Mani Ratnam – Ilaiyaraja On-screen Magic

Rajnikanth

Ilaiyaraja-Mani Ratnam was a dream combination in the late 1980s that produced so many hit films namely Mouna Ragam, Agni Natchthiram, Nayagan and Thalapathy. Ilaiyaraja is undisputedly one of the best in the world when it comes to background scores.

Mani Rathnam, recalling his experience of working with Raja, says, “Ilayaraja would look at the scene once, and immediately start giving notes to his assistants, as a bunch of musicians, hovering around him, would collect the notes for their instrument and go to their places. When the orchestra played out the notes, they would be perfect, not just in harmony but also in timing – the background score would commence exactly where it should and end at the exact place required.”

Here are some of the scenes from Manirathnam movies that are popular for the background score:

Rajini and Srividhya inside a Temple, Thalapathy (1991):

Without any dialogues exchanged, Manirathnam, Ilayaraja, Rajnikanth and Santhosh Sivan have pulled off a brilliant scene. Rajini’s character is likened to Karna in Mahabharatha, where the mother, Srividya, abandons her first child (Rajni) on a train immediately after his birth.

In this scene, Rajini and Srividya are inside a temple, flanking either sides of a pillar, both oblivious of the umbilical cord that once bound them. As they hear the train horn, both Rajni and Srividya turn towards it with a longing etched in their faces with Jai Shankar haplessly watching this juxtapositioning. Raja waits for the longing to reach a tipping before the Chinna Thayaval flute begins and leaves a lump in our throats.

Kamal visits his daughter’s house, Nayagan (1987):

His friend’s arrest leaves Kamal Haasan miffed. He invades the ‘Police commissioner’’s (Nasser) house to warn him about this. It turns out that his daughter, Karthika, who left home unable to put up with her unruly father, is married to Nasser. Raja has waited until Kamal fully absorbs the shock of seeing his daughter wedded to the Police commissioner before starting with the Nadaswaram-bit. Listen the background score as Kamal Haasan’s face veers from excitement to bafflement to embarrassment to disappointment as Karthika asks him to leave the place before her son comes to know about his evil grandfather.

Karthik returns Revathi’s chain, Mouna Ragam (1986):

Mouna Ragam Karthik was the heartthrob of so many teenage girls in the 1980s. The movie was famous for the chemistry Karthik and Revathi shared on-screen, the screen-play and Ilayaraja’s music. In this scene, Karthik visits Revathi’s college to return her chain which she had used to take him out in bail. The background score begins with cute piano-bit and after a pause, it continues and captures the mood brilliantly as Karthik tells Revathi that he likes her and Revathi is left bewildered.

Kamal visits a red-light area, Nayagan (1987):

Kamal Haasan visits a red-light area in Bombay. He decides to leave the place as he finds out that the prostitute is a school-girl. Saranya, who plays the prostitute’s role, requests not to for she had to prepare for her exams the next day. Listen to the strings in the background that captures the mood of the scene after Kamal lets her study the entire night. Yet another Manirathnam-Ilayaraja scene with minimum dialogues and the latter shows why he’s the king of background score.

Rajini and Shobana break-up, Thalapathy (1991):

Shobana, who hails from a conventional background falls in love with Rajnikanth, but decides to part-ways with him and marry the District Collector in order to keep her parents happy. As she leaves an angry Rajni, who warns her to leave the place and yet wishes her good luck, soothing strings, predominantly based on Kalyani and an excerpt from Sundari kannal oru seidhi, accompanies the emotion beginning with “naan unnai neenga mattaen” as if to remind us of the white lies and the empty promises they once exchanged as lovers. Interestingly the flute-bit takes over in ‘kannal oru seidhi’ after the strings culminate in Sundari. A sad solo-violin is played in the background when they meet again after Shobana’s marriage toying with our goosebumps.

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Sledging in cricket: acceptable or not acceptable?

Australia v England - First Test: Day 4“Get ready for a broken f*****g arm,” Michael Clarke was caught telling James Anderson on the stump microphone on day four of the first Ashes Test as the Aussie pacers sent in a barrage of short-pitched deliveries to England’s tailenders. Clarke was docked 20 percent of his match-fee for threatening physical harm. Alastair Cook accused David Warner of crossing the line in questioning Jonathan Trott’s stomach to fight. It all reached a tipping point when Darren Lehmann turned down Andy Flower’s invite for having talks so that they can draw the line for acceptable sledging. In fact, it has brought back the perennial debate about whether sledging itself is acceptable.

Other sports offer opponents very little time for taunts. The exchanges are mostly confined outside the playing field. Eight hours of cricket, marked by discrete passages of play, makes the game a stern test of concentration as much as endurance and skill. This is where sledging comes into picture as it is an attempt to flicker the concentration of the opponent.

It is often argued that this is a feeble way of picking up a wicket and therefore isn’t a true examination of the bowler’s skill. Sledging is also impossible to legislate against which is why there’s an overdose about it contravening the spirit of the game. It is rather amusing to analyse where the laws that govern the game end and where the spirit begins.

Rifling through the history of the sport, one cannot help but wonder how spirit of cricket itself is a vague concept conveniently used to suit specific narratives. A bowler running the batsman out, when he is trying to take advantage by backing up too much, is considered to be against the spirit even though it is within the rules. However, the bowler remonstrating with the umpire when an appeal is turned down and not going for the review is not looked down with so much contempt. During the recently concluded one-day series against Australia, Shikhar Dhawan did a limping impersonation of Shane Watson. It was petty but escaped punishment.

Interestingly, West Indies, during their golden era, were also known to play “hard” and disintegrate the opponents mentally but rarely uttered a word. Lyod is always proud that his men played the game within the spirit and believes any type of sledging is not acceptable. “You can bowl as many short-pitched deliveries as you want, as long as the bowler is not seeking to cause bodily harm,” he once said.

Steve Waugh’s men were the direct opposite as they were frequently summoned by the match-referee for behavioural transgressions. Their game was an irrepressible mix of desire and discipline, their behaviour often confrontational.

Cricket is a melting pot of a variety of personalities. It is largely a team game but it is also the individual battles and clash of egos that add colour to it. The game is not only played with bat and ball but also with the head. The bowler glares at a batsman after bowling a bouncer, exchanges words after beating the bat like Merv Hughes famously told Graeme Hick, “Mate, if you turn the bat over, you’ll see instructions on the back,” after beating him. When Sourav Ganguly whirled his shirt from the Lord’s balcony, it was a statement made – This is the new India”.

The modern-day game has been lead into a zone where there is very little room for any emotions. It might well be the difference between a win and loss but a player is not allowed to show his displeasure when the umpire calls it wrong. Technology has also played a part in stifling spontaneity. Players huddle unsure of whether a batsman has been dismissed. When the third umpire’s decision flashes on the big screen, the moment is long gone. Sledging is almost like the last thread in the seam of player emotions. It reveals an aggressive frame of mind but looks zany if it is not married by intensity in performance. Complaining about it, unless it borders on the obnoxious, is puerile and often the last refuge of the defeated.

This is not to advocate boorishness or petulance. We expect sportsmen to set an example but we forget how they emerge from the same environment like we do. To expect them to be stoic amidst the heat is but irrational. To not let players express themselves is to turn them into robots.

This piece was first published on Khelnama and News Today.

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No musician can pull it off like Raja

Image

Music composer Ilaiyaraja turns 70 today. It’s been almost 35 years since he cut his teeth into composing and the love affair seems to endure.

On this day, it would be fitting to recall some of his best compositions that keep ringing in the minds as we navigate through the traffic or perform our daily chores.

But how do you choose between an apple and an orange? Pick one at the the spur of the moment like we are going to do now? Even that becomes a scary operation if we think about the songs that we are forced to leave out. Nevertheless, let us indulge in one.

Idhu Oru Ponmaalai Pozhudhu

If asked to choose from a pool of raagas, Kedharam wouldn’t be the first choice for most of the composers. To pull off a song that captures the elated evening mood so beautifully the way Pon Malai Pozhudhu does is something that makes Raja special. This was lyricist Vairamuthu’s first song and this is one of those Raja songs where lyrics match up to the composition. Sound of chirping birds scattered across the song and S.P. Balasubrahmanyam’s (SPB) enthusiasm enhances the beauty of the composition. The best part of the song is the sad solo violin that culminates the second interlude.

Sundari Kannal Oru Seidhi

The song is based on Kalyani, Kosalam and kindles a romance regardless of who listens to it. Raja’s Midas touch comes into play as he deftly captures the emotions of lorn lovers, where the hero lives his life in the battlefield and the heroine hails from a conventional background. SPB, in one of the live concerts, recalled that the RD Burman troupe that recorded this song, as they finished playing the first interlude, stood-up and started clapping. Well, shouldn’t they have waited until the second?

Thendral Vandhu Ennai Thodum

What a semi-classical master-piece! Raja is probably one of the  few music directors to have tried Hamsanadham in movie songs. Even as the lyrics are ordinary, the rendering of KJ Yesudas and S Janaki, the first interlude and a monotonous table beat which glides along transcends the experience to a whole new level.

Pothi Vacha Malliga Mottu

If there is a song with every aspect of it —  orchestration, singing and lyrics – being perfect, this should be it. The song set to Hindolam starts with a scintillating prelude with stunning violin bits. SPB’s mischievous interruptions in the Janaki portions have further enhanced the rustic effect. Tongue-in-cheek sadness with which the nadaswaram culminates the first interlude is another mind-bender.

Pani Vizhum Malar Vanam

The song has a tinge of ‘casualness’ about it and SPB has nailed it with characteristic nonchalance especially in the way he renders ‘hey hey inivarum munivarum’ in pallavi and ‘eriyum vilakku sirithu kangal moodum’ in charanam. Unique facet of the song will be the violin portions which captures the casualness in the pallavi. The manner in which the violin strings merge with electric guitar makes the song one amazing package.

Kanne Kalai Maane

Genius is often beyond comprehension. This song shows why,  unlike the other famous songs of his, Kanne Kalai Manne, which carries shades of Kaapi, will be remembered for its simplicity. For some reason Raja has allowed KJ Yesudas take over the whole song and has let his orchestration stay in the background. The song will also be remembered as legendary lyricist Kannadhasan’s last song and for Kamal Haasan’s impeccable expressions on screen.

Ilamai Idho

Will there be any other song that will ever be played in the loop on a New Year’s eve as much as Ilaimai Idho? The hero Kamal Haasan is bragging about his multi-faceted personality and having teenage girls swoon over him. SPB’s mind-blowing rendition is accompanied by an extra-ordinary bass pattern. Violin interlude in the first interlude catches the eye while the other two interludes allow the picturisation to take over.

Ninnukori Varnam

The song introduces the heroine Amala and how? Ninnukori varnam, the first two words of the song, is one of basic varnams in Carnatic classical music based on Mohanam. Raja’s creativity should be lauded for he has given a disco feel to one of the most traditional raagas by doing total justice to it. The drumbeat and the innocence in Chitra’s voice have made the song further delectable.

Nee Paartha Paarvai

Raja, well past his prime, was still delivering magical songs in Kamal Haasan movies. Nee Paartha Paarvai is arguably the best western classical song he has composed. The song begins with an incredible piano work and with Rani Mukherjee narrating a Bengali poem. Flute, female humming and Hariharan’s mellifluous voice have further enhanced the beauty of the song. The singing part begins a tad late but who complains?

Kaatril Varum Geethame

Raja’s mastery of Kalyani shines through yet again. After Vellai Pura Ondru, Janani Janani and Amma Endrazhaikadha, this is yet another massive Kalyani. This is arguably one of his best songs in the last decade. Lyricist Vaali has done a fine job comparing a happy family with attributes of music. Singers Bhavatharini, Sadhana Sargam, Shreya Ghoshal, Hariharan and Ilayaraja have all combined to produce a magic-effect where voice, lyrics and interludes fall in perfect synch.

This piece was first published on News Today and Chakpak

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Are we running the race we want?

Why should we win a race we don’t want to be in?

Why should we win a race we don’t want to be in?

They decided to take a hiatus in the middle of a marathon race. They had been running for the last 45 minutes and it was time to recuperate. They found comfortable space and shadow underneath a banyan tree and reclined there for a while.

Raghav looked lost. He was flanked by John and Sameer.

“Why are we running?” Raghav asked.

“What?” Sameer reacted, unable to absorb the bizarreness of the question.

“Why are we running this race?” Raghav repeated.

“How come these kind of questions crop-up in your head?” John

wondered, apparently befuddled.

“We are the ones running, right? Shouldn’t we know why?” Raghav was persistent.

“What about all those people who have run before you? Do you think they did it without a reason?” Sameer contributed.

“I never said that. Maybe they never thought about it. Or maybe they were forced into it. Or maybe they came here by choice. But did we get into this by choice?”

They started running again.

“See, the other guy is overtaking you… Run fast!” John tried to motivate Raghav.

“Why should I overtake him?”

“Only then can you give yourself a good chance of beating others.”

“But am I supposed to be running this race at all?”

Good question right?

How many of us have chosen the tracks we are running now? Why should we win a race we don’t want to be in? Were we supposed to be running this race at all? Did we weigh the other options? Maybe we would really like swimming, javelin throw, shot-put or long-jump? If were told mid-race about them, wouldn’t we regret not considering them?

Most of us might have got into the race because our neighbours or friends got into it. If that’s a case, here’s a good question to ask ourselves: Why did he get into it?

There’s a good chance that he might point a similar finger at someone else like we did, or even upwards and call it fate.

Maybe he never spoke about it because it appeared socially repulsive. Maybe he gave it a half-hearted attempt and then conveniently reached for the word “practical” to define his approach to life.

Or he might have even got into it by choice but do remember that his reasons need not be same as ours.

There’s a close-mindedness with most of those who have run the race far enough. With grey hairs peeping out of their stubble, wrinkles on their face, exhaustion settling in different parts of their bodies, they don’t want to be told that they have been running the wrong race.

So let’s do this exercise ourselves. It is easy to be entrapped in this bustle, get hypnotised by the immediate pleasures and keep running. John Wooden once said, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”

There is so much fuss being made about having an “Undo” button (or Ctrl + Z in computer terms) in our lives these days. But the best button, one that is available to all of us is a “Pause” button.

Let’s think about ourselves.

Let the others overtake. Of course we will be missing out on the prize money, accolades and medals but is that what we want?

Maybe it is time to make a choice and decide for ourselves whether we are going continue with this race or run a new one even if it means tearing down the beliefs we have held for years.

If what we are doing isn’t satisfying, we still have the choice to change them for the key is not to emerge successful in somebody’s eyes but our own. Satisfaction and fulfillment are deeply personal things, things that can only be attained by running our own race.

This piece was first published on Deccan Chronicle.

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Virender Sehwag: Three feet from greatness

Feet still even after the ball is released, eyes transfixed on the bowlers hands. The picture has a lot to explain about the attributes of Virender Sehwag's batting.

Feet still even after the ball is released, eyes transfixed on the bowlers hands. The picture has a lot to explain about the attributes of Virender Sehwag’s batting.

This is me, Winston Churchill, speaking himself to you…”  

Legend has it that Winston Churchill ended a thank you recording, that was sent to the Soundscriber Corportation plant for putting in overtime efforts to land his request of 1000 plastic discs, like this.

One could almost imagine the haggling the usage would have sparked amongst the purists.

The reactions of purists who examined Virender Sehwag’s cricketing grammar were no different.

As experts look to draw up a logical conclusion about Sehwag’s future almost suggesting he’s done, it all leads me to one question: “How did Sehwag succeed in Test cricket in the first place?”

In the early part of the last decade, the Delhi duke revolutionized Test cricket as he chose to view the attacking field as an opportunity to score runs. With still head, eyes transfixed on the bowlers’ hands (the picture above speaks volumes about his approach), Sehwag indulged in callous stroke play that depended on his astonishing bat speed and incredible hand-eye coordination.

He batted as if there were no tomorrows as the purists looked on with protruded eyes, palpably dazed. To them, still feet and frenzied swish outside off were formulae for disaster in Test cricket after all.

In a game that was getting increasingly complicated his game could be distilled to two words:see, hit.

Sehwag perhaps didn’t know where his off-stump was, he almost never had the habit of reading the pitch. Patience, endurance weren’t his cup of tea. Initially branded as a one-day player, his game never quite achieved the same success in ODIs as it did in Tests. His role in the batting order of towering greats was to give quick starts, something that could absorb collateral pressure.

His game mocked at dissections, defied descriptions and deviated from predictions. No one could account for his genius, not even the man himself. It appears daunting when it comes off and daft when it doesn’t.

He even moved Kerry O’Keeffe into saying, “He believes leaves are for autumn.” He was more an adventurer than a scientist. His failures elicited nothing more than a shrug.

In 102 Tests, Sehwag averages 50.05 at an incredible strike-rate of 82.39. In 251 ODIs, he’s 8273 runs at a modest average of 35.05, scoring at 104.33 per 100 balls. In the early part of the last decade, Sehwag shaped India’s fortunes in those pivotal overseas tours – England and Australia – that turned things around for India. He also buttressed India’s ascent to numero uno in the Test rankings. In the World Cup last year, he played a pivotal role in unsettling the bowlers.

However things seemed to have changed for Sehwag post the World Cup success like it has for Team India. While it is unfair to direct the bile for India’s failures at Sehwag who has forever been unpredictable, it is fair to say that Sehwag’s last two years have been underwhelming.

Since December 2010 (India’s tour of South Africa), Sehwag has scored 1009 runs in 18 Tests at an average of 30.57. In 13 ODIs since the World Cup, taking his 219 against West Indies out, he’s scored 263 runs. In Australia, he scored 65 runs in 5 innings at 13 per innings; at home, he has 50 runs in 4 innings at 12.50 per innings.

Although his record in the subcontinent over the last four years still remains intact, the runs have dried overseas in conditions conducive for fast bowling. Captain and bowlers have found out ways to deal with Sehwag by setting innovative fields, keeping the length fuller and swinging it in. As his reflexes are starting to desert him, Sehwag has been found out by smart bowlers even in subcontinent conditions.

Following a wretched run in the first two ODIs against Pakistan, he was dropped from the third and subsequently axed from the Delhi team and the Indian squad that played England.

While his ODI future looks direr going by the options available and considering that India is looking ahead towards preparing for the 2015 World Cup in Australia, his appointment recent failures in Tests in the subcontinent has equally raised doubts about his Test future.

The next few months will tell a thing or two about Sehwag’s future and his place in history. While some argue that an average of 50 in Tests and piling up 8000 runs in two formats has already established his greatness, greatness depends more on how a player responds after being found out. A good tour of South Africa, England or Australia could have bridged that gap but Sehwag since his comeback hasn’t produced a good innings on a bowler-friendly wicket. Perhaps he’s motored his way past the realm of ‘very good’ but balked three feet from greatness.

Greatness is alluring but it also comes with a price. It will demand of him that excruciating step of operating out of his comfort zone. While trusting his instincts paid off during his younger days, so much will rest on how he can acknowledge reality about his fading skills and disobeying hands. He needs to look no further than Tendulkar, who has time and again taken the harder route to extricate himself out of trouble. Sehwag himself has played the waiting game by choice in the past, something that reeks of his ability to adapt. But the future demands more of that sort. It is not a question of adaptibility as much it is about subjugating his ego.

Can he pay the price, alter his game and add a few more years to his Test career?

Sehwag’s future is almost as unpredictable as his batting but much will depend on how he can be honest with himself.

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Lance Armstrong, the fictional tale that turned inspirational

Lance Armstrong

Let down

“Pain is temporary. It may last…an hour, or a day…but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”

This quote with a dark image of Lance Armstrong in his cycle had been adorning my closet for over two years. These words, whenever they flashed in my consciousness, helped me stretch and travel that extra-mile in whatever I did.

I don’t claim to be an athlete. I hadn’t invested emotionally in Lance Armstrong like I’d done with many other great athletes. I haven’t even watched him wend through the mountain chains of the Pyrenees and the Alps.

But I’ve heard stories. Stories about Armstrong braving cancer after his doctor almost gave up on him. Stories about he winning seven Tour de France titles in a row between 1999-2005 post cancer survival. I’ve read a portion of his “It’s not about the bike” trying to comprehend the defiance that burns inside the heart of tough men.

That’s why when the doping accusation unraveled, when the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) presented over 1000 pages of unsettling documentary evidence and said that Lance Armstrong had orchestrated “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”, my mind couldn’t comprehend what my eyes were reading.

“Isn’t he the one who is accused of cheating?” one of my neighbours asked me that day with prying eyes pointing to my closet.

I cringed.

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The fictional tale that turned inspirational  

Not long before was Lance Armstrong considered one of the best things to have ever happened to human race. The Tour de France is the most grueling ordeal in all of sport and Armstrong returned back to racing circuit as the head of the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team to win it Tour de France championships seven times in a row after eluding the clutches of cancer.

“Lance isn’t just a cyclist anymore,” agent Bill Stapleton said The Austin American-Statesman in 1997 after Armstrong conquered cancer. Stapleton went on to assist Armstrong in setting up Livestrong, a non-profit foundation which helped people survive cancer. The yellow Livestrong wrist band was one of the fund-raising items for the foundation.

Despite being the most frequently examined athlete in the history of sports Armstrong never failed a drug test. His narrowest win was in 2003 by a scant 61 seconds over Jan Ullrich of Germany, and yet those weren’t enough to attracted suspicion. He was granted the benefit of doubt for he represented the triumph of will. If anything, his battle with cancer must have rebooted his pain threshold. No pain could be too much for a man who just stared death in its eyes.

Cycling held no appeal even to sports romantics except when Armstrong was hunching on his bike with his shades on. To others, including those who were battling cancer, his was an unseen face that inspired them into harnessing their mind power and helped them to overcome debilitating diseases.

Conquering cancer, raising funds for curing it, winning Tour de France seven times, his story was that of a hero who’d turned into a masochist. Armstrong was believed to be the lone clean champion in cycling’s most drug-saturated era.

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What was he on?

Last year, Armstrong chose not to challenge the doping charges brought forth by the USADA, which resulted in he being stripped off his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life.

“What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?” Lance Armstrong said in 2001 Nike commercial as he took on the cynics.

Except the USADA’s overwhelming report testified that he was on many other things besides his bike. He was on erythropoietin (EPO), testosterone, corticosteroids; he transfused blood and also lobbied other members of his U.S. Postal Service team to use “Edgar” (EPO, after Edgar Allan Poe) or “the oil” (for testosterone mixed with olive oil). With the assistance of Dr. Ferrari, Armstrong had indulged in one of the most sophisticated hacking of his own body.

“The next thing you know, we’ll find out he never even really had cancer,” Tom Carson wrote in The American Prospect.

As the fallout from doping allegations continued to plague him, he lost major sponsorship contracts including that of Nike and also stepped down as the chairman of Livestrong. International Cycling Union (UCI) then erased him from the sport’s history.

In what was his first step towards admission, he removed ‘tour wins’ from his twitter profile description. In his recent interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey, he’d admitted using performance-enhancing drugs. The recent development of it all was that of International Olympic Committee sending a letter to Armstrong on Wednesday asking him to return the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Armstrong could have avoided ban had he owned up six months before but he laboured the illusion that if he can evade the truth long enough, he can escape punishment. It is believed that in the Oprah show, he’s leveraged his confession in order to the maximum to get his lifetime ban reduced so that he can compete in triathlons and other sporting events. However, the legal or financial ramifications of coming clean are not yet known.

It is ironical that his only contribution to sport now has been in inspiring athletes, Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh being one of them, lifting themselves in moments of dire and vowing to “do an Armstrong”.

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We keep faith

“It ain’t true, is it, Joe?”

Legend has it that Joseph Jackson, an American baseball player, was accused for his association with Black Sox Scandal in 1920 and a young boy uttered these words as he pleaded before Jackson while he was leaving the courthouse during the trial.

“Yes, kid, I’m afraid it is,” Jackson replied. The boys opened a path for him and stood in silence as he obscured from sight.

In Armstrong’s case, the degree of betrayal is particularly numbing, something that was further exacerbated by his brazenness and arrogance in stonewalling the allegations. Somehow the fact that Armstrong braved cancer and also indulged in doping couldn’t be seen in isolation. Our sympathy for him was also his shield.

That’s why we can sense the pain when Nicole Cooke, the 29-year old retired cyclist, who won Olympic road race gold for Britain in 2008, said, “When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward. Tyler Hamilton will make more money from a book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour.”

“Sport itself is sincere or it is nothing. Seeing and believing must be bedfellows,” wrote the Late Peter Roebuck in a candid piece on when match-fixing allegations unfolded a couple of years before.

Sport is replete with cheating and yet we place unremitting faith for there are heroic feats that have been/will be performed without polluting the blood. Not all biceps and chests are earned inside closed doors by squirting the needle into the vein. There are men of straw who refuse to succumb to temptations and are honest with themselves.

As I slowly came to grips with the fact that he had actually doped, my mood oscillated between frustration and resignation. His recent admissions though sensational have elicited nothing more than a snicker. And the poster, imageless, is still there in my closet, for, I believe, that the quote is always valid even though the quoter is a cheat.

This piece was first published on Khelnama and News Today on 18th of January.

 

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2012 Yearender: London Olympics puts India on world map

CORRECTION-OLY-2012-IND-MEDALS-PRESIDENTAt a time when the politicians don’t keep promises, system fails us, the much hyped cricket team surrenders, economy bruises, India’s visit to London was the lone consolation for the country in 2012. India’s haul of six medals at London is their best performance at the Olympics to date.

Who would have anticipated this a decade before?

Not long before were they asked disconcerting questions about India’s population and the disproportionate success at the Olympics. Of course we wrote a litany of reasons which ranged from lack of muscularity, athleticism to absence of sporting genes. The country went from 1952 to 1996 without any individual medal. It took more than a century to win gold and inter the incompetence.

However, this year, the ardour was palpable even before the tournament began. May be Abhinav Bindra’s Beijing story is still resonating, the overwhelming success at the Common Wealth Games 2010, where India won 101 medals, including 38 gold, has imparted the much needed belief.

India’s medal tally began with Gagan Narang’s bronze in 10m air rifle. He wore the pressure, shot a 10.7 in his final attempt and sealed his medal. For long he’d been in the list of also-rans, a shooter unable to validate his talent with performance. Not after London. Vijay Kumar, the 26-year old armyman, then followed it up with a silver in the 25m rapid-fire event, becoming the fourth Indian shooter to win an Olympic medal.

Mary Kom, the five-time World Champion and the mother of two, has battled more invisible opponents outside the ring and was the inspirational story of this Olympics. What impressed was her resilience to fight in a higher category and still win bronze. After having fought at 48Kg category, she had to fight in the 51kg category as only three weight categories were available with 51 being the lowest.

Saina Nehwal won a bronze after her opponent Wang Xin conceded on account of an injury. That she was the only non-Chinese in the semis elicited much cheer.  She seems to inherit the legacy of Prakash Padukone, Syed Modi, Pullela Gopichand.

“An Olympic medal will raise awareness and bring in more sponsors overall for the sport,”Gopichand said. An understatement indeed.

Sushil Kumar, despite a controversy laced semi-final clash with Tanatrov where he was accused of biting his opponent’s ears, confirmed his place in history as India’s finest Olympian with consecutive medals. A stomach upset caused him dehydration and a weight loss of 6 Kgs before the tussle.

“I wanted that the national anthem should be heard on the Olympic stage once again. I am sorry I fell short,” he said after winning silver.

Add that to the late spark from Yogeshwar Dutt, who wrestled three repechage bouts to win bronze.

After collapsing under its own lethargy, the Indian hockey promised a false dawn and wound up with a paucity of performance without winning any of the six games it played and leaving behind a despairing memory. Reminding ourselves that India qualified to London, which they didn’t at Beijing, can be the only consolation.

Archery was another disappointment after men’s team succumbed to the occasion and the promising Deepika Kumari bowed out after she was completely outclassed by Great Britain’s Amy Oliver.

Other big names like shooters Abhinav Bindra, Ronjan Sodhi and Beijing boxer Vijender Singh came back empty-handed.

The future promises much more from the 19-year old Vikas Krishnan, who became only the second Indian to win a medal at the World Boxing Championships, shuttler Parupalli Kashyap, who only recently grabbed his maiden badminton Grand prix, discus-thrower Vikas Gowda,  18-year old Devendro Singh, whose first international event became his ticket to the Olympics, K.T. Irfan, who broke the national record in the 20km walk, shooter Joydeep Karmakar who finished fourth, the first Indian man in an Olympic athletics final after Sriram Singh in 1976.

In London, medals were mainly expected from shooting and boxing, where its field is bigger and have adequate coaching facilities. Eleven shooters and eight boxers qualified. Two shooters and a boxer won. But it was interesting to know that India were able to extend their performance across disciplines. The athletes shared with each other and the public a precious belief. There was heaving sea of emotion, an audible cheer emanating from closed doors when India collected medals at each event.

It was only a week before their photos beamed out of magazine covers and a month before Saina Nehwal signed a few million dollar contracts and Mary Kom was accosted by plethora of reporters.

So can India mask a century of incompetence with this performance?

You bet. A slight dip in the performance and the questions linking India’s population and paucity of medals will do the rounds yet again.

Was this a satisfactory display?

Perhaps not, but surely encouraging.

This piece was first published in Khelnama

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