Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Eh, last year's question, da..."

About an hour back, I returned from Madras having spent the last four days at IIT's Saarang. My motivation for going was based almost entirely on the fact that I'd never been there before and that, after this year, I wouldn't really get a chance to go properly and that would be a shame after five years in college. At a more housekeeping-type level, I thought of filing this under "College", "Special People" and "Sports", but decided to go with "Freestyle", partly because multiple tagging is getting misleading and partly because the "Freestyle" category hasn't seen much action recently.

IIT-M bill Saarang as an experience rather than a fest and, in some sense, that part is trew. And I'm sure, for some people, 2010 really was. My experiences over the last four days, however, were experiences of another kind.

1. The way there:

1.1 Incredibly uneventful, apart from agonising over whether to buy those "insidious" Rs. 15 Kurkure packets which cheat you for quantity.

1.2 I heard of, and then encountered, Gary and Casper (forgive spellings, if incorrect). More than slightly nervous at first, I coped okay with them. My dogophobia seems to be getting better all the time.

1.3 This terrace room that Varun's house has is out of this world. It looks like it's from the future.

2. Day One:

2.1 IIT Madras is huuuuuuuuge.

2.2 Saarang isn't particularly clever about ID cards for the fest. They make a big halla about it everywhere, but then are negligent enough to give Varun and myself the exact same Saarang ID!

2.3 Their quizzes start on time! With (at least) four times the number of people. Lesson to be learnt.

2.4 We put 16 in Biz Quiz Prelims, flitting between ChLT and PhLT. Question 8 was a WWE funda. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

2.5 Varun knew our Debate Prelim topic inside-out. He talked for seven minutes of prep time, I listened, we nailed, broke first to quarters.

2.6 Too many 'peted questions in SpEnt Prelims but, after putting 21, we weren't really complaining. Very pleasing admission that the past years' SpEnt had been less Sp, more Ent. Maybe there's hope after all.

3. Day Two:

3.1 Bombed Main Quiz Prelims. Left lots of stuff half-explained, didn't go with gut instinct on others. Costly misses, all. Vikram and Varun put 20 and 16 respectively and made Semis (duh).

3.2 India Quiz Prelim was complete rubbish. Obscure stuff, "so what?" stuff, plus a couple of bad misses. Punching above our weight as it is, the answer session was among the most embarrassing I can remember. Asserternedaut, cut was 15. Whaaaat? Only redeeming factor was metal "coord" (new addition to vocabulary) dude with long hair and an infectious way of going "duuuuuuude". Went out to lunch to Ascendas, another architechtural marvel most certainly from the future, where they only give you passes to enter (this is a mall, by the way) if you surrender valid photo ID for the duration of time you're in there. Expecting prices to be high, I decided to wing it with three chicken burgers, carefully weighing the cost advantages of the Chicken Snacker (KFC) against the Chicken McGrill (McDonald's). CMcG beat CS 29-28. Duuuuuuude!

3.3 Sat for Geo-Genius Prelims, much against conventional wisdom, which dictated that Biz Quiz down the road was the place to be. A couple of Vik-cracks apart, it was entirely forgettable, as was Extempore Prelims, where I spoke naansense about "Ingenuity: Don't get one leg up on the competition, get 'em both up!" for one minute. I wish human memories came with an erase button.

3.4 Varun caught a bug from Nayantara and he was infinitely the worse for wear. Not a good thing when the only feasible mode of transport to IIT for SpEnt Finals at 12 (or so they say) was contingent on him driving us there for, embarrassingly, I still am not man enough to drive. I reacted to this in the same way most take-charge teammates would: I packed him off to sleep and spent the next two hours riding up and down on the cool elevator inside his house. Whee!

4. Day Three:

4.1 Put a very disappointing fifth in SpEnt Finals. Tables 1 to 4 colonised the top four positions, on the back of two Sports LVC cracks worth a 40-point buffer, which I would rather say we could not able to. High points included cracking most of the non-'peter Ent stuff (including a perfect 25 on a ridiculous "puppet parody" theme round) and, most surreally, joining in the "Varun Rajiv...Varun Rajiv" chants initiated by (seriously) some of India's best quizzers at 2 a.m. Early contender for the title of "Memory of the Year, 2010".

4.2 I got a message from Bhatia during the SpEnt Final indicating that Leeds had managed a replay out of White Hart Lane. I went back and watched the highlights and felt that unbelievable feeling as I saw J-Beck hammer that penalty high and into the net. Elland Road aane do. Dekh lenge.

4.3 Varun drove back after SpEnt finished at 4 a.m., as we bitched about IIT-M guys really needing to go to quizzes outside in order to avoid 'peting "fundaes" (don't miss the hyper-pretentious 's' at the end) and realising that Varun wasn't carrying his license. Twenty minutes of slowing down to a crawl for speedbreakers and "keeping to the left", I was in Future Land once again, in desperate need of sleep.

4.4 Watching Varun destroy his Semi some seven hours later, the disappointment of not making cut in Main Quiz hit hard. On the plus side, I sat and watched in awe as Vikram answered practically everything from the audience, having already put some 85-odd points en route to winning his own Semi earlier in the morning.

4.5 The Saarang National Debate 2010 was a huge disappointment and I'll be the first to say that the main reason for that was that we were terrible in our quarter against NUS...oops NALSAR. That still doesn't justify why they have four minute speeches which make it impossible to develop matter and why they get celebrity/journalist-types to judge a brand of debating they really don't understand. I implored them to incorporate those changes next time in my feedback. If they want this to become bigger than just another event they run at Saarang, that is. Halfway through the quarters matchups, we were told that the judges weren't deciding debates and they were merely picking the best four out of the eight teams for the next round. Suddenly, the smell emanating from the CLT with at least seventy people (but, sadly, zero genuine emotion) was rather rat-like. IIT-M beat NLU Delhi in the Finals, so congratulations to them. Come to the NLS Debate sometime. We'd like to see how good you are then.

4.6 Once, when incredibly inebriated, Varun was walking past an ugly looking building in a part of Madras he really likes and immediately burst into tears, wondering and weeping how his Madras "had come to this." Or so says RVG. RVG says a lot of things, as we discovered at Raj Park. It felt oddly reassuring to see him and to hear of his life these days. I also felt incredibly at ease telling him stuff I wouldn't normally tell people I'm much closer to. We walked all the way back and the sight of him marching down the street at 11 p.m. with his man-steps was a sight that I know I'll remember for a while yet. He may well be a "complete bastard", as Nath once said, but he's among the most genuine people I know. There, I said it.       

5. Day Four:

5.1 I'd almost forgotten what it was like to have sabzi-chaawal for breakfast. Brought back memories of the gaad-bappa days/stories when long break in school used to mean lunch at home at 10.30 a.m.

5.2 This "last year's question" phenomenon hit an all-new low (or high, depending on how you see it) at the Biz Quiz Finals. Literally 40% of the quiz was not new to Table 1, which consisted of the Biz Quiz coords for the last two years. IIT-M teams also sort of ruined the last LVC by going for negs in an attempt to push their score to sub-zero levels. "I just hope that something like this never, ever happens at a quiz I'm hosting", said Varun later and very aptly so. It took the gloss away from another first-to-fourth sweep by Tables 1 to 4 (is it just me or is there a trend here?) and, much more significantly for me, a quiz win at long last. In all fairness, my contribution was negligible, but then again, we'd gone into the Biz Prelims thinking we were all out of our depth. They made me spell my name for the certificate, because I was the only person who finished in the top three places who they didn't know on a first-name basis. It felt strange. Like an outsider looking in.

5.3 Saarang pays 4.5-3-1.5 for first-second-third at its team quizzes. Quizzing deserves a lot more respect and I've come to understand that the incentive at Saarang isn't money at all. It's just so huge that everyone comes every year anyway. And because everyone comes every year, everyone else wants to come too. Dance like a woman, you'll win 15k and a Nokia phone. Belt five quizzes, you would barely make half that. Makes me proud of the fact that Legala's been outdoing Saarang in terms of prize money, at least on my watch.

5.4 Elocuters (or whatever they're called) are scary people. They're also incredibly lame. I don't know how else to explain it.

5.5 Varun's grandmum makes a mean mooli ka parantha.

6. The journey back:

6.1 The babycorn and spinach side dish at the "delightfully Chinese" Wonton restaurant which is "down the road, literally" isn't half bad.

6.2 "You seem to have found the most honest auto guy in the city. NOBODY would take you for a 100 to station at ten at night." -- Varun Rajiv, 22:01:08, January 25, 2010.

6.3 The AC 3 Tier compartments on the Bangalore/Chennai Mail are really confusingly numbered. There are four-wide across one of the main berths, three-wide across the other. The smaller berths adjacent to the main ones are two-wide across the middle, but have printed lettering, painted lettering and scribbled lettering one on top of the other, each indicating a different number. No wonder I slept in the wrong berth. I'm just glad Mr. Varun Kumar of B1/0021 was accommodating enough to switch to the top berth at 12.30 a.m.

6.4 It takes twenty minutes and nine rupees to get from Majestic to Nagarbhavi at 5.20 a.m. I don't know why people book cabs or take autos from there.

6.5 There's something truly exhilarating about walking back to campus under the cover of darkness with a backpack in tow. I need to do this more often.

Update: Vikram and Varun put first and second in Main Quiz Finals. Taaliyaan, taaliyaan.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Done.

Maybe Kismat was a little over the top. It certainly felt like the world had imploded at the time, but five days of good work have ensured that I won't have to think about that debacle too much, at least till the end of March.

And the Aussies mopped up Pakistan this morning.

Now, on with the rest of my life! :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kismat

My life feels like a record needle has been scratched across it. And I am now convinced that all of life's 50-50 situations going your way are all about kismat and nothing else.

I'd said in this space back in June last year that there could be two ways that this could go--either it would make me or it would break me. Well, unless something truly remarkable happens, I can point to this afternoon and say that this was the moment that broke me.

Also, this is the 50th post on this blog. Whoopee.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Of Optimism II

Leeds United beat a near-full strength Manchester United 1-0 in the third round of the FA Cup at Old Trafford last night. I'll confess that when I wrote 'Of Optimism' a few weeks ago, I hadn't even contemplated that this might happen. But after all was said and done what really struck me was how normal it felt to win. Even without Leigh Bromby (suspended), Max Gradel (ineligible) and Robert Snodgrass (on the bench). And I do not attempt to take the mickey out of you when I say that the last two league games I've watched (1-0 at home to Southampton and 4-2 at Stockport) honestly felt like tougher games, nor do I attempt to sound pompous when I say it really could and should have been two- or three-nil. So when Simon Grayson said, "We've been playing like this all season", it reminded me very much of Jason McAteer's quip after his shift on the right side of midfield was instrumental in Jack Charlton's Republic of Ireland bringing down the Italians at USA '94 -- "It was like playing Bournemouth on a wet Saturday."

The same Bournemouth who were the last lower league opposition to knock Manchester United out of the FA Cup, pre-Ferguson, in 1984. The same Bournemouth whose mastermind that day was a young Harry Redknapp, now of Tottenham Hotspur. The same Tottenham Hotspur who, at White Hart Lane, now stand between Leeds United and an improbable place in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Having harboured the briefest of ambitions that Leeds might just go all the way this year, I'm now willing to concede that that is probably that. There's a good chance Jermaine Beckford will be wearing the black-and-white of Newcastle United by then and there's an even better chance that ex-Leeds boy Aaron Lennon will rip the legendary but limited Andy Hughes to shreds.

But, right now (and, indeed, up until Wycombe Wanderers come calling), that will not matter. Having supported a club that's suffered an administration, two points deductions, two relegations, three heartbreaking play-off losses and the perpetual and growingly nauseating tag of 'football club gone wrong' in the last six seasons, I'd got used to getting kicked in the teeth on a regular basis. Humiliated by non-league Histon in Round 2 of the FA Cup last year and seemingly heading the same way this year after another bunch of amateurs from Kettering were minutes away, regardless of what happens to Manchester United's season from now on (and I cannot, in good conscience, wish them the best), this has to rank as the happiest I've been in a long time, for something I've loved unreservedly from day one.

Bigger than that systematic picking apart of Lazio in Italy, bigger than that youth team demolition Manchester City in the FA Cup, bigger than Mark Viduka's relegation-saving goal at Highbury, bigger than Harry Kewell's header on Rio Ferdinand's first return to Elland Road. You cannot tell me this team doesn't deserve to play Premier League football.

And with eight points back to Norwich dead at halfway in the season and a JPT semi-final waiting to be won against Carlisle, 2010 promises to be a happy new year indeed.

I'm not sure if there's a point to this story but I'm going to tell it again.

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I've been wilfully caught up in the self-defeating quest to get to know myself for years. I've never expected anything beneficial to result from such a quest. I tend to evoke extremely polarised reactions from people I get to know in passing. Consequently, only those people who know me inside-out would honestly claim that I'm a person who's just "alright." It's not a coincidence that the description I've laid out above has no fewer than, title included, eleven references to me (make that twelve). I'm affectionately referred to as "Ego." I think that last statement might have given away a tad too much. Welcome Aboard.

IHTRTRS ke pichle episode mein aapne dekha...

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