Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Persistence of Hope

In the longest Grand Slam final in Open Era tennis (probably ever as well), Novak Djokovic ended the almost 6 hour odyssey with a forehand shot from the middle of the court to his right and out of reach of Rafael Nadal's forehand.

That is not to say that the fight was as simple, though it certainly looked it after the 3rd set. Nadal had taken the first set 7-5, but Djokovic had then stormed through the next two sets, taking them 6-4 and then 6-2. The Spaniard seemed out of the game - tired, sweating, running to and fro - while the Serbian dictated the shots from the center of his baseline. Anyone who would have said that the match would go till a fifth set would have been considered blind with stupidity or with hope.

Yet that is exactly what happened. The turning point was the game in the fourth set, when Nadal was down forty love on his own serve and a break point to the Serb would have given the world number one a chance to serve for the match. But against all odds, all statistics, against all reason and rational belief, Rafael Nadal thundered serve after serve and rally after rally to win the game, and went on to win the set. As a friend remarked, he seemed to be telling us all: "Alright boys, warm up's over. Let's start playing some tennis".

(When Djokovic was down in the game that led to the fourth set's tie break, you could see the weariness in him as he let the last shot go, saving his energy for the tie break.)

And even in the fifth set, as the match passed the five hour time and into 30 plus shot rallies that left players gasping for breath on the floor, Nadal, while on the run from the far corner of the court hammered a cross court winner that just seemed surreal. As the commentator put it, "that shot at 164kph was the fastest we've seen, and he was going backwards when he hit it"

It was all to no avail, sadly, as Djokovic outlasted - even he would admit that he didn't really "defeat" - Nadal, plunging to his knees and tearing off his tee shirt in joy and relief. But this belies the accomplishment that Nadal achieved that night. In the midst of players who have honed their art to perfection - and there is no denying that there is a certain grace, fluidity, and even sagacity to the way Federer, Djokovic, and Murray all play - Nadal succeeds to trump all that with pure grit. He never gives up, never retreats, no matter what the scoreboard says, no matter what odds the bookies dole out. In a word, he inspires. In his grinding of teeth and grunting of chest, we are reminded to hope regardless of how hopeless things seem, that for anyone and all of us, the match is never over till the last point is played.

After the semi finals against Federer, Nadal was briefly interviewed on court about the rivalry between him and Federer. In three days, the age of Federer-Nadal has ended. The era of Nadal-Djokovic has begun.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


The smell of cigarette smoke from the pub clung on to his clothes, like the memory of the past refusing to let go. He let the windows down to allow the wind rush in and wash the stained smell out of his head and his car.

The night air was cool, it had rained the previous morning and that had taken the edge off the cold north Indian winter. It no longer cut like a blade but flowed like a river over his face.

He suddenly realised that the smokey afterglow in the moist laden winter air smelled like those late nights he had spent back home, driving through streets he had no names for but knew like they were family, with people whose names he remembered but had no idea of where they were or what they would be doing at this moment.

He drove on, homeward bound through the young night.

Having promised his father that he would be home by a little after midnight, he passed through the gate of his colony at ten past twelve. But he drove past the turn that led to his house. What the hell. His promise could wait a few more minutes. It was such a lovely night right now.

He could still smell her in his head. Incense candles mixed in with those dry petals which his mother used to freshen up their living room. A chance missed, no doubt. But he had grown tired of all that. Or maybe too old for it. He smirked at his own self flagellation.

The structures of the colony drifted by the open windows of his car in second gear, his foot off the gas pedal. Grotesquely large bungalows with domes floated by his peripheral vision like icebergs warning him of danger. He guided his car almost drearily through trees sprung out in the middle of the road, swaying left and right in a dance of life and, well, a huge hole in his pocket.

Suddenly a whiff of something sweet ran through his windows. What was it? Jacaranda? No, not at this time of the year. Wondering what it was, he backed his car up to where he'd smelt it. Slowly now, there it was. Dew, he realised. Beautiful in its simplicity and clarity and freshness. The moist air reminded him more and more of home.

He let the smell of cold nights and the memories of early mornings overtake him. Adolescence in Alipore, the smell of anticipation with a tinge of fear as they broke the law. Nonchalance in North Campus and the smell of weeks spent in listless banter. Business in Bilekahalli as discussions on pricing strategies filled the whiteboard on his wall and the smell of that warm, far too sweet chai filled his head.

His circle of the colony complete, he parked his car in the usual spot. Stretching out to the cold Delhi winter, he took in one last breath before he stepped inside.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


The table calendar was useless now, he thought, as he undressed after a good long evening celebrating the advent of another year and got ready for bed. It had been gifted to him by a senior from college, a calendar depicting various aspects of a place that had once seemed so alien but now represented a time which he longed for as if it were home. The thought of this made him smile and he picked up the 5x7 inch calendar, paraphernalia purchased for probably no more than a hundred rupees at the college's cooperative store, and flipped to January and leafed through each month, every memory, of the year that had just passed.

It always ends, he felt. Here was a picture of students sitting on the lawns, there was a picture of the college's founder, each month's picture with a caption to depict the mood of the image. How foolish, he chided himself, to rummage through the past for traces of glory like a homeless man rummages through garbage for scraps of food. He decided that he would throw the calendar out the first thing in the morning.

At December, the month that was barely four hours over, the caption read Solitude. How apt, he thought, that after all those pages, those captions of hope, sunshine, and dreams, came one so brutally honest and real. The last mile, walked alone. Winter in Delhi. Cold, desolate, empty. He turned the last page.

But only it hadn't been the last page, there was one more. Maybe the printers had calculated that adding one more page would be of no incremental cost. Whatever the case had been, the true final page lay before him, the image of the clock tower and two students sitting in front of the auditorium. The month, January of 2012. The caption a single word.


The calendar in his hand almost seemed to smirk with an air of condescension between his fingers, vindicated in it's extended usefulness for one more month. He placed it slowly back on the table beside his bed, in its rightful place - a testament to remind him that beyond the end, new beginnings always prevailed. That solitude is necessary, but it is not tantamount to isolation, as the companions sleeping beside him and in the next room, and even several blocks and pin codes away, served to remind him. Friendship would always last beyond the year. And the year after that. We are alone in choosing the paths that we must tread, but our friends and family will always walk beside us, outlasting even the bleakest winters and the coldest mists.

Happy New Year.