Sunday, April 27, 2008

India - Part that I am yet to Know and traverse

Special April Issue of 'India Today' and March Issue of 'Jet wings' made me aware of India that I am yet to know – both in terms of its places and the personalities.

I remember two incidents when I can think of the historical sites of India. First – A Korean while visiting Elephanta Caves pointedly asked ‘Why everyone in India takes me to the sites that are the testimony of the past and forgotten. Why can’t anyone show me the place that belongs to this era?’ This incident happened in 1988. Even today, I am not very sure where would I take him to a place or monument that our posterity would show it as a mark of 20th century. Another Incident was when Japanese asked me ‘How many world heritage sites are there in India? ‘I had to ponder a while and come with an estimate of 20. I was off the mark by 30%. The correct number was 27 and represents roughly 3% of Global 851 world heritage sites declared by UNESCO. I think India’s share of world trade would hover around 0.5%. I wish one day, it matches the same percentage as that of global heritage sites.

'India Today' special issue chose sixty personalities that made unparallel contribution to India’s sixty years since independence. With the exception of P C Mahalanobis, I had heard about most of them but there were few like Anna Durai, B.C.Roy, S. S.Bhatnagar, M.S.Swaminathan, MulkaRaj Anand, Nirala, Rukmini Devi Arundale, and Amrita Sher Gill that I had not known much about their life. Photographs of young Radhakrishnan without his customary head gear and Rajendra Prasad with his childlike smile in the company of his grandson brought out part of their personality that was hitherto buried under stereotyped sketches of history text books. So are some are unknown facets and incidents in the life of Ramanujam, Ramanath Goenka and Bimal Roy.

Out of 27 UNESCO world heritage sites in India, I have visited just 15.

· Taj Mahal, Agra: My first visit to this place was memorable as it turned out to be Full Moon Day on Rakhi Purnima. I had gone to Gwalior for work and took a train to visit Agra. Train stopped at various stations on the way and with me were families and small kids decked up in new clothes and boys with their wrists tied with Rakhi's and Red Tika on their foreheads. They look very royal. One such railway station name was also as sweet as these kids. Lalitpur- where these kids got down and I proceeded to Agra to see the Taj showered under moon and star light. The magic of Taj under star lit sky never returned in my subsequent visits. Those were the pre-terorrism days and there were no restrictions on visiting Taj.
· Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad: Horse Shoe valley of Ajanta would look as magnificent as Grand Canyon. Paintings and artwork look fabulous but I feel this place should be more tourist friendly.
· Ellora Caves, Aurangabad: The journey on this earth would have been incomplete if I had missed this wonderful masterpiece.
· Agra Fort, Agra: My American business friend after seeing this was gasping for adjectives. He had just returned from Germany seeing the much touted forts. ‘There is nothing like this all over the world ‘. It’s sad that this place gets overshadowed with Taj Mahal. Most visitors are exasperated by heat and toil of Agra city by the time they finish Taj Mahal and arrive at magnificent place.
· Mahabalipuran: I visited this place from Chennai. Those were the days when I was vegetarian. I watched my colleagues having prawns curry while I struggled with insipid vegetarian.
· Sun Temple Konark: I made this on a one day sightseeing tour on a hot hot sunny day, drenching with sweat, throat parched with thirst. I had to make it and I am happy I did it to this amazing site.
· Churches of Goa: They are good but what’s more enchanting is seeing villages of Old Goa nestled on the tributaries of river Mondovi.
· Fatehpur Sikri: Standing on the top of this place I could imagine the war that Babur had won to start the Moghal era in India. Buland Darwaza, a massive entrance to the complex depicts an awe of Mughal Empire.
· Elephanta Caves : This is where my Korean business friend commented ‘ why cant Indian show me the place that belong to this century’
· Buddhist Monument, Sanchi: A missed flight from Bhopal to Mumbai and gave me a day to visit this place with other two fellow travelers – names of whose I have forgotten but face I haven’t.
· Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi: I know little about this place in fact I wonder if it’s still the same one that’s part of Lodi Garden.
· Qutub Minar: More than the sight of this architectural wonder, sad incident of death of innocent school children trampled in chaos while being inside still hounds me.
· Mountain Railways of India : I saw Darjeeling railway while on way to Sikkim. Few movie songs bring the best of these. Mere sapno Ki Rani in Araadhana and Kasto mazza hai lelaima Ramailo o kaali odhali in Parineeta are some of these.
· Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai: I see the beauty of this place only watching old Hindi movies when movie hero arrives in Mumbai chasing his dream. Cameraman of the movie loves to pan on the top dome of this sculpted masterpiece. But for me, this place will always remain as Bombay VT.
· Red Fort, New Delhi : Light and sound show of this place make you go back to grandeur of India

With traits of Ferdinand Magellan, Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta in me, I am keen to visit remaining heritage sites of Manas wildlife sanctuary – Assam, Kaziranga National park, Assam,Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Mahabodhi Temple, Buddhagaya,Rock shelter of Bhimbetka, Bhopal, Champaner Pavagadh Archeological Park, Gujarat, Chola temples, Chennai , Pattadakal Monuments, Karnataka, Sundarban National Park, Nandevi and Valley of Flowers , Uttarkhand , Khajuraho Monuments , Hampi Monuments. As much as I am keen to do so, I also want to add my very own heritage sites of Kanyakumari, Sundar Ban, Pushkar Mela, Varanasi, Ladakh and Vaishno Devi.

For ‘India Today’, it must have been a hurculean task to choose 60 select personalities from all spheres that remain well accepted for all age groups. However, I would have loved to see Arbindo, Amitabh, Rakesh Sharma, Ramdev and Osho making in that list.

Here are some of the quotes that impressed me as I finished this issue in one go:

Think Big, Think Fast. Ideas are no One’s monopoly-. Dhirubhai Ambani
If you want excellence, you must aim at perfection. It has its drawbacks but being finicky is essential - J R D Tata
Music lets me forget bad experience. You cant keep Raga and regret in your mind together – Bismilla Khan
Its nonsense that people join the army to serve the country, like the politicians do it only for the sake of the country- Sam Manekshaw

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cricket at MCG - An awesome experience

Adrenalin flows rapidly; heightened curiosity reaches its crescendo as I hear the rapturous roar of thousands of people. Excitement engulfs me and make my strides go longer, increasing in its pace. Sights of verdant expansive lawns with animated protagonists in colorful attire under bright luminance of metal halide lamps makes me transfixed until a wave of people who are equally excited, push and jostle me to go ahead. Journey from that point until my reserved seat often invites a justified annoyance from those disciplined spectators who have taken efforts to arrive early. ‘sorry’ ‘excuse me’ are profusely offered as I trample their feet while adjusting my gait – whose position is precarious with head at 90degrees from torso. Be it cricket match at Wankhede in Mumbai, or Soccer at Sheikh Zayed in Abu Dhabi, a journey from the main gate of the stadium to the reserved seat is same at all the sporting venues

MCG at Melbourne was no exception to this phenomenon but it added extra fervor with its grandeur architectural design that houses 100,000 people. Footprint of the stadium is not as large as Eden Garden but its four tier viewing galleries are designed in such way that spectators all round are in striking visible range to witness what goes on the field. Stadium has very distinguished neighbors, Rod Laver Australian Open tennis, Olympic park. The whole arena looks like a sports city and whats more, its part of the downtown city. MCG is not just cricket but also a place for Australian Football League, International Rules and the crowd at the final of these two events surpasses the crowd on Boxing Day Cricket.

For me, Australia arrived through Doordarshan beaming Channel 9 telecasts of cricket matches. SCG and MCG became familiar names as Brebourne and Chepouk. My early visible memories of MCG were when India won Benson and Hedges World Championship beating Pakistan with Ravi Shastri taking away Audi. Only then, I realized that there was a car company by that name. Later, in 1992, Imran Khan lifted the World cup at the same venue.

I was part of 40K plus crowd when India took on Australia in triangular one-day series alongwith Sri Lanka. Cricket is always fascinating in Australia, South Africa and England where pitches are livelier for bounce and swing. Scoring 30 plus runs on these pitches would be equivalent to scoring 100 plus on subcontinent dusty pitches where ball will not come above the knee level. Watching Bret Lee bowling at Sachin made my Japanese friend admit that Cricket is not as easy as it looks on TV. After seeing the red cherry fly past the noses of batsman, I realized my folly of criticizing Indian batsman from cozy living room sipping glass of beer. At 160Kms /hr speed swinging ball with high bounce from Nathan Bracken was traceable only when one looked at the giant screen above the stadium.

At MCG, I learnt how Aussies devises ways to make a game popular, spectators entertained and imbibe sports at the young minds. During lunchtime, they get bunch of young kids and start playing informal cricket all over the turf in different groups. For them being in front such a large crowd and playing with gay abundance must be true mental toughness baptism for preparing for big event in later life. For any sports lover, a trip to Melbourne would not be complete without seeing MCG. Even for no sports lover, awesome fiery experience of watching any sports event at MCG would make him convert to a sports lover.

I was fortunate to watch Ishant Sharma with his lean frame, pandawa style long flowing hair demolishing top order Australian batting and then Sachin and Rohit Sharma resolutely surpassing the total to hoist India’s unexpected win . Boisterous, colorful, frenzied Indian support wrapped up in bright saffron, green. White tri-colors made me feel more Indian than I ever felt in India. I could not have imagined this script as I brushed past Venkatesh Prasad in the morning. As a bowling coach, He too must have been pleased with Indian bowlers making Aussie batsman struggling

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