There is something about the Football World Cup. The fact that it comes once every 4 years adds to the charm. Well, so does the Cricket World Cup, many would say! Guess, the advent of T20 and hence a T20 World Cup once every 2 years besides the Champions Trophy where all the big teams battle it out again has taken away some charm out of the quadrennial tournament. Euro is not quite the World Cup and I rarely follow Club matches. And all this makes the FIFA World Cup all the more interesting for me. As every 4 years, I reflect on how my life has changed from the last one. And when you do that, you are pleasantly surprised at the magnitude of changes, of new people who have become a part of your journey, of new responsibilities, of how you have changed as a person. No one can judge the transition better than you as you are the constant. Your world changes every 4 years. And no better milestone to look back at your own life than this quadrennial showpiece!
Mine has been one spanning across the nooks and corners of the country. Every 4 years, I have found myself in a new city, a new state.
Being an 83 born guy, I can say that I started seriously watching it from the 1994 World Cup. Appa being a big sports buff and having played Football at the professional level did fuel my interest. I distinctly remember the Roberto Baggio penalty miss at the 94 World Cup. That memory has stayed with me over the last 2 decades. If I were to summarize my world then, it would read something like the below
1994 World Cup for me - Nazira, Assam - 11 year old - Settling into KV ecosystem from Apeejay days in Mumbai - Appa and me - Roberto Baggio miss - ONGC colony by the river bed - Cycling to school with my sister - Attending lot of official Malayalee Samajam get togethers in Officers Club - Visiting family friends at their homes and staying back for dinner - Expecting family friends at home and playing with their kids till Amma hollers for dinner - Playing Cricket matches with rival groups - Loads of fun
Life moved on. Fast forward by 4 years. We moved to Bharuch, Gujarat from Assam as Appa got transferred. 1998 World Cup was immediately after the 10th Boards got over. I remember being mighty relieved at the thought of watching the games without the baggage of Board exams. Had a cousin staying with us, so it was Appa, me and him grouping up for the matches. In hindsight, this was 3 years before the two most turbulent years Gujarat would witness.
1998 World Cup for me - Bharuch, Gujarat - 15 year old - Shifted to Gujarat Board from Central Board - Appa, me and my cousin, Sreeji - Zidane magic - staying in our own home in Bharuch - mini Kerala of sorts with the entire neighbourhood from the state - Sad on moving into the more serious end of school days, the Science stream for 12th Boards
Fast forward by 4 years. Moved out of home for the first time to pursue Engineering. Well, hello Hostel life! Came back home for vacations in time for the World Cup. Saw a different Gujarat this time around. All charred up. Desperately trying to get back on its knees again. If the Earthquake the previous year was not enough. Never seen so much police on the roads in my life. Never travelled in a train with no more than a bunch of people in the compartment. To be told that the shop from where you bought clothes last year has been razed down by a mob. That feeling. Eerie! That memory completely overshadowed the Cup memories.
2002 World Cup for me - Ichalkaranji, Maharashtra - 19 year old - Trying to make sense of the circuits - Staying on my own and managing with the pocket money that Appa would send in every month - Standing in a long queue for the cashier to hand over cash - Waiting downstairs close to the landline phone at the hostel anticipating a call from home - Fellow batchmates cum hostelites who became family - Memories of a charred and bruised city - Lot of negative vibes and enemity amongst communities all around the city - Holing up at home during vacations all the time without going out - That Ronaldinho free kick versus England!
Fast forward by 4 years. Finally decided that Engineering was not what interested me. Marketing/Advertising did. Took a shot at management. CAT followed. Ended up in Delhi. Life without Television. Followed much of the proceedings online. Not quite as exciting as the previous editions. Assignments and Tests took most of the time. And Italy won!
2006 World Cup for me - New Delhi - 23 year old - Buried under a heap of assignments, assessments, projects and internals - Life without the idiot box - catching a couple of matches here and there - Ragging juniors - Interviewing juniors for Student Clubs - Bracing up for final placements later in the year - Uncertain where life would take me - Zidane headbutt!
Time flew. Started working. First job with Idea. What an Idea, Sirji days followed. Bombay happened again as I got my final posting at the Corporate office. Celebrated my 25th B'day. Discovered my love for Digital and got lucky to get that profile. A boss who was more of a friend. Fabulous years at work followed. Memorable campaigns followed as well. Moved up the ladder. Wonderful time with lot of friends around. Memorable World Cup.
2010 World Cup for me - Ghatkopar, Mumbai - 27 year old - What an Idea - Mahindra Park - Friends - Digital Marketing - Sitting blank by the sea with Naishy & Tapo - Watching movies in theatre every weekend - Salary hitting the bank a/c every month - Chinese food every alternate day - Germany dazzling at the start to fizzle out later - Spain and Villa!
2014! Four years from the time Spain lifted the trophy, I find myself in a new city. Bangalore. Working for a new company. The King of Good Times. A lot has happened in these 4 years. So many memories already. Getting a car for family in Kerala. Getting a bloody big screen LCD for dad to watch matches like a king. Marrying my best friend. Making holiday plans with her. Paying EMI's for our first home togehter. Having an awesome extended family in her family. Building up to sisters marriage. Pulling her leg in the days leading to the same. Discussing investments with Appa. Suggesting medical alternatives to Amma. Acting like a 31 year old should. My family and wife would beg to differ on that perhaps. Am yet to attain maturity, they complain!
My world changes every 4 years. And World Cup is a time when I sit back and reflect on all things gone by. And that's where the charm of this quadrennial event lies. It makes you go back in time and that is a wonderful feeling. May the best team win!
I saw a tear trickle down her eyes. Within seconds her cheeks were moist. This was the first time I had seen her burst out. In that one moment, she had turned from a supremely confident girl to someone who needed a shoulder and whose eyes were pleading for help. We had sat by the sea a number of times, but today was different. There was a calmness about this place, despite the mind numbing traffic and the bustling street noise in the background. Nothing else mattered more for me than to pacify her. She was too precious for me to let her break like that.
The sea was perfectly calm today, despite the heavy rains that had lashed the city in the morning. It was the perfect place to catch up and unwind. But the sea also triggers a lot of emotions in you and tends to bring out the weak side, even if it's just for a moment. You can't help but succumb to that moment.
She looked into my eyes. Her eyes glistened with tears. The kohl in her eyes her spread, but she didn't care much. 'Am I making a mistake'?, her eyes looked deep into mine as if seeking reassuarance. I tried to look in the opposite direction. I was not sure if I could answer this. How could I? Wasn't I the funny guy? The guy who can make you drop dead with all those sad jokes. This required me to be me. I was unsure if I should let go of an image that I have so desperately clinged on to. She would not let me get off the hook easily. She kept blurting out all that had gathered within her in the past many months, 'I am unable to take it any longer. I am crumbling under the pressure. Never before have I felt so unsure. Why is it that I can't seem to decide what's right for me, or to be more specific if he is the right one for me? Why is it that I can't choose? Why is it that I am the only one who is willing to sacrifice and not him? Am I the only out who is required to act mature while he takes it easy? Have I made the wrong choice for myself by choosing to marry him''?
This time her gaze was more strong for me to pull away. Her eyes pleaded for solace. She wanted someone to help her out. I couldn't take it any longer. Her tears were more important to me than my self constructed image of a carefree guy. I held her tight and tried comforting her. This was not the usual chirpy, bubbly, vivacious lil girl I was used to seeing.
I started mumbling, 'Circumstances often leaves you at crossroads. You never know that the path you have taken is right until you reach your destination. I am not talking of the immediate destination which the path you have chosen will show you. I am talking of the one that awaits of at the end of this journey called life. Whichever path you pursue, if you think that it will close all other paths for you and leave you cursing your decision for a lifetime, then you are mistaken my dear. Life doesn't end with the choices we make. Rather new branches sprout out from the choice you made. And this will still take you to that final destination that you have always dreamed of. A sapling looks up towards the sky, yearns for it and it is that yearning that makes it reach for it. Even when it grows into a tree, it continues reaching out for the sky. The branches are a testimony to its efforts to reach out, embrace the sky and become a part of it. At no point does it stop accepting the fact that she is reaching out for the impossible. It is her never ending love which ignites her belief'.
She looked at me, all wonder eyed, wiping out her tears but her eyes still filled with questions. She was looking at answers which would comfort her, which would make her feel better and help her take the final plunge. Her eyes said it all. And who else could read her eyes, but me.
I looked away from her, fixing my stare towards the deep end of the sea. I continued, 'I know what you are dying to ask. You want to know if the tree is a fool in blindly loving the sky and reaching out for it? Is being sacrificial a sign of stupidity? Is the tree right in choosing the sky for her and then expect the sky to understand her feelings all her life, without showing a semblance of love in return? Of course she is right! All her life, the tree continues to believe that her efforts to reach out go unacknowledged. She has her reasons to believe so. But what she overlooks is the fact that the sky acknowledges her love by showering her with rain. It does so by helping her to sprout from a seed, nurturing the sapling with enough water and aiding her growth as the sky too wants to embrace the tree. It lives in the belief that one day with all the nurturing, the tree would grow tall enough to be able to reach out and touch him. It is circumstances that don't allow it to shower rain on the tree for 365 days. And it's these circumstances that help stop the sky from killing the tree with excessive love hence. Does it make his love for her any less? Despite the tree feeling that the sky is not being considerate or reciprocating her feelings, does she understand how much the sky yearns for her and tries his very best for their union'?
I gathered all my courage and looked at her. She was beaming and all smiles. All the clouds of doubt that had gathered in her mind had been blown away. She gave me a tight hug, 'What would I do without my best friend? You are my personal brand of philosophy. I love you! You have no clue of the effect your words have on my soul. If it weren't for you, I had decided to return him the engagement ring over dinner tonight. Thank you daa!' She got up and left for the scheduled dinner with her fiance, while I excused myself under the pretext of some work.
I continued to sit by the sea long after she was gone. Had I done the right thing with my senseless blabbering? Did I make any sense in trying to make a fictional connect between a tree and a sky? Had I ruined everything for me, without wanting to for the lack of courage to confess my feelings for her? I continued sitting there, till I was the last one left. It was a full moon night and the sea was washed in a white glow today. I continued staring into the oblivion. I could feel the tears trickling down my cheeks. Probably that was my fate. Similar to the fate of the earth. The earth, which embraces the seed with all its love and warmth, loving it more all the time. The earth, which stays grounded itself and keeps the sapling grounded, protecting it from the fierce winds and other forces of nature. The earth, which loves the tree unabashedly and is a mute spectator to the tree's ambition to grow in the opposite direction to reach out for the sky. The earth, which still doesn't let go off her and continues to guard and support her all it's life. The earth, which retains the water and nurtures the tree, helping it grow when the sky refuse to open up. Why then, does the earth have to confess his feelings to the tree? Why can't the tree understand on it's own? Isn't it the earth that has to go through the sorrow and becomes the final resting place of the tree, when after years of loving and reaching out for the sky the tree finally falls. Is it destiny?
Wish I could tell her how much I love her. Wish she could understand and read my eyes as I could do hers! Wish I could......but I can't! And I won't..........
Was it not yesterday we went out for dinner together? Then why is it that today I don't see you around?
Was it not yesterday that we bashed each other in the game? Then why is it that today there is no one to pick up the other controller?
Was it not yesterday that we had planned to zip around Mumbai exploring new places in your car? Then why is it that today you car lies in the parking without it's owner?
Was it not yesterday that we pulled your leg about all the gals whom you hit on? Then why is it that today I can't make myself heard?
Was it not yesterday that I clicked your snaps and promised to share it this time for sure? Then why is it that today I can't find you to collect them?
Was it not yesterday that we had planned to catch up on all the movies this weekend? Then why is it that today I dread at the thought of going to the theatre?
Was it not yesterday that we had planned to have a ball at the wedding of our common friend? Then why is it that today I cringe at the thought of celebrations without you?
Was it not yesterday that we were spreading news about the insane dowry prospective bride's fathers were luring you with? Then why is it that today I have no one to take offense of it?
Was it not yesterday you were right here, with all of us? Then why is it that today you are with the angels and one among them?
The memories of all the yesterday's with you. Memories of you are all that I have today! Will miss you today, tomorrow and forever!
I lost a dear friend of mine, Naresh Kodithala, on the fateful morning of April 24th. He was only 26 and his death could have been easily averted if some bloody environmentalists had not got the railing at Tiger Leap Point (Lonavala) removed. A slip to death was not what he deserved. It's not what any youngster deserves. And as we speak, the spot waits for it's next victim. His sister has blogged about it(http://sangeethakodithala.blogspot.com/2011/05/conservation-at-what-cost.html) and wrote to the env ministry at - http://moef.nic.in/modules/contact-ministry/contact-ministry/ Pls write in your comments too for them to take notice and act. Let's try our bit and avoid more lives being lost. A die hard fan of Sachin Tendulkar, the 'King' as he was known in his friends circle departed for his heavenly abode on God's birthday! We continue to miss him each moment!
It had been ages since I had last opened the big trunk, a dumpyard of all my college memories. Infact, I had almost forgotten about it's existence had it not been Amma's persistence to search for an old college magazine that had me on the cover page.
"I need documented proof. Only that would suffice. I don't want an iota of doubt in anyone's mind whether I was saying the truth or not. I know Vimala thinks that I was simply bragging like the other ladies do. I want to see the look on her face when she finds out that my son was an achiever in college days", Amma kept mumbling while going about with her household chores and here I was, dusting off the layers of dust that had accumulated on the surface of this trunk over the years, in my quest for the elusive magazine. Mothers have this strange habit of pitting their children against others in social gatherings and outweigh the competition, if any, by piling up their child's achievements. And if you have just happened to move to a new city, where Amma's new friends had no background of her illustrious kid, then it becomes all the more important for her to set the perspective right from the start. Amma had done the same while catching up with her new gang in this city and had left no stone unturned in glorifying my college achievements. She had promised her friends that next time around, she will get the college magazine with my mention for everyone to see. And the venue for the next party was our house, scheduled for today. While I was irriated with this futile exercise, on the other hand I was happy to see Amma make friends really quick in the new city and it was nice to see her finally smile after a long time.
"Atchoooooooo", I sneezed out loud. There was a thick layer of dust on the trunk, giving it a brownish hue with no traces of the orignal black colour that it was supposed to be. It had been 5 years since I had completed my MBA. The last time I had opened this trunk was back then, to empty my entire cupboard into this big trunk and bid my final adieu to Delhi. Infact, this trunk was a dumpyard of all the memories that I had accumulated over those 2 years. The good memories, the bad ones and then the ones I could never categorize - the memories that Swati gifted me and had her in them. I opened the trunk with a heavy heart and the first thing that I saw was her photograph. Her eyes seemed to be looking straight into mine, piercing my soul, as if asking a thousand questions at the same time. I suddenly went weak in my knees, felt my heart growing heavy and sat down, staring hard at the photograph. It was not that I had not expected to find her along with other stuff I had dumped in the trunk, but I was amazed at the sheer effect it had on me 5 years down the line. It turned out to be the first thing I came across. Swati Desai had left me awestruck, yet again!
"Is this seat occupied?", a blunt female voice greeted my ears as I was shuffling through the pages of the lastest issue of X-Men inside the college library. "Yes! Please", I replied without looking up at the owner of the voice. She was not done yet and continued, "Is that a comic book? You have time to read one? In the middle of this mayhem called the School of Management? You in first year as well, right?", a barrage of questions followed as soon as she had settled down. I slammed the book shut and looked at her irritatedly. I wanted to give her a piece of my mind for breaking my pace. Our eyes met before I could utter a single word. I went blank and the last remnants of thoughts in my mind also evaporated. Swati Desai's hazel eyes had me imprisoned the very first time itself! Looking straight into mine, piercing my soul. As if asking a thousand questions at the same time. Those pair of eyes. The most beautiful pair I had ever come across.
A cockroach flying out of the trunk managed to land on me, breaking my thoughts and transporting me back to present from the past. I shrugged it off and went back to the contents of the trunk. I avoided the photograph, placing it towards my side and digged into the other contents of the trunk. Amma's guests would drop in any moment and I had no time to wander in the fantasy world of memories. The ghosts of the past had been excorsised and I would be ruining it all by revisiting a past that we had mutually buried.
It was Swati's decision to move on. After spending the most beautiful two years of our lives together and despite being madly in love with each other, it took her only a phone call to break all ties with me. When we were just about to begin our careers and were enjoying our last big vacations at home, Swati was busy drifting away from me and all of us at the School of Management. Despite my desperate attempts to get in touch with her, I could not. I feared her staunchly traditional family had found out about our relationship and were forcing her to break ties. She dispelled my doubts over the phone call and stated that it was her decision and that her family had nothing to do with it. The phone call shattered me for life, and I still have not come to terms with that. My anger had not yet simmered down despite all these years. I had been gathering myself over the past many years, but today it all came crashing down. No one ever knew the cause of her strange behaviour, and the fact that she did the same with all her friends was the only solace. A comforting thought that I was not the only one. Disconnecting herself from all social networking sites was another example of her steel like resolve to drift away from everything that would remind her of the past. Swati Desai became a distant memory for everyone and over time she faded from everyone's mind.
"Vivekkkkkk", Amma's voice echoed upstairs, "Come down. Look who all is here to meet you". "Damn", I cursed myself. If the magazine was not enough, now this torture of smiling throughout the glorious introduction Amma would bestow me with loomed overhead. "Vivek!", Amma was calling for me again at the top of her voice, "Come fast beta. Aunties are waiting for you". I washed my face and quickly changed into a Kurta before rushing downstairs. I entered the hall and greeted everyone present there. "Aaaahhhh...Here he is. The shy boy. My son Vivek", Amma started humbly, "He is the reason I am here in Bhopal. He got transferred from Mumbai and has been posted here now. Now what else will a widow do than follow her single son around in this old age. Companies like to pack off good guys to different locations frequently. And his credentials haven't helped him much in getting away from the limelight. Vivek was a brilliant child throughout. He was even a gold medallist at the School of Management". All of a sudden, an 8 year old girl who had accompanied her mother to this party got excited and nudged her mom, "Wow. School of Management. That's where Swati Didi went too, didn't she Maa?"
The name sent shivers down my spine. "Swati?", I choked, "Swati Desai? You know her? Is she in Bhopal? Is she married?", I couldn't control myself. Amma looked amused at this sudden acquaintance and turn of events. The kid hung her face and looked towards her Mom. "Yes Beta. Swati Desai. Daughter of Mr. Santosh & Kamala Desai, our family friends. They used to be our closest friends and were here in Bhopal till 5 years back. We have seen the family in their happy times, their proudest moment being when Swati got through the School of Management, and their extremely worse times when Swati was diagnosed with that life threatening disease. They got to know of it pretty late and there was little that doctors could do to save that angel of a girl. The final 6 months were really tough for the entire family. The chemotherapies had sapped out everything from Swati and she had isolated herself from everything and everyone. Imagine the plight of her parents to watch their young daughter die before their very eyes. Talking about eyes, my daughter Krishna here was blinded by an accident when she was still an infant and needed a matching donor to see the world again. Swati was very close to Krishna and was adamant that her eyes be donated after her death, since it was a perfect match to Krishna's. Swati had the most beautiful eyes and in her final moments, even though her face had gone frail and her hair bald, it were her eyes that was full of life. I still can't beleive Swati is not with us today. But she lives on and her eyes still see the world through my daughter Krishna. Her parents come once in a year to see Krishna and find solace by looking into her eyes. We owe everything to Swati for the gift she has left behind for Krishna".
I had gone pale. I walked towards Krishna in a state of trance, knelt down holding her, wiping off the stream of tears that were running continuously down my cheeks. The next moment, our eyes met yet again. Those hazel eyes, looking straight into mine and piercing my soul. As if asking a thousand questions at the same time. Swati Desai had left me awestruck, yet again!
From School to College life, From the confines of my home to the four walls of an Engg hostel, From family to batch-mates who became family From 'Ghar ka khaana' to 'Hostel Mess Experiments', From reading about them getting ragged to being ragged, From being the king of my room to sharing my hostel room, From clean toilets to stinky hostel ones, From being dependent to becoming independent, From standing in queues to withdraw money from cashier to ATM lines, From getting bamboozled with Microprocessors to being attracted towards Marketing, From being a bachelor of Technology to a master of Business, From graduation to post graduation, From a sleepy town to the Capital, From releasing pressure to being in pressure, From mismanagement to time management, From friends to friends who became my lifeline, From campus life to my first job, From watching advertising campaigns to creating and executing one, From consuming brands to working on brand, From a shy, stammering school boy to a confident corporate guy, From winning awards for writing to winning big ones for my work, Last 2 days of a decade full of wonderful journeys. Raising a toast to the best decade of my life, 2000-2010! Happy New Year :-)