Monday, January 28, 2008

Due to Kumble...

Has Kumble got his due? That’s the question which plagued the Indian cricket fraternity for quite some time. Interestingly, the question came up at a time when he was made the captain. Though the announcement of his captaincy was suspect of having a lot to do with the prevailing conditions, that the choice was ever made had nothing to do with redeeming Kumble his worth. There wasn’t any candidate who could have been given the job. Any question of bringing Dravid back, was a no-no, given the fact that he had ruffled few feathers – in the wrong quarters, after announcing his sudden decision of not continuing as the captain. With Ganguly’s inclusion in the team itself being a millon dollar question, there wasn’t any chance of him regaining the captaincy. Tendulkar is better off as a player, which even he has realized, and particularly after hitting such a good form he wouldn’t have entertained the thought of captaincy. The only possible claimant to the title could have been Dhoni. But a twenty-twenty victory isn’t enough to prove your worth. Test cricket is a different game all together - not just in its format, but the grit and gumption required here is way more than what is required in a 20-20 match. And then again, Dhoni has to prove himself in the Test format. He needs to be groomed before he can be looked upon as a worthy successor. So was there anybody else left for the job? It had to be Kumble!
All said and done, the question whether Kumble ever got his due, still manages to re-surface. Quite often, it is said that he is a far under-celebrated player vis-à-vis the likes of Tendulkars or Dravids. Even upstarts in the team have claimed more fame than Kumble. Six sixes of Yuvraj can earn him a place in the test squad, but a surreal ten wicket haul is not enough for assuring Kumble his place in the team! But really, is there a question at all to ask whether Kumble ever got his due? His captaincy might help him earn a better farewell, but the accolades which his loyalists want for him might remain as real as a dream.
Cricket has always been a batsman’s game. Is there any bowler who has been toasted more than a batsman? One might argue by putting forward names like – Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Muralitharan, McGrath, etc.; but therein lies the rub. Warne comes from a place not known to produce quality spinners. That he mastered the craft of spin has made him a legend but his legend doesn’t stand any taller than that of the Don or even Steve Waugh. McGrath owes much of his success to his team, particularly to Warne who bowled with him in tandem. But even the ability to keep that nagging line and length in place hasn’t fetched McGrath more praise than others. It’s the oddity of being a quality spinner from a place which usually produces fast bowlers that pushed Warne a notch higher than the rest. Similarly, in the case of much talked about Monty Panesar it’s the peculiarity of the fact that, in the English conditions where normally the seamers are more effective it’s a spinner who has managed to trouble the batsmen by a few degrees more; otherwise, England, certainly, has seen far better bowlers than Monty whose Test average is indeed very average. In the sub-continent, Murali came to hog the attention not before he had started breaking records, and was right at the top when he went on to carve some space for himself beside Jayasuriya, Ranatunga, DeSilva, etc. Same is the case with Wasim Akram, who despite the spin friendly conditions in the sub-continent managed to come good as a fast bowler. He emerged as a hero not only for his immense talent, but also for the fact that the sub-continent which has been home to some of the most sly spin bowlers had never seen such a fine pace bowler. This feat though exemplar, is not toasted any more than the six on the last ball by Miandad or the heroics of Inzamam.
Even if this argument is conceded that there are bowlers who have their legend on a par with batsmen, what cannot be ignored is that the legend gains prominence only when an ultimate milestone is crossed, whether at the national or international level. Until then the bowler remains under the shadows of the batsmen who rule the game. A lot has to do with the way the game is perceived. Cricket in its present form is biased towards batsmen by offering them plenty of opportunities to mark successes. A batsman is received well whenever he hits a half-century or a century. Similar opportunities are not present for the bowler. A three wicket haul or a fiver often changes the course of a match but the crowd rarely acknowledges it as a special effort. A bowler hardly gets his due when he could be bowling his heart out but without any wicket to his name. It is this phenomenon of ‘immediate recognition’ reserved only for the batsmen that creates the difference. So acute is this phenomenon that even a four or a six fetches a rapturous applause from the crowd but never so on a probing maiden over from a bowler. Somehow a three wicket haul is not as same as a half-century or a fiver same as a century. The spectator as unmindful as a cow on an Indian street doesn’t accord importance to a good spell from a bowler. But why talk only about the bowlers when behind the stumps the wicket keeper could be a real gem or the fielder at point might be absolutely brilliant. The cliché of the unsung hero cannot be better placed anywhere else.
The tragedy of the game is that the scoreboard doesn’t have enough space to register the efforts of a player; it only manages to squeeze in the match summary.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My Angel has Died

My Angel has died; I walk alone…
There is nary a soul; my heart is stone...

kis ko aati hai masihaayee kise aawaaz doon
bol ae' khoonkhaar tanhaayee kise aawaaz doon

It’s past midnight and I am going to the office. I look up at the sky. Stars look unfamiliar to me. My eyes are used to electric lights. I discern only the road lights – bright and shiny. These are my stars.

oof khamoshi ki ye aahen dil ko barmaati huyee
oof ye sannaate ki shehnaayee kise awaaz doon

I enter the office building. The guard smiles at me. He never forgets to greet me.

It’s been two months now that we have started sharing the same hours. He stands at guard from midnight till morning – ever so diligent, ever so alert; while I sit in my cubicle from midnight till morning peering into the emptiness of an unknown world they call windows.

chup rahoon to har nafas dasta hai naagan ki tarah
aah bharne mein hai ruswaayee kise awaaz doon

I stand in front of the lift. I press the button and as if roused from sleep the lift yawns open to let me in.

The lift makes me feel fly. Earth looks good from top.
I have known earth only from top - from inside the lift.

My earth has lush grass but I don’t walk on it. My earth has trees swinging in arms, and leaves playing in the wind. But I never feel the breeze through my hair.

I don’t even remember when I last smelled a rose.

tabiyat in dinon begaana-e-gham hoti jaati hai
mere hisse ki goya har khushi kam hoti jaati hai

I sit alone in my cubicle; alone in the office.
My pc is staring at me. I stare back at it. It’s a game we’ve been playing for long.
I’ve never won it. My eyes grow tired. They pain, but the pc still stares at me.

The Outlook pops. I need to make a call to onsite.

The call connects. The phone at other end is ringing. The incessant drone of the phone is getting louder. It echoes inside my brain. Is he there?

“You have reached the voice-mail…”

It’s so irritating! I came all the way from my home and that too at this hour of midnight, only to reach the voice-mail!

Did I say home? Or should I be saying 'room'?

Should I say I came all the way from my room?

It isn’t my home. It’s just a room.
I left my home years ago.
I left my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother.

And I do them a favor by paying them a visit every Diwali.

My fingers start punching the numbers on the phone. My mind is numb but still my fingers move. They don’t need any guidance. They find there way on their own.

I again dial the number.
“You have reached the voice-mail…”
He is not there.

“Hey, I heard you had a great time last night! How was the party?”

This was two days ago.
We had a project party. Drinks flowed, jokes cracked, and mood was high. People laughed, and they had fun. I looked around and saw smiling faces, and bright eyes; but nothing seemed real.
The laughter rang hollow. The eyes belied the truth which was all too visible.

The undercurrent of desperation as pints of liquor- the latest elixir of life got drained in an effort to escape from a world which straitjackets us into a mechanical rhythm minus feelings minus heart minus warmth was writ large on every face.

In those three hours we were trying to escape this world and float away into emptiness.

qayamat kya! ye ai husn-e-do-aalam hoti jaati hai
ke mehfil to wahi hai dilkashi kam hoti jaati hai

I will wait a while before calling him again.

What did she say this morning? How could she say so?
Doesn’t she know how busy I am? I forgot her birthday. So what?
People do forget things.

We had met last winter.
She had been standing behind me waiting for me to open the door. She didn’t have her ID and I was talking over the phone.
I again saw her at the cafeteria. She saw me and there was the faintest of a smile on her face. My heart missed a beat. I knew I was smitten.

Those were good days.

Then one day the bond snapped.
I had been staying up nights at the office for quite some time then. The schedule started taking its toll.
The spite within me welled up.

And it slowly spilled over.

What seemed as a smooth china clay now had a crack which no matter what could not be erased.

wahi hai shaahid-o-saaqi magar dil bujhta jaata hai
wahi hai shamma lekin roshni kam hoti jaati hai

I look at the mail. Should I call again?
My fingers have dialed the number. I am waiting for him to answer the call.
“You have reached the voice-mail…”

Why did I come? Why do I ever come?

I shut down the pc. The monitor blinks off.
I get up and move towards the door.

The door of the lift opens. But I won’t take the lift. I head towards the stairs. It’s been a long time since I took the stairs. Why I never did so, I don’t know. It’s taking time to get down, and I feel tired. I sit down on the stairs.

Why do people take the lift and not the stairs? Is it because it is fast? Do you really save time if you take the lift!? Is there a race on?
It’s a rat race. And you need to win it. This is the maxim which rules the world. But where am I in this? Even if I win this race, I’ll still be a rat.

The marble on which I sit is cold.
And cold is this world. A lifeless, colorless, and a cold desert; where, it seems like one is running after a mirage that leads to another, and another in a never ending search for bliss.

I look at my hands.

Mere haathon ki chaho to talaashi le lo
Mere haathon mein lakiron ke siva aur kuch bhi nahi.

There’s my life-line. Broken and cut into pieces; just as torn as my life is today.

Itne hisson mein bat chukka hun main
Mere hisse mein kuch bacha hi nahi

I labor through those pieces, stepping from one piece to the other, knowing not when I left behind my innocence, knowing not when I stepped into chicanery.

I feel like crying.
But barren are these eyes which in an attempt so helpless to well up tears manage only a heartless dry smoke to escape my eyes.

I walk out of the building and head towards my bike.

I have reached my room. There is no electricity.
I grope in the dark feeling for some support. My hands fumble for my cell phone. I switch on the phone and the light falls on my desk. There is a candle kept on it. A mask I had bought a few days ago lies beside it.
The peculiar angle of the light makes the mask look weird - a toothless grin on a formless stretch of skin.

I lie down and stare at the candle which burns by my bed.
The wax drips from the sides of the candle as it burns. The flame is struggling to stay alive as it fights the surrounding darkness. It flickers; ducks and almost dies, but there is still a timid flame alive. I can feel the Darkness sneer at the flame. It is wearing my mask. It chuckles with the toothless grin on its face as it lurks behind with its evil cloak ready to snuff out the life of the flame.

The lone flame in the room is fighting a losing battle. It is shy of growing back to its full strength. A tear of wax wells up by the flame. Slowly, almost reluctantly it licks its way down the sides of the candle, and settles at the foot of the stem as if to pay its last homage before it becomes cold and hard.

The candle weeps at its fate.
And how cruel the fate is; that it makes the candle witness its own end.

wahi hai zindagi lekin Jigar ye haal hai apnaa
ke jaise zindagi se zindagi kam hoti jaati hai

I close my eyes.
I see a big room. There is only me and its dark all around. Suddenly a bulb lights up above me. The floor starts to move. I start walking. The floor has picked up speed. It’s a giant treadmill. I start running. More lights get switched on. There are people who are also running along with me. They try to outpace each other. As if on cue, the treadmill too picks up speed. The harder they try, the faster the treadmill runs.

My legs are aching. Can I slow down? There is a man running in front of me. I can see he is tired. He is panting hard, trying to keep up his pace. Will he keep running or slow down?
He slows down; but the moment he does so, he is thrown off the treadmill and falls deep down below. He searches for a firm footing and stands up to look up at us.
People running along with me are laughing at him.
“There goes a loser”, said someone.
“Good riddance”, someone else chipped in.
The man below strains his neck to look upwards towards a group of people running a couple of feet away from me. He waves at them, and tries to get their attention. They are his friends. Or, once, were his friends. And this was not very long ago until he fell down from the treadmill.
The man below seeks their help. His friends ignore him. He pleads and implores; but his friends have joined others in pillorying him. He cries at this betrayal and walks away into darkness, failed, derided and lost.

The treadmill has picked up speed.
I force myself to run faster lest I fall like that man. How long can I continue like this? It seems that the mill will keep on gaining speed.
My breath is coming in gasps. My legs feel like a pair of heavy weights. I lug at them to keep in motion. This can’t continue for long. My legs would give away; I would fall off the mill, and meet the same fate.
I look down from the mill. There is a group already waiting there looking up at me. They know I will be the next one to fall off. They are already whetting their tongues, ready to pounce on me with sharp edged words of ridicule and scorn. Their eagerness terrifies me.

O, how I wish to get down this treadmill! How I wish to run at my own pace!

But I fear if I can do so.

I will be branded a failure, a disgrace - an incompetent who was not man enough to face the tide.
My own people would stop recognizing me. The little respect which I command in their eyes would dissolve into contempt. They will put on act of sympathy, but their sympathies would be laced with poison tipped barbs to hurt where it hurts most.

Whom would I turn to? My heart would bleed, but who would lend me a patient ear?

Yaar se gam kehke to khush ho, Lekin tum ye kya jaano
Tum apna rona rote the, Vo dil mein hasta hoga

I have to keep running.
I have to keep running even if I am in pain.

Helpless and without a choice, this chase will continue.

Regardless of whether you reduce yourself to a lifeless machine, regardless of whether you sink and drown yourself in pain and death, this chase for the Unknown, which tempts and tricks you to believe that, there is indeed a reward at the end and is worth enough to run for, will continue.

I continue running. One by one the bulbs switch off. People start disappearing beside me. The bulb above me switches off.

I open my eyes, and a tear rolls down my cheek.

Zindagi si koi saza hi nahi
Aur kya jurm hai pata hi nahi

* 1 – Josh Malihabadi; 2 – Jigar Moradabadi; 3 – Sudarshan Fakir (?); 4 – Nida Fazli ; 5 – Javed Akhtar

Thursday, January 17, 2008

कुछ ख़ास है...

कभी लगता है…
क्या ख़ास है इसमे
की एक नया साल आया है

कभी लगता है…
क्यों खुश हैं हम
की एक और इंतज़ार ख़त्म हुआ है

कभी लगता है…
झूठी उम्मीद है ये
की कुछ बदलेगा अब -
ये साल कुछ बदलने आया है

उस दर्द, उस चोट को
पीछे छोड़ आया है
जहाँ वक्त ने छीनी
थी मुस्कान, तोड़े थे
जहाँ सिर्फ़ गम
का सर्मायाह है

फ़िर लगता है…
कुछ ख़ास है इसमे
की एक नया साल आया है

रूकती साँसे
फ़िर जगाने आया है
सूनी आँखें
फ़िर बोल उठें
रोते हुए बच्चे
फ़िर हस पढे
लुटे हुए बाज़ार को
उसकी रौनक
लौटाने आया है

हाँ अब लगता है
कुछ ख़ास है इसमे
की फ़िर एक नया साल आया है

मेरी आरज़ू है ये
मेरी दुआ कबूल कर
सबके आँगन में रौशनी हो
खुशियाँ सबके दर पे गूंजे
हर नयी सुबह
किसी हाथ की कटोरी
में नए रंग लाये
बस अब तेरी मेहर हो
और ये साल कुछ ख़ास हो जाए…