Categories
Entertainment Music

My Rock Education 1

At no point of time have I had my own music collection. Listening to bits on TV and radio, random songs stored on my computer—mostly recommended, never borrowed out of choice—tuning into classics from my parents’ collective stash, that sort of thing. Never had a shoebox full of discs or cassettes that I called mine. Still don’t. I had no preferences, no prejudices, no musical taste. Everything they showed on the telly and radio was generally accepted as good, and I was okay with that: hip hop, soul, and pop. I guess I got used to listening to all the garbage thrown at me.

I should’ve known it was meant to be when I watched Metallica’s video of Unforgiven Two on VH1, last evening. That set the ball rolling, and my roommate suggested me to watch Some Kind of Monster, a documentary that chronicles the individual and collective lives of the people who make Metallica while they were busy at work on an album, St Anger. Not that I didn’t know anything about Metallica, but admittedly, I knew very little. I didn’t know who the players were, their history, their candid personalities, not even their names; just that their music was good—Nothing Else Matters—and loud. I kinda like loud now. That wasn’t the case growing up, loudness and noise was pretty much what I associated rock music (especially heavy metal) with: harsh and uncouth on the ear, and it wasn’t my cup of tea. Who in their right minds would want to bleed their ears to death?

Much has been written about the documentary in question, more so of the band, so no point repeating. What I liked most was its amazing insight into the birth pangs of Metallica’s music. The jamming sessions of Ulrich, Hetfield, and Hammett (yeah, I know their names now) in a leased studio, digesting the day’s work, searching for the bits in there that are worthy of a song, and finally etching out the lyrics. There’s method to their madness, controlled chaos, and it was enlightening to see.

But that isn’t all the documentary covers. The album is a mere sub-plot to what the cameras ultimately capture: Metallica’s inner discord, and its struggle to survive. Broadly, it puts people and their relationships in perspective, and their attempts at exorcising their personal demons to flourish again as a group. It’s real-life events, therefore unscripted, honest and truthful and recommended to everyone who wants to know more about Metallica—arguably at their most weakest and greatest juncture. However, be warned that at the end of it, you will feel an uncontrollable urge to hear Metallica’s St Anger album. Guaranteed. Otherwise you aren’t what we describe ourselves as “normal people”.

I should’ve known I was getting sucked into a rabbit hole when I asked my roommate for his Metallica collection. It was past midnight, very unlike me to tune into any kind of music at that hour, let alone rock. But there in my room, at an ungodly hour, I heard St Anger and Death Magnetic for the very first time… and I felt at home. Over two hours of frenetic music, it never felt crude or unsophisticated, but gentle and soothing. It was peaceful in an alien way, and I liked it.

For me, I don’t think there ever was a better time or place to listen to better music other than Metallica.

Nikhil what have you done, mate?

Originally published: August 26, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Football Places Sports

We are back!

Yeah.

That headline is for all the naysayers out there, and their jittery kneejerk reactions, daring to write off United after only their second game of the Premiership campaign. Second game!! Granted Burnley was a slap on the face—but what a cracking volley that was from Clarke—and defeat not the best result, but it was a wake-up call nonetheless. United have traditionally been slow starters, but that doesn’t give them license to be sloppy, which is what they were away at Turf Moor. The Clarets were better in all departments, and Carrick’s slip-up during the penalty chance was unfortunate.

I’ve never seen Fergie as red-faced as he was after that midweek game. The hair-dryer surely must have been thrashed around in the dressing room, and the players given a deserved earful. Wonder what the Gaffer says during times like these. Be that as it may, it surely seems to have worked. Wigan resisted well in the first half yesterday, but they were brushed aside with ease in front of United’s attacking prowess in the second. Nope, brushed aside is too tame to describe the proceedings: Wigan were annihilated, decimated, in the face of sheer brilliance. Rooney—who finally scored his landmark 100th goal for United—scored a brace, while Berbatov, Owen, and Nani, all scored one apiece. Owen’s first goal for the club was a special one, and probably off the hardest chance he’s had since the start of the Premiership. That’ll help ease his nerves and give his confidence a big boost, and the same holds true for Berbatov. All three strikers need to hit the right note early on for United to have any chance of winning a record fourth straight Premiership title.

The scoreline in the end was 5-0 in favour of United. Quite a way to silence those retarded critics, eh? Oh and Arsenal won their match 4-1. It’s going to be an exciting game next weekend. Wenger or Good Ol’ Fergie?

—-

That headline holds true for England as well. They defeated Australia by 197 runs to regain the Ashes, winning the series 2-1. The Poms did the Oz—again!

—-

Nice weekend, here in Bangalore. Had the pleasure of introducing an unsuspecting South Indian family of the nuances of Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations—bumbaiya ishtyle. Oh yeah, they were amused.

Originally published: August 23, 2009

Categories
Football Sports

Premiership kickoff

A blog post after two months, boy am I getting lazy or what? Blog was ignored on account of many reasons: I was as busy as a hamster on a wheel at work, then I fell horribly sick. So sick in fact that the doctor advised me to go home; “There’s no hospital like home, and no better doctor than your mother,” he said. Cheesy, yet true.

As a result, I’ve returned from an 18-day vacation in rain-swept Mumbai, and apart from sitting around and doing nothing—which is what most sick people do on an enforced holiday—I devoted myself completely to watching the telly with unbound exuberance. I was on a healthy diet of cooking shows—Nigella Lawson, Kylie Kwong, Jamie Oliver, the lot—the movie channels, EPL flashbacks, and VH1 (MTV and Channel [V] are just hideous nowadays!). What I’ve noticed is that adverts are getting better, and news channels waste no time in labelling every cough and sneeze a “breaking news”. But they aren’t half as stupid as English movie channels, and their dim-witted attempts to weed out swear words and kisses from a movie, so that pimple-faced brats and their parents alike can watch movies like Cocktail and The Mummy together with a straight face.

But let’s keep all that craziness for the crazies. I don’t have to bear with it anymore as football is back from its hibernation, and weekends will never be the same. United are left with a big hole after Ronaldo’s record-breaking departure to Real Madrid, and one thing led to another, as Michael Owen—the one man I never imagined at United—has embraced the mantle of the #7 jersey. Carlos Tevez has gone across to Manchester City, and with no major name signed in the transfer window, there’s a big banter over United’s depleted forces and how it’s Liverpool’s season this year. We’ll wait and see about that.

So, the pre-season friendlies are gone, the Community Shield hiccup against Chelsea forgotten, everyone expected a United win over newly promoted Birmingham City on the opening weekend of the new Premiership season. And win United did, Rooney scoring in the first-half, but it was a scrappy victory—the 1-0 scoreline not as convincing as Arsenal’s 6-1 demolition job of Everton on Saturday. However, Liverpool’s 1-2 defeat at the hands of a resurgent Tottenham Hotspurs was nice to see—and so was the post-match interview of Rafa Benitez, the Man with a Thousand Excuses. But these are still early days.

Yay, for the Premiership. I missed you.

Originally published: August 17, 2009

Categories
Poetry

From yours truly

I have nothing to write home about. Life has meandered into its oft chanced upon cheerless, uneventful bend.

Beautiful is the rose atop many a thorn;
mad indeed art thou to ignore it for mourn.
Effervescent is life despite moments of gloom;
shalt thou wilt or shalt thou bloom?

There’s a poet hidden amongst all of us. Unaware, yet waiting for the right moment.

Originally published: June 13, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Places Sports

Run maadi run!

What do you get when you combine reckless exuberance with an unfulfilled ambition? In the context of this post, a physical meltdown. As I furiously press the keys on my laptop’s keyboard, trying to show my body who’s its daddy, I have completely surrendered to the mutiny of my lower limbs, that pain and shriek—yeah, I hear them—at my tiniest attempts to move them. To be fair to them, they have every right to complain, after the torture they’ve endured. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy—but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Sunday mornings are seldom as demanding—get up late, have brunch, laze around some more, you know the drill, right?—but having signed up for the Sunfeast World 10K Bangalore, what else was I expecting? In the end the experience was both exhaustive and enriching at the same time. The event is a yearly marathon that takes place in Bangalore, which, coupled with its lovely, inviting weather for outdoor activities, saw a turnout of over twenty-three thousand enthusiastic runners this year. And they came in all size and shapes, age-groups, and demographics. I saw the modern runner—complete with sweat bands, Nike sneaks, an iPod, energy drink, the whole nine yards—and an appreciable foreign contingent setting the pace for the rest of the pack. There were ladies running in tracksuits, small kids, pudgy men, middle-aged-out-of-shape aunties, grannies and grandpas, even a baby in a pram! I also saw some costumed crusaders: Ghajini-inspired runner, a Yamaraj-lookalike, and several confused caped men. The mass exodus was flagged off from Kanteerava Indoor Stadium at 8.10am, the track snaking its way through Kasturba Road, Cubbon and Dickenson Road, before reaching its farthest point at Ulsoor Road (the 5-km mark) and turning back. People along the way were cheering us—heck, even traffic and regular cops were clapping their hands together, shouting Run maadi run! whenever they saw someone falter or slow down. It was also good to see Bangalore’s roads devoid of automobiles of any kind—you can hope to glimpse Santa on Christmas Eve before witnessing such a miracle, if you weren’t running.

I had received my bib (no. 8916) and goodie bag on Wednesday, and, although unprepared, I was really looking forward to the showdown. Apart from not being in the best of shape, and getting found out physically in terms of stamina, I take great personal joy and pride in completing the damn thing in just over two hours—2 hours 10 mins—without a single break! I winced, huffed and puffed, thrust an endless amount of fluid down my throat (knowing all too well it wasn’t the best thing to do), and I winced some more but I got the job done. Another personal highlight was bumping into Dav Whatmore—the ace Cricket coach, a stone’s throwaway from Chinnaswamy Stadium during my retreat on Cubbon Road. Said a few words, shook his hand, felt good. That was the only distraction throughout the race, apart from a band of runners chanting Ganpati Bappa Morya! at the top of their lungs. Ganpati Bappa in Bangalore? Don’t see that too often.

The event was well-organized, with ample water-medic stalls stationed throughout the course. At the time I reentered Kanteerava to finish the race, my feet felt like they were getting poked by needles all over. I relaxed and recouperated with friends at a pub on Church Street, but reaching there was another long, arduous trudge which my feet were unwilling to make. Once home, it was a long session under the hot shower, before tucking myself into bed at 2pm. Having woken up at 6am on a Sunday morning—which is nothing short of blasphemy—and walked to the tune of 12-13km, what else do you expect?

Originally published: June 1, 2009

Categories
Books

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

No sooner is it Saturday and there goes the nutter, rambling about his obsession for football yet again. It isn’t hard to imagine such observations from people around me, especially the ones who’ve grown to know me all too well. And as football hibernates for three agonizing months after today’s FA Cup decider between Everton and Chelsea (which Chelsea won 2–1), and as symptoms of football withdrawal kick in, I couldn’t help but write something about an obsessed football fan’s account I finished reading today.

I laugh at the thought of labelling myself an obsessive. If I’m a Manchester United fanatic by merely restricting my view to a measly television box or an Internet location streaming live games from halfway across the world, and concerning my sense of gratification with a team’s exploits that I have never witnessed in person, then Nick Hornby is nothing short of an all-knowing guru (and by that same analogy, most of Britain a land riddled with soccer-snuffing, foul-mouthed addicts). He’s someone who has seen it all—home, away, and at neutral territory (a feat I can only dream of)—as an ardent supporter of Arsenal his entire life and lived to recount his tale firsthand in the gripping football memoir, Fever Pitch.

The book is a fascinating extract of Hornby’s fixation with football and all-things Arsenal. Right from the moment he went to attend his very first game at Highbury (the original hallowed turf, today’s Emirates Stadium is just an imitation) to the dull nil–nil draw against Aston Villa in the post-Championship winning season of ’90-91, a performance that epitomized the under-achieving, boring Arsenal he grew up to love, Fever Pitch has all that and more. The abundance of heartbreak that comes with the territory of a sports fanatic, those rare moments of sporting triumph catalyzing tumultuous fan euphoria (and erasing memories of all past shoddiness), and most importantly the inner turmoil of a fan coming to grips with his obsession—Hornby captures the quintessential football fanatic and relives his life not in years but in seasons. And with a good bit of humour, too.

Seventeen years after it was first published, it will be fair to say that Arsenal’s fortunes have changed since Hornby penned down his essays that comprise Fever Pitch. But a recent five-year streak in the Premier League’s wilderness, with no silverware to boast of, Arsenal might have re-entered the barren mould Hornby grew up watching. The book is still a hit, though, and a must read for anyone loosely interested in football and the emotions it evokes.

Originally published: May 30, 2009

Categories
Football Sports

A Catalan fairytale

Ah, well, a disappointing end to the season. Manchester United went to Rome with great expectations and a chance to create history. Barcelona had a similar agenda, trying to be the first Spanish club to win the treble. With the La Liga title and Copa del Rey already in the bag, they capped off a fairytale finish to a historic fortnight by winning the Champions League final in Rome 2–0, and, in the process, thoroughly outplaying their opponents. The prospect of making history proved too much for United on the night.

It wasn’t a vintage United performance by any means. Apart from a cracking start in the opening ten minutes of the game, they conceded a soft goal against the run of play and never recovered from that initial blow. Samuel Eto’o went past Vidic far too easily and beat Edwin Van der Sar—despite getting a touch on the ball—at his near post. Panic set in, far too many passes went astray, and we never had much possession. Ronaldo was the only United player who provided a few sparks on an otherwise forgettable night.

Having said that, I don’t want to take anything away from Barcelona’s performance. They were simply spectacular on the night, making life difficult for United’s stars to flourish. Much was made of their depleted back line, and United’s stellar pair of Ferdinand and Vidic were expected to be the telling difference between the two sides. And in a way they were, only opposite to expectations. Apart from a few half chances, United never really posed a goal threat, and I don’t remember Victor Valdes—the Barcelona goalie—ever making a save throughout the game. On the other hand, Barcelona’s attacking prowess was a treat to watch. Henry, Eto’o, and Messi—the holy trinity—hovered around United’s penalty box like hungry scavengers, and Iniesta and Xavi constantly kept feeding them with an endless supply of passes. The second goal, a brilliant header from Lionel Messi, where he seemed to be airborne forever, underlined Barcelona’s overall supremacy in the game. The scoreline could’ve been 4–0 but for a couple of very good saves from VDS.

What went wrong for United? The tactic of playing Rooney on the left flank just didn’t work, as he was severely under-used and failed to make any impact. He should’ve partnered Ronaldo as the second striker, and Fergie realized this a touch too late. The crucial difference between the two teams was the midfield, in my opinion. Barcelona’s pair of Iniesta and Xavi were unstoppable and almost telepathic in their passing, while their United counterparts in Giggs and Carrick completely lacklustre. They gave too many balls away far too easily, and United never really came to the party, forced to chase the game by Barcelona.

They were well and truly outplayed on the night, and the players accepted the fact at the final whistle. Not a tear was shed, their faces shell-shocked more than anything else. Fergie had a melancholy look on his face. Personally, it was sad not to see United lift the trophy, but Barcelona were deserving winners on the night. And as Carlos Puyol lifted the most coveted trophy in European football, even Fergie couldn’t help but stand and applaud the new European Champions.

Congratulations to Barcelona! I would’ve enjoyed the game a lot more had I not been tense with nervous anticipation for the whole length of it. Pep Guardiola deserves every accolade in his favour, delivering a season that is nothing short of magical for a rookie manager. Lionel Messi was better than Ronaldo on the night, and his goal was a true masterclass. I should also mention the solid performance of Gerard Pique in defence, his was simply outstanding, and obviously thrilled for winning the trophy twice in two years with two different teams—he was a United player until last season, if any of you don’t know.

Knowing Manchester United, they’ll bounce back after this defeat. They always do. Until next season then, aye?

Originally published: May 28, 2009

Categories
Cricket Football Sports

Foot over Bat anyday!

A thankful break from a monotonous Sunday evening—which usually begins with an abrupt end to extended siestas, closely followed by EPL’s Super Sunday (minus John Dykes’ prematch sound bytes), only to conclude with open-ended conversations with online friends, deep into the night—I found myself skipping my habitual weekend football fodder, getting dragged into witnessing the IPL Twenty20′s finale between Deccan Chargers and Bangalore Royal Challengers instead.

Was I excited? Not really. I was looking forward to a cosy evening with some good friends more than anything else. To be honest, this was the first game I watched in IPL’s 2009 season. While sitting in the stands, witnessing the first test between India and Australia, back in last October, I remember being all amped up over the prospect of watching some of Royal Challengers’ home games at the Chinnaswamy. I wasn’t prejudiced against watching the IPL from the beginning, just felt disappointed and robbed over the tournament’s hosting in South Africa.

When I ended up at my friend’s place, who was kind enough to host the evening’s get-together, I was looking forward to some good cricket. Food and drinks accompanied the festive spirit (Go Challengers!), much to my surprise; and with likeminded sports-loving, couch- and beanbag-hugging maniacs, what else did they mean in the “Watching the game, having a Bud” adverts? Perfect setting. All the game needed to do was match the expectations.

Deccan were asked to bat by Kumble, whose second-ball dismissal of Gilchrist was flukely predicted by yours truly, moments before the delivery, and followed by an uncontrolled tizzy immediately after. But that was all the excitement as far as cricket was concerned. The rest of the game was hopelessly lackadaisical, and failed to keep my attention. And others around me felt much the same—in varying degress, of course—peeling their eyes off the television screen, allowing themselves to get distracted easily—whether it was a song, a joke, or the long line of adverts that filled gaps between overs.

At some point, I realized that curtains were also falling on the current Premier League season, and that United were away at Hull City—who still weren’t completely safe from relegation—fielding a reserve team, with both eyes firmly set on Wednesday and Barcelona at Rome. I later found out they won the match 1-0 despite fielding a weak team, and that Hull were safe. Weird not to see a football game on its last weekend.

But as I left for home past midnight, watching Akon lip-sync his own number at the Wanderers, I couldn’t help thinking—what if we had switched sports, opting to watch football instead of cricket? Somehow I get the feeling it wouldn’t have been such a bad proposition, and Blueberry—my new best friend—seemed to agree.

Note to self: try to convert your friends into watching more football.

Originally published: May 26, 2009

Categories
Bengaluru Places

Dinner at Zoe’s

It finally happened this week. A canopy of clouds—menacing and full of purpose—gathered out of nowhere, overshadowing the sun. Only this time they weren’t kidding around, delivering on their promise. The wind picked up, out rolled the thunder, flashes of light ignited, and the dam in the sky finally broke. For about a couple of hours, on two successive days, there was hardly any respite from the rain pounding on rooftops. Muddy pools of water sprouted all over the place; the gutters overflowed, overwhelmed and unable to contain that leak in the sky. And just like that, the monsoon had arrived. Despite my wardrobe’s complaints over the weather, I couldn’t be bothered. I was too happy soaking it all in.

The merciless shower led to an unintended discovery. Homesick and hungry, and trapped after work, late Tuesday night, a couple of friends and I escaped to where we all felt instantly at home: a restaurant-cum-cafe called Zoe’s. The prospect of choosing my first Italian meal, through the endless list of mouthwatering dishes, proved too much for my appetite. While sipping some hot cappuccino, I settled for a plate of spaghetti bolognese and some good conversation, watching the raindrops trickle away into the night. Had my first glass of cherry coke there as well, along with a customary dollop of ice cream melting over a chocolate brownie for dessert. Heaven!

Great food, good ambience, and prompt service, on a cosy, rain-slicked night—with Zoe’s, it was love at first sight.

Originally published: May 23, 2009

Categories
Football Sports

Coronation at Old Trafford

Coronation day couldn’t have been better. There was a sprinkling of sun, a brief downpour, and in classic Manchester United fashion the team tortured the faithfuls to no end before delighting with a moment to cherish and savour. The Mancunians were ecstatic not only for the third premier league crown in as many years, but United drew level with Liverpool’s historic all-time record of 18 titles in England’s top division. Sir Alex Ferguson notching up a phenomenal 11th title in his 23rd season in charge. His family attended the presentation ceremony; one of his grandsons proudly kissing the United crest on his jersey, throwing caution to the wind much like Gary Neville would in front of the Liverpool supporters.

After a comfortable derby win against Mark Hughes’ Manchester City, last weekend, and a last-gasp win against Steve Bruce’s Wigan Athletic midweek, United needed just one point to clinch the title against the visiting Arsenal at Old Trafford. The Gunners played fluently with hardly any hint of pressure, having cemented 4th place in the table, dominating the game throughout. On a day that didn’t warrant their best performance, and in a way that has defined their defence of the title this season, United got the job done with a goalless draw. Not without trying, though, as Rooney and Ronaldo came close to hitting the back of the net.

But goals were hardly what the 76,000 assembled longed for. In all their past successes, United had won the title at Old Trafford only once in the historic treble-winning season of ’98-’99. Ten years is a sore trial for the loyal supporter who throngs the Theatre of Dreams every weekend, ten-months-a-year. Little wonder then at the final whistle when a roar resounded throughout the ground to spark the celebrations. As they emerged onto the pitch to receive the trophy, the players and staff couldn’t wipe the broad smiles off their face, having played their part in the historic scenes in front of their own supporters to behold. Gary Neville went on to describe the current squad of players as the best to have graced the club. I think he will be proved right with victory over Barcelona in the Champions League Final on May 27.

However, Carlos Tevez surely seems to have called it a day at the club, bidding farewell to the capacity crowd who gave him a standing ovation as he left the pitch midway through the second half. That was the only blemish on an otherwise vintage Old Trafford mood. The joy and revel in the club’s achievement, a hunger and desire conveyed by the manager to build on the success. This isn’t the pinnacle just yet, said the boss.

But future exploits are for another day; for one day they all basked in glory. Celebrating with friends and family on the pitch, enjoying a hard-fought title race. And even as Gary Neville lifted the trophy above his head, the champagne fountains were overflowing in the streets, cementing United’s position as the undisputed kings of English football.

With success in Europe to look forward to, there’s little doubt where all the focus is now shifted. They won the premier league and champions league double last season, who’s to say they can’t do it again this time? Victory in Rome will forever etch the name of this United team as one of the best to have ever graced the game. Bring on Barcelona.

Originally published: May 17, 2009