Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fuji - An anniversary and an experience

They said, no trip to Tokyo in summer is complete without climbing Mt. Fuji. It is the highest point in Japan. A volcano that is dormant since the 1700s. But climb the behemoth? And well, given the fact that the only thing I have ever climbed is a staircase, (and fallen and twisted my ankle a couple of times over there as well,) I was of the opinion that climbing and I were poles apart. I mean, I’d ask, of what joy is climbing? You subject your body to physical stress and strain, and at times even pain, to reach the top of a mountain, and then what? Subject yourself to more pain and start coming down!!! But somehow, on account of inputs from a brother, a couple of colleagues, my boss at work and my sister, (who had gone hiking in the Alps…. Later she told me that she had only climbed down and had taken a cable car up!!) I was intrigued by the idea of climbing Mt Fuji. But I was a little apprehensive, since my level of exercise was almost zero, on account of work pressures (oh yea, I know, it is the standard excuse!!!). And the last thing I wanted was for the people in my group to get held up because of me! But somehow, it seemed as though the fact that I was in Tokyo in summer, and that there had been a couple of weekends with no rain, was more than co-incidental. I took it as a sign that maybe I must climb after all. Besides, it can sound pretty momentous if I started my climbing escapades from the highest mountain in Japan. (Maybe culminating in climbing the highest mountain in the world…. I immediately imagined!!) So I thought, maybe I must give it a shot.

Then started multiple levels of research. The internet. People describing what they did, what they saw, how they went up, what to expect, what not to expect and so on. It was worth a great read. In fact those transcripts were the primary motivation for me to pen my experience as well. The first thing I came across, in most places was that one is a fool if he comes to Japan and doesn’t climb Fuji, and he is an even greater fool if he climbs twice. Hmm, interesting indeed. And then there were the endless lists of do’s and don’ts. Carry water, since water in the small stalls up the mountain can be pretty expensive, a 1000 yen as well. Carry light food, energy bars, a good jacket, a rain coat and so on. So we made a nice plan. We found a long weekend. 14, 15, 16 July. Great! Middle of summer, plus, we leave on Saturday (14th) and come down on Sunday. Rest all of Monday tending to all the sore ankles and backs. And off to work on Tuesday. To begin, we wanted to test our forbearance. So we set off on a mammoth sightseeing spree on foot. We decided one Sunday to take off to the Meiji shrine, and walk from Meiji, through Harajuku, Omotesando all the way to Shibuya, stroll in Shibuya, and then take the train back to Akasaka. We survived, with no painful joints! Yippee, we were not that old yet!!! So the plan stood. WE WILL CLIMB FUJI ON 14TH JULY. But the weather played spoilsport, and there was a typhoon alert, and to complicate matters, we had a massive earthquake at Nigata, and I felt that maybe I was reading the signs all wrong.

The subsequent weekend was again lost in poor weather, and we kept wondering whether the skies would clear at all! And then came the week of 28th and 29th of July. On Friday, the 27th, we realized that we would not have any work over the weekend, and the weather forecast had been good as well. So the wish to climb started growing in us again. We were Mansi, Neha, and I. We then caught hold of another chap, Siva and convinced him to come along as well. All like minded crazy enthusiastic people. Mansi and Neha had enthusiasm that was sky high. Given a choice, their enthu alone could have launched them to the top of the mountain. Mansi said that she knew a chap who had climbed Fuji before and he was ready to come along with us now as well. Almost instantaneously the words I had read off the internet in relation to Mt. Fuji flashed upon my mind. We nevertheless went to meet him to know what the experience would be like and what we should and shouldn’t expect. So off we went, and met Arun at Miami Garden, and over pizzas and beers, (I still think that maybe the beers convinced Arun to come along with us!!!), discussed his previous experience of climbing Fuji. He described his attempt and to say the least it was intriguing. We decided that we were not leaving Japan without climbing Mt Fuji.

After dinner, Mansi and I went shopping to get some essential reinforcements on the khaana front from Hanamasa! We bought cookies, bananas, chocolates and water. The plan was to meet Arun and Mangesh at Shinjuku station around noon on Saturday and the follow the leader for the rest of the way. So after a good sleep, we set off in the morning to Shinjuku station, met the guys and from then on, the journey began.

From Shinjuku, we took the Fuji Limited Express to Otsuki. This was like the Via Rail in Canada, where you could turn your seats to face one another, and there were large glass windows on either side, offering you a lovely view of the rich Japanese countryside. This took close to 45 minutes. Thereafter, from Otsuki we took another train to Kawaguchiko. Over here, by paying an additional 100 yen per person, we could get into a special coach that had only one huge set of sofas. The sofas faced a large window, and all of us settled on the couch watching the lovely countryside go fleeting by. We sat and took tons of pictures. And soon, we caught our first glimpse of THE MT. FUJI. A weird sense of anticipation came over us as we crowded around the window cameras in hand to capture the mountain we would be climbing soon. We soon reached Kawaguchiko station, and from there, we took a bus that was to take us to the 5th station on the Yamanoshi prefecture. We were to start our ascent from there, all the way to the top… hopefully. We reached the climbing point around 5 pm, and again took numerous pictures while standing down at the 5th station, and all these pictures have us smiling with glee!!!! (Oh yea, we had no clue of what was to follow). And from there began the experience.

At the base camp, we bought gloves, and the climbing sticks. There is a small bell tied to the top of the stick. Apparently that bell is for fending off bears!!! However, as you start climbing the constant clang of the bells on the sticks of the enthusiastic climbers tends to get to you. So, we all untied our bells and put them away. The initial part of the climb was like climbing a staircase. The sun was on its way down and we got a chance to savor the lovely surroundings. There is a lovely wooded area; fully green, smaller hills reside in adjoining areas, all in all making the sight very pretty. As we started climbing, the lack of exercise began getting to me, and I had to stop to catch my breath. What happens is that as you climb, your heart begins to beat faster, and you encounter a dropping level of oxygen in the air. If the situation goes out of control, you fall prey to what is called altitude sickness. Symptoms. You get dizzy, feel like throwing up and generally make a mess of the climbing experience. Yes, I mean it literally as well. I was in no mood to let that happen. The key? Stop every few minutes, and regain your breath. As we started climbing, I was anxious to know whether we had made sizeable progress. And as we climbed, we thought we had crossed the 6th station, which might have been a tiny stop somewhere in between. So filled with a sense of achievement, in spite of the fact that I had begun creaking in places, we climbed for nearly 2 hrs, only to be met by a huge sign, saying that we had reached the 6th station! That was the first time I felt a slight sense of despair. (The first in a huge series!) But the enthusiasm had not yet begun to flag. So we continued after a small stop. We called it a Sutta stop, since the guys would be busy stopping for a smoke, and we’d stop to catch our breath, senses, and maybe rest our aching legs a little bit. As we ascended towards the 7th station, the sun had begun to set and a lovely moon came out. It then occurred to us that we were climbing on a full moon night, that too, unwittingly chosen. Then we went on further to the 7th station. This climb took comparatively lesser time. Once at the 7th station, we stopped for a while longer, and this is where the cold began to hit us. Coming from tropical countries, all of us were cold; at least I was and add to it the fact that I couldn’t fill my lungs with hot tobacco smoke to keep warm. Only then did we realize that we had managed this far without actually feeling cold, only because of the calories we were burning! The minute we stopped, we shivered. Whew!!! Soon we got moving, and started off towards the 8th station. This was a fairly routine climb, with chain-link fences bordering the climbing route. From down below, we saw a red Tori, further up and we felt that this was the top. But, when we came to the 8th station, we got a rude shock, and realized, rather despondently that Japanese put Toris everywhere!

We then went from 8 to 9. The climb got a bit arduous here and hence exciting, as we tried to move on further. It was getting colder, steeper and windier. As we moved on further, we noticed that the moon was now on the other side of the mountain. Also, the climb was getting rocky and steep. The gradient was almost 80 degrees! We couldn’t climb as effortlessly on two legs as we had climbed previously. This portion of the climb had to be executed on all fours. We literally crawled, gripping rock crevices and finding foot holds in the rocky mountain face. There were signs here and about notifying climbers that it would get pretty windy as we went further, and true to the signs, it got really windy. As we glanced to the side, we noticed a huge patch of snow on the mountain slope. And we realized that the worst was yet to come. And sure enough, it started to rain. It was so cold! SO SO COLD! Add to it the fatigue of having climbed for so long, on all fours. So we had to stop, and when we did, we shivered, BIG TIME! The rain, the wind, and the sub-zero temperatures made it really difficult to keep strong. There was a shack at the 9th station. All of us bee-lined in front of it got in and went to a coal fire there and warmed our hands. Man that place was divine. Given a choice I would have preferred to be there till sunrise! But the shack owner was one step away from throwing us freeloaders out of the shack! So we sadly moved on! Sigh! For the first time, (again the first in a long series) I began to wonder why people climb! Braving the cold, the wind, the rains, and the glaring question was…. WHY DO PEOPLE CLIMB????

By now, our energy had begun to flag. We were on the sunrise face of the mountain and suddenly, WHAM! Up ahead, we saw almost 9 zigzag rows of people snaking their way up – all the way to the top! This was where all of us sighed in unison! NO! We’d climb; stop, almost as if we were in a queue. We saw the sun come up behind us, but we had not yet reached the peak. We were however not really too bothered about that fact. We were actually happy that the sun had finally come up. At least the weather would get a little warmer, if not anything else! For the first time in life, I welcomed the sunrise, (since otherwise it is always ‘Jeez why is it morning already!!!’) By the time we reached the top, final, white Tori at the top, it was around 7 a.m.

The guys went off to eat something but I stayed back to ….. SLEEP! I woke up after a while, and went off in search of the Fuji post office to post the cards I had brought with me. On my way, I passed the crater. I had read in the internet accounts that people generally walk all around the crater. But, in my case, I neither had the enthusiasm, nor the energy to walk around a gaping hole! Let alone walk around, I was having trouble walking on level ground! So I stood at the edge, and peered down below. Not a very pretty sight!!! I checked in some stalls, and they said that the post office was a good half hour away. Whoa! I didn’t have the time or the energy to walk so much, so in true Indian nature I bartered 2 of the vendor’s cards for two of my own and asked him to post them for me. He agreed and sure enough, they have reached their recipients! Marked ‘Mt. Fuji’, making them a very special collectible. I then got back to our group, and Siva, Arun and Mansi took our sticks for stamping, and soon thereafter we began the second leg of the journey – the downhill climb.

To begin with, we all started coming down together, and then, unable to maintain pace, we split into 3 groups of 2 each. Siva was my climbing down partner, and I am really sorry about that. I am by and far a very poor climbing down partner, with the capability to drive away all semblances of sharafat and gentility from a decent person! Arun had told us that coming down would be easier and faster, since the volcanic mud would be loose, and we could easily slide down! That is soooooooo not true… and I realized it only after I had gone all the way up and was forced to have to come down! What happened was, we began rather effortlessly, again fuelled by will power, with a 20 degree gradient and a mild wind for company. In just a few minutes however, it began to rain and it rained hard. We were engulfed in clouds, and felt the sudden coolness as a cloud wafted past us. So the wet mud was not conducive to sliding and whooppaa… plop.. plop… I landed on the ground at least 6-7 times, twisting my ankle (which has had a history of soreness) at least twice. My gloves were wet and I could barely grip my stick, since my fingers were getting numb. But climbing sans gloves was tough, since volcanic soil can be abrasive, when you fall, and so my palms got scratched a good many times. So there I was, cold, distraught and my ankle was in agony. Poor Siva – he had to put up with all these delays – tremendous patience indeed. I still remember the gentle exhortations – ‘Just one more lane – one more’ all in an attempt to jagao the dead adventurous spirit in me. Sorry man!!!

At one stage, I was really frustrated, since I had no idea how much more had to be traversed. We had a feeling that we had actually covered a decent amount of ground, and I felt that we would have not more than around 2.5 kms. We stopped some people, and asked them and they said that we still had around 5.5 kms left. I was in despair, downcast, down in the dumps, down everywhere except down at the foot of the mountain. I wished for a helicopter to appear out of nowhere and take me back to Kioicho. I wondered about the people I hadn’t said bye to before leaving and remembered the movie Cast Away. But leaving the histrionics aside, we had to move on. And move on we must. Determination kicked in – having to get over the frustration and physical pain to move on. My knees shook each time I stopped, thanks to the cold and now my calves were acting queasy as well. And I sooooooooo wanted to sleep! But we moved on and finally managed to reach the sixth station. After this, we took a detour and came through a forested route, which, for the record was lovely. The weather was now dew-fresh. And the prospect of soon reaching the base was even more enticing. Presently we reached the fifth station. We then washed up, posed for pictures and finally left the mountain after bidding adieu to the great Fuji san.

Once out of there and on the way back home, we all spoke of the experience and after I reached my apartment, I had the opportunity to sit back and reflect. I felt happy that I had decided to ‘go for it.’ It was something I had never tried before. Something adventurous I had never done. So what if it isn’t as precarious and life threatening as an Ethan Hunt climb in MI-2? It was nonetheless pushing my body to the frontiers. To the edge of forbearance and tolerance. It felt good to know that I had taken the plunge to put myself through this to experience the exhilaration that is the ‘I am at the top’ feeling. If someone were to ask me what I gained through the climb, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them then. Because I didn’t see the lakes, thanks to the clouds, didn’t walk along the crater, since it was too tiring, didn’t catch the sunrise at the peak, and the downhill trip was painful. But somewhere, a some other level, there was a certain weird sense of accomplishment and happiness.

So today, one year later, I do nothing but look back at the experience fondly, and wish I could climb another mountain soon!

The group - Arun Bhutra, Mangesh Ambetkar, S J Sivaraman, Mansi Dalvi, Neha Grover, Sindhu Subramaniam - A rocking team who made it all possible.....

Pictures courtesy - Arun, Mangesh, Mansi, Neha, Siva and I........

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The pressures of childhood...........

Well, I saw an episode of BONES yesterday, and that really provoked a lot of thoughts. The theme covered two topics on which I have had rather strong sentiments about. Well, for those who don’t know BONES, it is an excellent show that generally revolves around a newly found skeleton every week. It is the job of the forensic experts to trace a face, figure out who the skeleton was when it was more than just bones, and eventually trace the killer. All within the one hour. And this makes the show totally power packed. Anyway, yesterday’s show spoke about the skeleton of a 9 year old female, who had been a kiddie beauty pageant winner. The suspects ranged from a demanding parent, a competitor’s miffed mother, another kid’s creepy looking elder brother and hold your breath….. another 9 year old! The killer…. The 9 year old!!!

They say television more often than not projects current society or at least a projected society of the future. (Please do not include regressive daytime soaps or the Hindi K serials!!! They don’t represent television as a genre!) So, this episode covered two topics – pressure on kids and glamour. So I was tempted to write ‘A Childhood lost…. II’. I still remember, many households in our native village, which I would visit during vacations, would have at least 2 kids. And the parents there would feel very proud if their kids could recite shlokas coherently. “You know, Ganesh can recite 8 verses of the Geeta without prompting, and he is 4.” This statement would be accompanied by a beaming face, full of pride! And today, people take pride in the fact that their child can sing ‘Ishq Kameena’ or even dance hideously to those tunes! I am not terribly old. But yes, I have seen the decadence if I can call it, in front of my own eyes. It would have been better if this was restricted to the households and family-friends parties. But, now, we have managed to broadcast this crass show on national television. The result? It is for all to see. One kid was paralyzed since she suffered a terrific shock at being ridiculed on national television. Now we all know how hideous it is to be made fun of in front of a classroom full of kids our own age. While competing, the motivation is to become a star in front of the nation. The ultimate exaltation. Unfortunately, the fall is equally, if not more precipitous. And kids till the age of 12, are not psychologically strong enough to handle this hit. At an age when all they should ideally think of revolves around amusement parks, swings, clowns, games, playing and of course school, I guess people choose to burden them with careers, glamour, fame and fortune. There is a time and an age for everything. Just like how you can’t be a football star at 80, you cannot be expected to be a celebrity at 8, and lead a normal life. Every star has a high and a low. It takes tremendous courage, strength and grit to put up with failure and ridicule. This maturity comes with age.

The second issue is glamour. This has been an industry that has fascinated me since ages. Not for any other reason except the fact that it aims to make money through people’s vanity. What is in vogue today will be passé tomorrow! And all we can do is try to continuously match up. I am reminded of a time when I was a little girl. There was this real mean older girl in the neighborhood. She had a huge bunch of cousins and all these people were my only ‘friends’. I still remember one day, when we were going to go outside to play, they were just getting out as well. And all of them were wearing a certain green hair band. Mine was red. And the mean girl said, “we are all green… you are only red.” I ran back home, and pulled out my green band, and went out, only to see them all wearing red now. “we are all red, you are only green.” I guess I got my first lesson of not wanting to play match up, pretty early on in life. But the world of glamour is harsher, meaner. You need to have the perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect smile, every single minute. Add to it the bitchiness and backbiting tendency of everyone who wants to make it to the top. The place at the top has room for just one person. And it is a crazy world out there with everyone kicking and scratching and screaming, pulling down those who managed to rise up. The result? Many dope to doom! The most prominent case, which was also made into a movie, is the case of Gia – immortalized by Angelina Jolie in a movie by the same name. Closer home, we have Shivani Kapur and Geetanjali Nagpal, the latter notoriously found begging on the streets of Delhi. Imagine, 25 year old seasoned arc light experts buckle under the pressure. And kiddie beauty pageants are a craze in the US. They have always been so over the years. I don’t think I need to describe the immense psychological pressure it puts on these kids. I don’t even need to describe the tremendous consequences.

I wish I could make an earnest appeal to all the fame hungry parents out there. Please let the kids be happy. They need to enjoy life. See the world, smell the fresh rain soaked mud, scream from the top of a windmill, run barefoot in the waves, eat ice creams and chocolates without worrying about calories and inches. Just please return their childhood to them and take pride in the fact that their innocence is intact, and not in the fact that they can identically imitate Hrithik Roshan’s dance steps!

Friday, July 11, 2008

A day in the life of..........

It’s a Friday night. Cool and windy and here I am, reflecting over the week that was. What a Wednesday! I set out to work, expecting the day to be like any other day at a new workplace. Definitely a special day for me, but I was a bit downcast, since I knew no one at the new place and no one in turn knew me! Quiet, aloof, totally sequestered. So I never expected any warm fuzzy, effusive treatment. Indifference, apathy….. ‘just another day in the life of….’ Was what I was expecting. But I should perhaps have taken a hint from the way the night panned out, given the fact that some of my buddies decided to celebrate the joys of having endured me for so long, and felt that the moment wherein I added yet another year to my existence, was by and far, most opportune for doing so! Well, Yanni who was ‘playing by heart’ had to be paused as the wishes came pouring in. One of them was actually awake waaaay beyond his bed time in his time zone, to do the honors…..’you really should have slept dude!!!’ Although no doubt very sweet, all this in no way came even close to being the proverbial swallow foreboding a summer.

The actual day started with a call from a long lost friend, someone I hadn’t spoken to ever since she’d left for the US. I, for one, never expected her to remember, let alone call!!!! Thereafter a bunch of friends who had been associated with me through different stages of life called up. We have this typical ‘calling group’ so to say, although we never refer to ourselves as such. Though the crossroads of life have managed to take us to totally different corners of the world, both in terms of our respective fields and in terms of geographical locations, we ensure we call each other up on our birthdays at least as a means of keeping in touch. As one of my friends remarked, ‘Isi bahaane saal mein do baar toh we touch base’. That is what happens. Like Davies has said, “a poor life this, if full of care… we have no time to stand and stare.” But then every year, we solemnly decide to be more punctual and focused on our meetings and ‘keeping in touch’ acts, although the ‘I’ for Implementation is essentially missing. Well, my only saving grace is the fact that we, till date have been up to date on the major milestones in each other’s life! (we all know who is seeing who, we also know when who is tying the knot. – essential information you see… our shopping calendars have to be adjusted accordingly.) Anyway, enough of of reflective musings. Back to more mundane thoughts!
It has been over a month since I last bid adieu to the i firm. The i firm………..My first job, my first exposure to the big bad world of corporate garbage. My first friendships in a setting not allied with assignments, projects, mid-terms and first class. Many old uncles and aunties who had braved the corporate stormy weather, had warned me that the workplace is where you work and only work. Relationships – at the altar. Well, whether they meant – forged at the altar or sacrificed at the altar, I didn’t understand back then. I wasn’t even interested in finding out. So at the end of my tenure at the i firm, the cynic in me just said that having good relationships with a handful of people at work was just a coincidence. The guiding dictum would most certainly be - out of sight, out of mind. I knew it too. There would be many people waiting in line to occupy the ‘window seat’. That I once occupied the same, would be a fact pretty much forgotten. My ego wished that the forgetting didn’t happen too soon. But even if it did, I was prepared to be ready for it… or at least so I thought! However, when the people I had interacted with at work began to call and wish me, I felt humbled, small, emotional, moved. You name it, I was it! They called... From my first friend at work to the last one I made before I left, they called. Even people I had interacted with during a small project in South Africa, called, not minding weird time zones.... They took the time out to wish someone who had just been a passing phase in their lives. And this list, believe me, included the likes of the Chieftain of our whole division, my ex-boss, who incidentally happens to head our whole tech team! And of course, the rest of my team mates!
As if that were not enough, around mid afternoon, the security guy comes in saying that I have a special delivery. And what is it? A 2 ft tall huuuge bouquet, addressed to me at my new workplace, sender – our secret code word – privy to only my ex team! Everyone in my new workplace was shocked! Surprised would be an understatement. Shell-shocked! Stunned! Yeah maybe even all of those feelings combined. When I told my friends about this gesture all they said in return was, “you are lucky to have had such a loving team!!!” One of my friends said, “for the past so many years, I have been seated under the very eyes of my supervisor. People around would come and wish me, and a mail from HR would go out as well. But bouquet toh chhod, ek patta nahin diya kabhi kisine!” I guess that just about sums up the magnitude of the gesture as perceived by the rest of the population!

As I sat back, thinking about my day, Goldsmith’s words very succinctly described my position – ‘And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray!’ so I expected a quiet, lonely birthday surrounded by people I didn’t know…. Yeah right, certain others had other plans!!!!!
So, a huge thank you to Chief, Pa, Teepoo, Bond, Dakumom, Nadzz and all the wonderful people out there…… you all made my day…. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Where is this world heading?

44 innocent people were killed and 140 more were injured in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. This time among the victims were some Indians. When, I wonder, will the carnage end?

Till now the people who were primarily on the receiving end were Afghans. In an attempt to show their dissent, the extremists blew up their own brethren. But here, hapless individuals who went with the idea of aiding in the reconstruction are being sacrificed. Where may we apportion the blame?

Let us begin with a small delineation of the story that was. Afghanistan was living happily, maintaining her culture, freedom, although stifled, and under non-extreme, non-fundamentalist leadership. After all, Afghanistan does indeed have a lineage of cultural diversity, having been one of the bedrocks of the Central Asian regimes over the ages. As a result of various other changes in the political climate over the ages, a cold war ensued between USA and Russia. On account of its strategic proximity to Russia and its key vantage point in Central Asia, Afghanistan became the person from whose shoulder the American gun was fired. Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan also played a stoking hand in the politics. Various fundamentalist Jehadi groups were funded by USA in Afghanistan as a means to suppress resistance from Russia. What began as a political game of one-upmanship, soon ballooned out of control into the specter called terrorism. Legend has it that the entity called Osama was created as a counter move by the Americans. Black magic is practiced in villages in Kerala, India. And this witchcraft is employed by a person to cause harm to his enemies. However, there is a belief that the witch that is employed here boomerangs to come back and affect the initiator. A similar situation hit America when her own self-created specter came back to haunt her. Had someone reminded the policymakers and powers-that-be then, of the old adage, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’, life could have been a lot more calm and peaceful the world over.

Think about it.
By making use of Afghanistan during the cold war, and funneling all important resources into the wrong hands, fundamentalist, extremist groups got the necessary wherewithal to build up their case. The Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini had already proclaimed that the west especially USA was an anathema on the rest of the world. And traditionally Christianity and Islam never got along at all. So funds and most importantly encouragement to fundamentalists led to the emboldening of the feared and severely extremist Taliban. No one complained then since vested interests were being served. However, going forward, no one expected a terror attack on a nation as strong as the US. But when that happened, the US decided to strike back. The result, no doubt was the routing of the Taliban from the government of Afghanistan, but as subsequent times have shown the routing has been effective only from Kabul. A fragmented yet ideologically united Taliban continues to lurk in the shadows, looking for the correct opportunity to strike back. Meanwhile, they are making their presence known all over the world by orchestrating such cowardly acts of terrorism under the guise of demanding their independence.

Likewise, the case of Iraq. As if the US did not have enough to worry about, they set off to establish democracy in Iraq. Well, Iraq is legendary for its Shiya-Sunni fights. Although a dictator, and a rather tyrannical one, Saddam knew how to keep his people in check. At least the people did not roam around killing one another on the roads through suicide bomb attacks. But once the Iraqi leader had been captured and rather hastily executed, the whole world wondered, ‘what was going on there?’ Almost 80% of Americans, a survey revealed, felt that the war in Iraq was pointless and was serving some other ulterior motive. Prime Minister Tony Blair was made to publicly apologize for his gross lack of judgment and his decision for having agreed to the nefarious plan of the war on Iraq. Many also believe that this failure in judgment was responsible for his ouster from 10 Downing Street. The CIA itself has declared that the whole 'weapons of mass destruction' story was precisely that... a cock and bull story. The decapitation of the Iraqi dictator literally decapitated Iraq, throwing open the lid of a can of worms. And the rest as they say was chaos! It has been almost a year and a half since Saddam was captured and executed and even now, the law and order is precarious in Iraq. Force and interference have never led to any fruitful gain anywhere. In a way I wouldn't hold the Afghans and Iraqis entirely at fault. Anyone who is made to genuflect to a foreign nation and be governed by a puppet government run by their arch nemesis is bound to react. And react violently. But effecting such a flawed destruction of 2 nations? Can America be accused of Democide? A very harsh statement indeed. But well, they did kill Saddam because of his political views and because of the 'potential threat' he posed for US. And that in turn resulted in 'genocide', though not in the real sense of the word in Iraq. All in all, some decisions by the powers-that- be, have resulted in the virtual wipe out and destruction of 2 countries. And why is the world up in arms against this? Well, all because the whole of the world community is losing its citizens to the barbaric acts of terrorism.

India never interfered in the politics of another country. Yet a part of her Kashmir is gobbled up by Pakistan. China continuously stakes claim on one North Eastern state after another and she loses so many of her sons in pointless suicide attacks or kidnappings elsewhere, not to mention the number of worthy soldiers lost each year in cruel brushes with terrorist infiltrators in Kashmir. And within the country itself, Mumbai shares the nefarious honor of having faced two bomb attacks by terrorists.

As a world community we need a neutral approach and a permanent solution to this problem. Stop allowing one country to take matters in their own hands and play God! Leave a country's natural resources well enough alone. Their resources are theirs and theirs alone. Maybe we need to empower the United Nations to step in and curb the high handed behavior of some of the world's most powerful nations as well. Since clearly the problem causers need not necessarily be from the barbaric, uneducated depths of the third, fourth and fifth world.

I am just worried, that tomorrow, if someone manages to find oil in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttar Pradesh, we (India) may need to add US into our list of enemies, as they in turn add us to their list of ‘terrorist states’. And the rest as they say.... CHAOS SHALL PREVAIL...........

Monday, July 07, 2008

Cogitations of a sporting mind

Let me begin by including an article I read about this expected duel soon after Nadal won in Queens. (courtesy Reuters)

Tennis man-of-the moment Rafael Nadal will draw inspiration from Tiger Woods, the sportsman he most admires, if things get tough at Wimbledon over the next fortnight.
Nadal, who backed up his straight sets annihilation of five-times defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer at the French Open with his first grasscourt trophy at Queen's last weekend, watched Woods's U.S. Open triumph against the odds from his home in Majorca.

"I like a lot his mentality. I like a lot his eyes when he's going to have the important shot. He always plays with unbelievable determination in important moments," Nadal told a news conference at Wimbledon on Saturday before the championships start on Monday.
Several former players including five-times winner Bjorn Borg have tipped Nadal to beat Federer, whom he is seeded to meet again in the final at Wimbledon this year after losing the last two.

Nadal would not accept he had overtaken the Swiss world number one as favorite, however. "I can only thank Bjorn for his words...but you know Bjorn is not magic."

Asked if he thought Federer was more vulnerable than in previous years, Nadal replied with heavy sarcasm "yes: a lot. He didn't lose a set in Halle, 59 matches without losing (on grass) Come on!"

Federer, as always, played the Halle German warm-up tournament instead of Queen's, extending his unbeaten run on grass which dates back to Wimbledon 2002 when he lost to Croat Mario Ancic.

I was truly inspired by last night’s Wimbledon final, dominated by grit and steely nerves – a conquest where both the stake holders had all to gain and all to lose as well. This really tickled my imagination and I thought, ‘how about giving a thought to the thoughts of the champions as they fought on center court’. So read on…. For an imaginative person’s rendition of the cogitations of a sporting mind!!!

Pre – match.

Roger Federer – ‘Why on earth is everyone making such a big thing out of today’s match? I am the king of grass, and I have proved it time and time again till date. How many people have managed to bag five titles? 5 consecutive titles? And here I am, bidding for my 6th title. Even Bjorn Borg feels that I will manage to surpass his record. Nadal has met me 2 times in the past. Why should anything be different this time? Grass is my court, my mainstay. It suits my form of play, just as clay suits his. There really isn’t anything to be worried about. 6th consecutive Wimbledon victory…. Here I come!’

Rafael Nadal - ‘Two times I came close. All the way to the final, and lost. Can it please be any different this time? If I win today, I would have the record of having clinched the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. Like Bjorn Borg. No wonder he is here. Either way, irrespective of who wins, one record is equaled or another broken. It is a milestone, a milestone for tennis. So whew! So much at stake. I wonder if I can make it. It has been tough, because all said and done, Federer is the best player on grass. No second thoughts about that!’

From here onwards, we refer to the players as Fed and Rafa!

Set 1 begins.

Fed – ‘tadaadeeedaaaaaa. My games are mine dude’.

Rafa – ‘One break is all it takes… play on rafa…. Come on… One break.’

At break point in set 1 – Federer may not really be fazed. After all, if Rafa could break him, he can break rafa as well, right?

When Rafael Nadal wins set 1

Rafa – ‘whew! But it is faaaaaar from over. Federer is one who can spring up from one or 2 sets down. But good… I need to keep my level up, keep my performance up.’

Fed – ‘Just one. Next set will be better.’

As the game goes on, Federer breaks Rafa.

Fed – ‘Take that’

Soon after Rafa breaks Fed.

Rafa – ‘You’re on man…. The games have begun!’

When Fed is 2 sets down and it rains.

Fed – ‘I need to regroup. This kid is better than I thought. He seems to know exactly where to put the ball and what the heck, he is playing a sublime game. Jesus, I need to win this. But I am cool… after all grass is my favorite surface. And I am world number 1’

Rafa – ‘The momentum is broken. If I had a psychological advantage, it has effectively been washed away. Federer is not world number one for nothing. He is after all a sublime player. It won’t be difficult for him to start clawing back. How many times has he clawed up from 2 sets down!! I wish Wimbledon was a 3 set match! I would have been champion!! Sigh! Forget it, what happens happens.’

The third set is bagged by Fed in a tie break.

Fed – ‘Yessss! He should have known. No one can beat me in a tie break. I am the best as far as the service is concerned. But I am also relieved. Let’s go further’

Fourth set tie breaker. Nadal leads 5-2, serving in the tie-break for the championship. Triple match point.

Fed – ‘ what on earth is happening here? Why is the grass court ditching me today? Come on Rafa, get excited. Lose control.’

Rafa – ‘ 3 years of waiting. 2 harsh denials of what is sooooo wanted to have. An extremely elusive record. I soooo wanted this. It is finally mine. Well almost! Just one more point and I am there. The history books are waiting. The title is for the taking.’ And Rafa misses.

Fed – ‘1 saved, one more to go. And when it is my service point, I jolly well know how to convert it!’

Rafa – ‘shush, I need to calm down. But I can’t. This means so much! Please, please let this be done!’ and Rafa misses again.

Fed – ‘Thank you God!!!! This is amaaaazing. Now my service points and I am clinching this.’ With a renewed determination, Fed scores and the set is his. ‘ Whew! I am relieved. That boy really scared me. Now we are on level playing ground. 2 sets a piece. I need to put my head firmly on my shoulders in the next set. I know he must also be tired, because I AM!’

Rafa – ‘Is this not meant to be? Why do I lose it when I almost made it? Triple match points, what was I thinking? God gave me the chance and I screwed up. Will I be able to make it up again??? I don’t know! I am frustrated man, really downcast.’

Play begins for the fifth set, and a clearly disappointed Rafa and a newly charged Fed duel it out. At 2-2 and deuce, the gray clouds are back, as if providing a providential moment to both of them to reflect.

Rafa – ‘But I still have one set to fight for. And I lose nothing by fighting to the end. If I win, I have all to gain. If I lose, I put up a strong fight. I know what to correct for next year and I can still be back and win what I have always wanted! So fight. Fight rafa, fight.’

Fed – ‘It is anybody’s game now, I want to hope that Rafa has lost his motivation. He seems tired as well. His strokes are strained. And look at how I have been scoring my games. 4 aces! Effortless. He has been struggling to win his own service games. Well, but I will need to be prepared for next year, if I am to make it 7 titles in a row.

At the end, in a fight of resolve and nerves, Rafa rules supreme. It was probably the fighting spirit, the attraction towards the goal, that made Rafa put the extra something. It could really have been anybody’s game. Federer was not playing his natural game, but not many in the tournament had the keen eye to notice the chinks in the armor and hit. Probably the aura of awe that surrounds Federer actually shields all the chinks from his opponents. It takes the scathing eye of a resolute player who wants the goal more than anything to actually penetrate the force field and look within. After all everyone is human, and no one is invulnerable. But surprisingly Federer seemed unusually calm and dignified in defeat. So much so, that I really felt bad for him.

Here is the on court interview (from the official Wimbledon site).

SUE BARKER: Roger, I know this must be so difficult for you, but you must know how popular and what a great champion you are to the people here. They'd like to hear your thoughts on the match, because you played such a part in such a wonderful final.

ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, tried everything (smiling). Got a little late and everything.
But, look, Rafa's a deserving champion. He just played fantastically.

SUE BARKER: And I guess it was just the emotion of it all and all the drama, all the rain delays. You had so much to put up with today.

ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, didn't make it easier, but you got to expect the worst. And it's the worst opponent on the best court.
No, but it's been a joy again to play here. A pity couldn't win it under the circumstances, but I'll be back next year.

SUE BARKER: That's all we wanted to hear. That's fantastic. I know it's difficult.


SUE BARKER: Rafa, can you describe what you felt when you just fell to the floor, when you knew you were the Wimbledon champion?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, is impossible to explain what I felt in that moment, no? So just very, very happy for win this title, my favorite tournament for me. It's a dream play in this court.
But win, I never imagine something like this. So very happy. Thank you very much, everybody.

SUE BARKER: But you really won it the hard way, didn't you? I mean, how did you get yourself back having lost the championship points to keep yourself so mentally strong?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, disappointing for me I am in the same time like the best player of the history, Roger Federer. So is very tough always play against him, especially here. I have lots of chances for win before the match.
But just congratulate Roger, because he always fight unbelievable. His attitude is always excellent when he win, when he lose. So just thank you very much Roger. His attitude is very good for the tennis.

SUE BARKER: And the fact that you beat Roger here on Centre Court in arguably one of the greatest finals we've ever seen. Does that make this even more special?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, for sure, you know, win Roger here after five years, I lost the last two finals, close finals. But he's still the No. 1. He's still the best. He's still five‑time champion here. Right now I have one, so for me it's very, very important day.

SUE BARKER: I know the first thing you wanted to do was to run up to see your father and your uncle that's been your coach and such a support to you. What did they say to you up there?

RAFAEL NADAL: Just thank you very much for his support, for their support all the time, coming with me, my uncle, my family. The rest of the family are there. So everybody, thank you very.

SUE BARKER: Big celebration planned?

RAFAEL NADAL: No big celebration. I forgot one thing. Just thank you very much the Prince and Princess for coming watch my final today.

Next year, let us look with greater interest at Roland Garros for a similar fight, this time on clay. Maybe Fed can pull some new tricks out of the bag there – as a means of sweet revenge. Possible victory? You never know. Rafa is deadly on clay. And he has consistently beaten his rivals in straight sets. But everyone thought Fed was invincible on grass. What about Wimbledon? If I were able to script the Grand Slams like true pot boiler stories, I would lay my money on a complete new comer! Or maybe even Djokovic for the title, with Federer and Nadal out in the first few rounds! That is what happened in this year’s ladies singles right? After all, we need to expect the unexpected. That is what makes the sport the real engrossing entity that it is. However, what we do need to accept is that thanks to such duels, we viewers are treated to visual fantasy! Tennis in an all new league altogether. So cheers to the new age of tennis!

The pretender hath arrived.

All hail the tooth marks on the Wimbledon trophy! All hail the new king of grass. All hail the man to have tamed clay and grass in the same year, only the second after the legendary Bjorn Borg. All hail the muscleman of Mallorca.
Last night saw the clash of the titans. On a green rain ravaged Centre Court at Wimbledon. Tipped to win for a sixth consecutive time, the grass court great, Roger Federer met more than his match in the new kid on the block – clay Kaiser – Rafael Nadal. In what seemed to be a match between two level playing individuals, skill and most importantly endurance were put to the test. At the start of the tournament, Bjorn Borg (whose record Federer wished to surpass and Nadal wished to equal – two altogether different records – number of titles and same-season wins on grass and clay respectively) had tipped Nadal as his favorite Wimbledon 2008 Champion. However, after looking at Federer’s sublime performance against Safin, Borg was forced to retract his statement. In spite of everything, all those who witnessed the Wimbledon 2008 final match, were treated to a visual phenomenon, tennis of a different level. Some years ago, when Michael Schumacher was scorching up race tracks across Europe, winning race after race, Start Sports commentator Steve Slater had remarked, “All the retractors of Michael Schumacher, who have been going on and on about how boring the sport has become, thanks to Michael’s dominance, please sit back and look at History in the making.” Well, yesterday’s visual treat was nothing short of spectacular. Those who have seen the past 2 encounters between these two players, would definitely agree that Nadal has managed to elevate his game to a higher level. Many kept saying yesterday that Federer was not playing his natural game. And to a large extent, that did seem very true. In fact the number of times the ball hit the net, the number of faults. Each service game had at least one fault. In a crunch final, such unforced errors cannot be condoned. Well, I would just say that we must also give kudos to the fact that Nadal was playing a good, typical grass court game. If he managed to notice chinks in Federer’s armor and capitalize on the opportunities provided, what is wrong? Aren’t these qualities key to success anywhere? Observation and favorable conversion of all available opportunities! Definitely yes. It was clearly evident that Nadal was on top, both physically and mentally, since for the first time, super-cool Federer’s countenance betrayed the contrary!
The duel began with Nadal bagging the all important break of Federer’s serve. That, and the fact that he never let his serve be broken, saw him cruise to a 6-4 first set victory. The second set saw Federer breaking Nadal’s serve to go up 3-0 and Nadal in turn breaking Federer to again bag the set 6-4. So the 5 time champion is 2 sets down with Nadal serving into the third set. No one is still ready to accept that Fedex is going down. Star sports displays a banner that shows that Federer has resurged from being 2 sets down to go on to win the match, not once or twice but 3 times! Wow… Nevertheless, neither of the players is willing to let the opponent win. And then suddenly a huge grey cloud looms over Center Court, foreboding rain! Play resumes after a while, but you can only imagine the tension that the players would be under as they wait in the dressing room for the rains to abate. The set is inevitably pushed into a tie-breaker. Ace man Federer cannot be beaten in tie breaks! His serve is literally lethal. However, we did get to see some high quality serves and returns as the tie break progressed. But the 2 service points that Nadal lost spelt the loss of the third set. Fourth set begins and Federer seems to have found his lost charm. Supreme serves and returns, all in all spelt another thrilling fourth set. Again… Tie breaker. But here, when Nadal converted 2 of Federer’s service points, it looked that we were looking into the eyes of the new Wimbledon champion. Of course if you are leading 5-2 in the tie breaker of the fourth set and you are on serve, most people cannot expect much else. But perhaps God wanted the match to stretch on for 5 sets. Perhaps that was the minimum courtesy for a gentleman, THE gentleman of the gentlemen’s sport! Whether it was the excitement of the imminent decisive win, or the overwhelming emotion of being at the threshold of finally achieving what he had set out to achieve, each time coming so close yet so far, that played on Nadal’s nerves, we may never know. But he lost 2 match points and Federer again clinched the set. Now it was all down to the final set. No tie breaks, just the game.
Set 5 – the play starts, they are 2 sets each, 5th set 2 games all, 5th game on deuce…… RAIN!!!! I know I would have screamed NOOOOOOOOOO or WHYYYYYY looking up at the sky! I know my nerves would have been frayed at the edges. I know my energy would have flagged, I know I may have thrown it all away when play finally resumed. Maybe that is why I am here toying with the English language with a pen and paper and there, they are world champion and the new pretender….. But they play and they play hard, till finally nerves win. Many analysts have spoken that Federer believes in the grace of the game and such is his command over the sport that he never goes the extra mile to clinch a point. Well, when you have an awestruck opponent, and all the points available for the taking you don’t really need to bother about each point. But this is where yesterday’s game was different. Federer for the first time was facing an opponent who was agile and aware. He was in total concentration, completely involved in the game at hand. Continuously on the lookout for a slip up. At the end of the day, with two players so perfectly matched in ambition and determination, as also skill, the duel almost always boils down to the war of the nerves and mind games take center stage. Brain rules over brawn here. This strategy finally paid off for Nadal, as he finally clinched the ever elusive Wimbledon victory. A true fight indeed.
Now, the question remains, what happens next?
Well, can Federer now make a real challenge on clay? Given the fact that he has lost to Nadal in the past in 3 sets, or a maximum of 4 sets, it seems highly difficult. Besides, Nadal is still very young and the energy is still very much with him. Having quite clearly perfected the technique of taming the bounce of grass, this victory has also helped boost his confidence, going forward. Does this mean the end of the Federer era? Decidedly no. Federer is truly an artist in tennis - one of the few players whose game looks beautiful and graceful on court. Many of his strokes resemble the artistry of the tennis of yesteryears. Unfortunately the grit and the pace of power tennis today have made it difficult for anyone to just be artistic and win championships. Pat Rafter, Goran Ivanisevic are all cases in point – all famous for their unique shots and strokes. But the art coupled with power creates a unique form of tennis stroke play, of which Federer is a master. However, if Nadal perfects his service and holds on to his energy and spirit, while at the same time avoiding injury, I think we are at the threshold of one of the most rewarding periods in modern day tennis.
All hail the new era in Tennis!!!!!