Navrang aka The Indian Pitta!

It was 3.45 am and I couldn’t help but keep turning in bed, waiting for 4 am to tick over and time was just not moving. Eventually I gave in, got up, switched the alarm off and got into shower and was sitting ready on the swing on my verandah at 4.15 waiting for my friend who had promised to show up at 4.30am. This buddy of mine was sharp and punctual and he drove in at 4.30 and whilst he parked his car, I readied my car and we left at 4.35 am in a search that was now reaching desperate levels. Unlike most people who like to sleep in on weekends, I have a penchant to not let a minute of the weekend go to waste and to use the chance to go out in the field and be birding by day break.

Just the previous evening, another Instagram friend had messaged me that they saw the Indian Pitta, she thought she should inform me. I immediately responded and after talking for half an hour with her and her husband, both keen birders, I knew the location where the Pitta’s were visiting. I have been searching for them desperately since a while now. They do visit my district but somehow they have always eluded me. I have seen so many photos of it, read so much about it and although not having seen it I just knew that I was missing something really beautiful in life. How I could not have seen such a pretty bird, even after it visited my own town.

The car zoomed past the last village Gulvani on this route at 6.30 am and we parked our car on a rough road where we found it difficult to separate the road from a dry river. I was joined by my friend and his 12 year old son. We parked, ate a couple of thepla’s and took out our binoculars and were ready to go looking for the Indian Pitta.

Luckily this is not a silent bird, also this is the start of the breeding season, so I was instructing my friends son, that a lot of birding is done by the ears so to keep talking to a minimum and listening to a maximum. We had just walked about 5 mins and we were greeted by Chestnut Shouldered Petronia’s, Indian White Eye, a yellow-crowned woodpecker and the Black Drongo. We then heard the Pitta call, they were coming from a higher slope, but they were here for sure!

I do encourage small kids to join me on my birding trails, I kind of always want to show things to them, somehow I want to be able to maybe play a miniscule role in connecting them to nature and perhaps someday getting them interested the world around us and the wildlife and flora around us which desperately needs conservation. So whilst I had to show these common birds to the kid, today I felt a strange desperation, of wanting to see the Pitta. There was kind of an impatient urge in me to ignore all others and just look for the pitta. We had walked just 5 more minutes and a small Pitta sized bird flew and like the Indian pitta sat on the floor and I almost skipped a heartbeat that I found the Pitta so soon. However, that fellow was the Orange Headed Thrush and not the Indian Pitta, another not so common and a very brightly contrasting bird, this fellow wasn’t shy, he stuck around and showed us himself quite nicely, infact we let him be and moved on.

The Orange Headed Thrush that posed for us.

Again, a similar movement like that of the thrush, this time in the undergrowth the bird seemed all dark. We all had our eyes in the shadow, the colours not visible but the target acquired. This must be the pitta I thought to myself, then after a brief pause, the bird moved, hop hop hop… out it came into the direct sun to reveal itself. The spotlight suddenly was on the star! I finally had the Indian Pitta right in front of me! It would hop, stop, turn a leaf over, pick up something, eat it away, again hop, hop, checkout another leaf and so on. I was glued to my binoculars, following every movement. Although this was the first time I was seeing it, I almost knew how it would behave, owing to how much I had read about it and heard about it! It then called loudly and another Pitta zoomed over and there were two Pittas about 10 meters apart from each other in front of us!! This was a moment that I am not going to forget for the rest of my life! ❤

Finally! The first look of the fella who eluded me for so so long!

The Indian Pitta is not a very common sight also it is not a very rare bird at the same time, however, it is pretty famous. The fact that it has so many colours and is so pretty looking, it has been covered by lots of books and magazines so even though not all might not have seen a live Pitta, most of them are aware about this bird. It has various colours and that has led to its fabled status, its Hindi name is ‘Navrang’, in Gujarati it is called ‘Hariyo’. The origin of the name though is from Telugu, pitta bird, meaning a small bird.

The subtle shades that it has are absolutely a treat to watch through the binoculars!

It is a local migrant and spends most of its time from October to March down in southern India and even Sri Lanka. However around April it starts its migration upwards to northern India. It goes as high up as Uttarakhand, Himachal and even Nepal to its breeding ground which range from lower Himalayas to central and western and eastern India, nesting from Gujarat to Bengal! Hence the fame and so many names in so many different languages.

The Indian Pitta can be seen foraging around and checking out all the dry leaves that have fallen during the current summer season!

It should make a globular structured nest now around below the 3 meter height on trees and should be ready to breed and lay eggs and rear its young. It being rather active during breeding time and vociferous too it should not be difficult to locate if you find its suitable habitat. However, do understand its breeding nesting time and so do keep appropriate distance and do not go near a nest too much as they could abandon the nest if they feel threatened.

The front of the Pitta is in start contrast to its back!

Around the globe there are over 40 species of pittas, however the India Pitta was the first to be scientifically described and published in scientific literature in 1713. Its present day scientific name is Pitta brachyura. Perhaps the most interesting name of the Indian Pitta is from Sri Lanka, in Sinhalese it is called ‘Avichchiya’. The Sinhalese interpretation of the call of the Pitta is that the bird is complaining about the theft of its dress by a peacock!! So now you know how the Peacock got its colours and beauty! Stealing for our small dear Indian Pitta!

Now if the beauty of this fella has intrigued you and you want to find it in the wild, grab your binoculars and set out looking for it in the forests of central India to Lower Himalayas! Happy Birding!!

Never was not winning this satisfying!

Image : Courtesy ESPNCRICINFO

“If you expect the battle to be insurmountable,
you’ve met the enemy.
It’s you.”
― Khang Kijarro Nguyen

So often in life, we all come across a moment when we give up, when it feels like its impossible to keep up and pointless to keep trying further, whenever you reach that moment, it wouldn’t be too bad to remember this Sydney Test Match. When you feel its insurmountable, remember, a group of men with broken bones & torn muscles refused to give up, they decided to stand up and not buckle down.

There have been many many memorable test matches and many wonderful performances that we have seen, mostly they all involve matches we won. But this draw, this felt so much like a win. Batting 4 sessions in the last innings of a test match is a pretty hard task regardless of the pitch and the opposition. That it was one of the best bowling attacks going around in the world in their own backyard tells you how dogged the team has been.

Since the Test series began, India has missed key players, Rohit was missing in the first two tests, Ishant was missing the whole series, their ace bowler Shami was injured after the first test in Adelaide, their alpha batsman and skipper went on a paternity leave and India was bowled out for 36 in their last innings in Adelaide. It was pretty evident to even hopeless optimists like me that 4-0 was the writing on the wall. The only thing left to see was how the individual skills of players would show up, it was difficult to imagine how this team would manage to put up a respectable show.

In the Test that followed the debacle in Adelaide, this team stood up under the astute leadership of the unflappable Ajinkya Rahane. Ajinkya not only led the team with aplomb but managed to score one of his best Test hundreds if not the best to lead his side to victory. This victory was very surprising to most people, the accolades that followed tell you how much all pundits were surprised by the character shown by this team. Another front line bowler in this match had hobbled off early in his first spell in the second innings and yet the team managed to repay the hosts with an 8 wicket victory to compensate for their 8 wicket loss in Adelaide.

The Sydney test thus began with 3 fast bowlers, 1 who had played 16 Tests, 1 who had played just 1 Test match and the third a debutant. The biggest problem with an inexperienced bowling attack is how will they maintain pressure on the opposition, it can very easily go haywire and once a top line up is not under pressure, it is very difficult to control the proceedings. However, at no point, did India let Australia get on top of them, infact even when runs did come, they managed to keep the hosts in check, on a flat deck, Australia won the toss and batted first. Steve Smith the current Bradman managed a century and yet India managed to bowl out Australia for just 338. Australia had squandered the advantage of the toss, it was a flat wicket.

India’s response in the first innings was something they would like to improve upon, 5 of the top 6 got starts but no one was able to make it into a big one and a lot of credit should also go to the wonderful Australian bowling line up that was relentless and manage to dismiss India cheaply and took a pretty decent lead. The Aussie batsmen then piled on pretty useful runs, however, at no point did Indian bowling crack. The Australians made steady progress without the wheels coming off Indian bowling, which could have been so easy in such a situation. The signs were already here, that this team was not giving up. Eventually when Tim Paine declared with 406 runs ahead, India had to bat out 4 sessions to save the Test match. Their wicket keeper had hurt his left elbow and couldn’t keep wickets, their all rounder had a broken thumb and in all likelihood would not be able to bat.

The last session on day 4 saw two wickets fall before close of play and you wondered whether you should wake up at 4.15am IST and endure a disaster? The wicket was already staying a bit up and down, it seemed futile to wake up. But as hopeless as it sounds, I did wake up.

Just 7 balls had passed and Rahane was out off the 8th ball of the day and I was cursing myself for waking up to witness the agony. From then on though, it seemed like a fairy tale to be honest. I cannot quite comprehend what happened from then on. Surprisingly, India sent the injured Rishabh Pant, the keeper batsman ahead of the regular batsman Hanuma Vihari. Rishabh seemed to be talking a lot to himself and was also seeming in pain with his left elbow, however, once he got in, he went after the bowling in his own fashion. He was helped by two dropped catches. It was a rather nerve wrecking time to be watching, every time he went down the track to Nathan Lyon, my heart would stop. Eventually when on 97, Rishabh was caught going down the track to Nathan Lyon, he missed a century and I survived a heart attack, coz any more dancing down the track and lauching Lyon in the air and I was done.

Once the adventure of Pant was over, it was down to Pujara and Vihari’s defense. However, just as Pant went, so did Pujara and you knew it, that Pant’s innings was the end of it all. You knew how they would now give up and fall like nine pins. When Pujara fell in the 89th over India still had to bat a potential 44-46 overs left to bat. Jadeja had a broken finger and we had 3 genuine no11’s waiting.

Ashwin joined Vihari, who managed to tear his hamstring muscle going for a run which seriously limited his movements. There was no way that one of the best bowling line ups in their own backyard on a 5th day pitch were going to allow India to get away. It was all but over. 45 overs with just 5 wickets left, you had to turn off the tv and go away, you didnt want to stay home and miss office for this did you?

Valiantly though, Ashwin who couldnt sit because of a sore back and Vihari who couldn’t run because of his hamstring tear then began the great blockathon in Sydney, against arguably the best bowling line up in their own backyard. They were hit on the shoulder, fingers, chest, ribs but not their spirits. They managed to block the Aussie enthusiasm, they frustrated them so much, their skipper started sledging, but nothing worked. The two injured warriors refused to fall down, they kept on battling till the opposition grew tired and shook hands with one over to go before the end of the days play. What was even more heartening to see was Jadeja, the guy who had a dislocated thumb, was waiting to come into bat should Ashwin or Vihari be dismissed. Tells you so much about this team who was ready to fight tooth and nail but just not ready to give up.

There was more drama, emotion and exhilaration on this 5th day than there could have been any on many days when a Test is won or lost. It was a draw and yet you felt a lot more joy than a victory. Given the circumstances, given the injuries, given the missing players, this was a top notch effort by the team, there was not one hero in this match but quite a few, this was a team that refused to give in, they refused to bow down, they refused to walk away.

This drawn test match will go down in the annals of Indian Test Cricket history as one of the greatest fight backs, a day when the team would just not give up, when it had all the reasons to give in. However dire the situation, however intimidating a bowling line up this team just was not ready to lose. This is where will won over skill.

Banaras!

Many people think they cannot have knowledge or understanding of God without reading books. But hearing is better than reading, and seeing is better than hearing. Hearing about Benares is different from reading about it; but seeing Benares is different from either hearing or reading. – The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Banaras, Kashi or Varanasi, whatever name you might want to call it, was a city I always wanted to visit. For someone who loathes crowds and cities and prefers natural beauty and places bereft of people it is a weird selection. The reason I went there honestly was basically to hog on the street food of Banaras. Fuelled by my friend Sangeeta’s book Culinary Culture of Uttar Pradesh I caught a direct flight from Ahmedabad to Banaras. The agenda was food and nothing else.

The city of Banaras, although I am going to try and describe is not something that can be understood by descriptions, it can only be experienced.

The drive from the airport to the hotel was smooth, apparently upto the city the road is broad and well constucted, once you enter the city though, you realise the sheer number of people around and as you approach the ghats, where we stayed, the roads become narrower and the honking becomes shriller and louder. The hindi in which our driver spoke to us and when he had his girl friends call was a welcome change to listen to from the honking on the streets. Listening to words like “Prachin”, “Vivash” in normal conversation and not in prose and poetry was a novelty for us to listen. To be honest the hindi was so pure and cultured, just listening to it was music to the ears.

The Ghats and the narrow streets around it are like a different world. All streets leading to the Ghars are chaos personified, whilst they are trying to clean Banaras a lot, its still a while to go, I guess. The infinite number of people, the cycle rickshaws, the autos, the incessant honking would make you wonder if everyone would be at verge of losing their composure and yet, when I asked a gentleman rushing past me, “ Bhaisahab, yeh Kachori gully kaha hai?

He paused and immediately helped me with the directions, as we began walking in the direction, he smiled and showed me his pan smeared red teeth, and said,”waise abhi kachori milegi nahi.

It was 1.30pm, lesson number one, all food here is served at a particular time and you cannot get it round the clock no matter how good it is.

Amidst all the chaos, all the rush, all the crowd the city is clear, gol kachori available from 7.30 to 9.30, badi kachori from 9.30 to 12, Malaiyo early mornings, Samosa in the evenings and so on. Do not for a minute think this town works like chaos, its on a schedule and there is order. There is a queue and you will get your Jalebi but only jab tumhara number aayega.

There are barbers shaving heads and beards on the ghats, there are pooja’s happening, Sarees drying, boatmen luring you for a boat ride, green tea being sold, gulls picking up anything that is eatable, kids sliding on the slopes of the ghat, cows flicking their tail which can get into your face, pyres being lit, tears of their loved ones, painters sitting and painting art, jyotish giving you a sneak peak into your future, Baba’s smoking chillum and yet you will also find a corner where you can be alone, bereft of any intrusion and hear bells of a temple, watch Ganga Maiya gliding by, small lamps at dusk flickering with the light waves of the river and feel the vibrations of the place, an unbelievably beautiful dusk sky would ensure you actually feel the vibrations of this magical town.

I am an atheist, a non believer, someone who loathes places of worship, no we didn’t even go and visit the Kashi Vishwanath temple, but we felt the place and its magical aura, it has certain vibrations that are unmistakable, inexplicable, but prominent. You may not be able to explain, but you will totally understand the reason why people are pulled to this place.

Walking the narrow lanes around the Ghats, the various food shops serve the best street food in the world, the city maybe messy but the halwai’s have spic and span shops, especially The Ram Bhandar, whose Kachori’s and Jalebi’s are something you do not want to miss. The Malaiyo by Markandey Sardar available only in winter months is unlike anything you would have ever had. A glass of Bhaang from Badal Coldrink or a Lassi from Blue Lassi will add extra zing and aid your gut to gulp more, for after a noon siesta you would want to gulp the best Chaats in the world, be it the unique Tamatar chaat or the amazing Chooda Matar the food this city has to offer is something for which I shall travel here again.

Not just the food though, Banaras is a place you want to immerse in. Words I aint got enough to describe this place, some pictures will perhaps do a little more justice but nothing will be better than you going there and feeling it.

I’ll leave you with some pictures which I hope will inspire you to go visit Kashi, the oldest town in the world!

View from Assi Ghat

Assi Ghat, mandir bhi pizza bhi, take your pick!

Innumerable such pooja’s are being performed.

The evenings are the most magical, before the Ganga aarti begins, the sunset is magical here!

Gulls flock people spilling ashes of their loved ones in the Ganges.

Markandey Sardar ki Malaiyo!

Jalebi!!

Gol Kachori

Chooda Matar

The cows are a part of Banaras lanes

You will also find calm in this chaos!

Bholenath is omnipresent

Pick a corner, grab a bite!

The ghat is lit up in trippy lights in the night!

Sattal

Apparently Sattal is a paradise for bird lovers, at a nice distance away from crowded Nainital, Sattal is thickly wooded, and forested, thankfully the woods here are protected and this in return has meant loads of birds and an odd leopard and a bear being spotted.

We stayed at the Incredible Birding camp, the place was highly recommended by birders and a friend of mine Tikuli. The Incredible Birding camp is run by Khusbu and Rahul Sharma who are themselves very keen birders and apparently are very good photographers of birds. Unfortunately whilst we went there, the pair was away to Iceland for birding! Well, atleast now I know some people are living the life! Anyways, since they were not there, the guy in charge was Vipul, coincidentally from Surat, 75 kms from my place, the fun of communicating in Gujarati in this state far from home! He aided us in identifying and finding favourite spots of birds around Sattal, Garudtal and Chafi river.

 

The reason why this is a bad time for birding is, the foliage is lush, the leaves are dense, there is water all around, moving around is troublesome and it keeps raining on and off, however, that did not deter us, we went out, we were patient, photographing was more tricky, but watching them with a binocular much easier! Mornings and evenings were particularly active, the chirps and coos wouldn’t stop, we kept spotting quite a few residents there and we actually saw a lot of species that we had not seen earlier!

 

The lakes here are quite beautiful and pristine, especially now with it being off season and no tourists boating in the lake or traffic on the roads it was blissful and you could actually have the whole lake to yourself. It was so quiet that you could hear and identify birds just by their calls. I can’t imagine how it would be in proper dry season and winters which is the ideal time to visit this place for birding. I have heard people saying they would spot 150 plus species in 2-3 days. In this off season we spotted 46 species in the one and half day excursions we took around.

 

Some pictures are in the below slide show :

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

the rain affair!

In a country where the sun shines almost 11 months a year, please excuse me if I don’t appreciate it as much. I loathe it, on the other hand, I love the clouds! Damp, gray, dull weather for me any day over the sunny days. Unfortunately we barely have that sort of weather at best for 1-2 months a year. So it is very important for me to make the most of it when that weather lasts!

Since three years now, I have been driving to the Himalayas from my hometown in Gujarat, this honestly is the best time to take a road trip in India! Entire India is beautiful during this time of the year, all those dusty towns in Haryana, those dry deserted rocks in Rajasthan, the dry north Gujarat, everything springs to life, suddenly there are more lakes, the greenery seems to have taken over, there is a vibrant coat that all trees are wearing, this dusty country suddenly has a green sheen to it and it looks amazingly pretty. Especially when the clouds descend in various shades of gray, innumerable small waterfalls begin trickling down slopes thanks to the clouds drooling drops of rain on the earth and mist floating around, the whole image is impossible to capture in a photograph, but you all surely have seen it haven’t you?

Trust me, if you haven’t you are wasting your life, go out and see the Indian countryside in the rains, its simply as good as any place on earth during this time.

Since I am a more greedy person than normal, I can’t make do with just the normal pretty Indian countryside, I prefer to travel to the Himalaya’s! Three consecutive years, end of July I am going to the Himalayas and take it from me, it is a super time to go there. The weather is not unbelievably cold, infact its quite friendly unless you are opting for a very high altitude, secondly, there are no crowds, thirdly the mountains are hibernating, the trees have been washed, the leaves are sprouting, the valleys are full of flowers, at times at certain places I remember it was difficult to walk without trampling flowers! Can you imagine that? On some trails at certain times, it is a problem, you cannot walk unless you put your feet on flowers! Coz the floor is that full with flowers! There isn’t just one valley of flowers, yes that is a famous one, thankfully, it keeps people from going everywhere! There are quite a few valleys that bloom and they are a sight!

Please do not let people deter you by saying landslides happen and all that crap, enough accidents happen on roads in cities. If we are sensible and prudent, accidents mostly like will be avoided, yes you might get stuck in a place for a day or two longer, but that’s about the worst it can get. Come to think of it, getting stuck on a holiday is the best thing that can happen to you! You can always tell your boss, sorry but road closed, I couldn’t come back and enjoy!

The monsoon in the Himalaya’s is quite spectacular, the water usually at most places is quite pristine and clean and clear, no brown falls here (largely) secondly, the breeding season of birds, so lots will be about with worms in their bills feeding, without worrying how close you are getting to them, thirdly, apple, peach, plum, pear season, pluck them and eat them! The freshness and the juiciness will blow away your mind! You might even not eat fruits any longer once back thinking, this is no way the same fruit that grows on trees! Take my word on this one too! The mountains near to you are lush green, the ones further away from you seem a lighter shade of green and eventually become blue, the clouds flirt with not just the mountain peaks, but they come down, settle down in the valleys, they flirt with the trees and even you! Yes, go walk in the clouds, you can also sing “aaj main upar” for many times the clouds will actually be in the valley below you!

The places are empty, the popular tourist sites, which are pretty, but usually made places to ignore because of the crowds are empty, the hotels are empty, you get loads of discounts, if you stay there they treat you like royalty, there are many local village deity festivals, if you can befriend locals you can have a ball visiting these villages during festival days, the people are generally in a good mood and relaxing.

Talking of festivals, I remember one afternoon we stumbled into a stranger called Rajinder in Buhad village in Parvati Valley, when he learnt we were from Gujarat and that we had come to see their local customs, he invited us home for tea, we tried to ignore but he insisted, we eventually went for tea to his home, in the middle of an apple orchard at around 5pm. That tea was followed by Bhatture Chhole, Fruits, Salad, Kingfisher Beer, Bholebaba Prasad, Chicken, Naan and by the time we left his place at 11.30 in the night, we were happy high, belly filled and stoned! Today that stranger Rajinder is a friend, we also meet for treks and I hope someday he will visit Bharuch and maybe I can reciprocate his kindness in some way!

Encounters like this do not happen in summer season or diwali season, the locals are also busy at that time! Its during rains that everything takes a back seat in the Himalaya’s. The atmosphere tells you not to work, to sit back, relax, gaze, sigh, soak in fresh air into those lungs of yours!

This year we headed for Kumaon, opting for the small corners in Naintal hills and Almora hills, we visited Nathuakhan, Sattal and Dhamas. We stayed in two places that are sort of hotels where we were the only guests, the cooks would ask us what we’d like to eat and cook, it was good to have their undivided attention and having everything cooked as per our whims and flavours and at times we wanted to! In Dhamas, we took up a house in the middle of nowhere, to get milk we had to drive about 10 mins after walking to the car for another 5 mins and to get proper vegetables or butter or bread, we had to drive 13 kms one way! The place though, had only three kinds of sounds, birds, cicada’s and crickets and rains pattering on our roof! The villa was secluded, very well equipped, with a view so good, for two days we plonked our asses on the bean bags in its balcony and read books, drank cups of tea, drank the other drinks, did the things and everytime we looked up from the books the view was to die for. We didn’t feel like moving, we didn’t feel like coming back, it was the ideal sort of house that I’d love to have some day in the hills. I’ll leave you with a few pictures and I hope it inspires you to take a monsoon road trip to some place if not the Himalayas!

The view from our balcony in Dhamas after the rains when the clouds descended seemed like this place was out of a fantasy!

Neither the sun, nor the stars were visible, but the hues the skies changed at dawn and dusk were so amazingly spectacular that I cannot describe or capture, this is the best I could do!

The empty roads are a pleasure to drive on!

Bob’s place at Nathuakhan is very popular, but we got it all to ourselves! A childhood dream came true by visiting this wonderful place!

Garudtal lake all to us! No visitors, pristine colours, silence and well you get the idea right 😛

they make the clouds here!

.

~

an invisible bird tweets,

rubbing my eyes, stumbling to the balcony,

I step out,

it was dawn finally,

the night was dark and angry,

it thundered and it roared and it poured throughout,

another tweet I hear,

looking out of the balcony, all I see is an abyss,

the clouds have descended on the grass,

a chirp again,

intrigued I am, bulbul I guess,

the clouds distract,

envelop me they do,

a stream gurgles,

where I wonder,

what land is this I ponder,

surreal perhaps,

no ethereal maybe,

Sohra it is!

~

 

I don’t thinking I can ever encapsulate the beauty, the environment and the surroundings of Sohra in words. Gushing all the time about how the clouds would engulf us from time to time, how suddenly from clear weather to not being able to see 5 feet away from us was the activity that we indulged in maximum. The precise reason we wanted to go to Meghalaya in may was this. I had read and heard, that monsoon arrives slowly and whilst it is too intense and too wet in june and july, early may is a good time to maybe go to Meghalaya to experience a bit of rains and at the same time also get a chance to have enough dry weather to move around. What we did not know was how misty, foggy it would be, but accidentally, we actually thoroughly understood what Meghalaya the name stands for, abode of clouds, literally it means that, we witnessed it first hand and I cannot but get over it.

I have a small video of it here to explain!

I have seen a lot of documentaries where they show a rain forest and how the canopy of trees send out clouds, I have seen those time lapses and now I saw it first hand with my own eyes. We would be standing in a parking lot, surrounded by shops, and suddenly from no where clouds would appear and my son 10 feet away from me would seem invisible, for a few fleeting moments we would all stay in the clouds and then the sun would try to power its way through. I wonder if I am able to explain what we felt and saw.

IMG_20190509_094539

Sohra in May is unbelievable, its like a fairy tale, green grass all around and white outs are the norm, you cannot see too far, you cannot photograph, but hell I love that sort of weather, for where I come from, we have a tad too much of sun, I love the clouds, the mist, the freshness that such weather brings is something I really enjoy. It was pleasantly cool all the time, perfect weather to sip cups of chai or eating roasted bhutta’s or slurping maggi! The three days that we were there seemed like a dream, whilst the sun would also from time to time power its way, the clouds would regularly win their bouts and these bouts would keep on going whole day, for the three days we were there!

White skies, deep green valleys, when the clouds would clear out for a bit, you could see the whitest of streams and waterfalls flowing amid vivid green gorges. Bah, why did I have to come back from there?

 

 

 

 

Dreams do come true!

As a kid who grew up and just came to understanding things around him in the mid 80’s in India could not have been more influenced by anything as much as the the cricket explosion in the country. I was no different.

The ’83 world cup, the World Series in 85/86, the 2-0 test series victory in England in 1986 and the so near yet so far Reliance World Cup in 1987 were enough to want me to do nothing but be out there on the field and keep aspiring to become a cricketer. I have lived my life along these cricketers, in my head they were always there, we had conversations. I Read all sports section in the Gujarati and English newspapers, subscribed to the Sportstar occasionally even read the hindi magazine Cricket Samrat. From collecting crowns of Thums Up for getting flip books of a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive or a Vivian Richards pull shot or collecting wrappers of Big Fun the 25 paise chewing gum for Shrikant’s posters for me while growing up the staple diet was cricket and nothing else.

A first love as I always like to call it, I don’t claim to be a historian or a statistician or an expert but I claim to be a lover of the sport. Its a never ending love affair, with the Indian team’s performance becoming my mood driver.

In my boards in 10th India were touring New Zealand and my Mom was surprised when on the first day she heard me putting an alarm for 3.30, she couldn’t believe I was gonna study, but well I did study during the ad. breaks of that tour, only reason I got first class in 10th.

If the mid 80’s were inspiring for an Indian cricket fan, the 90’s were damning, the team that was set to take on the the cricketing world slackened, became tigers at home, lambs abroad, slowly a lot of people in this country started depending on just one guy to lift the mood of the country. The reason why Sachin became what he was is somewhere in this I would like to believe. India looked like they would become now a pretty combative a team in world cricket during the mid 80’s but like the nation itself its cricketers perhaps did not believe in it and so when kids like us were growing with high aspirations, loving only cricket and nothing else during the 90’s there was only one refuge the Sachin batting display among a lot of losses abroad, we would lose a test horribly and yet we would seek our happiness in that back foot punch off a 7 feet tall fast bowler through cover that our short master blaster would deliver time and again. Whilst some other batters and our spinners would put their hand up when we played in our own country abroad it was a decade of some pretty ordinary results.

It was here that the obsession in my head started to take shape more, increasingly I started to judge our batsmen on how they performed in countries like Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand at one point even performances in Zimbabwe mattered more than in India.

I can for one never get over the loss in Bridgetown in 1997 when India needed 120 to win in the 4th innings and fell short by 38, Sachin was skipper then and it seemed like it broke him by the year 2000 we lost at home to SA and Sachin resigned and it looked like it was all over, there was a point in life when you thought this love and mad obsession about the sport was all misplaced and you would better get on with life and the many other facets to it, cricket after all was just another stupid game and I should be doing more with my life than let the mood be influenced by what was happening on a field of play. In some ways my life reflected the state of Indian cricket in 1999 I passed out of college in third class, I could not pursue an MBA as I did not have any good grades to make me eligible for an entrance and my parents couldn’t afford a payment seat. I was to take up a job of a marketing executive selling computer courses with a salary that was lesser than the office boy who served tea to us and most of the income depended on how I performed abroad, I mean outside office and how many enrollments I brought in.

Things were bleak, college over, time to stand on your feet, you are in love, her dad discovers, you earn really less, India lose in India to SA and then even more painfully in Chennai to your arch rival Pakistan, your God had cried in the dressing room after that match, your idol was involved in match fixing and there was never a sadder moment in life as then. A dark abyss it seemed awaited.

But not for nothing I guess they have this old adage of it being darkest before dawn eh?

The new millennium brought new hope, a feisty Bengali came to lead the Indian team, a core group of some excellent batsmen gathered, Sachin discovered he was not alone, a wall from Bangalore was there to shield him, an artist from Hyderabad joined it, a dasher from Delhi reinforced that the Bengali had vision, hopes soared, a legendary spinner to back the batsmen, always one good quick around to keep us in the game and even without enough bowling things started to happen. A miracle was performed in Eden Gardens in 2001 when one of the greatest team ever to play test cricket was on a rampage and their fast steamrolling bulldozer was brought to a grinding halt by two men possessed, batting like a dream, a Sardar spinning the ball viciously earning himself the name of the “Turbanator”!

A landmark victory that brought new hope, belief and inspired you to dream again! It was followed by Headingley in 2002, Adelaide in 2003, Wanderers in 2006, Trent Bridge in 2007 and the heady feeling of revenge and righteousness after the 2008 Perth Test win, surely it was a memorable decade. Life at personal front also started to slowly improve, good breaks, good jobs, marriage, kid and eventually a business that started to find its feet. Somehow series victories in South Africa and Australia still eluded us but then you cannot have everything in life in just one decade can you?

When a railway employee donned the skippers hat, it was like now the time for world domination has come. It looked like he had all the resources and that a golden era was to begin, whilst we won a lot in limited overs cricket under him. Test success abroad eluded him, I for one cannot fathom how he managed to earn such a horrible record in Tests abroad, we surely were not that bad or were we? He eventually threw in the towel on another frustrating trip down under and that is when this Feistier than anyone in life I have ever seen Delhi boy came up to take up the reins of Indian cricket.

Since last year I had been waiting for this year, tours of SA, Eng and Aus beckoned, hope was in the air, perhaps a chance to settle matters once and for all, it was during this whole year I was slowly wondering in my head if I could feel like the West Indian fans felt during their two decade domination or like the Australian fans who didn’t know what it was to lose from the mid 90’s to a few years ago.

I am a hopeless optimist, I never quit hoping as far as the Indian cricket teams chances are concerned. SA happened, we played not too badly, but we somehow managed to mess up things and lost the series owing more to our own inability or inexperience in winning in alien conditions, we managed to screw something or the other, a strategy here a selection there. Come England and it looks like there never was an opportunity better than this to beat them in their own conditions and suddenly in a blink of an eye England lead the series 2-0. Like I said, hopeless optimist, when India turned the tables at 2-1 I was getting this silly feeling that we could come back. We couldn’t, it was not as bad as the 4-1 scoreline suggest but it was a loss.

In my hopeless optimist manners even before the England tour I had thought in my head that we will beat England in England and our crowning of the undisputed best team in the world home and abroad would happen in Australia and so I booked my tickets to Australia smartly planning to fly off the day after I hear the winning speech of Kohli at Sydney. This was a long leap of faith, forget travelling to Australia but India beating them there and me being there to see it. Life had changed from earning less than our office boy to dreaming of an Indian win in Australia. By the time England beat us 3-1 it started feeling like a bad idea, whilst the experience of watching matches and travelling around Australia would be fun, I feared I would be all grumpy if India lost the series.

I was praying India would not blow the series in the first two matches as I was to reach for the last two test matches.

As luck would have it, it read 1-1 when I reached there, Boxing day test match was not the exciting, racy, thrill a moment cricket match, but a match where I felt like the team was determined to not let itself down. Not trying to make a statement any more, they just seemed like they didn’t care about anything other than winning and were ready to get dirty in the mud if the need be. They grinded to a painful 200 odd runs on the first day, they tired out the bowlers, it was searingly hot, it took its toll, India won the Test, I was there.

dsc_0359

This kid has been a discovery like no one before him in our history, if he stay’s fit and healthy, Indian cricket will conquer many a land which they never could earlier!

In many ways this victory was poetic, after years and years of attempts at winning down under, some magnificent Test battles were won with magical performances at times, the only time we won the War here it was down to sheer determination and grit.

I don’t know if this will mark the era of dominance for our team from here on, but this little piece of history I witnessed will always stay with me. I will always brag and boast and say, when India beat Australia in Australia in a Test series for the first time, I was there to witness history.

Yes dreams do come true, they take their time but don’t stop dreaming for when they do come true, the happiness you will feel will be unlike anything else you can ever feel.

dsc_0657

This historic stand was there to record another piece of history, India’s first series win down under! 🙂

Mukti Bhawan

PCTV-1770016118-hd-990x430

 

Saw this movie yesterday and I cant quite comprehend the amount of emotions this movie evoked.

 

Can you just imagine this situation, your most loving dad or mom, suddenly tells you one day, their time is up? I know the natural instinct is to talk them out of it, to tell them its no point thinking like this, that life has been so happy for all of us, you should be proud, etc etc. What if after listening to everything they insist on now deciding how they want to live in wait for the end?

 

So here is a father who says it seems like my end is near and I want to go to Banaras and die there in peace. When others try to talk him out it, he says its okay, he will go alone. The son, is faced with a peculiar situation of letting him go or accompanying him.

 

Letting him go means washing his hands of his duty, accompanying him would seem impractical and surely cost his career, affect his own family, leave that alone, accompanying someone waiting for death sounds so silly does it not? Yet the son, perhaps the Indian upbringing in him decides to accompany his father.

 

What ensues there after has largely been tried to show in lighter vein by the director, however, as I saw the movie play out, whilst at most instances it was pretty much laughable I could feel something really strange. My parents are of a similar age and whilst they are fit and still busy in their lives, I couldn’t help but envisage myself in this situation. The movie is very subtle but the emotions it did arouse were so many I can hardly describe.

 

Death does give meaning to life does it not?

 

Do watch this movie and see how it stirs up so many emotions.