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Spark Word.World.Wisdom December 2012 Vol 3 Issue 12 36 pages

Footprints 



Special Feature

The Lounge

Spark—December 2012 | Footprints

Vol 3 Issue 12| December 2012

05 December 2012 Dear Reader, This month’s issue is a different approach to our monthly themes. We have gone ahead and interpreted a picture (the cover image) and come up with a series of fiction and poetry and a special feature on marathon runners for you this month. In addition, our non-fiction specialty segment The Lounge explores books, movies, spirituality and the slice of life sections. We hope you enjoy this short and sweet issue which also happens to be the last one of this year. This means that when we see you next month, we will have Spark’s third anniversary issue ready! And needless to say, we are super excited! We wish you a very happy new year and hope to entertain you even more through Spark in the coming year. Till then, goodbye & God bless! - Editors

Contributors Aravind AM Gauri Trivedi Harish V Mickyso Kutti Parth Pandya Vani Viswanathan Viswanathan Subramanian Yayaati Joshi

Special Feature All rights of print edition reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Spark editorial team.

Ajay Gupta Jessu John Ram Viswanathan

Concept, Editing & Design

Spark December 2012 © Spark 2012

Anupama Krishnakumar

Individual contributions © Author

Vani Viswanathan

CC licensed pictures attribution available at Published by Viswanathan


Krishnakumar/Vani Powered by 2

Spark—December 2012 | Footprints

Inside this Issue

POETRY A Trip in Time by Parth Pandya Innuendo (at a Faraway Outpost) by Mickyso Kutti FICTION Butterfly Effect by Aravind AM Footprints in the Sand by Harish V The House of Mirrors by Vani Viswanathan SPECIAL FEATURE Marathon Magic by Vani Viswanathan THE LOUNGE STORYBOARD| FILM FREAK On Why an Underdog Film Went on to Create History by Yayaati Joshi TURN OF THE PAGE| Catherine Chung’s Forgotten Country by Gauri Trivedi THE INNER JOURNEY| True Knowledge by Viswanathan Subramanian SLICE OF LIFE| Life’s a Test by Parth Pandya


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Poetry A Trip in Time by Parth Pandya

When Parth Pandya revisits the city of his childhood, Mumbai, he realizes as he steps into the footprints he made, things around have changed. And the thoughts come rushing and take shape in a poem.

I spoke to the streets of my city And heard silences from the past No past love peeked at the corners No anger poured through its crevices No voices called out my name

Where once the lanes wrote tales Of success and despair, Of the obstinacy of childhood, And impertinence of youth, A strange reticence persists

I sought them out; Those tales, in their place of birth. Validating what I know, Rummaging facts among Heaps of concocted fiction Picture by habi


Spark—December 2012 | Footprints

I walked the streets of my city Stepping into the footprints I once made Finding my feet to be the same But the ground beneath was anew As was the sky above

Have we traveled so far in directions unknown? Me and my city? That my steps seem vaguely foreign

In the grand game of change I now wonder Will we ever meet again?

Parth Pandya is a passionate Tendulkar fan, diligent minion of the ‘evil empire’, persistent writer at, self-confessed Hindi movie geek, avid quizzer, awesome husband (for lack of a humbler adjective) and a thrilled father of two. He grew up in Mumbai and spent the last eleven years really growing up in the U.S. and is always looking to brighten up his day through good coffee and great puns.


Spark—December 2012 | Footprints

Fiction Butterfly Effect by Aravind AM

A discussion at an interview Rajani conducts has her questioning her approach to life, which she passes on to her young son. AM Aravind pens a story which begins with the mother observing her son walk on someone’s footprints on the shore.

The eastern sky was painted with vivid yellow, orange and purple colours at 5.45 am. It was a lovely Saturday morning. Rajani was taking a stroll at Elliots beach, with her son Kamal. Walking in the wet sand with waves kissing the feet once in a while, catching whiffs of the salty sea breeze and watching the sunrise – all of these helped her unwind after a hectic week at office.

“Look ma, the footprints of someone who was here before us. It seems to go on and on; Doesn’t seem to end! I’m walking on it to make sure it doesn’t fade away,” he said with an innocent smile. This innocuous response from the kid kindled her thoughts about the previous day’s incident, which had rendered her sleepless. Rajani was the CEO of a company, and she had interviewed two people for the post of her Executive Assistant just the day before. The discussion that happened during one of the interviews was the reason for her disturbed state of mind.

As Rajani sat down watching the sunrise, Kamal was running about playing in the sand. He then found someone’s footprints in the sand and started walking on them, making sure each of his steps landed into each of the footprints. Being a small 8-year-old, he had to jump and hop to be able to land exactly on the footprints, which were not close to each other.

Aditya, the brighter of the two candidates she interviewed that day, was her favourite, till the interview took a turn. After testing his analytical skills, business- intellect and temperament, RaSeeing Kamal jump around in a funny manner, jani posed a few questions on ethics. It was no Rajani got curious. She walked up to him and longer like an interview – it became a discussion, asked, “What are you doing, kanna?” with both Rajani and Aditya engrossed in it and 6

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passionately arguing. It slowly meandered from regret the fact that we’re so busy in following ethics to culture and then digressed into super- rituals and superstitions blindly, that we never stitions. bother to stop and think if they are relevant, and never wonder why we should be following When Aditya mentioned how meaningless rituthem.” als and superstitions impact the entire country, Rajani shot back: “So, you say we should throw Aditya didn’t realise it, but he’d touched a raw away the rich cultural heritage which we’ve pre- nerve there. Rajani was a very superstitious perserved for son, with a centuries?” few of her rituals border“I never ing on absurdmeant it ity. She took that way, Aditya’s comMa’am. My ments personpoint is this ally. She felt – centuries that his arguago, there ments made a was a huncomplete ger for mockery of knowledge her daily rouamong our tine, which people. Picture by Andrew Huff was never A s k in g complete withquestions out her checking the Panchangams several times and finding answers was part of our culture. a day to find a “good” time for even trivial activThis curiosity is what fueled the growth of our ities. culture and made it so rich. It was built on a strong foundation of logic and reasoning. But She was fuming inside. But she masked it all over time, the hunger was lost. We’ve become with a fake smile and got up from her chair. Excontent. We are okay about remaining stagnant, tending her hand for a handshake, she said, while hiding safely behind our forefathers’ “Thanks Aditya. That’d be it. We’ll let you know knowledge.” if you’re selected.” Rajani gave a very audible sigh, but Aditya was too engrossed in his argument to notice it. Either that, or he was too engrossed to stop, despite noticing it. He just carried on.

Aditya seemed to be the perfect person for the role, but one part of her brain kept telling her to reject him. This conflict was what troubled her the whole day, and even during the night. The beautiful sunrise made her forget it all, but look“I’m not against following our culture. I only ing at his son following an unknown person’s 7

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footsteps without any reason other than keeping some good reason?” the footprints alive, made her uneasy. Kamal was, now, totally confused. He was wonShe left Kamal to play and sat down in the sand. dering why his mom was asking these questions She started thinking about what Kamal just told all of a sudden. But noticing the seriousness in her and what had been troubling her since the her tone, he listened carefully. previous day. Didn’t Kamal’s action of walking “Kamal, back in those days, hundreds of years on footprints just to keep it alive, reflect what ago, people had a hunger for knowledge. Asking she was doing everyday? Wasn’t she following questions and finding answers was part of our rituals just to keep centuries-old traditions alive, culture. People wanted to learn and understand without pondering on what they actually meant everything. For any occurrence, they wondered or symbolised? how and why it happened, and did not take it She was so lost in thoughts that she didn’t real- for granted. But now, we seem to have lost that ise it was past 7.30 am, till Kamal came and told urge to learn. So, if someone asks you to do her, “Ma, it’s getting hot. Shall we go home?” something and you don’t know why, ask them. If you don’t understand anything, ask questions. She patted Kamal on the head lovingly, and We shouldn’t take anything for granted, you asked him, “Kamal, do you ask a lot of quesknow?” tions?” “Nice one, ma! I’ll have this in mind. Paati told “Questions? Like what?” you this?” “Like… um… Do you think we should have an She smiled and said, “No dear. It was Aditya, urge to know how or why things happen the my new Executive Assistant.” way they do? Or, is it just better to follow what everyone says, because they must be saying it for

AM Aravind, who was a Marketeer and a product manager in a Telecom company till last year, quit the job to do things he loves - music and photography. An ardent AR Rahman fan, he has also composed music for short films. Bird-photography really excites him as does baking. AM Aravind blogs at


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Special Feature Marathon Magic by Vani Viswanathan It’s highly likely you have, in the recent past, come across a lone person on the road running, earphones on, pushing themselves forward with determination. Running is fast picking up in India, and many are signing up to run in various categories that are being held regularly across various Indian cities – and some venture abroad too. Many runners also choose to tie their runs to a cause they are passionate about. Vani Viswanathan gets talking to three such runners: Ram Viswanathan, founder-president of Chennai Runners, Ajay Gupta of Team Asha, and Jessu John, who, within seven months of starting to run long distance, is getting ready to run her first half marathon and raise funds for a charity through it. Spark is delighted to support them in their cause – please see the end of the article for the fundraising links of the three runners.

In March 2010, when I was working, I got talked into participating in a corporate run organised by JP Morgan. I did my best to wriggle out of it – I was really not the running kinds, and despite my umpteen attempts, had never managed to sustain running as a regular activity – but there was no way out, and I had no choice but to start preparing to run – wait for it – 5.6km. Yes, I am that bad. I did manage, eventually, to run this distance on d-day in a grand 50 minutes, and I was beside myself for finishing it in under an hour. The Adidas tee-shirt I got for participating made it even more worth it. Nearly three years after that, I’ve made at least three attempts to get into running regularly, and my most recent attempt was on 3 December, when

I thought managing to run 1.8km was a feat. As such, you can expect what kind of admiration I have for people who run dozens of kilometres, or run marathons – 42.195km! – the very thought makes my eyes pop out. The sheer passion that is involved in keeping the body and mind going for the few hours that it takes to run these distances, is incredible and awe-inspiring. What’s even more remarkable is that some of them tie their runs to a cause they are passionate about, often setting a target amount of funds to be raised. I got talking to three people who are into long distance running, and who are also using their runs as a platform to engage with causes that are close to their hearts. 9

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In March 2010, when I was working, I got talked into participating in a corporate run organised by JP Morgan. I did my best to wriggle out of it – I was really not the running kinds, and despite my umpteen attempts, had never managed to sustain running as a regular activity – but there was no way out, and I had no choice but to start preparing to run – wait for it – 5.6km. Yes, I am that bad. I did manage, eventually, to run this distance on d-day in a grand 50 minutes, and I was beside myself for finishing it in under an hour. The Adidas tee-shirt I got for participating made it even more worth it. Nearly three years after that, I’ve made at least three attempts to get into running regularly, and my most recent attempt was on 3 December, when I thought managing to run 1.8km was a feat. As such, you can expect what kind of admiration I have for people who run dozens of kilometres, or run marathons – 42.195km! – the very thought makes my eyes pop out. The sheer passion that is involved in keeping the body and mind going for the few hours that it takes to run these distances, is incredible and awe-inspiring. What’s even more remarkable is that some of them tie their runs to a cause they are passionate about, often setting a target amount of funds to be raised. Their stories are truly inspiring instances of how it is possible to engage in a hobby that at once keeps you energised, fit, excited and gives you the joy of empowering someone in need. Ram Viswanathan, founder-president of Chennai Runners, started running ‘seriously’ seven years back – in his early 40s – when after returning to India, he was craving for some outdoor activity, and his son’s mention of a mara-

thon made him revive his interest in running after his NCC days in college. Working full time in IBM, Ram took the initiative to found Chennai Runners in 2006 when he met another runner on the roads, and they discussed forming a group which promoted the sheer joy of running. Today, Chennai Runners has over a 1000 members who are passionate about running, train together and motivate each other – most of them want to run long distances and participate in marathons.

Ram Viswanathan

Ajay Gupta picked up running again after his undergrad days, in 2006. He ran his full marathon in 2007 to raise funds for Asha Chicago, the NGO he was volunteering with. In its Bangalore chapter, the NGO comprises a number of individuals who are runners and cyclists, together with mentors and coaches, who together help train people for various long distance runs while raising funds to educate underprivileged children in India.


Spark—December 2012 | Footprints

Jessu John is a relatively new entrant in the world of running. While living in Germany, she wanted to participate in the 5km category of the renowned Frankfurt marathon, for a start. That didn’t materialise, however, and upon moving back to India, she began to work out at the gym to build her stamina and get herself up for running. In May 2012, she ran in the 10km category, clocking an impressive-for-the-beginner 1 hour 18 minutes. “Considering I started off wanting to just attempt a humble 5km last year, I am very pleased with how far I have come since then,” she says. She has been hooked – Jessu has run a few marathons since October, starting from the Bangalore Ultra Marathon, and is scheduled to participate in a couple more in December and the biggie, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon coming January.

activities on her own. “What I like most are the little victories while I’m on the course - like how I can keep pushing myself when all I want to do is stop. This happens multiple times during a 10km race. But each time I stop for a sip of water only after I’ve pushed myself a little further. Then I pat myself on the pack and keep going.”

Loving the Strain of it: Running as More than Fitness What keeps runners motivated enough to train for these or run these regularly, especially when they manage these alongside hectic work and family commitments? “Since I love running, making time for that is easy,” says Ram. Running means much more than a fitness activity for these runners. For Ajay, a run puts him closer to a great mood, and to him it’s a mirror to what life is: “you get so much more out of it than you put into it. It has given me so many great relationships and lessons.” Ram says that it melts away any stress and clears his head. For Jessu, it has helped her ensure that she does not let her job or familial commitments get in the way of staying fit. She also discovered that long distance running suited her personality, as she has high endurance levels and likes doing some

Ajay Gupta

It can be physically and mentally demanding to run distances such as 42km – or is it? “It can be gruelling but it can also be energising,” says Ajay. Moving past the initial hurdles of poor diet or injury, Ajay today finds running a positive experience that can pep him up and be the source of energy for a whole day. Ram says the key is to consider it a fun activity, and not as something gruelling. Talking about what motivates him to keep at it, he says “I try to be consistent and persistent in whatever I attempt to do and that makes running marathons easier.”


Spark—December 2012 | Footprints

Running has been a life-changing experience for all the three. Ram and Ajay testify to how it has honed their characters, as it depends heavily on being disciplined – for one thing, in cities, one has to be up early in the morning to run the roads before they get laden with traffic. It involves cooperating with and motivating corunners to push their limits, and increases camaraderie and sportsmanship. Finally, it has led to many new friendships with people from all walks of life, and all ages. “I now have friends from college kids to CEOs to IIT professors, all due to running. While running, it doesn't matter what you do or how old you are… you are just a runner, and that's it… and that trait alone builds camaraderie.” For Jessu, it has made her realise the power of taking her dreams more seriously: “Whatever I have achieved with the running so far gives me confidence to go further. It has also made me very comfortable in my own skin and I’m not looking for anyone to believe in me or approve of me. It helps me focus. Each time I run, I know dreams come true.” Making Dreams Come True – For the Less Privileged Talking about dreams coming true, these runners put their sweat and time into helping change lives too (see end of piece for links to their fundraiser pages). A concept that was popularised in the West, the idea of raising funds through runs is slowly taking root in India too. The idea of running to support and raise funds for a cause was, in fact, what prompted him to take up running. He has been associated with Team Asha for seven years, and is currently raising funds for the Auroville half-marathon that he will run next year. However, he says that the

concept is still evolving in India and both fundraisers and potential donors are sometimes hesitant to adopt a cause. Ram Viswanathan is delighted that he can tie his running to benefit someone. “Our human ecosystem is built around two fundamental traits (or lack of it): love, and share. These two form the foundation for almost all of the good stuff people do. In my case, I love running and if I can leverage it to share then I am doubly lucky.” He has been running for charity since 2010, and is preparing to run the 2013 London marathon to benefit Cheshire Homes, which works with differently abled people and has a few projects in India. Jessu is taking a big step with her plan to run the Mumbai marathon early next year – not only is she running twice the distance she usually runs, for she plans to participate in the 21km category, she is using it to raise funds for a cause close to her heart: benefitting women, children and their education. She hopes that the friends she has made across the world will help her raise a sizeable sum to benefit Apne Aap Women's Collective (AAWC), which works to help brothel-based prostitutes and their children achieve an education and eventually find alternative forms of employment. As such, it is no doubt that all three are excited in their own ways that more people are picking up the sport in India – Ajay thinks this is happening because it’s a ‘democratic’ activity that can be done solo, allows anyone to join in, for all one needs is a good pair of shoes, and almost any place serves as a running track. “Show me any other sport which can match all that!” he quips. Jessu thinks running could be a great way


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for people to get through some of their tough moments in life. “Someone who takes up an endurance sport may really just be looking at gaining victory over their own negative mindsets that result from very difficult circumstances. Sometimes, though, it is all for the love of running. Nothing more and nothing less,” she says.

– and themselves – along the way. I dream of a day when Chennai has pedestrian and joggers track all over the city. I dream of a day when Chennai allows its women folks run without having to fear for their safety or modesty. I dream of a day when Chennai hosts a world class marathon event.” What Goes on in their Mind? Getting to interact with these runners was indeed a humbling experience. They have all picked up (or re-started) running in their 30s or 40s, and have managed to put in dedicated hours of training to push themselves to explore new horizons, rediscovering themselves and their potential along the way. They tie their passion to a cause to motivate themselves even further. To wrap up, I asked them what goes on in their mind when they run. The answers are as interesting as the people themselves.

Jessu John

Ram, as the founder-president of Chennai Runners, is happy that running is picking up but believes India still has a long way to go. He dreams of a day when Chennai embraces running as no other city in the world, and celebrates it in full spirit. “I dream of a day when more than half of Chennai’s citizens discover running

Ram Viswanathan: “It depends on what I am seeing or the conversation I am having with the fellow runner or the music I am listening. When I run through Marina service road and see a bunch of families who perhaps call the beach their home, I think of the kids who are invariably present in the group and think of their health, education and future. When I see a man pulling a cart, stacked to the hilt with wooden logs and inching through RK Salai in his bare feet, I think of his sweat and the family that depends on his sweat. The bigger question that runs through my head when I see these things is what we as a society are doing about it – perhaps very little – and dismiss the uncomfortable thought and scene. What did I do in either case? Very little, except in the latter case, I paused my running and pushed the wooden log laden cart


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for a few hundred meters and continued my to enjoy the highs. To be honest, when you get running… perhaps feeling both a little heavier to the finish line the entire race is a blur! When I and lighter.” finished my first 10km run in May, I found myself thinking, ‘That’s it?!’” Ajay Gupta: “I have, at times, wondered why I do this. I have wondered what was I thinking Spark is delighted to have had a chance to when I signed up for a race. But then, some- interact with these passionate runners and is times while the run is on and often, after the run proud to support them in a small way by is done, I realize its true worth and value. Run- encouraging its readers to visit their fundning can be quiet and meditative; it can be loud raising links: and boisterous, but is almost always joyful. That Ram Viswanathan: http:// is the runner tribe's big secret. We may look sound crazy, but few things in life match the web/fundraiser/ sheer joy of a really good run.” showFundraiserProfilePage.action? Jessu John: “I feel great when I set off, but tire userUrl=RamViswanathan quickly if it’s hot or I haven’t managed to sleep Ajay Gupta: too well. (Unfortunately, I am full of nervous bangalore/marathon/runners12/ excitement before a race and keep waking up Ajay_Gupta.html the night before and wondering if it’s time to get up!) However, I try to keep going till the first Jessu John: http:// water station, grab a bottle and then run for a more before I take my water break. During jessugoodfellow.htm the course, there are times when I feel low and tired or pumped up when I get my second wind. The low times are always perfect opportunity for me to decide I am not going to finish the race. But I somehow push through that and get

Vani Viswanathan is often lost in her world of books and A R Rahman, churning out lines in her head or humming a song. Her world is one of frivolity, optimism, quietude and general chilled-ness, where there is always place for outbursts of laughter, bouts of silence, chocolate, ice cream and lots of books and endless iTunes playlists from all over the world. Vani was a Public Relations consultant in Singapore and decided to come back to homeland after seven years away to pursue a Masters in Development Studies. Vani blogs at


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Fiction Footprints in the Sand by Harish V

Anjali is hit by an epiphany when she gets over her fear of the ocean and walks across the shore. Harish V tells her story in a piece of flash fiction.

Anjali removed her footwear and hesitantly in the universe's scheme of things. Yet her footwalked to the edge of the shore. She had decid- print was a reassuring confirmation that she did ed enough was enough. leave something behind, and at some level, she probably did matter. She didn't know where her fear of the ocean stemmed from, but she was tired of watching She noticed how her heels had left deeper ruts. her friends' jaws drop every time she admitted She remembered how her mother used to adshe'd lived in Chennai for 25 years and never monish her for walking heavily. It is unladylike, stepped into the water. She gingerly approached she'd constantly scold. the incoming wave and felt a surge of exciteShe noticed how little grains of sand at the edge ment as she experienced the curious sensation of her footprint slid into the cavity. Like little of the surprisingly cool water lapping against her hourglasses constantly reminding us of how feet in the hot sun. fleeting time is, she thought. She felt strangely liberated yet acutely aware of She noticed how both her feet had almost landeverything around her. Every sense felt heighted in a line. She smiled as she remembered beened. She walked along the shore, trying to ing pushed to participate in a fashion show by catch the next wave. That was when she noticed her classmates in college and how she almost her footprints in the sand. had the coordinator in tears by the time she She couldn't comprehend why she was so fasci- learnt how to walk the ramp. nated by the image. The vast sea made her feel utterly insignificant 15

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Almost in a trance, she kept walking backwards was clear. It was a moment of epiphany. – staring at her footprints – each step conjuring "Dammit!" she exclaimed, "I forgot my sanup a different memory. Before she knew it, she dals." had reached the Elliot’s Promenade and with a sigh, she hailed an auto to go home, still lost in a swirl of memories and emotions. As the auto turned sharply into her street, suddenly everything clicked into place. Her mind

Picture by Susan Rozenberg

Harish is a blogger who is currently looking for a blogspot theme with dust and cobwebs, for that's how long it has been since he actively blogged. He occasionally writes and clicks photographs, but only if he manages to pry himself away from the unhealthy hold Twitter and Facebook have on him. He tweets as @_curses.


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Poetry Innuendo (at a faraway outpost)

by Mickyso Kutti

A man plagued by loneliness and lost in thought has a new visitor and perhaps a new friend. Mickyso Kutti’s poem reveals more.

A baby frog hops into my dank shanty Day when the noon looks like the rotten night And presentiment of deluge

I have been drinking the country liquor It has no labels, you don’t get drunk on rainy days On country liquor for which you still owe money

I brood over many things One of which is loneliness If death doesn’t kill, loneliness will.

The picture of skull and bones Hurriedly sketched in bitumen Upon the sole junction-box

Forever bares all teeth Which means he must have died young 17

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or ceaselessly happy

Been a long time since I had a mare To take me down the valley lanes And fetch myself rations from the nomad shops

And yellow streaks on their faces Sell broken rice and kerosene

The frog-eyes Are curious arches of wonderment - Is there anything wrong?

Apart from not hiding the porno clippings scattered scrumptiously on the metal-trunk I am leaning on

Innuendo (at a faraway outpost)

Where the mountain women with epicanthal eye-folds

I think of chasing the hobo away But the wanderer doesn’t mind my presence Thinks it’s alright to have me around

And finds the corner under my cot somewhat cozy His one-way imprints Designate the best roads to happiness Mickyso Kutti is Chennai-based writer.

The ones sharing loneliness. 18


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Fiction The House of Mirrors by Vani Viswanathan

A 29-year-old woman moves into a beautiful, breezy apartment, and finds that it has a strange relationship with mirrors. It’s all amusing until forces she can’t rationalise take over. Vani Viswanathan tells the story.

It’s 3 am, and I’m expected to be at work in a little more than four hours to do a rush job for a client. I’m wide awake, staring out through the flying curtains in my enviable, little, breezy bedroom. The lights in Bombay are still on, and a flight begins its journey, reaching heights at an angle that never ceases to surprise me despite my three months in this house. Three months – the number sends a shiver down my spine. I love this house, and I am upset that I’m moving out already. I’ll tell you why. I’m not a superstitious person, so the house agent telling me that the house had been locked for three years did not bother me the least bit. As a 29-year-old, unmarried girl, living alone and away from my parents for the last 12 years, my poor mother was barely concerned about this move – she was still desperately trying to get me to meet one of the many single men she seemed to be miraculously chancing upon every now and then. The place was beautiful, it was of a

perfect size for one person, it was a short 10minute jog away from office, and the rent was within my budget. Within three weeks the legal work had been done, and I had moved in. I’m not especially a warm neighbour, but I gave my three neighbours a box of sweets anyway. They seemed to be genuinely nice people, and never bothered me much; all we did was exchange cordial smiles if we happened to meet at the lift lobby – they didn’t even throw barely-hidden glances in my direction when I’d brought men home thrice and one of them had happened to see it each time. Anyway, three days after I had moved in, as I unpacked bit by bit after late hours in the office, I noticed something. The house seemed to be full of mirrors. Of various kinds. Full length ones – two in the living room, two in the small bedroom – one on a wall and another on a cupboard door. Two mirrors of the size that usually


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hang above bathroom sinks, one in the kitchen and another in the bathroom. Three squareshaped mirrors hanging in a pattern in the living room, framed in jute. One circular one framed by a red oval plastic ring that had tiny circular mirrors on it, hanging above the grilled window in the kitchen. That was not all. I used to pull open draws or open shelves to find pocket mirrors of various shapes. I kept tossing them onto a newspaper I’d spread in a corner of the kitchen, and at the end of the three days, I realised there was a neat little pile there. I was amused, bemused, and mildly annoyed. Why hadn’t the previous tenants – fine, even if they’d left three years ago – vacated the shelves of their stuff? And what was with the profusion of mirrors in the house, too? I dumped the mirrors in the trash can, and forgot all about it. I got used to the mirrors too, eventually. Yes, it was freaky in the initial days to see my own reflection reflected back in the mirrors whenever I walked, tried on clothes, combed my hair, or applied makeup, but over time I began to use the multiple reflections to check out how my hair looked, whether the top looked too tight on my behind, among other things. It was three weeks later that trouble slowly simmered. Opening the store room to pull out a strolley for a weekend trip, I found another mirror that I hadn’t noticed earlier. This looked like the mirror I’d seen in the many houses I’d lived in – full of sticker bindis. This one was colourful too – pinks, reds, yellows, greens, blues too! Somehow, the woman seemed to have had a fondness for pink, though – there were pinks of so many shapes – oval, stretched, weirdly

curved, round, even one odd square one. Staring at them, and stepping back, I slowly realised a pattern: all the pinks had formed a diamond on the mirror. I was amused, took my strolley out, and shut the door, and went on my weekend trip. Three days after I returned, I unpacked and went to put the strolley back, and decided to admire the patient handiwork of the lady of the bindis again. Looking at the mirror, I jumped: it was the green bindis that seemed to be arranged in a – jeez – it was a circle this time. I shut the door and ran to my bedroom and turned the volume up on the music playing – it seemed to be the best thing to do to quieten my thumping heart. The house had been locked, as was the store room, and the maid hadn’t come those few days. I asked the maid the next day anyway – she stared incredulously, for she didn’t have the keys to the storeroom. Who was jobless enough to do something like this anyway? Vague memories of the agent’s disclosure about the house being locked for three years came back to me. I rationalised that I had probably not noticed that the green bindis were in a circle the first time too, because I liked pink and was naturally drawn to finding the pattern in pink. That means the pink pattern should still be there, right? asked my mind. I shut the thought, hid the key to the storeroom under a pile of sarees, and left for work. I managed for three weeks without thinking of the mirror again, thanks to long days working for a new client pitch, and I’d come back home at ungodly hours to crash and rush back to work after a few hours’ sleep. Client won and life get-


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ting back to normalcy, the mirror popped up again in my head. I gingerly reached for the key one evening after downing a couple of glasses of wine. I switched on the CFL lamp in the storeroom. The blue bindis seemed to have formed a line that was marching down the length of the mirror. I ignored the greens and the pinks, switched off the light and went to bed. The next evening, I bought a new lock for the storeroom and gave all its keys to my colleague at work, and told him to keep it somewhere in his house. As I said earlier, I really am not a superstitious person, so the new lock, to me, was the best solution. The maid had probably found the key to the storeroom somehow, and was pulling a joke with the bindis. Twenty days went by without my bothering about the damned mirror. On the 21st day, I got the keys from my colleague to open the storeroom to get a bag for my coming week-long trip. I asked him to come home and get my bag out, as I didn’t want to see the mirror or the bindis. He pulled out my airbag, and told me ‘You have a mirror full of bindis in your storeroom! Are you bindi crazy? Didn’t think you were the bindi-wearing type.’ I rolled my eyes and didn’t answer him. I was not the bindiwearing kind, though – he was right.

The week-long trip did well in terms of making me forget the mirror, and when I returned, I somehow felt brave enough to go into the storeroom myself, and keep the keys. The blue line was still there. I draped an old dupatta over the mirror and left. Three days later, after another couple of glasses of wine, I dragged myself to the storeroom again. The red bindis were now a squiggly line. The blues were in a quiet puddle in the bottom right corner. My buzz dropped like something had hit me. I staggered back into the living room, called my colleague, and slept in his house. It was the strangest thing explaining this to him. I could see he was being very polite by not laughing at me. He offered to stay over with me. We left the office together the next day, and the lady next door mustered her politest smile when she saw me with him. I didn’t care. The bindis had shaken me to the core. ‘The pink bindis form a diamond,’ he told me after checking the storeroom, while I huddled by the French window in the living room. ‘That’s how it was when I saw it the first time!’ I whispered. The next day, he said the green ones were in a circle, and the reds were lumped in the bottom right corner. I shrank further, and he said I could put up at his place while I hunted


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for another apartment. I spent the next week at his place, and found another apartment that was dingy, crowded and old. The balcony opened to another balcony at an arm’s distance. I was in tears. As so I decided that I’d brave another night in my beautiful – freaky – apartment.

went to brush my teeth.” 12.35am, a little over two hours back. The image has been downloaded, and I click on ‘View.’ A row of five blue bindis seemed to have formed a line that was marching down the length of the bathroom mirror.

It’s no wonder I can’t sleep, though. It’s 3 am, and I’m expected to be at work in a little more than four hours to do a rush job for a client. I’m wide awake, staring out through the flying curtains in my enviable, little, breezy bedroom. I reach for my cell phone and push the button. I see a Whatsapp message from my colleague whose house I’d stayed in the last few days. He’s sent me an image, and a text, “Saw this when I

Vani Viswanathan is often lost in her world of books and A R Rahman, churning out lines in her head or humming a song. Her world is one of frivolity, optimism, quietude and general chilled-ness, where there is always place for outbursts of laughter, bouts of silence, chocolate, ice cream and lots of books and endless iTunes playlists from all over the world. Vani was a Public Relations consultant in Singapore and decided to come back to homeland after seven years away to pursue a Masters in Development Studies. Vani blogs at


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The Lounge

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Storyboard| Film Freak

On Why an Underdog Film Went on to Create History by Yayaati Joshi

An advantage to an underdog film can be the underdog status of the protagonist, says Yayaati Joshi, on why Rocky manages to capture our hearts.

An advantage to an underdog film can be the underdog status of the protagonist – before Rocky was released, Stallone was not an established actor. Apart from the success of Death Race 2000, which actually became popular and developed its cult status much later, success had been eluding Stallone for a while. So when you see Rocky Balboa pounding away at the punching bag, it is actually Stallone himself, trying to carve a niche in the difficult world of Hollywood. A film that was shot in less than a month, that was made with a low budget and that had actors only a few people had heard of, was as unlikely to get noticed as its pugilist protagonist who was unlikely to win his debut match against a formidable opponent. And yet the film was noticed – more than just noticed, actually – it even won three Oscars. Quite an achievement for the un-

derpaid, overworked crew! Half an hour into the film, one already feels sympathetic towards Rocky, his rent unpaid, finances not sound, and no backing to help him improve his situation. It’s almost as if one is supposed to like Rocky, and feel for him. Although remaining stiff upper lipped at the time of adversity invokes respect, the film itself berates its protagonist by making a hue and cry about his hardship. But this, apparently, is an unintentional trick that the film plays, as its protagonist himself is never seen whining about his condition. It is only the film that shows him to be “suffering.” Rocky is devoid of any modern gym equipment, he has to hit lamb carcasses in an abattoir; his training methods include simple, yet challenging exercises. As we see Rocky running for his morning workout, apart from the goose bumps, a feeling of achievement through


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industry sets in – Rocky isn’t running away from his humble present, he is running towards the glory that awaits him. And that glory, to him, does not amount to financial success. “I don’t want no check,” Rocky shouts at his trainer when he warns him of permanent physical damage due to the excessive thrashing that Rocky is subject to. His trainer assumes, like some viewers might, that there is financial incentive in risking one’s life in a boxing match. But the film again makes Rocky earn respect from us, when we see his perspective of the journey being as important as the destination. Given that Stallone himself wrote the script for the film, a ‘rags to riches’ setup was necessary for the character to be likeable. I wonder if the film would have been as successful if Rocky had been a wastrel, and the plot involved him finding solace in the sport of boxing and eventually shedding his brat persona for a more humbled personality. That might have made his achievement less convincing – one would have wondered if Rocky went back to his extravagant ways and lavish lifestyle. But Stallone, despite being only a few films old (some of which didn’t even credit him for his cameos), probably un-

derstood this better than anyone else, and created a character who would appeal to the masses, even if it did so by figuratively asking for their sympathy. Much to our surprise, despite strenuous training and zealous grit, Rocky actually loses the match to Creed. But does he really lose? The shot of him shouting “Adrian” again and again, requesting her to come and accept his proposal of love (an awkward timing to propose, one might argue, but again that works in Rocky’s favour – the manly personality who can survive a tough opponent still needs a woman in his life for emotional support, a true hero of sorts) focuses only on him and Adrian – Creed is obscured in the background somewhere, like the accompanying vegetables that get superimposed by the steak on the plate. The audience (at the match), the commentators, the trainer of the opponent, all seem to have a liking for the underdog. This liking, more than anything else, was instrumental in making the film successful – by hiding its many directorial flaws. It even impressed the Oscar jury, who couldn’t “say no” to the film’s presence and the effect it had on the masses. Rocky had become the boxing icon – probably as big as Mohammad Ali. The film will, for years to come, continue to be respected, not for its


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filmmaking, but for the indomitable spirit of its and essays on various aspects of Indian and world cineprotagonist. ma. Film Freak is an exclusive monthly column by Yayaati Joshi, who, well, is a film freak. It features movie reviews

Yayaati Joshi is a man with simple tastes and intense beliefs. Contrary to the bling associated with the capital city, he prefers the company of close friends, an engaging book or an Alfred Hitchcock movie. His placid demeanour is often mistaken for reticence; Yayaati is a self- proclaimed loner, whose recent pursuits include his foray as a budding writer. Yayaati blogs at

Do you own a copy of our anthology, ‘Sparkling Thoughts’? Order it now at


Spark—December 2012 | Footprints

Turn of the Page

Catherine Chung’s Forgotten Country by Gauri Trivedi

‘Move aside Jhumpa Lahiri, Ms. Chung is here. Or is she?’ wonders Gauri Trivedi in this book review of Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung. Rich in descriptions about Korean culture, the book however misses one key aspect Gauri considers vital to books about the life of immigrants. Read on to find out more.

Disclaimer - I apologise for this piece of work extending beyond being the review of a single book by an author. The comparison with another author whose forte is very much this kind of stories has been deliberate. The emotions of an immigrant have always been worthy of a book, but up until a few years ago, not many people thought they would make an interesting read. These days though, it is the hottest thing you can write about. As a whole new generation of Asians tries to fit into a society they were born into (not the same as their parents) and adapt to a culture very different from what their ancestors followed, the account of their times and turbulence has the potential to inspire many a writers and readers.

“Forgotten Country” by Catherine Chung builds on this premise set by a second generation American- Korean narrator who leads us through her family matters, illnesses, sibling bonds and heritage. What is impressive about this debut author is the detail and finesse that comes across in the representation of her birth country and its traditions. What is not so interesting is the heady mix of too many things thrown in together. The book succeeds in arousing appropriate sentiments in bits and pieces but overall it fails to hold focus till the very end. And yes, don’t make the mistake of assuming you are picking up a mystery to read tonight just by the introduction which sounds as if the story is about Janie who goes looking for Hannah, her


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younger sister, and her trials along the way. Nope, Hannah isn’t missing in the practical sense of the word and Janie is one confused soul.

from the East to the West of the globe in the form of a read was with Jhumpa Lahiri’s first book of short stories “The Interpreter of Maladies.” “Namesake,” her second book, but her first full-fledged novel, explored and elaborated on the same idea and got itself many accolades. Her more recent “Unaccustomed Earth” (yet another collection of short stories) set the standard even higher and so now, whenever I pick up a book which expects me to relate to or empathize with Asians trying to build a life in the United States with the limitations they perceive themselves to have and the opportunities presented before them, it has to pass the acid test.

While I can relate somewhat with the “fitting in” part of this novel, I wish the author had made Janie’s character a little stronger and worth remembering, since she is the protagonist here, so to say. The backdrop of the novel keeps changing from emigrational issues to sibling rivalry to paternal obligations. And while the backdrop changes, the characters offer nothing new with its progression. Before I get to a synopsis of the book, let me give a brief milieu on what attracted me to picking up this book from the library Jhumpa Lahiri always writes about the experishelf in the first place. ences of an Indian-American and the constant tug of war between the culture left behind and My introduction to the struggle of immigrants that of the adopted country, which is something I can identify with. But in spite of interpreting the same sentiment with different tales, there is something about her characters that touches my heart and her stories remain even after I finish with them. “Forgotten Country,” on the other hand, has no such thing holding it together. I did not feel either for the head of the family who ultimately ends up at a place he desperately sought to flee or the sisters who seem to fight over petty things (as most sisters do) but not talk about life -altering incidents. The mother’ s role as the backbone of the family is not obvious at all, though she really is and one has to read between the lines to get a sense of her personality and sacrifices. So, “Forgotten Country” is a novel through the words of Janie (Korean name Jeehyun), who sets out to look for her younger sister Hannah 28

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(Korean name Haejin) under pressure from her sick father who returns to Korea for treatment. Janie wants to follow her parents back to the native place, but before that she must confront Hannah who has disappeared abruptly. Having grown up hearing stories from her grandmother about losing sisters in the family, Janie, caught between fear and resent, takes up the assigned task and lands in Korea thereafter. Back to their roots, the change in the whole family is farreaching and visible. Janie struggles with her role of the dutiful daughter when her parents refuse to fault Hannah, the rebel in the family, for her selfishness. The rest of the story then finishes in Korea with the readers getting a taste of its history, folklore and current state of existence.

an ailing immigrant father , temperamentally different sisters and their travel back to the forgotten country did not pull me in. I finished reading it fast and superfluously. A book on a subject as sensitive doesn’t always have to offer something new for a reader to enjoy its contents – what it needs is the emotional hook, a thread that immediately connects and stays. And though some may think it to be an unfair comparison, my Indian-origin counterpart does a much better job of it. If you are looking for a simple, sensible read, this book may be a good use of your time, but if you are looking to get involved, this one’s not for you.

I enjoyed reading the folklores and the country descriptions, and on that account Catherine Chung does not disappoint. Her details on the Korean culture and traditions make for an engrossing read and I would probably re-read those fascinating parts again, but her story about

Gauri Trivedi is a former business law professional who makes the law at home these days. A Mom to two lovely daughters, her days are filled with constant learning and non- stop fun. All of her “mommy time” goes into writing and finds itself on her blog pa ges h tt p:/ / me ssy h o me l ove ly kid s. bl o gs p ot .c o m/ and h tt p :/ / and if she is not writing she is definitely reading something!


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The Inner Journey True Knowledge by Viswanathan Subramanian In his column on spirituality, Viswanathan Subramanian has thus far discussed ego and how memory or thoughts are the root cause of all troubles in the world, particularly human relationships. He has also raised several crucial questions such as ‘Are you the world?’ and ‘Does the world really exist?’ discussing them in the context of Ulladhu Narpadhu (Forty Verses of Reality) by Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharishi. Continuing with the series, the next step is to comprehend what is true knowledge. Read on.

In the objective world, knowledge is about things other than oneself. Such knowledge coexists with ignorance – a duality, where one does not survive without the other! When something is known, earlier ignorance of it is implied. Concepts of both ignorance and knowledge shoot out from “I,” the ego. Essentially, saying “I know” or “I do not know” are nothing but forms of thought. Such thoughts fall apart when we realize the non-existence of a thinker (ego) as a separate entity. Thus, knowledge and ignorance are in the realm of intellect. What if, all these thought forms cease? Do we cease to exist? Yes, we do, as independent enti-

ties, but the True knowledge now stands out. It is the state of being. This state has to be experiential and cannot be reached by the logical mind. The reality of existence of that state cannot be questioned. Even when put in a completely dark room, all alone, where you are not able to see, hear, smell, touch or feel anything else, whatsoever, the fact of your existence stands on its own, without needing any support of sense or logic! Does this all mean that when you transcend thought forms like knowledge and ignorance, you are a vegetable? No, absolutely not.


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When that state of being is there, thoughts do and action become one, concepts of Science fall work, quite efficiently, without an ego centre into their right places and flow from wholesome and where needed. This is the right perceptive. perception. Here, perception and action are one. It is not like you receive something at a point of time and then act on that knowledge. Once perception

Viswanathan Subramanian was a banker for over 35 years. In his new retired life, he loves poring over business newspapers and journals and making notes. Spirituality also interests him, and so a good number of Sri Ramana Maharishi’s and Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s books find space in his bookshelf. He is extremely passionate about movies and music too. You are sure to find some good old English movie DVDs and an enormous collection of old mp3 Hindi and Tamil songs at his place!


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Slice of Life by Parth Pandya

Life’s a Test For a cricket fan who worships Sachin Tendulkar, what could be better than watching a high quality test match where the God plays on his home turf? Cricket maniac Parth Pandya chronicles his day watching the second test of the India-England series in Mumbai. Pictures : Parth Pandya

As someone who does not stay in this country and is still positively obsessed with the game of cricket, it was an absolute dream come true to get a chance to watch a high quality contest live in the stadium. I was there in person to watch day 3 of the second test of the series between India and England at the Wankhede stadium. The greatest incentive, of course, was to watch the God on his home turf – Sachin Tendulkar batting at Wankhede – but more on that later. The following is a report of the way the day unfolded. Yeh India hai boss! I had booked my tickets online in anticipation of getting to watch the game. The tickets, to the credit of the MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) were priced very reasonably – 500 rupees

for the entire match. Test cricket needs these incentives to build attendance. Back to the tickets – since I had booked them online, I assumed that getting into the stadium should not take time. When I reached the stadium, there was a serpentine queue waiting outside to book tickets. I walked to the front of the line only to discover a board which said that tickets booked online needed to be picked up from the Karnataka Cricket Association’s office. So, I trudged, bag and all, to find the KCA office somewhere close to the Cross Maidan. After some false assumptions and additional walking, I finally found the location, only to find six people already waiting there, twiddling their thumbs on their phone, trying to find out why there was no one to give the tickets. After an hour of waiting, someone finally showed up and gave the


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tickets. A rush back to the stadium set me in a line for a gate that led to (what else?) the Sachin Tendulkar pavilion. The security had many layers, and the first one had a rude shock for me. No bags allowed!! Everything is ok as long as you carry it on your person. Of course, nothing of this sort was mentioned when the tickets were booked. I was wondering what to do next with the bag, even after I emptied it somehow. The head honcho policeman in the line told me – “There are some of these guys around the corner who will keep your bag for some money. Try them.” Sure enough, the jugaad philosophy was in full flow: a cobbler was keeping bags for 50 rupees. To identify bags, you’d have to make two chits – one that stayed with you and one that went in the bag. At the end of the day, to pick your bag, you’d have to match the chits. Mera Bhaarat Mahaan. I finally went through all the hassles to be greeted with this gorgeous view, six minutes before the start of play. Today was going to be a good day.

session was going to be crucial. The crowds were still building up as the players sauntered through to the middle. On a pitch that was supposed to have a lot of spite, the English batsmen were looking very composed and relaxed. It was not difficult to see why – the bowlers were giving at least one short ball an over. Cook kept going to his backfoot or when on the front foot, turning it around the corner. KP too was given lots of leeway. Cook went on to score his fourth century in his fourth test as a captain. The Mumbai crowd gave him a generous ovation. But the real fireworks came from the temperamental Kevin Pietersen (seen driving here).

His innings had to be seen to be believed. He was pure ego and pure talent. The sixes he deposited over both the off and the on side during his subjugation of India’s best bowler on offer (Pragyan Ojha) smacked of arrogance. Even the manner in which he reached his century (through a reverse sweep) spoke highly of his faith in himself. Kevin, Go Back!

The crowd warmed up to KP’s innings and gave The match was tantalizingly poised with India him a very healthy round of applause on both having made 327 in the first innings and Eng- his century and his eventual departure. Here’s land having responded strongly through Captain KP acknowledging the cheers of the crowd. Cook and the kinetic Kevin Pietersen. The first 33

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Once KP was gone, there was a deluge of wick- What was expected to be a good fight turned ets and each wicket was celebrated with huge out to be an abject surrender from the Indian cheers from the crowd. batsmen. The English spinners had humiliated the Indian batsmen on a pitch that was doctored In between the change of innings, one saw the for the Indian team. sight of Harbhajan Singh walking along the boundary line along with a few security guards. OMG (Omnipotent Mercurial God) The ongoings weren’t obvious from the disIf cricket is a religion and Sachin is its God, then tance, but the next day the newspapers clarified Mumbai is the God’s headquarters. When Pujara that there had been a spectator taunting Bhajji started his trudge back to the pavilion, the apall along and he was taking him to task for that. plause was deafening. It was neither for the Lagaan Revisited (or perhaps not) bowler nor for the batsman; the crowd was united in chanting only one name: “Sachin.” TenThe Indian openers, one of whom was completdulkar trudged down from the pavilion to the ing 100 tests, walked to the center brimming center and the chants of “Sachin, Sachin” from with intent. A lead of 86 on this pitch had to be the lungs of a very packed stadium continued. It knocked out soon, but what followed was a prowas a visceral experience to see this kind of aducession of Indian batsmen getting knocked out lation, unadulterated love for someone who by one after the other to some accurate spin bowlnow flirts on the border of reality and myth. ing. Even from a distance, one could see that the English bowlers were pushing the ball faster God came, hit a beautiful straight drive, pulled and were intent on attack. Even the field place- one behind square, and just like that, with one ments were more aggressive, unlike those of error in judgement, had a quick end to his visit. Dhoni, who was giving the crowds good glimpsWhen the umpire raised his finger, you could es of their superstars at the boundary line. understand what the phrase pin drop silence Here’s Monty Panesar going for the kill against means. The crowd was in a state of gloom. You Yuvraj, even as the shadows lengthened on the could find more cheer in a mortuary at that moground. ment. God walked back lost in thought, for surely these are troubled times for Him. Did the crowd 34

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just witness the last Tendulkar test innings at Wankhede? That thought was enough to send the crowd into a gloom for the rest of the day. The poignant image of the great batsman walking alone towards the pavilion sums up the mood.

Celebrating the Fall of an English Wicket

The Fans The fun of watching the game in the stadium is that you are not tainted by the commentary or the limits of the TV angles or miss the action in between overs. You are witness to the whole experience. The North Stand was lively with dhols and dancing, especially between overs and when wickets were taken or boundaries hit. The Barmy Army was well, rejoicing in the rather pleasing prospect of an English win, and the crowds entertained themselves with the Mexican wave when things got placid. Here are some moments from the game.

Signalling a Boundary

The food was circulating as if this were a movie (popcorn, samosas etc.), former cricketers like Ganguly and Warne were cheered when they got onto the field for doing a match report, special love was showered for Yuvraj and all in all, the result notwithstanding, people showed a rare passion for this form of the game.

Indian Supporter 35

Test cricket needs its good days to survive and this was a good one. Personally, I am thanking my lucky stars that despite living halfway across the globe, I could partake of this experience and watch the game in person. Hearing the ‘thwack’ of the ball hitting the bat isn’t quite the same on television.

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Parth Pandya is a passionate Tendulkar fan, diligent minion of the ‘evil empire’, persistent writer at, self-confessed Hindi movie geek, avid quizzer, awesome husband (for lack of a humbler adjective) and a thrilled father of two. He grew up in Mumbai and spent the last eleven years really growing up in the U.S. and is always looking to brighten up his day through good coffee and great puns.

SEND US YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS TO FEEDBACK WEBSITE Facebook: Twitter: Pictures with no attribution have been taken from Google Images.


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Spark - December 2012 Issue  

December 2012 Issue of Spark

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