Thursday, April 28, 2011

My take on Barca

FC Barcelona call themselves "Més que un club". More than a club. The past few years have seen them play a unique brand of football - tiki-taka - seeing them dominate in Europe and domestically. It has been the driving force behind finally seeing Spain fulfill their potential on the internation stage as they have gone on to win the Euro and the World Cup.
The thing about Barcelona is this: they play this unique possession based attacking football that is beautiful and devastating at the same time. As this article on Run of Play, the author mentions a definition and then gives his own interpretation:  Richard Williams’ concise description outlines tiki-taka as “a game of patient accumulation in which the ball is coaxed towards the opposition’s goal while barely touching the feet of players who are constantly in fluid motion. At all times aware of each other’s changing positions, they take opponents out of the game through deftness and movement rather than muscularity.”
Frankly, Barça never looks patient to me, and their long passes, of which they are many, are anything but “coaxing.” Any possession game is frustrating to opponents, but the real, deep wrenching comes from conceding goals. Barça, instead of patiently settling like other possession-based clubs, scores in spades. It would be more accurate to call it “tiki-taka-goal”. There is something utterly unique about Barcelona—their craftsman-like work ethic, their belligerent, almost litigious style of play.
Barcelona  and its players are not shy of expressing their greatness either. Xavi (probably the best midfielder in the last 20 years) describes their epic 5-0 win over Real earlier this season here: That game was wonderful, the best I've played. The feeling of superiority was incredible – and against Real Madrid! They didn't touch the ball. Madre mía, what a match! In the dressing room, we gave ourselves a standing ovation. (!!!)
Barcelona aslo have many of the world's best players. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Busquets, Pique, Puyol - the list could go on and on. They also have a coach in Pep Guardiola (who was one of my first footballing heroes as a kid - a confession) - a man described as The Extra Special One !! They have the La Masia - the world renowned football academy which produces most of their team filled with skillful players.
On their way - Barcelona have been involved in some heavyweight clashes which have made more news due to refereeing decisions. There is a feeling in a lot of the footballing public that they have been unfairly advantaged. No one spoke more forcefully on the matter than Jose Mourinho last night. Some football fans have been far more vocal - basically suggesting that Barcelona use corrupt means to get referees on their side, who play an instrumental part in their victories.
Here's my take on it: If you believe that indeed there is corruption, then continuing to watch football makes no sense. Then it is time to shut the TV and go to bed. Very often a refereeing mistake is used as a convenient excuse by the losing team to deflect attention from their own failures. It is also true that Barcelona have some genuine complains of their own as this blog by Mahek Vyas points out.
Could it be that their visible superiority on the field, the moral high ground that they take - on and off the pitch of playing football the right way, subconsciously influences referees to tilt towards them on close calls ? Probably not, but I am just thinking aloud here.
For me, till proven guilty, they are innocent. They are so much better than any other team at the moment - that any defeat that they suffer will be a one-off. An upset. When I think about it, why would a club that has so much going for it - actually risk corrupt practices, given the possible consequences.
This Barcelona team's place in history is assured. They will go down as one of the greatest and arguably the greatest footballing side of all time. But like Paul Scholes, they too have a dark side. Some of their play acting on the field, and bullying in the transfer market is extremely disappointing to put it mildly. Which means that they are also humans, not gods. They are just like other clubs. They just happen to be playing better football than others.
Some will not like them, but for some others - they will always be torch bearers of the beautiful game.  And while they can go from the sublime to the ridiculous, for me they are more sublime than ridiculous.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rabindra Sangeet in Films

I grew up in a family, where Rabindra Sangeet was always around, my mom being a devoted exponent. However, I was not the art appreciating type as a kid and till date my knowledge of Bangla art, culture, movies and music is extremely limited. However, I do miss listening to Bangla songs a lot these days - especially since I have been out of Kolkata for quite some time.
This last Saturday - the best of Bangali tweeters were discussing about Ray's death anniversary, and one or two links from their tweets led me to some youtube videos of Rabindra Sangeet songs in Bangla movies. I had no idea of the existence of these videos being there before. I am utterly smitten by the beauty and simplicity of the cinematography which blends so perfectly with these beautiful songs. Check them out. Lovely stuff.

1st edit: Adding this thanks to Oldmonk_mgm's link after the post.

2nd edit: Found this gem now.

PS1: Thanks to @oldmonk_mgm, @bongopondit and co who had that lovely discussion on twitter last Saturday.
PS2: How beautiful is Madhabi Mukherjee !!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Protect the Indian Wedding MEAL !!!

It is a well known fact among my family and my (very few) friends that I dislike attending weddings. I find very few good reasons to attend them. Very often, as a kid, and then as a teenager, I was forced to attend weddings of folks I had never met before and never met afterwards as well. The wonderfully weird traditions and customs at weddings also never made any sense to me - like where the girl hides her face from the boy or whatever. What made me go to weddings along with my parents was that if I didn't I wouldn't get food to eat for dinner - because there would be none cooked for me. And what made me look forward to - was to have some good food. FOOD was and is the only reason for me to even contemplate of attending a wedding ceremony.
So, when the other day I read this news piece - India to study one-dish wedding law of Pakistan to cut food wastage -  I was frankly disgusted. I mean, you will allow only ONE DISH at a wedding !!!
Ok, wait - what does that even mean. Does it mean
a) You can have only ONE item in the menu for the entire wedding ? ; or
b) You can have n number of items, but each person can have only ONE DISH full of food and no more ?
Let us take scenario a. What would be the ONE Dish that you would want to have. It's like saying - you can have Puri. But no Sabji. It has to be Chicken Biriyani for me. Preferably from Arsalan or Paradise or some iconic place. Otherwise don't bother calling me. And in case you are a vegetarian - try having Tandoori Shaslik Paneer Sizzler or some such dish - where you can throw in as many variety of veggies as possible in a single dish. So we can pick and choose the ones we like. Or ok - duck that stuff. Just have a Blueberry Cheesecake. Fine- eggless if you will.
Option b is interesting. Possible ways out of subverting this would be having massive Railway style Thaalis with lots of compartments for different dishes. At least enough to have a proper Gujarati Thali. Or providing 2 feet long Banana leaves and calling them ONE DISH. And then putting the entire menu card on them.
Whatever it is, it is really a disgusting day when we copy laws from Pakistan.
Protect the Indian Wedding Meal. Protect Indian Culture.
Issued in Public Interest by a food loving Indian.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bill Cheese Kya Hai, Aap Meri Gyan Lijiye

So you "Like" Anna Hazare ? Oh, you are "Attending" a "Facebook Event" to join a fast to stop corruption. I get it  - You - "Support Anna Hazare against corruption! Corruption in India must stop NOW!!" - it seems. Oh you fasted for half a day. And shouted slogans at Jantar Mantar and Freedom Park? Well Done.
You see all this happened between me still trying to recover from a World Cup victory and an insanely busy week in office. Well, after recovering from the initial disappointment of finding that Anna Hazare did not look remotely as good as Anna Kournikova - I did some reading up to understand what the whole hue and cry was all about. Here are a few things that I found and so sharing it for reference.
First of all, Who is Anna Hazare ? Wikipedia and your daily fail newspaper aside, read this blog post from Gaurav Sabnis which gives an excellent introduction to the man, about whom I did not know much hitherto.
Secondly, what is the Jan Lokpal Bill ? Well, it appears that the Govt of India has been spending considerable amount of time drafting another anti-corruption law called - the Lokpal Bill. But according to better informed folks than me, it is not good enough and so they are drafting an alternate bill called the Jan Lokpal Bill (People power baby !!!). If you have the time, inclination and patience, you can go to Anna's site and read up both the versions - See the bottom left hand corner for both the drafts.
Yes, something needed to be be done. You can read a thousand articles in support of the "movement", but no one puts it better than the genius Ramesh Srivats. Read this and tell me you were not moved.
But just in case you think - this Bill will do the trick , just hold on. I am a little skeptical. Here are 3 very cogent articles why:
1) This from Nitin Pai (@acorn): Jan Lokpal is no solution .
2) This from Amba Salekar (a practicing lawyer): The Jan Lokpal Bill: Good intentions and the road to hell
3) This from the Kafila website: At the Risk of Heresy: Why I am not Celebrating with Anna Hazare
All in all, I am very confused.
"You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push!" And like it or not, as Indians we will always be part of social experiments. It seems to me that The Jan Lokpal Bill is not the hero India deserves, but the hero India needs - no correct WANTS right now.
I just wish someone could say - The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming. I just wish.
PS: This came in today from GreatBong. Superb piece.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


16th  to 19th December, 1999. Punjab played Bihar in the final of the Cooch Behar Trophy at the Keenan Stadium in Jamshedpur. Bihar make 357 in the first innings. With a certain keeper batsman scoring 84. Punjab reply with a massive 839 as they go on to win the match. But more importantly one bloke from Punjab makes 358. Yes, he beats the score of Bihar all by himself.
Well, of course - we know who these two blokes are. The first - India's World Cup winning captain and Man of the Match in the finals. The other - the Player of the Tournament.
Some of us, including myself - had questioned the tremendous faith shown by Dhoni on Yuvraj Singh. To be honest, I would have preferred Raina over him to start the tournament. But I guess, when as a kid - you've seen this bloke hit 358 against your attack and then you get a chance to pick him for your side - you would have faith. If you've had him in your side and he has won you the T20 World Cup - you would have him in your side. If you have a record of performing in the biggest of games, you deserve a place in the side.
Well done MSD for keeping the faith. And well done Yuvraj - for repaying.

PS: I used to visit, Ranchi (Tatisilwai actually) quite often between 2005-2007 and MSD had got into the Indian team in those days. Meeting people there - quite often the conversation would move towards Dhoni. And I would listen to people say things like - My son goes to DAV Shyamali. Same school as Dhoni. You could quite clearly feel the pride they felt. And over the years - he has made them prouder. As a DAV student myself, I feel that pride myself.
And this moving story today in today's newspapers brought out another fascinating aspect of Dhoni's life - one that is hidden behind all the million dollar endorsements and ads. He has come a long way. MAHI WAY.

World Champions ? Well, Of Course !

Sometimes, just sometimes, things work out the way you want. Not exactly as planned - but you get the desired result. Twenty plus years as a fan, a supporter of the Indian Cricket Team means that I had seen everything - from the tremendous highs of incredible victories to the disappointments and despair from gut wrenching defeats. But nothing matches the feeling of becoming World Champions. Not sure - anything will ever be so good again.
Going into this World Cup - the feeling was different to all others in the past. A World Cup comes once in 4 years and in all likelihood this was going to be Sachin's last one. There are a thousand adjectives to describe him - GOD, legend, icon etc etc - but let me use a very personal word to describe him. He is my HERO. So, while it is a dream come true to see your hero lift the World Cup, it is also a frightening, devastating thought that he would end his playing career without winning the World Cup.A thought that has passed my through my mind many times. It is something very hard to reconcile with - but something one has to prepare for - not everyone gets all that they wish for.
So, as we entered the World Cup as favourites, all the pressure of "Do it for Sachin" (justified and unjustified at the same time), this incredible media hype, the first World Cup in the age of Twitter and Blogs and Facebook - with all the instant reaction and criticism - you can go from being a hero to a villain  or a joker in a matter of seconds - this was going to be a tournament like none before. And as the initial matches happened- a lot of folks came to the conclusion that we were a poor bowling side - a "painfully slow" fielding side and a batting side that frequently loses its way in the latter part of the innings. As things worked out - we had to go through the 3 time defending champion - Australia in the quarter final ; PAKISTAN and all the historical, political, emotional baggage they bring along with their sensational bowling, in the semis; and a wonderful Sri Lankan team in the final. And go through them - we did - with a combination of responsible batting, disciplined bowling, a fielding side which kept improving every day - reaching quite astonishing heights in the final and the calm leadership of MSD.
When I look back at these three games - we certainly had to do it the Tough Way. Perhaps you will agree - the tension before the Australia was of the type that we had never experienced before. The hype before the Pakistan game was equally unprecedented. So much so - that on the day of the final - it was only a little bit of anxiety and thoughts of what will Sreesanth do today that were bothering me :).
We discovered or should I say re-discovered new heroes for generations to come. Zaheer Khan led our bowling attack magnificiently. His opening spell in the final was splendid as was his ability to come on and take wickets at crucial moments throughout the cup. Gautam Gambhir - kept getting starts without really making the big ones - till the day of the final - where he played an innings of a lifetime. Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh - not in their top form - but still delivered absolutly massive moments of magic and inspiration at different times- but especially in the semi-final - Sehwag with his devastating little cameo at the top against Gul, Harbhajan to get rid of Akmal and Afridi at a critical juncture.
Other players chipped in as well - Kohli - consistent if not spectacular with the bat throughout - with plenty of significant partnerships, Raina - two clutch innings in the quarters and the semis, Ashwin - splendid against the Aussies, Munaf and Nehra - two top spells against Pakistan under immense pressure,
Which now brings me to the next two guys - the captain MSD and  the Man of the Tournament - Yuvraj Singh. Coming into the tournament - Yuvraj had not been in good form for quite some time - but MSD stuck with him - even if it meant sacrificing Raina in the starting 11 initially. Boy did he make it up with 15 wickets, over 350 runs and some fantastic fielding in the knock out matches. And what about MSD - a man who's every decision is scrutinised and debated in news rooms to board rooms, from drawing rooms to chat rooms - kept getting a few things wrong but most things right. He had a quiet World Cup with the bat though - which was reason enough for some folks to say that he would not be a deserved winner if he did not perform as a batsman. People criticise him, abuse him, ridicule him, but the dude remains himself. And as some of us know - the dude from Ranchi has balls of steel and he played a quite stunning innings to finish off the final. LIKE A BOSS.
Which brings me finally to Sachin. He batted throughout the tournament - as he is expected - he finished as the second highest run getter. But more importantly - he provided us with moments of joy and inspiration - moments that will remain our most cherished memories. And so when it finally happened, to see him being carried around the field by his team-matesto see him celebrate like a kid and with his kids, to see him pop the champagne, to see him kiss the cup that had eluded him for so long - was a feeling of ecstacy, a feeling of catharsis. And what was even more touching was to see the love that his teammates had for him - summed up best by this quote from young Virat Kohli - He's carried the burden of the nation for 21 years so it's time we carried him on our shoulders"
It is important to note - that this triumph is to be shared with the legends who just missed out - Kumble, Dada, Dravid, Laxman and Srinath. They are all builders of this current Indian team and so we must salute them as well along with our 15 champions. And also time for a salute to Gary Kirsten and his coaching staff. All proper Indian legends now. A job well done.
For my generation of cricket fans - the ones who were "born World Champions" (born between 83 and 87), this is the moment which repays the hours and hours that we have spent watching the telly. What a World Cup this has been ! We have experienced anxiety, nevousness, tension, relief, joy -in a cycle repeated time and again and again. We have beaten worthy opponents and beaten them well. It has been the journey of a lifetime.  And in the end - it had a happy ending.
So this is how good it feels to be World Champions ? Well, Of Course.
PS: The Cricinfo Gallery is a must watch, as is this blog post from Sidvee - describes what all of us feel in a far more eloquent way.

World Champions.
Thank you Team India. Thank you very much.

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