Total Pageviews

Friday, 17 January 2014

Stories from Eden Gardens !

As the relic of the Raj days, the good old Ambassador ‘kaala-pila’ taxi huffed and puffed its way on the Red Road enroute to Howrah Station, the silhouette of the iconic Eden Gardens was just about visible. As the rickety beast took a left turn from Nejati’s statue and was about to cross the Akashwani Bhawan , nostalgia stuck. The Temple, the end of the rainbow for the cricket crazed populace of Calcutta, the revered piece of concrete and turf among the Cricketing luminaries, the Garden of Eden was just a arms length away. “Darao! Ban dike jao!” I blurted. The tyres screeched as the driver responding to my cries desperately turned left and halted in a jolt. I looked at him sheepishly and apologetically requested him to take a ride around the stadium. The prospects of a hefty tip apart I could see no reason for the cabbie to accept my request.

My 'Mecca' in Calcutta

As the cabbie did a round and more of the veritable adda of my youth, memories gushed in torrents. Eden Gardens had witnessed epic battles on and off the pitch is well known and even better written about. Surprisingly none of the more famous (notorious?) incidents sprang to my mind. What came to mind first was the day two of the test match between a hurt and hungry for revenge West Indies and ‘World Champion’ India on 11th Dec, 1983. Day one was off on a sensational note with Malcolm Marshall knocking out Sunil Gavaskar of the first ball of the test and a late fight back by Kapil Dev which saw India bowled out for a modest 241. Day two started on a better note. A friend’s father gave away his tickets for the pavilion stand as he wanted to see only India’s Batting. Yes such people existed back then too, even in Calcutta! Perched upon one the best seats in the house, I was to witness what I rate was the best spell bowled by an India fast bowler ever. The three overs that Kapil Dev bowled , that reduced the best batsman of his era, Sir Vivian Richards to a novice. A series of magic outswingers interspersed with the one coming in, the searing bouncer, slower one and that surprise toe crushing Yorker. Eighteen balls laced with venom and a threat of bodily harm, crafty and canny which made a strokeless wonder out of a master blaster finally ending in the eventual dismissal.

Whether it was by design or by fate one doesn’t know but Dennis Lillee never played Test Cricket in India.  And the only time he came to India to play cricket was in an innocuous exhibition tourney called the Double Wicket Tournament at, you guessed it, the Eden Gardens.  It was such a sham tournament that we saw Garner bowling to a long retired Sir Garfield Sobers and a rotund Wesley Hall huffing and puffing to complete his run up. The highlight of course was the ‘clash’ between Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad, their first on Indian soil and their last ever on a cricket pitch. Adrenalin runs high when the irresistible force meets immovable objects. Sparks flew as Miandad cut, pulled, drove Lillee for successive fours. The next from the cunning Aussie was a well directed bouncer. Miandad, playing sans helmet did what most sentimental people of the sub continent do, prefer bravado to discretion. As he shaped to hook, the ball took Miandad right on his head. Miandad took no further part in the tournament or in any other cricket tournament for the next few months. And when he came back, he came suitably dressed for the occasion, sporting a helmet!

The best square cut ever!
Lucky are those who have been blessed enough to witness what I am told is the best square cut ever. And the same I am repeatedly assured belonged to a certain Gundappa Vishwanath. For someone like me who never had the opportunity to watch and test the veracity of the above statement, fate offered a chance in what was G R Vishwanath’s last competitive game, the finals of the now defunct Wills Trophy between Karnataka and Board President’s XI in 1988. The prospects of acquiring bragging rights over having seen the great GRV in action in flesh and blood and in the hope to see that wondrous square cut was enough to lure me to the Eden Gardens. On reaching the ground I was to note that the same prospect had driven fifty thousand fellow Calcuttans to the Eden too! With the BPXI batting first, we endured guys like W V Raman, Riaz Poonawala, Ajay Sharma, Sanjeev Sharma, Robin Singh, good blokes otherwise but on that day they resembled the ‘sorry for the interruption’ notice on Doordarshan. Much worse were the two Karnataka dudes who opened their inning. Prayer for two wickets to fall so that God can bat is soooo passé now a days, seeds of which were sown then! The poor blokes soon enough obliged. Fifty thousand pairs of legs rose in unison, fifty thousand pairs of hands clapped rhythmically in unison, fifty thousand throats roared a war cry in unison too. What you God worshippers saw was the subsequent version of this original. GRV took guard, GRV twirled his bat, GRV took stance. A journeyman called Rashid patel was bowling his dollops. The ball pitched just outside the off stump and moved further away. GRV went back and across, the horizontal blade coming down in an angle, the classic square cut executed, fifty thousand pairs of eyes turned to the boundary for a square cut that never happened, the outside edge taken behind the stumps. Eden Gardens that day set yet another example for the Indian crowds to emulate once a certain No.4 got out, we walked out!

Dhanyavadagalu Annavure!    


PS: Since that day, most of Sachin’s career has been to me nothing more than a ‘déjà vu’!

Kaala-Pila : Black & yellow Taxis seen in Calcutta.
Darao! Ban Dike Jao: Stop! Turn left!
Adda : Den

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Blood Sucker!

There is an energy in the youth which is very difficult to match in the atmosphere of cynicism once we grow up. The mindset is one of “Do it!” rather than “Not done!”  I go back to the ‘90s when a group of us friends decided to do what was then we thought a gargantuan task for us; organize a blood donation camp. We started off on a breeze given the fact that we had a readymade location available with us in our club auditorium, the club managing committee deciding to encourage us and the help rendered by the Secretary of Indian Red Cross Society, one Mr.Roy Choudhury who took care of the ‘back end’, the entire collection process right from arranging blood bank to collect, doctors, equipment etc.  Our responsibility was confined to the ‘front end’ of the business, arranging the donors. For a bunch that lived in a fairly well connected para, thanks to our club and its close knit members this was like taking candy from a child. The knowledge that there lay a salesman buried inside me was visible for the first time then! A cursory look at the club membership list later, we decided that the we would require more than one blood bank to collect all the units that we would be able to generate! I still practice this  ‘art’ though I call it ‘Sales projection' now, the membership lists being replaced by market research papers and Thomson’s Index. But then I digress!

Armed with the gyaan given by the good people at Red Cross on eligibility of a donor etc we started canvassing for; nay enlisting donors. We covered all the ‘routes’ within three days and reached our ‘Boss’ at The Red Cross office for reporting. Mr.Roy Choudhury was deluged by our ‘requirements’ post sharing the numbers of donors who had ‘committed’. We were then advised to cover the same ‘routes’ for a reminder call to the donors informing them about the dates, timing etc which had been freezed. Our only concern as we left the meeting was that the blood bank should bring sufficient collection units lest we have a ‘stock out’!

For the next few days like committed sales team, we spewed blood whenever we opened out mouth, whoever we met! To the extent we friends were bestowed nomenclatures like ‘The Blood Suckers’, ‘The Blood Thirsty Bandits’ and the lyrical ‘Ratha Kaatteri’ by the locality! The last minute review of the ‘committed’ list revealed that there were a few drop outs due to sudden illnesses, ‘out of station’ etc but still we seemed well on course to a triple century on debut.

On the D day everything worked with clockwork precision. The auditorium was festooned with banners and promo material. The Red Cross officials, the Doctors, the paramedics, the equipment all ready to receive the donors. The day started slowly like a good test match inning, gradually moved to very slow and finally ended in a stand still. The final score read something like this: Total Walkins – 140, productive customers – 23, Window Shoppers – 117. A fiasco if there was one! And it left us firstly very angry, then disappointed, finally disillusioned. Never again would we indulge in such a venture on the back of such ‘customers’ we thought. A debate ensued as to who among us will take the lead to apologise to Mr.Roy Choudhury , the ‘Boss’! As we were busy discussing it, Mr.RC made it easy by addressing us instead. “Excellent day! 23 first time donors are more than what we get in a ‘club organized ‘camp. Mark the date and organize it again next year. And yes! We will come back next year too!” He said.  This was our first experience of “Boss is out, Mentor is in” moment!


We went on to conduct the camp for a few more years till the rat race consumed us. The number of donors steadily grew to hit about 150+ over the years. Most of them went on to become regular blood donors in life. A register mentioning details of the donors was maintained in the club for ‘emergencies’ and on one occasion fourteen of us donated blood to a friend’s sister undergoing an operation. She needless to add is now completely healthy, happily married and a mother of two angels. Other clubs in the adjoining paras were inspired by our efforts to conduct similar camps and many of them still continue organizing them.


For those who came in late:

If you are 18-60 years, 45 kgs or more, have not suffered from illness like malaria, typhoid, other transmissible disease and certified medically fit by the doctor can donate blood.
You cannot donate blood if you have suffered from cold/fever less than a week ago, consumed antibiotics, had a major surgery within the last six months, vaccination less than 24 hours ago, have a history of cardiac problems, hypertension, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, liver and kidney malfunction or HIV+.

Against an annual requirement of 85 lakh units of blood barely 52 lakh units are collected through voluntary donations in India. Some are collected through family members. And the rest are left helpless and often to die because you could but didn’t donate the life giving liquid! 


PS: Done with reading this? Good! So which blood bank are you off to now? 


Para: Locality
Gyaan: Information/Knowledge
Ratha Kaatteri : Blood Sucker.