Sunday, July 25, 2004

War in the Stars

It is finally official! Revenge of the Sith, CNN reports that it is! IMDB still does not return a result to a search of this title (as of 3:52 EST on Sunday, the 25th of July), but we can be certain that this name (introduced in the form of a baseball jersey bearing the name at an annual comic book convention at San Diego, yesterday), is the actual name of the upcoming Star War's prequel to the original three from the late 70s and the early 80's. Trivia mongers would probably remember that the 1983 Return of the Jedi was shot on locations under the fictitious name of Blue Harvest : Horror Beyond Imagination to keep away die-hard fans of the franchise.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Baum's stinky bomb

(Picture Courtesy - The Week, Feb 23, 2003)

It has become blindingly apparent that there has only ever been one man worthy of holding the record. He's had none of the advantages of his forerunners. He's taken his wickets exclusively against top opposition, on pitches prepared to blunt his powers. He has done nothing to sully the game's good name but instead has been an ambassador. When the tail comes in, he cheerfully hands the ball over to lesser teammates so that the spoils are shared. He's in all ways a champion.  - extracted from Obviously the whole thing was a sham before Warnie,  by Greg Baum, from online edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, July 17, 2004 (link, courtesy Jagadish).

Are these the words of a dumb and deluded Aussie ("He (Warne) has done nothing to sully the game's good name but instead has been an ambassador." YEAH RIGHT!), or a joke by standards Down Under? You decide! I have in the past been a fan of Warne and his bowling, but unlike other great cricketers, this man seems to have the propensity for getting into trouble (click on picture above) and trying to bullshit his way out of it rather than facing up to his mistakes. And to top it all, his recent comments on Murali are not the words of a sporting champ! So to read these cloying words being used to describe Warne, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Well, this article is not totally about Warne. Some of the comments about other cricketers from the past are good enough to incense any discerning fan of cricket (and its players) and ergo this one too!

Sample this:
(Lance) Gibbs was really an amiable old duffer who got his wickets because the pitches suited him and because he came on after Hall and Griffiths. Tailenders were especially careless against him.
But in retrospect plainly shows that he (Hadlee) had no skill other than to put the ball on the spot, that he was selfish in bowling twice as much as any teammate, and that although he made the ball talk, it was with a New Zealand accent. Moreover, he insisted on his right to bowl at Nos 9-11. Australian fans had it right: Hadlee was a wanker.

Wanker? Isn't that a euphimism for someone who is not the "master of his domain"? Wait there is more...

He (Kapil) had Indian umpires wrapped around his little finger. He did suspicious things with the old ball. And he bullied tailenders.

He (Walsh) got his wickets because he had Curtly Ambrose at the other end and because there was something odd about his bouncer that really should have been brought to the attention of authorities.

This however takes the cake!

Fortunately, we here in Australia call a spade a bloody shovel. He (Murali) obviously gets all his wickets on favourable pitches at home, against weak opposition, with the connivance of timid officials. He ducks strong opponents but goes to town on tailenders. It is just as Warnie said. What Warnie didn't say - because he's a good sport - is that Muralitharan breaks not just records but the rules. He is a chucker. His wickets should be expunged from the record books for the good of the game, and that this would leave Warnie alone at the top of the world has got nothing to do with it. Did not enter into our thinking even for a doosra of a second.

Unfortunately, in recent years, Aussie cricketers and writers have taken to calling the hoe a bloddy shovel too. And as for George Baum, his Aussie bias is pretty obvious. Lillie does recieve the kindest words in this peice (other than the homage paid to Warne).

Dennis Lillee broke Gibbs's record. In our flawed memories, it was quite a moment at the MCG when he found the edge of Larry Gomes's bat, Greg Chappell pouched the catch and the crowd sang Waltzing Matilda. For a long time, Lillee was actually regarded by some as the greatest bowler of all. But in the clear light of hindsight it is obvious that pitches, balls and rules were all in his favour, that he intimidated batsmen and terrorised umpires. Besides, he picked on the tail.

So what? Since when did the SMH start paying for such bs? Previously, I had thought SMH was a respected Aussie rag, going from the articles from the time of the Indian tour in the early days of this year, but I seemed to have formed a erronous opinion too soon.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Undeserved Praises and Ear Worms

The genesis of this post is from the allusions made to my higher order vocal capabilities as suggested by some/one of the commenters on my previous post. While it is impossible for individuals with lower order cerebral growth like me to comprehend whether the insinuations made are to be taken positively are not, I have a moral responsibility to clear the air regarding the range and scale of my MQ (i.e. Musical Quotient), before I get a "ithellam" in the comments.

Right now, my Winamp play list contains the likes of Aal Thotta Bhoopathi, Sarakku Vechurikken, Kasu Mele, Gemini Gemini, Madhuraveeran dhaane, (oops I missed probably the only song that mentions, albeit incorrectly spelt, Salt Coutours, a locality in the North Chennai Parlimentary constituency, dating to the early British settlers) etc., among others - all musical gems from the booming industry that deals with soundtracks from movies made in Chennai. While this might not exactly be a pointer to the overall picture, this sampler ought to be ample evidence that I am a no-brainer as far as musical knowledge is considered. The presence of these songs also results from the fact that I do a mean koothu and that’s the common denominator among all these songs, or at least most of them. I am sorry, Mom, I know you tried your best. For the others, I do have to say that my mom tried her best. Wait, I hint at that in my previous statement. Whatever!

So as I said, twice, my mom tried her best. In the summer of an eventful Orwellian year, I spent too much time trying to imitate run outs from long on and long off with stone, with other kids standing opposite me doing the same. A lot of blood was shed, that my mom decided that she had to right the sequence of wrongs that she had set off (FYI, I learnt to write with mom holding my hand re-creating cricketing scenarios and tracing the path of a cricket ball in the shape of the alphabet) and decided that my energy had to be channeled somewhere else.

And luckily, living next door was Ilayaraja’s violinist, V.S Narasimhan with his family, including his aged father, fondly called Iyengar mama by everyone in Gangai Amman Kovil Street in Royapettah, Chennai. from whom he had learnt his music.

Anyways, my mom bought a second hand violin (western style) from one of her colleagues at AG’s Office (you will be amazed to hear about the variety of items that can be purchased at this grandfather of Saravana Stores right from your “seat”, as my mom puts it) and on Vijaydasami day, I started my lessons under the tutelage of Iyengar mama. But fate decreed that I take momentary breaks in my journey through the musical world – reasons for the same ranging from my sister’s imminent birth to moving to a new locale to academic pressures (as my mom perceived it). More on these breaks later on.

So, what happened was, every break was accompanied by a change of teachers. However what was common was that each and every teacher felt that I had to start from the rudimentary Sa Ri Ga Ma as I had not learnt much previously. And it has to be noted that at various points, my breaks occurred when I was in the Geetham and even on the Varnam phase and on each subsequent time I started from the first step. This took place over the major part of a decade or so till I stopped finally in 1995. So now, given the notes, I can play, but my knowledge of the ragas and thaalams is so rudimentary that when people identify different ragas from the first listening of a movie song, it never fails to amaze me. But there is one song I could identify and that was the song Ninnukori Varanam from Agni Nakshatram – the raga being Mohanam. So, my musical ear is tone deaf. So what was Vekku praising? By the way, were you praising me? Vendam da, you don’t have to praise me, even when I know it is deserved, but really, your praise is much more than I deserve..

Vekku’s praise brings me to another facet, which a lot of people know about. Yup, I am a more than decent bathroom singer. I grew up in the shadow of another gifted bathroom singer, my cousin R, but then he was much more talented and he never failed to raise goose bumps when he sang a mean cover of Raja Raja Cholan Naan (Yesudas, from Rettaival Kuruvi). Nevertheless the steady supply of tapes, courtesy R, made me a discerning fan of good music, with tastes ranging from compositions by Swathi Thirunal to Ilayaraja and in the last few years, Rahman too. However, with our parent’s obvious distaste for music from across the seas, both of us cousins limited our listening to a few Western albums – Boney M and Michael Jackson to name two. Hence I am still in the dark ages as far as rock music is concerned which has hampered my quizzing abilities by a large margin.

Kiruba had a post on ear worms about a year ago, I think. I can’t find it now, but I did listen to a few songs so frequently that they have forever stuck with me as ear worms. And as a result of these ear worms, I became a bathroom singer with few aspirations of taking it further. I also picked up the art of whistling, but my technique coupled with a possibly bloated voice box, makes my whistle louder than I would like. On a silent evening, my whistling carries so far that people that people in their rooms about 100 meters away in the other side of my hostel used to be disturbed by my whistling.

But I do know my limitations, though I have sometimes thought I do sing (in the bathroom) much better than some of them “good” singers. However, one of my pals, B once told me that physical phenomena such as resonance hike the quality of a voice to a much higher plane than deserved. I knew it was a barb directed at me, because regardless of his nick at college, Drums, he was not known to be musically inclined. I am still waiting for a mathematical proof for this phenomenon.

Some of my opinions about my own voice have not however stopped me from embarrassing myself at times. As I recently disclosed during my one and only bacchanalian orgy (there will be no more of these, because of certain incidents that led to my roomies amusement at my expense), considering that there were 70 year olds around having a ball singing their hearts out at a cousin’s nalangu ceremony a couple of years ago, I embarrassed myself by starting to sing a markedly difficult song and lost all semblance of the proper pitch. I have had to satisfy myself with the thought that I have nailed that song ever since without trouble while in the shower and during that orgy mentioned earlier.

Regardless of momentary lapses like the one mentioned above, I know my capabilities so well that I have talked my way out of a couple of try-outs for the local band here and shied away from any attempts to record myself on tape or something. If you call my cell phone number and if you are lucky enough not to get me on the line, you will get ample evidence of the quality of my voice box, which leads me to what I mentioned earlier.

A lot of people tell me that I speak too loud, regardless of whether I am next to them or on the phone. But why is that any non-Indian that I talk to for the first time over the phone, addresses me as “Maam”? Isn’t that a paradox? Or are these people who tell me that I am loud suffer from over-sensitive senses? A point that I will ponder for the rest of my life – okay, only after my thesis defense is done in a month.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Funny Funny Me

I am a funny guy. However, most of you who know me personally may bracket me under the obnoxious category and that is just your opinion which you may keep to yourself or trumpet it to the rest of the world, as your preferences may be. But I consider myself to be a funny guy. Sadly my idea of humor is much more cerebral than your average under 30 single person (case at point – this very post) that what might evoke immediate laughter from a cerebral thinker fails to even hit the edge of the target otherwise.

What makes me funny is the fact that I never hesitate to laugh at myself. Yeah, that’s the key point – you are never funny unless you can laugh spontaneously at your own joke. But the risk you would be taking is that you might be so tickled by your own joke that you won’t be able to complete it. But as you already know – try try try again... till you never fail again... So keep at it and you can reach the Himalayan peaks where I am mostly alone now.

One major cause for the humor in my life is something whose effects have been so aptly described by Sidin. But my case slightly varies because right now, my priorities, though the same, are in a sequence that is radically different from Thalai’s advice. So, yeah, as Sidin described, I am facing the effects of being a Mallu-Tam Bram with a sixteen letter first name, a seven letter middle name and an eleven letter last name. None of my identification documents from here in the US have all the sixteen letters of my first name. Hence the short and sweet “aNTi”, thanks to one particular friend from my Shanmugha days who called me that sometimes. At different points of time however, my nom de plumes have ranged from the name of a snack made from vegetables dipped in batter and fried to a device used very commonly in signal transmission and receiving – the former the work of a classmate from school who got his idea by just looking at me, while the latter rhymes with my name.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to dress up and participate in a public gathering to receive a document (which is so fake that even Telgi would be embarrassed to be in possession of one) formally. Hell, this penchant for verbosity is going to land me in hot weather one day. Anyways, what I was saying was that it was Commencement Day (i.e. convocation) at univ and since I have yet not defended my Masters thesis (that is another story that might just be told in a month’s time) I got a fake degree that essentially said that I don’t deserve to graduate (yet), but since I refused to let them get on with the event, they were letting me walk up on stage and get whatever they give for incorrigible punks like me.

So, there was this huge line at one end of the stage, which was full of these academician types in their full grandeur. Each of us had to walk up to the foot of the steps leading to the stage, give an index card with our name to the announcer who would announce our presence, after which we were to walk up, get the piece of paper, shake a few hands and walk off, after taking a picture with the American flag in the background at the other end of the stage.

There was this huge line of graduates and I was in between a group consisting of a few friends. It has to be said that most of us, fake-graduating with engineering degrees were foreign students and the announcer – who, being the head of the International Students and Faculty services here, was one of the better ones at pronouncing unpronounceable names, was generally having a hard time keeping a straight face while trying to read the scrawls that passed for names on each card. I, myself had used block letters, mainly because I am methodical with a stickler for details. However the same cannot be said about everyone, right?

Finally I am at the head of the line and I hand my card to the announcer. The accepted procedure, which I (in my haste) had not noticed, is to wait till your name is called in whole, after which you walk up to who-ever is up on stage, collect your faux-degree and walk off. And wait I did, for just about the same time that others waited too. And herein lies the fault and hence (as Joey says) the “moo – point” of this post.

I walked up on stage, shook hands with like three professor types who were standing there, took my play-degree from one of them and was walking off the stage when I realized that there was a roar of laughter from the crowd present and also that the announcer was still talking.

You know how, when you are doing something that you dread, your mind completely goes blank for the duration of the deed and afterward, you don’t remember any of the details. That’s just what happened to me. I had, in my haste, waited till the guy had called out one half of my first name (by half, I mean 8 letters, which is much longer than a lot of names that people generally are blessed with) and started walking up the steps. I had finished all my activities before the guy could even complete reading out my name and when he did complete, apparently he sighed just a wee bit (or maybe he swallowed or coughed inadvertently), much to the amusement of the whole crowd. And I was not pricy to any of these till about a zillion people asked me about after the event ended. I later watched footage of my “walk of fame” and I started laughing myself. It was positively hilarious.

That was not all. About a week later, I was on the phone, talking to the video department of our univ library wanting to renew some tapes that were due that day. This was the conversation.
Lady on the phone (LOTP): Instructional Media. May I help you?

Me: Hi. I have a couple of tapes that are due today. Can you renew them for me?
LOTP: Madam, Can you read the serial code off the back of the tapes? *
Me: Sorry, I don’t have the tapes right now with me. Can I just tell you the names? (I was at work that day.)
LOTP: Ok Sir. Please tell me the names.
Me: Casino Royale…
LOTP: Ummm Hmmm
Me: and…A Fistful of dollars
LOTP: ok... Can I have your name please?
Me: My last name is Subramanian. That’s S...U...B...R...A...M...A...N...I...A...N
LOTP: Ok Madam, now your first name?
Me: Well, I do have a long first name, but the first two letters are A and N.
LOTP: Hey I know you. You are the that guy with longest name at the Commencement!
And I was left standing speechless till she broke my reverie to tell me that my tapes were renewed for another week.

(* Anytime I speak to some local over the phone he/she always adresses me as Maam or Madam, never a Sir! Wonder why this happens considering that a lot of people tell me that I must have swallowed a speaker while i was a toddler!)

Monday, July 05, 2004

Celebrate or sneer?

A celebration in this blog might be in order, but the significance of the event pales in comparison to what the date signifies to people living in relative geographical proximity to me. Even the significance of the number pales in when compared to it's counterparts in Gavaskar's life after the 7th of March, 1987 or even in Sachin Tendulkar's (and every cricket crazy Indian's)life sometime next year (hopefully). I know I am not making much sense, but when has this blog made any sense?

But it does satisfy me to great levels that a small fraction of people do hold some of my ramblings in good stead that
they come back for more and hey, this blog did reach 10,000 hits yesterday. You are all blind and I am the one eyed king of your land. And I thank you for your confidence in me and my governance. But, wait... Do I hear whispering? Hmmm...I am gonna have to look for my executioners to behead all you plotters and would be usurpers of my throne! Hey...Yaar Angey!