Tag Archives: nostalgia

Picture showing a group of hybrid, super-efficient zombies who pass off as the Indian team today.

Why do all Indian cricketers look like each other?

Nostalgia, is a tricky monster.

Nostalgia makes people romanticise the trivial and the unpleasant. People glorify the agony of waiting a month for a telephone connection and LPG cylinder. Processing and accepting those emotions as some hogwash cathartic, life-coming-full-circle bullshit.

Cricket isn’t exempt from the vile clutches of nostalgia either.

I have met erstwhile fans who glorify the tension of watching the Indian cricket team in the 90s. Celebrate the anxiety of watching the Indian team totter and stutter their way to rare victories. ‘Glorious uncertainties’ – that term that Sunil Gavaskar dished out when we snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory in Bahubalean fashion. When S. Ramesh T. struggled to string together the winning runs while his partners strolled in and out of the pitch like drunk baaraatis. Most fans tend to romanticise these days of uncertainty, bracketing them unnecessarily under the umbrella of ‘nostalgia’.

I am not one of them. Give me ‘predictably good’ over ‘glorious uncertainty’ any day. Perhaps my brain had a premonition about my weak heart’s incapability to deal with these days for too long!

Cricket today is not just competing with Amul Surabhi and Chitrahaar. It’s competing with Netflix and Facebook and Tinder and Zomato. You don’t just have to win, you have to win while blowing my mind, or I’ll switch off. I’ll switch channels and devices and playlists and crawl far, far away from you.

I am happy with the state of the Indian cricket team today. I love the fact that after 80 years of international cricket, India is now feared and respected as a worthy adversary, like the Australian team we grew up watching. That we are counted among the top; that to beat us, you have to be top-shelf, surpass our strengths and exploit our weaknesses.

That you can’t beat India just because Sachin got out and the rest of the team has the batting skills of woodcutters. Not because chasing a big score in a final was ‘always going to be a difficult ask’. Not because, like my neighbour would say, ‘Today is Friday, Muslims will always win’.

To beat the Indian team of today, you have to be bloody good, play out of your skin. Elevate your standards to meet those of our many gods.

It’s a wonderful feeling. I am thrilled with with the state Indian cricket is in today. None of that nostalgia-vostalgia for me, thank you very much!

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However, I would like to lodge a minor complaint.

It is human nature after all, to lodge such minor complaints from time to time. Jackie Shroff essayed the role of the legendary Ram in Teri Meherbaniyan, but is only remembered for the Bidu caricature. Bob Dylan lodged complaints against the times he lived in using cutting letters and biting phrases. Chenghis Khan complained about the size of his kingdom and went about redefining the meaning of ‘Father’s Day’ for most of Asia. The British complained about the lack of spices in their salads, and I’m sitting here thousands of miles away writing articles with clickbait headlines. It is human nature to complain.

My complaint is the headline of this article. The words you saw on your Facebook feed and decided to give a chance because you saw potential – much like the selectors did with Amay Khurasia years ago –

‘WHY DO ALL INDIAN CRICKETERS LOOK THE SAME?’

The Indian cricket today is a clone army of supremely fit, spiky-haired, tattoo-sporting, muscled athletes. Their beards are all perfectly trimmed and shaped, their hair spiked to perfection, vague tattoos on their left arms – everybody looks like everybody else.

How did a nation with as much diversity as ours, all those races and ethnicities, the chutney of languages and foods and dialects – how did our entire team morph into one another?

Kohli looks like Rahul who looks like Jadeja looks like Rahane looks like Dhawan looks like Pandya looks like Rohit Sharma. Even Ashwin, who till a few years back resembled the topper who eats three tiffin compartments of curd rice in the last bench, has morphed into the army. Suresh Raina, who looks like his father owns a sweet shop on MG Road, has also gone for the beard-spike look. Dhoni, who was once a long-haired Samson who sported a paunch but ran like Minotaur, has also bought into the scheme.

Picture showing a group of hybrid, super-efficient zombies who pass off as the Indian team today.

Picture showing a group of hybrid, super-efficient zombies who pass off as the Indian team today.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s great that the Indian team is faster, stronger, sharper. But at a narrative level, it is devoid of personalities. The Indian team I grew up with was a motley crew of distinctly different personalities. Like a pirate ship with cast-away crew from different lands. You could be watching the match on a grainy 7’ x 8’ black and white television in a paan shop, but you knew who was who. You could recognise them by their gait, their posture, their throws from the boundary, their hobble across the 22 yards.

They were uncle cricketers – who could vanish into any Indian crowd. They could be members of a summer picnic of SBI employees, or a Ganesh procession.

Group of Indian men waiting for traffic police to give permission for their Ganesh to start from the colony (PC: Cricinfo)

Group of Indian men waiting for traffic police to give permission for their Ganesh to start from the colony (PC: Cricinfo)

There were the paunchy, middle-aged men – Manoj Prabhakar, Saba Karim, Ashish Kapoor – whose moustaches and mullets served as tributes to the likes of Suneil Shetty and Sudesh Berry.

Then we had the Decent Gentlemen’s Club of South Indian bowlers – Srinath, Prasad and Kumble. Tall, gangly engineers who worked hard because they had to withdraw their PPF account before Diwali.

Anil Kumble, who with spectacles and moustache, slayed opposition tailenders like they were calculus problems. Srinath, who would come running in from the 30 yard circle, apologise to the batsman for hitting him on the head, and run back to his bowling mark sweating like a marathon runner. Or Prasad, who had the legs of a giraffe and the hands of a sloth. Who woke up early, wore a digital watch, bowled his 10 overs and retired to bed early (unless you were a certain Ameer Sohail).

Picture showing Indian men having a house party when their wives are away.

Picture showing Indian men having a house party when their wives are away.

There was Sunil Joshi, whose moustache was more glorious than his bowling average. Sanjay Manjrekar with his aadarsh-baalak white helmet. Robin Singh, who looked like an honest (and hence) harassed SBI employee – hard-working, sweating, his receding hairline a reflection of his worries. There was Sidhu with the 5 Ks of Sikhism, and one ‘G’ – Grin. Sachin with his curly mop of hair. Venkatpathy Raju and Vinod Kambli, who looked like boys who hung out with the seniors in the colony. Nayan Mongia, who looked like the guy who dropped out of school after 10th and was now doing a vocational course in Industrial Technology Institute.

Schoolboys clicking a picture with their class-teacher on a picnic. PC: Reddit.

Schoolboys clicking a picture with their class-teacher on a picnic. PC: Reddit.

There were the cricketers from Mumbai, their young shoulders drooping with the burden of legacy – Pravin Amre, Sairaj Bahutule, and Sameer Dighe. There were the south Indian batsmen – Sujith Somasunder, Vijay Bharadwaj and S. Ramesh – hardworking and honest (except when Ramesh faked an injury certificate and got booted out of the team!).

And then there was Ramesh Powar, who famously declared in an interview that he was ‘fat, but fit’. Who with his portly paunch and his gold chains and coloured sunglasses looked more capable of hypnotizing batsmen than bamboozling them. Who was probably given two Test matches to play because selectors placed bets on his ability to stand for five days!!  

Then there was the boss man – shoulders hunched, latching onto the ball like it was a golden snitch, flipping the ball with his shoe and catching it – all swag and coolness – Mohammad Swaggeruddin. The man who had his collar up all the time, like the World Cup semi final was just another ‘bet-match’ between Charminar and Begumpet.

You just didn’t follow cricketers, you aped their mannerisms. I tried to flick the ball up like Azharuddin all through my childhood and only learnt to do it at age 30. Ajay Jadeja’s ‘throw the ball quickly and smile’ trick was never possible because I suck as a fielder, and smiling after a misfield makes me look like a lunatic. Laxman’s tapping on the pitch was followed by millions of kids in India.

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You can’t do that with today’s team. KL Rahul has Virat’s beard and Dhawan has his tattoos, and they’re all fit and springy and quick and efficient. Their beards are all cropped to perfection and their tattoos are all dark-green mumbo-jumbo, and they all field well and rattle opposition batsmen.

I can’t tell one from the other. Even when I watch cricket on pimple-revealing HD clarity, I have to put my bottle of beer aside, and wait for the replay to curse the rare misfield. I have nobody to ape anymore, falling back upon Mohd. Swaggeruddin’s ball-flick, and Venkatesh Prasad’s sublime fielding skills.

It’s only a minor complaint, I know. But I’m only human, saar.

Like Sadagopan Ramesh.

***

Of Amul Surabhi and Kinetic Luna

Long long ago, before television became about quarreling women and fake reality stars, television was a much saner experience. Adding most of the sanity to the hallowed rectangular box was a programme called Amul Surabhi.

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From 1993 – 2001, Amul Surabhi acted as the window to the world for middle class Indians. Presented by Siddharth Kak and Renuka Sahane, the show presented well-researched segments on history, cultures, science, sports and music. It was a show that the elders of the house wouldn’t miss for anything in the world, and sitting down to watch the show would earn children some brownie points for the immediate future.

This was the age before SMS, call, like, share and subscribe. The only way to reach out to Surabhi was through post, by writing a letter to the show. There was a sense of belonging that Amul Surabhi brought in to television viewing. People would send in artefacts created by them. Sometimes, letters of appreciation would be read out, while at other times, errors pointed out by viewers would be graciously acknowledged.

I was watching one episode where a girl named Shazia writes to the show. So inspired was she by their section on underwater life, that she had decided to research on it. Renuka Sahane immediately announced that all the research material that the show had collected on underwater life, along with the footage, was being shipped to Shazia!

While such moments brought warmth to the heart, there was another reason for which I watched the show. Surabhi being among the most popular shows of the time, their weekly contest was much coveted for. And what prizes they were!

Trips aboard the Orient Express – the luxury on wheels train, stays at premium hotels in travel destinations from Rajasthan to Kerala, goodies worth 1000 rupees (in 1993, mind you) from Amul. And in case of the bumber prize, a fully paid trip to South Africa, Greece, and other such exotic locations!

You can imagine the dreams they triggered in us. Every week, someone in the family would be allotted the responsibility of noting down the question (‘No, you give it to her. She can write fast, na’). While there was general excitement about the question, I had been possessed by dreams of my own. My hopes were pinned on the one item –

Kinetic Luna.

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Kinetic Luna was generally the 3rd prize, but it had captured my mind in a way that the magnificient palaces of Rajasthan, or the lush backwaters of Kerala coudn’t.

I had seen advertisements for Luna on television, and had been suitably impressed. It didn’t seem intimidating (like the Rajdoot and Bullet), appealing to the slim and let’s just say, agile like me. I had also seen a number of Lunas on the road, and the humble moped had acquired decent street rep in quick time. It was supposed to give you good mileage, and it was easy to ride. It had pedals, so if you ran out of petrol, lalalala you could always cycle your way back home. And then, it was very handy for carrying luggage. In fact, if you loaded up a Luna to its maximum capacity, people might mistake you for Nadir Shah, returning home after ransacking Agra.

Also, I knew some relatives who had not one, but three-three Lunas at their home. What freedom, what joy! I envied them as they rode by themselves on Thursday evenings for bhajans – the wind in their hair, vibhuti applied over the forehead – coolness was made of stuff like this!

Having decided that it was the Luna that I aspired for, I had my task cut out. I had to find the answer to the weekly question. The only problem was that the questions weren’t dumb, like the contest questions of today: What do you need to score a girl? A: Axe Effect B: Tax Effect C: Wax Effect. Screw you.

Amul Surabhi’s questions were dug out from the deep pot of knowledge that appeared in the promos. Unearthed from this great treasure, was a question that required you to run around, to pursue its answer with passion and perseverance.

There was no Wikipedia, no internet. One had to remember the question, and spend the next few days hunting for the answer, a knicker-clad Indiana Jones bustling about in every home. One had to request to be taken to a library, or heckle a knowledgable relative, or go to a Book Fair in quest for the answer. You had one week to send in your answer, and parents were lending their support like typical 90s parents. “Arey, you can’t trust this postman-vostman fellows. You better send it in 2-3 days, what if there is a strike?”

After spending a few days finding the solution, one had to scribble down neatly write down the answer on the yellow Competition Post Card (sold at the nearest post office), and send it to Sawaal Jawaab, Amul Surabhi, Post Box No. 2453, New Delhi – 11.

Having gingerly dropped the post card in the shiny red box, the rest of the days were spent in flights of fantasy. My Luna!

My green, shiny Luna that I would ride on. Zipping through the streets like Jackie Shroff in his youth, charming one and all with my daredevilry. Riding on it into the sunset like Alexander the Great, my faithful Luna, that I would use to rescue people in distress. And sometimes, if my friends requested, I would even let them ride pillion behind me (but not all the time, for one doesn’t want them to get used to the luxury).

And then, in two weeks, it was time for the results to be declared!

The lights would be switched off, and the melancholic signature tune would float out of the magic box. Renuka Sahane and Siddharth Kak would smile, and inform us of all the wonderful things they would tell us about on today’s show. Interesting snippets from history, an exciting new excavation that sheds light on our glorious ancestors, and the beautiful apple gardens in Himachal Pradesh. And all the while, I’m fidgeting on the floor, thinking ‘Yeah yeah, India is a beautiful country, now let’s talk about the prizes’. And three rounds of advertisements, and a good number of nails on my fingers bitten off, Renuka Sahane would smile and say, ‘Now it is time for the weekly contest’. My back would stiffen.

Voiceover: This week, we received 48,986 letters in total (accompanied by footage of men carrying letters in suitcases). ‘Out of which, the number of correct replies were 4,756’ – shot of the letters being sorted out, cut to Siddharth Kak and Renuka Sahane sitting in front of a huge pile of yellow, 15 paise post cards, with names, addresses, and middle class dreams scrawled on the back.

‘We will choose four lucky winners for this week…’ and as Renuka Sahane slipped a delicate hand into the heap of letters, I handed over a quick mental prayer to all my favourite gods. My Luna was the third prize, so I waited with bated breath…

And the winner is, (Renuka Sahane would pick a post card, show it to the camera, the camera would zoom in…)

“…Random Kumar, from Nashik”.

My heart sank, but not for too long.

“…cos now it’s time for this week’s contest question…”

I would run to grab the notepad and Reynold 045 Fine Carbure. Another question, another expedition for knowledge, another date with the Luna.

*
I never won the Kinetic Luna.

In fact, I learnt to ride the bicycle quite late in life. In Class 3, while my classmates were zipping around in sleek, red BSA Mongoose bicycles for the annual cultural event, I was put in a dumb drill called ‘Horse and Stars’. Which involved running around with a plastic horse head attached to a stick, in between one’s legs (10/10 for symbolism), AND gigantic golden stars stuck on both of one’s palms.

Even today, when I see a Kinetic Luna zipping about carelessly on the road, laden with bags, vegetables, and fruits, I feel a tinge of pain. But then, I notice the cop whistling at the Luna and asking him to pull over, and I feel alright.
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Amul Surabhi. Kinetic Luna. Simpler days with simpler daydreams.

Even now when I watch episodes of Amul Surabhi on YouTube, nostalgia often gives way to some pain, hidden in remote corners of the heart. I put my faith in you, Amul Surabhi, and you never returned my love.

You never chose my letter, Renuka Sahane. And Siddharth, you can suck my Kak.

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(Crass jokes such as the above would never feature on Amul Surabhi. It was a classy show. Just saying)