A Nation Starved of Sporting Heroes

A Nation Starved of Sporting Heroes*

Last week Sania Mirza reached the third round of the Australian Open. In an absolute sense, not very remarkable but relatively speaking, for India it was a HUGE thing. Why? Because no Indian woman had ever done it before. Even the Prime Minister got in the act and personally congratulated her.

We have waited for a decade and more for V. Anand to finally be the crowned the best chess player in the world. Still waiting for Narain Karthikeyan to finally race on the F-1 circuit. A few months ago, when Anju Bobby George was trying to jump to India's first individual athletics medal at the Olympics, I was watching every jump online and praying for one good jump. She remained sixth. I watched the progress of the archers who seemed to be making progress to the final rounds but then failed at the last hurdle. What a familiar story. Waiting for the day when the bronze and silvers turn into an Olympic gold?

Not that I have anything against cricket, but I just think that to excel in a sport that is played by handful of nations is not a big sporting achievement. At least some youngsters have decided that swinging the rubber ball in the colony or sitting in an armchair analyzing deliveries is not what they want to do in life. In sports that count (kill me for saying this!) we are climbing slowly but surely, and not crashing out 'fighting bravely' in the first round. We have had a number of podium finishes and some big tournament wins like Gopichand's victory in the British Open.

India is quite unfairly painted simply as a 'cricket crazy' nation. We like othe sports too. We don't really want to cheer adopted teams and heros like Schumacher, Manchester United, Federer etc. and vicariously enjoy the taste of victory. We want our very own. Sania Mirza was only second to Maria Sharapova in terms of hits on the Australian Open website. Even a small percentage of our billion would be enough to rack up the hits. India a nation of a billion is still starving for a real sporting hero* to emerge. Asking the Indian fan to give up hoping is hopeless. Give us one and see how a nation cheers.

*Please note hero is not gender specific

Can't But Agree

Can't but agree

City of Angels

City of Angels

"It was a dark and stormy night ..."

...when we got to Hollywood. For the rest of the trip the fabled Southern California
Sun would simply disappear. We wondered why on earth there was this crazy rain in the middle of December? We would learn later about the tsunami and its devastating effects. Till I got this news and the paradigm shift occurred, I was upset with the havoc the rain created in MY holiday plans.
I was quite kicked about the idea of staying on Sunset Boulevard, but when I got there it wasn't anything that I imagined to be. It wasn't one bit glamorous or even touristy. It was just unimpressive. The heart of Central Hollywood between Hollywood Avenue and Sunset Blvd. is chock-a-block with motels, signs, ordinary squat buildings with the paint fading on quite a few of them. Here I was, in the centre of the oldest and most famous movie-making club and it seemed like I'd stumbled on to the set of a B-grade movie with bad actors and an anti-climactic finish.
The next day we went to the very touristy Universal Studios, a misnomer because it's simply an amusement park with a movie theme. The real studio where the real work is done is below where they take you on the studio tour. How much money can you possibly squeeze from a movie? It's all upto your imagination. Waterworld, which was a colossal flop, is one of the most popular live shows. The The Mummy Returns has been turned into another ride with you travelling backwards. 'Animals' from Jurassic Park are used in the Jurassic park ride which recreates the movie as a roller-coaster ride with a spine-chilling finale. I loved the special effects stage where they showed you how most of SFX tricks are done.
You know you are in a popular tourist spot if it is a 'photography minefield'. Minefield in the sense that you have to constantly be aware of not inadvertently getting into other people's photos and making sure others don't get into yours!
The next day we had breakfast at a surprisingly cheap joint on Hollywood Avenue called Shelley's Cafe which seemed to be the hangout of the failed-actor types. Then we did the very standard Hollywood routine. On the Walk of Fame we hobnobbed with the stars of the immortals which also included some disgusting recent additions like Britney Spears. Tried to figure out the reason why some stars face one way and some the other. Would be good trivia to know. Anybody? Then I walked over to Sid Graumann's Chinese Theater and measured myself against everybody's hands and feet. Of course the Hollywood ladies were wearing impossibly high heels so their feet seemed to be just a few inches long. The Kodak Theater was really impressive. Took pictures of the pillar that still had empty places for the future 'Best Picture of the Year'. Not the most artistic of shots, but think it will be kind of fun to see what shows up on those pillars in a few years from now.
The next couple of hours we just drove around in the massive Buick (which I was lucky to get at National Car Rental) all over Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. West Hollywood was more like it! It really lifted my spirits after the acute disappointment with Hollywood in general. This really felt like the Hollywood I wanted to see. The tall walls, the security, the opulent mansions, ornate gates and lack of any nameplates. We did not buy the Hollywood Star Home Map, but did gawk at the homes we passed. Nice!
Tired and acutely aware of our own poverty we left for the Getty Museum. Wasn't too impressed with the museum apart from old manuscripts and antique French and Italian furniture. Categories that are missing from most museum catalogs. Of course, there was a special exhibit on Cezanne which I skipped in order to go on the architecture tour.
The J. Paul Getty Museum is all about Richard Meier and his vision. Known for using his signature color white, the Getty Museum however is in an off-white colour because Meier did not want the building to look out of place with its surroundings. The vistas are simply breathtaking which Meier not only tried to harmonize with but framed them to lead the viewer to what he might miss. The whole museum is made of squares 30 inches wide. Why? Because it maps to Human Scale. ie. you can have one person on every square and they will be close but not too close. There was geometric and engineering precision without compromising on artistic beauty and importantly serving its principal function as museum, library and research institute.
We had lunch in the upscale restaurant which has one of the most splendid views of Los Angeles.
Thumb Rule: How do you tell whether a restaurant is classy or not?
The prices must be high and portions small.

By late in the afternoon the sun broke through the clouds and thanks to the pouring rain the infamous LA smog had been washed out, creating the perfect scene for shots like these. Stories that begin with dark and stormy nights do have good endings.

Complete Photo Album of the Trip

Like it or Leave it!

There are two types of people:
Those who like root beer and those who don't.

I do.

San Diego: Sunny Side Up

San Diego: Sunny Side Up

Taxi Driver
Every seasoned traveller knows this unwritten golden rule of travel.
Before getting into a taxi or rickshaw, ALWAYS NEGOTIATE the price and there is nothing such as a FIXED FARE!
Just because I was in the land of the free and home of the brave, there was no need to relax my guard. I did and a few minutes into trip I noticed the meter rolling, which resulted in the age-old Passenger vs. Driver exchange,
'Why is the meter rolling? I thought you had a fixed fare of 24$.'
'Sir, that is 24$ a person, not a flat rate!'
'But that's not what the guy told me yesterday.'
'Yes, that was yesterday. Today is Christmas Day, a holiday!'

Moral: In Vegas the house always wins, in a taxi the driver always wins.

In short, we got bilked of a cool 70$ for a 30 minute ride to Detroit Metro Airport. The only lame excuse I can offer is that 5:00 am ,five below zero is no time and place to NEGOTIATE a taxi fare. I should have known better, the seasoned traveller that I claim to be!

Shooting away in San Diego
It pays to get up early, especially if you want great photographs. In my opinion it pays even more to do this alone and early while co-travellers are sleeping. Since people are constantly pained by my 'constant adjusting' and then 'darting off somewhere'. How am I to convince them that there are people out there who do wait hours for the right light, that might disappear a minute later. The more I walked in Old Town, San Diego, the more I felt I was in Goa. Seemed like it; 9am and no sign of life on the streets!
One of the disappointing aspects of the trip was the reinforcement of popular stereotypes. Our motel was owned by a Patel and so would our other motel. Siddharth Rege made the observation that almost every Indian couple we saw at Sea World was a South Indian couple. I was impressed by his acute observation and theory on why this was so. Surprised to see a guy so domesticated, who just a few years ago was busy ogling at good looking girls!
Never thought that I would want to go to a zoo. The San Diego Zoo is great. It isn't fair, but somehow I couldn't help comparing it to my hometown's Peshwe Park zoo, which has animal after animal lined up in cages like mailboxes. In all fairness, I must give some credit to the PMC's Katraj Snake Park, constructed in the late 80s, which is more thoughtfully designed. Also, how many would pay an equivalent of 200 Rs. to see animals for a day? Using glass screens and cleverly designed barriers and moats, you get really close to the animals without disturbing them. This also minimizes potential feeding and visitors irritating the animals. I observed an interesting effect. All of us believed that we had seen many of these exotic animals like a lion, giraffe, hippopotamus before, but really we hadn't. All these images in our memories were from TV or pictures in books. So often our memory deceives us to believe otherwise.
Caught a magnificent view of the sunset on the La Jolla(pron: Hoya) beach. A beautiful beach in a slightly tricky to pronounce place. Reminds me of a quote by Mark Twain,
"They spell it 'da Vinci' and pronounce it 'da Vinchy'. Foreigners always spell better than they pronounce."

Blog Roll Update

New additions to the blog roll:

Time proves Freud Right

Time proves Freud Right

According to Douglas Adams an indispensable tool for travel through the galaxy is the Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy and a towel. The towel is Adam’s idiosyncratic choice (though he does provide some hilarious reasons for the choice). For any other trip you would want a watch, better if it is a digital one. I had the misfortune of losing my Titan watch during an amusement park ride during a recent trip. Getting one soon was of paramount importance, since I am one of those people who feel naked if they are not wearing a watch. Obviously, I wanted a digital watch because it has more possibilities than a simple analog one.

Blame evolution or cultural upbringing. Guys love gadgets. More correctly guys love to fiddle around, tinker with and mess around with equipment, take things apart and then try to put them back again. Anything with lots of buttons and lights does not scare the little boy. He will just go ahead and hit the buttons. Reason - ‘To see what happens’. When he gets old enough to wield a screwdriver he will be unscrewing stuff and extracting the innards of electronic equipment. Quite often this results in breaking things when they were working perfectly FINE. This invites the ire of the opposite sex, which do not have such destructive tendencies and cannot understand why guys should do this, and ALL the TIME. A girl will use things more carefully and ALMOST never mess around with things if they are working FINE.

Quite understandably a fancy digital watch with the INDIGLO light, umpteen buttons and complex functions catches a guy’s fancy instantly. I have seen women wear digital watches, but I have NEVER seen a woman wear a watch that measured heartbeats, told you the altitude above sea level or with a calculator. Then there is a question of size. There seems to be unwritten rule that any dial less than 1.5’ in diameter is a girly watch which any self respecting guy would not even touch let alone wear. What use is a watch if you can’t see the damn time without being within inches of it? Of course smaller watches have fewer displays and hence fewer functions, definitely not a guy-appealing quality.
Curtailing these possibly Freudian impulses I chose the largish TIMEX Ironman instead of the massive CASIO G-Shock (the size of a small laptop). Sumedha thought that this was the most grotesque and ugly gift she ever bought me. According to me it was the most useful gift, a gift that would be by my side ALL the TIME. Guys appreciate a good digital watch more than some silly pink shirt (Thank God she understands that!). There is a really slim chance that I will be going snorkeling 100m deep or that the 100 lap memory will never be used to its capacity. But what if …?

Douglas Adams may not be completely right, but his choice of a towel is less controversial and sexist one.