Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not just football....

There is more to football than just kicking the ball for us (me & my brother). Anybody recalling their childhood days would agree that it was more fun doing things which were suffixed with ‘dire consequences’, by the dark forces; our parents. Though our ‘don’t do’ list was much longer than the ‘do’ list, some things were as close as being outlawed. Football though never featured in the ‘don’t do’ list (actually my father encouraged me when I started practicing for our school team), the combination of football and rains were a much ostracized event. I think anybody who has footed a ball will concur that nothing beats the fun of playing football in the rain. And we never got enough beating for doing that.

What makes football in the rain different from playing at any other time is 1) the cloud and rain would make it so cool around that one never felt exhausted and 2) (a highly debated point though) with the water and dampness in the field, the skills and tricks of the best of the players came to a naught, as if creating a level playing field. Though we never had the likes of Ronaldos and Kakas amongst us but the above two reasons at least brought the Tendulkars and Kasparovs to the football field. So far so good, but what used to cause trouble at home was bucket full of soiled & dirty clothes and cuts & bruises in plenty. The latter was not much of a concern as ours was a medical fraternity, but the former added to more wet clothes all around the house on overcast days. May be that’s what added ‘football in the rain’ to the ‘don’t do’ list. But for us what added extra fun was to go play and come back without letting the parents know (which you will read further, was not always the case). Mom was sometimes OK with it but we had hard time keeping out of dad’s sight.

On a typical day we would first start looking out on the field if somebody had started playing, as the field was clearly visible from our balcony. Then we would start listening to our parent’s conversations to see if dad was about to go out for some chore. We were sure on Tuesdays he would go to the local grocery market in the evening and that meant an hour’s play for us. It was not hard to convince mom but sometimes we just slipped out of the house once dad had left. If we got caught in the act then we would say to mom that we would be back in a minute. It feels so funny to me now that whenever I tried to slip out of the house my excuse would always be - "I’ll back in a minute," irrespective of what I was going out for or that it would never be done in a minute.

I don't clearly remember why we siblings never used to be in the same team. May be because we used to team up based on our age and the younger ones were teamed together and the elders in the other. Again this disparity in age was never a concern as we were just a bunch of kids trying to hit a ball through a pair of stones kept at opposite ends. Another thing that I clearly remember is that we always played bare footed and anybody who came to the field in sneakers had to do without it on the field. This though led to lots of cuts for sure but it was a necessary evil. Another must on the field was arguments and quarrels, on everything from goals to fouls to off sides. Sometimes these small disagreements were fought with more fervour than the game itself. My bother and I used to be the more vocal parties to the dispute as we took our disagreement seriously and often took it home after the game. I think it had nothing to do with football per se but we ended up doing this in all other sports, cricket especially because my brother was passionate about it (that’s another story). Otherwise the disputes used to be settled based on whether one was winning or loosing or had a winning or loosing chance based on that one decision. Not to say the kid who owned the ball had a greater say on the proceedings (but we did overcome this veto power later by pooling money to buy the ball). Though the quarrels did add another dimension to the game, with the rare elbows and kicks becoming more frequent. But there was one thing we all agreed and knew would change the fate of the game; if the sky would open up suddenly. Once it started to rain it was anybody’s game. Even a badly loosing team felt they have a chance and the, till now convincingly, winning team felt a knot in their throat. The sudden rush was so intense, as if it were the dying moments of the game even though the game might have just started. Once the field started to show up pools of water, it was anybody’s guess that staying on ones feet would win us the game rather than trying a lot of tricks. It was so much fun and difficult, at the same time, to get the ball from one goal to another, that we would end up laughing our heart out and celebrate our goals for minutes to come. I had another thing to worry about; to keep my specs dry in the rain. When it used to rain heavily the specs were of no use and so was I. My worst nightmares used to come true when my specs would come under somebody’s feet.

Though there was one other thing that used to worry us both while playing and that was to get back home before dad did. So we used to constantly keep one eye on the road and the other on the proceedings on the field. But as luck would have it we were often spotted by dad in the act of playing or just when we were done with the game. But it did used to make a lot of difference if we were spotted close to the house or on the field. Because if we were on the field then dad would come to the field and thrash us all the way home. It was so embarrassing in the front of so many kids who were getting extra dose of fun for the day by watching us getting thrashed.

Looks like and for certain that it was only our dad who would not bother about where he was seen setting his children right. But in hindsight I think this made the other kids not to mess up with us because they feared getting the same treatment from dad. As we grew older we were able to outrun dad on the field and made sure the beating always happened inside the house. But even if he managed to catch us he could not hold on to both of us. Whoever escaped would make a dash for the bathroom and start cleaning up. One would take so much time in doing so to let dad vent his anger on the other sibling and give him time to cool off. So eventually it used to be a race to reach the bathroom first. It was obvious that if you lost this race you won yourself a good amount of thrashing. It was funny once, when at the end of one such race, we came home, to find mom using the bathroom. We had never thought of such bad luck before. But were relieved that now we were both in the open and will have to share what was coming. We rushed to the terrace and started cleaning up taking water from the water tank. Dad became more furious this time as we were spoiling the whole water in the tank. He started to chase us and we took him for a ride in circles around the tank. It was like a musical chair with us crying to be spared and dad swearing at us. It brings to my mind the worst forms of getting cornered, getting stuck, a steep fall, a certain end. I can’t recollect how that ended but as far as I know my dad it might have been anything but happy. Funny indeed that often, after all that has happened, some moron kid would come to our house to return the football in full view of dad. Common sense was in short supply with those kids. They used to get the choicest profanities from dad and for us the misadventure doesn’t seem to end. Dad used to be in a foul mood for the rest of the evening and we used to stay away from his sight. It used to be so quiet in the house on such evening that we wished some relatives or friends would come home to break the curse. Even though we wanted the day to end quickly we knew that the night won’t be much fun either. We siblings used to settle scores in the night as one of us would have won the game or we would have quarreled on the field or one would have got more thrashing because the other reached the bathroom first. We used to make sure that we did not go to bed, or sometimes after, until we were even. I still love the game but deeply miss the days when we had more to look out for than just the opponents in the game. Playing football for us was not just hitting the ball.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A crazy night

I have reveries at times. They are mostly snap shots or collage of some incidents from the past and sometimes unknown scenes which I soon discover happening to me later. Recently glimpses of one of such craziest moments of my life hit me. A crazy eventful trip to Delhi, something I had brushed under the carpet and locked up somewhere in the cellars of my unconscious arose to my conscious mind. To the uninitiated mind the incident might not raise an eyebrow, but to me, when I look back at it with shades of prevalent moral and cultural values, common Indian sensibility and finally, for those who know me, copious feminist ideologies, it surprises me to no end as to how I ended up doing what I did.

This is how it went. Five of us in our MSW batch (three boys- Sam, Ikka and Mann and two girls- T and me) were recruited by CAPART (Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology) in 2006. We were excited because we were going to work for Ministry of Rural Development and get our first shot into the inside life of top government offices (well it was very exciting then)

Before we go any further a note on all five of us might help you understand the incident better.
Sam was the most senior among us. His age was an unsolved puzzle. A calm and matured guy who took all the responsibilities.
Mann and I knew each other for five years coz we did our grads and post grads from the same colleges.

Ikka was the typical Wayanad guy - a charming little fellow. He was good at extempores and debates.

T (identity withheld on request or should I say - threat) was a mystic to me. A great Osho fan, took things at her pace. You could also call her a tortoise in this race called life.

And Me. Let’s not get there. Maybe I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

My family hated the whole idea of their daughter travelling to odd places especially to those stinking rural villages. So the more I had to wait at home for the training sessions to begin, the more restless I became. We had no clues about the training period so when we got the dates, out of the blue, we had no tickets to Delhi. We finally managed one seat in 3 A/C through EQ (Emergency Quota) when we could have managed few seats in Sleeper if we really tried. The guys wanted to travel in A/C and even if that meant on the foot board. Though mom said we could carry food from home, the guys opposed it saying we will manage. I carried some snacks and mom like a typical Kerala mom gave me a bunch of banana (like six kgs and that was small to her). The crazy guys decided to survive on bananas to save money (we had daily allowance so if you ate bananas you got lot of money to save which you would later spend on shopping). Well, we were young and foolish and wanted to save money even if it meant starving (we means the menfolk).

We girls shared the berth at night and guys slept in the morning, taking turns. I was already crazy when I reached Delhi. Everything was fine until the last day of the training. The guys booked for a return train two days later hoping we would do some shopping before leaving for home. But we were free after five pm every day and did most of our shopping anyways. And after two weeks we were fed up and badly wanted to go home. A bigger mistake we did was assuming we would be permitted to stay for two more days. We thought we could bargain saying since we were informed late; we could not get any tickets. But the international hostel had many training programmes so they requested us to leave.

We managed to leave our luggage for the day and helped all other friends we met during the training to pack and leave for the station. There was no enthusiasm for shopping but we somehow wanted to kill time. Unlike today we had no contacts in Delhi then. We were baffled and found ourselves on the street. It was not a joke to find a place to stay for a day. Dorms at the station were full and we did not know where to go. Safety was a factor and so was money. We had to manage this crisis without letting our parents panic and even more, maintaining our own sanity.

Luckily Sam had the business card of a police officer who travelled with us on train from Kerala. He spoke about a lodge he ran near Hazrath Nizammudin. When we contacted him he said they had one room and could rent it out if we were willing to share. One room was a relief. But three boys and two girls in a room? “Would that be a problem feminists”, asked the guys? I visualised all those movies where the police raided shady looking rooms and if some things did go wrong what would I tell my mother? My mind was already listing down endless troubles. I trusted the guys but sharing a room with three of them in a room was not a pleasant thought. But this place was run by a policeman so we assumed it was safe.

When they handed over the key to us, they had a straight face. Inside the room, I began to feel suffocated. We all decided that this would be a secret and we would never tell this to anyone back home. To make it easy for us the guys got freshened up and left the room. That gave space for us girls to relax. We were asked to open the door only for them.

I was hoping to have a decent dinner but the guys came back with bread, jam and eggs. Bread and jam made sense but eggs made me confused. That’s when Ikka told me we could boil eggs in the vaporiser. T had one because she had wheezing . And we waited to see how long it took to boil eggs one by one. Naturally in such dire circumstances we had to resort to such stale pleasures. When it was bed time the guys were feeling awkward to sleep with their shirts on in the Delhi heat. We girls were irritated in our modest clothes but this had to be done. After the lights were off the guys did remove their shirts. When I woke up in the middle of the night I saw the guys huddled up as if they wanted to maintain a border on the bed. I don’t remember sleeping very well.

We tried spending the next day in all possible shopping avenues sleepy and tired. I remember crashing into slumber as soon as we boarded the train. We never spoke how we felt staying together. Knowing the guys and their background, I doubt they would ever do this and what courage they mustered for this crisis management.

As for me spending a night with these guys came as naturally then as awkward it feels now when I look back. This challenged the feminist in me. What was I scared of? Why had this memory faded away unlike others? What was I doing in the whole frame? Not even for a second did I think- we are friends and this is natural nor could I feel they were like brothers. Was I really narrow minded? Did the society reflect through me or vice-versa? Was I more feminist then or am I more now? And that’s why I still find it crazy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fire'd Drill

I had a great lunch and it was not long before sleep started weighing heavy on my eyes. It was a lazy day and I had no work to shoo the sleep away. This was becoming a trend now. I had experimented with: lime juice, mini meals and whopper thalis; but sleep would invariably find me in the afternoon. So we decided to head to the break-out area and treat ourselves with some antidote - Caffeine. Namit doesn’t indulge in luxuries like coffee or tea, but still came along for company. A few sips and the conversation started flowing: how we finally bagged the Oscars with some shit and lot of slum, how charming Hugh Jackman looked as a host and why Aamir always avoids those award functions where he can definitely bag some awards and always goes to those where he doesn’t stand a chance. The silence in between the conversation was broken by the shrill sound of the fire alarm.

The last time there was a fire drill; we casually strolled around, picked up coffee, then lazily took the stairs down and were the last to reach the ‘safe’ zone. The security supervisor was not at all pleased. He singled us and made examples out of us in front of the whole company. He was bemused by the fact that we were looking for espresso when we should be looking for the exit. A little more mockery and we felt as if we were on fire. So the moment I heard the fire alarm this time, it all came back to me. But I looked around and felt a sense of salvation. This time I can confidently carry the coffee around because I was in the break-out area and having coffee, when the alarm rang. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Arrogance was wrapped all over me. But soon a voice on the messaging system informed that this was not a fire drill and there was an actual emergency. We looked at each other and didn’t knew how to react. We could sense urgency in people around us; who otherwise would be indifferent to fire drills and the voice from the speaker was adding to the hysteria. It kept reiterating that this was not a drill. We ran to our desk to fetch our ‘fire emergency kit’. We prized open the emergency kit as if it were a Christmas gift. Never before had we bothered to check what was in the pack: a trashy looking eye glass, a whistle, a smoke mask and an LED torch. Somewhere deep down we were excited to have got an opportunity to use these stuff. Shikha was still holding on to her coffee cup. It was no use reasoning with this girl.

The only good thing about fire drills is that it’s a one way street, you walk down the stairs but there are always escalators to bring you back. I remember of a fire drill in London, where one had to climb down twenty eight floors. But it was not as bad as it sounds because we were served doughnuts and orange juice when we came back and yes we took the lifts back. It was not a long way down this time; just seven floors. We joined a crowd of other employees, on the stairs, rushing towards the ground floor. It felt like we were coming out of a movie hall. There was silence all around; same as you feel, after you have witnessed something remarkable and people take time to let it all sink in. It was only later that I realized that we were actually heading towards something remarkable rather than coming out from one. With each passing floor we had more people joining us and suddenly there was a sense of frenzy that was starting to build. There were a few people with their masks on, some had goggle and mask both, others shining torch at each other and a few others playing with whistles. I tried looking around to see if there was any fire or smoke around; but none that I could see. The fire warden admonished us that the whistles were to be used only by a person in distress, to attract attention. If only I knew it beforehand, I would have blown both my lungs into it. It was not long before we reached the ground floor and assembled towards the evacuation point. It was odd that we did not see any signs to indicate an emergency or fire though we were relieved to have escaped from whatever was out there.

The Human Resources head of the company came forward and started addressing the group. It was odd; usually it’s the security supervisor who runs the show on such occasions. Then gradually through his speech it hit us; this was a layoff exercise and not a fire drill. He told us that the company was not doing well, business was badly hit, they had tried cutting cost by other means and this was the last attempt to shore the firm. Now I felt the fire starting to burn and the smoke choking my breath. But are we all out of jobs, I thought. We looked at each other with shock; words had no meaning here, everything was understood; we were all on the same ship, a sinking one. But there was a lifeboat thrown to us, though in a particularly weird way. We were asked to swipe our access cards on the turnstile and those who still had access still had their job and they can enter the building and those who don’t can take a cab back home. Any personal items left at the desk would be couriered to the individuals and their final settlements would be handed out the same way. There was no scope for discussion here. The fire was over but it was the pain that was left; it was lingering on. No one moved an inch. The HR guy, once he was done with the farewell speech, swiped his card and calmly went back in. A few others took the cue and soon there was a crowd forming in front of the three turnstiles. It looked like students standing in front of a notice board, trying to figure out whether their names made it to the passing list. But this notice board was much advanced; which blinked green if you pass and red if you fail. Those who didn’t pass had disbelief written all over their face, which slowly gave way to disappointed and ended with tears. They tried their access cards again and again but with the same agonizing result. The turnstile soon started looking like an international border, with friends at both sides, looking expectantly at each, not knowing what to say. The ones who made it in were not going back to their desks because they were worried for the fate of their friends and those who didn’t make it had nowhere left to go. It was not long before we got our turn at the notice board. Surprisingly we three reached the turnstiles at the same time. We swiped our cards and waited for the lights to blink green. We looked at each other in disbelief.