Friday, 23 February 2018


One week of attachment with the army in the remotest corners of the country meant that we were having the same food day in and day out. The food was very much like the army itself- uniform in dimension and taste, highly disciplined in nature and not the type that would express itself too much. Though the food did not rate high on the gustatory index, it kept us going in the biting climate and inhospitable terrains. But very soon, monotony had started to creep in.

As soon as we landed in Nagaon, a relatively small district in Assam, I decided to lay my hands on Assamese cuisine. I had a found an able ally in Rahul who was always game for trying out new food. We traversed through a labyrinth of narrow lanes and culverts, till we chanced upon a joint that looked good from the outside. Turned out that it was good from the inside too.

The Assamese Cuisine is epitomized by its Thali with rice as the base, where there is a myriad of dishes in different flavours, shapes, sizes and colours. My taste buds leapt in excitement as they were initiated into this culinary kaleidoscope.

The entrée was a very unassuming dish called the Khaar. It looks extremely dull and one can easily miss it amongst the various dishes. Made from raw papaya, pulses and taro which is filtered through dried banana leaves, the light brown paste is as bland as a dish can get with a slightly bitter tinge.

The Aloo Pitika was quite comparable to the mainstream dishes. It is amazing that a vegetable that was introduced to the country by the Portuguese as late as the 17th century has today become a mainstay of almost all cuisines. The dish is basically mashed potatoes garnished with onion, coriander, and salt. A very simple and effective item, it is good to taste in between the strongly flavoured dishes.

Leaving out the usual suspects of chicken and mutton, we decided to go for Duck meat with bamboo shoot. The meat had a rubbery texture that left a granular feel on the tongue. This Assamese delicacy, cooked with a mixture of spices, has a slightly acerbic flavour leaving a bitter aftertaste. The smell of duck meat coupled with bamboo and ginger gave out quite a heady smell.

The signature dish was the Fish Tenga– the tenga being one of the styles of preparing the food. It is essentially a fried fish that is let to soak in a watery curry that resembles a mixture of dal and rasam giving quite a tangy taste. The sour taste comes from the tomatoes and lemons.
The Aari Bhapat Dia was a visual delight. It was an extremely soft pasty fish steamed on a banana leaf that had a gentle coating of green mustard chutney. As we dug our teeth into it, the fish melted away, leaving a pungent taste in the mouth.

By the time, we finished the payox for dessert, we knew that we had explored one of the many hidden treasures of the North-eastern region.
While in Assam, we had to search for restaurants, we faced the problem of plenty in Kolkata. Spoilt for choice in a city known for its diverse cuisines, we decided in the end to go for the fabled Arsalan Biriyani.

The good thing about Biriyani is that no matter the style of cooking, they invariably turn out to be good. The Kolkata one was no different either. The Kolkata biriyani, inspired from the Awadhi style is said to have originated in the kitchens of the Nawab- Wajid Ali Shah.

After managing to find a seat for ourselves in the crowded restaurant, we were literally served with a huge mountain of hot piping rice. Cooked for nearly three hours over a low flame and a seasoning og rosewater and strands of saffron lent an aroma that permeated throughout the room tickling our olfactory senses- a true epicurean’s delight.

As I dug inside the layers of biriyani searching for the delectable chunks of succulent mutton, I was surprised to find a huge piece of potato. How the humble potato ended up has an interesting story to itself. When the British dethroned the Nawab, who was a connoisseur of the fine arts, but a military commander of little repute, he took his bawarchis and khansamas along with him. Unable to find meat which had overnight become a luxurious commodity, the cooks started to add potatoes to the biriyani and since then, it has become an indispensable component lending a unique taste to the biryani.

The defining feature of the Biriyani is its subtlety. Right from its pale yellow colour, mellowed spices, mild fragrance and the unassuming potato, everything underplays itself. As opposed to the southern Biriyanis that aggressively scream from the rooftop. If eating the Hyderabadi biriyani is akin to heavy metal, then the Kolkata one is a classic symphony.

The Odisha cuisine, much like the state itself, does not feature prominently in the mainstream Indian cuisine. This made me all the more eager to try their dishes.

I was quite apprehensive because we were going to a place (Kalahandi) that had hardly any restaurants worth of mention. But we were quite fortunate to have a cook in the circuit house who more than compensated for the lack of restaurants.

During the first few days, the cook had prepared the standard roti, dal and aloo because he was (as he said to us later) apprehensive whether we would like their local dishes or not.

Deciding to take matters in our hands, we told him that we wanted a taste of the local cuisine. The usually emotionless face had suddenly turned bright and there was a perceptible happiness that radiated in his entire face. From then on, we were treated to delicacies every day that threatened to extend our stomachs beyond proportions.

Odisha’s unique geographical position- juxtaposed between the north and the south- has led to an amusing mix of combinations. For instance, Idli is taken for breakfast but not with the usual accompaniments of Sambhar or Chutney, instead it is the Channa masala of the north.
Since we stayed in Kalahandi, which was closer to Andhra Pradesh, the dishes were influenced by the Andhra flavours but retained its own unique Odia identity. As a result, there was a more liberal use of curry leaves and tamarind.

Dalma, the mother of all Odian dishes, is the staple food of the common man. The Odia version of the dal, where it is mixed with whatever vegetables one can get, it becomes the go-to dish with the rice. The wholesome dish is not only nutritious but also inexpensive. It is seasoned by the use of chilli powder and crushed dried chillies that lends spicy taste. So much was the former charismatic president APJ enamoured by this humble dish that he made it a constant feature of the President’s menu.

There was a red chutney made from tomatoes, which was sweet and sour at the same time creating a tangy flavour. This side dish, especially when taken along with dalma and rice, gave a unique taste.

The pièce de résistance was the Chhena Podo which is the signature sweet dish of the state. Literally translating into burnt cheese in Odia, it is prepared from cottage cheese, sugar and nuts which is baked for hours before burning it ever so slightly at the end. The sweet was an unassuming cream coloured small square shaped dish, that had a burnt brown base. To me, it felt like the desi version of the cheese cake.

As I dug my teeth into the layers of cottage cheese, the sugar starts flowing into the tongue and as the sweet melted inside my mouth trickling down the throat, I could feel the hard-earned gains of early morning PT melting away.
The last leg of the tour was in Andhra Pradesh where the food is known for its fiery, hot, and spicy taste. Which is logical given the fact that it is the leading producer of red chillies in the country. Right from the large serving of dishes to the astronomical levels of spices, everything was superlative in the Andhra cuisine. Keeping with the trend, we decided to go for the unlimited Andhra meals.

The waiter started off by serving a huge mound of steaming white rice on our plate. We started with Parippu Podi (powered lentils garnishes with dried chillies and spices), sprinkling it over the rice and mixing it with generous portions of ghee that prepared our stomachs for the rest of the dishes.

The main course was the Chepa Pulusu, an excellent fish curry with a characteristically sour flavour derived from tomatoes and tamarind. The fish, devoid of any thorns, so soft that it caressed the tongue while chewing on it. There was then the renowned Gongura chutney that really set our tongues on fire. Sweat started pouring down our faces as we gorged upon this pickle-chutney made from Ambadi leaves.

By the time we had completed our meal, tears started to trickle down our cheeks. Tears of satisfaction.
For most part of the tour, we were pampered like royalty and where we were not, we did the honours to ourselves. The journey ended not just with contented stomachs but also contented hearts. After all, food is not just for the stomach but also for the soul.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Divine Flame

For a major part of the year, the sedentary town of Thiruvannamalai goes on about its own business in a typically unassuming fashion. Then, for a duration of 10 days, during the month of November and December, the town takes centre-stage with a large human congregation of 2 million people flocking for the fabled Karthigai Deepam festival.

Legend has it that Brahma and Vishnu, the creator and protector of the universe, had gotten into yet another fight to decide who was the superior deity. As usual, they were unable to arrive at an amicable decision and went to Shiva who was more than happy to act the arbitrator.

Shiva took the form of an endless column of burning inferno that extended from the heaven above to hell beneath. The winner was the one who could find the source of the fire. While Brahma morphed into a swan and flew upwards, Vishnu took the avatar of a boar and began digging into the earth. Both of them went about their task endlessly but to no avail. Days turned into months and months to years. Vishnu eventually conceded defeat, while Brahma lied in an unsportsmanlike manner, which led to him having no temples on earth.

The fire, which is seen as a manifestation of Shiva and his ultimate supremacy, is lit up on top of a 2669 feet high hill and worshipped every year, in what came to be known as the Karthigai Deepam. The festival is celebrated when the moon positions in a synchronous line with a six-star constellation in the celestial sphere. Pilgrims and devotees from all over the country circumnavigate the hills in a 14-kilometre path called the Girivalam in an attempt to purge themselves of their sins. Popular belief is that the mere remembrance of Lord Arunachaleshwara at this place gives salvation- Ninaithale Mukthi Tharum Thiruthalam.

We embarked on our journey to the land of Arunachaleshwara to learn the intricacies of crowd management in a religious festival. The role of the district administration is extremely vital in such events, where there is a northward pressure on provision of civic amenities and maintenance of law and order. Showered with generous hospitality, we quickly acclimatized into the district and set about learning the various modalities involved in this gargantuan process.

The Annamalaiyar Temple, nestled at the foothills, was built by the Chola dynasty during the 9th century and gradually expanded over the years by the later kingdoms of Vijayanagara. The complex, encompasses an area of 25 hectares and is flanked by four tall gopurams in archetypal Dravidian style. The tallest gopuram, aptly named the Rajagopuram, 217 feet in height and comprising of 11 stories rises majestically into the sky. Inscriptions on the temple date the Karthigai Deepam festival to the Chola history though it was only in the 20th century that the ten-day event came into practice.

The entire district administration had been working synchronously as a mammoth organic entity comprising of functionaries from various departments. Temporary bus stands were set up at various junctions to house the buses coming from the 9 arterial roads to the town. 9 special trains and 3000 buses were operated especially for the Karthigai Deepam. Inside the town, free shuttle buses and fixed rate autos plied the devotees to and from the temple.

Technology made its presence felt with 147 CCTV cameras covering the city and a new app introduced to store a database of faces visiting the town to aid in finding missing persons. Plastic exchange counters were set up so that people could exchange their environmentally unfriendly bags for the friendlier ones. ‘May I help you’ booths with smiling faces were busy helping the people deal with their manifold queries.

All the preparatory measures and festivities culminated into the Maha Deepam on the final day, the marquee event of the festival. A gigantic bucket shaped drum, teeming with 3.5 tonnes of pure ghee and hundreds of metres of winding cloth, is taken atop the hill by a traditional fisherman clan, called the Parvatharajakulam to be burnt into a scorching flame, invoking Lord Shiva to bless the lesser mortals with his grace.

The town had been experiencing torrential rainfall over the last few days but on the final day, even the clouds had made way for a clear azure blue sky. The air was abuzz with devotional fervour with black dhoti clad devotees milling their way across the town. The temple complex had been jampacked with 12,000 devotees like rigid and compact molecules. Drenched in devotion and intoxicated by bakthi, they thronged in anticipation to catch a glimpse of their beloved lords who would be taken out of their sanctum sanctorum and paraded through the streets to bless the beholden devotees.

The procession starts with the lord’s wards Ganesha and Murugan followed by the lord himself and his consort Unnamalai Amman flanked at the end by the Chandikeshwarar. Bedecked with floral garlands and ornate jewels, they are carried on a palanquin and shaken vigorously to depict their wanton joy as they mingle with their devotees.

The last one to make the entry is Ardhanareeshwarar, half man-half woman god, who is said to come out of his abode only once a year. By then, the whole crowd has been whipped up into a frenzy that is beyond the realm of explanation.

As the Ardhanareeshwar rams his way through the crowd, the people raise their hands in a different style of prayer that has increasingly become popular. Contrary to the conventional namaste style of salutation, they raise both their hands bringing it in front of their faces, holding a latest smart phone ready to capture the lord in high-definition pixels.

As the proceedings nears its climax, the prayers and chants reach a high crescendo even as the incense smoke permeates the entire place creating an ethereal experience. Burning orbs of flames are carried by the head priests that float through the pitch-black darkness like a radiant halo, lighting up the altar in the temple. With clockwise precision, the fire is lit atop the hill and the temple at once is alight with decorative lights while the left-over crackers from Diwali dazzle the night sky illuminating the entire town resulting in a divine experience.

As we made our way back, I gazed up towards the starry sky. The giant burning flame was now merely a tiny speck. A bright, shining speck. 

Friday, 7 July 2017


There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception”- Aldous Huxley

A frail and diminutive woman wills her body along the muddy road with her back crouched, bent by the weight of sheer poverty. She treads along, her vacant eyes staring into nothingness. She carries a frail child in her arms. She will go on to sell that child. For a pittance of 40 rupees and 2 sarees. This has gone on to become the defining image of Kalahandi.

Even today, the name conjures up vivid images of starving people living in desolate conditions. This was the perception with which we proceeded for our 10-day district attachment in Kalahandi. Little did we know then that by the end of it, our perception was going to change.


We packed our bags and headed for the district preparing ourselves for the worst.  Instead, we witnessed large houses and commercial establishments on widened roads that were well-lit with newly installed streetlights. Much to our surprise, there was even a multiplex with a 13-seater special theatre screening the latest Bollywood movies, something that cannot be found even in many metros.

The paradox of Kalahandi is that it has remained one of the most backward districts in the country, despite being endowed with a bounty of ecological, mineral, and cultural resources. 

Over the next few days, as we traversed through the district, we could see lush green paddy fields on both sides of the roads dotting the landscape, where farmers were busy throwing liberal amounts of fertilizer onto their fields. In contrast to the parched earth that we expected to see. 

The once prosperous region was brought down to its knees by a series of droughts and famines that had occurred in the 1920s. The final blow was the drought of 1965-66 that not only broke the economy of the region but also the spirit of the people. The lack of rainfall had resulted in continuous crop failure. The majority of the population, who were agricultural laborers found themselves without a job. The rich became poor and the poor became poorer and the poorest became destitute.

And then came the Indravati Project. Set up in the early 2000s, it has radically changed the face of the entire district. With a steady supply of water, agriculture started to revive. The erstwhile fallow land has begun to witness double-cropping of rice.  The cultivation of rice has grown to such an extent that Kalahandi, derogatorily referred to as India’s Ethiopia, today has become the 2nd largest rice procurer in the state.

With paddy production going over the roof, rice mills have begun sprouting near the fields that has put the economic trajectory of the district on the up. So much so that today, people are migrating from the adjoining districts of Andhra Pradesh to cash in on the prosperity. After all, not everybody loves a good drought.

Kalahandi is home to the infamous Niyamgiri hills that has been subject to much controversy in the recent times. Home to the indigenous Dongria Kondh tribe amidst pristine forests, it is also a rich source of Bauxite- an industrially and commercially important mineral. Having already ingested several editorials on the issue, we were aware of the plight of the tribals. A visit to Vedanta Ltd in Lanjigarh enabled us to see the other side of the coin.

The Vedanta plant was an industrial behemoth with a large network of pipes, storage cylinders and huge tanks. Trolley cars were chugging along efficiently transporting the bauxite from one centre to the other.  An aptly named digestion tank was breaking down the aluminium in it's belly. The entire plant was coated in a grim red colour, perhaps a reminder of the plight of the Niyamgiri people who reside on the hills that overlook the factory like a mute spectator. 

Discussions with the officials covered various issues such as hindrances to development and over-sensationalization of the matter. It led us to conclude that there were concerns on both the parties involved and had there been some rational heads involved in the decision making, an amicable solution could have been arrived with everyone happier at the end of the day.

Situated at 72 km from Bhawanipatna, the district capital, lies the scenic block of Thuamul Rampur. Which also happened to be one of the most backward tribal areas in the district. Though the visit was a long winding one that had sapped our energies, it was definitely worth it.
Known as the Kashmir of Kalahandi for the snowfall it receives during the winter season, it was once a thriving tourist destination in the state. Continued neglect and lack of initiatives led to the tourists moving to better pastures. The erstwhile tourist complex has today become a dilapidated building, run down by the ravages of time, standing as a silent witness to the changing times.

There were two defining visits on that day- both to primary schools very close to each other and both so different from the other. The first one was an example of everything wrong with the education system. Absent teachers, broken blackboards, unfurnished classrooms, poor ventilation, cramped space, dysfunctional bathrooms, and an erratic power supply. As we walked through the school, we witnessed the portents of a demographic disaster.

With laden hearts, we proceeded to the next school which was a stark contrast to the previous one. With well-manicured gardens running along the boundaries of the walls and tall imposing statues of religious figures, the school was being run by an enlightened individual who took upon this institution as his life’s mission. Motivated teachers, robust infrastructure systems and a speckles environment, it was a model school for the entire region. We even got a chance to interact with the highly talented students. Particularly, a young tribal girl who had enthralled us with her sharp singing. 

As I lost myself in her melodious song, there was only one question haunting my mind- what if there were such hidden talents in the other school who will remain hidden forever.

Traversing back on the long winding road, we realized that not everything is hunky dory; the recent Dana Majhi episode bears testimony to the fact. Nor is Kalahandi the same poverty-stricken district it was a few decades ago.

Kalahandi’s past was a dark one. The future, certainly is not.


Monday, 19 June 2017

The promise of an all-rounder

It is just 13.3 overs into the Indian innings. Normally the stage of the match where Rohit and Dhawan continue to pile misery on the bowlers. Instead, Pandya comes into bat. He hardly ever gets that many overs to bat on a normal day. But this is not a normal day.

It is the finals of the Champions Trophy. Against their arch-rivals Pakistan. The team that supposed to be knocked out in the group stages. The team whose batting was renowned for not making 300 plus targets.

Instead, the scorecard reads 54-5. The best batting line up had wilted away in spectacular fashion under the onslaught of Amir, who has just recovered from a back-spasm. Rohit Sharma, he the sole possessor of double double-centuries in limited overs cricket, was beaten for pace, swing and almost everything else for nought. The best batsman on the planet, was worked out not once but twice off consecutive balls. Shikhar Dhawan, who has engraved his name in Champions Trophy Hall of Fame, managed to survive a bit longer, but soon nicked one in the corridor of uncertainty. Three batsmen, who had piled up 900 runs between them with a combined average of 90.87, back in the hut for scores of 0, 21 and 5. Game, Set, Match.


14 overs had gone by. The scorecard read 78-0. Pandya is brought into the attack. On a normal day, Pakistan’s top order would have self-combusted in spectacular fashion. But then, this is not a normal day.

The parsimonious Bhuvaneshwar failed to get any swing from the placid pitch, Bumrah failed to get his robotic-precision yorkers and instead started gifting no-balls and wides (3 and 5 respectively) and the spin duo of Ashwin and Jadeja were swatted around the park like harmless flies. The newly famed bowling attack was taken to the shredders.

Pandya brought up his 50 with a monstrous six off Shadab Khan, the third consecutive of the over off just 32 balls. On a pitch that was nothing short of a batting paradise, he was the only batsman who was striking it cleanly from ball one. This was not the typical ‘the-match-is-already-over’ mindless slog but a display of proper power hitting. Maybe, it was a bit too late and eventually it would not have had any consequence on the result but it showed promise of his potential in the days to come.


Pandya was supposed to be the weakest link in the Indian attack. Bogged down by the nagging length of the seamers and the accuracy of the spinners, he was the bowler the opposition targeted. He was introduced only after Kohli decided that he could not hide him any longer.

He hurried the ball, got them to rap on the pads, skirted the outside edge more than once and by the end of his first spell, his figures read 4-0-17-0. Not bad for the fifth bowler. Even as Pakistan kept piling on the runs on a pitch that had literally nothing for the bowlers (Amir and Co. would disprove that later in the day), he kept bowling his heart out. He eventually dismissed Fakhar Zaman getting the centurion to miscue a slog. Maybe it was a bit too late and eventually it would not have had any consequence on the result but it showed promise of his potential in the days to come.


The ODI format is undergoing radical changes in a struggling bid to maintain its relevance. Even the English, who had refused staunchly to change their playing style since the time bowling was done a-la Trevor Chappell, have dusted their cobwebs, and embraced the modern game with explosive batsmen who tee off from the word go. India, on the other hand, largely continues to play percentage cricket with their frontline batsmen taking time to settle before going for the big shots. The only exception being Hardik Pandya who can go bonkers from the very first ball, as was evident in the league match against Pakistan, when he was promoted ahead of Dhoni and Jadhav to do the finishing duties.

India has been on an elusive quest for a seam-bowling all-rounder ever since the days Kapil Dev enthralled the crowds with his deadly out-swingers and fearless hitting. Not to mention the shiny locks and striking moustache that had inspired the fashion sense of an entire generation of cricket viewers.

It is too early to talk of Pandya on the lines of Dev. His flashy chains, tattooed biceps and gelled hair may not have the same effect as Dev. But his cricketing skills definitely show promise.  

Friday, 17 March 2017


Tucked away in the north eastern most corner of north east India lies a natural paradise that has witnessed one of the bloodiest battles fought on the Indian soil. A battle in which the greatly outnumbered Indians refused to bow down to the Chinese. A battle of grit, tenacity, and determination. A battle whose story remains forgotten in the annals of history. As we embarked on a journey with the Army (to Walong in Arunachal Pradesh) revisiting those episodes in history, we got a glimpse into the life of the indefatigable Indian Jawan. 

By the time, we reached Walong, the sun had begun to recede its long rays casting a pall over the entire town. While the rest of the town had retired into their homes causing an eerie emptiness in the place, there was a buzz of activity in the army camp. Guarding. Patrolling. Surveilling. Drills. Exercises. Sports. The Jawan goes on about his duty meticulously day and night like a well-oiled machine.

Our first visit was to a newly constructed memorial on top of a small hillock overseeing the air-strip, commemorating the martyrs who had laid down their lives in the Battle of Walong in 1962. There were helmets. Guns. Photographs. Bullets. Poignant tales. More helmets. Remainders and reminders of those who defied all odds to fight the Chinese till their last breath.

A tall statue of a soldier, aptly named the ‘Soldier in Silence’ stands overlooking the valley where the battle was fought. There were names inscribed over the walls. 6 Kumaon, 4 Sikh 4 Dogra, 3/3 Gurkha rifles, 2/8 Gurkha Rifles and 2 Assam Rifles. Martyrs reduced to mere names.

As we stood there paying our respects, the flame in the large urn kept flickering in the blustery wind, refusing to die out, just like those soldiers. On the wall, emblazoned in large white letters were the words “LEST WE FORGET” – a grim yet telling reminder of the historical amnesia that the nation suffers from.

Before the break of dawn, we made our way to another memorial, ‘The Hut of Remembrance’ in the Namti Plains, where the Indian defences withstood the Chinese onslaught for 22 days.

Ensconced on all sides by the snow-capped mountains dotted with pine trees lie the idyllic Namti plains. The auburn grassland carpeted over the undulating plains that looked straight out of Van Gogh masterpiece. As the sun peeked out of the clouds casting a glow on our faces, the army men recounted the tale of the Battle of Walong.
On the fateful 26th day of October in 1962, the Chinese had launched an offensive against the Namti defences with the aim of capturing Walong. The Indians had everything going against them- freezing weather, inhospitable terrain, limited resources, outdated weapons and a powerful enemy. The Indians were heavily outnumbered with just 3000 men as opposed to the 15000 on the opposite side. But what they lacked in numbers, they more than made up for it with courage.

The Chinese sent troops after troops but the Indians offered stiff resistance with all that they could muster. Armed with aggression, valour and obduracy, they defied all odds to stop the Chinese juggernaut. The Sikhs, Dogras and Kumaons fought and fought. Even after they had been struck down. With their very bare hands, refusing to throw in the towel. Eventually, the Chinese broke the Indian rear-guard but by then, they had lost 5 times the men India had.

Such was the tenacity with which the Indians fought that the Chinese, even today, refers it as “Tiger’s mouth”. It was fitting that the Time Magazine had remarked “At Walong, Indian troops lacked everything. The only thing they did not lack was gut.”

Today, in the Namti Plains, there lives a solitary man in a solitary house with the serene Lohit gliding along gently, a silent witness to the ravages of time.

The high point, literally and metaphorically, of our journey was the trek to Hill 90, India’s eastern most border point. Starting from Kibithu, we were accompanied by a brigadier and his young son who put us to shame as they raced along without breaking a sweat while we were drenched profusely in the cold weather.

As I huffed and puffed my way on a winding path that seemed to go upwards and upwards, I just had a single thought plaguing my mind- the difficulty that the soldier has to face while carrying weapons and supplies to the post.

As I reached the top, I knew that I would not mind trekking again and again to reach here. Several thousand metres above sea level, there were several Jawans tirelessly guarding our borders unmindful of the adverse conditions that they had to put up with.
From the vantage point, we were able to see the infamous Line of Actual Control with our naked eye. Surrounded by hills, valleys, and ridges, we saw the contested pieces of land that has led to disputes between the two neighbours.  

On the other end, we could see the extensive road network that China had built right till the border and the new settlements that are being installed aggressively by relocating people. On the home front, the army men elaborated lucidly the high level of preparedness, robust infrastructure system in place and the strategy deployed in case any eventuality should arise.
As we walked our way down Hill 90, reassured that India is in safe hands, I was reminded of the solemn pledge inscribed in the memorial in Namti Plains- Walong will never fall again.  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

India shows intent...finally

In the 33rd over of the first innings, Lyon ambles up and pitches the ball near the off-stump. The ball hits the rough, bounces and turns into the batsman. The batsman goes back into the crease. He is rumoured to score runs even while sleeping. He is said to possess wrists that could flick any ball to the boundary. Instead, he shoulders arms. The ball thuds into his pads. In his counterpart’s words, Kohli had what could be described as a brain-fade. A classic example of lacking intent, that he had exhorted his team mates for in the previous match.

Lyon kept bowling similar balls. Over after over. And it fetched him wicket after wicket. Pujara was caught in the crease. Rahane failing to read the straighter one. Saha edged a skidder to slips. Nair deceived by flight.  In the end, his figures read 8-50, the best by an overseas bowler on Indian shores.

There was prodigious bounce and turn on offer. But the Chinnasamy had no demons lurking inside the pitch a-la Pune. India needed their batsmen to put their head down, set in for a long haul, show some application and grind down the opposition. Instead, they capitulated in spectacular style reminiscent of the first match.

The scorecard reads 120-4 in the second innings. The Jadeja experiment had failed. DRS continued to frustrate Kohli. The lead was a mere 33 runs. They were trailing 1-0 in the series and staring down the barrel. Australia knew they were just a couple of wickets away from an unassailable lead in the series. Suddenly, Smith’s dream of an unexpected series win did not seem so fanciful.

In walked Rahane, who had not crossed 30 in 9 of his last 10 innings and who had been playing off-spinners with the same assurance with which Raina plays the short ball. He joined Pujara, who had scratched, edged and survived his way to 34. Australia sensed the kill. 

Smith immediately turns to his best-bowler. Lyon turns the ball viciously. He gets the ball to spit venomously from the pitch. The outside edge is beaten. A catch is dropped. All in the same over. A wicket should have fallen. Yet it did not. Somehow, the batsmen survive. They refused to bow down. They battled on.

Pujara began to show the discipline that had come to define his batting style. He left balls outside his off stump in a religious manner bordering on fanaticism. He defended like his very existence depended upon it. He scored only when the ball was pleading to be hit.

Rahane was not in his usual stroke-making elements. He curbed his natural instinct to drive. He was scratchy, dogged and even ugly at times but he kept on rotating the strike, never letting the bowlers bog him down. So much so that Australia managed to bowl only 8 maidens during the entire partnership. And by the time the lead had crossed 100, only 1 maiden was bowled.  

As the overs passed by, the batsmen began to feel more assured. The pitch became slower and the bowlers did not pose the same threat. The ones and twos had now turned into boundaries and the scoreboard was ticking along. For the first time in the series, Australia were playing catch-up.

Pujara and Rahane batted their way through 46.2 overs, forging the highest partnership of the series and definitely, the most defining one. Eventually, it took a fire-spitting spell from Starc to end the partnership. By then, the duo had put together 118 runs and the lead had grown to 151. Australia were all but out of the match.

When Kohli was dismissed, Australia had cut the snake’s head. They thought that the body would fall off. Little did they know they were dealing with a Hydra.


Pic courtesy:

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Neocolonization of the Gentleman's Game

When a few enterprising gentlemen from the East India Company decided to colonise India, they came armed not just with modern artillery, a strong naval fleet, and mercantile policies, but also with bats and balls. Because, Cricket was never seen as just a game. It was more than mere runs and wickets.

The British used the game as an instrument to impose imperial order, glorify their rule and transmit English values in the colonies. They used the game to impose moral standards on the unenlightened Indian populace. For long, the sahebs would play the game under the sun. The native was only allowed to watch from afar.

But the native would not remain a stranger to the game. He would adopt it, get better at it and use the very game as a form of imperial resistance and nationalism. He would eventually, transform the very English of English games (and they have invented quite a lot of them) into a game that has become essentially Indian in essence and character. Today, the gentle claps from stiff-lipped gentlemen in tweed jackets and wide-brimmed hats in Lords has given way to the raucous and passionate fan of the Eden Gardens.

Clubs were formed. Associations created. Teams organized. And soon, the country had begun to produce players of fine calibre like CK Nayudu and Lala Amarnath. But as a team, they were yet to make a presence felt on the global arena. They neither had the economic clout of England or Australia nor the sheer brilliance of the West Indies. They were the Sri Lanka of the 80s and the Bangladesh of the 90s.

It all changed in 1983.

It is said that catches win matches but Kapil’s catch would not only win the first world cup for his country but go on to change the cricketing landscape of India and the world. It was the time the humble television started to become popular in the households. It was also the time when Indian hockey was on a decline. The world cup winners were the heroes people were seeking for. The players gained popularity among the masses the game spread through the nook and corners of the country. Cricket’s pivot to India had begun.

24 years down the line, another Indian captain would go on to win the first T20 world cup which led to the consolidation of India’s hegemony in world cricket.

Today, India heads a unipolar power structure in the cricket politick. The rise has been a reflection of the fast-growing economy and increasing purchasing power of the citizenry in the country. The country’s market grew with its growing middle class and the sheer size of its cricket crazy population lends it enormous weight.

India is dubbed as the commercial centre of gravity of the game and accounts for 80% of the game’s revenue and 75% of the viewership. In the words of Gideon Heigh, “the world is witnessing the Indianisation of cricket, where nothing India resists will occur, and everything it approves of will prevail”.

The BCCI, the apex governing body of cricket in India, has grown into a multi-headed hydra spreading its tentacles everywhere. It decides whom India will tour and who would tour them. It rearranges matches held elsewhere to suit television viewers in India. It even changes rules to decide how the game will be played to suit its needs, a classic example being the DRS. It even refused to come under the ambit of the World Anti-Doping Agency, simply because it did not want to. India is to the ICC what the United States is to the UN.

The growth of the IPL is merely symptomatic of the shift in the economic power from the developed bloc to the emerging world. The cash-cow of Indian cricket has upset traditional cricketing structures. There is money involved in it like never before. Teams across the world are adjusting their calendars to participate in the IPL. Many players have made it abundantly clear that they will prefer the league over national commitments simply because it is too good money to lose. Even England, the lone country to put up a resistance against the IPL, have come to terms with it.

Cricket in the country has become a way of life. Players are not mere mortals- but gods and demi-gods. People perform pujas before matches. They shower love and adulation when the team wins. And they break houses and burn effigies when the team loses. The inordinate amount of passion generated by the fans led Ashish Nandy to remark that Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British.

On the other hand, English cricket today is undergoing dynamic changes with more players of Indian origin representing the national team and at grass-root levels. It is estimated that in the coming decade or two, half of the English team will have players with subcontinental origin. Quite ironic, considering the fact that the princely Ranjitsinghji was long denied a spot in the England team just because he was brown.

Decades ago, the English took their cricket wherever they went, acting as missionaries of the game, spreading it in their colonies. Today, we find the Indian diaspora carrying their game to America and other parts of Europe, introducing the game among the locals Cricket has truly become an Indian game.

The iconic Lord’s still remains the home of the game. But it’s heart beats at Wankhede.