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London

London.. The headquarters of the erstwhile superpower of the world, the center of power in a small island which almost controlled the entire world by its own,  the city with rich history brimming in the foundation of power, wealth and politics, the city which has transformed itself into a living delight into the modern world of the 21st century, the city which now boasts of a cosmopolitan population, mixture of races language and culture.  And this is the same city where I have now spent 3 years of my personal and professional life.

The river Thames running through the heart of the city, small in size but yet clean and beautiful. The walks along the southern bank makes you realise that you are encountering citizens of almost all countries – either coming here to pursue their dreams or a better living or just stopping by to absorb the pulse of life and attractions.

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The now lonely red telephone booths scattered by the path ways speaking of a glorious past and yet now neglected to the mercy of the occasional tourists stopping by just to take a snap. The dials are rarely dialed now, yet the wires dangle awaiting their destiny.

The reverberating music echoing in the tubes or under the bridges speaking of unfulfilled dreams of dreamers and performers. Yet quite lively on sunny days thronged by unknown passerby stopping occasionally for a couple of minutes and then walking away towards their destination.

The tube network cris-crossing underneath the city and carrying people, some tired,  some engrossed on music or fiddling with their smart phones. The same journey where you find to listen ten different languages in less than ten minutes. The travel when you are forced to rub shoulders against strangers, yet with a politeness that defies normal logic.

The long yet narrow escalators symbolising modern life when humans just keep running through the moving stairs with not a single minute available as a spare time to look around the boards showcasing the latest theatres. When standing on the left sometimes can be a big ordeal with you forced to chug along the uphill stairs till you reach the top.

The pubs at every nook and corner of the blocks filled with people enjoying their bubbly almost everyday. Where the less dressed girls do need to step out in the cold to draw on their cigarettes, hiding their shivering with occasional laughter.

Where the railway stations on late nights starting from Thursday are filled with dressed and beautifully painted women running barefoot to catch their last train home with the high heel shoes dangling in their hands. Where you will see some heroes walking like a knight in 10 degree centigrade with just a real short shorts.

Where you will find the elderly going religiously to the Lords cricket ground to enjoy the test matches and yet dozing off for quick naps just after lunch. Where you can still support England’s opponents with your top voice and enjoy the friendly banter with the fellow English supporters whenever your team is in trouble.

Where you will find the unique Kolkata egg chicken roll in the middle of the Zara’s, the Debenham’s of the world. Where Oxford Street stands for shopping and not related to education. Where you will see swelling crowds everywhere, irrespective of whether there is a ‘sale’ or not.

Where you will find immense greenery within the heart of the city, where ducks, squirrels, swans do not get afraid if humans go too near to them. Where you will find lazy guys sleeping with a cap on their eyes, where you will find roller skaters of varying degree of proficiency, where you will find people enjoying the sun on beach chairs without any beach nearby.

Where good weather means “no rain”, where sometimes summer starts by the arrival of the month in the calendar and not dictated by the ambient temperature, where you are forced to hear “mind the gap” on rainy days even when the gap is quite small for a toddler to jump across, where you are often reminded to take your own stuff when you leave the train.

And the list goes on and on….

This is a city which became part of my life and in spite of the rare sun you get to see,  this is a city which touched my heart and which continues to make me wonder how so many people from so many countries and so many cultures make this city ever vibrant that you tend to enjoy.

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Champions League 2014 Final

At the outset, I was totally pessimistic on today’s final between Atletico Madrid (AM) and Real Madrid (RM) – simply because Real Madrid was a much superior team in terms of individual players, experience and style of play. This effectively meant that Atletico Madrid as the “weaker” team will play to a strategy that will be hardly entertaining. As I believe a weaker team will have to play defensive and a “negative” brand of football, relying on either counter-attacks, slice of luck or eventually the “lottery” system of penalties. This is the way I have seen football evolved over years and I had written the same in an earlier post (click on the link https://ayanmajumdar.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/the-evolution-from-a-laymans-eyes/ to read the same). But this is not the topic that I want to write on today. What I want to share with you are my thoughts on some defining moments of today’s game.

Firstly the gamble of playing an injured Diego Costa backfired on AM. Not just of being deprived of a prolific striker, but also consuming one of the important substitutions which will be costly specially if the game went into extra-time. And as destiny would have it, the match did went into the extra 30 minutes, thanks to a last-minute injury-time equaliser. Whether a star player who is injured should be brought into the playing XI is always debatable, but I personally believe this is worth a gamble. Because one chance or one flick resulting in a goal can be priceless plus the morale of the others rise tremendously when you have the star striker playing, when many people think he won’t.

Then came an ultra-defensive display of AM for next 30 minutes. Hardly the RM creative players got space – be it Ronaldo or Gareth Bale or anybody else – only exception was Di Maria who was threatening to break free through some skilful wing play. In the history of the game, there have been many instances when defensive-playing teams have pulled the result in the end … and they have done defending doggedly in their own half. However, what I found a difference between AM and other defensive teams of the past, AM forced the opponents to keep the ball in the mid-field and not just in front of their penalty box. This is indeed a credible strategy – as the pressure of soaking of attacks just in front of the penalty box is too high. Very often, the team’s succumb and one moment of brilliance of the opponents or one mistake of the defense can lead to disaster.

But the “mistake” came from RM – an almost trophy-loss mistake from the experienced Casillas. I still wondered what he was thinking ! The AM player Godin was getting an innocent center, there were 2 stoppers behind Godin, the ball was even not within the small box and on top of it Godin had his back towards the goal – so the most he can do is to head backward, which can never be powerful. But to my dismay, Casillas went ahead, was caught in the no-man’s land and that tame back-head was a goal !! Just reminded me of 1990 world cup when Zenga, the Italian goalkeeper, made a similar mistake against Argentina and that had resulted in the elimination of Italy when the world was thinking that Italy should be the champion!

Then was a continuous spell of dogged defending – very often by 8-9 players. By that time the pressure increased from RM and in spite of the defense, Di Maria was breaking the defense – however Ronaldo and Bale were often spectators. So, my thought was that either there will be a mistake or a blunder for RM to come back to the game, or it would be a victory of AM. My thoughts were almost coming true … almost …

Then came the equaliser in the 93rd minute of the game – just 2 minutes away from the end of the match. And I felt that there was a big mistake by AM in their defense. Yes, it was a great corner and a great header by Sergio Ramos, but what was the defense doing ? I will not blame why Ramos got the space to head without being challenged greatly (as that kind of movement and head flick can happen without much challenge).

I will blame the strategy of defending against a corner – normally you keep two defenders keeping the ends of the two posts with the goalkeeper in the middle. And the reason you keep those two defenders is to thwart out a perfect head or a perfect shot – which will beat a goalkeeper when the ball enters through the corner. To me, irrespective of the quality of the goalkeeper, there is that space having the width of a ball which an out-stretched goalkeeper will never reach – if you can place there, whether in a dead-ball situation or a penalty or a shot, the chances of getting a goal is 90% … and that is why you keep those two defenders to protect that precise situation. But here, there was no defender at all manning the posts – and so a perfect header from Ramos was beyond the AM goalkeeper Courtois to protect. Look at goal below for you to judge:

So, just 2 minutes away from the match, a drastic mistake aided by a perfect header … the match was equalised and the die was cast.

It was now just a matter of time when RM will tear apart AM – as not only they got rejuvenated by that life given when they were about to die, but equally AM players will feel the despair of being so near and yet so far. And now you have a  rejuvenated RM coming at a despairing more-mentally-tired AM with full venom for 30 minutes. So it was just one goal and the flood-gates will open … and it so did … the strike from Gareth Bale after a mesmerizing run by Di Maria – the match was over. Two more came in as a bonus.

So, at the end of the day, I felt the right team won and the right spirit of the game was upheld – a spirit of positive, entertaining football (instead of a negative defensive brand of soccer).

PS : I don’t know who was the Man of the Match – but my choice would be Di Maria as he alone threatened AM continuously and was definitely the architect of the Gareth Bale goal

Champions of Europe

 

I, me and Sachin

Those who know me well will vouch with full conviction that I hate waking up early in the morning and I prefer to be a late-night person. So, when I had a grueling three weeks in office including some of the weekends as well, I had looked forward for a day off yesterday when at least I can sleep till late in the morning. I had just landed on Thursday night in London from a business trip and was on my way home thinking of the next day off from office. The next day was Friday and so effectively an extended weekend for me … the day was 15-Nov-2013.

And yet it is amazing that I setup the alarm at 3.45 am on that day (remember a holiday for me !) which will allow me the 15 minute settling down before the last journey begins. Because that was the day I knew for sure Sachin Tendulkar will walk in to bat for the last time in his life. I had to be part of that walk, I had to accompany him for his last innings. And so it was a cold morning in London, me waking up, wrapping up in a blanket, sitting on the sofa, switching on the TV at 4 am (9.30 am India time) and waiting for the Master climb down the stairs from the pavilion amidst a deafening sound of “Sachiiiiiiiiin Sachin”. Yes, I could not afford to sleep for some more hours on a holiday, because within me my heart told that I should at least sacrifice some hours of sleep for a person who became a part of my life.

Why is it that Sachin Tendulkar became part of myself, became so integrated with my life, became so much embedded with my heart and emotions ? He does not have a great personality, he does not look great, he definitely does not have a Amitabh Bachhan-like voice, he rather looks like a dwarf on the field, his mannerism while batting is not great – specially his squatting while holding a part of his body is quite comical …. yet this person, whom I have not ever met, had unknowingly become a part of myself !

Probably it was the similar age between Sachin and myself … maybe it was the time when I could imagine myself being represented in the great sport of cricket through the body of Sachin … maybe it was the classic straight drive with a straight bat whether be in the front foot or backfoot … maybe it was the courage of one Indian cricketer who could counter attack the pace bowlers who tormented Indian cricket throughout the years …. maybe it was his humility … maybe his grace while batting touched me as a cricket lover …. maybe his passion for cricket and India  … maybe it was a combination of all these.

While I was young and growing up & Sachin was also growing and maturing to the best ever batsmen ever, I had two “guru”s defined in my life and I used to tell openly that to my mother – one was Kishore Kumar and the other Sachin Tendulkar (It was much later on that I learnt Sachin also loved Kishore Kumar songs so much – what a pleasant coincidence !). It was a common fact that if Tendulkar played well, my mother used to say that my mood will be very good and that I will eat that extra bit during dinner. My uncles knew about this and very often during family occasions used to plan within themselves and pretended to throw discussions with the message that Sachin was a rubbish batsman – and my reaction was predictable – I used to fight hard to prove that they were totally wrong.

Later on came Saurav Ganguly as the successful captain of India. With him came the common debate amongst most Bengali’s hovering around the point on who is better – is it Sachin or Sourav ? And the debates often rose to heated discussions with expletives being thrown left right and center. As was with every fan, I could not tolerate any ill-speaking of Sachin and sometimes to cover up his failures, I had to think of some different point of view so that I can divert the debate to some other sensitive topic so that people forgets the main reason behind the debate.

Every match of Sachin, every Indian match was something I need to watch – whether it is India vs Bangladesh or India vs Australia, it did not matter. And when Sachin used to bat, the tension was doublefold for me. If Sachin hit a four on a delivery, I used to force my friends not to shift from the seats they were seating till the over is finished. Generally the unofficial rule for me became – ‘first Sachin should score runs, then India can think of winning’ – a selfish way of thinking, no doubt.

So during the last 24 years, starting from the debut vs Pakistan till the end against West Indies, I grew up with Sachin … and the lines got merged with his playing and my growing up. His success made me feel as if I am myself successful, his failures made me scramble for excuses like ‘the ball was simply unplayable’, his centuries made me feel that I had went to bat and scored a century, his brilliant over at the Eden Gardens Hero Cup final made me shout “finally, we have got a great all-rounder” …….. without me knowing consciously, over the years Sachin became me, I became Sachin in life.

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And so, when Sachin’s last day came today on 16-Nov-2013, I am personally feeling a great void within myself … as if I have retired and will not know what to do tomorrow morning. People say that I am not that much an emotional person – but I literally could not hold my tears when Sachin walked back up the stairs on 15-Nov-2013 after making the majestic 74. It is so rare that a person whom I have never met could have impacted myself so much.

This story is nothing unique and all Sachin fans are perhaps experiencing the same feelings … that is the greatness of the man. So, when through BCCI I get the above personalised digital photograph of Sachin, I feel like a teenager once again – elated, happy and showing off the picture to everyone.

Today while I say THANK YOU SACHIN for the immense pleasures he gave to me for my last 24 years, I sign-off here with an online magazine on him, a small tribute to “a part of my life” (called Sachin Tendulkar) from myself : https://flipboard.com/section/all-about-sachin-tendulkar–bAlhRO

Wish Sachin all the best for the years to come …. and if ever I happen to meet him face-to-face, I will probably shake his hands and say “you made me complete as a human being … thank you for that”

 

The fact of undiminished passion

Here is a country that ranks in the 150’s in the world, here is a city where people crib about lack of amenities, here are tourists who highlight about the great divide between the have’s and the have-not’s, here is a weather equivalent to natural sauna which prevents people to venture outdoors, here are the localites who struggle for employment – Yet, here is that city where the law of undiminished passion reigns. This is the city of Kolkata or erstwhile Calcutta !

In a country where sports means either mediocre (read ‘poor’) performance or only cricket, I sometimes wonder how come this part of India is so much different from the rest of the country when it comes to the love for football. It is this city again which calls for a hundred thousand spectators rooting for a local derby between East Bengal and Mohan Bagan. The standard of the game is quite poor – very often tending to below average when compared with other South East Asian countries. But that does not deter the thousands of supporters who overcome many odds when it comes to public transport to shout for their teams.

Whenever the FIFA world cup happens, the city is broadly divided into two camps – one for Brazil and one for Argentina. The traditional Brazil-love got split when the Kolkatan’s witnessed the magic of one Diego Maradona in the 1986 world cup. From that day, there has been a great vocabulary rivalry between the two camps, something rare to be seen in a city which is thousands of miles away from both the countries. There are hero worships of the Ronaldo’s, Ronaldinho’s, Messi’s of the world that surpasses normal expectations. Even the city looks like Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo whenever one of these teams reaches the knockout stages of any game.

Where in the world you will find around 10,000 people lined up in the streets, in front of the airport at 3 am in the night, just to catch a glimpse of Maradona, Forlan or Messi – who will be just passing by in a car ? For a international friendly between Argentina and Venezuela, the city is gripped with so much excitement that even in offices, people are coming wearing the Argentina colours !

This madness, this passion, this fan following for the game of football in a country where cricket rules is quite unique. This love for the beautiful game is quite remarkable specially when there is no success for years from India’s international team.

Hope one day this passion will help the city to host a World Cup final – that day, I can guarantee, all records for maximum fan following will break. Long live the passion ! As quoted in a famous Bengali film song, “Bangali’r sera khela football” – let this love relationship continue forever !

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