Saturday, October 29, 2011

Miss You, My Friend

Dear Bhajji,

First of all, belated Diwali wish for you and your family. As you know, I was little busy with the arrangements of the last ODI between India and those hapless English boys, hence could not send you a timely greetings card. I thought I will wish you during your visit in November and us being best of friends you will understand.
I still remember you first trip here. It was the year 1999; you were a young Sardar, still in your teens, playing in your 5th test match, that also against Pakistan in the first match of Asian Test championship. Indian team was full of ecstasy and euphoria after beating Pakistan in Delhithanks to Anli’s ‘Perfect Ten’ in the second innings. You were pretty much a young apprentice under him, learning the tricks of the tread.
To tell you the truth, I did not notice you much during your first visit. There were so many other great performances in that match. Javagal’s 86/8 in the second innings after his first innings return of 46/5, which I think one of the top three bowling performance by an Indian pacer on Indian soil, Anwar’s 188 runs in the second innings against that rampaging Javagal. And obviously that fast bowler called Shoaib Akhtar, who took 8 wickets in the match including the great Tendulkar for a first ball duck in the first innings.
Also, there were shameful crowd troubles after Tendulkar’s dismissal in the second innings and also in the last day. Among all these drama, I did not notice your two wickets. I faintly remember that you hit one boundary through thirdman, coming at number eleven in the first innings.
I vividly remember your next visit though and I have to remember it. This was the visit when you and VVS put me permanently in the heart of every Indian cricket lover. But before going to that, let me remember the background history.
You played your 8th test match against New Zealandin October 1999. Then you were dropped in favor of… who were those guys? Right, I remember. There names were Nikhil Chopra and Sarandeep Singh. Then thankfully, the good sense prevailed. Captain Ganguly fought for you in the selection meeting and was successful to include you in the squad of the first test againstAustralia. You got 4 wickets in the first test in Mumbai, and despite the 10 wicket loss you kept your place in the team and came here to play your 10th test.
The test match was from11-15th March, 2001, test match number 1535. Against those all conquering Aussies, who came here to avenge their innings and 219 run loss in 1998 and to get their 17th consecutive test win.
But, Australians were humbled and the face of Indian cricket changed forever. Millions of cricket fans started believing their adored Indian cricket team. They knew this team can fight now, they have learnt snatching wins form the jaws of defeat. They knew this team consists of fighters like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and off course you. You are a Sardar and you behave like one in the field. You carry your heart and pride in your sleeves and every movement of yours on the field exhibits that.
People always talk about VVS’ 281 and Dravid’s 180 and their unbroken partnership on the fourth day. But, you, Harbhajan Singh, you had started the fight back with those seven wickets in first innings, three of which came in consecutive deliveries to make you the first Indian bowler to take a test match hat trick. I still remember, my heart started beating fast when the decision for that catch of Shane Warne went to third umpire. Those 20 seconds were cruel, painful. But I can still see the elation in your face when the red signal was given. A star was born in front of my eyes. A star who would come back again and again to create history.
You finish the match with 13 wickets and although VVS got the Man of the match, you effort was no less important.
And after that you returned many times and not only became the most successful bowler in this part of the world, you also became one of my favorites, almost like a family member.
India never lost any test match in Eden since then. We won once against Pakistan and twice against South Africa. Also drew against West Indies and Pakistan. In one of the test wins againstSouth Africa you took seven wickets in the second innings and were given Man of the match award.

I also remember the last test match. That kid from South Africa with a long beard, Hasim Amla, he was not ready to get out. He kept batting on and on. You guys were a bowler short due to Zak’s injury. But you also kept trying and fighting. You bowled ball after ball, over after over. You finally got Morne Morkel in front of leg-middle, 9 balls before the end of mandatory play. You bowled 48 overs and 3 balls, almost half of those were maiden. And you got 5 wickets for 59 runs. I remember your mad dash towards the crowd after getting that last wicket. You ran, you jumped, your beat your chest and shared all your happiness and joy with them.
I have seen lots of players in last 80 years. I have seen the big muscular Dilawar Hossain batting with a fractured skull against Douglas Jardine’s England team in 1934. I have seen Rohon Kanhai’s poetic 256 in 1958. I remember those three artists from Hyderabad, ML Jayasimha, Md. Azharuddin and VVS Laxman. And they also shared a special relationship with me.
And I have observed you. You are from Punjab and although now days you earn millions and wear costly clothes and watches there is something very earthy, very simple about you. You chat with crowds. You clap for them. You take off your hat when they applaud for their appreciation of another great over. You make them feel that you are one of them. As if at any moment you can just jump this side of the fence and have a chat with them about the latest bollywood movies.

I heard that, your performance was not up to the mark in last few matches. I was sad. I wanted my friend to be here. So I did some research on your test performance in last 12 months. I found pretty interesting stuff.

(For a better view click here)

So, you have played 11 test matches in last 12 months to capture 38 wickets. 3 of those tests were in home against a mediocre New Zealand side, where you took only 10 wickets. Although your economy rate was decent, both your average and strike rate were significantly higher than your overall average. You got two hundreds though, first one after coming to bat at 65/6 but since your primary job is to bowl will not give you much points for that.
Still you went to South Africa and West Indies and your performance in the both the series was top rated. Your average was below 30 in both those series. You also took 7 wickets in Newlands to give India an outline chance to get a series win. You also score a gutsy 70 at Sabaina Park, coming at 85/6, but you are an Indian bowler, if you can’t bat at a crunch situation you are useless, if you can bat at critical situation then you are not useless but a bowler and your job is to bowl!
And then you went to the England tour. Indian team was thrashed and you performed miserably. You played two tests to end up with a bowling average which was 3.8 times higher than your overall overage. And your strike rate for the series was 173% higher than your average. You got a stomach ligament tear after that and headed back home. India lost the tour 0-8 (combining tests, ODIs and T20s) and then although you recovered you were dropped.
They do not think that this England tour could have been what in Statistics called an outlier. Like the general public memory these selectors also seemed to have a pretty short memory and they only consider your latest performance and dropped you from the ODI team.
And then yesterday, I heard the news that you are dropped from the test squad too, after playing 98 tests. And I am heart broken. I desperately wanted you to get selected for the first two tests, so that you can come here to play your 100th test. You deserve a great celebration for playing your 100th test and what could have been better than reaching that milestone in your favorite ground in front of me. I had dreamt of each event of that match, when you would step on the grass, when you would bowl your first delivery, when you would get your first wicket, may be a typical plumb in front of Ramnaresh Sarwan or a nick to your Doosra by Marlon Samuels I would leapt in joy, shout my heart out and even start doing a bhangra with my terrible dancing ability.
But everything is lost now. You are not coming to Eden Gardens to play your 100th test match. They will be players like Sachin, Dhoni, Gautam and Rahul but I will miss you my friend. There will not be another Harbhajan Singh amidst all those great names.
Another T20 match is going to start in some time. Let me go now. I need to be ready for the occasion. But I will be sad, the club house, the big scoreboard, the lash green outfield they are sad. They are going to miss their man, their passionate friend called Bhajji.
That’s it for today from my side. I will write to you again pretty soon.
Eden Gardens
PS. I may have been teary eyed while reading the news of you being dropped from the team. Hence, I missed one small detail. The latest team is for the first test only and you can still come back for the second test. But even if that miracle happens you will play your 99th test match here and not the 100th one. But still I will be overjoyed to welcome you. Something is always better than nothing, isn’t it? Your dream of playing your 100th test here is shattered but you don’t always get all the wickets you deserve in the game of life. Right Bhajji?
Your friend, E.G.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Experience with Eden Gardens

Kolkata is home of lots of great personalities. It was the home of Rabindra Nath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Swami Vivekananda and many more. It is the home of Rosogolla and Mishti Doi. Kolkata is also one of the homes of Indian cricket. We may not boast of too many great cricketers from Kolkata but we can definitely be proud of Eden gardens, one of the most beautiful place for playing cricket under the sun. One of the largest cricket ground in world with a history of more than 75 years of test cricket, Eden Gardens is a very very special place for lot of cricket lovers including me.
My first memory of Eden gardens was a one day international in 1991. Incidentally this match was also the first international match for the South African cricket team after their return to international cricket. I remember watching it in our old B&W television set. Sachin Tendulkar and Allan Donald was the joint man of the match in that match. India won chasing 177 despite Donald got 5 wickets for just 29 runs.
In next 15 years, thanks to our televisions (B&W replaced by a colour one just before 1999 world cup), I have seen some unforgettable matches in Eden gardens.
I saw Azhar’s 182 against England in 1993. Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble’s magic on the Hero Cup semi-final and final, the massacre against Sri Lanka in the world cup semi-final, Azhar’s 74 ball hundred against South Africa, and that match against Pakistan where they won, after being 26/6 in the first hour of first day, thanks to Saeed Anwar’s 182 in the second innings. This match also gave birth to a new star, fast and controversial Shaoib Akhtar who showed both those aspects of his game through his two dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar.
Obviously I can’t forget that special match against Australia in 2001. Some very special memories are attached to that match. Let me recollect a day by day account:
Day 1: Australia came to India with 15 consecutive wins in their bag. They thrashed India by 10 wickets in the first test in Mumbai and in that process got their 16th consecutive win. In the second test, they were around 150/1 when I left for my Stats tuition. In those days of no cell phone, there was no way to follow the score and even KC (one of the greats in the field of Statistics) was also not so keen to check the scores. After I returned around two and half hours later I came to know that Australia was 7 down with Harbhajan Singh taking the first hat-trick for an Indian bowler.
Day 2: Despite that heroics from Harbhajan, Australia ended with 445, thanks to a typical gritty century by great Steve Waugh with able support from Jason Gillespie. But I still think one of them was caught behind earlier which was not given. Indian batting collapsed again. At the end of day 2 they were 128/8, trailing Australia by 317 runs, follow-on was on the cards. Although VVS Laxman was unbeaten on 28 but I remember there was a news article on next morning’s ABP, which said, India is going for wholesome change after their loss in this test match and one of the person who is going to get dropped would be VVS!
Day 3: India finished at 171 thanks to 59 from Laxman. Steve obviously put them to follow on (A trend which would become rarer and almost extinct after this match). Tendulkar failed again. Captain Ganguly scored 48, post which he lost his concentration apparently due to some sledge from McGrath regarding his wife and lost his wicket. VVS reached hundred which at that point I thought would give him license for another five tests. When the umpires called time India were 254/4, VVS and Dravid were batting. Still the deficit was 20 runs with two more days to go.
Day 4: 90 overs, 335 runs, zero wickets. Do I need to say more? I still thank myself to take that splendid decision of bunking school because of my trust on the Indian team which did let me down in many past incidents but not that time. I can still see, VVS Laxman, stepping out just outside leg stump and cover driving Shane Warne time and time again. My respect for Sunny G increased, as he was as enthusiastic as a kid for Laxman to overcome his 236, which at that time was highest by an Indian in single test Innings. India was leading by 315 runs at stumps on day four.
Day 5: The day started with a host of debates. Should Ganguly declare overnight and give his bowlers the maximum possible overs or should he add some more run to ensure that Aussies can’t chase it down, the flaw in this plan was that at the end of the day you could face a scenario where Australia were 7 or 8 down and match got over.
Ganguly went for the second option and let his team bat for another 13 overs to add another 68 runs. He had confidence on his bowlers and I remember him saying after the match that, his thinking was that if his bowlers couldn’t get those 10 wickets in 77 overs then they would not get it in 90 overs either.
Australia started slowly, reached 24 without loss in 12 overs at lunch. Between lunch and tea, they added 139 more with loss of 3 wickets. Ganguly dropped a tough one at leg gully and it looked like the match was going for a draw.
The magic started 14 balls after the lunch. One of the greatest fighters in cricket history, Steve Waugh was gone. Ponting went in the same over. Gilchrist goes for a pair in the next over. Suddenly Sachin Tendulkar decided to become the greatest leg spinner in cricket to give some complex to certain Shane Warne whom he got with a googly. He also got Hayden and let Harbhajan got the other lesser mortals to finish with 12 wickets in the match. Kasprowicz and McGrath survived 53 balls before umpire SK Bansal got fed up with McGrath’s pad play and gave him out.
India won by 171 runs, pandemonium took place in Eden Gardens, one policeman jumped in joy along with 100 thousand more and Tony Graig captured that moment in his incomparable commentary. My consecutive bunking got justified.
There were some more matches from 2001 to 2005, especially one against West Indies where SRT finally got his first Test hundred in this special ground.
And then I started going to Eden Gardens to enjoy it live, in front of my eyes. I will get back into this after another small childhood memory.
Around 1993, I visited our ancestral home in Munger. One thing about my relatives from my father’s side is that, almost all of them are keen on reading and hence in most of the time you would find a library in their house. Same was the case there and my father suggested me a few books and let me carry a few of those books home. Two of those books were called ‘Cricket Omnibus vol-1 & 2’ by Shankari Prasad Bose.
These two books were collections of some of his books on cricket written in 60’s with some very romantic names (‘Eden-e Shiter Dupur’, ‘Romoniyo Cricket’ and ‘Laal Ball Larwood’ to mention a few). Those books gave his account of following a few matches in Eden gardens during that time period. Those old wooden stands in Eden Gardens, Bugle after every good shot, the wind from the Ganges, he did create the magic for a 10-11 year old me. I still remember his version of India’s first test win in Eden in 1962 against England, His bias towards Chandu Borde, His pun of Nadkarni (Nad Kori ni) and his frustration to see Vijay Manjarekar scoring 4 runs in an hour ( ‘15 minutes for each run!’).
Those books also covered historical times of W.G. Grace and cricket in England as well as a detailed account of the famous bodyline series. But I later found most of those were word by word copy of the Great Nevil Cardus but still Shankaribabu was successful to build the base of this young boy’s fascination regarding cricket statistics and history which finally reached its peak when I met So, whenever I think of Eden gardens these books also come to my mind.
Generally I do not go to Eden Gardens with a group. I go there alone, to feel the vastness of the ground, to absorb the enthusiasm of the crowd, to enjoy some special performance by players, to make sure that there is no way I miss any beautiful moment of the game.
I am not a regular visitor to Eden Gardens. I have been to Eden not even 10 times. That includes 3 times to watch a test match (two against Pakistan, one against South Africa), 4 IPL matches (2 against RCB, 1 each against CSK and DC), 1 domestic one day match between Bengal and Orissa. I also went to Eden as the part of U-13 team of our local club in 1995 but could not get a chance to play.
But even in my short visits I have seen some wonderful matches and awesome performances. I remember the brilliance of Chris Gayle when he hit 7 towering (and I mean it) sixes to score 102 of 55 balls in my last visit to Eden. KKR lost but on that day, against that in-from Chris, for any team the result would have been same.
I remember Harbhajan taking 7 wickets in the second innings to give India a win against South Africa in 2005. This is somehow a very low profile performance and according to me this should have got more respect than it received. I realized why Bhajji was an instant hit with the crowd as he was regularly chatting with them, was taking off his hat at their claps and even did some bhangra when Africans were nine down.
I have also seen Rahul Dravid at his technical best scoring a hundred with Dinesh Karthik as company, who was unlucky to be dismissed for 93.
But all these memories were nothing compared to what I experienced on 1st December 2007.
The second test match between India and Pakistan was started on 30th November. India was already 1-0 up in the series thanks to their win in Delhi, where Misbah-ul-Haq did this.
At the end of first day, Indians were 352/3, pretty comfortable position with Wasim Jaffar batting on 192 and Home boy Ganguly on 17. Till then Ganguly had only one fifty in Eden Gardens. 65 in a test match in 1998 against Australia where India’s batting card looked like this:
VVS 95, Sidhu 97, Dravid 86, Tendulkar 79, Azhar 163*, Ganguly 65, Mongia 30* and 18 extras with the team total 633/5 decl.
No wonder, India won by innings and 219 runs.
But in general, Sourav was not very successful in Eden. It looked like he used to get tensed, could not convert his starts and got out after scoring 20 odd. Even his previous two test innings in this ground were 12 runs each. He was almost reaching the end of his career and with the rotation system for test grounds by BCCI he would not get many more chances to fulfill his long cherished dream of scoring a hundred in his home ground. And yes, it goes without saying that my dream was to see him score that century.
I reached there nervously at around 8.45 in the morning. I was in H block, which was near long on if you bat right handed from Club House end. India started briskly. Jaffar got those two boundaries required to reach his 200 in the second over of the day and then suddenly he got out to Tanvir. VVS Laxman joined Sourav.
I was sitting with a mixed crowd. Just beside me there was a man in mid forty with his son who was around 9-10 years old. There was also a group of people in late twenties-early thirties who were those typical ‘Parar Dada’ types, who kept shouting at almost everything. And yes there was fair share of fairer sex in our stand to keep the crowd excited in case of some dull moments in the game.
Both Ganguly and Laxman batted in a pretty relaxed way for next forty minutes. Suddenly in one Sohail Tanvir over they gone crazy and shared 4 fours between tham. The thing with VVS Laxman is that whoever his partner may be, let it be a rampaging Sachin, Sehwag or Sourav if VVS is in form then you can not ignore him. He is one batsman in my cricket life time who literally paints picture or pens poetry through his shots and that day he was sublime.
In lunch India was 449 for 4 with Sourav notout on 62. By that time, the murmurs were started, “This time… Dada is looking solid… it will happen…Dada can do it…”, the chants of “Dada- dada” was ever increasing. I realized that I have another 90K people with me, who could not have a proper lunch due to the nervous energy inside them anticipating something special may finally going to happen in front of their eyes.
Around 10 minutes after the resumption the small amount of lunch from those people were almost puked out when Ganguly fended an Akhtar bouncer but Yasir Hamid could not hold into the tough chance, the ball went to the boundary and Dada reached his highest score in Eden Gardens.
Ganguly kept grinding through singles with a couple of boundaries of Kaneria in between. As he reached 80’s I realized that crowd was getting tensed. There was silence after every dot ball and huge cheer even after every single by Ganguly. A boundary each of Sami and Butt took him to 98 and then he was ready to face Danish Kaneria, batting at Club House end.
The crowd was scared. They were not ready to take the pain if he would get out at that point. For last twenty odd minutes I was silent. I kept praying to my god and clapped sometime for his boundaries. Ganguly got his 99th run. I do not remember how. I was just too tensed, waiting for that moment. Laxman gave him the strike back with a single couple of balls later and Sourav Ganguly took stance.
How many balls is he going to take? Is he going to play couple of maiden overs now? The ground was electrifying, people were tensed. Everyone got numb.
Kaneria started his run up, it’s too short to give people some time, I can still see that ball, it was on the off stump, Ganguly leaned forward, drove it in the mid off, he is running, running as if his whole life depends on it. He has reached the other end. He did it, he kept running towards us and then he jumped in the air. He celebrated his century with his supporters, the most loyal group of supporters for a sportsperson in the world. His tears were shared by them and then he shared his joy with them.
The entire crowd got crazy. Each and everyone was standing on their seat, jumping, shouting, clapping, dancing and waving their shirts. And then I found my self crying. Uncontrollable tears were rolling down my cheeks. I realized that small kid was looking at me; he was surprised to see me crying. I did not care. I clapped so hard my palms became red. I did not care. I still wonder if anything at all could have any impact on me at that point of time. I sent an SMS to my then girlfriend, “I have seen him scoring a century for me in front of my eyes!’
I am sure Ganguly was also exhausted after fulfilling his dream. He got out after another five minutes trying to put Salman Butt out of the ground. He left the ground content, with a standing ovation from 90,000 people after an extraordinary knock.
Laxman kept hitting those beautiful cover drives and mesmerizing flicks to reach his hundred soon afterwards and a younger maverick MS Dhoni scored a 50 to take India 600 plus. But I was not following those events much. Old memories were rushing through my mind. That day in 1991 when my dad woke me up at 5 o’ clock to let me watch “a Bengali lad playing for India”, I was sleepy and went back to sleep as soon as he got out for 3. I remembered Those days in 1997, when I used to woke up at 6 o’ clock to catch the 6.30 news in radio and TV to get the result of Sahara cup matches, where SG made it a habit of wining the man of the Match award match after match, his six hitting against left arm spinners, especially Nicky Boje, his captaincy, his shirt waving antics in Lords after India’s Natwest win.
I remembered those times when I got into nasty fights with a pan-Indian population in Orkut and in the canteens of IITK, explaining time and time again how Sourav Ganguly was a much better player than Venugopal Rao. That Pepsi ad came to mind, “main hnu Sourav Ganguly, bhule to nehi?
India declared after scoring 616 and then Pakistan reached 50 at stumps losing one wicket. But all those details become insignificant for a huge chunk of crowd including me who left the ground very happy and proud to see their prince achieve his dream.
I am sure I will again go to Eden Gardens in future. But I am sure I will never get the same feeling which I felt at the end of that day. Unless something as big as winning a world cup happens in front of my eyes.
Couple of notes:
  • Although I do remember lots of details regarding old cricket match scores but I do not possess a photographic memory and hence I am grateful to this amazing website to help me with the details. I have also relived some of those moments thanks to another brilliant website.
  • Initially my plan was only to write about my feelings on that day of December when SG got his only 100 in Eden Gardens in front of me, but as I started writing this piece I realized how much I cherish those 5 days of March 2001 and could not stop myself from penning down a day by day account. I know people do not need so much detail but personally I felt good while writing them.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Magic of the Golden Fortress

[Disclaimer: The following piece is a memoir of my experience and observation of the book/film Sonar Kella by Satyajit Ray. Please note that, it includes some of the detailed plot discussions and spoilers regarding the mystery of the novel.]

Sonar Kella, the name evokes a host of childhood memories, not only for me but I am sure, for a lot of my friends too. That’s why, when I first decided to express my admiration for this wonderful novel and the brilliant movie I thought of sharing one of my personal stories from childhood. Well, it is a funny story and as you know, more often than not a funny story is at someone expenses. In this case that someone is me.
The year was around 1990. I was in the first or second standard in school. There used to be a writer named Ananda Bagchi who wrote adventure stories for children. Now, one day in school, one of my friends praised a lot about an adventure book by Ananda Bagchi. The name of the book was ‘Sonar Biscuit’. It was basically a story of three school friends going to North Bengal in holidays and then discovering the secret of a gang of smugglers, smuggling golden biscuits, and helped police to solve the crime in the process. He also let me read a couple of pages of that book and I was kind of hooked.
I was the youngest member of my local club library. So that day, I went there in the afternoon and asked the librarian, “Uncle, can you find me the book ‘Sonar Biscuit’?”

He searched for sometime, could not find it and then got another book from the rack and asked me, “I can’t find ‘Sonar Biscuit’, but this one is called ‘Sonar Kella’? Are you going to take this one?”
And I promptly said, “No uncle. Please find me ‘Sonar Biscuit’ and not ‘Sonar Kella’! I don’t want to read this one!!”
Well, you have to consider the fact that, I was just seven. Seven, at which age Harry Belfonte asked his father ‘about the stories of man and woman, man to man’! Some friends of mine may also call this one as the first recorded incident of me making a Taux Pass (Tapo’s version of Faux Pass) but yeah, I do accept the fact that I was little foolish at that time. Anyhow, the fact of the matter is that I got my first Pheluda book pretty soon after that incident and then keep reading all of them all the time.

Now, I sometimes think, why is Sonar Kella such a popular book in Pheluda series? Is it because this is the first Pheluda story which Ray decided to convert to a film? Or is it because of the grand entry of Mr. Jatayu, especially in the film accompanied by a porter and his famous red suitcase? Or because of its background in historical Rajasthan? Or is it because, Mukul’s story of previous birth was really interesting and new to people? (I know Sharadindu has written quite few stories on previous births, but those were mostly for adults and not for youngsters)

What I always felt is that, the key to Sonar Kella’s popularity is the fact this is an out and out childrens’ book. Obviously the main theme of the book is solving the mystery of Sonar Kella but that’s not the only theme. The funny bits involving Jatayu, the bits of history, the stern, aloof presence of Mukul, the adventure of camel ride and a chilling villain in Mandar Bose - all these factors together have created such a mood, as a child I sometimes found this book too intimidating. There were times when I read this novel and then for next few days kept thinking about Pheluda’s Personality, Sidhujyatha’s list of trivia, Lalmohanbabu’s description of camels using their stomach as source of water and the man disguised in a red shawl.

The plot of this book was as good as any other Pheluda stories. I liked how the mystery was constructed through various incidents in Kolkata and Rajasthan, with help of new characters like Jatayu and Mandar Bose. I still remember how I started guessing who could be that man whom Mukul met just outside the Circuit House which followed by the mystifying comment of Dr. Hazra that this man can be someone from Mukul’s current birth or the previous birth. The readers also got a chance to put their brain into work, trying to solve this puzzle:

And yes, the climax inside the Golden fortress merits a mention. I found it a perfect finish of this book after the incidents of previous twenty odd pages. Pheluda and group chased Mukul and Dr. Hazra, their journey was hampered thanks to Mandar Bose and board pins and glass pieces, they chased a train on camels, they spent a whole evening in the semi dark Ramdeora station with bandits and then threw Mandar Bose away from a running train. And all these events finally culminated when the fake Dr. Hazra got attacked by a peacock and was promptly hold by inspector Rathod, friend of the original Dr. Hajra.

(Could this be Mukul's Home? Or is this Giridhari's?)

In recent times I have spent lots of time by cursing and discussing the number of slipups made in Sandip Ray’s version of Pheluda movies. Yes, the list is pretty long and for me one of biggest follies of the new Pheluda movies is that there’s no mystery! From the very first scene, you know who the criminal is and then basically wait for Sabyasachi (who in ‘Kailashe Kelenkari’ looked like a middle aged man with…umm… to quote Chandrabindu ‘…modhyikhane chhotto ekti Bhnuri’) to finally announce that. In one such discussion someone told me, even Satyajit used to do the same, right? In Sonar Kella, you knew that it was Mandar Bose and fake Dr. Hazra, who were the bad men. And yes I agree, but then, although the audience knew who is the criminal in first half an hour of the movie still they have to wait to find how the mystery of Sonar Kella got solved? Did Mukul actually fulfill his dream of being in his Sonar Kella? And that made the movie such a wonderful watch.

Also, we have to think about Satyajit Ray’s treatment and directional skills, which to put mildly, were way better than his son. Sandip Ray fans (and yes, I am sure such people do exist. If Himesh Reshmiya can have a fan base then Mr. Ray also surely can. Yeah, those fans may be from Tuvalu or Guyana and know nothing about Pheluda but they can still like Sandip Ray’s Facebook page thinking that talks about some electromagnetic or photonic spectrum impacting the Ozone layer) have to agree that the script of those movies are the weakest part. Nothing new in those, it’s like converting the entire conversation from the book to a script.

But, if I start writing about the script of Sonar Kella I think I can continue for next twenty pages. It was Satyajit Ray at his best, so witty, so humorous, so subtle but at the same time simple enough to make a ten year old follow the story. From Jatayu’s Hindi to Mandar Bose’s lullabies it was an awesome experience. Some legendary dialogues have truly become a part of urban Bengali dialects! “Chokhe chhani noe, pete panita ektu beshi porechhe!”, “Hajar hajar doctor Hajra!”, “Knata ki era bechhe khae?”, “Hyena to China-e moshai!” the list is just too long. I will just mention another one which I noted in my latest viewing of Sonar Kella.

Just after the second puncture in their way to Jayasalmer, Pheluda (Soumitra Chatterjee) was sitting with a train timetable in hand, Jatayu (Santosh Dutta) came to him.

Jatayu: “Kirtita kar kichhu bujhhte parlen? Sara prithibir joto rokomer knach somosto niye ekhane joro korechhe!
Pheluda: “Taholei bujhhun kirtita kar?
Jatayu: “Anya!

So subtle and so wonderful! I realized the advantage of watching the tenth time watched movie for the eleventh time after capturing this gem!
Now, let’s get into the characters. Who is your favorite? Santosh Dutta as Lalmohan or Kamu Mukherjee as Mandar Bose? Because for me it is one tough choice. I absolutely love Santosh Dutta with his antics in train, in the car and on the camel. But still Kamu Mukherjee just blew me away. His Card printed shirt, his magic tricks to Mukul, his duplication of camels in Nahargar everything was so real. Scenes involving both of these wonderful actors are just too good and keep you spellbound.

And yes I liked Pheluda’s subtle one liners too. Soumitra Chatterjee’s controlled, intellectual and intelligent portrayal of Pheluda was just the right foil along with all the madness from Jatayu and Mandar Bose. And obviously there were Ajay Banerjee as Barman, Kushal Chakravarti as Mukul and Shailen Mukherjee as Dr. Hemanga Hajra. I specially like Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s Sidhujyatha who exclaims, “Jeete raho bachcha!” after Pheluda answers all his questions.

I watched the movie and read the book in two consecutive days before writing this piece, and if you ask me, I would say I did not like it much. The book and the movie are so different despite being on the same story that it’s very difficult to compile those two and make it one single entity. I know that, I may again watch/read ‘Sonar Kella’ in next six months’ time and I will ensure that I do either of them and not both.
A lovely book, a legendary film and a part of my childhood- that is what I call Magic of the Golden Fortress.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Mystery Begins

[Disclaimer: The following piece is a memoir of my experience and observation of the book Badshahi Angti by Satyajit Ray. Please note that, it includes some of the detailed plot discussions and spoilers regarding the mystery of the novel.]
Every story in life has a beginning. Sometimes it is awesome. Like Sourav Ganguly scoring a hundred on his test debut in the hallowed ground of Lords. Sometimes it’s not so good. Amitabh Bachchan starting his film career with ‘Saat Hindustani’ can be an example. And then there are times when the beginning is plain ugly. Like RCB’s IPL experience, that started with a 140 runs thrashing by KKR.
Satyajit Ray knew a few things about auspicious beginnings, his journey of life started with losing his father when he was two and half years old. He started his movie direction career at the age of 34 with one of the greatest documentation of human life and emotions, ‘Pather Panchali’, in 1955 which brought him lots of fame and let the cinema lovers of the world meet with a genius. And then, in 1966, Pheluda started his journey through novels as a detective in Badshahi Angti.
I first read Badshahi Angti at a pretty young age and absolutely loved it. Lucknow, Bhulbhulaiya in Bara Imambara, Residency, Banbiharibabu’s private zoo of ferocious animals and the climax in Lakshman Jhula, all of it actually blown me away.
I have read this book in next twenty or so years many a times. Not only had I loved it more and more, I have actually realized some very special characteristics of this book, compared to other Pheluda adventures.
Have you ever thought which kind of normal day job Pheluda would do? Well remember, according to this story he was working for last two years. I wonder whether it was a government job, or may be in some of those marwary private firms of 60s, where he might be working as a sales or marketing guy. Or should I dare assume that, he was in a bank, doing a very basic level of analytics! If you ask me, I would assume him to be in a management kind of role with his wonderful ability to read human minds and act accordingly.
Also here, Pheluda is a young man. He talks about his college days and spin bowling and more importantly people do not give him the importance which he started gaining from the very first page of the future books. But, yet his wit and sharpness was as good as ever.

He finally cracked the clue of ‘spy’ which was Piyarilal’s last words. With his detection power and great mind he did create one of the great moments of Pheluda stories when he described Topse about how he identified and memorized the entire plan of Bhulbhulaiya and hence used one of the chambers there to hide the ring of great Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
And not only Pheluda, Topse was just a kid in this story, who does not know about Residency, tried to read Pheluda’s notes written in Greek font, did not get it why Pheluda was receiving threat letters and forgot to take his hanky at the climax. But this young Topse suddenly became a hero when accidentally finds the ring inside Pheluda’s matchbox.
Bonbihari Sarkar was the first proper villain in the Pheluda series. He was an intriguing man with a polished look (thin mustache and pointed beard), knowledge about various historical events and a collection which includes a rattle snake and a black widow spider from Africa among others. And yes he was an intelligent man too. He used his strong man Ganesh Guha to follow Pheluda at places, instructed him to act as if Guha his leaving his job and also was smart enough to put the tape recorder below Topse’s cot in the dharamshala, anticipating a conversation between him and Pheluda regarding the ring. And that’s why I found it a little dumb for him to behave as if he does not recognize Mahabir as he should have realized that this move of his would bring suspicion on him atleast from Mahabir. But taking the duo to that jungle and left Pheluda and Topse with a rattle snake in the same room was a scary business by a smart man.

Now, one thing has happened with me pretty frequently. Whenever I have been to a new place I try to connect that place with any great book I have read. It happened in Jayasalmer when I asked a shopkeeper the time of sun rise to see the golden fortress at its best. This story did not end well though, the shopkeeper asked me the reason and then told me that, although Bengalis are coming here all the time but this place is actually hyped.
Similarly, when I and some of my other friends decided to visit Lucknow on the 31st December of 2005, my first thought was that I am now going to visit the land of Pheluda’s first exploit. Ray was a keen observer and a great story-teller. And that’s why he had this ability to draw a very lively picture of any place he was describing. I went to Lucknow more than 35 years after this book and yes the roads were different, lots of government buses and autos along with the tangas but those historical places were exactly as I dreamt of after reading this book again and again.
I have already said that Pheluda was a young detective in this one. Hence he did not have his Colt 32 revolver which would become one of his most trusted companies in the future adventures.

Instead his choice of weapon (except his Magajastra) was something which we mostly associate with those teen-age detectives who get into trouble while following a suspicious man with beard and sunglasses while coming back from school. Feluda called it ‘Churnikrta Bramhastra’ which was nothing but black pepper powder. But obviously it had a pretty good effect on the villains and I was happy.
Badshahi Angti is definitely not the best Pheluda work by Ray but this book was a very potent foundation of a great series. A series which was carried on for next 20 years with 18 more publications and with times which is converted into a life long legend for most of the literary minded Bengalis.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mahabharat Premier League

Two young men enter stage from opposite sides, wearing quite cool clothes.
First: Hey Dude!
Second: Yo Man!!
First: Wassup? Hey have u heard, Tapo is writing some skit!
Second: I know!! That also, based on Mahabharat!
First: Yeah! No originality! All copy-pasting!
First one shakes his head!
Second: Seriously! But one thing… Brother Nakul!
First: Yes bro Sahadev?
Sahadev: Every time there’s a play on Mahabharat, we always become side characters!!
Nakul: Right! Very Bad!!
Sahadev: Think about a bollywood movie on Mahabharat… for brother Judhishthir, Bhim or Arjun there will be Shah rookh Khan, Salaman Khan, Hrithik Roshan…
Nakul: But, you know for brother Bhim, Dharam paji would be the best… Kutte, kamine maine tera khun pi jaunga…
Sahadev: Ha ha… but the point is for us there will be Fardeen Khan…
Nakul: Rajpal Jadav!
Sahadev: Sushant Singh!
Nakul gets confused!
Nakul: Who is he?
Sahadev: Whatever. So, this time we are not going to do the same. I am sure there will not be any good line for us. So we will improvise!
Nakul: You are right!
Sahadev: We will make all the jokes and will give the punch lines!
Nakul: Right bro!!
Nakul punches Sahadev on chest! Sahadev gets hurt!
Sahadev: Uff! You don’t need to take the punch line part so seriously!! Well, there come the heroes!!
Nakul: Yes, I can see bro Judhishthir, Bhim, Arjun… also Durjodhon is coming with Shakuni!
Judhishthir, Bhim, Arjun, Durjodhon and Shakuni enter. Judhishthir and Arjun are talking between themselves, Bhim is busy eating something, Durjodhon has earplug on his ears, Shakuni is busy with his cellphone, some more phones in his hand.
Durjodhon: Ha ha ha ha ha ha…
Judhishthir: Why are you laughing?
Durjodhon: I am the bad man!! I laugh just like that! Have not u seen Gulshan Grover or some other bollywood villains? Ha ha ha ha…
Judhishthir is not impressed!
Durjodhon: Anyways, as we were discussing, I am going to challenge you in some game!!
Arjun: The dice game?
Durjodhon: What do you think I am? Am I Buladi??
Arjun is scared, he goes to Bhim. Durjodhon goes to Judhishthir.
Durojodhon: Boss, I want to challenge you in a game of Angry Birds!!
Suddenly Nakul comes in the front.
Nakul: Are those birds really angry?
Judhishthir: uff Sahadev, don’t disturb!
Nakul: Bro, I am Nakul!!!
Judhishthir: Whatever!!
Durjodhon: Anyways, are u going to play Angry Birds with us or not?
Judhishthir is not sure!
Arjun: Nehi Bhai nehi!
Arjun starts crying on Bhim’s shoulder! Bhim keeps munching food! Durjodhon is surprised! He goes to Judhishthir.
Durjodhon: What? You don’t know how to play Angry Birds?
Judhisgthir shakes his head!
Durjodhon: Ha ha ha ha… shame shame! Now you will tell me that, you don’t have a Blackberry either!
Judhishthir did not reply. He walked away. Arjun’s cry increases! Durjodhon is surprised! Then he starts laughing!
Durjodhon: Really!! You don’t have a blackberry!! I have two and my uncle Shakuni… he has five!! He is a world champion in Angry Birds!!
Durjodhon and Shakuni start dancing on ‘We are the blackberry boys’. Nakul also join with them! After the dance, Sahadev took Nakul to one side.
Sahadev: Why did you dance? You don’t have a blackberry!
Nakul (confused): But I have an apple!
Sahadev: Ohh really… wah! Wah! You know, I always knew you have very classy choices.
Nakul takes out an apple fruit from his pocket and offered to Sahadev.
Nakul: Bro, you want a bite?
Sahadev got angry and took Nakul to one side.
Durjodhon looks to Shakuni.
Durjodhon: Uncle Shakuni, what game should we play now?
Shakuni: Don’t worry dear boy, I am also a champion in Roadrash, Need for Speed 2009, Counter Strike and Farmville!!
Durjodhon: Wonderful! Uncle Tussi Great Ho!
Durjodhon goes to Pandavas.
Durjodhon: So, what game you want to play?
Bhim: I think we should have boxing match!
Arjun: Uii Ma! It will be painful!
Judhishthir is thinking. Lagan music on the background.
Judhisthir: I know what game we should play. The most popular game in India!! We will play cricket! Mahabharat Premier League!
Nakul: You mean we will be in Mahabharat Paysa League!!
Judhishthir gets offended!
Judhishthir: Where is Krishna?
Krishna enters with Draupadi!
Draupadi looks at Durjodhon!
Draupadi: Hey Handsome!
Durjodhon: Hi Sweety!!
Durjodhon winks. Then Draupadi looks at pandavas.
Draupadi: Ohh here are my five husbands cum bro-in-laws!! It’s so confusing!
Bhim: Krishna, where were you?
Krishna: I was taking music lessons from Anu Malik! You want to here??
Krishna starts singing.
Krishna: Barish ho raha hain… it’s raining… it’s raining…
Judhishthir: Off… cut it. We are planning to have a cricket match with Kaurav’s!
Krishna: Really? What’s the rate for bowling a no-ball on the spot?
Judhishthir: Stop! I am Dharmaraj… I do not do spot fixing… and anyhow the rates are very poor nowdays, those Pakistanis cheap labors are affecting the overall industry.
Durjodhon: So, is it all final? Are we going to play a cricket match?
Judhishthir: Yes… but you are 100 guys, we are just five and this good for nothing Krishna. Let us invite some of our cricketer friends.
Durjodhon: Ok, we will also invite some cricketer friends of ours.
Arjun goes to Draupadi!!
Arjun: Panchali, Panchali, have you heard, we are going to play cricket match!!
Draupadi: You guys will play cricket!! Ohh no!! Let me call my dress designer to order 30-40 pieces of clothes!!
Arjun: Clothes!! Why?
Draupadi: Have not you seen B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat in TV? Rupa Ganguly showed 20 types of sharis in that scene!!
Draupadi leaves the stage. Krishna goes to Judhishthir.
Krishna: Hey, one of my friends is a great player!
Judhishrhir: Ohh, really? Who? Sachin?
Krishna: Let’s that be a surprise!
Bhim: Let us go and practice for the match!
A Week Later.
Reporter enters the stage. With a headset and microphone.
Reporter: Hallo and welcome to the Mahabharat Premier League. I am reporting for the match between Pandavas and Kauravas. It’s very important match and let me start with taking interviews of some of very famous cricketers.
The reporter goes to the side, ask something, gets shocked. Then sadly comes to the center of the stage.
Reporter: Ok, guys, we have a situation here. Apparently, this script is so bakwas, we could not find enough actors for our play and hence, the same guys will come as players. So let me invite, friend of Judhishthir, Mr. Ricky Ponting!!
Ricky Ponting (Judhishthir) enters the stage while keep spitting on his palms. He comes to the reporter and extends his hand, the reporter refuses.
Reporter: Hi Mr. Ponting! Please tell us how you are feeling as you are playing for Pandavas?
Ponting: Very happy! But I must say great choice by Judhishthir, I am one of the most honest players around!!
Reporter: err…
Ponting: Do you doubt my integrity?
Reporter: No no… so you are the captain! How many runs you want to score?
Ponting: Great! By the way, do you have the team list for other team?
Reporter: Yes!
Ponting: Can you tell me whether Harbhajan Singh is in that team?
Reporter: No Ricky.
Ponting: Any other Sing, Ghising… anyone?
Reporter: No no… no such player!
Ponting (smiling): Great! I will make a double hundred!
Reporter: Great! Thanks Ricky. Please wait for other players.
Ponting goes and stands in the back.
Reporter: Let me invite, Bhim’s friend Shoaib Akhtar!!
Shoaib (Bhim) enters with a bat, very slowly.
Reporter: Hurry up Shoaib. You are a fast bowler!
Shoaib: Only my bowling used to be fast. I do not move fast!
Reporter: So, why do you have a bat in your hand?
Shoaib: Who is my captain?
Reporter shows to Ponting: He is your captain!
Ponting: Right Shoaib, why do you have a bat in your hand?
Shoaib: You drop me once from the team and then I will show why I have this bat!
Ponting gets scared. Shoaib goes and stands with Ponting.
Reporter: After the fiery Shoaib Akhtar let me invite Sourav Ganguly, friend of Arjun.
Sourav (Arjun) enters the stage and then take of his shirt and starts waving!
Reporter: Hallo Dada… any comment?
Sourav: Main hnu Sourav Ganguly! Bhule to nehi ?
Reporter : right... right...
Sourav: I am now anchoring the KBC! Let me ask you a question… ha ha ha!! Who will win in a 100 meter race? Your options are Spiderman, Superman, 90 year old man and fast bowling loving Indian batsman??
Reporter is confused!
Reporter: umm… not sure dada!
Sourav: The 90 year old man, because others do not exists in real world!! Ha ha ha…
Sourav goes and joins Ponting and Shoaib.
Reporter: Next, let me invite friends of Nakul-Sahadev, Murali Karthik and Dinesh Karthik!!
MK and DK enter.
MK& DK (angrily): Again side characters!!
Dinesh Karthik: And do not make any lame joke about ‘Kartik calling Kartik’ being our favorite movie!!
Reporter is scared. Mk and DK join the others in the back.
Reporter: Ok… that’s the team for the Pandavas. Let me invite In-Zamam-ul Haq, Durjodhon’s Friend.
Inji: Illellellellalla… the boys plays very well. We try hard but their balling was good, they win. Next match, we played well to win. Thank You.
Reporter: But Inji, the match has not started yet…
Inji: Ohhh… sorry… I thought post match presentation ho raha hain! Ramiz bhai knaha gaya?
Inji goes in the back.
Reporter: Now we have uncle Shakuni’s friend, Sreeshanth!!
Sreshanth enters the stage doing moonwalk then do some break dance and other steps.
Reporter: Hi Sree, great dance. Anything about the match?
Sree: I will give my 200%!
Reporter: Ok… so any bowling plan?
Sree: What plan? I will give my 200%
Reporter: Ok, so if you lose what you will do?
Sree: Will go to a party and give my 200%
Reporter is totally confused. Sree goes to Inji.
Reporter: Ok I just got info that a special player has landed just now; he is Krishna’s friend…
Someone enters in an Argentine Jersey with a cigar in hand.
Reporter: Who are you?
Man: I am the greatest player in the world. I am Maradona!!
Reporter: Maradona!! In a cricket match??
Maradona: What cricket! Let’s play football! I will score my hand of God goal again!!
Maradona Starts fighting with other cricketers!
Reporter: Friends. I am sorry to say that the match has been called off. It’s crazy here! This should be called the ‘Mahabharat Pagal league’!!
The reporter runs away from the stage!!