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The Atticus Diaries
Bibliophile - atheist - reader of religious texts - B-School Grad - math-hater - part-time poet - wannabe bodybuilder - couch-potato - animal lover - non-vegetarian - software engineer - technophobe - day-dreamer - basketballer that never was - cruciverbalist - Indian - SriLankan - neither - marketing grad - financial analyst - another confused clueless speck living it up on good ol' earth!!

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Monday, September 27, 2004
Turning Back Pages

The good thing about writing a diary is that you can turn your life's book back a few pages and let what you are visit what you were. My "poems" and notes have helped me keep a fairly accurate log of my musings since my late teens. Sadly(?), the "poems" are in Tamil and I am a bit too lazy to translate. But the notes I have made from books I read are worth recounting....

Five extracts stand out. They aren't eminently quotable. Nor are they the best lines I have read. And yet, here they are - stuck in my mind for years now. I even remember where I was when I first read them and I vividly recollect the context in which they appear in their respective books. No friend of mine who has read these books has ever recollected these lines as particularly striking. No review mentions them. But there they remain in "Monday 27 December 1999" and "Tuesday 4 January 2000" of my diary - personal relics that have grown richer and pithier with age like old wine.

To Kill A Mocking Bird:
Atticus to his son Jem : "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through, no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do"

Our Man in Havana:
The cruel come and go like cities and thrones and powers, leaving their ruins behind them, They had no permanence. But, the clown he had seen last year at the circus - that clown was permanent, for his act never changed. That was the way to live.

Running From Safety:
We lived those years together, but our convictions were so different that today we remember different pasts.

The God of Small Things:
It is after all so easy to shatter a story; to break a chain of thought; To ruin a fragment of a dream being carried around like a piece of porcelain. To let it be, to travel with it, is much the harder thing to do.

Our Man In Havana:
To each man, a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few horses, a few people. Remove those few and a city exists no longer except as a pain in the memory, like the pain of an amputated leg no longer there.

Thursday, September 23, 2004
Me and My Godlessness

I was among those who believed in divine judgement visiting sinners. I sincerely hoped that if I adhered to my values and kept my faith in my "God", He'll test me, put me through fire and will embrace me when I walk through unharmed with my faith intact.

All was well with God's green earth until some "heretics" and their writings left me feeling rather queasy. From Bertrand Russell to Epicurus to E.V.Ramaswamy to even The Holy Bible, many a written word shaped my stance. I owe a lot of my current atheist leaning to Bertrand Russell's essays but the legendary Riddle of Epicurus captures my questions perfectly -

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Let's face it. This isn't the best way for an all-powerful force to run the universe. Let me cite the most disgusting human specimens I can think off - child rapists! (Don't you frown at the word! 76% of Delhi's rape victims are minors!!!) Aren't they the good old Lord's lost sheep too? What about the poor goddamned child? May be, the sinner will be made to repent soon but why would the Lord let him sin in the first place?

The classic rebuttal to this is that we need a higher form of intelligence to perceive God - we need to rise beyond the material world. Some friends even go to the extent of asking - how do you know that the world around you is actually what you perceive it to be? Oh, maya, that often misused Hindu cure-all!!! Why couldn't God make us all simple honest humans living lives devoid of illusions of greed, lust and jealousy? What would you call parents who make a child grow in a totally illusory surrounding and then release it into the world to figure its own way through? Yeah, you said it - God, as professed by most religions, is a perverted sadist!

They keep asking me - "don't you believe in any superior being or power?". I don't know. The said "Superior Being" might merely be a electro-magnetic field waiting for physics to unveil it. Or it might be a real "living" being. But as long as it isn't an all-embracing, benevolent force, I refuse to worship it!

Trust me, atheism isn't an escape from worldly morals and responsibilities. In fact, as a non-believer, you dread wrong-doing all the more because there is no altar for you to go beg forgiveness at. You alone are responsible for all you do and you would have to live with it for the rest of your life! Death, defeats, ill-health, your own conscience - all these hit you with the mind-numbing force of reality! No heaven for the atheist, no hell - only an earth to do the best he can!

May be, when I die and ascend to "heaven", I'll realise to my dismay that "God" does exist! But, rather than fold up and repent, I'm sure I'll have a deluge of four-letter words for the "Heavenly Force" that makes so many lives on earth sheer unadulterated Hell!

Thursday, September 16, 2004
Walking Into The Sunset...

"Aging gracefully" is at times a cruel oxymoron. It is beyond most people to accept deteriorating health, changing social conditions, descent in the status ladder, increased dependency and oppressive loneliness that are the curse of old age. The tragedy of becoming time's relic - an anachronistic joke in the middle of a world busy moving ahead - is a fate that most of us who live long might not escape.

But this is the story of a patriarch in his late seventies who is walking into the proverbial sunset with his head held high - a man who has been an idol for his grandchildren, provider for many a relative, an ever ready source of expert counsel and great fun to be with. Not only has sharing the past several years with my grandfather been sheer joy but it has also given many lessons in how life ought to be lived.

Grandpa learnt his ropes under strict British disciplinarians in the tea estates of Sri Lanka's Nuwara Eliya district. The values and meticulousness he imbibed then have survived to this day. Even now, things need to be done with the immediacy and precision of a military camp at home. Bills are neatly filed, phone calls are diligently recorded, the smallest of batteries have date-stamps on their backs, newspaper cuttings of the slightest relevance are immediately posted to grandchildren... I could go on and on...

Grandpa still takes care of his and Grandma's expenses by himself. What's more, he has been helping with the education and well-being of almost all his grandchildren. And with two great-granddaughters now, he is likely to do his bit for them as well. The only financial redress we are allowed to make is in the form of small gifts. Anything more is refused with characteristic sternness.

But what set Grandpa apart are his principles. No he isn't a local leader or activist, but he is a study in social responsibility.

While most of us crib about bribing, we seldom realise how difficult life can get without the occasional "tip" to the phone-repairman, power linesman, postman and others. Grandpa has always refused payment to these notorious specimens of government inefficiency and yet manages to get his work done.

This is how a typical post-repair conversation with the telephone guy goes -
Worker: "Sir, something for tea, tiffin...."
Grandpa: "I'll give you as much as you want. But give me a bill for the amount. I'll claim it from your manager!!!!"

And every department that tried its dirty tricks and delaying tactics with Grandpa ended up losing badly. If there is undue delay, letters written in neat cursive are dispatched, ascending the ranks in quick succession until some serious officer sets things right (often with severe reprimands to the miscreants). Trust me, it works!!! Grandpa is living proof that our laziness drives bribery as much as politicians do!

Grandpa is a keen follower of the political scene and we often have long discussions. But, one can't play the typical middle-class political hypocrite with him. Voting is a sanctimonious ritual. He goes to often inconveniently situated booths and waits patiently to exercise his franchise. And if you didn't do it too, you are in for serious trouble when you next meet him. From the way you park your cycle in front of a shop to where the neighbourhood wastes are dumped, things need to be done the right way with Grandpa.

He's still enthusiastic about new things. He often tries new gadgets - usually after long debates with salesmen. New exercises and diabetes remedies are tried out with the enthusiasm of a kid. And recently, he borrowed a rather bulky book on Indian political history from me and diligently completed it despite eye problems.

Today is Grandpa's birthday! And this one's dedicated to him... And to grandparents around the world for all the joy they bring to their grandchildren.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004
An Ode To All My Co-passengers

I know Sarah pretty well...

She's a consultant for an international voluntary organization. She has a couple of kids - her eldest son is doing his engineering, though Sarah looks deceptively young. She is a Keralite Christian born in Calcutta but has travelled all over the country thanks to her army-man father and to her work. She has three post-graduations including psychology and sociology. She was last based in Kerala before she moved to Chennai. She has a close relative posted in a Leh military outpost. Her favourite cousin has just moved to the US and they miss each other like crazy. I know what she thinks of Tamil movies, Jayalalitha, Karunanidhi, the Graham Staines murder, Chennai, Mallus and a dozen other things. I know we share a liking for gingernut biscuits and that she's taking her dieting pretty seriously. I even know that she gets unsolicited SMSs from a boy in Trichy.

What's odd about all this is that I have known Sarah for less than 48 hours now! We were co-passengers in yesterday's Chennai-Howrah mail. And that's about it!!

What makes things all the more fascinating is that there are friends whom I have known for years about whom I know much less!!! Honestly, recall very few friends with whom I have talked on and on for close to ten hours the way Sarah and I did.

Is it just that with friends there's always tomorrow or the next time to discuss things...? Or do the numerous other interests we share with friends keep pulling us off-track from personal topics on most occasions? Was it merely insomnia coupled with the bare minimum that never-ending Andhra heartland offers to the window-gazer..? Or was it the lack of an history and hence prejudices between us...? Whatever be the reason, it was much easier keeping a long personal conversation going with a total stranger.

There's one other "fellow passenger" who had a lasting influence on my life. Back in 1999, I was travelling by bus to Chennai from Trichy. I had the window seat and the person in the aisle wanted to shift to the window. I hesitantly agreed. Once at the window, this clean, fair, slightly-built man in his early-forties got talkative. When you are an up and coming 20-year-old engineer travelling to Chennai for big things (read SNOB), a conversation with an obviously rustic dhoti and khadi shirt clad middle-age man isn't exactly your favourite travel accompaniment. As I tried to cut him off with curt replies, he noticed the novel in my hand and started a well-articulated critique in flawless, mildly Americanised English.

My dropped jaw remained dropped as I found out that he was an IITian who had quit Wharton Business School due to personal pressures. He had been there and seen it all in quite a few fields. Just then, he was trying his hand at agriculture and relaxing. He also had plans of a dot-com start-up and was learning Java. I stayed in touch with Mr.Ravindran Sundaram for quite sometime through e-mail. I have lost touch with him now. But the lessons in simplicity and self-assurance that a dhoti-clad IITian gave me in that 7-hour bus ride have stayed.

Sarah called me this evening before she boarded her train back to Chennai and we promised to stay in touch. I guess we will. But then, even if we don't, I would cherish the day-long conversation that we had in a train hurtling northward through rain-washed rice-fields.

Sunday, August 29, 2004
Country Roads... Take Me Home...

I wasn't born in Trichy. My family doesn't own a house there - we have moved five times in the past, barely managing to settle down each time. The four of us - my parents, my sister and I - haven't even lived together for a significant period there. I have spent the last 7 years in Karaikudi, Chennai and now Calcutta. And in the coming years, I'd probably settle down in a different city as professional necessities toss me around. Nevertheless, to me, Trichy is home - a place to heal body and soul with nostalgia, home-cooked meals, adoring relatives and family get-togethers.

But, of late, trips to Trichy are tinged with a vague pain and longing. So much so that return trips are almost an escape. An escape from a hometown full of memories and symbols that are being irretrievably dragged down into time's all-destroying quagmire. An escape towards a present that seems to hold change and hence illusions of hope. And I run like so many small-town wannabes before me - leaving all I have ever loved and chasing dreams in the all-consuming entrails of metropolitan India.

I wrote down these lines from Graham Greene's 'Our Man in Havana" in my diary when I read the book in 2001 and they ring true now –

To each man, a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people. Remove those few and a city exists no longer except as a pain in the memory, like the pain of an amputated leg no longer there

Trichy is my past being slowly dismembered before my very eyes. Trichy is becoming my own personal ghost-town. My friends have left for greener pastures. Old flames have since married or moved on. The shop-keepers don't recognize me. I can't name a single neighbour. Even my school's uniform has changed and when present students talk about teachers, I recognize fewer and fewer names each year.

But it is at home that things really come to the fore.

The eight of us - cousins and all - who grew up around our grandfather's house are now in seven different cities. In the house that once was the hub of family activity, only my grand-parents and mother live now. The rooms smell of spring long gone - a strange emptiness not so much the presence of sorrow as the absence of laughter. And it makes me shudder to see my grand-parents' generation slowly fade. Each time my mother's mother caresses my face and smears holy-ash on my forehead as I bid goodbye, I can't help thinking that this might well be the last time. In septuagenarian time, Calcutta - a mere couple of hours by flight from Trichy - might be a lifetime too far.

Though the previous generation rejoices in our successes, I am not sure if success essentially means separation from one's loved ones. Is it the eternal curse of the small town kid seeking big things to leave his roots behind? Will the few extra lakhs in my nest-egg be worth it when dear ones are dead and gone? Am I getting too nostalgic too early in life? Or will it be too late when I finally do something about this? Is this suffering a necessary baptism by fire for each generation before it can pass on the fruits of its toil to the next, only to watch it succeed and move on? Or is this another mere illusion that keeps men away from what they truly yearn for?

I haven't clue. But, as my train enters Trichy with the Rock Fort looming majestically in the horizon, for a fleeting moment I wish I had never chanced upon this quaint little town with her beautiful temple-towers, the river looping right through her heart and the wonderful memories she gave me as I grew up on her bosom!

Sunday, August 22, 2004
A Friend Lost Forever...

When you are twenty-four, your friends land high-paying jobs after MSs and MBAs in renowned institutions. The odd enterprising types even start out on their own. Some gullible ones get married. Yes, when you are twenty-four, your friends do several things… But they don't die! Dead twenty-six year-olds are strangers whom you read about without a tinge of regret in the third page of local dailies. They aren't supposed to be names from your past that bring a thousand memories gushing back!!!

Stephen was dead! He had been dead for a good six months when the news reached me on my return to Trichy from Calcutta! I didn't visit the bereaved family as it was too late and I didn't want to reopen healing wounds. I also tried my best to avoid the many "I know how it happened" accounts that made his death sound more like some spectacle that I'd missed. Strangely, I wasn't feeling sad. There weren't any tears in me for Stephen - six years down separate roads makes you forget a lot. But a strange pensive cloud settled on me then and even now, in the odd quiet thoughtful moment, I still think about him.
That's rather funny. In the six years since I left school, we had met each other only twice. Even those meetings were by chance not design. But for a four year period in which we were in the same class, we hadn't exactly been bosom-buddies. In fact, I have even parted ways with most of our mutual friends. But now that he is gone for good, I try hard to recollect where I first met him, what I thought then and the few memories I have of those years we spent as classmates and friends.

Stephen was older than the rest of the class. He was repeating class seven. He was among the tallest in the class and easily the strongest. A few impatient whiskers were already laying siege to his upper-lip (which he shaved once and became the talk of Std.VII A for a week). He carried a small but menacing rod for "security", was pretty creative and fluent in swearing, and was often seen with established thugs of higher-secondary school. In short, if you are a five-foot-odd weakling who is also unlucky enough to be among the top three ranks in class, you'll give your right arm to befriend a guy like Stephen to avoid being branded a sissy. And that's exactly what I did.

I don't recollect how we first broke the ice, but I remember helping him with his English and Tamil elocutions and "Sales-talks" through all four years (Some creative educationist had dared to make all these and even music graded courses in RSK Higher Secondary School thus placing students and teachers alike in great peril). Stephen and I were also members of an infamous 12-member "Boy-Band" - starting from Mageshwaran through Premkumar to Stephen, each boy marched to the stage with a copy of the school prayer-song book and insisted on singing the hymn "Make me a servant..." for the tests in exceedingly gruff voices year after year, much to the exasperation of our music teacher. I also helped him prepare for a few exams now and then. And that was enough for me to win the unflinching gratitude and loyalty of this then-towering and feared bully.

My most fresh memory of Stephen is when I was forced against the wall by a couple of guys for daring to call them names. From nowhere Stephen arrived in a flurry of blows and swear-words and sent them flying. I didn't bother to explain that it was my mistake. He didn't want to know, either.

We were in separate classes during our last two years in school. For some reason, we didn't talk much. He had taken to smoking and the occasional drink. I had "romantic interests" that demanded that I avoid smoke, smokers and the like. Odd rumors of his "outrageous" acts like carrying drinks to class would do the rounds in school and I carefully kept my distance. Even on our last day in school, we merely smiled at each other. I met him the next year when I went to the school Sports Day. We were both cordial and cold - we were in college now and were trying desperately to act our age. On one other occasion I waved to him from a bus as it overtook his bike.

Now he is dead. And now that I come to think about it, I find it strange how there are things about Stephen that I alone know. And there are similar things about me that he has taken with him permanently. Things that didn't seem worth discussing or narrating to other friends until one of us is gone for good. Now, I can never think of those four years without thinking of Stephen. Though my thoughts aren't draped in any real sorrow, there is an ineffable unease and emptiness. Maybe, as Elliot says, a part of me is gone forever with Stephen Jayaprakash – junior-school strongman; eternal back-bencher; bully; my friend and one-time protector...

We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.

Thursday, August 19, 2004
The man they call Randy....

Despite what the stakeholders might make of it, even the best of educational institutions are as much curate's eggs as the rest of the world. The B-School I go to also hosts all kind of people - from some professors who are revered experts in their domain to some students who, as a friend charitably described, are "pompous idiots", we find them all. And that's precisely why a person like Prof.Ranjan Das deserves special mention.

Prof.Das is fondly called "Randy" but he is anything but. He is the quintessential gentleman professor. From the moment he starts the first "Industry Competitive Analysis" lecture with a well-articulated definition of strategy, he holds the class in his sway. In the subsequent journey through Michael Porter's world with a plethora of Harvard Business School cases for company, you emerge with an appreciation of the esoteric art of competitive analysis and a healthy respect for this tall, dark and immensely knowledgeable man.

Randy sits in boardroom discussions of leading corporates. He is on personal terms with many a CEO. He can dish out numerous illustrative examples for any concept from his wide consulting experience. But, beyond all his conceptual clarity and teaching skills, what impresses you is the man's personal traits.

He is among the few good professors here who don't have a mild sadistic strain - he indulges students, encourages class participation even if the points made verge on the absurd. While most professors lose enthusiasm when the class is unprepared (which is every third day here), Randy proceeds with his analysis with only a curt admonition.

For a man who makes almost a crore in consulting assignments, Randy is amazingly simple. The dedication he shows in teaching is to be seen to be believed. He is said to have continued teaching after a mild heart-attack in class last year! He has braved illness to handle classes for us too. While students grow impatient behind him in class, Randy patiently listens to long case-updates that students present in class.

I feel bad that Randy wasn't too impressed with our class. People irked him by incessantly talking in class while other students were making presentations. The bulk of the class often turned up for classes unprepared. As the class was busy negotiating the question-pattern for the final exam In the last class, the class didn't even offer the customary bench-thumping ovation given to most professors here at the end of a course.

But I don't think Randy would have minded. He receives too many accolades around the world to crave for any from a motley crowd of immature and ill-behaved B-schoolers. He once said in class while summing up a concept, "I hope you'll remember me when you apply this in your business decisions even though I may be long gone". I know I would. So would a bulk of the students in class who lapped up wise words from a man who had seen much more of the business world than we can aspire to do in several years.

And sooner or later, the dissident group of "pompous idiots" would learn to appreciate him too... when they mature a bit... when they look back on their renegade days at IIMC with objectivity and realize the dedication and devotion shown by a tall, dark man who demystified Michael Porter for them all those years back!

Here's to Randy, then… my favorite professor at IIMC! Hats off, Sir!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004
I am a believer....!!!

I am a believer! I fervently believe that God doesn't exist! That the odd cyber-wanderer would read this blog and ponder... That what I learn or not learn for the exams looming ominously close won't be worth a nickel in the clichéd long run. And like most of us, it's the belief that tomorrow and the day after will dawn without sizeable quantum-reductions in gravity, major tectonic-plate upheavals and Martian invasions that dictates my current lifestyle - one mundane step after another in a seemingly eternal grind of pointlessness!

In a world where we often define each other by our respective faiths, it's funny how often we change allegiances. I was once a devout Hindu, visiting temples daily and performing rituals in unquestioning simple-mindedness. I was proud of my religion and defended it tooth and nail against supposed evangelism at my "Christian" school. Strangely enough, as I read more about various religions to better defend Hinduism, I started questioning rituals in contemporary religion. And before you could say Bertrand Russell, I was doubting the very existence of the Supreme Being! From agnosticism it was only a few rationalist strides to atheism. And until a few years back, I gleefully started and ended every conversations with religious-minded acquaintances by quoting the Riddle of Epicurus.

I used to be one of those guys who wear their faith proudly for all to see. From childhood I have firmly believed in numerous causes and phenomena and I have fought detractors and doubters with vociferous enthusiasm. Saivism and Shiva worship, Dravidian dominance in India, Tamil power, a free Tamil Eezham, unrequited love, the perfect someone, good begetting good, heaven and hell, armed rebellion, the transforming powers of an IIM MBA, vampires, fairies, Michael Gorbachev, Vai Gopalswamy, Rajinikanth... Some of these so alien now that all this could be from the life of a total stranger... But they were recurrent themes at different points of my existence and at some point or the other in the past 24 years , I would have waxed eloquent and conjured up seemingly irrefutable logic to defend them.

I still believe in a lot of things, although often with a faint tinge of nihilist cynicism! A subset of my present beliefs are probably transient again. But these days, I seldom get into arguments over them. I patiently hear out contrarian viewpoints and venture out opinions only if the concerned person seems equally interested. And if the said views are sound enough to shake the foundations of my credos, I'll consider changing them.

I no longer expect others to accept my beliefs. Hence, I don't hard-sell what I think. Of late, I've begun to believe that each of us is entitled to his/her belief/credo/faith and by an extension, to holding strong opinions on others' beliefs too. And that the more convinced we are about our credos and the more we truly abide by them, the less likely we are to jump up to argue about them.

But then, that's merely what I believe...! Still worse, merely what I believe right now…!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Mt.Olympus and Beyond... II

Over the years, I have watched quite a few great sporting legends being scripted - Carl Lewis presiding over the sprints and the long-jump pit, Anthony Nesty putting Surinam on the map, FloJo of the long-nails and designer track-wear now tragically no-more, Jackie, the other Joyner, and her dominance in heptathlon, the Biondis and the Janet Evanses of the swimming circuit, the inimitable strides of Michael Johnson, Greg Louganis' great comeback after hurting his head against the diving board, the great Earvin "Magic" Johnson diagnosed with AIDS coming back for Olympic glory with the "Original" (and the only true) Dream Team, a Parkinson's stricken Mhmd Ali receiving a tremendous ovation as he lit the flame in Atlanta and so many more. But, two athletes stand out among these great names - two who were underdogs when I was first cheering for them - two great ambassadors of their respective countries who covered themselves with glory in different ways. Two legends who have bid adieu at Athens...

Ask people of my generation to name a long-distance runner and chances are they'll come up with that tongue-twister - Haile Gebrasalassie . Unlike his long name, everything else about this great little Ethiopian is compact and simple. Starting by running to school and back in native Ethiopia, Gebrasalassie's sparkling career ensured that his impoverished land will be synonymous with much more than famine. Double Olympic champion and multiple-world record breaker, Gebrasalassie enjoyed a stunning unbeaten run in 10000 meters from 1993 to 2001! The great champion failed to win a medal at his farewell Olympiad. But, true to the great spirit he epitomized throughout is career, he competed despite injury and helped set the pace for his compatriots to win. And I am sure that as he limped off the stage he'd once so completely dominated, injury hadn't wiped off that characteristic smile of his - the honest smile of a little man who bought joy to a zillion fans worldwide.

Unlike Haile, Merelene Ottey never won an Olympic gold medal. She never broke a world-record. And I guess it is too late even by her awesome standards to manage either feat now. But, in a career spanning 20+ years, the "Bronze Queen" has competed with three generations of world-class sprinters, missing out on Olympic gold by a whisker on many occasions. Yeah, she had her triumphs - World Championships, multiple medals at Olympics and the like. But, what Merelene will be remembered for is her undying spirit - the resolve and strength she showed in competing at the highest level at 44 years of age! (44 yes! Not a typo!!). Merelene failed to make it to the 100m final at Athens. But it doesn't matter. She has arguably made a more indelible mark on the hearts of fans than even champions like Gail Devers and FloJo - the 5-minute standing ovation after she won after her 1993 World Championship 200m triumph is proof enough.

So, farewell Haile and Merelene! You have been great champions - uplifting and heartening to watch! Thanks for all the wonderful memories you have left us with during your spirited pursuits of excellence.

Mt.Olympus and Beyond...

I had my first glimpse of the Olympic extravaganza in 1988, when good old Doordarshan decided that whatever was happening a few thousand miles north-eastward in Seoul was worthy of Indian attention. So, there we sat - grandpa, grandma, mom, dad, uncle, aunt, siblings all in front of the 14-inch black-and-white Solidaire TV which was my uncle's proud possession - the women in the household cursing DD for snatching away the precious half-hour of sponsored drama for a fortnight and the youngsters getting impatient at the multilingual news-breaks that were a staple on DD then, even as sportsmen ran, swam, fenced, wrestled and otherwise excelled their way to medals and fame.

In one enchanting fortnight, the Olympics managed to transform the entire landscape of nine-year old existence.... Cricket was called off in school grounds and relays were run around the school building. Wooden foot-ruler touches resounded across the schoolyard as the "I-spy" gang tried its hand at fencing. Matt Biondi - tall, muscular and American - prolonged school-boy bath routines as heads were ducked into buckets and the Olympic pool was mentally criss-crossed many times over in world-record time. Ben Johnson's flashed "V" as he crossed the finish-line found its way to the hallowed precincts of the RSK Higher Secondary School heats & finals and stayed long after the man himself was disgraced.

Ever since 1988, I have regularly followed swimmers, athletes, footballers, tennis-stars et al in the quest of Olympian glory through Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. The best part about the Olympics was that nobody seemed to take sides. Not that the Indian contingent was much of a presence to take its cause, either. But somehow, unlike cricket where it was about India against "the rest of the evil conspiring world" (or about Viv Richards winning if my uncle and I had our way), Olympics was about the best man winning - about hitherto unknown men and women winning hearts by pushing the limits of human endurance.
To Be Coninued


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