Sunday, May 26, 2013

So what is the IPL all about?

Again another post long overdue (actually one year) but better late than never. I had planned to write this last year while I watched the IPL match between Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals at the Chepauk stadium and was reminded of the same when a similar match took place this year just a few weeks ago.

First of all, do any of you Chennaites, regret you didn't watch an IPL match at Chepauk this season? If you are planning to go to a match at Chepauk (well this year all matches here are done), it is my humble request that you don't because it can turn out to be one of most horrible experiences of your life, particularly if it is a day and night match. I am sure this is the case with the other stadiums too where the sun is shining hot and there is little cover from the light and heat.

Here is my personal experience. In the blistering heat of the afternoon sun, shooting those hot bright rays straight at me in my seats I almost thought I would faint of a heat stroke. Nothing can be more punishing and miserable than this. Till the match began I kept running out of the nearest exit to take shelter under any little shade that was available. God only knows how many times I did that. So what do you do in the heat? Drink as much water as possible. The stands that supply drinks and eatables are priced exorbitantly. All that pales to the dehydration you suffer. You keep drinking and there will literally be no end to it. The stalls that sell drinks, water and snacks are crowded and they make a killing because everyone is running for water. I must have gulped litres of water and soft drinks that day. Honestly, nothing beats the comfort of your sofa or your cool home for watching the IPL matches on your T.V.

I had been there for my son who wanted to watch Dhoni and Dravid up close. Other than the fact that you are close to them physically it is really difficult to tell if you were really watching Dhoni or Dravid because they are so far away. Many a time you end up looking at the giant screens there to get a better look at things happening on the ground. Compared to that your T.V now captures each and every moment of the game in HD clarity and with enough replays you get to see a match much closer than any spectator in the stadium, though you have to put up with the stale advertising on T.V.

You don't have to get dressed for the occasion (for ladies it is worse) as you do in the stadium. Dress or undress, you will be left soaking in your sweat. In Chepauk, it is a pity that the very seats and stands that hide the afternoon and evening sun remain vacant even for this year due to legal procedures and processes. What a miserable shame!

Here are some pics from last year's match I went to.


 Chaithu, hot and sweating in the seats.

The disputed seats offering shade. That's where one needs to be.

The seats at dusk. Thank God the sun is down.

So what's the IPL all about? If you ask me, it is nothing but a commercially successful sports-business model, imported, obviously from successful sports-models of the west. I am not ruling out that there is absolutely no talent but for those who admired the beauty of stroke play in Tests, the bashing and hitting T20 format offers hardly anything similar.

In 1998, while in the U.S. I went for my first and only ice-hockey game at The Mark, Davenport, Iowa. My boss was a ice-hockey player himself and he asked me to join him and his wife that evening. The local team, The Quad City Mallards were playing a rival team. For me, one thing, clearly, stood-out that evening, it was the voice of the two men behind the microphones who were cheering their team, making comments, announcements etc., Loud, clear and highly motivational these guys made the home-team feel really at home. You can hear this when you watch NBA matches too. The auditorium or stadium resonates with their sonorous voices and the way they pronounce certain words for dramatic effect. For instance while introducting the team they would say something like, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcoooome, the Quad City Mallaaaaaaaaards". In the IPL they have a similar person doing this kind of thing though not so dramatically as the guys I head during the ice hockey match. But the "dramatically" part is soon to follow as our folks are only adept at only one thing, "copying" and particularly things from the west. During the break between the first and second halves of the game there were other things going on like someone with a bazooka like gun shooting t-shirt balls into the audience. Then a game with small kids on skates also took place before they got the ice cleaned up for the second half. These kind of dramatic events will soon be incorporated into IPL too.

Slogan singing and shouting and booing which are perfected abroad are soon going to be copied too. Honestly Freddie Mercury and Queen's "We will, We will Rock you" makes me cringe every time they play it for the Chennai Super Kings. At IPL, DJ's play loud music through out the match. Whenever something favourable happens to a team, that team's signature tune or music is played and cheerleaders are up and dancing. Rajasthan Royals certainly had a better tune.

So is there anything good at the IPL? Yes, here they are, 1. If something happens close to where you are seated, it's real fun. One catch, I recall in particular was splendid but for the spectators located far away they are better off looking at the giant screen. 2. The amazing Spider Cam. I reallly loved this contraption and the way it moved all over the place. Note that whenever the spider cam moves closer to the seating area that portion of the crowd is up and cheering. This when cleverly inserted on T.V gives a false impression that the entire crowd at the stadium is up and cheering. 3. Sivamani - At Chepauk it looks like Sivamani the percussionist has an agenda of his own. His meagre drum set is moved by assistants all over the circumference of the ground and sometimes even in the midst of the dancing cheerleaders. He is in a very jolly mood, drumming, signing autographs and waving to the crowds as though they had all come only to watch him. 4. Finally, the cheerleaders. There were 6 of them for each team and in batches of three per dancing deck and therefore 12 in all. Honestly I was not prepared for what I was about to witness. The girls rock. I have to mention the girls of the CSK team. Skimpily attired they just made the place even hotter. One team, though not visible from my seats was located near and below where we were sitting. The other team was much farther away. One girl in that team was gyrating in such a fashion, I thought, only the pole was missing. The crowd located near that dancing three were definitely getting more than their money's worth. Honestly for the torture that you endure in the heat, they offer some respite. Actually I even felt sorry for them.

With all this activity going on the cosmopolitan crowd is euphoric. I was under the impression that for most of the spectators at the stadium there was nothing but a wild sense of Deja Vu.

With spot-fixing and with the current arrest of CSK's owner one wonders if entering the final for a 5'th time was also manipulated.

My advice - go to the venue and sell your tickets. You'll find takers, a dime a dozen. And watch IPL on your television set in the comfort of your home.

So where is cricket headed? T20 has converted cricket into a hitting game. Gone are the beautiful strokes of the Test matches but gone are also the innumerable hours that were taken from our exam study days. T20 has made cricket a much smaller game. Is it good for cricket? Cricket is gradually becoming something else. More on that in my next post.

Oh! I actually did in an earlier post. You can read it here.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

A thing of beauty, a joy forever indeed!

Exactly a month ago, on Easter Sunday on March 31'st I was trying to save whatever battery charge that was left on my mobile phone just to make one important call.

At around 3:45 PM I call my sister and ask her, "Suji, do you know where I am?".

"No, where are you?", she asks and I reply, "In front of the Taj Mahal". A "Wow" and an "Oh My God" from her only indicated how she was feeling and missing the moment I was going through that day.

This was my first visit to the Taj Mahal and I cannot fully describe the incredible feeling I had when I saw this "monument of love". After using and hearing the word "awesome" thousands of times, here is one place where I found its true meaning. In fact I could spend an entire day here admiring this beautiful monument that left me speechless.

My first impression is the scale of this wonder. Like me if you are a first time visitor, you might have seen a photo or pic of the Taj on your T.V or movie screen but what awaits you is a scale that is much larger than what you have in mind. The Tamil word "Brahmmandam" is what comes to mind. I have blown up a small portion of one of my pictures to indicate the size and scale of this beauty. This one is near one of the minarets. The monument on the side is on the Eastern side of the Taj. (Click image to blow it up full size)

The Taj itself is located in several 100 acres of space and the area leading to the Taj itself is beautifully adorned with other very impressive work of architecture. Be warned, it takes quite a trek to actually be in front of the Taj from the place autos or cars normally drop you. Once inside the premises you can take battery operated vehicles or camel driven carts to the ticket counters. From the ticket counters there is another good stretch of walking you need to do but this one's easier with the incredible sights of the monuments and other architecture on your way. You go past several other beautiful monuments and tombs of Shahjehan's first and second wife and one of Mumtaz's loyal maid too (courtesy of the Guide's narrative). Chances are, you'll be going past the Great Gate, the Darwaza-i-rauza (pictured below) which is a quite a spectacle in itself.


As you stand outside of this gate you can nearly catch a glimpse of the Taj. Was the foreigner in the pic above, holding her head in disbelief. I almost did the same. As you go by the gate here's the intricate design of the ceiling of the dome.

When you get a glimpse of the Taj via the doorway it nearly takes your breath away and the closer you get the more it stuns you with its beauty.

When I consider how architects, workers and the king himself could spend time and travel this far from Delhi and nearby places to build such a wonder, it is mind boggling. Agra is a three hour drive by car from Delhi but by the time you reach the entrance of the area leading to the Taj it will seem like forever, particularly on a busy Sunday. So you wonder how the King and his men thought of such a location and went about building one of the finest monuments in the world.

Even the world's most beautiful girl will age but the Taj will not. The monument is so beautiful you just want to keep looking at all day long. For me even if the most beautiful girl had been there that day, she would have been ignored in the presence of the Taj.

The other thing that came to my mind is the incredible perfection of the construction or should I say the epitome of beauty and perfection in a building. Stunning symmetry, perfect and flawless geometry are what awaits you. Even small lines and circles on each of the four minarets are the same in size, proportion and position. Then comes the intricate hand work, fine Jali's in marble, inlay work using semi precious stones (several of them scooped out too), and carving done on marble, all there to drop your jaws wide. The calligraphy is the other thing that you will not be able to ignore. It is so beautiful that Shahjahan is supposed to have rewarded the calligrapher. I can only wonder how they made such precise measurements to write the verses of the Koran in beautiful Arabic. I can hardly  imagine how the Taj must have looked when it was in its pristine condition in 1653 A.D, 360 years ago. Shining a light close through the marble (guide's suggestion) you'll notice the high quality of the marble that almost lets the light through as though it were translucent and how the inlay work just lights up.

What always blows me away is the construction of this wonder that took place at a time when there was no computer, no CAD or CAM, calculators, engineering colleges or universities, when even no cement. Most of the fountains that were operational used natural pressure to function, no motors or pumps. The gardens were later replaced or improvised by ones under the British rule.

I also got this rude shock as to what are I was doing with my life. Even the smallest worker on this monument seems to have accomplished something worthwhile in this life. I also wonder what did a day in the life of a worker or an architect or an engineer working on the Taj, felt like.

Honestly, go alone, bask in its beauty and solitude that will make your mind think wonderful things instead of going with big company and wasting a lot of that "thinking time" on chatting. Ideally I would like to spend one full day here. This was my last shot of the Taj as we were reclining in the benches on the lawn.

Take a guide. You'll find many. They actually help you move through lengthy queues and stubborn security folks much faster. Talk to them and unless they sound like quacks, hire one of them. They also fill you with a load of crap but you can ignore them like the Black replica of the Taj that Shahjahan was trying to build acroos the Yamuna and such. Make sure you pick up shoe and slipper wraps when you buy your tickets (Guide's suggestion) because if you don't you will have to remove your footwear when you climb up the Taj.

Cannot wait to visit it again. This time I want to visit The Taj on a full moon day which I believe is when The Taj is at its romantic best and also the most beautiful to watch.

In a recent interview I heard Amitabh Bachan mention how one of his Pakistani friends would tell him that in Pakistan they had everything that India had except for two incredibly beautiful things. One, the Taj Mahal and the other Lata Mangeshkar.

If you are Indian, you MUST visit this wonder before you die.