish gave me a questioning look as he must have caught my smile and he whispered in my ears, ‘Ajit will bury you alive if you have any hand in this!!’ I sobered up quickly, put on a straight face and replied, ‘No yaar, I am not that mad to put my hand in a lion's lair!’ Amish did not seem entirely satisfied by my answer and stated in no uncertain words, ‘That if I had anything to do with this, then that was certain to cause further mayhem and certainly elongate the late mid night drama that was playing out at 2.45 am in our hostel room!!’

‘S… S… Some... Something just crawled right over my legs. I… I think it’s a snake!’ Ajit managed to croak, looking more and more like a hapless frog that might have sensed the presence of a dangerous black cobra in its vicinity.

At the very mention of a snake, both I and Amish got up with a start and jumped on Jiten’s cot as that was the only high ground available in our room, apart from the chair which was already occupied!!

‘I told you there is something in this room but you would have none of it’ Jiten almost shouted at Ajit, even as he came down from his cot and walked over towards Ajit’s bedding. Jiten was quite a fearless character and he had obviously decided to put an end to this nonsense as early as possible.

On higher ground and feeling relatively safe, I and Amish were almost choking on our laughter looking at how Ajit was perched up precariously on the arm rest of the chair!! I told him, perhaps a bit too loudly, ‘Ever seen a lion scared by a snake?’ ‘Witnessing it live, right now’ pat came the reply from Amish! If Ajit heard the comment, he ignored it.

Suddenly, Ajit shouted, ‘There is something under the cupboard!! I think I saw a shadow move!’ 

All the eight eyes were now transfixed under the cupboard. But it was so dark underneath that we failed to spot anything there. The solitary tube-light in our room flickered for a moment, adding to the tension and perhaps enjoying the bird’s eye view it commanded from the high ceiling.

Jiten picked up Ajit’s pillow which was lying nearby and swept the space under the cupboard. On any other day Ajit would have eaten him raw for such a horrific crime but today he was silent, watching intently!!

We heard a squeak and a small rat bolt out from under the cupboard and before we could make head or tail of it, scuttled out of our room from the narrow opening near the base of our wooden door.

Jiten tried giving a chase and locate its hideout but by the time we opened the door, it had already disappeared into the darkness of our hostel corridor. We immediately sealed the slit in the door with thick cardboard and reinforced it with cello-tape.

Discussing the event, we all had a nice laugh about it. Even Ajit, the Mr Serious, managed a wry grin and laughed at his own behavior!! Even though Ajit always accuses us of exaggeration, but to this day he drops his guard, loses his seriousness, and laughs unconditionally whenever we reminisce that night again, knowing fully well that what we say is the truth!!

PS – This is a true story which happened during my engineering days and all the characters are real. The names have been changed.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Indians. Abroad. Woeful.

When I was a little kid, my mother would be very skeptical to send me out to the market to buy bread, ketch-up or ice-cream. I was an extremely naughty child who could hold the best to ransom within the confines of my home. But I would get cheated more often than not at the hands of some street smart shopkeepers who would either hand me a torn note or an item nearing its expiration date (or worse sometimes, items already expired). Thus venturing out of my house would make me doubt my own abilities as I remembered the scars of my previous scolding by my parents after returning home duped.

The Indian Cricket team must experience the exact same torrent of feelings that I used to go through whilst I was still a child. While the team can blank the very best on its own grounds the same group gets blanked out collectively when they venture outside of India. The scars of 0-4 losses to Australia and England in tests are something that even the Indian cricket team fans carry till date. Recently the Indian side lost 0-2 in the 3 match ODI series in South Africa and 0-1 in the 2 match test series. We have now lost 0-4 in the 5 match ODI series to New Zealand.

The opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, both of whom look a million dollars while playing in India, look more like out of circulation currency whilst taking guard abroad. They plant their front foot forward and play through the line of the ball which hardly bounces above the knee in India but are left groping and hopping overseas where the ball swings both ways and rears up at their face. They were so slow with their opening partnerships in New Zealand, it was almost like watching a terminally ill patient die a slow painful death.

Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni along with Ajinkya Rahane seem to me to be the only batsmen in this current lineup who can stand up to the fast bowlers in a foreign country. They have reasonably sound technique against the short ball and they all play the ball late which is always a pre-requisite whilst batting in testing conditions. There is the classy Cheteshwar Pujara, off course, who must be a regular considering our woeful batting order but he has been left out to accommodate Suresh Raina, another slogger who is unable to handle even an iota of pace and bounce let alone seam and swing.

The bowlers tell a story which is eerily similar to that which our batsmen seem to narrate. While pacers like Mohd. Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron all have the pace and the skill to deliver testing spells they are all still very much a work in progress as they are all in the nascent stages of their career. They have all shown us glimpses, both in South Africa as well as in New Zealand that they have pace and can move the ball too. They must be persisted with and given maximum chances so that they can flower into useful resources in the near future.

Ashwin, so successful on the Indian dustbowls is regularly grinded into the dust himself when bowling abroad. He is neither able to keep the run scoring in check nor does he seem capable of picking up wickets. Why is he being persisted with, so regularly, does not make any real sense to me? Is it because he plays for the same IPL team as Dhoni is anyone’s guess!! Ishant is another bowler who seems to have more bad days than good and is still being played while we have better options warming the bench. While I can am all for giving players a long enough rope as chopping and changing can do no good to the team but the player in question must show the willingness to learn from his past mistakes and make efforts to overcome his shortcomings. Some players in this current team lack that zeal and seem oblivious to the fact that they must get better or else risk losing their place.

MSD has to take a call on players like Raina, Ishant and Ashwin and must be ready to drop them if they do not perform. We have better replacements for all these players in Pujara, Aaron/Yadav and Ojha/Mishra who must also be given time to prove themselves. He must be a little positive with his field placing during the middle over’s of an ODI with an intent on picking up wickets. India seem too happy to spread out the field in this phase and give the opposition easy singles and twos only to see the opposition blast in the last 10-15 overs and post a mammoth score. The opening batsmen must score briskly and whence they have consumed overs with a low scoring rate they must try to bat out till the end and make up for the slow score. Rotating the strike is very important so that a bowler is not able to work on a single batsman and plan him out. The bowlers must keep things simple and must keep attacking even in the middle overs by looking to get the opposition batsmen out. Containing does not work as with wickets in hand our bowlers are sitting duck.

As I grew up my fear of going to the markets, alone, subsided. I learnt how to deal with people who were keen to get the better of me. Yes, I am still duped sometimes but such incidents are now far and few in between. It’s high time that India gave a better account of them while playing away from home. They are no longer kids. Yes, they will not win every match, but they must try not to lose every match. That, in itself, will be a big achievement for starters!!

I am looking forward to the upcoming test series between India and New Zealand to see if they have learnt their lessons. What are your predictions? I am holding mine close to my hearts this time around!!