On Religion, Choices and Criticism

Credits: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Credits: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

All issues involving Paris/religion are too sensitive and dense to talk about lightly. Lives have been lost; families are smaller, emptier. But there is one thing, I feel is right, to talk about: criticism of religion, since a lot is being said how it might have been unwise of Charlie Hebdo to do what they have been doing: criticising a religion.

My basic understanding (at this point in my life) is it is very wrong of us to criticise someone for things she didn’t choose. Like a person’s surname, her colour of skin, and the like. Things beyond her control. But a religion is very much something we have to chose for ourselves. In fact, we have to chose two things here:

  1. Whether to embrace religion.
  2. Whether to embrace ‘X’ religion.

A religion may well be, once you’ve chosen, the bedrock of your life. But so could a stray dog a lonely homeless person found on the streets and now gives her life some meaning be (or <insert your preferably grand scenario to assuage your offended-by-religion-being-compared-to-a-stray-dog heart>).

But tomorrow Mrs. M feels the dog to be a nuisance for the neighbourhood and very loudly badmouths the dog to her neighbour, which the entire neighbourhood hears. This comes to the attention of our homeless person. As it turns out, our homeless person doesn’t shoot down M, but tries to make the dog, her life’s one shining light, more acceptable.

There are two things of note here:

  1. The homeless person realising it is not unnatural for a fellow human to not value the dog as much as she does or speak of the dog as highly as she does. (Thus allowing freedom of opinion, free speech)
  2. The homeless person realising it is even possible for fellow humans to hate the dog she so loves. (Thus making use of Adam Smith’s ‘impartial spectator’ by putting herself in other’s shoes)

If a person cannot think this way, what that person needs, more than a religion, is a simple lesson in humanity and common sense. The important thing is to realise that choosing a religion or a dog to be the centre of your life doesn’t make them the right and perfect choices for you or everybody.

As Wittgenstein talks in his book On Certainty, it is very difficult to be absolutely “certain” about things we take for granted everyday. And we can only be certain, if at all, by eliminating all other possibilities. Where there is a choice, there is an alternate possibility. And even though our choice may seem to be the correct one at this moment, in the long run, it may well turn out to be a disaster (or may not). Moreover good and bad, right and wrong are all relative terms, never absolute. What is right for you (Wittgenstein whispers: Are you really sure it is right?) may not be right for the girl next to you and vice-versa. So how could a human who cannot figure the chain of hundreds of reactions her simplest choices trigger off until it is too late, whose choice of embracing religion and choice of embracing ‘X’ religion both have competing choices in atheism and other religions, respectively, can be so sure that her choice is absolutely (not relatively) correct? How can that religious person be so arrogant to feel offended by another human questioning and slandering her choice when that same religious person has the very same right to question and slander the choices made by her fellow human and it is nobody else’s fault but her that she chose not to exercise that right?

I’ll end my chain of thoughts here and let more famous people hog the limelight.

It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that.” As if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more… than a whine. It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I am offended by that.” Well, so fucking what? – Stephen Fry

To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous, but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas – even if they are sincerely held beliefs – is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. A law which attempts to say you can criticise and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended. The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness – and the other represents oppression. – Rowan Atkinson

There are just no grounds for any person to be offended by any other person over anything, much less over a choice which practically begs criticism, as every choice warrants criticism. Simple as that.

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Beauty Pageants, As Sanity Rests In Peace

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So a pretty lady wears some pretty clothes, puts on some pretty makeup, walks on a pretty dais, in a pretty manner and wins a pretty crown. She wins the crown because she was prettier than every other pretty lady, in everything every pretty lady there was asked to do. Now as I understand, there are two reasons for going through this. First, for a designer to showcase his/her talent in creating good clothing, he/she needs someone to flaunt his/her creation – a model. Second, to find the prettiest of all the pretty ladies in town, at least from among those who decided to be judged, this procedure is essential.

The thing is I have an issue with this setup. No, I have no problems with the first reason, since it’s the designer who wins the award and not the one flaunting it and neither would I mind if the model gets some credit because he/she did his/her job well. As long as the primary credit goes to the designer. People want to dress well and who am I to stand in between and point fingers? I don’t mind dressing well either. So that’s okay.

What I’m not comfortable with is the second reason – beauty pageants – someone winning something for having the best looking exterior. Also, since the earlier I make myself clear the better, I better be absolutely honest about it. I’m not just uncomfortable, I absolutely despise this arrangement. In my opinion, the very concept of a competition to choose the best looking human from either gender is one of the stupidest of the many ridiculous ideas cooked up by mankind over the course of many a stupid centuries. Absolute nonsense! That’s my central point. Now, now. Calm down. Be seated and let me explain myself.

Sure it’s not just beauty, the attitude and the confidence are also scrutinized. Fair enough. My question is, why? I mean, what for? The way I see, in our society, if we, as a society, recognize something about an individual – with informal appreciation or a formal honour – it almost always deals with something that benefits the society, or at least a part of the society. That something is called talent. And the said recognition comes when the said talent is put to use in a way that enriches the society, by any worthwhile amount.

Now let us talk about talent. Why? Because that is the key that unlocks the present issue. And because I have a very opportune quote gift-wrapped, with champagne, for this occasion.

“We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

I may be a good dancer (I’m actually the worst. Ever.), you may be a great singer, the one beside you may be a great painter – each of those is a talent and that makes each one of us talented in some way. But why is it a talent? Because these qualities have the ability, the power, to enrich the society we live in. A good dance, a good song, a good painting – each has the ability to please an individual, the building block of the society, and enrich his/her daily life. Every individual has hobbies and your or my talents can enhance his/her life and consequently, the society.

But, as dear Madeleine once said, just because we are born with such talents doesn’t automatically make us worthy of appreciation. Unless we utilize our talents to enrich others’ lives, it is just not worth mentioning. And here is where my woes unfold. Being a good looking, or say, the best-looking human is not even a talent, no sir. What good are your good looks for me, my friend or the society? That won’t make me happy, fill my stomach, pay my rent or drive me around, now will it? You’re good-looking. That’s about it. End of story.

L’Engle and I don’t consider talented people worthy of appreciation if they don’t contribute to the society but here is a concept by the good human race to recognize, appreciate and adore fellows humans on something that is not even a talent, something that – except for pleasing the eyes for a bit – is perfectly useless. There are cameras, there’s video recordings, there’s live telecasts, huge money is spent, there are throngs of people, people of many ages, people from far and wide – all assembled together to gawk at something beautiful but practically useless. The sensual pleasure derived is too short-lived and superficial to call it a talent. It’s just something people are born with. Like a nose, two ears, two eyes and four limbs. Born a bit differently and not with any of their effort. Absolutely nothing to pride oneself on.

Yet this concept has continued, and will continue to thrive. Over the many talkative centuries, man has said many a great things about himself – he has always loved to talk about himself – and the most common bit of arrogance from his mouth has always been how intelligent and sensible he considers himself to be over every other being that breathes. But with each passing minute I spend on the planet where – the birth of a baby of royal parentage, the wedding in a family of unmatched fame and many a competitions devoted to fellow human’s appearance – all get a million times more attention and appreciation than a fight for freedom in some oppressed and forgotten land or the efforts of an anonymous scientist who spends his life creating a life-changing cure or an advanced piece of tech, I keep wishing we went back in time. Especially because I believe it is only going to get worse. Buckle-up.

2013 in Music: My Top 10 Albums of the Year

In this little piece, I have attempted to put forward a list of albums that I’ve loved the most out of the many albums that have come out this year. Loving an album is one thing but ranking them against another album which you love just as much is probably the hardest part in this business. Of the eleven albums I’ve listed here, I love all of them a lot. But where’s the fun if there’s no competition via an opinion? Therefore the rankings. I have given my customary disclaimer and now you can delve into the list. As always, good or bad, would love to hear all opinions. Happy new year!

Honorable Mention: In a Time Lapse

Artist: Ludovico Einaudi

Genre: Classical

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Breathtaking. There are artists that make you contemplate on things you never would have thought much about, that make you see the abyss of despair and the heights of glory like few other and then there’s Ludovico Einaudi, a man who is out to give you joy. There are many way to describe Einaudi, acclaimed and renowned that he is. But to me, it’s too much information, too much noise. At its pure undressed crux of matter, Ludovico Einaudi has always been a man devoted to give you pure and unbridled joy. And that’s what In a Time Lapse does.

It would sound a bit funny if I proclaim that this may well be Einaudi’s most fulfilling work yet but I would proclaim the very same. Because it is. Many times in his studio pieces, a bit of dullness used to creep into his creations as the album grew. Not this time. He seems to have done away with such pieces and instead focused on polished perfection. With violins ever so beautifully complementing his kingly piano work and the album continuously tiptoeing into various recesses of your mind, this is an album that is impossible to stop once you’ve started playing. A joyous beauty.

Recommended.

10. Evil Friends

Artist: Portugal. The Man

Genre: Psychedelic, Progressive

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Could it be we got lost in the summer?
I know, you know, that it’s over
But you’re still there
Treading water.

Most addictive start I’ve had to an album of 2013, after Sigur Rós’ Brennisteinn. And as they say, morning shows the day. This is PTM’s eighth studio album but it might as well have been their third, an album number where artists and bands usually create their most fresh as well as polished work – such is this album’s magnificence.

The album, before you’ve caught your breath after Plastic Soldiers, marches into Creep In a T-Shirt. This one is catchy as well and very joyous and free-spirited. By this time, you are fully hooked. Danger Mouse’s inputs for Evil Friends has obviously been bang on target. One by one PTM pile on beauty and imagination through lots of rock, pop, psychedelic and electronica. The variety of thought and content throughout the record is simply breathtaking. A splendid splendid album.

Recommended.

09. Origins

Artist: God Is An Astronaut

Genre: Post-rock

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God Is An Astronaut is probably my favourite post-rock band by some distance. It’s my go-to band when I’m in the mood for some of this genre. It’s been like that for years now. So every GIAA release is a pretty big deal for me. What was most surprising for me with Origins is the induction of synth elements into their repertoire. Initially I wasn’t too keen into it but by the time I was done with the album, I totally got what they did and why. I’m not sure if they will retain it for future releases but for this particular album, it seemed appropriate. It dealt with science fiction. And such music just felt right. What’s great is it falls right inside the ballpark of music GIAA specialize in so it wasn’t a very stark change. It’s just an addition and if it persists, an evolution.

The album is majestic. The concept of the album is very well elucidated though their trademark brand of music with a picture of humanity in an era too far ahead of our own very well painted. The tracks aren’t too long or too short. Just about enough to convey a segment of the story and quickly, we’re onto the next segment. It’s like fast-paced blood-pulsating futuristic sci-fi, except, through music. And it’s brilliant. Transmissions, Spiral Code and Red Moon Lagoon are particularly great.

Recommended.

08. Reflektor

Artist: Arcade Fire

Genre: Indie, Art Rock, Disco

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As it starts, it sounds like a cross between The National (minus the baritone) and an electronic music group. The Arcade Fire album that I cherish the most is of course The Suburbs – a masterpiece. Compared to that album maybe just “You Already Know” comes close, in style. But bravely enough, they have moved on. Point is if it’s for the better or the worse. Clearly it’s been for something really good, if not better. (Sorry, how do you better The Suburbs? Just how?) And when I say something good, I mean it. It’s different but no less iconic than The Suburbs. They have picked a central theme (reflectors) and have woven a web with it, around it, around you and around me. It’s like an all-night seventies’ disco with reflectors instead of exits. You are not allowed to exit once you’ve entered their disco and thankfully, you don’t feel the need to. And just when you think of calling it off (which happens almost never except maybe as the album nears its end), you walk into a reflector, have a hard look at yourself in disbelief of your insanity and walk right back to the centre of the maddening engrossing frenzy and the disco goes on into the night. Beware, this album is an addiction.

Personally, I still haven’t gotten much into “Awful Sound” and “It’s Never Over” and it is those two I meant to refer to when I said you might think of exiting the disco midway. But apart from those momentary lapses of sanity, there’s not a single negative you can put your finger on. It’s brilliant, vintage and beautiful. Some tracks are genius (We Exist, Normal Person), some are catchy (Here Comes The Night Time, You Already Know) and the rest are plain classy indie.

Highly recommended.

07. Trouble Will Find Me

Artist: The National

Genre: Indie, Post-Punk

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More than class and beauty, The National have always been an enigma. Like an unsolved puzzle you want to solve, to put aside your work and get ready to solve and somehow between trying to figure them out and sitting in amazement one hour after, you are just never able to fully solve. Maybe that’s their charm that keeps testing you and pulling you back again and again. That and the sheer genius of every single of the songs and albums. Trouble Will Find Me is just another marvellous feather in their much decorated cap fedora. If you are familiar with their previous works, you don’t need an explanation about this one, not because of the obvious reason that you know how good they are but because this is just like how they are. Classic National. To the uninitiated, first rule of listening to these guys, just like I’d advise regarding listening to The Cure, is to pore properly into their lyrics. That’s their specialty, their unique brand of magic that separates them from all petty musicians of the world. Poignant and piercing lyrics delivered right into the centre of your heart through the dagger of Matt Berninger’s timeless baritone. It’s hard to pick a favourite because they are all so good but I’d like to point Graceless for special attention because it’s the one I come back to again and again. An all-round perfect and satisfying album, one that you can play in loop while you forget about the world.

Highly recommended.

06. Ghost on Ghost

Artist: Iron & Wine

Genre: Indie, Folk, Jazz, Blues

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More than being pleased or outraged, I was stunned by Ghost on Ghost. With every track I was getting past, my disbelief grew into amazement and by the time I was done with the album, I was positively stunned. If I had to bow before any musician this year for being brave, it is Samuel Beam. And he wasn’t just brave but unbelievably successful. He had built a world of solitude within austere walls and inside these walls, he and his fans had long been warm and comfortable. Many big bands spend their entire lifespan within similar walls of their own brand of music. Yet only a few curious and brave musicians dare to explore beyond their comfort zone. For Samuel Beam, it was more of a necessity. He says his last two albums contained an anxious tension he wanted to move away from. And he did. Unshackling himself from the melancholy and the gloom, the sober and the quietude, he lets himself soar like never before into an indie sky littered ever so casually with jazzy clouds. He soars further and he breathes the blues in. A bit further and there’s a bit of obvious Sam Beam folk and even R&B in the air. And it’s a very relaxed day under a joyous sky. The sun is bright, the clouds are smiling and I’m lying down on this Samuel Beam Sunday in a Samuel Beam beach, casually flicking through these Samuel Beam songs, being happy with myself and life. Basically Samuel Beam has killed it. He has killed me and he has owned music with this masterpiece, his genius.

In my opinion, this album is right up there with his very best and more importantly and amazingly, it is the polar opposite of his very best works. Highly recommended.

05. Spaces

Artist: Nils Frahm

Genre: Contemporary Classical

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Nils Frahm’s Spaces is not a brand new LP since it contains both old and new stuff nor is it a live album per se although it does contain live recordings of his performances in different spaces. It’s somewhere in between all of them and wherever it is, it’s perhaps a really beautiful space. And that’s what album is about, exploring various spaces.

For a quick grasp of Spaces, although unwise advice in more ways than one, one might try the 4-odd minute Hammers. It won’t disappoint you because it’s beautiful. But why would you do that? Instead, if time is of the essence in making up your mind on whether or not to give it a try but at the same time you are prepared to have the best possible peek into Nils Frahm’s Spaces, you should look for something more. His 17-odd minute masterpiece – For – Peter – Toilet Brushes – More is just that track. Either way, by this time, I’m hoping you are hooked with Spaces. Lucky for you, this album is so much more than those two. With a total one hour and sixteen minutes of contemplative, engaging and downright mesmerizing music that can set the day’s tone in the soothing quietude of early morn or lift the day’s pains in the arms of a haunting night, Nils Frahm has yet again created a masterpiece for the soul.

Highly recommended.

04. The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)

Artist: Steven Wilson

Genre: Progressive, Prog Rock

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Few things sadden me more than the lack of new Porcupine Tree albums and while I love almost everything Steven Wilson creates, I take every non-Porcupine Tree release of his with a sigh, knowing the wait just got that much longer. The only non-Porcupine Tree creation that I’ve loved like a Porcupine Tree album was Insurgentes. So when the year began with *another* Steven Wilson album, I was lukewarm towards it.

Until I was blown away.

Luminol, The Holy Drinker, The Watchmaker – three jam tracks that exemplify what Steven Wilson’s progressive style is all about although not what the album is all about because the album has both progressive presence with these long jam tracks but also Wilson’s song-oriented prog ballad presence with the shorter ones. It’s like watching Steven Wilson juggle six balls of two different colours and he does that with flying colours.

The concept of the album lies in ghost stories. Wilson has cited the 19th century ghost stories as literary influences. The bass-heavy jazz fusion opener Luminol captivates the listener with the long jam, waving in and out with macabre lyrics. It is followed by Drive Home which is the ballad-y side of Wilson at work. It’s pretty good though you feel you want to have more of those sensuous jams. Before long, the wish is granted. The Holy Drinker is perhaps the best track of this album and one of Steven Wilson’s all-time bests. With a myriad of instruments used ever so liberally and all the energy poured into this ever so profusely, with lyrics so dark and the jams so stark, there really was no other alternative. It is the song of the album. Then comes, again, a ballad-y counterpart, The Pin Drop. Again, quite pretty but I really love those jams. Enter, The Watchmaker. This is perhaps the track, from the viewpoint of the nature of the album, which is the most complete – balanced perfectly by the tranquility and the gravity of prog music – all the while unfurling a very Poe-like saga of a watchmaker murdering his wife. And then comes the finale – The Raven That Refused To Sing. This is perhaps the only ballad-y track that doesn’t make you yearn for the jams. In fact, you feel sad while listening to it, even though it has been a journey of death and horror, it still was a beautiful one. And Wilson is now waving a silent goodbye. It’s over. What an album.

Highly recommended.

03. Memorial

Artist: Russian Circles

Genre: Post-Metal

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It starts with what seems like an eulogy for loss and loss is what I feel the central theme of this album is. Deficit unfolds with a crushing punch as if with a singular motive to project before you a godforsaken world at its end. It reminds me of scenes from Viggo Mortensen’s The Road. Their ability to create such rich textures for the imagination is strong as ever and with every ensuing track they seem to build on their seemingly unsurpassable pieces of pure untouchable and unforgettable art.

1777 is quite simply and deservedly, the best song of this album. Drums welcome you and lead you to guitars and bass and just as you get familiar with your surroundings, they thrust upon you, for an engrossing seven and half minutes, a world full of loss, and towards its end, resignation. It’s so morose and sad it’s beautiful. Nothing that follows is as great as 1777 and there isn’t a need to. They have picked a central theme, an emotion, a space in your mind and they have set about building a Russian Circles theme park in it. Where Deficit and 1777 intend to blow you away with your sudden realization of life-changing loss, a sober and melancholic beauty like Cheyenne intends to wash away all your fears into the lake of eternal gloom and make you accept your doom. Burial is angry. It is where you and Russian Circles become one and seem to object together against all the sorrows of the world but in fact they are just moving you further closer to death. Ethel is more like an ode for afterlife, with the music in it suggesting a peaceful heaven. It’s too beautiful to be about loss and death. Which means Russian Circles have successfully killed you. Lebaron is about you, in heaven, contemplating on your life before the afterlife and trying to make sense of everything that transpired. That angers you, gets your blood racing and this is reflected in the rocky elements of this piece. This brings us (me, you and Russian Circles) to the final piece of the saga – the Chelsea Wolfe-featuring Memorial. As Lebaron suggested, even in afterlife you couldn’t find peace and this song sets about to give you just that. The voice of Wolfe brings about the beautiful finality of the story as an angel touches your forehead and puts you into eternal restful sleep. The angel sheds a tear as she puts a rugged stone in the garden of Eden, your memorial.

Best post-metal album of the year. Highly recommended.

02. Kveikur

Artist: Sigur Rós

Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock, Dream-Pop

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The grandest album to come out all year and arguably the most other-worldly. It’s trademark Sigur Rós. The moment I plugged my iPod in, pulled the volume full up and Brennisteinn started, there were goosebumps. Lots of them. It was like the last minute of the last march of the last king of Planet Kveikur as he is about to fight the baddest demon of all skies, a battle he has no chance of winning, and the whole wide universe is watching with bated breath. Grander than the grandest scene. The next moment I pulled out my iPod, an hour had passed, Ofbirta had just ended, I had regained my senses and was just transported back to Planet Earth. Since then, again and again have I travelled across space to worlds whose language I understand not but I don’t feel like I don’t understand those worlds. Those are worlds that have been very much my home ever since Sigur Rós created them this year. Something tells me they will forever be.

I don’t have much else to say because such is their music. Kveikur is not just an album, it’s an experience. Highly recommended.

01. Oblivion Hymns

Artist: Hammock

Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock

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This was an album I’d been waiting for months. There is no bottom to my love for Hammock. No end. It just goes on and on. So obviously I had been desperately waiting for this album. The wait was both exciting and somewhat frightening. Frightening? I’m not joking. Expectations can be tedious. An album that you would have loved had you listened to it right after you listened to another one of their albums, might not feel the same if there is an added baggage of escalated expectations pulling it down. The longer the wait, the more mythical the band became for me and thus the stratospheric heights of expectations. Finally the day did arrive and I was left speechless. This is not a phrase I’m using to say how good the album was, no sir. I was honestly unable to speak for a while. Heard the album again, and again, and yet again. At the fifth time did I open my mouth and let out a gasp or a cry of joy, I’m not sure which. But I was surely smiling. It was raining outside and I was standing in the balcony and smiling at the skies and the clouds. They had managed to account for my ludicrous expectations and had brought out a package so alien and yet so humane, it really was beyond mere words. Probably why they rarely use words to convey their thoughts. An unnecessary and obsolete medium of conveying emotions of such grandeur and grace. Hammock are beyond all that.

The album starts off just like the names of the first and second tracks say. In fact, the whole album pans out just like the title of each track, in the order of each track. It’s a story. And like most stories, there are various ways to interpret it. My senses can see two possible stories here. The grander version would be the birth and death of the universe. The humane version would be the birth and death of man. Both begin in oblivion and end in oblivion. And these are hymns for every stage of that journey.

You do not remember about the time you were born. It’s just blurry and foggy. The first few months of your childhood are the same, foggy. All this while, your heart has been the most alive it has ever been and will probably ever be. Full of hope and careless wonder at everyone and everything. Then a time comes when you are face to face with the realities of life and within you there is an explosion. It’s quiet but powerful. The pieces of your mind are all in contradiction, in confusion. They float through this empty world which is like a valley with no echo, no answers. You are absent, lost, shored against the ruins, drowning in all directions. Time passes. And then one day, you begin to see pieces of answers everywhere. But there is still no solution and you’re still stuck in the middle of nowhere. Whatever hope you had left or had arisen recently becomes your undoing, it kills you inside even more, becomes your loss. At the end, you are defeated by life (the lyrics of Tres Dominé) but you accept this defeat (the tone of Tres Dominé). You once again return back to oblivion.

Contemplative, sensuous and perfectly ambient – my album of the year.

The God That Never Was

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It’s been five years now. How time flies! But does it really? Maybe for some. Maybe for you, maybe for me. Yet somewhere today, in a dimly lit room, sits a mother holding her child’s photograph. Cobwebs litter the walls and corners. The door makes a creaking noise as a lonely wind brushes past it and tiptoes through the house. The window was open. She rises up with a sigh and walks over to it, dragging her feet through a layer of dust. The whole room seems forgotten. There’s dust on the study-table and spiders climbing through the curtains. Nothing seems to have been touched in months, years. Nothing, except for that photograph. It doesn’t seem to have a speck of dust anywhere. But it’s wrinkled and soft..and wet. She closes the window shut, turns the dim light off and sits alone in the darkness, clutching the photograph close to her chest. For some, time stands still.

“Do you believe in God?” “Of course, mother. Why wouldn’t I?” “Good boy. May He bless you with all the happiness in the world.” “God is great.” “God is great.”

I don’t have many regrets from the life that I’ve spent, the life that I was gifted. There are ups and downs, no doubt and a couple of things aside, there isn’t much that I’d like to change about the last 22 years of my life. Yet, as the days have rolled by, there were things, thoughts that began knocking on my mind’s door when I least expected them to. Things I wasn’t sure were in my mind to begin with. With every year and every knock, the door was getting weaker, the knocks were getting heavier, louder. Yet I resolutely held my own, pushing the thoughts aside and living yet another day. Maybe I didn’t like the idea of losing to my own thoughts or maybe I was scared of what might happen if I let those thoughts in. Maybe. I thought it was just easier to postpone the decision for another day. Years rolled by, things stayed calm and the knocks altogether stopped. Life went on as before. Then one fine day, five years back, there came an avalanche, a tsunami. The door was destroyed, ripped to shreds. And the mind just stood there open, naked. The eyes finally saw.

There is no God. We’re on our own. We’re all we have. It’s scary. It should be. It’s a scary world out there. But you have to admit, it’s also strangely uplifting, freeing.

I was never given an option. I never knew there was an option. It has always been like that. Me, my family, my friends (give or take) ..and God. It was like the Avogadro number, or the Planck’s constant. Or any other constant for that matter. To question God’s existence was to question the beliefs of those who brought you into this world and who brought them into this world, and so on. And I wasn’t a man big enough to do that. I’m still not a big enough man nor will I ever be a big enough man to question the beliefs of said people. But however strong the base is, there are things in the world that can still shatter the strong but false foundations.

I remember waking up early. It was a holiday I think. I’ve forgotten why. Maybe for an exam or something. Or maybe I just skipped school that day. Everyone else was still asleep. Eyes half-closed, I dragged myself to answer the bell. The newspaper guy had tossed the paper and left. I loved to read the paper so I sat down on the sofa. The front page was filled with news about the Mumbai terror attacks. The police and the forces were still trying to rescue the hostages. That was all me and my family watched the previous day. Mother and sister prayed all the time. I think everybody everywhere did. So did I. It was horrific. God had to do something.

Mother must’ve heard the bell. She too woke up minutes later and without a look or a word, she straightaway headed to the living room, switched on the television, muted the news channel and sat down. I knew she had started praying again. I don’t think she ever stopped praying. Feeling a bit guilty, I began praying again. Browsing through the paper, my eyes fell on a story resigned to the footnote. It was about a little girl and her little brother. A woman found them wandering through the Mumbai station, holding each other’s hand, searching for their mother. In the middle of the gunfire, the stampede, the madness. She brought them to her home. It’s been three days now. The kids are still waiting for their mother. The woman who found them breaks down before the journalists. The door in my mind was ripped apart. The foundations were shattered. From that moment, I stopped praying.

They said a lot of things. That God is good. That everything happens for a reason. They talked about karma. About sharing the bad in life with the good. That there’s spring after winter. But there wasn’t a single reason in the whole wide world of God I could find that would make him do what he did to those kids. Innocent souls now ravaged for life. No karma, no heaven, no hell can explain the brutality of this tragedy. What harm could souls as young and as pure as them ever do to deserve that? The God, the caring father of his billion children, the protector of the universe, what good is he if he can’t look after his own children? No father will turn a blind eye to the travails of his children. Where was he when two little kids were snatched away from their mother, left to fend for themselves, wandering alone in the pits of hell? If God exists, then he probably doesn’t give a damn. And that contradicts the definition of God, the caring parent who quite simply has to give a damn. Ergo, God doesn’t exist.

It was a simple thing, in the end. I probably always knew it in the back of my mind. The back of my mind? Ah, yes. Those knocks on the door. They were always there. But I ignored them. I was too scared to imagine a world without God. Without a watchful protector looking after me and those I love. I needed a wake-up call so severe to open my mind, my eyes. But I can imagine it now. Many people still can’t. And that’s all right. Lucky are the ones who die knowing there’s a God. It’s a sad thing, but they are lucky. If they’ve done good in life, they would believe they’ve booked the tickets to heaven. If not, at least they know where they’re going. To those who know better, it’s a strange world. There is no heaven, there is no hell. This is all they have.

If there are any regrets about the life that I’ve lived, this is one of them. That a part of these beautiful years, a part that was as quiet, as close and as sure as my shadow, was a lie. But there are no more knocks, no more doubts. There’s a new foundation. Maybe on lonely, turbulent shores but it’s a true foundation. It will hold, come what may. Because that’s all there is.

But the world is neither just nor unjust
It’s just us trying to feel that there’s some sense in it
No, the world is neither just nor unjust
And though going young
So much undone
Is a tragedy for everyone

It doesn’t speak a plan or any secret thing
No unseen sign or untold truth in anything…
But living on in others, in memories and dreams
Is not enough
You want everything
Another world where the sun always shines
And the birds always sing
Always sing…

Robert Smith was right.

Spaceman

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This too shall has passed.

 

In the nostalgic concert halls of a timeless Wankhede, amidst the weary melee of misty-eyed adoration sweeping every blade of grass in the land, a little God crooned a bewitching swansong as he took his final steps within the hallowed corridors of ancient brilliance, walked past the sepia-toned gates of history and vanished into the enchanted chambers of peerless immortality. The sands have finally slipped through our hands. The clocks have finally stopped ticking. The birds have finally stopped chirping. The music has finally stopped playing. In this eerie quiet amidst this madding chaos, the sun, it seems, has finally set.

There is no way of softening the blow. There are no royal cushions to soothe the pain or mystical concoctions to make us forget the unforgettable. It will stare at us forever and it is staring at us right now. Sachin Tendulkar has retired. Life, whether you walk in space, win a million dollar lottery or discover an endless supply of bubble-wrap, will still be a poorer place tomorrow. Unless a benevolent soul gifts the world a functioning time machine or a wandering soul chances upon the fountain of youth, come tomorrow, what are we then left with? Before walking past that door, what, if anything, has Sachin left behind?

Memories? Yes, memories. Printed onto the back of our minds with the sort of tattoo ink that, even if you cross the seven seas, take a dip in the Bermuda Triangle and come back to rid the world of hunger, poverty and pop music, is never erased. Those kinds of memories.

“Another world, where the birds always sing

Another world, where the sun always shines

Another world, where nothing ever dies…”

It’s been, what, 25 years? I feel like I’ve been watching Sachin forever. Well, I’m only 22. The entirety of my life then. It’s been a journey so long and so complete that there is a real danger of losing yourself in its memory. It is better than reality. It is sweeter than reality. This journey with Sachin, following even from a thousand miles away, is still closer than reality. Every single moment spent with him, in all these years – in a life running in parallel to our lives, is one to cherish. There is not a single blemish, a single disappointment, a single letdown. If there really is a workaholic God who had his hands full for the whole week, we now know what he did on the seventh day. We have ended up with one of the most beautifully written scripts the divine ink could write. It’s a surreal story which has been carved so artistically, so flawlessly and one which is now resigned to an alternate reality – guarded within the meadows of our memories. If Robert Smith really did believe in a world where the birds always sing, this is it.

But is that all? Just a panorama of striking images that caress you, excite you and then smother you and your very soul? Is everything that Sachin has done in all these years now resigned to dusty old tapes and an engaging mind full of joyous sorrow and melodious nostalgia? Are the monumental feats of this tiny man, like most other athletes of the land, really that limited in their wider significance?

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon and hoisted the American flag where no human had ever set foot, much less hoist a flag or take a walk, it was an era-defining moment. More than it being a matter of a record, it was a symbol, a statement. The pride of a nation. The victory of human persistence. The power of a human dream. Of a lonely march into an unknown land, of inventing the uninvented, of discovering the undiscovered. It was a marker, a line in the sand.

And that’s precisely what Sachin did. This is not to say Indians are without imagination, without dreams. We too had drawn lines in the sand. But what Sachin did was walk a hundred steps ahead of our line and draw a bunch of new lines in faraway lands. Every time we built a little house and tried to be satisfied, Sachin would go out and build us a house ten times bigger, fully-furnished, with a garden at the back, a car on the front and a beach on the side. And he would do it alone, without a hint of annoyance, pain or regret but with that youthful smile forever glued to his face. We were almost spineless, spoilt kids and he was our big brother. He never believed in taking from us, but just giving, and then giving some more.

For a change we didn’t have to make people remember the days that people had stopped remembering, the days when our land was called the golden bird, the days of Aryabhatta’s zero, of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel, of Satyajit Ray’s movies, of Dhyan Chand’s hockey or the year of ’83 – to make our chest swell with stale pride. For once, we could actually point at our present, raise our collar, puff our chest and walk out of the room with our heads held high. As we began growing as a nation in the nineties, with every statement that shouted and spit at us our inferiority, we could fall back on Sachin, take his cue, take all blows and then punch one back. This little boy took us by our finger and showed us a new way, a new land. Every time we fixed our boundaries and built walls around it, he would rush out of his crease and shatter all walls. “Don’t do that. There are no boundaries. Come, I’ll show you.” And again, he’ll patiently take us by our finger. That’s how he was.

Has he left behind anything other than memories? I believe we both now have the answer. He has left behind what only the likes of legendary presidents, era-shaping musicians, monumental freedom-fighters and the bravest of soldiers manage to leave behind. A legacy. The achievement of touching the lives of a billion people for a quarter of a century. With humility, dignity and unflinching national pride. Of inspiring a generation of a country and many more throughout the world. Of being the man every single one of his countrymen looks up to with eyes watering with adoration and chests choking with pride. Of being the man whose every single word could calm a billion or make a billion revolt. Of being the man for whom even the most hardened rivals throughout the land would unite and cheer as one. When it came to Sachin, there never were two ways about it. He was absolute. A single umbrella for the whole nation to take shelter under. A cult hero.

At the end of the day, all a soul wants is to be happy. For 24 years, he has strived for just that. Pleasing the fans of the game. Pleasing his countrymen. God? No. Not God. Not Superman. After 24 years of attempting the impossible in lands where no Indian, nay no man has ever been, making a billion swell with pride, making a billion strive for better, making a billion dream, it leaves us with no doubt. He’s our Spaceman. That’s his legacy.

So long, cricket.

Another Sachin Tendulkar century against Australia.

Upward Over The Mountain

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It is not always that you find what you’re looking for. And it is even rare to love madly something which you weren’t looking for. Let’s face it, as you try to get yourself high or let yourself drown, in music, a song about your school, college or your parents isn’t always your favourite option. This has nothing to do with how you or I feel about our mothers. You aren’t going to love an artist singing softly about how amazing your mother is when others out there are hypnotising people with stairways leading to heaven or highways leading to hell. Not unless you’re listening to a man called Samuel Beam. I still maintain, this isn’t a theme I was madly scrounging my iPod for. I do that for the Floyds and the Zeppelins, the Cures and the Smiths. They make me happy, they make me sad. They talk to me about things I want to talk about, things I want to listen to, things I want others to take note of and things I want to outrage about. And they do that outrageously well.

But here I am quietly lost in thoughts, when I could be doing a million other things, while listening to Samuel Beam talk to his mother. Thinking about Samuel, his mother, myself and my mother, while Samuel is serenely strumming his guitar away in the soft background of my mind. The softness of the piece creates a sense of calmness, of happiness, of peace and being safe, things you’d associate your childhood and especially your mother with. But this song isn’t about mine or Samuel’s childhood. It’s about our mothers and their lives. So it’s not always calm or peaceful. Not always happy. And herein lies the beauty and the genius of this piece. There isn’t a single instance where you’re agitated while you’re listening to it. Not once will your blood pressure spike as you get charged with adrenaline. You’re always at peace. You’re listening to some really shit stuff that our mothers face as they live their lives but the atmosphere is never violent, never beyond breaking point. It’s just…calm. Like an ocean. Like your mother, like my mother.

This song absorbs our sadness as we get lost in the sorrows of our mothers, just like our mothers absorb her and our sorrows all into herself and still manage to smile when there’s nothing in our lives worth smiling for. You smile back for her and moments later you smile with her. It might be for a moment but you’re in that peaceful shrine of your childhood again. Man hasn’t been able invent the time machine. These words I speak are immortal. Maybe someday some blessed soul chances upon these words of mine when man has in fact managed to make his own time machine. But, although highly backward, we people, of this era, have always been able to travel back in time, if even for the smallest of moments. Those moments you spend with your mother in the evenings of her life and you in your noons, and you get to watch her smile, every single of those moments takes you back in time and believe me, she must have time travelled innumerably more than you ever will.

As Samuel points out, we can tell our mothers not to worry as much we want, it’s futile. She’ll worry. We may have gone just outside the house for a walk in the evening or million miles away fighting a war in some foreign land, she’ll worry. She might worry more or she might worry less, depending on the gravity of the situation, but she’ll worry. We may be rich or we may be poor, we may be kids or we may be 60-year-olds, as long as she’s able to breathe and able to think, she’ll worry. Leave her alone, when you could’ve been with her and she’ll take it in her stride and relive the moments she spent with you back in the old days, the good days. Leave her alone as go out to play as a kid or leave her alone as you fly upwards over the mountain, she won’t complain. She’ll keep her world to herself, keep us in her heart, keep the memories she made with us, from the time we breathed from within her body, in her heart. She’ll keep and relive every single such moment for as long as the Almighty would let her. And even when the Almighty too gets tired of His game and wishes to take her away, she still won’t hold it against Him or us. But whenever He does do it, she’ll still worry. About us. There she is, moments away from having everything she cherishes snatched away from her, yet her eyes and heart can only worry about us. You’d think He really messed up when He created Her. That nobody should be as good and as selfless as Her. No-one deserves to have someone like Her. But He gave us each other and that is something which you or I can’t ever thank Him or Her enough. Life has been a privilege of the highest order, however hard shit might hit us in life, because of that. Nothing can change that. The joy is forever.

“Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you

So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons could be birds, taken broken up to the mountain”

Of Beard and Beauty

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You look at Samuel Beam for the first time. You are impressed. You are thinking. Samuel Beam is an ordinary man with an extraordinary beard. You are intrigued. You come to know that he makes some music as well. You are impressed. You listen. You remember the moment you looked at him for the first time and what you thought of him. You are thinking. You are sure you were the stupidest thing on this planet at that moment. Then you listen some more. You look at the clock. It’s confusing. You take a peek outside the window. You are amazed. The sun is coming up. But it was night just a mo…ah. You understand now. You smile. Many years pass. Life keeps changing, sometimes for the good, and sometimes, for the worse. But one day, you realise something. At the end of the day, however good or bad, you are still listening to Samuel Beam. And you’re still smiling.

Homesick

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You’re sitting and you’re thinking. The mind just wouldn’t stop, would it? At least not in my case. There’s always a bit of chatter going on somewhere in my mind’s back alley and it’s relentless. Like a bee buzzing near the ears, close enough for you to listen but just out of your reach so you can’t get rid of it. Round and round, it hovers around you. But then, a song starts. The number of things that may go through your mind, depending on what kind of song it is, are endless. But when Homesick begins, everything stops. Time stands still. The mind thinks nothing. Nothing. As it starts, it tickles your senses sensuously. That’s probably where the trance is set in motion. I wouldn’t know for sure, I’ve never managed to break free from it. Slowly, the walls begin to close around you. The Cure are trying to strangle you, to drown you. They’re pushing you deeper and deeper. Where? I don’t know. But the voice is breaking down. The air is getting thinner. I’m at the bottom. I see nothing, hear nothing. I’m still alive and floating in the deep dark sea. But in that dark, from somewhere, a tune is rearing its head. The sea shivers with a sense of anticipation. I’m excited. What could it be? I wonder. Then, it starts. The Bang! The hair on the skin stands on edge as The Cure throw all modesty to the wind and let the music go wild. A chill rushes through the spine. But the tune is still picking up! It’s filling my world. It’s everywhere now. It’s above me and its below me. Its ahead and its behind. I see it now, see everything. The Cure have created an all-out concert at the bottom of the damned ocean! The lights are blinding and the noise is now deafening. The crowd is out. They are drowning in Smith’s melodious sorrow but they don’t even care. Their eyes and ears are all taken. The boys are already on stage. The stage is floating. We are floating. The concert is floating. The cheers, the noise, it just wouldn’t stop. The hands just wouldn’t go down. “Hey hey! Just one more and I’ll walk away…” The noise reaches a crescendo. It’s pandemonium. Robert Smith is killing everybody. He is hitting every single one of the crowd with darts drugged with overwhelming sorrow. The trance is complete. We are all linked. It’s just the band and us now. Nothing in between. Now nothing can break the atmosphere. We follow them to the end of the earth. And back again. The underwater procession of euphoric depression is all-encompassing. That’s the only thing in our minds and nothing else matters. There’s just one world, the world of Robert Smith. It’s tragic and dead and in that we’re alive. Rhythmically, we all nod and we all sing. It goes on for hours, days, weeks. We never kept track of time. It felt both like an age and a second. And within that time, the moonlight had managed to trickle down every single layer of Smith’s melancholic symphony and had finally made its way to the bottom of the ocean. It hits us. We bathe in it. It wakes us up. We open our eyes. We look up. The Cure are taking a bow. Smith is bidding goodbye. We blink. They’re gone. The night is over.

Hidden Lessons

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It was raining. I was sitting inside the car and looking out of the window. Far outside, the sights were a treat for the eyes. A vast expanse of the wet and the wild greens tickled the senses into submission. With a hint of the morning mist still left and the smell of the wet leaves filling the serene land, everything looked blessed. Much closer to my eyes though, a completely different story was unfolding. The window glass was the stage. And the drops of water on it, the characters. Every drop of water from the top was trying to descend, some were instantly successful, others had to wait for a long time. Some just couldn’t do it. They were stuck at the top till the rains stopped, the sun came out of its reverie and dried the droplet away. But it was quite interesting to see how the successful ones went about fullfilling their ambition. They would walk some distance on their own, take help from the neighbouring droplet, merge with it and then rush ahead with doubled ambition and spirit. After a little travel, they will again merge with another droplet and would go about their mission faster than ever before. Before you know, they are at the bottom, at their destination. Successful. Their journey is over. Rest are still trying. Some of them might reach later. Some of them won’t. Some wouldn’t even get started.

Fascinating story. Sitting inside that car and watching this play out in front of me, all I could think about was how everything fits so easily, beautifully. A lesson on life. A goal, a road and a time-limit. We are not forever. We can only last as along as we are allowed to, by factors in and beyond our control. Within that time, we have a choice. To stand or to move. Some move back, some stay still and the rest move ahead. Some move faster than others. They are either lucky to find the right road or they’re just clever enough to find it on their own. Some take some time to get set on the right path. The rest try to but things never work out and they stay lost in the woods. And everybody who has decided to move ahead is in a race, the race against time to reach their goal. The race to be at your goal before the sun comes out, or rather, in this case, before their sun sets. Few reach early, some reach just in time, some miss it by a whisker and the others are just lost in the sands of time. Life goes on.

Nature keeps showing you everything about her kingdom, how things work, how things don’t, how things might, why things won’t. You just need the eyes.

The Little Man has hit The Big Fella for Six!

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A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

–   John Keats

If you came to read how absolutely mind-boggling and statistically gargantuan this man Sachin Tendulkar has been, you’ve sadly come to the wrong place. My apologies that I unintentionally misled you. You can close this tab now for I’m not qualified enough, nor do I feel it’s necessary to duplicate what has already been said and written, by many a great men and women, ever so brilliantly, about the unprecedented exploits of this unprecedented man. But what I do want to talk about is what this singular journey of a special man meant to those at the other side of the looking glass, places far away from that epicentre where it was all happening.

Sachin.

It’s like there was no cricket before this guy, no cricket without this guy. And as many begin to question themselves now – if there’s any cricket after this guy. Cricket itself was this guy. Yeah, this is India I’m talking about. We’re like that.

Ever had that terrible feeling when you must hold your breath for as long as possible ’cause the moment you let it go, all goes to hell? Shoaib Akhtar is at the edge of his run-up which is somewhere near the boundary. He doesn’t look friendly. None of the Pakistani bowlers do, especially when we’re playing them. It was common knowledge that our players never have had too much of an answer for fast bowling. And this was no ordinary bowling attack. This was no ordinary bowler. But hold your breath, for this man at the wicket is something else. He can do it. We all think he can do it. But we have our fears. We have been disappointed for far too long. What if this turns out to be just another World Cup, just another heart-break? It’s not in our nature to believe in ourselves too much. He might be our only hope but if he too fails…Some people are not strong enough. They can’t watch this. They are closing their eyes. But I must watch this. He’s my hero. He can definitely do it. If I could just hold my breath a little longer…

SIX.

I breathe. It takes a moment to sink in. After that, it’s madness. A whole nation erupts. A nation with a billion people rise up, together. Imagine it – a BILLION people. In schools, inside offices, outside the tea stalls, on the streets nearby the television stores – they all erupt. Goosebumps everywhere. Slowly, we all ease into our chairs now, whether at work, at home, or anywhere else, for we know things are in control. He has assured us. Calmed a billion people down. He’s been doing that since he was in his teens.

He’s on 98 now. There’s a sense of excitement, a buzz, all around the stadium, and the nation. It’s contagious. We can all feel it. But as this excitement builds itself to an emphatic crescendo, that old nagging fear sneaks into the back of our insecure minds. It’s getting bigger. He’s still on 98. The people around, everywhere are getting tense. He’s sensing it too. Sensing us. He always knew what we want. He tries his best to alienate everything else from his mind, he always has. But at every corner in his innings, he takes us in, with him. Sometimes, it ends in unparalleled glory.

This time, it was agony. It was Shoaib Akhtar again. He’s sad. He’s angry with himself. He doesn’t need to show it. We know he is. He expects more from himself than we expect from him. He will feel he could’ve done better, that he couldn’t properly help his country.  That he let us down.

But we can’t let him feel that.

We stand up. Everywhere in the country, we stand up. We salute, we bow, we give our respect. We cheer, we shout, we clap. Some people look disappointed, some are even angry. I look at them in disbelief. How can anyone be angry at Sachin? Then I realise. Oh no. They aren’t angry at him. There are angry at Shoaib, at Pakistan. How can anyone want to stop this guy? Why would anyone want to do that? Such illogical questions swarm their minds as they are brutally awakened from their trance. The trance you get into when you watch Sachin play.

“…he is dancing down the pitch, and oh look! he has smacked the ball over his head for six! Unbelievable…”

It has always been that shot, that sight, that took my breath away. The little man rampaging down to the middle of the pitch without a care for the bowler or the ball in youthful hunger and smacking the ball out of the stadium in utter disdain and hair-raising fury. I used to be amazed that they could even manage to find the ball afterwards, that the ball was still in one piece. I was so overawed by that sight.

Much before the events of the 2003 World Cup match versus Pakistan, this was probably when he cemented his place in the cricketing folklore. We are chasing a tough score against one of the best teams of the decade or so my dad tells me. I am just seven years old. The scorecard says Australia have scored 272. That’s a very high score, or so it was in those days. They have some great bowlers. To add to that, they have Shane Warne. Everyone knew Shane Warne. He has exceptional talent and is probably the best bowler in the world. I’m very nervous when we begin our chase. Our batting has a big test ahead, some would even call the chase impossible. We are underdogs. Many a times have our batsmen fallen like a pack of cards. My dad says these things to me to keep my hopes down, so that I don’t break down when we lose. It was “when” not “if” we lose. But let’s move on. I have low hopes and our chase has begun. The rest turns out to be a blur, a dream. He whacks the ball straight at Sourav Ganguly who gets the scare of his life. Before that, he had hit one of the most beautiful cover-drives I had ever seen. Little did I know, he was just getting started. Tom Moody, Mark Waugh, Michael Kasprowicz, they all go for boundaries. He is relentless. But then my adrenaline rush arrives. In Ravi Shastri’s words: “…and Tendulkar greets him by dancing down the track and hammering him over long-on. This is amazing stuff.” That was Shane Warne. Best spinner in the world. Warne looks around in utter disbelief. Crowd has gone mad. And I have found nirvana. That was the greatest moment of my seven-year-old life. But that was not all. The boundaries continue. He notches another century. And then another beauty arrives. Warne is bowling his final over when it happens. “…and that’s smashed back, straight back over the bowler’s head, and again, hit with tremendous power by Tendulkar.” Shastri isn’t quite as magical as the moment demands but inside my head, that was setting up nicely as a moment I’d savour for years. Next ball, another boundary. I’m speechless. I think that was it. But no, the best was still to come. It came off Tom Moody. In Tony Greig’s incomparable words: “Oh, he has hit this one miles, great shot…oh it’s a biggie! Straight out of the top! The little man has hit the big fella for six! He’s half his size! And he’s smashed him down the ground! What a player! What a wonderful player!” I was getting delirious. My dad who even then was clutching to his pessimism born out of years of heart-break, finally broke into a smile. He finally believed it was possible. Stunning. Just when I was getting comfortable knowing that I had seen the best things that I could possibly see, Sachin, yet again, proved me wrong. Tony Greig sounded as if he was drunk. “Oh, that’s high! What a six! What a six! Way down the ground, it’s on the roof! It’s bouncing around on the roof!” It was Kasprowicz’s turn this time.

Such was this man. Every time I thought I’ve seen the best thing in my life that I could ever see in cricket, he has shown me something new, something even more brilliant, something even more beautiful. He finally got out but not before he had single-handedly dragged our country to the doorstep of victory. Just another chapter in his career, just another chapter in my life.

When I look back to this innings so many years hence, one shot stares back at me, screams at me. It was the shot of my childhood. That six off Warne. Since that day, not an evening had passed when I hadn’t practised hitting the ball over the bowler’s head whether on my own or while playing with my friends in the streets, all the while picturing myself to be my idol. And when I did manage to hit it, I’d raise my bat – not very high, not very low – just as much as Sachin would do, along with that fearless look in his eyes, even if it was just a six, not a fifty. That never sat right with my friends though and I’d often to be sent to look for the ball in the dark afterwards, which got lost more often than not. And let’s not even get started about the broken window glasses!

Years roll by. I have grown up. Sachin too has grown in years. People though are beginning to have a go at his throats. I feel depressed. That is not how you treat your national legend. That would’ve meant something if what they were saying was, at least, true. But they couldn’t be more wrong. How could anyone be ever right when they place boundaries on what Sachin can do? I had learnt my lesson when I was just seven-years-old. Some people still hadn’t. People were still looking for his milestones. Putting him under  pressure that he’d eventually bow underneath. And each time, I’d feel more and more detached from cricket. I’d feel as if I’m an old-timer who has  seen things these people don’t see, that I know things that these people don’t know.

Time passes. Sachin is getting back to his older groove. I was not surprised. I knew it all along. But did I ever think he’d surpass the Desert Storm? Frankly, I had never thought of that. The Desert Storm was like Pulp Fiction. A classic. Never to be touched or compared with. But one night, I am left to reconsider the entire foundations of my favourites, the ones on whom I rate all knocks. That was the night I witness his 175. The event that shook the earth underneath my feet.

A man who is on the cusp of touching 37 conjures up one of the most surreal, the most magical and an  absolutely phenomenal innings of the order no scale can ever measure. It’s the Aussies again. We are chasing again. And the target is bigger, much bigger. It was like adapting the Sharjah scenario and extrapolating it for the modern times while taking some of Aussie legends out and to neutralise for that, Sachin was almost 37. People would argue that the Aussies, even without their legends, are never ever easy. Rightly so. On the other side, it was Sachin, almost 37, the time-defying legend. The guy with too much class for age to matter. It was evenly matched, some would say.Rest is history. I can never forget that night. Wickets tumbling at the other end, Sachin trying to bind any partnership possible while being on a single-handed quest to achieve the impossible. It was like he was possessed. The lofty odds never bothered him. Nor did the conditions or the lack of proper support. He had just two proper partnerships and with that he took the game to the Aussies and turned their world upside down. I had never seen anything like it. Even I had lost hope. Even the most optimistic of fans would lose hope. Yet, like a little man dragging a sinking ship back to the surface all on his own, he kept on raging war. Goosebumps. But, it wasn’t meant to be. Some people still feel that heart-break when we talk of this game but I had seen something much more than that to be bothered by or be sad about something that was the result of the ineptness of his fellow batsmen. I had seen the innings of my life-time. One man versus an army. Some would say the Desert Storm was better, others would say the Nairobi knock, or the 200. To each, his own. The little man has a vault full of invaluable knocks that he has left to us to guard in our memories. It’s a massive task to just select one knock over the other.

“Beneath the helmet, under that unruly curly hair, inside the cranium, there is something we don’t know, something beyond scientific measure. Something that allows him to soar, to roam a territory of sport that, forget us, even those who are gifted enough to play alongside him cannot even fathom. When he goes out to bat, people switch on their TV sets and switch off their lives.”

– BBC

We all know how technically gifted he was. He has all the shots in the book and he was good enough to add some more to the book. Some would pick one shot of his over the other. Even my seven-year-old self did that. But as I grew older, I began to appreciate all his shots. And right now, although some shots would look better to the eye than the other, I’d say every shot of his is special. He has toned it down to perfection.  He’s the absolute master of his craft.

For those who are more familiar with the football lingo, I’ll explain Sachin for you.

Imagine the legendary impact of an Eric Cantona fused with the legendary accomplishments of a Lionel Messi and you have your Sachin Tendulkar. He’s to India what Cantona was to Manchester United. He’s to India and cricket what Lionel Messi is to Barcelona and football. And he’s just one tiny little guy. 15 odd years have gone by and they still sing songs of Cantona at Old Trafford every week. They’ll never stop singing about him. He put the belief in the club, the team that they can win. He led the way. By the time he left, the land of Premier League was red. He had forged an empire that is still going strong, 15 years later. Messi will be a timeless legend, the stories of whose exploits will be passed on from generations to generations. He has often done the unthinkable, surpassed the unsurpassed and he does it with elegance, with ease. There is no controversy, no drama, no desperate measure to seek attention from him. He has the footballing world at his feet. Now you put it all together and that’s one man, Sachin, for billions of people worldwide, not just India. People everywhere around the world revere him, adore him, cherish him. He’s like their hobby, a way of life and as John Keats would say, a thing of beauty.

I have never really liked the title “God” that fans of the game, although out of love, have forcibly bequeathed upon him. Mainly because that’s the last thing Sachin would like himself to be called as. Some people who don’t like this nickname argue that since he never was the greatest bowler nor the greatest fielder, just by scaling one of its three summits, he can’t be called the “God” of the game. Some say, Kallis is better suited to that. Although that is a very valid argument, an argument to which I myself fell back on more often than not while discouraging anybody and everybody I came across who called him “God”, of late I’ve come to accept that if anyone in the game could ever be called that, it is him. None have ever given shape to a game and moulded it into their own as has Sachin. Years and years down the line, he has moulded himself to change with the changing demands of an ever evolving game. None have ever accepted cricket into themselves as deep as he has for as long as he has. And while doing so, he has been celebrated and revered by a magnitude of the population that is unmatched by any other, by many a miles. He has scaled the highest peak possible in the game and has stood there and seen the world the way no eye can ever see. At least not till they let androids play the game by which time both you and I will be long gone. So, while I accept that if we absolutely must bequeath this title on somebody it has to be him, I’d rather we not call him that. Let’s just call him The Little Master (a title that was previously Sunny’s) or the Master Blaster. If nothing, just call him Sachin, he’d probably love that the most.

We have walked into the stadium, to the pitch with him. We have sat on his shoulders till he stayed on the pitch. We have buzzed in his ears when it got tough for him. We have revelled in glorious joy when he conquered all obstacles and scaled new peaks. And now, when he finally walks away from the thing he loves most, we again sit beside him and ponder over the same question – What next?

I haven’t met this man, no sir. Nor does he know I exist. He was taking blows to his body ever so bravely as a sixteen-year-old against fearsome bowlers when I wasn’t even born. On the face of it, there is absolutely nothing to link us. Yet him announcing his retirement has confirmed the end of my childhood. Sachin isn’t just a person to us. He’s much more than that. He’s a link to our past, the pride of our present, a hope for our future. His victory isn’t “like” our victory. His victory “is” our victory. His happiness “is” our happiness.

As Tony Greig so beautifully summed it up on that magical night in Sharjah:

“I don’t think anywhere in the world, people can love a guy more than they love him here.”