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Adrenalin, Peace and Pain : My First SkyDive April 8, 2016

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I usually enjoy my time out at the sea. Snorkelling gives me a lot of peace. That day, however, I could not soak in the moment. For all said and done, I was nervous. On a holiday. After all, it was Karnika and my first SkyDive the next day.

We’d been very excited about the Dive now for quite a few weeks. However, as the moment came closer, it was pretty edgy. Jumping off a plane just for the heck of it? Sounds insane, right? Well you know what – it is as insane as it sounds.

Cut to 10 AM the next day. After we reached the location for the SkyDive in a remote part of Cairns, we were to wait for a while. More nervous moments, after which about 10 of us were taken into a training room. Now since this was a Tandem Dive (Where you have an instructor jumping off with you), the directions we had to follow were very few (albeit critical). After getting ready with the harness (thankfully we didn’t have to wear those silly jumpsuits), I told my instructor:

“Dude, you are the my God for today, and the most important person I’ve met in my life”

“You bet I am – but do you know the difference between God and me”

“Yes! You can open the parachute, but God cannot!”

Well, here’s the thing with a tandem dive. You have to do literally nothing! It’s your instructor who does the jumping, the parachute opening, the manoeuvring and the landing (Unlike what’s shown in ZNMD!). So you just have to follow instructions on positioning. But, guess what? Most of these instructors had a CV with at least 10,000 dives against their name. Imagine that! Doing 5 dives a day, how would that feel?

After a short wait, it was time to fly! A plane from one of the 1970s movies came in front of us and we took off. Honestly, the plane was so creaky that I was wondering if we would ever require to jump off from the plane! It did absolutely nothing to soothe our nerves. A couple of minutes into the flight and it started to get nerve wracking. It was first the land which was moving away from us and then the clouds. I told my instructor that the view was incredible with the Great Barrier Reef in view – which is when he showed me the watch on his hand which measured the elevation. It was 6000 feet. It hit me that in spite of the height, we’d not even covered half the vertical distance.

7,000 feet. The corals had started to disappear. We were amongst another set of clouds

8,000 feet. The noisy airplane, the cold winds blowing in and the views – it felt quite surreal

9,000 feet. Insanity. I couldn’t believe that I was going to randomly jump off from a height higher than the Everest!

10,000 feet. There is still time to back out… This is just too terrifying

At 11,000 feet, my instructor pulled me and tied my harness to his. He told me that we would be the first ones to jump off. Wow!

The last couple of thousand feet was just a blur.

14,000 feet. We move towards the door. It’s cold up there. I can’t hear what my instructor says. And before I can absorb the height, my instructor jumped and I fell towards the ground.

I cannot describe the immediate experience because there is nothing that can match it. Not bungee. Not running. Not dreaming. Not thriller rides. Not a substance induced high. Not the biggest achievement. Absolutely nothing.

The closest description I can say is you are meditating while running full throttle. I don’t think my heart has pumped harder than those 45-50 seconds. Adrenalin was in such force, that you could feel it bottling out of your veins. Yet, there was a strange kind of a calm. It was just me with nature at her best. I was in, what they call “The Zone”. It was something else.

I was awoken from this bliss by a sudden jolt to my groin – it was the opening of the parachute which lent a suspension. “I must remember to wear a supporter next time around”. The thrill done, the view from the top was absolutely spectacular. The GBR, the seas, the rainforests and the mountains. Cairns is quite stunning. And experiencing falling towards it – even more spectacular.

And that’s when I lost consciousness. To this date I don’t know why or how – with my adrenalin pumping at its highest, I just lost consciousness. I can’t recollect how and why, but I just went asleep. Towards the end of the dive. The next thing I remember was screaming while landing; and because I had lost consciousness and did not land in the correct position – a searing pain in my knee. Damaged medial collateral ligament on my right knee.

Weeks of pain and no cricket / squash for the next few weeks. Worth it? You bet. The entire experience was so close to nature / death / yourself that it has made me both braver and humbler.

What are you waiting for – you got to go and do it!

 

Philippines : A Country as Beautiful as Her People January 21, 2016

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It’s been more than a month since we’ve returned from the Philippines. Without a speck of doubt, it is the most beautiful country I’ve been to (thus far). Stunning white sand beaches, stretches of pristine coastlines, fascinating islands, lagoons, underground rivers and landscapes, the most picturesque corals you’d get to see – all this, without the inevitable onslaught of tourists as yet. If you love any of the above, you should visit the country and do it right now. Take my word for it; you’d not fight a better place to be a beach bummer in Asia.

However, that’s not even the most interesting part of the country. The best part about Philippines is the people – who’re so happy most of the time that it is infectious. As the old Philippino lady (presumably in her late 60s) told us at the Caticlan Jetty in the wee hours of the morning:

We Philippinos are known always happy and smiling, after all what’s there to worry? The biggest source of joy apart from the beautiful country is our sense of large and warm families

Interestingly enough, she was returning back from Boracay with her very-old looking husband, equally old but warm sister and a cousin. For the uninitiated, Boracay is the Goa or Phuket of Philippines – albeit a much cleaner version. In the last ten years, this was the sixth time she had visited Boracay! I was amazed with her positivity – at 3 in the night, Karnika and I were far wearier than her family who were two and a half times our age.

The other part of Philippines which we visited was the enthralling Palawan. Now this place is like a large island state with satellite islands, a vast majority of which are unexplored or isolated (Philippines is a land of 7,000 islands+). The best way to see some of these islands is to take hopping tours, and use those to snorkel around the area. While I had snorkeled a fair bit earlier, Karnika was new to it. Needless to mention, she was scared of the whole thing as we didn’t know swimming.

That is where our awesome Captain, Aldi and his helpers jumped (pun intended) in. They had no need to, but the way they helped Karnika out was fantastic. It helped us get comfortable with the sometimes-choppy waters and work around some good spots to snorkel and swim. They even prepared us some awesome lunch (despite us being vegetarians – Philippines is your typical rice and seafood country) of noodles and salad.

That evening, we decided to visit Aldi and his little world – Midnight Sun Tours & Travels. The boatman lived with his wife, sons, daughter in law, nephews – all in a cramped house with a single bedroom. No stress, they welcomed us in a warm and affectionate manner. Their son was in a prison for no fault of theirs. They had little money for his release and running the family. They had to support a whole bunch of people. Strikingly, they were happy and went out of their way to make our experience in El Nido memorable.

There were many such people who we met along the way in this charming country. Nothing deterred their spirits and nothing broke their hearts. To say that we came back rejuvenated would be a gross understatement.

I cannot wait to visit the country again. I urge you to do so too before more people discover the beauty that is Philippines.

Roger Federer: One More Please? July 13, 2015

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Today: I could not will myself to get up for my round of squash this morning. I trudged along to the breakfast table and could barely digest the sandwich which my lovely wife had made. Putting on my shirt was difficult and there was nothing more painful than driving to office

July 2012: I was in Shanghai with my office colleagues and friends. Roger Federer was majestic on that day and dispatched the British pretender in four sets after losing the first. Since the break in the second, he looked like a man possessed. Celebrations at every forehand winner and sumptuous volley were the order of the day.

Two days back: When he hit the backhand volley from a losing position against Murray, it was like time stood still. There was nothing to do but get up and applaud. 2015 was certainly his year. The volley was the best winner I had seen in some time. Surely, Becker must be scared seeing this in person.

July 2008: One rain break. Two great champions. Three friends watching the game. Four hours and forty eight minutes. Five of the best sets ever. Anger, frustration, followed by ecstasy and finally agony. With due respect to Borg and McEnroe, the greatest tennis game ever. You felt his pain. You felt his relief. You cried with him. You felt the pressure and burden on his shoulders. You marvelled at the game that is tennis.

Yesterday: Numbness was part of me when the mike was picked up at the Championships. He said that he would be back. He said that he had no burden on his shoulders. He said that he was just happy playing at the biggest stage of them all. You still felt numb.

I prefer watching tennis all alone. It is the one game which allows me to get into the skin of the sport and give myself the roller coaster ride. Can you get that first serve right when it matters? Can you ace it? Can you will yourself to play a 30 shot rally at the age of 33? Do you have the will to save a set point when you are already a set down? Can you save seven of them? Can I exercise the control over my mind? Can I reach that meditative zone when nothing can touch me? Do I have the hunger to fight back against a beast? Can I put away my expectations, my family, my life and everything to just focus on getting the next move right? Can I control my work? Can I be honest with myself and make the career switch I need to? Can I put asides the money and think for myself?

Roger Federer has given me unbridled joy over the last decade. To see him glide across the court like Harry Potter’s Patronus is sheer pleasure. To watch him master the court is orgasmic which nothing else can match. To see him cry is like a knife going through your heart. But when he says that he is happy playing tennis, even if he is losing, I am supposed to feel happy. I feel happy, yes, but I do not feel blissful. I feel empty the next day, I feel absolutely terrible. I know that every chance at the Wimbledon Final is probably his last. I felt so in 2014 as well. I crave for that one more title. I craved for that last Tendulkar hundred. There are supposed to be happy endings, aren’t they? Sir Alex had it. Paul Scholes had it. Agassi? Steve Waugh? One more Grand Slam, please.

A friend told me yesterday that we have been lucky to have seen Federer, Tendulkar and Messi in our generation. I could not agree more.

Was Draupadi in love with Karna? January 7, 2014

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Mythology is the flavour of the season, and after reading the terrific “Palace of Illusions”, I went about looking for the answer to this question.

Predictably, my two sources were Google and elders in the family- the elders had absolutely no clue about this question. Google, however, through up a lot of interesting anecdotes and one of them is worth looking at:

According to a legend from Mahabharata, during the thirteenth year of the exile of the Pandavas, Draupadi saw a ripe jambul, roseapple, hanging from a tree. She plucked it to have it. No sooner had she done this, Krishna came from somewhere and stopped her from eating it. According to Krishna, the ripe fruit was supposed to be the fruit with which a sage was supposed to break his twelve-year fast. Not finding the fruit at its place, could earn the wrath of the sage, resulting in more trouble for the Pandavas and her. Draupadi begged of Krishna to help her out of this impending problem.
 
Krishna, then said that the fruit could be put back at its original place, only by someone who holds no secrets. Draupadi had only one option and to confess some guilt. Seeing no way out, Draupadi walked up her husband’s and confessed to them, that though she was a chaste woman and loved all the five husbands, there was someone else that she longed for. She always had loved and respected Karna, the arch-enemy of the Pandavas. This was a shock to all the husbands, but none said anything. Having confessed, she went and put the fruit back on the branch of the tree and all was well.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Apparently, this is mentioned in quite a few folk editions of the Mahabharata. The book mentions the longing which they had for each other as being mutual; but it was something which did not fructify itself due to various reasons. The landmark events in their relationship, of course were Karna being called “suta-putra” by Draupadi and not being allowed to contest the Swayamvar and the insult of Draupadi by Karna in Yudhisthira’s court. However, there have always been undercurrents between the two- and the same has been beautifully brought out in the book.

So what do you guys think about this? I am curious to hear of more opinions and views on this

 

The Sachin Farewell – A View from the Stands and beyond November 19, 2013

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It was 1400 hours on Saturday, the 16th of November, 2013. Hearts heavy with what we had just experienced, Himank and I decided not to stick around for one last glimpse. We decided to make way for lunch and drinks at the nearby Cafe Mondegar in Colaba. Predictably, there was a fair bit of a queue outside the joint and it was dominated by fans wearing the iconic No.10 jersey and sporting the Indian flag paint. After some jostling, we made our way to the table and set about conversing about what we had just witnessed. A couple of drinks later, with the screen showing his shots, we went down the memory lane, and spoke about the hundred against Henry Olonga’s Zimbabwe, the straight sixes against Eddo Brandes, the hook against Caddick, the best Indian chases all involving him- Desert Storm 1998 and Commonwealth twin innings’ 2010, the straight drive, the innings’ against Pakistan in 2003, World Cup 1996, the back pain and innings against Saqlain & co in Chennai, Dale Steyn competing with him… It just kept going on.

Within a few minutes, we realised that the four young lads in the table next to us, all sporting Sachin jerseys were discussing exactly the same. And so were the group of friends in the table behind us. Ditto with the two couples ahead of us. I don’t know what it was, I don’t know how it worked but I’d never witnessed anything like what was going to happen in the next few minutes. Someone started it from a couple of tables behind us and within no time, the entire cafe broke into chants of “Sachin.. Sachin”. Here. In the cafe. In the middle of the day. We went, “Thank You Sachin”; “Saaaachin..” and all the Sachin chants which we witnessed at the Wankhede. It was unbelievable. Like they say, “Divided by , united by Sachin”. The Europeans in the Cafe, were of course, bewildered, but took the opportunity to soak into the moment and capture “Incredible India” on their cameras. The chanting continued through the afternoon, and you could look at various moist eyes even after the emotional cauldron in the stadium.

Somehow, it felt natural that this should happen. Somehow, it felt inevitable. It was as if we were all gripped by a common force and energy. If there is anyone who has inspired and been loved by the entire nation more in equivocal terms, I’ve not heard of that person.

It has been three days since I witnessed the outpouring of emotions and those words coming from Sachin. I still can’t get over the profoundness and candidness of the speech. It was not earth shattering, Sachin is not the best orator, and it was nothing that we didn’t know. But the connection he made with us in the stands, and beyond was striking. Again, I had never witnessed anything close to this. But then, I don’t think we’ve witnessed anything like Sachin Tendulkar.

The moment which I can never forget is when he walked purposefully across the ground from the Pavilion to the wicket. We were all wondering why it was, and before we realised it, Sachin had bent down, paid his obeisance to the soil and took its blessings before the packed house for one last time. It was at this moment that even the strongest amongst us in the stands broke down.

And so did Sachin.

I still feel that I am floating in the numbness which took over the stands just after Sachin left the ground.

Thank you Sachin.

Pride and Passion: Thank you Sir Alex Ferguson May 9, 2013

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He is gone. I thought he would never go. He is gone today. I ought to be celebrating his career, but I’m filled with despair and helplessness about the possible future of my club. Yes, he was there through the ups and downs of my life, but not anymore. How long will it be before United win their next title? Can we still have the bragging rights over most other clubs in England? Can someone fit in these players in various systems to bring out the best in them? Can……

I started following club football in 2007, a year before we won our third Champions League title.  Since then, Sir Alex Ferguson has been the biggest reference point for me- sometimes a huge enigma, but often an inspirational persona. I mean, he is 71 years old, and still celebrates a goal against Southampton as if it’s his first. I mean, 71 fucking years old. And that passion. Still. 71 years. Do you see that kind of passion in anyone aged 71, in any field? It’s the age when nasal sprays in your nose are more common than a football field under your feet. It’s the age when most people stop celebrating their lives. But nay, not Sir Alex. I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt from him. Celebrate your life, enjoy every moment of it and live life. He still rips apart the fourth official (read: The Chelsea/Madrid games), still defends his players like they are his own kids (read: De Gea), still runs across the touchline to celebrate a goal (read: Van Persie against Saints), still sulks like crazy (read: Nani red against Madrid), is still naughty enough to take on an opponent verbally (read: Benitez), still revers his wine (read: Mourinho), still gets excited about young players coming through (read: Januzaj). I mean, how in Holy God’s name can someone have so much passion 27 years into their profession? How the fuck?

 I wish I had that smile. I hope to live every moment with that passion, like that man.

There is so much emptiness and sadness, but I hope I can carry this message of the greatest manager of any sports team I’ve seen. Nay, not just a sports team, but the biggest sports club in the world.

Thank you, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Travel, and travel young! September 26, 2012

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Thanks to my wonderful organization, I have discovered an aspect of life which seems so fascinating to me now that it seems reprehensible that it was not an integral part of me earlier. The urge to travel, discover new worlds and reap all the benefits which come along with it is endearing. Beyond the obvious, there are so many things which you learn when you travel.

The point I have to make is that travel young. People often give various excuses like the lack of time, the need to save at a particular stage of life etc. However, the world is littered with cases where people end up not travelling at all, even when they have time and money on their side. And that, is such a pity.

The youth of your life is when you are forming a view about the world, opening up your minds to different aspects and growing. Travel at this age does something very important to you- it gives you an opportunity to grow. There is nothing better than travel when it comes to discovering yourself and what better than youth to do that? I would go as far to say that travel can actually help you figure what you want to do with life.

Discover the Himalayas, swim in the Indian Ocean, party hard in Thailand, bingee in New Zealand, soak in the culture of Cambodia & Laos, hike the mountains of Mexico, safari in South Africa, cross the European borders by train, learn Mandarin. Life, after all, is so beautiful!

Travel young because:

  • It helps you open your mind to the world and forms views in your head
  • It helps you discover yourself and your purpose
  • It teaches you how to live with the nature, its children and eccentricities
  • It imbibes qualities like independence, and gives you a great level of maturity
  • It improves you as a person
  • You are most energetic when you are young!

Sachin Tendulkar: The Waning Aura? May 7, 2012

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Yesterday, I got the opportunity of witnessing another of those last ball finishes at the Wankhede. The match had it all- high runs being scored, massive sixes, athletic fielding, good death bowling, a top innings by God..!

God. This is probably the seventh time that I witnessed Sachin bat in a stadium, including last year, on a sombre birthday in Hyderabad. Every time, I’ve seen him bat, including in faraway Vizag and Hyderabad, the crowds have gone berserk and chanted his name till their throats hurt. His batting is something which people have eagerly anticipated; his sixes are the most cheered for. But yesterday, it was a little different.

Sachin still got cheered for the balls he stopped and the runs which he scored. However, it was fairly subdued to anytime before. The usual chants of “Sachin.. Sachin” were missing, in fact the DJ had to egg people on to do the same. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the chanting for Malinga was much louder than that for Sachin. In Mumbai. In God’s own abode. On the day after the Eden erupted for their own son of the soil, Dada. Oh dear!

Thus far, I had refused to believe it. After all, he was the darling of the nation just a year back, when he had won us the world cup. People in office talk about his decline and how he should have retired after the world cup. Twitterati never fail to bash him up. His hard core fans started to turn away. In spite of that, I refused to believe. Till I visited the stadium yesterday. Sachin Tendulkar’s sheen has surely started to wane away.

The reasons for the same could be many- the wait for the 100th, the news about penalties and RTIs, the new house, the Ferrari, the Rajya Sabha nomination, the Rahul Dravid retirement. It could be a heady cocktail of all these factors. To my mind and heart, He is still God- an inspiration, an entertainer of the highest magnitude, the reason why I am still drawn to this game. But sadly enough, I have now started to believe that he is no more God for many people across this country.

Rahul Dravid: An Inspiration March 9, 2012

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Yesterday, as I clicked on the trending topic “Rahul Dravid” on Twitter, the first tweet which noticed amidst the cluster of messages and tributes was, “Even when he announces his retirement, the media persons rush to ask Sachin Tendulkar for his opinion”.

This has probably been the summary of Rahul Dravid’s career. It is to his credit that in spite of playing in the age of the biggest Indian sporting star India has ever seen, he has more than held his own and marked his route towards greatness. That he has rarely ever received his due is well recorded; what is amazing is to never find himself fretting about it. Never. To my mind, the greatest tribute he could have received was from the Bradman Oration at the Australia War Memorial, who chose him to deliver a speech in front of an August audience. Needless to mention, the speech was delivered with eloquence, dignity and grace. Just like the great man.

“If I had to chose one man to bat for my life, it has to be Rahul Dravid”- Brian Lara.

Cut to Kolkata 2001. With India in dire straits, Laxman hit that knock, but to my mind, Rahul Dravid was an equal hero then. While Laxman was in good form, and hence had been promoted to No.3, Dravid was not. He was not expected to last long but then that’s when you can trust Rahul Dravid to fight. And fight he did. Digging out all his reserves of mental energy, determination, technique, selflessness; Dravid delivered a master class of the highest order.

In a way, Dravid is someone who all of us can relate to. While Tendulkar is someone who has always been seen with God-like qualities, Laxman with his immense talent, Ganguly with his flair; Dravid’s been one who can easily fit into the role of the boy next door. And that’s what makes his achievements all the more amazing. It is what makes him the most inspiring figure around- “I can try and emulate his attributes, and I’ll succeed”.

“All this going around is not aggression; if you want to see aggression on cricket field, look into Rahul Dravid’s eyes.”- Matthew Hayden.

I don’t have too many words to say, I am too choked with emotion at the prospect of Rahul Dravid retiring. My eyes are moist, for one of the biggest idols of my life is walking into the setting sun; for he is the one who has taught me the biggest lesson in my life. Just don’t give up. Watching him fight high quality seam bowling warms my heart.

My favourite Dravid innings:
1) 233 vs Australia- Adelaide in 2003
2) 180 vs Australia- Kolkata in 2003
3) 144 vs West Indies- Georgetown in 2002
4) 93 vs Australia- Perth in 2008
5) 270 vs Pakistan- Rawalpindi in 2004

God Bless Rahul Dravid.

The Blue Coral October 31, 2011

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I have not seen water clearer than this. The ocean bed went deep into the earth, and the bluish-green highlighted the character of the sea. Crystal, luminous, serendipitous, glorious- Use all you like, but can you describe the ocean? The inhibitions put aside, the mask was worn leading to the first peek- the uncovering of the purdah into the stunning ocean.

I could feel the hair in my hands stirring at the appearance of the vitality of life. The fins and the scales on the fluid creatures under the sea was a sight to behold. The yellow on the skin was the most natural colour I had ever seen, could I just extract it and etch it on the walls of my room? Further away, the blue fish was the most heart-warming creature.

The community of the gilled creatures behaved in an enthralling way. Bread allured them, but so did the leader of the lot. Did I see them following their chief, who warned them of the huge hairy big-square eyed creatures surveying them? Or did they sense the joy of an awaited event? I could not tell. I wanted to know. I had no way of doing so. I wanted more time with them, to observe, to learn, to live.

Never had I thought that tentacles could excite me more than anything else. The togetherness of the creatures stunned me, with the odd coral sitting isolated in deep contemplation. Beyond the physical, the commonality across living beings is striking. And the sight of the isolated blue coral- was orgasmic, or tantric; as you would like to put it.

My insomnia in the middle of the night is only to be explained by the first explorations of the majestic ocean. I cannot wait to romance her again.

Peace. Hardly do you find this word more apt.

PS: This is with reference to my snorkelling trip at Phuket (Phi Phi Island). My co-travellers were Abra, Anuj, Ashwin, Bharath, Giridhar, Hersh, Kavitha, Mahesh, Shalini, Toshe and Vipul.