Friday, August 06, 2004

Go Easy On The Drink, Oye!

Jen hit me the other day with one of those broad-sweeping comments, that I have come to develop a distaste for.

“Indian men can’t just hold their drink!”
“No! Not really.”
“No, It’s true,” she insisted. “You guys are all shy and quiet, but one drink and you’re all over the girl.”
“Maybe, you just go out with the wrong Indians,” I said with a certain finality that killed the conversation.

In case you are wondering, I haven’t ever gone out with Jen. She lives in the village (as in Greenwich Village, NYC), and I in Philadelphia, and the two can never meet.

But Jen is into many things Indian – she is a vegetarian, she is learning the sitar, she has a yoga guru and she carries one of those jute bags, favoured by the likes of my dry-grocer in India. Only her bag (with a colourful image of Saraswati) is intended as a fashion statement… I think. And, yes, she has a strange fetish for desi dudes.

I got to thinking about her observation on the train ride back home. Sure, I knew plenty of desi dudes who drank like fishes and seemed none the worse for wear. My buddies from college and I polished off cases of booze each week. We traded in our season tickets to the football games for a steady supply of the tipple and we never got anywhere near a woman… possibly because of it too.

I pondered some more and realized there was, much as I might deny it, a kernel of truth to what Jen said. I thought some more and then it dawned on me that many people I have known over the years use alcohol as an excuse to misbehave.

A certain somebody, in my circle in the years past, made a regular habit out of it. A drink or two and he would chance a pass at the fairer sex. Most desi women, who were clearly on to him, steered clear of him. The ready targets were firangs obviously. At least on one or two occasions we saw him make his move, he was rebuffed, but he would slur his speech and pretended to be tipsy and the woman would let it slide. It was a rather sorry display.

Another interesting case, was a certain entel-type we knew. He often drank with us… peg after peg after peg…in silence in our basement apartment. That’s how we all drank then. But take him to a party and in two gomutram Budweisers, our man's face would take a dreamy far-away look and he would start reciting verse… Big turn on with some of the chicks we knew back then. I always thought, it was a sleazy trick to pull.

One chap I know now, married and respectable, uses the drink to a different end. He gets to a party, gets himself a drink just to be seen as one of the guys. His wife won’t let him have one at home, apparently. So a party, where she cannot visibly object, is his moment of defiance. I am sure, he does not even enjoy the drink. I have spied him emptying peg after peg of the best highland single malts into the wash-basin or worse still, the flower bed, putting on the charade of getting high.

If it were my place, I’d say… “Go easy on the drink, oye!”

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Can't Wait For The Santa Pub Crawl

Ok, I shan’t name names here, I promised Doug, I shan’t and I shan… Oops!

Anyway, certain people are girding up for the annual Santa pub-crawl. That is what A and his buddies call their annual outing of binge drinking. I know, it is not quite Christmas, but hey! There is no time like the present for a good thing, wot?

This is a ritual that has a long and rich tradition stretching back in time to, oh! Say, the mid 1990s. I don’t think any of A’s friends could have legally imbibed alcohol before that. Why! Some of them barely need to shave, even now. Anyway, they go from bar to bar around the city drinking. Well, anyway, bars that will let in two dozen, drunk sods dressed like Santa Claus, down to the beard and boots.

The list of obliging bars have been steadily shrinking in recent years, I have been told, as the Santas have become increasingly rowdy. I am sure the bartenders must hate it, especially when these guys make a bid for free drinks, pounding the bar with the glasses chanting – “Santa drinks for free… Santa drinks for free… Santa drinks for free…” You get the general idea! These juvenile attempts apart, A insists, Santa always pays for his drink.

I always thought the bars should be laying out the welcome mat for these guys. Two dozen drunken Santas, and paying ones at that, should be an amusing sight. Beside, the sheer comic effect of a bar full of Santas is bound to attract other people, who too would pay for a drink or two or more.

I must admit, there is a certain originality to the idea, walking around town dressed as Santa Claus well before Christmas. There are of course rules to the whole enterprise. The Santa suit cannot be washed, or pressed (even if you have puked on it the year before), a brush is the best you’re allowed. Suddenly, I am beginning to see why the bartenders are not too keen to have a houseful of Santas.

The crawl has kicked off, for years now, from a certain Ukrainian bar (no names). It is a festive occasion and the first drink, I am told, is on the house. But, not all the ale-house keepers along the road are so welcoming. At some point in the recent past the proprietor at an Irish bar we shan’t name, but whose sign features a large shamrock, booted the Santas out with no regard for their image.

The Santas accept there is always the danger for even the most decorous of events to deteriorate into a general fracas… And the crawl is no exception. As anyone with some basic experience with alcohol will tell you, a lot of booze of varying kinds don’t sit well together and tend to force themselves out of the system – while the reaction is entirely involuntary, it is not a pretty site.

Last year some Santas got into trouble for indulging in the sport of writing their names across the sides of buildings and bare walls... with bodily fluids… you get the idea!

But A assures me these unwholesome elements, who, though in an absolute minority, give their well-meaning trek through town a bad name.

The Santas who have completed their pilgrimage of the 18 or so pubs are considered the initiated. While extremely fulfilling (I have this on the record), the effects at the end of the run are not always pretty. On our office notice-board is the picture of a rather disreputable-looking Santa slumped against a lamp-post with a rather large wet patch across the front of his pants… and an equally large grin pasted across his face.

Last year our mutual friend B went along for the crawl, or was it the year before… Anyway, he was totally pissed by the sixth pub and was dragged along for a while before being left under the 59th Street Bridge, or at the entrance to some bar near there anyway. B has no recollection of most of the crawl, only that he came to, in the wee hours of the morning, a bum was swearing at him for taking “his spot.” With nothing wounded, but his pride, B managed to call a cab and head for home.

I have heard of a few score Santa crawls across the country. I know there is one in Atlanta and another in Baltimore. There is even a “how-to guide" online. Parent-types, who are reading this blog, might do well to check this out. You might then want to make sure your kids are safely locked down and secured on the night of a crawl, if your town does have one. The effect of a drunk Santa on the minds of the young and impressionable, could be disastrous.

Anyway, if there isn’t a Santa Pub Crawl in your town and if you feel adventurous enough to start one, maybe I could get A to sell you the exclusive rights… Ho! Ho! Ho!

An Afternoon Of Cricket

It was not entirely an afternoon in vain. At least, I did not go out for a duck, and a catch in the slips was sweet. My gauche knee bothered me a bit through the game, but the morning after, I was right as rain and feeling alive as I hadn’t for years.

The last time I played cricket in any form, were a few overs, on a dusty afternoon, in a school maidan in the central suburbs of Bombay with Vasu, Aditya and Tushar. The year was 1988. The last time I padded up to go out to bat was at Don Bosco grounds in 1985… It has been a while.

Not that I hadn’t quite thought of playing, but the opportunities come few and far between. So, when MumBhai called to ask if I wanted to join in on a “friendly”, I could not but be all optimism and buoyancy. MumBhai plays at Prior Cricket Club in Philadelphia – a halfway decent ground, a handsome club house (though it has seen much better days) and a fairly earnest bunch of players who came in all shapes, sizes, ages and hues. Prior was playing a local college team.

In all honesty, I was not enthusiastic about my chances, as I saw fresh-faced kids lining up on the other side. They looked definitely more mobile and motivated than I had been for years. I did not even have my whites, and MumBhai very accommodatingly loaned me his club shirt for the game.

It was very surreal to watch a game from the clubhouse steps after all these years. The opposing team won the toss and elected to field. We started on a slow note, the runs came in ones and two. But, the opposing bowlers were fairly erratic and by the end of the 10th over, we had more in extras than individual scores.

Sitting on the porch, sipping a cold beverage, I was feeling extremely smug. MumBhai had me down to go seven down in the order. I did not think, I’d actually have to bat. And then the powers that be had a change of mind and I was asked to pad up. I padded up quietly calmly, but it was not actually until I started walking up to the pitch that I began to have doubts. Would I be able to see the ball? Would I able to move like I used to?

At the other end was a fellow economist “S,” who despite coming to cricket rather late in life had been knocking the ball all over the place.

I took my guard on the leg stump, said a silent prayer and looked up. The bowler started his run-up -- a short one, left arm around the wicket, I could sight the ball perfectly, as it left his hand and pitched a decent length. I brought my bat into its path probably a little later than I’d have liked to, but no harm done. The ball rolled down the pitch a few feet, its momentum killed.

That was the last bowl of the over and the bowlers changed ends. Having kept my eyes on the ball all through, I did not feel so bad; but my reflexes were clearly rusty from lack of use. S played the first ball of the next over with a straight bat. The next he flicked off the pads, down the leg side. We ran a single. My turn at the crease.

It was a decent ball, good length, just going a shade to the offside, I cut it late and started running down the wicket as I saw the ball go past first slip. I opened my account. But, even as I started I knew, my knee wasn’t quite all there. I ambled down the wicket.

A ball or two later, S drove one down towards mid-wicket. It was a legitimate single, I started out an instant too late and by the time I crossed the crease at the other end, the keeper had the bails off. S was all apologies for having gotten me run-out. But, in all fairness, the fault was mine. I shuffled my way back, not entirely disappointed. At least, I did not go out for a duck.

Having gotten over the fear of facing the ball, the game became more immediate. I began to assess balls and strokes as a player would (though from safety of the club house). There was another run-out, but the bowlers were tiring, as the humidity and heat took its toll.

P had an unlucky stroke and MumBhai after a few decent drives, pulled back at the last moment to give an easy catch. C who came in at the end, together with S, swatted the ball all over the place, giving the scoring, which had picked up from the initial overs, a big boost.

The batsman, no longer cramped by the need to save their wickets, started to swing big. S lofted one into long on… right into the hands of a waiting fielder, who obligingly dropped him, enabling him to get his fifty.

The score at the end of our innings was 171.

We took to the field after a short break. MumBhai let J, the captain, know, I had a gauche knee. Everyone went out of their way to ensure I had a position that did not require a great deal of running. So, I spent most of my time in the field in first slip.

“I” an older gentleman, opened the bowling attack along with MumBhai. In fact, my catch in the slips came off a ball by I, which nicked the edge of the bat as it swung away. The Prior bowlers kept a decent line and length for the most part and were less free with extras than their opponents. The later spells by “P” kept the college batsmen pinned to the crease.

The score had barely tipped into triple digits before the last man snuck his bat under his arm on his way back to the club house. By this time I felt like a raisin left out in the sun.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Paddling By Moonlight

The idea for a midnight paddle came up as Sambar lunched with S and I about two weekends ago. Chowing down on the Vendekkyapuli and the Matki chi Usal, proved to be rather inspiring. We had done all manner of trips over the last year. Short sallies over the lake in the afternoon, overnighters on the Delaware, a morning’s paddle on the Chesapeake Bay. What more could we do… short of throwing ourselves into a chumming rapid.

I guess, that was the point, the Vendekkyapuli kicked in and Sambar came up with the brilliant idea of a paddle by moonlight. A quick consultation of the calendar told us we had a full moon in two weekends. That was it.

It took a while to sort out; and while we varied from the original script in location and the number of kayaks, by Thursday morning, Sambar and I were certain we were going out on the Schuylkill on Friday night.

Sambar picked up a kayak for me from Eastern Mountain Sports on his way back home. I saw the moon, a giant white saucer low on the horizon, just as I was driving into Sambar’s complex – An auspicious omen in indeed.

I got to his place, just as he was cooking up his Boca-burger surprise for dinner. After shooting the breeze about the tensile strength of 19th century swords, the oratory of Sivaji Ganeshan, the genius of the Tamil Sangam and other similar esoteric subjects that often come up at Sambar’s place, we loaded up the kayaks and set out toward the put in.

A short distance from Phoenixville, we turned off a bridge, down an incline, onto a road that skirted the Schuylkill Canal. We turned left into a smallish parking lot and pulled the kayaks off the carrier. The last minute checks – the paddles, the LED lights, a liberal spray of DEET and we carried the boats onto the river bank.

It was not much of a put in -- just a mucky slope. Being less adept of the two, I got into my kayak and Sambar launched me into the water. He soon joined me and we set off. The flick of the paddle and we moved from the shadows of the trees on the shore, into the shimmer of the moonlight. The moon, now high in the sky was no longer large, but it was bright as a flashlight. There was a fair current and the boats moved along with barely a paddle.

The sounds of the night were amplified. The air was somewhat warm and the humidity hung on my upper lip. There…that was the plop of a frog launching itself into the water, and there… the sound of a bird taking off from the branches above.

The night air conveyed all manner of sounds – cars, their tires hissing on distant roads, the trains running across the trestles of a bridge somewhere downstream. The steady booms of cannon fire… perhaps the historic re-enactors at Valley Forge was practising their skills… The river carried us fast and easy. Sambar, who has done this stretch of the river by daylight, led the way, picking his way around strainers, submerged rocks and under the spans of bridges.

The light of a fisherman’s lamp cast a small circle of light on the near bank. We could just make out the form of a man in waders hunched over his fishing rod. The moon followed us through our trip down the river, peering at us occasionally from between the branches, sometimes coming out into the open for a clear look at us.

I had brought along a disposable camera and I went trigger happy (until the flash conked off). We did not say much, Sambar and I, just drifted along, a paddle splash now and again.

An hour into our ride, Sambar began scanning the near bank on the left-hand side intently. Overhead, I saw the power lines, he had earlier said, marked the point where we had to pull out for the canal. I had, frankly, expected the canal to connect to the river. But here, we had to pull out and carry the kayaks fifty yards or so, to the canal. The luminous dial face of my watch said 10:30 pm.

Take out was another mucky affair, but it went through much better than we feared. We walked through a path cut in the tall undergrowth (by Schuylkill Canal volunteers) till we reached the canal. A road and a street lamp stood on the other side, beyond the towpath. We launched into the still waters of the Schuylkill Canal. We paddled steadily into the night. The canal was lined on both sides by trees. Occasionally houses came up on the right-hand side. On one occassion we saw a restaurant. Gardens fronted the canal, and we could smell fresh blossoms.

The mirror of the canal’s waters was only broken by our paddle strokes. The reflections cast by the houses and trees along its edge made it seem like we were floating above an underwater world.

The moon cast its perfect likeness on the water and Sambar was reciting the Mantrapushpam. Just the right subtext for the evening.

Yopam pushpam veda / pushpavan prajavan pashuvan bhavati|
Chandramava Apam pushpam|
Pushpavan, Prajavan pashuman bhavati||
Ya Evam Veda / yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanam bhavati. Agnirva Apamayatanam / Ayatanavan Bhavati/
Yo gnerayatanam Veda / Ayatanavan bhavati/