Saturday, May 20, 2017

The original startups and unicorns

Windows. The older versions. The ones that you looked out of. Not looked in through a computer.

Long ago, in my native village, they had these big four doored windows with iron bars, I used to sit at them. Two specifically nice ones, one overlooking a nice small mango orchard and another one overlooking a courtyard that had a "samadhi sthal" of our forefathers on one side and the Mandir on the other side and the clean middle area.

I watched a lot of things happen from these two windows. Summers they were. Lazy cows parked in the middle of the courtyard. Tied to tethers. Munching on what they had in their mouths. The mouths covered by a hay net so that they cannot eat more from the fodder stacks kept on one side of the courtyard. The floor of the courtyard made of clay. Everyday wiped with clay and dung mixture to keep it clean and cool. Trees as diverse as Jackfruit to neem to mango flanking the courtyard. The pond beyond the samadhi on the left. The ducks in the pond on the left. They quacked among themselves. On quite afternoons one could hear their entire conversations.

I discovered stories about my forefathers then. During those quiet afternoons.

It is the 1880s. Haripada Narayan Majumdar has just returned from Birsingha. Birsingha being the place where Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great Bengal Renaissance man and the revered teacher of Bengali grammar lives. Birsingha is about 18 miles away through the kuchcha roads from Shrirampur, our village.  Haripada wants to build a school in the village but he has no funds. He has taken with him some gold of his wife. She's okay with the idea. Vidyasagar does not take the gold. Tells him to show his determination by just starting a class in his courtyard. He gives him three copies of "Varna Parichay" the modern grammar book written by Vidyasagar himself. Haripada is overwhelmed as he recounts the incident and shows the books to his illiterate family. He is going to teach himself and then the others.

He does so.

In a year there are 18 children in that very courtyard under the shade of the peepul that I don't see now doing Bengali grammar and basic maths.

Vidyasagar is on the board of the province school authority in two years. He is called to inspect. He does so. He is shown the three tattered copies of the books he lent. He asks students some questions. He also is happy with the answers. He signs then and there for a school in a neighborhood village as he wants more students to come to be taught by my forefather.

One child grows up to be a freedom fighter and true to the hot blooded Bengali fire in the belly, he takes up arms and becomes a comrade of Aurobindo Ghosh. You would know him more by the Aurobindo ashram of Pondicherry that he founded later when he again found peace within.

Haripada dies in the famine of early 1900s. His legacy lives on through more promising students in the oncoming decades.

Now, students and their families are all over the world. Some I know. Many I have no way of knowing.

Wouldn't you call that a unicorn startup? A startup that lasted beyond its life and still gives to the society?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Two men on a field, for the last time

Ten men crowd around the stumps. In white. Green caps askew on their heads. The ground quiet and silent. Just a ball and another over to go. The rain has come on. Washes the perspiration from the ten faces. But no one, absolutely no one in the field has his mind on the rain or the floodlights that have come on. Two old men. At the brink of history. Of retirement. Of moving into the annals of history. As the greatest Pakistan Cricketers of all time. Younis and Misbah. Ex-Captain and Captain. Men who had marshalled the dawn of the golden age of Pakistani Cricket.

Then, there are the two batsmen from the islands. West Indians, they call themselves. A pale shadow of the team that had muscled other national teams thirty years back. A batting that was being shepherded by a batsman who till the other day was known more for his bowling. Another, who was literally the number 11 in the team batting order. Whose idea of batting is a prod at any ball. Roston Chase and Shannon Gabriel. Cricketers who are barely known around the islands. No showmen, as the showmen were all away playing for gold and town houses in a league that has quixotic team names for cities. Chase and Gabriel. They could have been a bank, the way they have defended their citadel for the last ten minutes.

The premier Pakistan bowler, a leg spinner, crouches at his bowling mark. He has been beyond super through this test match. Bowling from wide of the stumps, lobbing the ball at the batsman from a height and angle where it causes much discomfort. In failing light, misty rain and inadequate floodlights, he is always going to be a handful. One last ball is left. One last ball to get to five wickets. One last ball to leave his superlative impact on a test that has swung like a yo yo between the two teams. Yasir Shah, a man who looks more like a footballer than the ace cricketer he is.

The hush descends as he comes in to bowl.

Gabriel is the batsman. He has been coached by Chase at the wicket. Defend, for your life depends on it. But he has ten world weary men crouching around him. Ten men from a country that has nothing going for it other than this game. Ten men who cannot play in flashy cricket leagues around the world. Or don't. Two among the ten are so old and weary that crouching for a catch is also task. But yet they are there, for the nation. For themselves, for history.

Yasir bowls. It is a wrong one. Gabriel has a brain seizure. He decides that the best way to defend would be a hoick over the in field. Get it over their heads. A milli second later he hears the sickening sound of the ball hitting his stumps. Inside edge. His face crumples. What's he done? Chase is shell shocked. One ball and he could have defended the final over. One ball and he could have carried the team into a memorable draw. But what's the young man done?

The Pakistanis are everywhere. Younis plucks the stumps. The substitutes arrive with the flag. Yasir is jumping around in footballer glee. Misbah is engulfed. He is looking towards his family. They are in the stands. He is 42 years old. The oldest captain in the last thirty years of modern Cricket. He knows what he has achieved. He runs towards his family. The inscrutable captain at last shows some emotion. Younis has a smile as wide as the Indus.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the most bittersweet hour for Cricket.

Two honorable gentlemen leaving the field for the last time, draped in their country flags, as winners.

Just know, their impact on the game has been much more than Dravid, Tendulkar, Miandad, Inzamam and Sangakkara. The other South Asian greats.

Old men. Victors. More than ever.