Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An open letter to SRT

This, sir, is admittedly not a good time for you.

It’s clear to all of us. It’s evident by the way you take guard. No longer are you very worried about the sightscreen. That flat backdrop that no other batsman noticed but seemed to bother only you. Perhaps because the bowler on the other end didn’t. Perhaps because it was the same colour as surrender. And then there are other signs. No more do you so keenly adjust the front of your pants, that ungainly yet absolutely masculine of gestures – a man among the breathing bodies, a hero by right, a Spartan intent on victory and uninterested in looking pretty. Your eyes have changed too. The twinkle has given way to something a little more serious, a little more wary and dare I say, even bewildered. The other day, you even raised your bat as if you wanted to hit the ground after getting bowled. To those who’ve seen you so much, it was less anger or frustration. You were perplexed. Beaten perhaps, in a new strange way.

If this isn’t a good time for you, it’s very bad for us. We who remember what it was like, not so long ago. We who have missed flights but not fights for you. We who have turned living rooms into stadiums and stadiums into bull rings. We who have seen you wield the willow like it were Thor’s hammer and the Reaper’s scythe fused in one. We who were the chant, the clap and the scream to your straight drive, backfoot-punch-through-the-covers and the uppercut. We who felt like all was right with the world by just watching you walk out to bat. And now, we’re just as flustered.

Yes you’re 39 now, and so it’s natural for that dirty R word to chase you like a dogged left-arm spinner. Some weeks ago, an impolite, smug and self-righteous journalist cornered you into talking about it. His smile said that he was proud to have persisted with a line of questioning that decent news-people would have abandoned much earlier. It was uglier than asking a man his salary or a women for her birth certificate. It was even more deplorable because of the way he asked it – like he’d paid for your pads when you were 12 and so you owed him an answer. He then clung on with a Rottweiler’s tenacity and got you to say, “I’ll be taking things series by series”. And now the England series is on, and while you’ve gotten out to some of the better balls, the scorecard does make for unhappy reading. So I’d like to say a couple of things here. Call this ‘Frankly Speaking’, Version 2.0. There are lots and lots and lots of us who still believe in you and always will. There are lots and lots and lots of us who are waiting for you to come good – and know that you will. If fandom isn’t new for you, neither is criticism. And over the course of a long career, nor are lean patches. So hang in there. Or take a break to iron out a few things if you have to. But don’t jump to retirement yet. I’d also like to remind you of what you’d said earlier, on this same terrible topic. That the final call would be yours alone. I know you didn’t mean the selection committee but mass opinion. Please do not get so tired of the situation that you end up listening to those who know no better.

I don’t have an issue with objective appraisal but there seems to be a gleeful call for your head, a kind of public gloating that I can’t understand or accept. It’s not like everyone else in the team is playing exceptional cricket. But then, you’re used to being singled out. Even at the height of your powers, there were some for whom you weren’t good enough. So it’s very easy for them to ask for your head when your cloak of brilliance is wearing thin. Truth is, superhuman talent is intimidating because it looks super human. Your fallibility tells them that you’re flesh and blood after all. It tells them mistakenly, that you’re just like them. So I have this to say to you, and them. Your time in the sun may be running out, sir, but theirs never came.

Pause also, in this dark hour, to allow yourself a smile. Remember what you’ve really accomplished. You sir, have done more than change the way the game is played or inspire a future line of warriors. You’ve also managed a much tougher thing than scoring a hundred hundreds. That is a staggering statistic, but one that limits you to 22 yards. To roughly quote Rohit Brijnath who said this of Federer: “Others can win but not like this.” Many can dispatch a ball through the covers but none can do this. You have made children finish their homework early, adults forget their cares and the ailing feel happy to be alive. (Though it must also be said that you’ve made the perfectly healthy call in sick at work). You’ve made waifs walk like their bellies were full, you’ve given struts to weak men and made India unite in a non-violent way reminiscent only of Gandhi. Here, sir, is the true measure of your contribution. This sir, is your real Impact Index.

I’d also like to remind you of another fact. While cricket may be the only life you’ve known, it still isn’t life. It’s sport. A game. Something simple and (yes) silly at the heart of it. So in whatever time you think you have left – please shut everything else out and go enjoy. Be happy as a 16 year old. Don’t defend, but offend. Have a ball. Have many. Play like no one’s watching. And get that twinkle back.

And when – and may that day never come – if you do decide to put that bat away, please know that many, many, many of us retire with you. Yes, we’ll cheer an India victory, follow the odd game and even gasp when Kohli tries a Tendulkar. But it will be with the detached eye of the sports follower, the Indian who wishes the best for his nation. It’ll be mostly through online scorecards and corridor banter; no longer will TV seats be grabbed like prized lottery tickets and no longer will life move in slow motion.

This is not to say there will not be other champions. This is only to say that a generation that grew up and grew old with you will have nothing left to give to those who try and follow your small giant footsteps. Our time too, will be up.
Saachin Sachin!
Ram Cobain

If you notice the prefix “sir”, this is deliberate. Many summers ago, my brother and co-believer Gaurav Dudeja and I decided to anoint you Sir Sachin Tendulkar. This we felt did not require the Queen’s permission. It was ours to give freely but we were stingy about whom we chose to give it to. We’ve given it to no one else.

(Picture Source: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Monday, October 8, 2012

When writing doesn’t come easy.

Today's that day.

Today is the last day of my first job.

I came to JWT Delhi on April Fools Day, 2001 – flashing a trainee’s foolish grin, intimidated by advertising and the sheer size of the agency.

I came for one month and have stayed on for close to 11 years.

Eleven fucking years. I can’t help but use the F word when I write this. It has been that fucking long.

It has also been that fucking sweet.

As I leave, let me tell you something about this company, something that’s true but not told often enough. It’s the ocean of opportunity and of learning. JWT gives you the freedom to fly and stretch yourself. It is so huge that you can try briefs many sizes too big for you. As a trainee I got to work on films and campaigns, and the chance to pit my brains against those daily earning more than my monthly stipend.

And don’t mistake its size for the lack of soul. JWT takes care of its people. I had a nasty bike accident – broke my skull clean – and was at AIIMS because my best friend’s father was a doctor there and I would get the best care. JWT thought I might be there because we couldn’t afford any better and wanted me to move into a swanky hospital. This when I was a junior writer and entitled to 7000 rupees of medical help. I didn’t shift, but 9 years later, I still remember that gesture.

It forgives. I’ve put in a few debatable food/conveyance bills in my junior days, including one Pakistani food bill where I doubly profited because of the exchange rate. I’ve been found out, hauled up but not fired. (This is not to set a precedent and maybe I’m lying).

It is a fun place to come to work to. I’ve never once dragged my feet to office in 11 years. Truth is, ideas come to happy people and this place allows you to be yourself. True, there may be those who disagree with your need to play heavy metal loudly or wear Slayer tee shirts or shorts or slippers or drink beer in the afternoon, but mostly you can still do the good things.

It’s also the place that can make you richer on the personal front. It made me meet my soul brother, Gaurav Dudeja and my real-life superhero, Sachin Tendulkar. One most of you may not know, the other knows me by my first name. And for both, I really cannot thank JWT enough.

(At this point, even I wonder why I’m leaving).

Wipe of tissue. Tug at testicle. Back to note then.

I owe a lot to many people here. Some who’ve made me, and some who’ve made me stronger by being jerks (of course, you know who you are).

Juhi, my first-and-always-boss, who showed me how to wield a pen and who saw my arrogance for cuteness and made me the big shot I always was. I had the greatest fortune of starting my advertising journey under her. How you start often decides how far you’ll go. She’s can lead, inspire and dazzle. She taught me my craft, and equally importantly, she instilled in me the values that make you a better person at your job – not being insecure, backing a junior, giving him credit and the best of chances. All this, by just being herself. My palm is always at your feet, sir – just as I hope your hand stays on my head.

Sandy, my art-partner-turned-brother for over 10 years. He made me lose my dreadlocks and I made him put on a few pounds, but he’s the best man to be teamed up with. His art is excellent, his integrity better and he has often improved my writing. He shares my careless contempt for incompetence. We’ve pissed off most of our seniors because we couldn’t give respect if it wasn’t earned. It thrilled us because it put pressure on us to deliver – we knew our work alone would save us. It’s been that way for all these years, thank you, bro.

Aggi – deliberately unassuming, deliberately angelic and deliberately brilliant. Thank you for bringing us to Bombay and the national role you created just for us. Receding hairline apart, I hope to be more like you someday.

Preethi, the softest toughie I’ve known. Thank you for the perspective, the sheltering and the agenda-less support. You’re one of the finest servicing people I’ve worked with. I’m also a huge fan of your energy, your honesty and your sailor’s tongue. Please change nothing.

Tista and Senthil, for the free rein they gave us on our brands. Thank you also for the confidence you showed in me.

Tarun, for the PIPs he’ll still pay me.

My team – Mayuresh, Van, Kuber, Sagar, Nishant, Abey, Karan, Deepak and Jay. Also Eshani. I couldn’t have asked for a more passionate, driven and loyal bunch. I have relied on you more than you know. Last words of advice: fuck the shit and believe in yourself. You’re all very good. Also because I say so.

My extended Unilever team: Pete, Divya, Tanvi, Siddharth, Mahek, Nikita, Vikram, Sonal and Roneeta. You’ve owned the brand as much as I have, and it has been a pleasure working with you.

The 3 Ss on Amit Enterprises: Samarth, Sameer and Shvetank, and the Colonel Sachin Anand and his troops on Ahuja/Smirnoff. We’ve done some of the better work in this agency, and I really owe you a lot for that. I know we’re not the easiest team to work with, thanks for putting up with us and me.

My friends in the films department: Vishant, Kaushal, Anu, Asmit and Ahvil. Filmmaking was so much more fun because of you. Also my friends across departments and those I haven’t worked with too. I will miss you.

There are also many other truly good people I would like to mention here: Rajul, Chandrakant, Kiran, Gorettie, Ashwini, Zelia, Rose, Cyril, Sachin, Rakesh and gang. You’re often unsung but it’s your commitment that makes it easier for us to work. I’ve only ever got solutions from you. Much love and all the best.

Mahendra and his team in Dispatch, the security guards and the canteen boys. I have felt your love, and I thank you for it.

(Sorry for rambling on. Guess part of me wants to keep writing so that I stay far away from saying bye.)

JWT has been much more than an organization for me. It has been both teaching school and a playground, mentor and a friend, canvas and art itself. I have no doubt that the company has made me what I am, and in turn, I hope I have been able to do it proud. Occasionally, at least.

I have decided to give the big bad world a shot and see if I can make it there. I won’t say goodbye because life is too fucking short and I have had too good a time here, to not want to return.

I’m sorry that I’ve said “fucking” too many times. But it’s just that “awesome” doesnt communicate the same thing as “fucking awesome”. Plus JWT has been home and I’ve always seen you guys as family.

So blame it on my upbringing.

Peace, love, empathy and a big fucking thank you for everything!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Violent Revolution

Like all revolutions, it began fearlessly and then hit a brick wall.

Make that a concrete wall. An iron wall. An ironic heavy metal wall, if you will.

First, the great Indian government denied Iced Earth – one of the co-headlining acts – their visas. For unclear and clearly vague reasons. And then the hallowed Palace Grounds, no stranger to heavy metal, inexplicably retracted/did not give permission. And if that wasn’t bad enough, many sponsors pulled out at the last minute.

Those were the odds. Now stack them up against the intent. Bangalore Open Air was India’s first attempt at being a daylong metal fest. Something that borrowed from Wacken and would also pay back in full, by sending there one of India’s best, judged Wacken-class after a grueling slugfest with other local zonal acts. BOA was to be 12 hours of metal massacre, with 4 zonal finalists competing for a spot at Wacken, followed by 6 of the bigger Indian bands, and to be sweet-spotted by 2 international acts.

It was designed to be a day only for those who had seen enough Sam Dunn documentaries to want to script that own.

Like I said, the revolution hit a wall. And then like all good revolutions, it didn’t lose steam or die out. It simply turned violent. Suidakra, one of Germany’s melodic death metal bands with Celtic influences, stepped in for Iced Earth. Acharya Institute of Technology, a less-known college in a lesser-known area lent their grounds, and as far as the sponsors that pulled out went – BOA just went along without them.

Quite often, the quality of a pilgrimage is determined by the effort the pilgrim has to put in. And this was no exception. The change of venue and the sheer purity of purpose meant that those who flirt with metal stayed home. Kreator being the main act, didn’t help their cause. Now to BOA. The college was far away. On Hesaraghatta main road, off the face of Bangalore. So far away that a cold beer would be warm by the time you raised it to your lips. But once you reached, you knew you were among your own. The ground was big and the stage – a tribute to one of the biggest metal legends ever, Ronnie James Dio – was big enough. If the revolution needed a sign, this was it.

I missed the Wacken winners, Zygnema, as it took me a while to locate the media desk and get my entry-band. It’s entirely my loss, as they must have been good enough to beat Crypted, who I thought were simply magnificent. The other zonal band – Damage Era from Gangtok – was tight but today wasn’t their day. One zonal band couldn’t make it; and so three bands ultimately competed for a spot at Wacken. After the zonal bands, the first of the “non-Wacken-competing” Indian acts took stage.  

Theorized, a melodic thrash band from Bangalore, was a last minute addition to the list. They started the first mosh pit of the day and played some of their newer stuff like ‘Genetic Variants’ and ‘Venomous Tormentia’. You could see that the intensity was up and so was the sound. For while the levels were going from loud to low to muddy when the zonal bands were playing, this clearly was the gig at the next level.

Albatross from Mumbai played next. They are doomy, gloomy and this was the first time I saw them play. Actually, the first time I heard their music or even heard of them. But they were quite good. They also played tribute to the Dio stage by doing a very competent rendition of ‘Holy Diver’. Their original, ‘The Dining Table’, whet the appetite though the intro section reminded you of Megadeth’s ‘Sweating Bullets’. 

Bevar Sea took stage after Albatross, and you could see that the crowd loved them. The riffs were slow and ominous and brooding, a cross between Black Sabbath and Mastodon and something more funereal. They also looked like one of the more professional acts – the band art was stunning and added to the ambience. ‘Abishtu’ was the pick of the list, the crowd chanting the chorus like they’d written it. And when Jack ended with “We’re Bevar Sea…” the crowd knew what to say: “…and so are you!”. Overall, it was a tight performance with a fair bit of showmanship thrown in.

But I was craving for something heavier, something that would grab me by my throat and grudge me my breath. 1833 AD, a bleak black metal band from sadda Dilli, was the answer. Now, I’ve heard of these guys but never heard them play, and I realized what I’ve been missing. The vocalist, Nishant, could be from Norway and the fury and beauty of their compositions was unbelievable. They had to pause when the guitarist’s string broke and bled him, and that’s when the crowd demanded a drum solo and Raghav gamely obliged. It was a moment that I saw with the clarity of oncoming headlights – here I was among my own, here metal heads could ask and they would be heard. Here, the revolution was in safe hands. And when I heard the much demanded ‘Who will kill the Emperor?’ I knew Ihsahn had something to think about. 1833 AD, truly, you are something from another age.

Epiphany hit me like a beautiful woman whispering sweet nothings. This show was getting better with each band and we hadn’t gotten to the main act yet. Only, the seductive siren turned out to be a four-member, all male act that growled, vomited and carried the burden of doom. Dying-fucking-Embrace. Take-a-fucking-bow-already. They began with ‘Blood Rites’ from the Misanthrope EP, and took everyone back some twenty years. As a band, their importance to the scene cannot be overstated. They were tough on the ear when Indian metal was finding its feet and they’re still tough on the ear when newer acts are walking tall. They demand respect, earn it easily and hold their own. ‘As Eternity Fades’ saw Jimmy Palkhivala rouse himself from the afternoon siesta and attack the strings, and the soloing was as much a lesson as it was a treat. ‘Grotesque Entity’, ‘Degeneration’, ‘Dagda – His Time Has Come’, ‘The Passing Away’ and ‘Spawn of the Depths’ (with its Slayer-like opening riff), were gems rarely brought out and lovingly spewed by Vikram Bhat, whose throat is as diseased as it is palliative.

Eccentric Pendulum played next, and while they were tight, their progressive metal act found it tough to make inroads after Dying Embrace. ‘My Eucalyptine Death’ was well received, but to tell you the truth, the long day was beginning to take its toll, and the crowd looked like they wanted to save some energy for Kreator.

The same happened with Kryptos, one of Bangalore’s own. They were the last of the bigger Indian bands to take stage, and I dare say they would have been even better received if they played earlier. ‘Mask of Anubis’, ‘Heretic Supreme’ and ‘Descension’ were some of the songs they nailed. Nolan (vocals/guitar) connected well with the fans and as they walked off, chants of “Krytos…Kryptos!” stayed on.

Indian metal had raised its fist and punched its way through. I remember feeling thankful for being there, for feeling that even without seeing Suidakra and Kreator, this day was a landmark one in our metal history.

And then it was time for the German-Celtic metallers. Never mind the fact that Suidakra had just recently played in Bangalore some four months ago, when they opened for Opeth. In fact, sometimes, familiarity breeds appreciation. When Suidakra took stage and the banshee bagpipes filled the air, the very heavens opened in applause. What began as a drizzle soon became a downpour. Imagine brooding skies, rain and the haunting melody of the pipes. The vocalist Arkadius Antonik in fact, stepped off stage and got drenched with all of us, who loved him more for it. Few songs later, the drummer joined him as the duo crowd surfed, much to the alarm of the Security guys. The bagpipes were complemented with a Mandolin piece, and when Suidakra played their last number, the devastatingly-beautiful instrumental ‘Wartunes’, it was obvious that they had made new fans. Suidakra announced the Wacken winners and said they’d be playing the week after with Zygnema and Kryptos. For free, at Palace Grounds.

And as they left to loud cheering, the crowd grew silent. The day had been long and lovely, but the night promised more. The Kreator crew fiddled with lights and sound check, the backdrop came up and stood and teased, and you could have cut the anticipation with a blunt knife. German thrash gods, Kreator took stage more than half an hour after their scheduled time. And the first song they played? Prophetically enough, it was ‘Violent Revolution’. And as Millie Petrozza screamed “Society has failed to tolerate me, and I have failed to tolerate society…”, we knew all was very right with the world. Here was a band we’d all idolized growing up, here was a man who was still our hero. Kreator played mostly their fast old stuff, and they played it fast and like they were young. Violent Revolution led to the title track from ‘Hordes of Chaos’, and the just released ‘Phantom Antichrist’ and then ‘Phobia’, ‘Extreme Aggression’, ‘People of the Lie’, ‘Voices of the Dead’, ‘Terrorzone’, ‘Enemy of God’, ‘Pleasure to Kill’, ‘Terrible Certainty’, ‘Endless Pain’ and the new-and-deceptively-softer ‘From Flood into Fire’ followed like a scream. Each song was perfectly set to Ventor’s belligerent bludgeoning; his drum kit glowered down from front-center of the dais. (As if one could have ignored him, even if he were to occupy the traditional back-of-stage spot). Sami Yli Sirnio, their other lead guitarist, played some blazing solos while maintaining an indulgent smile on his face, his calmness in complete contrast with the rage bursting from his six-stringer. Petrozza brought forth a huge Kreator flag and we knew itewas time to raise the ‘Flag of Hate’. Millie repeatedly commanded mosh pits to the left and right of stage and it was evident (and he said as much) that playing in India was as much a dream for them as it was for us. I might have missed a few songs or messed with the sequencing, but frankly, my head had other things to worry about. Like how to stay on while my neck tried to fling it off. For a band that had just celebrated its 25th anniversary, the years had left the fingers and the voice remarkably untouched. The riffs, the rage and the rasp – it was all were there. As was our respect. The last song was probably ‘Tormenter’, but I can’t be sure.

Kreator came as a whirlwind and left in the same way, without so much as an encore. But hopefully they loved what they saw, just as much as we did. Bangalore Open Air had not only survived, it had grown stronger as the curtain fell.

What does it mean for the scene? Good things, great things. A concert may end once the stage has been dismantled, but the statement lives on. Metal in India is alive and kicking. The bands know it. The fans know it. And hopefully now, the bureaucracy does too.

The violent revolution is here to stay.

P.S. This post was originally written for Metalindia