Thursday, September 02, 2004

Cricket In A Sunburned Country

I have just finished reading a most interesting book. In A Sunburned Country (sold in the U.K. as Down Under) is mostly about Australia. It is a travel book written by Bill Bryson, who, I suspect, is an American who has spent a good many years in Europe.

The book carries the reader along at a steady pace, neither hurrying him, nor boring him to distraction with too many details.

The bit I found most hilarious was about cricket. Well, Bryson is crisscrossing the island-continent-country Down Under in a car, when he chances upon a cricket game on the radio.

Listening to cricket commentary on radio, according to Bryson, is "like listening to two men sitting in a rowboat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren’t biting; it's like having a nap without losing consciousness. It actually helps not to know quite what’s going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distraction."

Bryson goes on to comment on the commentary... "Neasden, it appeared, was turning in a solid performance at square bowel, while Packet had been a stalwart in the dribbles, though even these exemplary performances paled when set aside the outstanding play of young Hugo Twain-Buttocks at middle nipple. The commentators were in calm agreement that they had not seen anyone caught behind with such panache since Tandoori took Rogan Josh for a stiffy at Vindaloo in '61."

When you think about it, that's exactly how it would sound to someone who has never watched the game before in his life and is not privy to its joys.

In A Sunburned Country touches on variety of interesting aspects of travel that I haven’t encountered in a run-of-the-mill travel book -- vast expanses, primeval landscapes and improbable creatures. His travelogue is sprinkled with history and contemporary culture notes, all of which are inevitably amusing.

But, it is the bit about cricket that sticks to my mind, like the aftertaste of Bailey's after a nightcap.

About the game itself, this is what Bryson has to say. This excerpt is from Notes From A Small Island, a book about Britain.

"(Cricket) is the only sport which shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players (more if they are moderately restless). It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning

"... Imagine a batter wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioactive isotopes, and a mattress attached to each leg. Imagine moreover that if this batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to waddle sixty feet with mattresses strapped to his legs he is under no compulsion to run, he may stand there all day and, as rule, does...

"If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a misstroke that leads to him being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug... imagine all of this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept in and library books are overdue. There you have cricket."

I am sure to recall that bit and sport a smile the next time I stride out to the wicket from the clubhouse...

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

"Even Buffalos Don’t Drink Water In This Season"

(Pothungoodi vellam kuddikyatha kalamanne)

Malayalam is the first language I learned to speak, and over the years, I have discovered the richness in its expression, both profane and profound… sometimes even confounding, hard to beat.

If, I like something better than a punch-line in Malayalam, it is a Malayalam punch-line translated into English. An appropriately-flavoured translation could easily fuel an entire evening’s worth of conversation. A true translation had to be tart and trite just as its original in Malayalam.

Over the years, I have come across some choice phrases like – I am here to shave buffalos (what’s with Mallus and their buffalos, anyway); or the more extreme... I will have your funeral feast (Ninnde pulisseri kazzikyum).

Or the one in the title… That one was a favourite of a high school teacher of mine. Sir Raghunathan used that when we asked to be excused to have a drink of water, especially during the rains. Raghunathan, a native of Kerala, taught math and science in a school in suburban Bombay, and he spiced his language with the choicest of Malayalam phrases. Of course, you had to know the language fairly well to comprehend what he was talking about, and the full impact was lost on most of my classmates. But, the Mallus in class, and we were a few, had quite a laugh.

There was the classic -- "Don't hand me the stick to give you a beating."
(Vadi kodutthu adi vangikyade)

Then there was -- Don’t get into the gun and shoot, ah!"
(Tokkil keri vedi vekyadde)

That was directed at Vijay, was one of the poor sods conscripted by his parents for extra tuitions with Sir R. Vijay had recognized one of the questions on a test as one he had managed a sneak peak at while they were being formulated at Sir R’s table. He was just about to share his rare and prescient observation with his dullard mate in the backbenches when Sir R’s voice boomed across the room. Needless to say, Vijay made no further moves towards the trigger.

There was one comment reserved for the more inconsistent and distracted ones among us. “You are either on the master’s chest or in the courtyard outside.”

That one got my vote as the uber-profound phrases of all time. For the Mallus who didn’t recognize that one. It’s… “Onnugil Aashan-de nenjattu, alyangil Kalari-de purathu.

Christ! Trust Sir R to make math class a cultural experience!

What Was I Thinking?!

Another alcohol-induced epiphany:
When it gets down to it, have you considered how ugly most people are? Pity, they don’t try to make up for it by being agreeable.