Jai ho, Web2.0

When you talk of the millionth anything, you want something unusual, memorable — something that can wear the ‘millionth’ title with flair.

Web2.o?

Oh well.

Patel rap

There are over a quarter million people named Patel in Britain. More than half of them are married to people named Patel [which among other things removes the stress of changing names, after marriage, on a hundred different official documents]. And someone named Patel is seven times likelier to be a millionaire than someone named Smith.

Read on.

If you have tears…

Men, says LZ Granderson on ESPN, are as likely to cry you a river.

After his Australian Open defeat — in which he sobbed so unattractively and uncontrollably that a commercial break was needed to allow him time to gather himself — I was beginning to think Federer, like so many athletes before, was a lost cause.

But on Sunday, as he stood at the podium with the Swiss national anthem playing and drops of rain falling from the Paris sky, Federer bowed his head, took a deep breath and went John Q on us.

It was a thing of beauty: minimal facial distortion, perfectly paced tears, measured strength, snotless.

He calls it the art of the man-cry. Here, read. And when done reading, check out the extended list of lachrymose moments.

In the swing of things

Damned if I can see where the “ball tampering row” comes in, here. The piece promises much with its set up graf:

Reverse swing can be achieved by fair means or foul, though it usually takes longer than 20 overs for the ball to wear enough for the first to occur. On this occasion, Gul, who took an astonishing five for six in three overs, got the ball to reverse after the 12th over, which is presumably why New Zealand saw fit to protest.

In the graf  immediately following, though, it is clear that nothing happened:

“We did approach match officials to seek assurances that the reverse-swing Pakistan achieved was by fair means,” Stephen Hill, New Zealand’s media manager, said yesterday. “They said they had seen nothing to arouse suspicion and we’ve accepted that. There are no plans to take it any further at this stage.”

Seamingly simple

Seamingly simple

End of story, no? So what’s with that history lesson gratuitously tagged on?

Without hard evidence – and Vettori’s claim in Saturday’s press conference that he “didn’t think anyone in Twenty20 history had ever got the ball to reverse” is purely circumstantial – they may have a point.

Reminds me of the time Waqar and Wasim reverse-swung England to distraction. ‘CHEATS!’, a headline of the time proclaimed, and there was much scholarly nonsense spoken of how reverse swing was against the laws of physics. And then English bowlers learnt to do it — and next thing you know, the media was celebrating this new art.

From my archives dating back to that time, this.  And from Osman Samiuddin, an appreciation of Umer Gul that’s worth your time. A clip:

He is a plain and straightforward cricketer, is Umar Gul. Complexity is not contemplated around him, and though all humanity is inevitably complex, with Gul it is of no interest to anyone else. With Asif and Shoaib, you cannot but avoid it, heaped upon you by their very actions; excessively pampered, delusional, village bumpkin made it too big, all that stuff. Even Waqar, Wasim and Imran had much greyness about them. Gul? He bowls. He bowls long, hard and uncomplainingly. Then he goes away.

Afterwords

Derek Pringle picks James Foster’s quicksilver leg-side stumping of Yuvraj Singh as the moment that sealed the game for England, and he is right – even for an audience accustomed to his big hitting, there was something electric about the straight one he hit to the very first ball he faced, a sense of watching a player in the ‘zone’ top performers speak of. And then there is this:

India’s ejection has disproved one thing – that the Indian Premier League is good for your skills, the mantra trotted out by every player save Dale Steyn, who said it was the easiest money he’d ever earned.

Every member of India’s team is involved with one franchise or other, but you wouldn’t have thought so watching them chase England’s total of 153 yesterday. Nervy at the start they were meandering when Yuvraj announced his intentions by belting his first ball, off Dimitri Mascarenhas high over long-on for six.

Yuvraj’s swagger would have persuaded most in the majority Indian crowd that England would be vanquished, but they hadn’t reckoned on Swann and Foster, England’s two likely lads. In the blink of an eye they’d picked Yuvraj’s pocket and sent a nation addicted to Twenty20 into a prolonged bout of cold turkey.

To say that India’s exit in and of itself disproves the statement that the IPL is good for you [Is the opposite then true, that not playing IPL is good for you?] is a reach I find myself unable to make.

Stephen Brenkley also pushes that anti-IPL thought, as does Mike Atherton, and so I begin to wonder if these are manifestations of the institutional prejudice the British establishment has for an idea that did not emerge from the ‘home of cricket’. Atherton also pays tribute to the innings Kevin Pietersen played, and ends with this thought:

Some day, England will win a match in which Pietersen plays a minor part. At that point, once they have kicked their addiction to an over-reliance on him, we will know that they are a force in the one-day game. Last night that didn’t look like happening.

Bhimsen: Episode 51

[Episode 50] [Complete Archives]

Drupada and Virat, heads together in rapt discussion, walked out of the assembly hall. As the rest of us began to leave, Yudhishtira caught my eye and signaled me to wait.

“We must try for peace at all costs,” my brother told me when we had the place to ourselves. “I’m planning to send an envoy to Hastinapura with the message that war can be avoided if the Kauravas give us five villages – with that, we can start all over again, build a second Indraprastha.”

Anger for me starts as a throb in the soles of my feet; I felt it burn its way through my senses to the point where I had to clasp my hands tight behind my back to keep from hitting something, someone.

“Who took that decision?”

I meant the question to come out calm, reasonable – but it emerged as a roar of disgust.

“I did,” my brother said, with the control I had failed to find. “And if you intend to dispute it, then the war you threatened will start right here, right now.”

I took a long, shuddering breath and fought back the bile-filled words that rose to the tip of my tongue – they were none of them the kind that could appropriately be spoken to an elder brother who was also my king.

I spun on my heel and stormed out of the room. The Matsya army would be in training; they would be looking to me to arrive and take my place at their head, but I was in no mood for farce. I headed straight back to my chambers, threw myself on the bed and called for sura.

The maid carrying a silver jug of alcohol arrived at the same time as a visibly pleased Dhristadyumna; it was he who took the jug from her and had a long drink.

“My spy just returned from Hastinapura,” he told me. “Things are not going well there.”

Dhritarashtra and Vidura had been engaged in an ongoing, and very acrimonious, argument ever since Sanjaya returned to Hastinapura, the spy had reported. Bhisma and Gandhari were on Vidura’s side; they had both tried to persuade Dhritarashtra to overrule Duryodhana and to give us half the kingdom, including Indraprastha.

“When Bhisma argued in our favor, Karna in open assembly said something a bunch of old men who had attached themselves to Hastinapura, and were living well at the expense of the Kauravas while secretly espousing the Pandava cause.”

There was immediate uproar, the spy reported. Drona and Kripa had taken offense at Karna’s words; while Duryodhana struggled to pacify the two acharyas, Karna challenged Bhisma to a duel.

“Bhisma said Hastinapura had been his by right; that he had ruled as regent through the time of Duryodhana’s grandfather, had defended it during the regency of Dhritarashtra and Pandu—it was beneath him to take up arms against the upstart son of the palace charioteer who had attached himself to a gullible prince, and who had been thrown a crown like you throw a dog a bone.

“God,” Dhristadyumna chortled as he narrated the story, “I wish I had been there to see the scene. Apparently Karna stormed out of the hall, shut himself up in his chambers in Duryodhana’s palace and has since refused to attend the assembly.”

The Panchala prince had been spoiling for war ever since he arrived in Matsya; he clearly was pleased at the thought of dissension in the Kaurava camp at this critical moment.  It seemed hardly the time to tell him that his sister would in all likelihood end up living in a mud hut in a small village somewhere. Besides, that was between me and my brother – I couldn’t speak about it to an outsider, even one as close to me as this young man was.

“Oh, and guess who Dhritarashtra is most frightened of, even as he takes his sons’ part?”

“Arjuna.” That was an easy guess for me to make – my younger brother had just single-handedly routed the cream of the Kaurava army; it didn’t take a great leap of imagination to anticipate what he would do when backed by the full strength of the Pandavas and allies.

“No,” laughed Dhristadyumna. “It’s you. The blind king has been repeatedly saying that he is unable to sleep nights because in his dreams he sees visions of you picking out his sons, one by one, and killing them. Duryodhana has been trying to convince him that he can win with the mace against you – Bhima has been living the life of a hermit in the forest while he has been practicing under Balarama’s tutelage, Duryodhana repeatedly reminds his father, but Dhritarashtra is not convinced. The other day, my spy told me, the old king wept in open court as he recounted the umpteenth recurrence of this dream.”

I sighed. Only one person in the world apparently didn’t trust my strength and Arjuna’s skill and the loyalty of our allies – unfortunately for us, that happened to be the brother who led us.

Finding me in no mood to share his exhilaration, Dhristadyumna took one last swig at the jug and went off to find Satyaki. I lay on my couch, my eyes on the ceiling and my mind endlessly replaying the many difficulties and dangers, the serial humiliations that had been our lot ever since our father died in the forest and we entered Hastinapura as young children all unknowing of what the future held for us.

I was woken up by a messenger with a summons to come immediately to the audience hall. Yudhishtira was there, seated on the throne in the absence of Virat and Drupada. Krishna and Satyaki were present, as were my three younger brothers. Dhristadyumna walked in just as I entered.

“I have decided to make one last bid for peace,” Yudhishtira said once we were all settled in our seats. “And instead of sending a regular messenger, I have asked Krishna to go to Hastinapura and speak on our behalf – he will tell the Kauravas war can be avoided if they give us five villages for our own.”

Krishna looked grim; from his expression, I deduced that this was not a task he welcomed.

“I want to hear your opinions,” Yudhishtira said, his eyes fixed on me.

“I have no opinion,” I said, and this time I was calm — judging by the expressions of the others as they listened to me, perhaps too much so. “You are the eldest, it is your decision to make. Since your objective is the preservation of the race and not the avenging of our numerous wrongs, what is there for me to say? I am willing to work as Duryodhana’s slave, if that is what you in your wisdom think will avoid war.”

Krishna jumped up from his seat. “As war nears, the great warrior has second thoughts? Those are the words of a eunuch, not what I expected from the mighty Bhimsen!”

“If you expected anything better from the son of the impotent Pandu it was your fault, Krishna,” I said, my voice even softer. “I am done – I have nothing further to say.”

Krishna seemed about to say something more, but he must have spotted something in my face – something that hinted at things he was not aware of. He subsided.

“I agree with Yudhishtira,” Arjuna said as our brother turned to him. “I am not worried about the Kauravas or by Karna – I know their caliber. But the thought of taking up arms against our gurus and our great grandsire – that has been troubling me no end.”

Nakula never had an opinion about anything and even if he did, rarely voiced it in public. It was Sahadeva who strode out into the middle of the hall, his slender frame shaking with an anger he made no attempt to control.

“What manner of men are we that we sit here and talk of bargaining for peace with those who dragged our wife, the woman we had sworn to protect, into open assembly and in our presence, invited her to join Duryodhana’s harem? She has lived for 13 years in the hope that when our exile was over, we would finally avenge that insult – and now the best you can offer her is the prospect of sharing our lives in some mud hut in a village?!”

“I have heard your thoughts,” Yudhishtira cut in. “But I haven’t heard anything to convince me to revoke my decision. Krishna will go to Hastinapura as our final envoy.”

“The Kurus are not known for consulting their women or even for considering them!” Draupadi’s voice, drenched in tears, cut into the strained atmosphere in the hall. I turned around and spotted her standing behind a pillar – she must have been there all along, listening to our discussion.

As she walked into the hall, her eyes were fixed on me, a strange pity in her expression that made me wonder, and cringe. Ignoring Yudhishtira, she walked straight up to Krishna.

“So finally it is you, Krishna, who will go to the home of my enemies and ask for five villages as the price of my honor! You – who once told me that you would not rest content until the day I wash my hair with the blood of my enemies.

“This hair!”

With a flick of her hand, Draupadi tossed her long, luxurious tresses over her right shoulder so they hung in front of her, a curtain of the sheerest black. The hair I loved to run my fingers through, to weave flowers into during those moments when she was mine; hair she covered me with, like night itself, when she lay on top of me…

“It is this hair Dushasana grabbed that day as I sat in my chambers; it is by this hair that he dragged me into the midst of everyone. Since that day, I haven’t braided it to remind you – not my husbands, from whom I expect nothing, but you – of the insult I suffered. For 13 long years I haven’t shed a tear, because I did not want my tears to drown the fire of my anger…”

None moved, no one spoke as Draupadi, with a long shudder of sorrow, sank to the floor of the hall, her sobs like so many knives piercing our hearts.

Krishna lifted her up like a baby and, carrying her off to one corner of the hall, sat with her in his lap, wiping away her tears and speaking to her in a soft voice. Gradually, her face cleared; I even thought, though it could have been a trick of the light, that at the end I caught a slight smile on her face.

With a final word to him, Draupadi walked away without a glance for any of us. Dhristadyumna jumped up and ran out after his sister; Satyaki hurried to catch up with his friend and in passing, gave me a look of such unbridled contempt I did not know whether to shrink into myself or fell him with a blow.

“Since this is what you want, king, I go to Hastinapura now,” Krishna said in a voice cold with fury.

I sat in the hall for a long, long time – long after the others had gone. It was the sound of considerable commotion in the courtyard outside that woke me from my reverie.

An elephant, trumpeting in rage, dominated the courtyard while several dozen soldiers and mahouts ringed it, striving futilely to bring it under control. I knew this one – it was one of the most ferocious in the Matsya stables, and the one I used when we trained with the army.

It was in masth; it took just one glance to spot what had triggered its frenzy. On its forehead, close to its right eye was a huge boil, its eye glowing red in the surrounding whiteness of the pus that strained to break out.

The old mahout who had been my instructor in the paddock of Hastinapura had told me that it mostly occurred when an elephant’s sex drive was at its peak and it was denied; I used to think sometimes that it was a wonder I did not break out in masth during the four years when Draupadi lived with one or other of my brothers, and I waited my turn with growing impatience.

I ran down the steps and through the ring of soldiers surrounding the maddened beast. Some tried to stop me; I brushed them aside brutally and, grabbing a spear from the hands of one of the soldiers as he stumbled out of my way, tossed it in the air and caught it with the point facing down.

Seeing my approach, the elephant threw its trunk up and trumpeted in rage; its ears flattened and front knees bent slightly in the characteristic sign of an animal about to charge.

I roared, accumulated anger at my brother’s meekness, at this latest humiliation piled on top of the dozens of others powering my voice. My arm went back; with the full strength of my shoulders, I threw the spear. It flew true, the brass knob at the blunt end striking the inflamed boil.

The elephant screamed in an explosion of pain and range; its head lowered, its twin tusks pointed at me. In my own private frenzy, I ran towards it, roaring my own defiance as I went. “You want to fight? You too think I am a eunuch born to a neuter? Come – try me!”

Animals have an extraordinarily sharp sense for fear – they can smell it on you even before you sense it in yourselves. But they also have the ability to sense killing rage, berserker violence and today, the elephant must have smelt it on me.

Its trunk came down; the tusks gradually rose as it swayed about where it stood, confused. Mahouts swarmed around it, hastily attaching chains to its feet while one distracted it with a huge bunch of bananas.

I turned and strode away, the roiling anger within me still seeking an outlet – and saw Dhristadyumna, Satyaki and Draupadi standing off to one corner, watching.

“So who was that anger really directed at?” Dhristadyumna smiled. I ignored him and brushed past; they turned and came behind me as I strode away.

“So it really is true.” It was Draupadi’s voice. “Bhima can battle a masth-maddened elephant bare-handed. I thought it was one of those tales court singers invent.”

I turned to face them, and saw the laughter in her face. “It is a good thing you didn’t take up your brother’s challenge this morning in the assembly hall,” she said, laughing openly now while Dhristadyumna and Satyaki smiled broadly.

I hadn’t reckoned with Draupadi’s knack of slipping behind pillars and listening in on our conclaves.

Stepping up close, she laid a hand on my arm, stroking softly, gentling me till I felt my feverish rage subside. “Hush! It is going to be okay – Krishna will take your brother’s message, but he will deliver it in a way that will invite refusal. He told me what he was going to do – don’t worry, when he returns, war will be inevitable.”

It was a little over a week before Krishna returned. A messenger came with an urgent summons to where I was, working with the beast I had tamed that day.

Everyone was already assembled when I ran in, still covered in the muck of the paddock – Drupada, Virat, Yudhishtira, my brothers and Dhristadyumna, Satyaki even Prince Uttara.

Draupadi, for once, was seated in the hall and not hiding behind a pillar – I learnt later that Krishna had expressly demanded her presence when he delivered his message.

“O king,” Krishna addressed Yudhishitra, once I was seated. “I have no intention of going at length into all that transpired in the assembly hall at Hastinapura. I will not talk of the insults I personally endured at the hands of Duryodhana and others — that is my affair, and I will deal with it in my own way.

“Here in sum is Duryodhana’s message for you: Forget five villages, he will not even give you five houses to call your own. You want to hear his exact words? ‘I will not give up to Yudhishtira and the Pandavas as much land as can be covered by the head of a pin,’ he told me in open court, in front of his father and the assembled acharyas.”

It seemed to me Krishna had fulfilled his mission – only, not in the way Yudhishtira had expected. Later that evening, I took him aside and asked him how he had been so sure his mission would have only one outcome.

“Because I know the ways of the arrogant,” Krishna laughed. “I delivered the message Yudhishtira entrusted me with in his exact words, but my tone was that of a beggar. It was the tone of one speaking on behalf of cowards who would accept something, anything, rather than risk war – not for a statesman who seeks to avoid widespread devastation out of a sense of humanity, not fear. Someone as arrogant as Duryodhana would respond only one way to what he thought was a message born of fear.”

All eyes were on Yudhishitira, who sat there with his chin in his cupped palm. He sighed, and stayed silent.

Krishna stood in the middle of the hall, hands on hips, letting the silence build. By some strange trick of the imagination, he seemed to grow in size and heft to the point where he towered above us all – a dominant, daunting presence.

“I met your mother,” Krishna said, breaking the silence as it stretched to unbearable lengths. She has a message for you, and I will give it to you in her own words.

“She says to you, Yudhishtira: ‘My son, I will forgive, even forget, how the Kauravas poisoned my second son, your brother, and threw him, hands and feet tied beyond possibility of escape, into the river. I will forget how they tried to burn us in our beds, and I will pray to all the gods to forgive me the crime I was forced to commit that day, when I caused the death of an innocent woman and her five children. I will forgive the years of privation they forced you to endure; the 13 years that I have spent without sight of my children.

‘But there is one thing I can neither forget, nor forgive. I will never, ever, forget the sight of Draupadi, my first and most beloved daughter, being dragged by her hair into the great hall at Hastinapura. I will never forget the sight of her standing there, clad only in one flimsy robe, and I will never forgive those who inflicted on her the humiliation of being exposed to the gaze of the multitude while her menstrual blood ran down her legs and puddled at her feet. The task of a king, Yudhishtira, is to protect his people – a king who could not even protect his wife, or avenge her humiliation, has no right to his name, even to his life’.”

Krishna stared at Yudhishtira for a long moment before turning to where we  sat. “Your mother entrusted me with a message to you, Bhima, and to you, Arjuna. To the two of you she says, ‘My sons, it is your duty, your destiny, to put your elder brother on the throne of Hastinapura. I will not permit you in my presence until you have fulfilled that duty – no matter who tries to oppose you, friend or foe. You have my blessings.’

“And finally,” Krishna said, “I have a message for Draupadi.” Turning to her, he said, “Your mother tells you this: ‘My child, my life is nearing its end. I will spend the rest of what remains counting the days till the day I can stand at the gates of Hastinapura and welcome you, its queen, and see you installed on its throne in the very hall where you endured what no woman can ever endure’.”

“Those are the messages I bring with me,” Krishna told Yudhishtira. “So, king, what is your decision?”

Yudhishtira sat in silence for long moments. “Abhimanyu’s wedding…” he muttered, almost beneath his breath.

The silence dragged on. And then he stood, facing us all. His face was clear, his voice calm and even as he gave his decision in one word:

“War!”