Belt Mathaide Oru Set up

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

4th February 2009 - A nest in the ferns for birds of paradise

Today, I got a text message on my mobile phone. It was Bindu Thampy to tell me that the construction of a shed had begun in plot 313 in Ferns City or somewhere near it, in preparation for the excavation for foundation and a couple of sumps. Let me explain the context:

Back in 2000, Pushpa and I bought a small plot of land in the Ferns City layout in Marthahalli in Bangalore. Last year we decided that we wanted to build a house there and hopefully stay there when we finally went back to India. Bindu Thampy a close friend from childhood (maybe my teenage), one of the more aesthetically blessed ones among my gang-members and more importantly the only practising architect in the gang, is the architect and project manager for this venture. We gave Bindu a General Power of Attorney and she is managing the mission.

Pushpa and I and our bump were really thrilled to get the message because finally we had set sail on this voyage. We've already had to weather a few storms even before we started - a lot of confusion around Sakrama fees to be paid for all the sins Ferns Builders have committed in this life, getting a new Khataa from BBMP after a change in beaureaucratic structure passed control of such things from the Mahadevpura panchayat to BBMP (our good friend Prijeed wore out two chappals in this effort besides greasing them to the tune of Rs 7500) , the endless fun of having our house plan approved by BBMP (they tend to prefer approving their own off-the-shelf plan and later charge us a fine for having deviated from it), tracking down our neighbours on all sides and getting an NOC from them actually this was the easiest bit as they were all very nice to us, dealing with the long list of rules that has been put in place by the smart birds who've already nested there etc

Considering all this, it's been a thrilling day for all of us.

I intend to write a reasonably regular blog on this project, not least because it might prove useful in our future ventures but also because years from now it might be interesting (I dare say) to read this diary and relive the nest building days.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Indian cricket tour of England 2007

When I walked into a William Hill betting shop on 19th July there was about an hour left for the first test to get underway at Lord's. I had slept badly and I was ill at ease in office. My mind was a flurry of images, hopes, fears and and the pain/pleasure of anticipation. Images of the golden ages of India's galacticos - Sachin, Sourav and Dravid, images of each of them raising their bats after scoring centuries, images of the sheer delight of taking a wicket or holding a catch, images of them holiding trophies aloft then again images of their heads hanging in despair at the last world cup, images of brilliant innings cut short by edges caused in the insane moments of their boyish instincts taking control from the mature plans thrust upon their young shoulders by the weight of the hopes of a 1 billion strong nation.

I was trying to decide what scoreline I should bet on for the series - the eternal optimist in me said the galacticos would sign out in style 2-0 to India, then the fear of the 'not so glorious' uncertainties of cricket prompted me to consider for a fleeting moment if it would be 1-0 to england? I thought of the top order Sachin, Sourav, Karthik, Rahul excellent batsmen but then I also thought of all the middle order collapses that we've had and the looming figures of Anderson, Tremlett, Sidebottom with his hair bouncing. Finally I decided to go for 1-0 in favour of india - £10. If I won, it would fetch me 60 more. The odds were 6-1. The bookies didn't cosider India favourites. Whatever the result, life was going to get interesting for the next couple of months.

And indeed life was interesting. I cannot remember a series that was so enthralling, so closely fought in recent times. India saved the first test at Lords by the skin of their teeth. But then many tests in history have been saved like that. England had won the toss and had India in trouble right through. But in the end, Dhoni showed great courage in battling on without fear and saw us through to the last hour, when rain ended the game. A lot was written in the media about how lucky India was. But let me ask you a question. How lucky was England to have any cricket at all on that day. In the normal English circumstances, given the weather forecast for the day, it would have been raining from at least noon onwards. How lucky England had been in winning the toss making use of the good batting wicket. They were just not lucky enough to pull it off. So at the end of the day, a draw is a draw. There are eleven players and as long as you don't get 10 of them out you have not got them 'all out'. Period.

India comprehensively beat them in the second test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. There were a few untoward incidents. English fielders took gamesmanship to new levels when they needled Zaheer Khan by throwing jelly beans at him when he was at the crease prompting him to have an altercation with Kevin Pietersen.

Sreesanth lost his cool and shoulder barged Michael Vaughn and promptly got fined 50% of his match fee. English media tried to take the attack to him by pouncing on a beamer that slipped out of his hand. (Beamers happen in cricket. I got two beamers in a weekend club match, the other day). These things happen. There were several umpiring mistakes in this test match. Sachin got a bad decision. Sourav got a bad decision. Collingwood got a bad decision. (By the end of the tour I think Sachin would have got more bad decisions than in his entire career before this tour. But it is still just bad luck.) But all in all it was an excellent test match. This is as good as it gets as far as test matches go.Ultimately India routed them. Sachin played a fantastic knock and Zaheer produced a few inspired spells to close it out. We were 1-0 up against England in England. What more could we ask for!?

The third test at the Oval was a 'battathon' as predicted with the two sides piling on 1550 runs in the 4 innings and Rahul showed his considerable even if conservative cricketing acumen and instinct in not making England follow on despite having a lead of about 360 runs. If England had gone on and surpassed our total and put on say 180 to 200 runs for us to score in the 4th innings, anything would have been possible. Collapses happen in cricket. So the best thing is if you have a way of ensuring a series win, just do it. Sreesanth bowled an excellent spell and picked up wickets regularly in the second innings. He was consistently troubling Vaughn and the rest. His bowling is loaded with venom. That's the right way to bowl for a fast bowler.

At the end of the series, I got back my £70. I had sat in pubs and sipped gallons shandy and beer while watching the masters at work. There was never a dull moment. To me cricket reflected life itself - its ups and downs, its victories and defeats and its glorious and not so glorious uncertainties. At the end of the day what matters in life and in cricket is it to have played the game in the right spirit and enjoyed it at every opportunity. What made me most happy was to see a grinning Sachin Tendulkar with sheer delight written all over his face when the series was in the bag and the champagne was popped. He was jumping around like a schoolboy. That will be the most enduring image of the test series for me. I get this strange sense of foreboding that the best action of 2007 is yet to come. Maybe when Pakistan tours India, or Australia play ODIs in india or better still when India tours down under in December. Wouldn't it be awsome to see the galacticos ending the year and beginning 2008 in a blaze of glory!

Photographs: Courtesy Cricinfo

Thursday, 1 February 2007

A luncheon like no other

Yesterday was a special day. And a special day warranted a special celebration.

So Pushpa and I got up at 8:45, wee bit too early for a cold January morning, had a quick breakfast of toasted brown bread, a thick slice of Tesco's organic cheddar cheese and a large mug of 'PG Tips Gold Blend' tea and rushed off to the Bushey Grove Leisure Centre which is a council run sports centre near our home. We had booked a badminton court from 10 to 11 am. One of our new year resolutions this year has been to turn ourselves into reasonable badminton players. Pushpa is a beginner at the sport having been ignored by the three elder siblings, as often happens with the youngest in the family as they don't offer a strong enough challenge being young and tiny, when they played actively during their adolescent days. Anyway we had a good session of badminton when Pushpa practiced all the shots she has been learning in the last one week.After that we swam in the leisure center's pool for an hour. By the time we got out of the pool after a few rounds of freestyle swimming we were ravenous. My chechi, Nilina swims 30 rounds in a pool in Madras. I wonder how she does it. I was exhausted when I did 5.

We had a nice hot shower at home to wash the stink of chlorine off and I dressed up in the new trousers and overcoat that Pushpa bought me from Mark's and Spencer's and my new black hand-made leather shoes bought from The Schumacher near Goodge street in London. Pushpa had booked a table for lunch at a pub called 'The Crystal Palace' in Berkhamstead which is a 20 minute drive from Bushey. We arrived 2 minutes after our booking time of quarter past two, and were told by the manager lady "I am sorry, we don't have any tables left"; as an afterthought she asked, "You have not booked in advance, have you?". Now, I am not sure why a handsome young man, dressed to kill, on his birthday and his winsome lady did not look like they had a booking, but anyway, Pushpa asserted "Oh Yes, we do. Here it is..." and pointed to her name in an open register on the counter. Then she said, "Oh I see, you're early, aren't you?!" to which Pushpa and I replied, "No, we are on time" and brightly and generously smiled away. I was enjoying this, and put on that "I am always on time everywhere, Madam" kind of look and beamed from ear to ear. She quickly set up a table for two and we were ushered in and shown to our table. I ordered a pint of the Greene King - Indian Pale Ale ( ale is a non aerated beer brewed in wooden casks) and Pushpa, a glass of the house wine. The dining hall was already quite packed and to start with, the atmosphere was not very friendly. It may not be unfriendliness at all. It could be just that we look a wee bit different from how they look and so a bit of curiosity is, I guess, natural. (A bit of skeptical curiosity.) With half a pint of ale, I settled down quite well into my comfortable chair and was not bothered about anything other than the aroma of roasted beef wafting through the air.

As we were already very hungry, Pushpa suggested we should go over to the buffet counter sooner rather than later, where a nice friendly lady stood carving roasted meat. Roasted chicken, lamb and beef were on offer. Both of us chose beef. She carved several generous layers of soft, juicy beef onto our plates and put a roasted parsnip as well. ( Parsnip tastes like madhura kizhangu and is very tasty). We then helped ourselves to cauliflower and broccoli au gratine, a couple of huge sinful Yorkshire puddings, something very tasty that looked like haggis, lots of tasty sauce and just enough steamed beans to give a pretence of healthy eating. Without exaggeration it was simply the best roast beef I have ever tasted in my life. I have had a few since coming to England and acquiring the taste of Sunday roasts. (And it can take some time for people to acquire the taste for such things. I know that Chechi and Ravin already have the taste for such things. Roshni and Amma would probably need some time like I did. I have often thought that when we have erachi ularthiyathu, we are actually enjoying the taste of the masala that goes with it and perhaps a bit of how soft the beef is, but we are never really getting the taste of the beef itself.) The roast beef was well cooked ('well done' as they say here), the outer layers roasted golden and the inner layers soft, succulent, juicy! A bit of the 'nose spicy' horse radish and the 'nose spicy' English mustard added spice to the afternoon. The au gratine was very tasty. After ten minutes of carving and cutting and chewing and mmhmphing, we realised we hadn't spoken a word since we got the food. The roasted parsnip tastes out of the world with the beef. The strong tasting Indian Pale Ale blended with the taste of the meal. The story of IPA goes like this ... this ale was originally meant to be exported to India when the British ruled over India. But then somebody tasted it at the port where it was meant to be loaded onto a ship. They found it to be so tasty and the news got around and finally somebody whose decision mattered decided not to export it to India, after all !

After lunch Pushpa had a pleasant surprise for me. She had ordered and got a Black Forest gateaux from Peyton and Byrne, one of the excellent traditional bakers in London. Pushpa gave the box to the manager lady in the pub and asked her to bring it to the table after lunch when she showed some secret sign of twitching her eyebrows or so! And lo behold there was a lady bringing the gateaux in singing a line (and thus sparing me the embarrassment) of "Happy Birthday to you...". Borrowing the phrase from Georgie, the gateaux was 'awesome man' ! It had shavings of dark chocolate on top and the outside of the gateaux was one circular sheet of chocolate. There were three layers of chocolate cake and two of rich but not greasy fresh cream. The top was thickly strewn with fresh cherries seasoned in something, I think some nice wine. These cherries were amazing compared to the black forest that we get from Sweet Chariot in Bangalore which I had thought until now was the best possible black forest. I will bring a sample of this gateaux on one of my trips to India. I think it would be worth holding it in my hand on the 14 hour flight. Pushpa thought it would be a good idea to leave the rest of the gateaux for the pub people since they had allowed us to bring it from outside etc. So I helped myself to another big piece of it. I must have looked like I was going to explode. I felt like it. No afternoon would be complete without a tea and we had a pot of tea to wash down the gateaux.

Heady with the tastes of the afternoon, we headed home and lay down on the diwan and telephoned our respective homes. Needless to say we did not have dinner last night. To finish things off in style, we played half a game of scrabble and it being my birthday and all, Pushpa agreed to stop when I was still leading. It was a lovely birthday celebration conceived, planned and executed with a lot of love by Pushpa and I enjoyed every moment of the day. But it must be said that the icing on the cake was the luncheon like no other.