Friday, June 23, 2006

Budhi Kunderen

At the tender age of 6, my cricket baptism was started with Dhoka and Paat. Those days, Dhoka was the most universal way to wash the clothes. Dhoka would be perfect bat for kids with Paat(wooden seat for a dinner) would act as a stump standing aginast the main door. Prakash – my cousin who stayed with us in those days – made sure that I learnt everything about Cricket so as to be team companion in home cricket, Names would fly Ken Barrington, Tom Graveny, Basil D’Olivera, Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith but along with these, was another name that he was very fond of . That was Budhi Kundren- wicket keeper. By the time I learnt the nuances of this game, new names like Indrajitsingh, Krishnamurti and Farookh Enginner had come on the scene.

Budhi Kundren passed into oblivion in all these years till I came across an article by H Natarajan on Cricket discussions forum wrote about Budhi Kundren after his passing away in distant land of Scotland. Suddenly, cricket with Dhoka, Paat in small Govt quarters at B 216/4 flashed my mind.
With the kind permission of Nats- I am reproducing his article on Budhi Kundren which sums up his journey with Cricket.


I never met Budhi Kunderan. I had hoped to meet him when I was in Scotland. Sadly, I could not. I kept telling his younger brother Bharat – he played alongside Karsan Ghavri, Brijesh Patel and Mohinder Amarnath on the 1968-69 India Juniors tour of Australia – to let me know whenever Budhi was in India. Sadly, that opportunity will never come.

Two days before the 23nd anniversary of India’s greatest cricketing triumph – the 1983 World Cup final win over the West Indies – Budhi Kunderan, 66, left for his heavenly abode. His struggle with the ‘Big C’ ended on Thursday last in faraway Scotland.

Kunderan was unfortunate to be born before the advent of one-day cricket. Syed Kirmani, who succeeded Kunderan in the Mysore (as Bangalore was then known) Ranji Trophy team, may not have been in the side to win the ‘keeper of the ‘83 World Cup had Kunderan still been around and in his pomp. Even Mahendra Dhoni would have found it difficult to get past Kunderan, who was efficient behind the stumps while being flamboyant in front.

Considering the pop-idol status that Dhoni enjoys today, one feels sad that Kunderan had to almost beg for his due. He could never be sure of his place in the National squad, playing musical chairs with the equally flamboyant Farokh Engineer. When KS Inderjitsinhji was chosen ahead of Kunderan for the 1966-67 tour of Australia, the Mysorean could not stomach the politics anymore. He was just 30 when he packed his bags and left the country to settle down in Scotland, which he represented in the Benson and Hedges Cup in England.

Just before emigrating, he gave an interview where he expressed his disappointment against the then administration of the Indian Cricket Board. What he spoke may have been the truth, but players of those times could ill-afford to be outspoken. Indian officialdom has a long and vengeful memory. It ensured that Kunderan did not get an invite for the Jubilee Test at Bombay.

The plight of the players then may come as a shock to this generation of cricketers who are accorded VVIP treatment. Officials then were cavalier in their attitude towards players, who endured it all for their cricketing survival. Kunderan’s account of India’s 1967 tour of England in Mihir Bose’s, A History of Indian Cricket, gives one an idea of what the players had to cop: “We felt a sense of inferiority even before we got on the field. We knew when the English came to India they were so well treated, everything was provided for them. The day we arrived in England we had to go to a sports shop to get some equipment. I had to save money from the one-pound-per-day allowance to buy a bat. Some other boys got money through friends. In those days bat manufacturers did not rush to give you bats and the Indian board did not provide any equipment. Even the clothes we had were hardly suitable for cricket in England. Our allowances were so meagre that the moment we checked into a hotel. We would have to go looking for a cheap meal. Even in those days you couldn’t get much for one pound. Venkat and Chandra, being vegetarians, could not eat ham or any of the cold meat salads which were served a lot during cricket matches. They were almost starving by the end. The manager, Keki Tarapore, did not help. He did not organise any practice facilities and went around telling the English, ‘We have come to learn, we have come here to learn.’ He was always crawling to the British.”

Kunderan’s talents got noticed early. In fact, he had not yet played a first-class match when was picked to play for India against Australia in 1959-60 – a Test he kept wickets with gloves borrowed from Naren Tamhane, the man whom he had displaced. The Ranji debut came later in the season, for Railways against Jammu & Kashmir. The Railways side, led by Lala Amarnath, had the likes of Nari Contractror, Vijay Mehra, BB Nimbalkar and Dattu Phadkar. Kunderan came in at one-drop and hammered 205.

He later switched over to Mysore. And playing for South Zone, he honed his wicket-keeping skills while keeping wickets to Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna and S Venkatarghavan. He was a fine stumper and in the 1962-63 season had 13 stumpings from eight matches. The following season was probably his finest: He played 17 first class matches in which he scored over thousand runs and as a keeper made 16 stumpings and took 20 catches.

Kunderan had exhibited his unorthodox, uncoached and ultra-aggressive batsmanship in his very second Test against the likes of Alan Davidson, Ian Meckiff and Richie Benaud while plundering 71 in a total of 149. But it was only in the 1963-64 season that he made a major presence as a batsman at the Test level. Opening the innings against the English attack, he scored 192 in the first Test at Madras – the highest score by an Indian keeper till this date. He hit 31 fours, which was an Indian record till VVS Laxman supplanted it during his magnum opus 281 against Australia in 2000-01. The Madras Test also saw Kunderan end up with a tally of six dismissals. Kunderan followed that near double century with another hundred in the 4th Test to become the first wicketkeeper in history to pass 500 runs for a Test series.

However, he found himself out of the reckoning for the 1964-65 home series against Bobby Simpson’s Australia and John Reid’s New Zealand. He was back in the team for the 1966-67 Bombay Test against the West Indies where he made merry against Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs by scoring a quick-fire 79, coming in at No 9. Incidentally, it was during this innings that he was declared out caught by Sobers, who later withdrew his appeal saying that he had taken the ball on the bounce.

Kunderan played the next Test at Calcutta – Bishan Bedi’s debut Test – where he was India’s top scorer in the match. But he was dropped for the third Test at Madras Test where Engineer came in and scored 94 before lunch.

Kunderan’s last hurrah came on the 1967 tour of England. In an uncharacteristic show of defiance, he opened the innings and held a tottering India together before he was eighth out for 47 in a final total of 110. The next Test at Edgbaston proved to be his farewell game for India. India went in with their famed spin quartet leaving Kunderan to open the bowling with state-mate V Subramanaya. The end was premature and unfair.

He was full of life and was very friendly. The Indian cricketers of his time had several good-looking men like Tiger Pataudi, ML Jaisimha, Salim Durrani, Farokh Engineer and Abbas Ali Baig. Tall, dark, lean and handsome, Kunderan was certainly part of the good-looking brigade. And it came as no surprise when he fell in love with an Englishwoman, Linda, who remained his loyal wife till his very end.

How does one remember Kunderan? Calling him Dhoni of yesteryear may be correct, but inappropriate. One would rather draw a more appropriate analogy by calling Dhoni a latter day Kunderan. That sums up the brilliance of a man who would have been a superstar in the overs-limit format.

Rest In Peace, Budhi.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Stopping Suicide in India

This is the story of Joe Curiale. He was watching CNN about the farmers in India who are so desperate and in debt that they are committing suicide, and leaving their families behind. Joe then went to India and met some of these families in person, and donated his own money to pay off their debts and essentially free them. His story goes as follows :
My name is Joseph Curiale.

Late one night I took a break from working and watched and saw a story about Indian farmers in Southern India committing suicide, so I watched it. I see many sad stories in the world but for some reason this really went right to my heart, especially a widow named Anjamma they interviewed... There has been a drought for the past 7 years in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, and on top of that the farmers were duped into buying bad seeds, so year after year they borrowed money just to stay alive hoping "next year" would be better, but it was not. I heard some horror stories on my recent trip to India that when the farmers couldn't pay the debts some moneylenders raped their wives right in front of them which further drove some to suicide...But I guess in general they felt hopeless. One old man CNN interviewed drank pesticides but lived and when they interviewed him he said there's no reason to live. Most of the farmers have killed themselves by drinking pesticides or hanging themselves. There are many stories in the media about this.

The problem that bothered me most though, is that the debt did not end with the death of the men. The moneylenders expected the wives to pay it back and it's basically impossible. I even met one grandmother who is now responsible for a 2 year old girl whose parents both committed suicide. Anjamma, the woman that touched me most, said on the interview that she makes 50 cents per day rolling cigarettes and has no money to buy rice and she has a 12-year-old son...

When I saw her eyes filled with tears, I heard a voice inside me very clearly say, "Pay her debt." Then my intellect kicked in and I said, "Huh???" I'm struggling myself! The voice repeated, "Pay her debt." Knowing that my intuition is always right, and following my own advice I wrote in the book, The Spirit of Creativity, about following one's gut, I said, “OK.” So, I contacted a friend of mine who was one of the producers of CNN in Atlanta and asked him how I could I get in touch with Satinder Bindra, the correspondent in India who did the story... My friend gave me his email address and I wrote him an email telling him I wanted to pay Anjamma's debt, which was more than $1,000. He wrote back to me within 12 hours and said he was very touched that someone would be willing to do this and gave me the numbers of Madhu Yaskhi, the Minister of Parliament in that area who was a champion for those villagers. He too was on the CNN interview.

So I called Madhu and he was so grateful that I was willing to help. He said the villagers felt hopeless and that this would give them hope. I told him though, that I wanted to meet the woman in person and pay the moneylender personally. He said, "Please come! I will take you to the village to meet Anjamma and you can pay the moneylender yourself." From that, and the way he spoke to me, I trusted him, but I wanted to pay the debt with my own hands. Plus Satinder Bindra said Madhu was a very good man. So I committed to going to India and paying Anjamma's debt without even knowing where I was going to get the money to do this! I sure did pray a lot and anyway, I felt I was being Divinely guided. This was an experience no different from writing "Gates of Gold"... the same feeling of being guided... So I thought of the scripture to put God's things first and the rest will be given...

A few days later I got a royalty check in the mail for $1,600 that was totally unexpected! I had enough to pay the woman's debt of $1,300 and have a bit for expenses... And then I woke up one morning and heard that voice again say, "Why are you doing this yourself? Ask your friends to help." So I got up and wrote nearly 200 emails and was so encouraged that friends started writing back and committing to contributing $100 and then $200, $300, and a few, $500 and more! I was hoping to have $3,000 by the time I got to India, but in the end, with the help of friends from here and Singapore, I was able to bring $8,100! My friends in Singapore came through just as I was about to leave Singapore for Hyderabad.

One of my best friends in the world, a Buddhist woman, collected @$2,700 Singapore dollars from members of her temple, and people I am close to in Singapore, just hours before I left, came through with almost $2,500! And you must keep in mind that this is all based on people's trust in me, and the others who collected money in the USA and Singapore. I told everyone I was going to pay the loan sharks face to face and and free as many women as possible. Of course many people worried about my safety and it was starting to wear on me... But I made it known that no matter what happened, even if I lost my life, I was doing the right thing by following that very familiar voice that brought the music to the world... So I headed to India with the money strapped to my body and prayed... I saw Anjamma's eyes in my heart and mind and kept telling her to hang on...that I would be there soon to help her...

There were glitches the few days before I left that almost sabotaged the trip but Satinder Bindra helped me. He had given me his cell phone number and at a point two days before departure I called him because I was on the verge of pulling the plug because I could not reach Madhu and had no confirmation that anyone would actually be at Hyderabad airport to meet me and guide me to the village. I couldn't do it myself, and carrying that much money in India made me feel extremely vulnerable... So one minute, I see Satinder in Nepal reporting on the riots and a few hours later I'm speaking with him at his home in Delhi!

He promised me, with his wife standing there as a witness, that he would call Madhu in the morning and not give up until he reached him. He and his producer encouraged me to proceed and kept insuring me what a good man Madhu was... Through this experience I had come to have a deep trust and respect for Satinder and based on his word, I decided to proceed one way or the other... Fortunately he did reach Madhu and his office called the day before I was scheduled to depart for India. It seems their emails kept bouncing back, so they tried another email address and I got Madhu's letters. He said he had an emergency and had to go to New York, but that his staff would be at the airport to pick me up and take care of everything. He was correct. I was well cared for in Hyderabad especially by his Personal Secretary, Dr. K Shiva Shankar, and Madhu's wife, Dr. Shuchi Madhusudan, who accompanied me through the entire trip. Madhu's staff in Nizamabad, and the media, were also very caring, gracious, and supportive, as well as greatly appreciative. Honestly, despite many of the harsh realities of India, I felt safe and protected.

I arrived late on the 16th of April and the next morning I went to the bank with Madhu's wife and assistant to change the money to rupees. I was guided to only change enough money that day, to pay the 20 villagers that we decided to pay @$100 each, to keep them from total despair...They had never received any compensation from the government or private funds and had really lost hope and that amount, 5,000 rupees, would be able to sustain them for nearly 6 months. I had intended to pay debts in full and not get involved in paying small amounts to a lot of people. With interest rates as high as 90%, I felt paying a little bit would only be a very short-term Band-Aid and they would basically be in the same situation... I had discussed this with many of the donors before I left and told Madhu's secretary that I had a responsibility to the wishes of the donors too. But we came to a compromise that in retrospect, I feel was a good choice. Even with giving hope to 20 village families, we still had enough to pay 5 debts in full, and enough left over to help a few other people in great need. In addition, we bought 50 sarees at $3 each and distributed them to the village women the second day.

Because the media felt it was extraordinary that a foreigner would go all the way to a remote Indian village to help, it got heavy media attention. Anyway, a few weeks back Satinder Bindra said he would have the story followed from the moment the plane touched down in Hyderabad. The media was WONDERFUL, and since some of then had come from that area, they knew very well which families were in greatest need. They helped Madhu's staff decide whose debts would be paid in addition to Anjamma's, which I personally paid in full.

The next day, we drove 2 1/2 hours to Anjamma's village, Isiapeta. We met the Media along the way and they guided us to where she lived. When I got out of the car I noticed several soldiers in camouflage carrying machine guns! Although it was a bit startling at first, it helped me to feel more secure since I was carrying so much cash... I believe it was Madhu that had arranged this for our protection... After we sat for a few minutes, waiting for more moneylenders and media to arrive, Madhu's secretary asked me to follow him and then said, “This is Anjamma.” I couldn't believe my eyes... There stood a woman who looked like and angel... Yet she looked so traumatized and dazed… Looking into those eyes, that I remembered from the CNN segment, was like looking into an infinite void... I soon after learned that she had had nothing to eat for three days. That, plus just learning before our arrival that someone was coming to pay her debt, must have added to her dazed state...

Standing before her in the very same place I saw the CNN segment only a few weeks before, I said to Madhu's wife, "This is a miracle!" I looked at the landscape around me, and the sky, trying to realize where I was on the globe... I was on the other side of the world in a remote south Indian village helping to free 5 families from despair, and all this materialized from just a thought...a thought that was followed through with complete faith and love, and supported by quite a few very loving and trusting people. I was once again living what I had written in The Spirit of Creativity...

When I finally began paying the moneylenders, I paid Anjamma's debt first. She stood next to me and after paying the lender I was given the promissory note that had kept her in bondage. I wanted to keep it, but handed it to her and motioned for her to tear it up. As she did, the poor thing broke down sobbing and got down on her knees and touched her forehead to Shuchi's feet and then mine. I felt so unworthy of the honor... In fact, I felt that it was I who should've gotten down on my knees and touched MY forehead to HER feet for her amazing courage and grace.

We proceeded to pay four other debts. One of the other touching stories was a 17 year old girl who earns $3 a month rolling cigarettes, and with that supports her mother and brother. They had lost their home trying to pay their debt...they had sold it for $250!!! I had some extra money of my own and asked if I could buy the house back for them and they said it was not possible... But this family was so lovely, and it felt so good to help free them from their debt and despair. I personally set up a trust for Anjamma, this family, and two others, including the baby whose parents both committed suicide. It cost @$200 for each. Madhu was setting up the trust whereby each month the closest bank would allocate 1,000 rupees to them for their living expenses (@$25). This was also to help insure that they keep their children in school...something Madhu and his wife have been stressing to them. But first they need to be taken out of the hole they are in and given a level playing field before they can even think about that. Their being poor is understood. That's not why I was there. I was there to help the widows have that fair playing field. There is a scripture that tells us to help widows and orphans, and I never lost sight of that.

The long term goals also include teaching them crafts to make a living. I was told that rolling cigarettes was very unhealthy work for the women... So, I flew to Bombay (Mumbai) and met a young Indian businessman who is a partner of a friend of mine in Singapore. He has a heart toward helping others and promised me he would help with setting up such a program to teach these village women crafts, which are then sold as the souvenirs many tourists buy. I hope that a "woman's co-op" will be set up in Hyderabad and elsewhere, similar to the one I have visited in Kathmandu Nepal.

Now, I am trying to raise $10,000 in the next month, through donations, to return and continue paying the debts that remain. I now have friends in Iceland, Wales, London, Holland, Japan, and Singapore helping, some raising money from their circle of friends besides their own contributions... I'm also trying to set up a Foundation to be able to obtain corporate sponsorship etc... But it takes time… In the meantime the villagers are suffering, so as before, I refuse to sit by and wait... There is a lot of good that can be done in the meantime. I just follow Mother Theresa's advice that if all that can be done is "one at a time," it still makes a difference.

I've done my homework on this issue in India and I have seen it first hand and put my own life on the line... I touched these women's hands...I have looked at the despair in their eyes, as well as the gratitude and hope now in them... I'm well aware of the corruption in India, the magnitude of the problem, and the fact that there are many such problems in the world. But I recently came across a quote that basically said, there are a million reasons not to do something, when all it takes is one good reason why we should.

If you'd like to help, please contact me, or you can make a contribution.

Sincerely, and with thanks,

Joseph Curiale

solly ballim.... I shall miss him

Namashte … kaise hain aap ? Theek Hain ?

I shall miss these words. Those were the standard greeting phrase that Solly used when he called me up. Plato said ‘He who is of calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age’. Solly practiced this philosophy till end. He never looked to me as senior citizen. In fact, he was keen to get married at this age, perhaps to get rid of loneliness after losing his wife. His only condition was that ‘she should be Muslim’. Born and Grew up in South Africa, he kept roots with India and Gujarati language and was proud of his lineage. ‘Peripatetic’ would be the classic word to describe Solly. He loved travelling- be it India, Middle East or African continent- connecting people, transacting business. I wish I had half of his enthusiasm at my age.

Frank and open, transparent in business dealings and genuine warmth in his approach. His business acumen was sharp and his enthusiasm for business expansion was admirable. If he were to stop over in Dubai on his way to other locations, he would make sure to give me a call .

When I was in South Africa, I was keen to meet him but when I called up his mobile; I heard someone’s conversation on his answering machine. Later I came to know that he underwent major abdominal surgery. After few weeks, I tried reaching him but the same message was being replayed. I had no doubt that he would bounce back. But sad, he couldn’t.. I learnt from his son that he passed away..

I shall miss him for sure….

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hamburg - cosy sojorn

Chand Tare Tod Lao ( I shall pluck moon and stars)

From this tiny hotel room in Hamburg, I could have almost got the moon as this song says. But the cloudy weather and daylight till midnight made it difficult. This hotel nestled 10 minute taxi drive from Hamburg Airport and 25 minute bus ride from the down town city makes a stay not just comfortable and pleasant but if one were lucky to a get room on terrace, it brings clouds, moon and stars within one’s reach.

I stayed in one such room. This room is fitted with two glass window sills along the sloping roof and both are just 3 feet above the bed, there is another window directly opposite the bed. A telescope fitted on tripod stand is next to the sill for those who want a free ride to the Galaxy. Its early June, Hamburg is lush green and so are the surroundings of this hotel. Never before, I have experienced a hotel room that would take me to sleep watching skyline and wake me up with fresh morning sunrays and flotilla of clouds amidst chirping of birds. Hotel Entrée Residenz and Garni, small, cosy, elegant, functional, comfortable hotel located in Borsteler Chaussee , 168- 22453 Hamburg brings greenery, moon, stars and sky next to you at Euro 84.00 per day.

This 20 room hotel doesn’t boast swimming pool, 24 hour coffee shop or gymnasium but room is fitted with refrigerator, small TV, central heating system and also portable air cooler, a study table with glass top holds Kids bedtime storybooks. A center table with glass top with bamboo chair make a room complete without making it congested. Upholstery is enchanting combination of yellow, green, orange montage, with walls in cream white, and toilet equipped with German fitting makes this hotel room soothing and comfortable.

B’fast is served in the small pantry on the ground floor with a glass façade facing the garden. Petal shaped glass plate for fruits, elongated glass bottles for colourful juices, various breads in colourful wrap inside bamboo basket, choice of cheese, jam, butter are carefully laid on center glass table. Cream coloured tapered cups with conical ceramic kettle for coffee, coloured ceramic plate placed with dark maroon tissue paper on pastel shade of table top depict aesthetic sense of this owner. The B’fast service is one man army but impeccable, friendly and personal.

I met Martin- who I had spoken from Dubai while confirming my booking - in breakfast room and later at reception. He exemplified the guiding principle of customer satisfaction in hotel industry. Attention to the every detail, friendly cheerful demeanour, and perfection in every act. I was curious if this hotel was part of any renowned chain but this was not so. Martin and his wife are the owners. After completing apprenticeship for 3 years as a waiter and 1 year as a chef followed by stint of managerial assignment in Holiday inn chain; he started this venture and now puts all his skills and experiences into this little hotel to ensure customers feel satisfied and are cared well.

No wonder, people who stay in Hotel Entrée make sure that they recommend to anyone visits Hamburg.