Monday, 1 September 2014

Football Rising

The other day at football practice, Zubaida's father asked if he could talk to me for a minute or two. He told me about how he'd always loved cricket more than any other sport. "I've tried pushing Zubaida to play cricket but she's always refused. I always thought it was because she disliked sports, but now I know why she was never interested in cricket,"  he said. "Why?" I asked. "Because she loves football the most," he replied. I smiled so hard it hurt.

This conversation took me back to a month ago when Zubaida was ushered into  my class by a senior teacher. "She's a new girl, she's very shy so she might not talk much," she said. I nodded and looked at the small child standing before me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined that she would one day grow to love playing football.

That's when it hit me, Zubaida isn't the only child who's recently grown to love the beautiful game. Children all over the country have begun to show huge levels of interest in local tournaments and the EPL. This has been possible only because of great efforts taken by stakeholders at all levels, right from the likes of John Abraham and Baichung Bhutia with the much awaited ISL , to the Mumbai Mirror publishing big reports on the local football tournaments, to training low-income students free of cost just as the Manchester United Supporters Club of Mumbai is doing for 33 of my 5th Grade kids.

Granted, there are still many flaws at multiple levels, but this is such a great year for football in India, and I am only making this claim based on the evidence I have personally witnessed at the grassroots level. For instance, a 10th Grade kid Jitesh who studies in the neighbouring school (and resides in the same low-income community as my kids) likes to help out with football practice whenever he can. A few days ago, he shared the exciting news about him being selected for the final tryouts in Pune. "Final tryouts for what?" I asked. "For a chance to go to Germany and train with Bayern Munich!" he exclaimed. I took a moment to do a couple of backflips in my head. And to think that it was only a couple of years ago when Jitesh's elder brother was among the few selected to train with Manchester United in England. 

Teach For India organizes a football tournament called 'Just For Kicks' for all TFI schools each year. Last year was my first time watching the kids play at the tournament and some of the matches simply blew my mind. We had kids as young as 8 years of age controlling the ball like it was an extended part of their bodies. I know I will draw much flak for this comparison, but that level of football was as packed with action, energy and anxiety as much as our regular EPL fixtures. I left that small, dusty field in Dadar with this huge load of gratitude that day. I felt so privileged to have been one of the 80 odd people who had witnessed that kind of magic.

These are just a few examples of what I have experienced and noticed over a single year. I'm pretty sure there are a thousand other instances (however small) that will testify to the 'Football Rising' trend that is gradually picking up pace in our country. Let me sign off with an adorable conversation I recently had with one of my kids -

Arbaz: Didi, please apologize to Rooney and Ronaldo from my side.
Me: Why? I don't think you've done anything to hurt them.
Arbaz: No Didi, please aplologize to them now only, because when I grow up, I'm going to break all their football records.

Do reach out to me if you have witnessed or experienced similar trends and moments of magic. Perhaps we could compile them into one mega-post as a testament to football's rising popularity in the country!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Red Devils: Moving On or Moving Forward?


The last five minutes seemed so promising. Even for us sworn pessimists. Especially for the optimist faithful.


What does it do to a team, when every one of its worn down players is particularly aware of the 300 million others, on their feet, anxious for the ball to cross that fine white line that determines the fate of many? It rattles them. It rattles them crazy. Their hearing skills match those of a feline while their eyesight mimes that of an aged man.


Crazy yet true. Horrifying yet overcome able. Devastating and yet, hopeful.


29 games, 10 months unbeaten. If that's not described as achievement enough, I don't know what is. Yet, to end this marvelous streak to a low placed team like Wolverhampton adds a lot more to the humiliation and frustration.


Manchester United, on its way to becoming the most successful team in the EPL, lost its first match this season. At half time, the score was 2-1 in favour of the Wolves, and remained that way throughout the entire course of the game. And to think United are so admiringly labeled the 'Kings of Comeback' for that sensational ability to win games when a goal down even at the 86th minute. The last five minutes seemed so promising - With every United patron on his feet, chanting to himself, 'We're the Kings of Comeback, We're Manchester United.'


With thirteen matches to go, United are leading the EPL table with Arsenal seemingly menacing, only 4 points behind. United have not played Chelsea at all this season, a rival many consider intimidating no matter how long a losing streak they possess. The 'loss' of the season has shaken many and the road ahead looks tougher than ever before.


United have a reputation of surprising fans with last minute wins and at the same time, disappointing them with careless, unexpected losses. The numerous draws don't mean much either - they're only looked upon as 2 point deficits. For a team that once considered winning a 'habit', now have to push hard to do so. Many say they're losing their 'shine' while others consider them so tame a team that their many wins absolutely baffle them.


Has United really fallen so far from grace? Has there been no improvement since the recent dip in form 2 years ago?


Will the imminent departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Van Der Saar, Scholes and Giggs destroy the very essence of the team?


United fans all over the world now prepare themselves for the expected onslaught, with a higher expectancy for a loss in form, and Hope, that the young guns may step up to the plate. I emphasize Hope, for this pure quality pumps through the blood of every well bred United supporter like never before. A quality that the club has continued to feed on, throughout.


You see, that’s what makes this club special, and that’s how 5% of the world's gigantic population swear themselves to the club.


United doesn't require a burgeoning kitty or a David Villa to move on. They possess a 'magic' unique to the club, a magic that leaves its viewers literally 'spell bound'.


For all the Judases who so quickly shifted base to Chelsea or Barcelona, you're in for the biggest regret of your life. For here stands a recharged club with more promise than a Torres manned team will ever have. Here stands Manchester United.


“At United, we strive for perfection, and if we fail, we just might have to settle for excellence.”


Cheers to that, Sir Matt Busby!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Giggle Fest



To jump out a window or smell a flower? I'd rather jump on a highly unstable iron bed pretending to be superman. (Yes with towels for capes et al) 
But wait a minute, that was you guys. Riiiight. I was the silent spectator while the three of you posed for very flattering pictures in your not so conventional ensemble. While a so called 'sensible' person might think 'And my mom thought I was crazy', all that went through my big head was 'Oh my gosh, these people are effing epic!' Yes, thats what's called a pretty cool first impression. And yes, you may blush now. 

I'm not one to remember stuff, I mean I'd easily forget what I did at my last birthday (totally legit stuff but just saying) But insane moments like these? They're gonna be stuck to the grey walls of this loose brain for life. 
So here's to those people in my life who wear flowers in their hair (and ears), say weird crap like 'You can eat my tatti', pay homage to the LA Lakers by wearing the same yellow and purple outfit everyday (which is VERY cool by the way), hug me and scream 'We won!' when you don't even know the team's name, own a laptop called Henry or a calculator named Caleb (and treat them like actual people?), climb a 16 feet high ladder just to tie a shiny ball or a joker's face to a piece of wood, dance to a Tamil song (and sing along to the words too!), use 'fudge' as a curse word, stick 'Loser' post-its onto random people's faces, sing with 'Loser' post-its stuck to different parts of your face, watch Fevicol ads just for fun, take 2 hours to cook a meal and gulp it down in one-tenth of that time and drink juice from a bucket at the World Cup Final. 
I could go on and on just cause there's so much to remember. The grey walls of my brain are now this gigantic, colourful soft board with your warped but pretty faces on it, each one with a look that says 'God made me awesome' (Courtesy : Garima Raghuvanshy) 

So whatever you people are made of, I'm sure a giant bowl-full of legendary matter is the first item on the recipe. I love each one of you - more than Frodo loved Sam (they were just disgusting together), more than Smeagle loved his 'Precious' (no, I'm not implying obssession) and more than the number of times we visit Colaba multiplied by the amount of money we spend solely on food, added to the number of hours spent on eating that gi-normous load of food. Yes, I'm in an awfully 'senti' mood and no, you may not tease me about it later. So wave those jazz hands for my choice of candidates for President! =)

"I don't see what anyone can see in anyone else but you." - The Moldy Peaches

(Dedicated to my fellow hostelites, those without whom I probably wouldn't have survived through the last year)

I Never Saw Blue



'And were we ever somewhere else,
You know, it's hard to say,
And I never saw blue like that before,
Across the sky, around the world,
You've given me all you have and more,
No one else has ever shown me how,
To see the world the way I see it now,
Oh I never saw blue like that before.'


- Shawn Colvin



The old white building stood where it had always stood. Why paint it white, he wondered.
He shook his head. White is just as depressing as black, he thought. Devoid of any colour.
He walked up to the fourth floor. The elevator was always too easy.
He stood by his bed, stared at his unrecognisable face. Did I always look this bad, he wondered to himself. Perhaps not. Hopefully not. He let himself grin a boyish grin.

The long walk had done him much good. He'd seen more than he'd hoped to see, visited a lot more people than he'd hoped to meet. But he still wasn't quite satisfied. In fact, he wasn't satisfied at all. For They, were still upset. For She, was still very much upset. He'd met Her at the University. They'd shared the same first day, the same first class and the same first chance at unselfish love. She was smart, gentle and painfully adorable. She was pretty. And he was pretty much taken by Her. She was The One.

He sighed. He'd spent most of his time just watching Her. It comforted him. She comforted him. He watched Her stare at his picture for the longest time. She smiled, and so did he. I'm right here waiting, She said. Then She put on her coat and left.
He stayed on by her bedside. Her things were always so tiny. The thousand bottles on her dresser, her little shoes lined up in a row, her favourite gloves by her pillow. He turned around slowly, taking in every detail, every aspect of her room he'd always known. He closed his eyes and pictured Her smile. Instantaneously, so did he.

He now stood on the fourth floor of the colourless building, still staring at himself. I'm a tormented soul, he thought, I don't deserve to be here. Then he collapsed into a chair and shut his eyes.
'You look like crap.'
He looked up to find Brad grinning at his figure.
'You don't look too great yourself', he chuckled, pointing at Brad's silhouette on the bed nearby.
'But the gown does suit you', teased Brad. They both laughed.
Brad was her younger brother, an old friend and one heck of a comedian.
They fell silent. 'So how is She?' Brad asked, 'I can't bring myself to see Her you know.'
'Lovely as always. But you should go. See Her I mean. She's the calmest of them all.' Then he let out a sigh with a smile. She always made him smile. Always.

'So how are you holding up? Any improvement?' asked Brad.
'Yea, I guess so. I mean I'm trying as hard as I can. You?'
'Not good', said Brad, 'Not good at all.' He took one hard look at the ceiling. 'Honestly, I don't think I'm going to make it.'
'Don't you ever say that!'
Brad shook his head. 'I can't leave man. Not yet.'
'You're staying alright?' He shook Brad by his collar. 'You're gonna be here a long time. I promised her I'd take care of you dammit.'
He let go of his collar and looked him in the eye, 'We're both staying. Not for you, not for me, but for them. We fight harder for them, get it?'
Brad didn't get a chance to reply, for at that very moment, She walked in.

She was followed by Natalie, His sister. They visited the boys every morning since that fateful day. They'd leave only to catch those few necessary hours of sleep.
Natalie sat by his side and stared at his swollen head. The doc had explained the seriousness of his condition, but he'd also mentioned how surprised he was at his marked improvement. 'I'd given him 3 days', the doc had said, 'he's been here a week. He's a fighter alright. Never seen a case like his before. Ever. I'd bet my entire life's savings he's gonna make it. But for Brad, I wouldn't be too sure.' She swallowed as hard as she could. 'You're a tough one, big guy. I hope to be as strong as you are.' She was shaking, she always did. I have to be strong, she thought. I must be strong. For Them. She no longer shook. Instead, she pulled away, looked to Her and said, 'Your turn. He's been waiting for you.'

He looked longingly at them from across the room. 'Cry goddammit!', he yelled, 'The both of you!'. But they remained as silent as they'd always been. 'Why do they choose to stay this way?' he asked in a feeble voice. But he received no answer. For Brad had taken off the moment he'd seen the doorknob turn.

'Hey honey', She said. 'I had our favourite soup today.'
'I know', he replied.
'Then I lit the fire, this time the little wood first and then the larger bit. The warped way you always do.'
'I know.' His voice shook.
'And then I sung out your song. I hope you liked it.'
'I loved it. Every bit of it.' Then he lay down his head and cried.

She was a wonderful singer and she'd sung 'I Never Saw Blue' beautifully. He always loved to hear her sing. 'You're a star', he'd tell her. 'Yours?' she'd ask. But she'd already know the answer. 'Forever', he'd reply.

The following day passed like the previous seven. People came, people left. 'They' came, but as always, They didn't leave. They'd camp on the benches right outside the room.
Only, Brad didn't come back.

An army of doctors and nurses now surrounded Brad's bed. 'His blood pressure's shot up!' 'The bleeding's worse.' 'He's not going to make it.'...........'Oh my God.'

He finally found Brad in the forest by the lake. He was standing at the edge of the steepest hill. The wind blew hard, but his hair did not stir. His colour was now that of pure silver. One could make out he'd been crying. 'He' stared at him for the longest time, confused. And worried.
Brad spoke first, 'I told you I'd go.'
'You aren't going anywhere.'
'But I am. Can't you see?' he paused for a moment. 'They came to me soon after I'd left you. They told me I had to go. They told me!'
'But you can't.'
'I'm not ready man. I'm not. I can't leave Mama behind. You know, I saw her last night. She was terrified! I've never seen her so shaken. Mama, I'm so sorry.' His voice shook.
'You're not going anywhere.'
'But he is.'
They turned around. Jeder Daley now stood where a tree had been. He spoke again, 'It has been written. I've come to take you home Brad.'
'Uncle Jed?' Brad said in disbelief.
'Yes Bradster, its time to leave. Come on, we must reach on time.'
'But Uncle Jed...' Brad broke down as he spoke. 'I'm not ready!'
Jeder was pulled to the side. 'Mr. Daley, can't he stay? Look at him!'
'But he must leave immediately. It is written.' said Jeder.
'Can't something be done? Anything?' he asked breathlessly. After a moment's thought he looked up and said, 'Can't you take me instead?'

The crowd around Brad's bed was a new one. 'He's almost stable Sir.' 'I think he'll pull through.' 'Thank God.'

Two hours later, They and She were summoned by the doctor. He spoke in a solemn, grave manner, 'His condition's suddenly dropped beyond that he was admitted in. He's not responding anymore. The ventilator lives for Him. Its unexplainable, baffling and most disheartening. I think he's actually given up', and after a moment's silence he whispered, 'I'm so, so sorry.' He turned around fast as a wheel, unwilling to bear the mere sight of Them. They collapsed onto one another, a single family and Her. While everyone else wondered 'Why?' and 'How?', She had but a single thought - 'But you promised.'

As He prepared to leave, he took one last look at the people he'd always known, loved and been loved by. 'I'm so sorry', he said, hoping they'd hear him one last time.


Then he turned to look at Her. And as always, he smiled almost immediately.

In loving memory of a brother, a son, a friend, a lover, and more importantly, a father figure to many. The purest of souls. The most generous of hearts. We miss you terribly.