Sunday, August 23, 2015

Top 10 memories: Sports

Hello there, kind reader. Like your dentist last promised you, this one's going to be real quick. Less pain to endure - my word.

"Fresh" from watching three sport-related documentaries back to back on a bumpy flight, I find myself sitting on the carpeted floor of an airport, justifying the emptying of my hard earned and well guarded piggy bank for a trip that (as much as I've dreamt of for *years*) does not involve an F1 race in Belgium. And since there's nine hours of this sitting, waiting and miserable analysis I imagine I will subject myself to, I've taken to poor Notepad for distraction.

The documentaries I watched - one on Arsenal, one on Nadal/ Federer and the last, on motorsports (but of course!) - got me navigating my far-from-nimble mind palace to take stock of moments from these sports that really got to me. So here's a simple list of my top sport memories - some good, some bad but all bloody brilliant - from the last decade or so.

I'm giving myself just one shot and less than half an hour to list down the top ten, allowing myself a fine excuse for when I think of other entries that should've made the cut. Given how my memory is known for everything but retention and quick recall, I figured I'm better off announcing this disclaimer. :)

10. Federer vs Murray - Wimbledon 2012
There's a charged Andy Murray, there's perhaps all of England connecting with Jesus because they want to see a British champion again and there's Roger Federer calmly raining down brilliance. Good guy Murray, but Federer reclaiming the Wimbledon title in style gave me a high that refused to go away for a while.

9. Sebastian Vettel's first win at Monza in 2008
This 21 year old's emphatic pole + victory at a passion-packed track like Monza was special not just because he's German and held promise but also 'cuz his hero was good old Schumi. Like in a fairy tale, baby-faced Vettel grew up to race alongside his hero and won the Race of Champions Nations trophy with Schumacher (for Germany) in 2007. His consistent performances in F1 made me wish we'd see him in Ferrari one day. Well.. yay.

8. Schumacher's engine's PMSing - Japanese GP 2006
Schumacher was this close to an 8th world championship. But while he was in the lead in the penultimate race of the year, his engine decided to put up a show by going up in smoke. That's that. Bollocks. Miserable rascal, that engine. Ugh.

7. Miroslav Klose/ Mesut Ozil - World Cup 2006 / 2010
Klose's Golden Shoe for being the top scorer in the 2006 World Cup in Germany was immensely special because that was the first time I found myself hooked to football. It's inexplicable why I took to the German National team like I did but there's been no going back since (Except to the Deutscher Fußball-Bund cap I have..since the darned thing has Adidas on it). And Klose was an instant favorite for reasons I can't remember. His personality, perhaps. Whatever it was, I'm a fan for life.
Similar scenes with Mesut Ozil - love at first sight during the 2010 World Cup. Yes, despite his frog-like eyes. On a good day, what he does on field is pure magic to my eyes. More power to the boy!

6. Kimi Raikkonen's suspension failure - European GP 2005
If you knew me back when Raikkonen raced Schumacher for the championship, you'd remember just how much I enjoyed his cars' many reliability issues.
Raikkonen's engine blew? HAHA! The smoke escaping his car was my favorite version of modern art.
Raikkonen crashed at the first corner? "Oooooh boy, good luck explaining that static grin on your face to teachers in school tomorrow, Merin."

But something pulled on my heart during the European GP in 2005. Raikkonen took the lead at the first corner of the race after a brilliant start and drove a good race up until, perhaps, boredom hit him. A few driving errors meant he damaged his tyres a tad too much. The damage eventually got so bad that he began experiencing vibrations throughout the car; still in the lead but with an eager Alonso closing in, a pit stop meant relinquishing victory. During the final laps of the race, the vibrations were so severe that you could see his head bobbing about in the cockpit and I remember thinking that that level of determination and hunger for victory deserved immense respect. Suddenly, BOOM! Last lap of the race and his suspension broke under immense pressure. Seconds later, he picked himself off the barriers. It was all over. That was the first time I felt terrible for the Finn.

First of many times, as we'd have it. When I next found myself crying - literally - for him, I ended up writing my first (wonderfully cringe-worthy) blog post - here.

5. Germany's triumph at the 2014 World Cup
After years of agonising near-misses at World Cups and Euros, DFB made gold theirs..with a 7-1 scoreline along the way! Too good to be true, I'd have said. Everything - luck included - worked well for Germany in 2014 and the end-result gave me good reason to feel like a champion.
Albeit temporarily, as always.

4 and 3. Germany's loss to Spain (Euro 2008) and Federer's loss to Nadal (Wimbledon 2008)
Both these matches took place in the span of a week, mid-2008. And both saw Spaniards come out on top. If Germany's loss to Spain hurt deep, what happened at Wimbledon the following weekend left me emotionally drained. My mom and I were both teary-eyed at the end of the match..only, mum was celebrating Nadal's victory. I have absolutely no credentials to bother you with my commentary on that EPIC match but I remember passing out from a case of spectator's exhaustion, utterly heart broken.

2. Schumacher brothers at the San Marino GP - 2003
After pulling off a 1-2 at qualifying in San Marino, Ralf and Michael had to rush to Cologne to be with their ailing mum. They unfortunately lost her on race day morning but flew back down to Imola to put in measured drives, with Michael taking the win. On the top step of the podium, we found Schumacher - popularly declared stone hearted - crying. The grit, determination and pain I saw on Michael's face that day left behind a mental image that will never leave me. Ever. 

1. Schumacher vs Kimi - Brazilian GP 2006
This was set to be Schumacher's last race, given he'd announced his retirement at Monza that year. He started the race down in 10th but moved up the track pretty quick - only to endure a puncture and go all the way back the grid. He then drove a blinding race with upto eleven-twelve beautiful overtaking manoeuvres, to finish fourth. The pass that leaves me drooling every single time I watch it though, is the move Schumacher pulled on Raikkonen towards the end - sudden, precise, gutsy, too close for comfort. Perfect. 
My favorite F1 moment, shared by my favorite F1 people. 

* 0. A bonus! My favorite moment, irrespective of everything in the world, will be when I walk the track at Spa Franchorchamps in Belgium.  :) Someday soon, I tell you. Someday soon.

That's that! What's your list like? :) 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

“What did your MBA give you?”

XIME turned 20 and the celebrations were big! A kind, unsuspecting alumnus asked me to write a nostalgia-driven article for a magazine that was to be published for the occasion. Here's what I managed to cough up.

As a member of the minority race in my first company – I was the rare MBA graduate in a sea of Chartered Accountants – I often got asked questions on my MBA experience.

Why MBA?”

“What made you decide you wanted to do MBA?”

“What did your MBA give you?”

While I have been dishing out adulatory hokum that seemed to serve as appropriate answers, the anniversary celebrations at XIME did get me wondering - what did my MBA really give me? 
Now, I couldn't conjure up the perfect answer, but please indulge me as I attempt to put it down here.

From my two years at XIME, dotted with several hundred precious, some painful and many nerdy memories, one in particular overwhelms me the most – one made during our batch’s twelve day educational tour of China / Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. (That trip faced ridiculously high expectations set by 180 eager students but boy, did it deliver!)

As a part of our tour, we had the blessed opportunity to visit The Great Wall of China. Everyone was obviously kicked to the hilt all through the journey..only to reach the destination and find the mighty place dressed with fog and rain drops. But before I could complete my whine about how a sunny Great Wall would have made for a better experience, the boys from the batch (and some girls too!) made their way up the steps leading to The Wall in speeds that could make Usain Bolt proud.

Juyong pass, the part of The Wall that we visited, had six watch towers (or levels, as we called them) along the way to the summit. Considering we weren’t the fittest of the lot, my friend Shinu Simon and I decided we could loiter around a couple of levels before hitting the tour bus. We enthusiastically covered two levels and clicked enough snaps for Facebook glory along the way. As the rain began coming down harder, our motivation to touch level three grew weak. It absolutely did not help that the steps got steeper and the path, narrower. But uh oh – there it was. Peer pressure! With nearly everyone wanting to cover as much ground as possible, we coaxed ourselves to go one level further. And we hit Level 3! 
But..could we possibly do more? Our Duracell-driven Mallu peers (who’d happily made their way up to the summit and were headed back down) threw incentives at us – Level 4 had a souvenir shop that handed out medals, they said. Before we knew it, Shinu and I were staring at our medals with so much pride, you’d have thought we held new-borns in our hands. But hey! Mission accomplished! 
Or was it?

At Level 4, the number of enthu-cutlets running about The Wall had trickled down to 1/5th the number at the base. It was cold – SO cold, I remember feeling pain in my fingertips and toes. The stinging rain was no less harsh, slapping us in our faces every time we attempted to raise our heads. We were incredibly exhausted and our muscles seemed to have taken turns to submit their resignation letters. We looked up at the VERY steep steps leading up to Level 5, looked at each other, felt common sense leaving our bodies and hauled ourselves up, step after step. With every step I took, a voice in my head broke down, abusing my unnecessarily zealous ideas. When we finally did land at Level 5 though, the voice shut up. Shinu, my voice and I – we all knew we could go no further but we also knew we had gone an extra mile, pushed our limits like never before and accomplished something that would make us smile every single time we thought of it.

Yep, just how it makes us smile now!

I find myself comparing this experience to the two years of MBA itself.
Most of us started off with two things: a definitive goal (get a job?) and a hazy path that we hoped would lead us to said goal. We made our way through one year – learning, bonding, winning, fumbling and discovering our capacities, our friends and ourselves. As we approached the second year, having gotten a taste of all things Corporate during the summer internship, the ascent got steep and tense. We had to decide (if we didn't already know) our majors / career-streams, embrace them and work towards them. There was encouragement and advice from professors – some of whom we can (gratefully) still call on - just as much as there was pressure from peers.  We constantly fell out of our comfort zones (for instance, some of us had to befriend the enigma that called itself International Finance(!)) and were compelled to go a level further than we ever had before. And we finally made our way to the finish line hoping we'd given it all our best. Hoping, that we’d enhanced our skills and opened up avenues for a career that could keep us happy. Hoping, that we’d made a good number of friends for life in the process. And hoping, that we’d look back and smile. 
Now, three years since that hike, I can’t find reasons not to.   

If you haven’t already given up on my almost-failed attempt to give that question an honest answer, here goes:  What do I think my MBA gave me? It gave me what I worked for and what I longed for.
Simply put, my MBA gave me everything I really wanted to take away from it. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

STFU dear relative, you're out of your element

Hello there, dear reader. Been a while, innit? My writing is as rusty as my grey matter so you will excuse me while I rant my way through this article, won't you?

The emotional fuel required to get this post going came from a call my mother received some time last week. It was a relative calling in with what seemed to be terrible news.

Relative: *small talk in a bored, somber tone*'s 
Mom: *silent prayers for every one's health* Ok? What is it?
Relative: X (my nephew) is getting engaged. As is Y (my niece) -  both in the next month..BUT don't worry!! Merin will eventually have this happen to her too!!!

My, my. A tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. *clenches fist* The last time I was this overcome with rage was when I wanted to tackle a Schumacher-deserves-that-coma preacher to the ground.

Relatives, relatives! There's incredible ones, of course..but there's also the species that serve as a perennial itch to your mental peace. They will check on your grades while you're young and certify your behavior based on the rainbows you vomit in response to anything they ask of you. They will also check on your height and your weight and the growing evidence of your lady-ness, all through your teenage years. They will work with their network of spies to unearth juicy details about your college life (and their efforts will have been in vain if your love life was as non-existent as mine). And exactly when you hit quarter-life crisis, an alarm goes off in their heads, compelling them to remind your already harrowed parents of your unmarried-ness. Their calls start off with a simple, "She's old enough, no?", proceed to "Isn't she getting too old?" over the next two months and before you know it, there's a repetitive chant haunting the walls of your home: "You'd better get your girl married off soon or else ...

There's more. Remember when your distant cousin's mother once pulled you aside during a function and asked you, one hand over your shoulder and creepy smile in place, "Is there somebody in your life already? Tell me, I promise I'll make it work. *wink and nudge* ".

Yeaaaah, why not? And while you're at it, scheming and forgetting promises faster than Kiran Bedi forgets her principles, please choke on the pandi curry.

From the lives of my (absolutely amazing) cousins, I also know of the alarm that goes off nine months into one's marriage. I find it unbelievable that people relentlessly walk up to a couple that's been married a while and asks them, "So..are you trying? How's it going?". Wait, what? Didn't the almost-random uncle just ask my sister how well she's planning and executing her sex life? Ugh. Take my word for it - once married, your husband and you simply must come up with replies our older generation of N-th order relatives wouldn't be able to cope with.

"No,'s been a bit tricky. How did you and aunty go about the whole 'trying' thing?"

Or better still, kill the problem for good:

"I've already had children, uncle. Triplets. Identical. Would you believe it?"
"Oh, it's been a roller-coaster, you know, having a son. The brat's barely 3 and I'm having to use a straight-jacket on him already."

I'm thinking I'll mostly go with, "I'm settling for a couple of adopted dogs, uncle. They're cuter than kids, I bet you'd agree! :)"

Them relatives also have a war chant I find hard to cope with - the extreme necessity to marry within one's own caste/ religion. HEY - Before you decide to torch my car, I'm all for finding a nice and intelligent (and funny? please?) Coorgi and conning him into marrying me, alright? What I don't get is the ridiculous hate that's spewed on inter-caste weddings. If you haven't come across an inter-caste wedding that was largely attended by people who behaved like they were at a funeral, you're a lucky child. I've often come across people passing remarks so snide, I've wanted to smack their vacuous heads together. I was once stopped in my tracks by the bride's father at one such a wedding and the drunk man, doing justice to what smelt like Mansion House brandy, told me, "No matter what you do, marry a Coorgi! It doesn't matter if he's dumb or retarded, if he's Coorgi, marry him!".

Sure. That's probably the advice his wife was given before she made that leap of faith.
It's hard enough to find love in this batshitcrazy world, ladies and gents. Be happy - be VERY happy - if your child got lucky.

Speaking of which, I realize I owe thanks to a few genuinely nice relatives who saw through my desperately-feminine conversations, discovered a girl who was born to be a wing-man and decided they just had to help me find an equally difficult man. Yep, they've tasked themselves with the challenge of arranging my wedding. I think the process behind initiating an arranged marriage is akin to a spoof of the average horror movie. You never know where a groom candidate is going to pop out from and how much these boy-meet-girl sessions are going to affect you but you always walk away having experienced Vadivelu-level comedy.

For instance, one seemingly smart NRI-chap I spoke to detailed his talents, achievements and extreme NRI-ness to a great extent - perhaps deservedly so! But then, half an hour into the conversation where I'm sure I managed to sound like I had a functioning brain, this happened:
"We're celebrating Thanksgiving next weekend so my schedu..Oh wait! Do you even know what Thanksgiving is?"
Facepalm, really. I wanted to chip in with, "I dunno, something about us Indians in America?". I didn't but I sure laughed over it. Until my dad gave me the you-are-beyond-hope stare.

I can never sufficiently rant about this (or anything, for that matter) but I've run out of steam already, so I'll shut it.

I'll leave you with one vaguely important piece of advice though. This isn't advice from inherent wisdom - but you must know that already, smart reader? The words wisdom and inherent were never destined to appear together in a sentence about me. This comes from experience.

Consider a scenario where you're as unfit as a goat prepped for sacrifice. Ok? Extend that thought and allow yourself to attempt some stand-up comedy. By that I mean - go on, play cricket for the first time ever, with utter disregard to the concept of inertia. Now here's the most important thing you need to remind yourself as you indulge in this interesting sport, young padawan: DON'T WHACK YOUR OWN STUMPS WHILE BATTING.

You won't get over it easily. I assure you.

I'm not really saying this happened to me while I fooled myself into thinking I could react intelligently to the stimulus of a moving ball, guys. *twiddles thumbs innocently* As The Dude might have put it, well, y'know, this is just my opinion, man.