Thursday, May 22, 2014

Chapters from my Nostalgia: Sealed with that ‘Timeless’ six


Nostalgia is a supremely powerful emotion. In different facets of life, we look back at our past for varied reasons. Sometimes, to recollect a fond memory, sometimes, to soothe our frayed heart and often times, just for the fun of it. There is something about our past that is both magical and magnetic. Although it is not wise to dwell in the past, it is definitely worth it to relive certain memories. This is exactly what I am doing here.

With this post, I start a new series on my blog: ‘Chapters from my Nostalgia’. Every now and then, I will pick up some eventful memory from my enchanting past and present it through this series. Sometimes it may be from my school days, or from my summer vacations or any other event from my life that left a mark in my psyche. I do not know what shape this series will take in the days to come, but I do hope to make it lively and interesting for you.

Since this is the first post of the series, it had to be something special. When I think of my childhood, there are two things which had had the greatest impact on me: Cricket and Udaipur. It is thus natural that I unlocked a memory which had a blend of both in it. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did reliving it.


May 1997, Udaipur, Rajasthan

Even though it was 5 in the afternoon, the damp grass still had the smell of last night’s rain in it. Rains in the month of May in Udaipur were a blissful rarity and this time the fragrant mix of the moist soil along with the wet grass helped soothe my frayed nerves.

A cricket match was currently in progress in the ‘backyard’ of my naani ghar (maternal home) and I was nervously waiting for my turn to bat. My team was batting first and I was sitting in a small shed at the extreme end of the field, which actually was our ‘pavilion’. I sat along with a few other of my cousins, who had been dismissed.  Actually, to call the playing area a backyard would be an understatement. It was more of a field; spread across vastly on all sides. Cricket in the afternoon was the most common pastime here and being the avid follower of the game, I looked forward to participating in every match. However, things weren’t that easy here.

My family in Udaipur is huge. In fact, it is ginormous. There are about 12 families that stay in one gigantic house and the total number of members here runs close to around 60. Thus, I had many cousins who were males and were expectedly very interested in playing cricket. Almost all of them were very good at playing the game and as a 12-year-old, I was overawed by their skills. Moreover, all of them were in their late teens and of bulky frames and I was clearly the odd one out.

Since I was here for my month long summer vacation, my cousins would take me in their respective teams more out of pity than for my skills at playing the sport. The matches would be usually 6-a-side and I was taken just to fill the numbers of the respective team I was selected in. It was embarrassing to be selected this way, but I would just be excited to get a chance to be part of the matches.

The matches were 7-over contests and most of my time in the field was consumed in chasing the balls as I was never allowed to bowl. Whatever little chance I got of batting, something I dearly loved; I fared extremely poorly. I was no match to the pace, bounce and guile of these bowlers and my stay at the wicket would mostly be shorter than a few minutes. 

Nevertheless, I was the eternal optimist and always believed that one day would come when I would smash these bowlers to all parts of the ground and win matches for my team. In fact, before coming to Udaipur every year, I would fantasize some thrilling and convenient situations: that my team is in a precarious position and I lead them to victory with my sparkling batting performance; and my team then comes rushing towards me and carries me on their shoulders; off into the glorious sunset. However, those were dreams which were starkly different from my reality here.

Nevertheless, playing cricket here along with my cousins was important to me for other reasons as well. I believed that the more cricket I would play here I would get better and then playing the game at my home in Kolkata and in my school matches would be a cinch.

A loud cheer from the center of the field brought me out of my reverie. A wicket - the last recognized batsman - had fallen and I was now the last one in. We had our own cricket rules here and the last man could bat on even if all the others had been dismissed; something which I had to do now.

“Only five balls left; score at least one run,” said my elder cousin to me who had been dismissed. I took the bat from him and sighed deeply. My cousin’s sarcastic jibe did not help me but nevertheless, I had a task at hand.

***

Although the match was being played with a tennis ball, the fear of being hit loomed large in my thoughts. Leave alone pads, we just wore sandals or chappals to the game and as I saw my cousin warming up to bowl, I gulped. My cousin Paritosh, all of 17 years of age, was a robust young kid who could bowl really fast. He was easily the best bowler of the entire family and not many preferred facing him. I had already been out many times to him in the past few matches apart from being hurt quite a few times in the unmentionable area.

Very few expected me to do well. Not even me. But I had no choice and face the inevitable.

The first ball whizzed past me much before I could even lift my bat to play a stroke. I looked like a complete fool and could feel my team members rolling their eyes behind me in the pavilion.

The second ball pitched on the middle and straightened. I attempted to play a straight drive, but missed the ball and it just went inches over the off-stump. Paritosh left out an anguished cry even as the others of his team smiled; probably at my ineptness.

Flustered, I was now determined to at least get bat on ball and take one run. The third ball was a little slow and a tad outside off. This time, I somehow managed to plant my bat in the line of the ball and played a stroke towards the ‘cover’ region. However, my stroke did not have much life in it and the ball was easily fielded before I could even think of coming out of my crease.

“Should we declare, you moron?” hollered one of my team members. I chose to ignore him and concentrate on the task ahead; not willing to give up.

The fourth ball was a yorker. I wasn’t prepared for it and was wildly looking to slog. The ball hit my toes at pace and I muffled my cry as searing pain shot through my foot. I could not show anyone that I had been hurt as it would have meant to accept that I was a fragile kid. I thus nonchalantly picked up the ball and threw it back to the bowler; gently rubbing my foot after that.

I could now see Paritosh smirking a little. He had me hopping like a cat on a hot tin roof and was mighty pleased with that. I felt irritated and a little helpless. Something had to give.

The wise words of my father, then suddenly swam back to me. “Watch the ball very closely. Watch it until the very end,” he would always tell me whilst I played cricket back at my home in Kolkata. I had never quite paid heed to those words but somehow it seemed this was the moment I was destined to do so.

The fifth ball from Paritosh was fast. This time, I followed his hand closely as he delivered the ball, which was short of a good length and landed a few feet away from the off-stump. I charged down the wicket and following the line of the ball, swatted it straight before it could rise up.

The bat made a resounding ‘Craaack’ as it hit the ball; the sound reverberating across the field. There was a stunned silence in the arena as everyone watched the ball rise high in the orange sky. The little round thing soared and kept going high, crossing the field, the street beyond the field, before finally landing on top of the terrace of a building opposite it. It was as big a six as anyone had hit here.



My teammates whooped in joy and came rushing towards me; patting my back and ruffling my hair. Even the opposition team had smiles on their faces. My eyes though were fixed on Paritosh. He was the only one who looked too stunned and deflated to react; still watching the building beyond the terrace; refusing to believe that he had been hit for such a massive six by a 12-year-old. The air had clearly been winded out of him.

The ball was lost and could not be retrieved. But nobody cared! It was my moment to savour now.

I held my bat aloft in the air and proudly strutted around with it till the 'pavilion'; akin to the way Lord Hanuman would have lifted his mace after conquering Lanka. It was my highest score of the season here. Just six runs. But at that time, those runs meant the world to me. 
The remainder of the match went by in a whizz. Only the sixer kept playing in my mind. Everything else was just a daze.

***

We used to have dinner in a large central hall of the house. Around 15-20 of us would sit in a circle and share our stories at the end of the day. Today, I was the only one who was speaking and was clearly the star of the house. 

I animatedly recounted my ‘heroics’ with the bat to everyone who would care to listen. My naana, my maasis, and maamas had to bear the brunt of my pompous retellings of the six I hit.

“I just came out of the crease and ‘Bam’,” I re-enacted the shot from my sitting position to my family members who listened to me keenly.  Food had never tasted so good to me in the entire vacation.

The only person conspicuous by his absence was Paritosh. A bruised ego, after all, takes some time to heal.

                                                                                                                    ***

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t sixes before this. But this one was special on many counts. This one made me believe that I belonged to this game; that I too could take the big ones on if I wanted.

I was always a mediocre cricket player but I did have my moments in school and at the many matches, I played at home. Many a time I would struggle badly and it was in these moments that I would look back at that six I had hit in the dry field of my naani ghar in Udaipur.

That six not only helped me as a cricketer; it also boosted my confidence in real life. And that is why I cherish it to date. I look back at this chapter of my life very fondly, ever so often, as it helps lift my spirits and will hence keep it locked in the deep corners of my memory. That moment will forever remain a glittering part of my glorious nostalgia.

 That moment... That one moment which I sealed with a timeless six. 



Read the other chapters in the series by clicking on the links below:

Chapters from my Nostalgia: The First Crush


Chapters From My Nostalgia: “I Cried For You Today Maa…”



Saturday, May 3, 2014

Spreading Smiles: The ‘Unreal’ Way


A day without laughter is a day wasted.

-  Charlie Chaplin


If you are one of those who is hooked onto current affairs, then chances are that you follow TV news and gobble up newspapers by the dozen.  It is even more than likely that you are quite weary of the incessant drone of the TV debate shows and the biased reportage of our Main Stream Media. I also fall into the same category.

There are times when I feel so exhausted with the blather that our media comes up with that I feel there is absolutely no hope from them, despite being a part of it myself. There was a time, not too long back, I didn’t feel like flicking on TV news and sometimes threw away newspapers in frustration.

And then, ‘TheUnReal Times’ hit my life.

If you who haven’t heard of this amazing media portal, then chances are you probably don’t live on this planet. Well okay, maybe that was a little overboard. But nevertheless, this fantastic website is changing the way parody and satire is presented like never before.

Founded by two friends, who after being bored with their respective professional lives, decided to bring smiles on many other bored faces, with a portal which has news presented in the form of satirical and humorous articles. Apart from articles, the website also has several other features like spoofs on our politicos and other celebrities by means of an ‘In Pictures’ section, a ‘FB wall’ segment, skits and much more.

Now, you might say that there are several other similar websites out there in the media today. Correct. However, what differentiates The UnReal Times (URT) from the others is the classy and clean way they present their humour. They never go below the belt or stoop down to crass or slapstick comedy to entertain their readers. In fact, so real are their ‘unreal’ pieces that at times I found it hard to understand if it was a humorous piece I was reading or a genuine one.

Moreover, I can vouch for the fact that URT also does its part in educating readers about current issues; something which probably they themselves do not realize they are doing. There have been times when I read a particular piece about a certain individual in the website which completely went over my head; for not being aware of the news that was written on. I would then search around for the news in the ‘real’ media sources and come back to comprehend the humour. Yes, if you wish to get the taste of the humour and satire in URT, you have to constantly brush up on your knowledge of the current affairs. And that, in my view, is a massive contribution from them.

How I met URT

It was purely by chance or perhaps by the hand of fate, that I was welcomed into the world of URT. About a year back, when I was browsing through a cricket website (for which I write); I came across an article titled ‘President Barack Obama lauds Ashish Nehra’.  I was completely stupefied and thought for a second that the world has gone crazy. I checked for the author’s name which was under the pseudonym ‘Unreal Mama’. When I read the article, I was in splits and realized that it was a satirical piece. On scouring further, I found that the author(s) wrote for this gem of a website called The UnReal Times.

Over the next few months, browsing through the website became a habit and I turned into an ardent fan of the superlative content they had. My personal favourite from the website is the ‘In Pictures’ section where they present any current story through a combination of pictures and funny dialogues by the characters. The ‘FB wall’ and other sections too are equally good.

A sample extract of the 'In Pictures' section

There are several of their stories which have left a mark on me. I have howled in laughter when Arvind Kejriwal would keep reiterating “Mai hoon Aam Admi aur meri koi aukaat nahi’ and when they introduce ‘The Ashutosh’ in any of the stories or when Manish Tewari goes ‘holistic’ or every time when Rakhi Sawant mouths “Jejuss”. Be it the story where Narendra Modi takes a sabbatical from politics or the one where Arvind Kejriwal slaps himself and says he has been betrayed by himself; the humour in these stories is so real and yet so hysterical that it takes quite some effort on my part to not burst out laughing when reading these at my workplace. In fact, I always go through the URT website whilst at my office (that is one place where all of us can do with some humour to lighten ourselves isn’t it?).

There have been several instances when I laugh out loud, point at the computer screen and guffaw and even slam my fists on the table to vent out my laughter while going through URT. My colleagues, the poor souls who are not yet aware of URT, exchange curt glances with each other and shake their heads at my antics. “He’s gone bonkers”, I have heard them whisper to each other.  (Forgive them O Lord, for they do not know what they have missed.)

The point is, URT provides welcome relief from this mad, mad world. Today, the first thing that I do when I reach my office is to open the URT website and see if they have anything new for me. There have been several occasions when I have felt depressed and demotivated from my life for varied reasons. It is The UnReal Times which has lifted my spirits on those occasions and made me laugh and forget all my troubles. It is for this very reason that I write this piece today. (There is also this small little fact that the founders of URT have come out with a book recently, titled ‘Unreal Elections’. The feedback for the book has been exceptional and it already is a best seller. There’s more on the book later in the post. )

I am certain that there are many people out there who, like me, are fans of The UnReal Times. Today, URT is certainly gaining cult status. There are people who swear by URT and can’t do their day without it. This piece is especially for them.

Last weekend, I spoke to the founders of the website, C.S. Krishna and Karthik Laxman along with their star writer Ashwin Kumar. As I spoke to each of them, I realized that I hadn’t taken an interview. It felt to me more like a conversation with some of my long lost friends. Though I was speaking to them for the first time in my life, I was laughing and joking along with them like I would with any of my close friends. That perhaps says a lot in itself.

And now, I will let the men do the talking.


Real life of the ‘Unreal Men’


Karthik Laxman (Co-founder)


Background: I am from Chennai and did my schooling there. Later I completed my management from IIM-Ahmadabad and graduated in 2007. I choose not to work in the corporate sector and became a freelance management consultant instead. I moved to Delhi in 2009 and it is here that I met Krishna.

The birth of UnReal Times: Krishna had once written a satirical piece which tried to show what would happen if cash was thrown directly from airplanes. It was published in a site called ‘Faking News’. After that, I too got in and began writing satirical articles. We used to work together and wrote a lot of similar stuff. However, one time, the editor of Faking News refused to publish one of our articles. I then thought that we should come up with some portal of our own where we can post our articles. That is how The UnReal Times came into being. I still remember the date; it was 14th April 2011 when the site was launched. Initially we called it ‘The Unreal News’ but later we changed it. In the months to follow, we got a good response and kept growing. And now, after three years, we have a fairly decent base.

The UnReal Times office: It’s a virtual office. We have kept our revenue very low. Right now we have some Google ads and similar stuff which covers our basic costs. The plan currently is to keep growing. Perhaps at some point in time we might have to think of expanding and having a real office. But for now, we want to continue on our own for the next three years without anyone’s help. Hopefully, we will do well.

The UnReal Times writers: We look for a few basic things in writers who approach us for writing in our site. Firstly, the write-ups have to be funny, preferably intelligent and the humour should be clean. Secondly, the satire should be reasonable. Meaning it has to be hooked to reality.

‘In Pictures’: It is the section for which we get the best feedback for. And it is tough to do it as one ‘In Pictures’ series takes roughly 3-4 hours. Ashwin is a natural at it. He is brilliant in fact and is very fast. He can come up with various ideas for the series and can complete it in just a couple of hours. Me, Krishna and some other writers also do it, but Ashwin is the one who takes the lead in this. ‘Mental’ is what we call him.

Manmohan ‘Singham’: We made a video titled ‘Manmohan Singham’ in August 2011. The video went viral and became a huge hit. Even Narendra Modi used the phrase Manmohan Singham’ in one of his speeches after that. We were quite surprised when we saw him using it. I guess that is because some from Modi’s team also follow us. It is funny and good at the same time. Incidentally, we also got a couple of FIRs lodged against us by Congress workers for making this video. But we didn’t back down and stuck to what we believed in.

“Barkha Dutt follows us”:  Even though we have made a lot of jokes on her, Barkha Dutt follows us on twitter. She started doing that after we made some satirical pieces on her. She took it quite sportingly, saying “The joke’s on me.”

Favourite work: I had done one picture series on Narendra Modi where he keeps making pro- Hindu statements and all the BJP politicos get scared as they think it will spread a negative image of their party. Later Modi says all the statements he made were quotes of Mahatma Gandhi. I think it is my best effort and got a really good response.

“I will miss Manmohan Singh”: Manmohan Singh is a satirist’s delight. He gives you a lot of range and you can work on him from so many angles. With Rahul Gandhi and the others you tend to get repetitive after a while. But Mr. Singh gives us many options. I will miss him. Arnab Goswami is another one I really like to write on. Though it can be monotonous, but I still enjoy it.

“We want to make people smile”: We don’t want to be preachy. Our mission is to just make people smile. All of us lead such terrible lives sometimes and we hope that we can make people smile and laugh with our efforts. That would be enough.



C.S Krishna (Co-founder) 


Background: I was born in Chennai. After completing my MBA from IIM- Ahmadabad, I began working as a management consultant. I then began with public policy research for some MPs. This is when I got in touch with Karthik. We teamed up and began working for some clients. It was around the same time that we started The UnReal Times.

“Never had a passion for writing”: I was a fairly voracious reader and had a knack for satire, but I never really had a passion for writing. I had to be good with my words in the line I was in (management consultant) and honed my writings skills there I guess. However, I have never learnt literary writing.

Preparation for articles: It depends on the theme. If a theme strikes us then we begin working on it; probably for a day and then get on with it. Now that we have been working on this for three years, it has become easy for us.

The best work for:  The ones I really enjoy are the ones that go on to be a hit. But if I had to pick one then it has to be the one where we recently wrote that West Indies’ cricket captain, Darren Sammy, is a Tamil Brahmin. It was a joint effort, but I really enjoyed working on it.

“I like writing on Arvind Kejriwal”: Right now, my favourite character to write on is Arvind Kejriwal. He is interesting. He has this extreme integrity that he carries and thus provides us many angles to write on. Its fun you know. Previously, my favourite used to be Arnab Goswami. But we have covered him from every possible angle now.

Writing the book:  It wasn’t easy writing this book (Unreal Elections) as it was written by two people; me and Karthik. We had several differences of opinion, but in the end all went well. The book was finished in three months and luckily we found a good publisher (Penguin). They allowed us to retain the real names of the characters used and that’s why we are really thankful to them. Now we are awaiting the feedback and then we shall analyze what people liked and where we went wrong. There are plans to come out with a sequel of the book where we would like to include the whole geo-political angle into it. Pakistan and China have to be used in our book now!

“Want URT to become bigger”: We want our site to become bigger and bigger. We hope to make it profitable so that we are able to pay our writers the market rate. There are also plans to introduce more features in the website like videos and multimedia. And then we intend to launch the website in different languages like Hindi and other vernaculars. Hopefully, we will get there.



Ashwin Kumar (Co-editor) 


Background: I am originally from Bangalore and am a software engineer. I did my masters in Computer Science from the Ohio State University. Writing has always been one of my hobbies. I have been writing for The UnReal Times from the last two years.

Connect with URT: I liked writing satirical pieces and had sent some of them to Faking News who never accepted my stuff. I then somehow got to know of URT and send them my articles. They liked it and since then I have been a regular there.

FB fan page: I just wanted to keep my personal profile separate from my FB page. Moreover, this page helps me connect with people who like to read my stuff.

Best works: There is one article I wrote some time back on politicians writing C++ programs. I really enjoyed writing it. As far as the picture stories are concerned, there was one I did very recently on ‘The UnReal Times book launch’. It really was fun doing that and thankfully it got a great response.

“Politicians have noticed my work”: Shashi Tharoor had seen one of my articles and even tweeted about it. Dr. Subramaniam Swamy has also liked one of the articles that I wrote and tweeted it. Apart from these two, I have also heard that Mr. Arun Jaitely has enjoyed some of my works. I was informed of this by journalist Swapan Dasgupta.

“Ravi Shastri might beat me up”:  I have used Ravi Shastri’s clich├ęs in my articles innumerable times and hope he never sees them. It’s actually good that he is not so active on Twitter and Facebook. Otherwise, he might catch hold of me one day and beat me up for using his name like this.

Net addict:  I am on Twitter almost throughout the day. I follow the trending news voraciously and that is what perhaps helps me in getting the themes for my articles.

“I don’t think I am funny in real life”: I am not all funny in real life; at least that’s what I think. Though that doesn’t mean I am a very serious person, but I take my own sweet time to open up to people. Once I do, I am quite chilled out.

                                                                                                          ***

Though I have chosen to interview these three people, this, by any means, does not mean that the other writers of URT are any less good. The entire team of URT is doing a fantastic job and I salute all the writers who write for it.



‘Unreal Elections’ – the book

Dekho dekho kaun aaya, Gujarat ka sher aaya!

The sheets stirred

Dekho dekho kaun aaya, Gujarat ka sher aaya!

The sheets parted. Narendra Modi stretched his arms wide in either direction and yawned.

Dekho dekho kaun aaya, Gujarat ka sher…

Jag gaya sher,” said Modi, and silenced the customized SmartNamo alarm clock with a quick tap on its head. Modi leapt out of his bed with the vitality of a teenager to begin yet another twenty-hour day.

- Extract from the book ‘The Unreal Elections’, Chapter three- The Gujarat Lion


The front cover of the book

Thought you have had enough of the never ending general elections coverage? Think again. ‘Unreal Elections’, the recently launched book, is co-authored by C.S Krishna and Karthik Laxman and will change the way you look at any Indian election coverage forever. A zany, quirky read, the book is the perfect parody and is filled with the usual dollops of humour, satire, suspense and thrill which will leave you gasping for more.

The action begins as political parties throughout the country ready themselves for the General Elections.  How the ‘big two’ of Indian politics try to outdo each other (with hilarious outcomes) forms the crux of the story. The book has its fair share of suspense and riveting action as well. For those who like action flicks, there is a masked vigilante gliding through the streets at night and there is also a dose of the ‘Terminator’ so wittily incorporated into the content that it blew my mind away.

Additionally, you get a unique yet hysterical glimpse at the way the BJP and Congress offices function. You see Amit Shah in Kofeee with Karan and also briefly get to see Mamata Banrjee and her hatred for ‘Maoists’. But most important of all, you finally understand why Manmohan Singh has been ‘silent’ over these many years.

I finished the book in three days flat and found it hard to put it down through most of the pages. Like the URT website, the content of the book seems so real that at times you would forget that what you are reading is ‘unreal’. For anyone remotely interested in Indian politics, Unreal Elections is a must buy.

Give it a try; it will change the way you will look at Indian politics forever.

(Buy Unreal Elections at Flipkart and Amazon
  
                                                                                                       ***

I just hope now that The UnReal Times keeps up with the brilliant work they are doing and takes greater steps in the days to come. And while they do that, I would hope that their classy brand of satire and humour would remain intact. It is essential that they do so. In this crazy world, where everyone tends to take themselves so very seriously, their ‘unreal’ humour comes in as a breath of fresh air and provides much needed relief to many out there.

Promise me my readers, and the fans of The UnReal Times who are reading this; that you would continue reading URT and ensure that its popularity keeps soaring. Don’t fail me please, for remember- ‘this is just what the doctor ordered’ - for all of us, that is. Here is a toast to The UnReal Times with the hope that it lives until eternity making us fall off our chairs in laughter.  Theek hai!