February 02, 2017

The Greatest is gone

My grandfather made all three of us granddaughters read 'The Hindu' newspaper from top to bottom. We may not have followed his advice entirely, but we did end up finding interest in specific columns and sections of the newspaper. In a way, everything I read and write today could be traced back to my newspaper habit.

One of the columns that made me begging for more was the 'Comment' section in the Sports Edition. The man who authored it was Nirmal Shekar - a writer beyond compare whose stronghold on the English language left me speechless. The truth was, I only watched cricket and had a working knowledge of tennis, and yet found myself always drawn to his column in The Hindu's sports section. He would bring in a poetry into his prose and make sports feel like a visceral, enchanting, memorable dance. He elevated every game and player he wrote about into conduits that tapped on some universal energy and made magic unfold in front of us. And he, performed that very magic through his words and we were left entranced.

I corresponded with a few journalists I admired, thanks to the kindness they showed to the giddy teenager I was. I had been reading him for a few years when, in this very blog, I had gushed about his writing amongst many others in The Hindu. He had encountered that post, browsed through some more of my writing and left this comment on my blog. 


Thrilled to bits (as I often used to get back in the day) I wrote back to him. He replied, patiently, to each and every question that I asked him. I had written, "I find it philosophically, intellectually and spiritually satisfying to read your writing." and he responded "My passion has always been to scratch the surface, dig deep and see sport (and people who play sport) for what it is. Sometimes I myself find my relentless pursuit of truth in all areas scary. It is better to keep dreaming like Sandhya!" "There is enough on the net though in my name to last several life times" he said, when I had asked him if he had a blog where I could read more of his words.

He was extremely down to earth, accessible and ever ready with a word of encouragement for a young aspiring writer like me. During that time, I was freelancing with The Viewspaper and took the opportunity to interview him. I still vividly remember his office - he was heading Sportstar then - and sitting in front of him, wide eyed and grasping on to every word he uttered. This was the greatest playing ground, the star was at his game and I was the enraptured audience. The conversation has always remained special to me and I revisit it every now and then to thrill over the fact that I actually pulled it off - meeting one of my favourite writers and interviewing him.

Moving to another city for my post graduation, I had somehow lost touch with him. My reading habit took a back seat, with films - watching, reading, making or writing about them - occupying the majority of my time. But once in a while, I'd google and catch up with his words, more often than not revisiting the ones I had cherished and cut out for safekeeping. They are still there in a bag at home - a precious memory of days I regaled his writing and of the first steps I took in building my love for words.

On 29th Jan 2017, as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal matched wits on the court and my sports crazy husband was sitting at the edge of his seat, rooting for Federer, we spoke about Nirmal Shekar. I asked if I had made him read that piece of writing on Sampras that I keep going back to and he answered in the affirmative; I had read it out to him sometime during our initial days of courting. This is an excerpt:

Pete Sampras ascends the Everest of tennis By Nirmal Shekar LONDON, JULY 10. At three minutes to nine on Sunday evening, as night was licking its lips in anticipation before eating up what was left of the day for a sumptuous supper, in silver-grey rather than golden twilight, one of the truly extraordinary sportsmen of this or any era raised his arms skyward in a familiar gesture on the centre court at Wimbledon. Mark that moment - 8.57 p.m. to be exact, three minutes before 1.30 a.m. on Monday morning in India - for you'd find few like it in the entire history of organised sport. And, those of us privileged enough to have been a part of it on tennis' greatest stage, will perhaps find nothing to match it in the rest of our lives. It was a historic moment when all arguments ceased, a moment that answered one big question and many small questions, a moment that put an end to all comparisons. Step forward Mr. Pete Sampras, wet eyes notwithstanding...the greatest of 'em all! Argue if it pleases you, but the moment Pat Rafter failed to direct a Sampras serve back into the court in the men's singles final of the millennium championship in gathering gloom, arguments and comparisons became meaningless.

I then made a mental check to google what he had written about the Australian Open. Unfortunately, that article never came by. Four days later, my friend messages me saying Nirmal Shekar is no more.

Nirmal Shekar should have written a book, I thought with a pang after frantically googling to see if this horrible news was true. I was angry that he had died, that he had never written a book and that he had remained the undisputed king of sports writing to me.

When Muhammad Ali passed away, Nirmal Shekar had written,

"With all the revolutionary advances in medicine, they tell us that death may become optional in a few decades.
But that belief seems like a desperate attempt to turn daydreaming (to stop thinking about the terrifying certainty of eternal demise) into a form of science — gerontology.
But a few lesser mortals like some of us — who harbour no illusions and know that death is the end of everything for the individual — who have no access to multi-million dollar laboratories, and even less access to the latest findings that are being tested out do believe that we are all in queue, that one day we might have to vacate the tiny space that we occupy in a planet that the late, debonair scientist Carl Sagan called “The Pale Blue Dot.”
Then again, life would be much less invigorating, much less interesting, much less worth living if we were to rid ourselves of the notion that there are a few exceptions to the rule."

And just like Ali would always be immortal, your words will live on Nirmal, for you were the exception to the rule yourself, making us look at sports writing like no one else could. Wherever you are, we know you must be digging deeper to uncover the truth. I just wish, that somehow we could still continue to read about all the things you find in those realms. To think there will no more be your 'Comment' on things is deflating.

I hope somebody compiles and publishes his writing so that generations in the future will understand what made us all open the newspaper last page first.

Thank you, Nirmal, for your restless pursuit and inspiration! You will be missed.

(The title is a copy of his ode to Muhammad Ali. To me, Nirmal Shekar was the greatest in his field, and this little imitation is my way of paying my respects to the man and his irreplaceable incomparable writing)

May 05, 2016

Truly Transporting Prose: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A Book Review


Book Review of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Purple hibiscus was a window into the life and politics in Nigeria through the eyes of Kambili, the narrator. I haven't encountered an author in recent times who could captivate me in a way that I forgot my surroundings, and instead smelt the fufu cooking in Sisi's kitchen or the wet sand of Nsukku's rain. Adichie's prose is simple yet transporting, so intimate that you get into the garb of the characters and throb with their pain and joys.

The characters are so intricately etched that you are invested in the story throughout, egging them on mentally as you turn every page. The book makes you hungry to try out the African cuisine. I searched the internet to source a place where I can buy their colourful wrappers. And while I am at it, maybe I will try some cornrows in my hair as well! Adichie is that good in convincing us about the beauty, tradition and richness of the land.

Kambili's thoughts - from fearful to independent - are so gently evolving that we, as readers also grow with her and the story. The political instability of an entire nation is wonderfully portrayed in the microcosm of Kambili's life.

The best characterisation is probably that of Eugene; you definitely have not seen such a layered believable and scary human being anywhere in the books. The dichotomy in which religion exists in today's world - destructive and constructive - is displayed in the contrasting natures of Eugene and Father Amadi.

I cannot stop thinking about the book although it is over a week since I finished reading it. This is a simple tale so well told that it keeps tugging at your insides asking questions on life, religion, growing up and truth.

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April 21, 2016

The True Art Of Filmmaking- In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch: A Book Review

In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Walter Murch is a kindred spirit. He effortlessly blends philosophy and films, magic and editing and brings forth a book that arouses the thinker in you.

His words make you curious enough to trace paths across movies you have loved and wonder at how much was planned and how much emerged out of inexplicable coincidences. He redefines everything you thought about films; every blink matters and a film is as immersive as the dedication and submission of its crew to its making.

The insights are not just in films but spills over to such lengths and breadths of life and choices that I was blown over by this man's intelligence.

Every filmmaker and writer needs to read this - this is a Bible on craft!

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April 11, 2016

The Absorbing Non-Fiction Novel -In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: A Book Review

In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant and evocative with detailed psychological descriptions, In Cold Blood by Capote is one of the best I have read on crime. So used to the 'detective' mileu I devoured as a child, this sensitive, engrossing and striking account of a cold-blooded murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb made a refreshing literary change.

'In Cold Blood' is intense and viscous. What is most astounding about this book is its narrative structuring, flow and the neutrality of tone in profiling murderers; all of it adding up to chill you to the bone!



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An endearing biography of a dog - The Call of the Wild by Jack London: A Book Review

The Call of the WildThe Call of the Wild by Jack London
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is always a good idea to drift off your comfort zone and attempt a new genre. When I picked up Jack London's 'The Call of The Wild' it was as much a dare to myself as it was the comfort that it was a thin volume even if it didn't work on me.

I was pleasantly surprised as I got pulled more and more into the life of the half St. Bernard, half Scotch Shepherd, Buck. His growth in character and sheer physical strength through his diverse adventures riveted me.

Be it the bleak icy trails or the forest teeming with lives, they were descriptive enough to make one feel like they are witnesses to the landscapes. One is in Buck's mind throughout - one could hear the calls of his ancestral wolf packs as much as he did - such was the magic of London's vivid prose.

The book held me in its clutches in a manner not unlike Buck holding Thornton's hand between his teeth in wild loyal love.

The Call of The Wild is a brilliant book about the life of a dog that also raises pertinent questions on how we treat the non-human life around us. A must read!

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A textured masterpiece! Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez: A Book Review

Love in the Time of CholeraLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a texture to this book. During the younger days of Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, it is smooth- like notes of a song, the soft touch of silk and pears. Their middle ages are like the almonds that are referenced in the book - hard shelled and grainy. And old age is amoebic, shifting textures every day, unpredictable, even wild.

The book absorbed me with its details, made me smell, taste, feel the lives the protagonist lived. Although in parts, I felt the love of Ariza's a little impossible to comprehend and laborious, I simply could not stop reading. you are so drawn into their lives, witnessing the old world ways of courtship, love and waiting that it is a shock when you put it down and realize you live in a different one.

The book is lush; meant only for those who want to get lost in the pages and the labours of love.
It is a beautiful book, but quite a long read!

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Why in the world was this book panned? The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: A Book Review

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am still wondering what stopped this book from becoming the bestseller it deserved to be. Indeed 'a big novel about a small town', The Casual Vacancy showcases Rowling's prowess as a plotter. She creates a detailed world out of Pagford, with characters whose motives and pasts are as exciting as her engaging style of writing about them.

The character off Krystal Weedon is probably one of Rowling's best till date. To have fleshed out the confused teenager coming from a disturbed background, with responsibilities too major to bear stuck in a prim little town atmosphere where she cannot even aspire to straighten out and belong was sheer genius. The dialogues throughout the book were just so real. The book truly played out like a film in my head.

I couldn't part from the book for a second and I relished every page of it. Rowling really needs to write more such prose.

I have no idea why anyone panned this book!

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February 10, 2016

Scribbles - 4 An Ode to architecture

Glistening balustrades
Of gorgeous green
Slabs of concrete
Exposed and seen
Tread and rise, take me
from here to there.
Lead me to my destination
Oh! Flight of stairs.

Scribbles - 3

Carving away new forms
from the rocks of people we have become
ageing in spirit,
tempered in heat,
crystallized by the icy lack of love,
scrubbing, buffing
to a squeaky clean self.
Building over the remnants
of eternal clay chopped away.

To You

When distinctions were unclear
And my heart was a rocky boat
I waded across beaches looking for you
Not knowing that your love
Was not a tangible form
It thrashes as the mighty waves
I needed to drown
For you were the sea
That I dreamt about
in a far-off time
© Dryad's Peak
Maira Gall