Thursday, July 26, 2007

In Vino Pathos

Shame and scandal again in this year's Tour de France, and heroes are tumbling off pedestals with alarming regularity. Vinokourov and the entire Astana team were banned yesterday and the Yellow Jersey Rasmussen was unceremoniously booted out today after a gutsy stage win only the day before.

It's an arduous sport, this cycling. It's all about the physical, then it's all about the mental and then it's about the human body again. I couldn't ride out a kilometre with 60 stitches in my knees and elbow, leave alone stretches of 150-220 km daily for a fortnight. Then I wouldn't assume that I could get illegal blood transfusions and get away with it, not when the sport and its officials are in such uber suspicious mode.

Why would a rider do it? Is good performance so addictive? Is it that frustrating not to have your body cooperate that you simply HAVE to help it along? Is it worth it, to be able to fly along mountain curves, cross that white line first, pump the air when you know you could just as soon be flying home in disgrace, in tears?

I'm all for clean sport and fairness, of course I am. But I can't help feeling for the desperation these men feel, the loneliness that must grip at the end of a long stage, when you have finished way down the lists, in a body that can't execute what the mind can imagine. A cyclist on dope is a pathetic creature.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thanks for all the magic, Jo

One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.

Three days to go, my counter says, before we hold Deathly Hallows in our hands. My feelings are so chaotic, I become incoherent. The theories buzz feverishly in my head, there is mounting excitement, poignancy that this is the end of an intense seven-year stretch of fandom, and fear that the inevitable deaths will cast a cloud over what surely will be the final victory.

I am now wondering if I should permit myself to start on Half-Blood Prince, which I have been straining at the leash to do anytime these past weeks. The mother is on Azkaban and Shweta is trying to finish work so as to leave Saturday completely guilt-free. The father is bemused with all this preoccupation and has very graciously promised not to repeat a single HP spoiler or news and even consented not to switch on the TV the whole of July 21st.

There is of course no dearth of reading material on the internet. There are excellent essays everywhere, and the tension among fans is quite palpable. I particularly recommend this one called Harry Potter and the Nice Big Knot by Susan Faust. In fact, this entire list if you have time on your hands.

What does it take to bond so many people at once? I find the universality of it quite astounding. Are we that similar under the skin? JK Rowling’s Harry Potter story is a rather moral one. She doesn’t preach but the values she holds up are unimpeachable. If that should find resonance with so many millions, it makes me feel very hopeful, very un-cynical.

And she has quite as many fans as Harry. On the forums, someone called joshswenson posts in anticipation of Book Seven:
Jo, please remember, you tread hallowed ground
Our childhood laid bare, our heart strings unwound.
We’re scared silly, we admit it, but you have our trust.
Go now, be brave, and do what you must.

One last request, we ask: please be our Patronus
And most of all thanks for the magic you’ve shown us.
What will happen to the Harry Potter phenomenon after this? Will it die out once it is all known, fizzle out like a hex that needs unblinking eye contact? Will later generations even understand what it was like to grow with Harry Potter? What it was like to wait between books, to be told a story over ten years? Like Sheherzade’s Caliph. Perhaps not. Which makes being part of this big pan-world hoopla really special.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Monsoons, Maredumilli

Occurs belatedly that I said I was going to Maredumilli, went, had a wonderful time and never said anything about it.

It was just as I had predicted. We were moving straight into the path of the depression exactly on the day it crossed the coast and we spent a considerable part of the three days either getting wet or trying not to.

Rajahmundry was mostly spent at the train station, organising tarpaulins for the luggage. A brief glimpse of the Godavari and the famous bridges across it and soon we were hurtling along to Maredumilli. The tarpaulins were well worth the wait, because soon enough the heavens opened. Car windows were rolled up but fat droplets sneaked in anyway.

This patch of Andhra has some of the finest forests in the state and they look unbelievably beautiful in the rain… we sighed at every turn. The camp site was a lovely spot. On a slight hillock with the Valamuru stream curling around it. About a dozen tents neatly arranged. The facilities however were rudimentary and every meal was brought in from elsewhere. Not having coffee – or failing that, tea – first thing in the morning is more basic than I like.

Dry enough to begin with, the tents got progressively damper around the edges; and what with all our sodden stuff hanging from tent openings or draped over packs… well, it was wet. Then there were meals. There was no concrete structure at the camp site, and meals were had under this lovely machaan built around a Mangifera indica. Here we stood huddled as we ate, being dripped on from between the planks above us. The generator lights attracted insects but we tucked in generously, casually plucking out insects from our food as we went.

The stream I mentioned had a little low bridge over it. Two days of incessant rain later, the water had risen and sloshed cheerfully over the bridge. We, who had just pulled on our socks and shoes, sat down to take them off again to cross over. Incredibly nice to walk the bridge with water swirling around the ankles, though. Good we didn’t know it when we dangled our feet in its waters but the stream is supposed to have quite a few crocodiles.

Birding in these circumstances was surprisingly good, because when it did stop raining for even half hour stretches, the birds came out in plentiful numbers. At least five lifers for me: the Large Yellow-naped Woodpecker, Crimson Sunbird, the Orange-throated Green Pigeon, the Lorikeet and the Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch. As we settled ourselves in our jeeps to head back to Rajahmundry, the sun came out. Of course it would!

People back home were worried, we learnt later, because there was flooding in Kurnool and elsewhere, with loss of lives and property. Families exchanged phone calls for news and everyone wondered at our sanity in going off to the wild at such a time. Fortunately we encountered no such troubles and came back in blithe ignorance of what was happening elsewhere. Much fun came.

Monday, July 02, 2007

You go, Mika Brzezinski

ज़िन्दगी भर मेरे काम आये उसूल
एक एक कर उन्हें बेचा किया
- जावेद अख़्तर

It is ridiculous to feel sorry for people who're perfectly happy with their lives but for some years now I've felt a pang for people intent on making a career in the media. High-minded journalistic values make way for baser priorities and if you're to stay in the business, you must play the game by other people's rules. It must be frustrating. At least I know I have been.

But with some people, something's gotta give. Look at how this lady, newsreader Mika Brzezinski on the cable news channel MSNBC, deals with it.
The story's here, and the clip is here: