Wednesday, October 26, 2016

not about the violence.



A 3-year-old girl is raped by her neighbor. A father forces himself on his young daughter. A minor in a home for the mentally-disadvantaged is taken advantage of. A goon grabs a girl’s behind as she walks home from the vegetable market, and laughs. Four dastardly deeds of sexual violence in a world bursting at its seams from it.

And that’s precisely the problem.

The problem with the furore on sexual violence, is that it is seen as a question of violence.

It’s seen as the quest for power, of domination, of hurting, of male supremacists proving a point with their penises.

The truth is far more disturbing. And far worse.

You see, violence is an act. It is volition. It is a verb. It is the synchronicity of mind and motor skill towards a purpose. It is always aware, even when caught in bloodlust, drunken or otherwise.

Eve-teasing, molestation, rape – disgusting as they all are, are not as much about deliberate conscious violence, as much as they are about un-thought unconscious entitlement.

The worst thing about sexual violence is that it is not about grabbing or getting, but simply about taking. The girls (and I daresay, boys) didn’t ask for it. They were simply there.

You’re hungry, you see french fries nearby, and what do you do? You reach out and help yourself. You might feel a sense of wrong, a vague gibbering of guilt, but pleasure talks louder. You certainly don’t feel violent towards the fries. You don’t even feel angry towards them. All you say is ‘fuck it’, as you help yourself as a matter of right.

Entitlement. It’s taught early to our sons as culture, when they get to eat but not clear the table. It’s taught early in the opposite to our daughters, when they’re told to stay at home while the brothers till the field or field the till.

It teaches our women to not speak, and our men to not ask. And unless we call it out for what it is, we won’t be able to cut its hands, break its balls and castrate it for its casualness. Like it is unceremoniously, unforgivingly entitled to.

ram cobain

(Pic courtesy Google)


Sunday, May 3, 2015

a case for kindness

For a while now, I’ve been grappling with the existential question. The one that all middle-aged men toy with. What’s the point of it all? Why run if you’re not a rat? Is there a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or is it the sort of pot you lower your pants into?

While I haven’t found my answer and while the search continues, the quest has thrown up a diamond along with the dirt. I’ve discovered, what perhaps to me, is the clearest compass of them all.

Kindness.

Just one word. Not as big as compassion and not as bandied as love. Just regular, everyday, ordinary kindness.

Except it is anything but ordinary.

Kindness, because of its innate softness, invites sneer. It appears passive, indolent, lacking in action. It doesn’t sweat, it doesn’t swear and it doesn’t carry swag. It’s not sexy. It walks up with a gentle “excuse me”, it whispers in a room full of voices, it hugs without fanfare and it leaves without so much as a short goodbye.

All while changing the world.

You see, kindness is powerful precisely because it is all-giving and doesn’t give a fuck in return. And it is humanly impossible to remain unaffected by unselfish goodness. It is hard to remain unmoved by something that is pure; pure because it wasn’t mandated by protocol, demanded as right or necessary to begin with.

When you’re kind to someone – to people you don’t need to be kind to – your maid, the security guard, the auto driver and the guy selling chaat at a street corner, you ever so briefly, lift the day’s crushing heaviness off their shoulders. You make them forget that they’ll be going back to their bleak lives where sacrifice is the norm as is disenchantment. And when you’re kind to someone in power – kind and not obsequious or servile – you reveal that you’re not in awe of designation and that you’re equal to him or her as a human being.

I try and practise kindness. Why I say “practise” is because kindness is a choice. The idea that the junior cracked that was better left un-cracked. You can choose to look beyond the result and see how hard he/she tried. The dinner that the wife cooked that wasn’t the best. You can choose how to make her feel. The waif at the traffic signal that you chose to give a bigger note to, instead of the coin that clinked at your fingertips. Yes, kindness is a choice. And when you practise it long enough, kindness becomes instinct.

Fact is, kindness is transformative. It is therapeutic. And best of all, it is also tax-free. There’s the old adage of “people not remembering what you said but how you made them feel”. What they’ll remember the most is your kindness, or the lack of it.

There’s another alliterative ‘T’ that kindness is. Kindness is tough. It’s very hard to be kind because it is so much easier to be a natural born asshole like most of us are. It takes guts to treat others like how you'd like to be treated and not like how they are treating you. Thus kindness is not for the weak. And in pursuing it, one grows strangely, immeasurably strong.

There’s one more fact – I was wrong. Kindness does give back. Kindness is Karma. When you’re kind, you not only make others feel better; you feel awesome yourself. Kindness is also positivity. For one cannot be negative while being kind.

So cultivate kindness. Shoot yourself up with it. Down it like beer. Smoke it like pot. Make it a bad habit. But one that you’re very good at.

Lastly, kindness is contagious. If you happen to catch it, do spread it. The world has enough misery without needing your unique dose of fuckery.

ram cobain

Image source: Google

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Closure



It had to happen some day. Some day, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar would stop doing what he had been doing for 24 years and would retire from cricket. He would walk back from a 22-yard strip of grass and gold, only this walk would be longer and lonelier than the others. There was nothing anyone could do about it.

Except say thank you in person.

Many summers ago, when he was a different Sachin – young, brash and fearless (and we were like him) – my best friend and brother Daddu, and I had vowed that if Sachin were to ever give the world a heads up about retiring, we’d be there. No matter what was happening in our personal or professional lives. It’s a big promise to make, and it almost proved too big to pull off. But luckily, only almost.

We’ve been known to have XXL mouths, but so far we’ve managed to avoid putting our feet into them. Like the time we said (after Kargil) that should India (read Sachin) ever tour Pakistan, we’d be there. Some 15 of us made that earnest pledge, but only the two of us kept it. You can read about that here, but it’s another story.

Promises – even crazy ones – are easier to pull off when you’re younger, unmarried and lower down the corporate pecking order. The advantages are obvious. You won’t be missed as much at work. There’s lesser at stake personally. And as you’re a foolish 23-year-old, the world will be indulgent towards you having a passion other than passionately earning your EMI. But throw in words like Creative Head, Biggest Pitch Ever, Home Loan, Family, Child and suddenly passion can take the appearance of Don Quixote charging at the windmills.

At times like these whom you’re married to (if you’re married) makes all the difference. My wife, that lovely woman who doesn’t understand my craze for Sachin but understands me, gave me the permission to get fired, should things come to that. And so wearing a bravado that was more borrowed than ballsy, I made my plea to my bosses. I wouldn’t do injustice to The Biggest Pitch Ever but I had to be there at Wankhede. Otherwise, I’d end up hating my job and would never forgive myself. I wasn’t given permission to go but to take a “call as an adult”. I headed to the airport. It was the 13th of November 2013.

Now, going to Mumbai and going to Wankhede are two separate things. Especially if Sachin is playing for the last time. Tickets were harder to get than a one-line speech from Manmohan Singh, and we had nothing in our hands at the time of flying out.

But leads were aplenty. I had contacted an ex-colleague who has access to both the MCA and Vengsarkar, and he was confident. Then another friend’s wife, who works at a leading newspaper, was trying her best to get us two tickets. My ex-junior and not-ex-brother Shashi called me on his own and said he’d do something for us. I also called and spoke to Vinod Naidu – Sachin’s agent whom I now know over the course of so many ad shoots – and he said he’d try. I toyed with the idea of calling Sachin –I have his mobile number for a while now – but as I’ve never called or texted him out of respect, I didn’t want to start now. You can gauge the desperation of my efforts by the fact that I even tried logging on to kyazoonga.com a few times.

Daddu too had his contacts. But our sources came and went. “Confirmed” tickets suddenly got unconfirmed, and the only thing that was certain was that the two of us would land in Mumbai and would be watching the match together – be it only on a TV screen.

Then magic happened. Late at night before the day we were to fly out, Shashi said that two 5-day season tickets had been arranged for 10K apiece; did we want them? Does Stevie Wonder need a break from Stevie-Wonder-jokes? They were for the Sunil Gavaskar stand, and originally priced Rs. 500 per season pass. But given that the going rate was 40K per ticket – if you could find a seller that is – we said “yes” faster than Shoaib Akhtar running down a fat pickpocket.

Daddu landed before me and collected our passes. I met him at the Grand Hotel, Ballard Estate, where we had booked a room for a night. Let’s say that the hotel had somewhat exaggerated their credentials, but the loo was clean enough and the bed manageable. And the tickets in Daddu’s hands made us feel like we were staying at the heritage wing of the Taj.

14th November 2013 dawned early and we were at the stadium gates at 8 for a 9am start. But even though it was a Friday and a working day, the line was longer than Mayawati’s handbags stacked in a row. But enterprising as we are, we requested a couple of youngsters at the very front to let us join them. And just like that – we were amongst the first 20 to enter the stadium!


The second happy moment happened when our tickets dutifully beeped at the entry turnstile (there was a slight apprehension that they might be fakes as we had heard some reports from the match at Eden Gardens). As we ran up the stairs, we saw yet another sign that nothing could go wrong with this trip: Sachin was warming up right before us, right in front of our stands.

As the old chant of Saaachin Sachin left our lips with a new desperation, he turned and waved in our general direction. We took our seats and realized that our view was better than what we’d hoped. We were expecting to sit behind ‘Point’ – a veritable blind spot as everyone knows – but as the stand stretches and curves, our seats ended up being closer to Extra Cover. Also we were at the right height – not low enough to feel the wire fencing on our faces and not high enough to feel like the MRF blimp. Our seats were also in the shade, a fact that we appreciated as we saw the poor sods in the opposite stands getting suntanned for free.

A word on the crowd then. The bleachers were getting filled even as our throats were getting hoarse, and it was a beautiful sight. How do you explain a 45-year-old woman sitting all by herself in a plastic seat under an indifferent sun? She was neither cool looking nor coolly dressed, just a middle-class housewife who must have packed her husband lunch and seen her kids off at the bus stop, and then taken the train quietly to Churchgate Station for a man who was neither spouse nor child but perhaps at that moment, something more. Or the old men at our hotel, 60 something to a day but happy as children trick-or-treating. They had flown all the way down from England, leaving their wives behind, one last boy trip for the love of a boy who had realized after 24 years that he was too old to play. There were many others. 10-year-olds too young to be inspired but old enough feel the magic in the air. Infants hoisted on shoulders, the day a blur but who would later find themselves in a photograph taken on a cheap mobile phone, and point themselves out with pride and a claim to memory. Most people looked like they didn’t know anyone influential, but the ticket stub in their pockets showed that they knew how to get in. Sachin’s family was there too. His mom was watching her son’s first match, and brother, wife, kids and Achrekar sir, possibly the most loved coach in world cricket. There were also the bigwigs – politicians, businessmen and film stars. But none bigger than a small man in white; lion tamer, gladiator, conductor of an orchestra bigger than the sport itself.

For that’s how trivial the match had become. You could have put Australia instead of West Indies, and the crowd wouldn’t have known. All they knew, and all they cared about was that Tendlya was playing for India for the last time. Perhaps this is why tickets to the series were harder to come by than the World Cup final ones – that was for India, this was something more personal. Sachin had become the game, and the cricket– not Herculean to start with – blurred from contest to context. It was like the crowd, some 35000 strong and so much louder than that, wanted Sachin to know how much they loved him. A loud roar would engulf him from the stand he was fielding closest to, and even if it were Shami bowling to Samuels, the chant would have his name. At some point, the crowd asked for Dhoni to hand over the ball to Sachin, and the Indian captain became a national hero when he obliged. When it was our turn to bat – the Windies were all out for 182 – the crowd couldn’t wait for Sachin to come. Tradition has been for the Number 3 bat to be greeted with applause on getting out (as Rahul Dravid has admitted with grace and a wry shrug of the shoulders), but today the crowd was rooting for Indian wickets to fall from the time the openers came to bat. Yet somehow, it didn’t feel unpatriotic. It was just India making her priorities clear.

Sachin came to bat as Murali Vijay departed, to a West Indian guard of honor. As he walked towards the pitch, Wankhede embraced him with the loudest cheer it had to offer – a thrilled throaty and teary thank you. For even his welcome to the crease had the inevitable overtones of a sendoff. This was not about being greedy for more; this was about savouring what remained. Sachin joined Pujara in the middle, with the trademark poke at the pitch, the rolling of the shoulders, that unmistakable half squat and adjustment of the crotch guard and the customary surveying of the ground. There was also something new. For the first time, he bent down and touched the soil, seeking its blessing. And when he took strike, the crowd stood on its feet like one man and the chant, delirious and deafening, swirled like dust in a bullring. Every forward-defense was met with a loud roar, as if it were a six hoisted into the stands. Every bouncer was faced with loud boos, the crowd indignant at the bowler for daring to bowl a perfectly legal delivery. The mob – for that’s what we were – also grew inventive. The regular Saachin Sachin gave way Saaaaaachin Saaaaachin, a slow hypnotic drone designed to conserve energy and get the wind back into the lungs. And in the middle of it all, Sachin, unmoving as god in a temple, was not only unaffected by the chaos but inspired by it. As the cover drives started booming, the straight drive stepped out and the paintbrush flicks dabbed the outfield, the crowd, incredibly, found a higher decibel. Wankhede started out as a carnival, turned into a riot and then became theater as Sachin found his timing and pushed the clock back. But when Pujara got strike, the crowd sat down in one synced step and rested their bodies. It was so silent that you could have made a conference call and lied to your boss about being out for the match. If you were Pujara, you could have lied to yourself about being at the match – such was the contrast between the ends.

Sachin ended the day at 38 not out, and the crowd left, delighted at what they’d seen, thrilled about what was to come in the morning.

Daddu and I had found a new hotel as we’d checked out of the Grand Hotel thinking we’d stay with friends to save money. But as I had to work for that almost-employment-ending pitch, we figured a quiet room might be better. The Regent Hotel seemed like a good choice; it was close to Wankhede and closer to Leopold. And so after a burpy-lunch, we trooped in to check for rooms.

The hotel was unique, to say the least. It was almost like we’d walked into a wormhole and into Riyadh. The ‘no smoking’ signs were in Arabic. In the lobby were sprawled 4-5 Arabs in their traditional dress, in the midst of what appeared to our conditioned minds as the Jihad Conclave 2014. The rooms were nicer than those at the Grand, but the TV feed was entirely Arabic (till Daddu discovered the Indian channels on pressing the video mode). And for two happy vegetarians, there was not even Dal on the menu, but the poetically potent Mutton Nasif.

Daddu crashed, and I sat down to work. Some 6 straight hours later, I thought I had cracked something nice, and we stepped out – out into India – for dinner.

Day 2 of the match then. I reviewed the work sent by my juniors and we still managed to reach the stadium gate at 7.30 a.m. After a hasty but hearty breakfast at the Khau Galli close by, we entered Wankhede. By 8.45, the stadium was largely packed, and heaving with collective anticipation. The teams took to the field, and Sachin took guard once again.

And once again, he was the Sachin of old. The Sachin not only of yesterday but of many yesterdays. That still head, the decisive footwork, the preternatural sense of what the bowler was thinking, and the resultant extra time to choose the shot. And just like that, inside the hour, he had raced to his 68th Test half century. There were also a few misses, like the upper cut he tried off Tino Best. But it was the missing-of-old, when Sachin missed while trying an aggressive shot. During the change of overs, he patted Tino Best and the big man smiled, delighted like he had picked up a five-wicket-haul.

That was the loveliest part of it. Sachin played not like a grafter, an accumulator or a senior statesman, but like the boy we had fallen in love with so many years ago. He got out for 74, abruptly, unexpectedly and anti-climactically – to a boyish, intent-laden cheeky cut that didn’t come off. And as a funereal hush descended on Wankhede, it was like the curtain falling on our childhood.

Sachin began the walk back to the dressing room, alone with his thoughts, perhaps not realizing that a second innings was unlikely. In the meantime, the crowd – acutely achingly aware – was at its loudest, as if hoping the clamor might stop him from leaving the field. Just as he was about to cross over the rope, he stopped, turned and raised his arms in acknowledgment. And then he was a small figure walking up a long flight of stairs, and then he was gone.  

The giant screen kept showing Sachin’s last trudge back, and the match on the field stopped as the crowd applauded once again. Pujara made a well-deserved hundred and Rohit Sharma a fluent one, but the crowd was baying for Dhoni to declare. We left immediately after Sachin got out; the India-West Indies series had started.

We went to Pizza by the Bay, for umm…pizzas. The tables were filled with fans like us, and every 5 minutes, an impromptu scream of Saachin Sachin would break out. We saw the same as we walked past other restaurants – a pure, unadulterated, un-orchestrated outpouring of love. And loss.

Day 3 began on a solemn note, the realization of not seeing Sachin walk out to bat had long settled in. But he was still there on the field, and for now, that was enough. If anything, the crowd was louder, fresh after a good night’s rest and determined to make the most of every Sachinstant. Dhoni threw him the ball again, and for two overs, the stadium sounded like Sachin were batting.

But soon it was all over, and it was over too soon. The West Indian wickets fell in a tumble, almost like their batsmen had laced their shoes together. The Indian players exulted, Sachin grabbed a wicket as a souvenir, and the moment started to dawn on all of us. I daresay it dawned on everyone in the middle too. Dhoni issued a terse order and the team formed a rolling, mobile guard-of-honor as the players left the field.

I think there was a presentation, a ceremony where someone picked up some award and something was said. Everyone had eyes and ears only for Sachin. The politicians tried to look puffed and important as they handed out mementos, and were booed as their names were taken. And then Ravi Shastri, that crisp commentator of clichés, said his best words ever: “Sachin, over to you.”

How does one describe what has been seen by all? Sachin, surrounded by his wife and children, walked up holding a sheet of paper. He tried to speak but we would not let him. We too had so much to say. And so we chanted his name like we had never said it before, we clapped like these weren’t our hands, all in hope that we could tell him how much he meant to us. 

And then he spoke. For a shy, intensely private person, for a man of few words, a 20-minute extempore speech was a masterful effort. With a choked voice and wet eyes, Sachin thanked all those who had played a role in his cricketing career. There were no big words, but there were beautiful ones. Like referring to wife Anjali as “the best partnership of my life” and telling us that “Saaachin Sachin would reverberate in my ears till my breathing stops”. It was a Sachin Special; he had saved his best for retirement day.


But Wankhede wanted more, and got more. Sachin did a lap of the field – hoisted on the shoulders of Dhoni, the Indian Captain and Virat Kohli, the legatee – waving the tricolor to a bedlam of chants, claps and cries. It was indeed a champion’s farewell.

But it couldn’t be over with just a public goodbye. Sachin’s last act on the cricket pitch was to walk back alone to the 22-yards that had given him everything, and say thank you. More student than master, like he had always been.

We advanced our tickets and flew back home, to our wives, kids, EMIs and jobs (yup, I managed to hold on to mine). We felt empty but not as empty as we’d thought we would. Being there at Wankhede and the three days of sustained high emotion had been catharsis, and more importantly, closure. We felt like Dr. Seuss when he said: “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened”.

To those who throw around big phrases like Impact Index, we have this to say. The true impact of a player on sport is beyond stats and winning percentages. It is about how you affected the game itself. About how you inspired a generation to pick up the bat and taught another how to forget their burdens. It is about how brightly you shone in the dressing room even as a fading light; while at your peak you were the sun itself. It’s about how you commandeered not just grudging respect but gushing praise from the very best you dueled with. It is about how you got an entire nation to start, stop and work its life around yours. It is about how much happiness you gave, by the mere act of being there.

So thank you, Sachin, thank you for more than just the cricket. In a world of fickle fans and fleeting heroes, your poster on our walls shall stay. As will the 10 tattooed on our wrists.

Saaaachin Sachin!
Ram Cobain & Gaurav Dudeja
16th November 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A good man goes away.



Last Sunday, the 18th of August 2013 – at 8.35 am to be precise – I lost my father-in-law to carcinoma of the pancreas. He was 58.

58 is no age to die. It’s not even the legal age to retire from work, much less from life. It’s the age to saunter into the autumn of existence, where one walks with a hop and a hum, knowing that sweat and hard work are blurs in the rearview mirror and a life of rest, relaxation and richness waits. Much like a long-paying FD that finally matures, and tax free.

The irony is this: for a long while after he was diagnosed, my father-in-law, a natural skeptic of hospitals and medical witchery, felt he was doomed. We had heard the C word in February, and while the months rolled by, he was still counting his days. Then something happened. He gave in to hope. He began to believe. He gave the doctors the benefit of the doubt and himself a fighting chance. And he put on the boxing gloves.

Every three days, he would give a blood sample to see how his body was coping. He would also receive blood – platelet transfusions when his own levels dropped. Also Sodium, Potassium and Glucose refills every now and then. He sparred with Chemotherapy – over 12 cycles in the beginning, and walked away without losing his hair. Chemo was followed up with Immunotherapy, where the anti-cancer medics were chased with an 8-hour IV drip of drugs to cut off power to the malignant cells. He also ate a big fistful of pills everyday, swallowing them down gamely with the stoic smile of one who knows that sometimes you have to get dirty to win. His back ached so much that he couldn’t sleep and his stomach hurt so bad that he couldn’t be awake without pain. But he never cried. If anything, he was amazed at the thing eating up his insides. As he lost weight, he was surprised at his trousers falling rather than being worried at what it meant.

Not that he wasn’t a smart man. He was a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Madras, and he had said yes to me as a son-in-law. But he was a simple man. One who didn’t read more into things than was required. Yes, he spoke about making a will, but never made one. And when the reports (for a long while) showed that the cancer was spreading, he believed the doctor’s stubborn litany that the results were wrong. We thought the doctor was nuts – certainly he was eccentric enough – but he was the only one who spoke of a cure while everyone else we went to for a second (third/fourth/fifth) opinion believed otherwise. Truth be told – that doctor was the only one who believed even when we, the family, did not.

And he was almost right.

My father-in-law was next put on Radiotherapy, 10-minute sessions five days a week. Boosted with a Chemo dose every alternate Saturday. And the results were wonderful. His appetite was better, he gained a kilo and even resumed making his own early-morning coffee. The physical signs were for once, backed by science. The scan made happy reading – the secondary growth (in the lungs/liver) was dissolving and the primary (in the pancreas) was necrotic – dying or dead and incapable of evil.

It was a wow moment. It was epiphany and poetry and drunken-glee. Six months of dreading were finally getting over. I remember my father-in-law telling me that he was "completely cured", his voice carrying the conviction of the doctor's prognosis. This was around the 13th of the month. My wife and 11-month old son had spent some two weeks in Chennai, and I was getting off a crazy work month, and so we took off to Coorg for a 3-day road trip. We got back to Bangalore on the night of the 16th – tired, sapped and also fatigued – when my mom-in-law called at 11 p.m. My father-in-law had fallen on the floor thrice and had vomited blood once. He was conscious but they were taking him to the hospital.

We booked tickets on the first flight out and packed afresh. The night had become a nightmare.

The hospital was like it always had been, but not quite. My father-in-law had tubes sticking in his nose, drips attached to the back of his hands and electrodes zigging out of his chest. He was in coma and on the ventilator. He never gained consciousness.

The root problem was internal bleeding, a result of a skyfall in platelet levels. Platelets (good for you if you don’t know) keep the blood coagulated, and a drop in count means that your blood thins so much that you bleed. Or to be more graphically honest, your blood bleeds. A fall in platelets was an expected side effect of radiation, but the severity of internal bleeding wasn’t. It also led to such low BP that it wouldn’t show up on the machine. Which in turn meant that blood wasn’t being supplied to the brain, the kidney or other important parts of the body.

There was just enough juice in the BP to keep the heart functioning (though it had failed once the night before, and defibrillators and injections had just about gotten the beat back). And thus passed Saturday. In status quo that was bleak blank limbo, a tableaux of uncertainty. Little did we know that dawn would bring clarity of the worst kind.

My father-in-law’s heart rate fell once more on Sunday morning, and CPR again brought him back to life. From 112 bpm to 30 bpm and now back to 80. We were called in to say our goodbyes. But how does one say goodbye? This is not like putting the phone down or seeing a friend off at the lift. This is final. But this cannot be final.

Or so we believed. Even when the duty doctor said that if we were short of cash, we could stop the medicines. We believed because the man on the ICU bed did. We believed because here was a heart that was still beating and wanting to beat death.

In 15 more minutes, it would all be over.

My wife’s maternal uncle called us back from a walk to the coffee station, saying that the heart rate had fallen again. As we ran back, my wife asked me to go in, as she was scared. As I walked up to the bed, the heart monitor was a straight line. A dull, numbing flat. The duty doctor told me it was all over, and took an ECG to confirm.

Everyone cried, though some of us hid our tears well. The ride back home in the ambulance – with my wife, her sister, me and the man who used to be my father-in-law – was the worst I’ve ever taken so far.

The cremation was on expected cultural lines but was also a revelation. My father-in-law did not have a funeral but a 21-gun send off. The house was filled with people and the street wasn’t enough. Neighbours, relatives, friends and those with whom he had a fleeting acquaintance – like the ironing woman – were there in full strength. Most stayed for over 5 hours. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

The turnout was remarkable because my father-in-law has always been a low-profile man. A regular, ordinary man. A man with no bigger faults than an inability to suffer incompetence and bad driving. A man with no obvious talents, save perhaps a most special one.

He was a good man.

To quote Harvey Dent, he was a decent man in an indecent time. He cared. He would go out of his way to help others. He was childlike (for instance, before the disease, he couldn’t stay up after 9 p.m. no matter what). And he was cool.

Truth is, he didn’t lose to cancer. We all did. Dear second-father-of-mine, I know you’re in a nice place. How can you not be when we all saw you off with so much love? And I know you’re chuckling away as you watch your grandson – the twinkle of your eye – amaze you and us with his new tricks. He may not know it yet – but he’ll miss you just as much as you do. As much as we all do.

Peace, love, empathy
Ram Cobain

Friday, February 15, 2013

God loves us all.

Slayer. Say it slowly, like a word you’re hearing for the first time, and not something you’ve known for 18 years (that’s probably how long I’ve been listening to them, and the band themselves have been around for 30 or more). Say it again. Even softly, if you want to. And unless I’ve been very wrong for a very long time, you’ll feel something. Even before their music, the name triggers a reaction. There is a sense of occasion, of standing before something bigger than you, something very powerful. There is the thrill of a beautiful foreboding, a happy dread that you’d want to linger o

The word I’m looking for is cult.

The staggering thing is that the music justifies the name. Slayer has been the defining metal band not only for millions of fans like me, but also for other defining metal bands. Bands faster and (daresay even heavier) than Slayer, learnt how to get fast and heavy from Slayer. In the world of the Big Four, they are the Biggest One.

For a while now, the Indian common man has been punched about by one bad news after another, but the Indian metal fan has never had it better. In the last few years, Iron Maiden have played thrice, Megadeth twice, Opeth twice, Orphaned Land twice and Metallica, Kreator, Satyricon, Children of Bodom, Machinehead and even Enslaved have taken stage. But through all this richness, the greedy, ingrate metal fan in me has kept asking, “But what about Slayer? When will they come? Will they ever come?”

Someone upstairs heard me. Heard us. And smiled. And then it was official: on October 20th, 2012, Slayer would play in Bengaluru.

The venue was again obscure – Bhartiya City, somewhere in Bharat. The hallowed wet mud of Palace Grounds now seems forever mired in mediocrity, relegated to hosting political rallies and curtain exhibitions. But truth is, all a metalhead needs is a stage, and we are grateful to the guys who lent us their land. Also for the chance to see parts of Bengaluru hitherto unexplored. Eternal gratitude to DNA networks too – hope you made a profit, you’ve earned it, my friends.

So the evening came. The sky was bleak, then black and soon enough there was a chill in the air. Perfect! The first roar went up with the trademark Eagle crest backdrop. If a doubting fan ever needed a reality pinch, this was it. Slayer would play tonight, the only question was what all and for how long.

My friends thought they’d start with ‘Angel of Death’, but something told me that they’d choose the title track from their latest album, ‘World Painted Blood’. And as the opening, funereal riff from that song began, I knew this would be a blessed evening.

And so it was. For close to two awesome hours, Tom Araya, Kerry King, Dave Lombardo and Gary Holt (Exodus; the ‘live replacement’ for the unwell Jeff Hanneman) delivered Slayer to the fans. I’d like to deviate from normal reviews and not go song by song here – the set list will be covered in this piece – but what I’d like to focus on is the overall Slayer experience. And what Slayer means to me (us).

I’d read a couple of interviews of Tom Araya where he’d said that the show would be “very Slayer”. And I cannot think of a better way to put it, or a more honest promise. In another Slayer interview, Kerry King (Or is it again Tom?) says: “One of us might have an off night, but the experience will still be very Slayer” (This is from their DVD extras). The gig was very Slayer and no one had an off night. Kerry King lived up to his surname and played bone-crunching slow doomy intros and blitzkrieg-like solos with equal nonchalance, while Dave Lombardo pounded the skins as if they weren’t flat enough for his liking. Tom Araya, whose vocal range after three decades of aggression does desert him sometimes – was the dark priest we’ve always heard. He even nailed the opening scream from ‘Angel of Death’ and had us bowing when he folded his hands and ever so gently said, “Namaste”. And Gary Holt? While Hanneman’s blond “I don’t give a fuck but here’s a great riff” presence cannot be imitated, Holt held his own and more. He played every Hanneman riff/solo like he’d written it himself, and for the time he was on stage, we believed him.

Slayer to me, is about two primal things. One is strength. I feel stronger listening to Slayer. There is no weakness anywhere – onstage or on ground, when Slayer plays. Here men walk tall with broader shoulders and wider chests. Most bands eat off your energy but Slayer feeds you power. The music enriches. It is addictive. It makes you feel immortal. No wonder those who cannot feel the magic but can only feel the terror, ask for Slayer to be banned. If I were to be in their unfortunate place, I would too.

The second, defining Slayer DNA to me, is chaos. It is not speed or heaviness or blasphemous lyrics. It’s the maelstrom the song unleashes on you. The solos, for instance, on rare occasions aren’t the fastest ever – but they’d be the most chaotic ones there possibly can be.

Strength and chaos were there in full attendance. Riff after riff, lead after lead, blast beat after blast beat; the band grabbed us by our throats and gave us the very Slayer experience.

They played longer than I’ve seen them play on their DVDs, and the classics were all there. There was hardly any talk, except for the legendary Araya wit like this introduction to ‘Mandatory Suicide’ – “This is a song about freedom. And freedom comes with a price.” And as if in respect to the evening, the sound was very good too. And when the last song, the Pompeii-piece called ‘Raining Blood’ came on, I didn’t want an encore. I was battered enough. And for me and the Slaytanic Wehrmacht around me, it was time to pick our necks off the ground.

To put things in respectful perspective, the 20-murderous-songs they played (in chronological order) were:

World Painted Blood
War Ensemble
Die by the Sword
Chemical Warfare
Hate Worldwide
Spirit in Black
Epidemic
Disciple
Mandatory Suicide
Altar of Sacrifice
Jesus Saves
Seasons in the Abyss
Hell Awaits
Postmortem
Snuff
Angel of Death
South of Heaven
Silent Scream
Dead Skin Mask
Raining Blood


At this point, I’d like to make a special mention. This one goes to my good friend Ferzad and his band, Brahma. They had the enviable and the unenviable task of opening for Slayer, and for me – and a few lucky friends of mine – they were a godsend. ThanksF to them, we got ‘All Area Access’ passes that allowed us to walk like Moses and part security at will. Thanks to them, a friend and I got to shake hands and say a few words with Kerry King, whom we caught backstage. I know I mumbled something that went “aggajdsdgdhjsjjsakhsddjdjdj” but hopefully it had that weak-kneed-honest-fan rave about it. My friend managed to get a snap of the two of us talking, and it’s the best blurriest picture in the universe. We also managed to see the entire show from in front of the barricade, which meant there was only Slayer before our eyes. And when the officials got a little feisty and looked to push us back, Tom actually asked for our line of fans to be allowed even more in front. But that’s not all. When ‘Raining Blood’ reached its chaotic conclusion and the band took their bow (and threw out drumsticks and plectrums), a Gary Holt pick with the words “Holt Awaits” landed in front of me.

Truly, god loves us all.

Peace, love, empathy
Ram Cobain
21st Oct 2012