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Posts Tagged ‘martin jaite’

Friday Flashback: The Older You Get

Posted by anandrr on February 27, 2010

Normally, I would have been content to relegate some of this story to a sidebar in my last post, but this really does deserve a post of its own. In my last post, I briefly mentioned a memory of Vijay Amritraj playing Martin Jaite in a Davis Cup match. I shall now try to memorialize that moment and another equally important moment.

Those of us born in India and of a certain age (mostly in our 30s) have good reason to look sympathetically at the younger generation. They might have 100 channels on the TV, they might have opportunities that we might not have had, they might have a lot more of a lot more than we ever could, but there are some sporting memories they will never have. India beating the West Indies in the Prudential World Cup in 1983 marked the start of India’s dominance of world cricket. India’s victory in the mini-world cup in Australia in 1985 (Ravi Shastri – man of the series and an Audi to boot!) continue that trend. Of course with these warm memories, we also have the traumatic one: Javed Miandad hitting Chetan Sharma for a six off a full-toss last ball when Pakistan needed four to win in Sharjah. Those of us of a certain age haven’t really recovered from that either. We can all remember where we were when those events occurred, what we were doing and the joy or crushing sorrow that followed each of them.

But besides these, two other memories stand out. And having arrived at a riper age, I am now able to appreciate those memories and sporting efforts much more than I did in my callow youth.

It was 1987, summer was approaching, and I’m not entirely sure how I managed to watch so much sporting action in that week of March, final exams must have been in a week or so, but yet I did and I’m quite thankful for that.

The Indian tennis team in those days comprised Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan. Vijay was 34 or 35, his glory days were well past, but the Davis Cup always seemed to bring out the best in him. He was a natural on grass and could serve and volley with the best of them. This was around the time that tennis was transitioning away from the Borg/Connors style of play to the current style that was introduced by Becker, Edberg and the rest. Ramesh was always a curious anachronism, his serves so soft, his volleys silken smooth, his baseline play all touch no power. One imagined Rod Laver playing that way, but a player in the age of colour television? But there they were, Vijay and Ramesh waging battle against younger, more powerful, and higher ranked players in a sport that seemed not have room for them any more.

India was playing the Davis Cup quarterfinal against Argentina (in New Delhi perhaps?), and at the end of 2 days of play, Vijay had won the opening game, Ramesh had lost his to Martin Jaite, Argentina had won the doubles, and Vijay was now playing the return singles match against Jaite.

Simultaneously, India was playing Pakistan in a cricket test match in Bangalore. This was going to Sunil Gavaskar’s last test match, at 37 years old and many cricket records deep, Gavaskar was finally going to call it a day. The Bangalore pitch was a disgrace. Mostly loose dirt and cracks, the ball was unpredictable from day one. Pakistan was skittled out on day one for a pitiful score (116) and it wasn’t clear which way the match would go. Would India manage to pull it off or would the pitch truly wreak havoc getting worse from day one to day four? On day two, India managed 145, Vengsarkar managing a 50 in the process. Pakistan came back in, and set India a target of 221.

In the meantime, things were getting exciting at the tennis game. Vijay was playing Martin Jaite in the reverse singles game. Vijay was 35 years old, playing a 21 year old Jaite and getting beaten up. Down two sets to one, we were at set-point and match-point in the fourth set. The match had gone badly, Vijay was probably looking at going down badly and India was on the verge of getting kicked out of the Davis Cup for the year. Again. Jaite served for the match and the tie, Vijay returned serve, Jaite returned beautifully. The game was on the line, the Davis Cup tie was on the line. At this juncture, Vijay played the sweetest drop volley in the history of the game. What a shot to play at this juncture! The visual from that shot is burned into my sports-memory. Vijay plays the drop shot, Jaite rushes to the net, but can’t make it in time, match-point is lost. Jaite fell to pieces after that point as Vijay went from strength to strength. As an adrenalin-fueled Vijay recovered, fist-pumping his victories, the Indian supporters went crazy in the stands. At the end of it all, five sets later, Vijay had just handed Jaite the thrashing of his life. A match where Jaite had tasted victory had now ended with India having a fighting chance in the last match of the tie. Ramesh Krishnan went on to win that match as well, India won through, then played Israel in the quarter finals, won against Australia (including Wimbledon-winner Pat Cash) in the semi-finals and went on to the finals. The finals were against Sweden. In Sweden. In December. Sweden at the time featured Mats Wilander and Anders Jarryd, both unstoppable on clay. Of course they played on clay. India didn’t have a chance. But the memory of that unbelievable display by a 35-year old player stays with me. As I get older, I realize what it really meant for a 35-year old to play at the level that he did. As I think about it today, I still get the goosebumps.

In Bangalore, India was in chasing 221 on the fourth innings of a disastrous pitch. Nothing would go right for India. Losing to Pakistan was unthinkable but India was falling apart. In Gavaskar’s last test match yet. But Gavaskar, 37 years old, was not about to go away so easily. I remember sitting at home and watching him inch his way towards his century. At the other end, the batsmen wouldn’t stay long enough to give him company. As the wickets fell, the situation got more dire. Gavaskar was our last hope. At 96, if Gavaskar could manage to hang on for a century and then some, India would be home safe, Gavaskar would have one final century in his last game, and Bangalore would be happy. But even Gavaskar was no match for that treacherous pitch. All innings-long the ball had been obscured by the great mounds of dust kicked up every time the ball bounced or any other action took place. Even the great one would succumb to this treachery, and he did at 96. Four short of a century, and a victory that India could just about taste. But once Gavaskar was gone, so too were all hopes of a victory. The Indian tail was wrapped up shortly thereafter, 16 runs short of glory.

And thus over a weekend and a bit, a young adolescent watched some great sporting action that would stay with him for a lifetime. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate a lot more what that must have meant for Amritraj and Gavaskar and also what it must have taken out of them to put in the physical and mental effort that they did. It didn’t matter that India had won just one of the two ties at stake, what I had witnessed was some of the finest sporting action to which I would ever be privy.

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Meditating For Moolah

Posted by anandrr on January 28, 2010

This being my very first trip to an Ashram of any kind, I was expecting to run into a strong cult of personality, but little that would annoy me. The surprises started at the get-go.

The ashram is a huge swath of land in San Ramon covering many hills, valleys, lakes, and what appear to be moderate-sized farms. We visited on a Saturday, the only weekend during Amma’s two weekend-Bay Area visit that she would be meeting with the public. “Giving darshan,” as we Indians say.

The main action is centered around an auditorium, a  middling barn-like structure built on the side of a hill. The area around the ashram had been converted into make-shift parking lots, each with a jarring title: the Kailash lot, the Rishikesh lot and so on.

The Punyam Trail to the Parking Lot

The Punyam Trail to the Parking Lot

The Kailash lot is connected to the auditorium via the Punyam trail that cuts across the intervening hill. No word on whether those who take the longer scenic route to the auditorium are missing out on the short cut to salvation.

As you walk to the event, you are surrounded by cars whose owners proclaim both their love for the mother as well as their extreme liberalism (2-heart-Amma license plates cheek by jowl with bumper stickers sloganeering for Peace) You also find that you are surrounded by a wide variety of Indians, some non-Indian Asians, and a large number of Caucasians dressed in white kurtas, salwars, and donning beads and necklaces. It is then that you realize that this combination of Indian and white is only seen in one other type of event in the Bay Area: classic rock concerts. Those who have been will recognize this readily: if you went to a Roger Waters or Mark Knopfler or Jethro Tull concert in the Bay Area in the nineties you would have come upon a curious demographic mix, old baby boomer Americans with tie dyes, pony tails and young twenty-something Indians raised on a steady diet of  classic rock. Replace the older hippies with a younger version, and you have the demographic mix of the “mother” events. As you approach the auditorium, you realize that the similarity to a rock concert is not entirely incidental, the business model seems to be almost entirely copied. There is one vital difference: the main event, the meeting (and embrace!) with the “mother” is free. But this event is surrounded by commercial merchandising that will take your breath away. To start with, just as the Stones go on tour with the prominent “lick” logo, so does the “mother.” She comes complete with a swooshy logo that would make Nike proud, as well as a slogan for the North American leg of her tour (Embracing the World, natch). Everything is on sale with a high markup. Books, tapes, CDs, holy water, holy ash, holy sandal wood, holy incense, holy puja material, holy everything, all duly blessed. Pictures and paintings of doubtful artistic value but incalculable blessing value. Food of doubtful nutritional and even less culinary value. But the one that had me gasping for air was the table with the offerings to the mother. Devotees like to take offerings to the mother when they gain darshan. Towards this, they can buy at this table a small box of Hershey’s kisses for $4 or a large bag of the same candy for $7. This is chutzpah that would make Donald Trump proud. Buy the items at Costco for a cheap $1-$2, sell them to a devotee at around 4x the price and then, follow me carefully here, get it right back from the devotee as an offering.

‘I don’t understand why you buy eggs for seven cents apiece in Malta and sell them for five cents’
‘I do it to make a profit’
‘But how can you make a profit? You lose two cents an egg.’
‘But I make a profit of three and a quarter cents an egg by selling them for four and a quarter cents an egg to the people in Malta I buy them for seven cents an egg. Of course, I don’t make a profit. The syndicate makes the profit. And everybody has a share.’
Yossarian felt he was beginning to understand. ‘And the people you sell the eggs to at four and a quarter cents apiece make a profit of two and three quarter cents apiece when they sell them back to you at seven cents apiece. Is that right? Why don’t you sell the eggs directly to you to eliminate the people you buy them from?’
‘Because I’m the people I buy them from’, Milo explained.

— Joseph Heller, Catch-22

At least Milo would be proud.

Once you’re past the curious demographics, the branding and the commercialism you finally find the groupies. You can’t have a rock concert without them, and the same goes for a  darshan. There they are, overcome by the mere sight of the lovely lady, alternately rapturous and stunned into speechless wonderment. I was put in mind of this one time that I ran into Vijay Amritraj at the Leela in Bangalore and my jaw dropped to the floor as I stood there and reminisced about his game-changing performance at the Davis Cup against Martin Jaite. I found myself strangely immobile, overcome by the dueling emotions of wanting to fall on my knees and kiss his ring and simultaneously unable to do anything lest this heavenly apparition suddenly disappear. I’ve never  been much for the divine souls myself, but I must imagine the feeling on encountering the amma is somewhat similar.

All told, I suppose the most egregious aspect of the experience was encountering such a blatantly capitalistic enterprise cloaked in so much anti-materialistic spiritualism. In a sense, it is a matter of  some not insubstantial aspiration and achievement that a mere girl from the fishing villages of Kerala has ascended to the head of a huge multi-million (billion?) dollar enterprise, and who am I to fault her for her enterprise and gumption if this is how she chose to get there. On the other hand, it leaves one with the realisation that perhaps nothing is really sacred any more, not even the sacred. That takes getting used to, when I get there, perhaps I’ll have true zen.

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