This N’ That

As tennis aficionados are aware, this year’s US Open provided unexpected surprises. Two teenage girls (for the first time ever) competed for the crown, although one of them was not even qualified to enter the main draw. She had to ‘qualify’ herself by playing, I believe, six matches. Once she got into the draw, the march was relentless. On the other side of the net was another phenom from Canada who got beaten in the finals. A qualifier winning the tournament is also a first.

The encouraging and happy result of all this is the fact that there was no need to have bazookas instead of tennis rackets, grunts and grimaces, throw tantrums; the crowd cheered both the contestants. Nobody lost their temper, smashed their rackets, hit the ball not in play haphazardly, sometimes hitting officials and ball boys/girls. Nobody threatened the lines person with “I will shove the ball in your mouth” as another champion did a few years ago. The strokes from both players were clinical, with enough power to throw the opposition off balance. One was reminded of tennis of the good old days when it was not a gladiator sport. It was the supremacy of finesse over brute power. The girls were quite elegant to watch, compared with people like Nadal whose every stroke looks as though he is in labor! On the whole, a good day for tennis.

But to me the happy news was that that Djokovic did not win the singles. He was going for a win which would have broken the record set by the ever-so-gentlemanly Rod Laver—winning all the grand slams in one calendar year.

Here I have a story to tell. Nina Stojanovich is a Serbian, 25, who grew up in awe of the native hero Djokovic. He was her idol!  She was thrilled beyond words when the Serbian authorities named her to partner Djokovic to play in the mixed doubles event at the Tokyo Olympics. With the number one player in the world as her partner, the trophy was a shoo-in. Imagine the days and nights when she was dreaming of winning one of the most prestigious tournaments in tennis.

But Joko had already lost his singles bid. He lost in doubles too. He sulked and pouted and was generally obnoxious. And on the day of his mixed doubles match he mysteriously developed pain in the shoulder and withdrew. You just try and imagine what Nina went through. That was mean, mean.

Joko is famous (notorious) for all the infractions that I had mentioned earlier. For instance, I recall the day he hit a stray ball, out of play, at a line judge. (It was no accident, pilgrims.) He hit rock bottom as far as court etiquette is concerned. He cusses in Serbian, breaks rackets (good that he does not have to pay for his rackets.), makes sarcastic gestures at the umpire….the list is long. NO, he had no right to occupy the same orbit as Rod Laver. Or for that matter the Fed or Nadal. To me Medvedev, who clinically demolished Joko with precision and enough power, was a very happy, welcome sight.  He won where many times he had knocked on the door. Medvedev will go places. So I prophesy.

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On September 7 the New York Times published a story entitled “The tragedy of America’s Rural Schools”. The schools in the story had out of date textbooks, the buildings were dilapidated, they didn’t have a single computer, didn’t have  sufficient number of school buses,…..the list is endless. It is also not an accident that the school districts under reference are mostly in black communities. They don’t have the money.

And yet the country spent 300 million dollars a day for twenty years for a war which it did not win. Yes, you read it right: three hundred million dollars a day! Imagine what a day’s expenditure could have done for an impoverished school district.

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Cinderella is one of the most endearing, enduring fairy tales that has enthralled children and even adults over several decades. Many films, especially the Walt Disney one, are in circulation.  This month a new version has been released and it is rated PG!!  Parental Guidance to watch Cinderella??!! It is a musical, this new version, and features 24 songs, I believe. I am surprised that Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan allowed themselves to be cast in this effort. Money speaks, I guess!

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Breaking News.

France has recalled its ambassador to the US in protest over America’s deal to help deploy nuclear powered submarines. On Thursday they had cancelled a gala at the Washington Embassy. Their nose is out of joint because this deal nullifies a $40 billion-dollar nuclear submarine deal that they had signed with Australia. (Wouldn’t there be a penalty for violating a contract involving billions of dollars?) Adding insult to injury, France learnt about the deal from TV media and not from the US government.  The French Ambassador likened the submarine deal cancellation to treason. Is Biden getting unhinged?

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The highly anticipated rally on behalf of the more than 600 people charged in the Jan.6 Capitol Hill riot drew a modest crowd of a couple of hundred demonstrators today. There were more law enforcement personnel than demonstrators. The mountain gave birth to a mouse!!

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Oops! Sorry. Pentagon says that the drone strike that killed 10 in Afghanistan was a mistake. Seven children were among those killed. The driver of the car that was hit worked for a U.S. aid group and had nothing to do with ISIS. Well, at least they said “sorry”, right?

Numbers

One in five hundred. The number of people in the US killed so far by the virus. A Republican lawmaker said, “Well, that is the luck of the draw. Look at the many millions who are alive!”

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I STRONGLY suggest that you click on the link below. It will be worth your time.

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Nine/Eleven

Today is the 20th anniversary of the infamous nine-eleven.

I am taking the liberty of revisiting the blog on the theme, posted on September 14, 2019. Since I had a personal experience on that day that I shall never forget, I like to relive the day. Those who already know the contents might want to skip it and go straight to part two.

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“Four days ago, New York commemorated the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. It is a heart wrenching ritual repeated every year. Family members and first responders return to ground zero to remember the loved ones lost on September 11 of 2001. The names of all people who died are read one by one.

In August 2001, I was sent on assignment by the UNDP to Vladimir, 200 km east of Moscow. The city has a very large Jewish community.  The Jewish Cultural Center is called Hesed Lev and they got a grant from UNESCO, in response to their request for funds to promote Jewish culture through the performing arts. The Soviet Union was very rough with the Jews and many were killed during Stalin’s regime. The younger generation in the country had been growing up without any knowledge of or sensitivity to their rich heritage. Hesed Lev wanted to tour the country with a variety show including plays, dances and music, especially folk songs. The grant would help underwrite the expenses but they wanted someone to put the program together and organize a festival which could be taken on the road. I was assigned the task.

Needless to say, I was quite excited. Even more so when I discovered that they had picked Fiddler on the Roof as one of the two plays.

Fiddler in rehearsal

I was seriously involved in the Grande Prairie production of the play; I had a bit part as well. (I know, I know, Stanislavsky did say that there are no small parts, only small actors.) The members of the Center were also quite excited after reviewing my resume.  The Center did not want to spend precious dollars for my accommodation in a hotel. I was given room and board in the house of one of the staff. I had no problem with the arrangement. In fact, I offered to underwrite the cost of food.

Putting the program together, supervising rehearsals, planning the tour etc. were quite fascinating. The enthusiasm of the cast and crew was exhilarating.

Here I want to take a slight detour and go back in history. 16th of January 1989 was an important day in the history of the erstwhile Czechoslovakia. On that day Vaclav Havel, playwright and political activist, was inaugurated as the first democratically elected President, thus toppling the communist government backed by the Soviet Union.

The interesting fact is that Havel, along with many activists, including students, was in a jail in Bratislava on the day he was elected. On the 8th of September I got a surprise call from Alexander Sergeev of the Russia desk in Moscow. He had a request from UNESCO. Three Israelis would be arriving in Vladimir on the 9th of September. They were journalists who wrote articles of protest against the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia. At that time they were operating independently from Moscow, Odessa and Kiev for different news organizations. They were arrested and sent to Vladimir central prison which is the largest in Russia. It was (perhaps still is) the most notorious prison in the country and the most dangerous criminals or those who needed to be taught a lesson were sent there.

The three men spent about six years in the jail and when Czechoslovakia became a democratic republic, they were released. They moved to Israel. But they were returning to Vladimir after many years to see the prison where they had been incarcerated, where they withstood indescribable torture, but survived simply because of their indomitable spirit.

I was the only UN presence in Vladimir and so I was requested to interview them and submit a report. I arranged for a meeting on the 11th of September.

Yes, 9-11.

The journalists–Benyamin, Isaac and Menachem—had horror stories to tell.

Isaac and the columnist in front of the only wooden church in the country

One particular punishment is worth mentioning. Every Friday was silence day.  From 5 in the morning when they were woken up until 5 a.m. the next day, the prisoners in the ward were not to make any sound. Food was served on paper plates, the toilets were not to be flushed, and if anyone felt like sneezing, he had to stifle it. In fact, one day Isaac sneezed and he was beaten up for that. He said that was the most brutal in the Russian repertoire of torture.

It was extremely disturbing to listen to the three people describe their experiences. It was inconceivable what a human being can do to another!! I had to ask them why, in the name of God, they came all the way to Vladimir! They said they wanted to see once more the place where they had withstood the brutal machinery of the KGB and beaten it. They were writing a book, describing their experiences, and they wanted to see the city which they had not had the opportunity to explore, having spent all the time in the prison. As I said they were incarcerated for six years and when Czechoslovakia became independent, they went from Vladimir to Haifa in Israel.

I came home around 6 in the evening and since the lady of the house had not come home to fix me supper, I turned on the TV. Russian TV more often than not showed Hollywood movies, dubbed in Russian. My Russian was not good enough to understand the dialogue. Even if I did, Clint Eastwood saying, “Make my day, you punk”, in Russian had no appeal for me. I used to look at the pictures and tune out the dialogue.

What I saw initially surprised me. One of the stations was showing the Twin Towers under siege. I did not understand the commentary that went with it. I assumed that it was a new movie that Steven Spielberg was shooting!  Or John Cameron.

In a few minutes my hostess called to apologize for not being home at supper time, but she asked me if I knew what was happening. Of course, I did not. And when she gave me the news, my heart sank. Many Sundays I had gone to the Windows on the World on the 106th floor. They had a very attractive restaurant called Wild Blue. It was also known as the Greatest Bar on Earth! I spent time reading; writing, just looking at the river… It was an ideal place to spend a quiet afternoon.  I kept on watching the repeated images of the plane ramming the towers, the billowing smoke, the resultant damage, confusion…

About half an hour later the President of the center called me and said that I should immediately shave my beard because I looked like one of the guys responsible!! I had no idea how she got the image to begin with. Many people have mistaken me for someone from the Middle East.

The next thing I knew, Alexander asked me to pack and be ready to leave the next day. In the morning three soldiers came to the apartment and literally surrounded me and took me to the railway station to catch the early train to Moscow. The soldiers were with me throughout the journey. Once in Moscow, I was whisked off under strict military protection to a hotel somewhere out of Moscow. The next day I was put on a flight path which took me to Helsinki. Before I reached Edmonton I touched Glasgow, Paris and Frankfurt. The usual route would have been Moscow-Frankfurt-Edmonton. The UN does take care of their staff, I tell you!!

I was very disappointed to leave, with my job half done. I was told that the Center did put together a program which they toured with around Russia.”

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Re: last week’s blog on ‘Puns’

1.  Kathy Harper has pointed out that I “rewrote” the story of Hamlet by using ‘her’ instead of ‘his’ in a critical sentence. Claudius was Hamlet’s uncle and not Ophelia’s. The error is regretted.

2.  Strange because this is one of a few of the Bard’s plays that I know backwards! I studied it in my fourth year, taught it in Uganda, functioned as the dramaturg for the Department production at NYU, participation being one of the requirements of the course! In fact, I recall seeing an Off-Broadway production of Hamlet with Kathy. I forget the name of the actor who played the lead. As I told Kathy, senility is showing. And how!!

3.  Dr William Spooner lived from 1844 to 1930.

4.  Re: Jim Smagata’s fancy dress as a Lord. He said, “That picture of the “Lord” sleeping is from “The Taming of the Shrew” that you directed.”

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Stories from the tennis world postponed until next week.  

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Pun, the Lowest Form of Wit

We have a very good friend called Jim Smagata, a man of multiple talents. Actor, director, designer, carpenter, plumber, theatre techie….. the list is endless. Handsome to boot. We have known Jim since the early eighties when he was the Technical Director of the college theatre under my management.  He is a family friend. I am also the godfather of his oldest son Wally.

The last I saw him, I had noticed that his avoirdupois has gone up giving him a Charles Laughton or Jackie Gleason exterior. Not a big deal, of course. Bummer for the pallbearers, however.

He used to live in Mississauga, not far from us, but recently has become landed gentry in a place called Chatham. Between London and Windsor, he explained. He also posts bizarre pictures of himself, constantly changing his profile. In the latest which he sent a couple of days ago, he is dressed as a ‘lord’—a lord in deep slumber.

He is a nice guy, really. But over the last year or so, I have noticed that he is getting his kicks by posting quotes from a man called Punny Pete. As you have correctly surmised, the quotes are puns.

He had posted chestnuts like:

“I grilled a chicken for two hours. It still wouldn’t tell me why it crossed the road.”

“Just found out the company that produces yardsticks won’t be making them no longer.”

“Last year I wrote a book on penguins. In retrospect, paper would have been easier.”

Obviously, he has not heard of the famous quote by John Dennis, nearly 400 years ago that, “A pun is the lowest form of wit”.

At this point I remembered that many years ago, I had read an article somewhere and the title was “Get thee to a punnery”. This, of course, is a play on what Hamlet told Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery.” Hamlet’s theory was that if Ophelia did become a nun, she would not produce monstrous human beings like Claudius, her uncle. Ophelia chose to drown herself.

It took me a very long time to track down the source of ‘Get thee to a punnery’. It so happens that it is a book published in 1988 by Harvard educated linguist, author, speaker and teacher Richard Lederer. If time hangs heavy on your hands, you might find it interesting to go to Amazon and browse through the first ten pages or so of the book free.

The book is an ‘anthology of intentional assaults upon the English language’. Lederer says that, “Far being invertebrate, the inveterate punster is a brave entertainer. He or she loves to create three ring circus of words: words clowning, words teetering on tightropes, words swinging from tent tops, words thrusting their heads into the mouth of lions. Punnery can be highly entertaining, but it is always a risky business. The humor can fall on its face, it can lose its balance and plunge into sawdust or it can be decapitated by the snapping shut of jaws.”

“Pun’ as we know it is by no means new. Ancient Egyptians used it in the development of myths and interpretation of dreams, claim the etymologists. In ancient Mesopotamia around 2500 BC, punning was used regularly by scribes. The Mayas were known to use it too. Of course, Shakespeare employed puns freely. Scholars believe that he has used it over 3000 times in his plays. In Romeo and Juliet Mercutio says, “Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man”. We also have people making ‘pun’ of Shakespeare. Here are two examples.

When Shakespeare got his writing pencils confused, he wondered if it was 2B or not 2B

The new player was Bard from playing Macbeth.

Before closure let me remind readers of the word ‘spoonerism’. This is an error in speech where corresponding consonants, vowels or morphemes are switched between two words or phrases. This was named after the Rev. Archibald Spooner, Warden of New College, Oxford who was notoriously prone to this mistake. The term was established in 1921. A few examples are:

        Three cheers for our queer old dean.

        The Lord is a shoving leopard.

        A blushing crow.

A couple more puns to tickle your funny bone!

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My friend Dr Lila Menon, who lives in Malaysia, regularly posts jokes from various sources. I generally do not like to share jokes, because appreciating a joke is a personal affair. What is good for the goose is not, in this case, good for the gander. But since the general tone of the blog is one of levity, I thought I would share this I received recently. This is NOT a “ha-ha” joke.

The Inefficient Concert

The CEO of a company fell ill on a day when he had tickets for a concert. As a gesture of good will, he gave the tickets to the company’s Efficiency Expert (EE).

Next morning, the CEO was surprised to find on his desk a report written by the EE. It said,

Dear Sir,

I was sent by you to the concert, the main piece of the evening being Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, although personally I think an unfinished work should be disqualified. I had watched the performance and here are some, but not all, of the malfunctions I found.

1.    The moist obvious problem was that they had 22 violinists play the exact same tune. Such a reckless waste! I believe that at least 21 of them should be fired and the money saved.

2.    The drummer was doing nothing for long stretches of time. I would suggest that he put on a different clock so that we can keep an eye on him when he actually does any work.

3.    Regarding the equipment: I’ve noticed a horrible lack of standardization when it comes to musical instruments, especially when it comes to strings. I’ve seen small ones, big ones, one you hold under your chin and some you hold between your legs. I think one size for all these instruments will save time, money and confusion as well as make maintenance easier.

4.    The conductor did not play as much as a single note during the entire concert and showed a lack of respect to the customers while standing with his back (his back!!) to the audience There were even a few times when he was threatening his staff with a stick, and this should never be allowed. I would suspend him with no pay until we can get to the bottom of this. Psychological counselling is recommended.

To summarize: I am quite sure that if Mr Schubert had avoided these issues, he would have managed to finish his work, instead of leaving us with an unfinished symphony.

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On Doodles

As far back as I can remember, I had a ‘deskpad’ on my desk.  I recall that in the olden days the ones I had were actually like a calendar on which you could jot down important ‘things to do’ everyday— a month at a glance.  Later I graduated to plain sheets and I got for myself a clean space in front of me because I am an inveterate doodler.

It used to be that the pads had only 12 sheets, one for each month. Now I have one with 36 sheets and I flip the pages once every 10 days or so when there is no more space to doodle. But I have also noted that I doodle only when I am on the phone or thinking furiously of something, say, writing the blog. The ‘text’ on the pad is basically snippets of conversation which I needed to be reminded of, phone numbers, important events in the life of the callers….. Sometimes in the jungle some of the information is buried and hence of no use. This week’s page has a wealth of information, some of which I have forgotten the import of. I see that the name of Irene—our very dear friend—has been written and highlighted with three circles around it. I also see the names of Sean Hannity who with Tucker Carlson has to be the most obnoxious human being on earth. I see a list of six words– through, thorough, though, rough, cough, bough—supplied by my daughter for a future blog demonstrating the vagaries of pronunciation of the morpheme ‘ough’.

While in the past, the pad was for recording information, now it has become a veritable ‘canvas’. And I recalled that I used to freely doodle at Admin Meetings in the college, a monthly ritual where the Chairmen of the various Departments in the College tried to prove how important their departments were; highlight their accomplishments, waxed poetic on how they needed more resources than the others—

But it is at budget discussions that the meetings really got tense. Territorial imperatives at their worst. Sacred cows like the Department of Humanities, Sciences, Business Administration etc got the appropriate respectful treatment. The untouchables like drama, painting, music, industrial arts etc. were not always lucky. Sometimes they got scant attention.

At this point I remembered that I had many years ago filed some of my doodles, those I thought were interesting. Below is one that I created at one of the tenser meetings. As you can see, I had used up one whole page of my pad.

So. Is the craze to doodle limited to a few kooks? Apparently not. Queen Victoria, Da Vinci, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Federico Fellini, Marlon Brando and Picasso, to name a few, had indulged in this harmless pursuit. Victoria’s favorite subject was donkeys; perhaps she was reminded by the courtiers and advisors who surrounded her. Churchill doodled aircraft designs. Brando and Fellini scrawled body parts. One by Fellini is particularly telling, but I cannot include it because it is not suitable for family viewing. Why don’t you google Fellini’s doodles and find out? Only adults are allowed. I am giving below some of the doodles under reference.

Queen Victoria’s doodles.
Eisenhower’s doodle.

To conclude, I take the liberty of including three of my better ones in my opinion.

At a discussion with the President of the Faculty Association, 1977.

Meeting to discuss recruitment of students for the GPRC Fine Arts Dept, 1979.

Random doodles, May 5th, 1979.

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Many universities in Canada and US have chaplains. And when there is a vacancy, you advertised for one, of course.

The puritan colonists who settled in New England in the 1630’s had a nagging concern about the churches they were building: how would they ensure that the clergymen would be literate? Their answer was Harvard University, a school that was established to educate the ministry and adopted the motto, “Truth for Christ and the Church”. It was named after a pastor, John Harvard, and it would be more than 70 years before the school had a president who was not a clergyman.

Harvard’s organization of chaplains had a vacancy for a leader, and have elected Greg Epstein, who takes on the job next week.

Except Mr Epstein is an atheist! Epstein, the author of the best seller “Good without God” is obviously an unusual choice for the job. He will coordinate the activities of more than 409 chaplains, who lead the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious communities on campus.

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Humpty Dumpty who still thinks he is the President (Biden won by cheating. I am the rightful, legal winner) is exercising his Presidential prerogative from Mar a Lago. He has issued an Executive Order to stop assisting the commission which is trying to figure out who is really responsible for the January 6 riots. What riots people? It was a peaceful demonstration by a bunch of tourists. Lord, give me a day without the media mucking up our lives, please.

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Yesterday the golden retriever reacted to the situation in Afghanistan. He said that what happened was a tragedy and if he were the President nothing like this would have happened. People, are you deaf? Please, somebody, anybody, put Him back in the Oval Office for the benefit of the US and by extension the world. Please! Don’t you realize that by one wave of his divine hand he could have redirected Hurricane Ida?

Oh, by the way, he had nothing to say about the 13 soldiers who died in the line of duty.

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Good friend Ralph Buck, who has flown several missions to Afghanistan, has commented on my last blog. I strongly recommend that you read it.  It will be worth your time.

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Welcome to Sharia Law

No doubt you have an up-to-date news feed on the collapse of Afghanistan and ascendancy of the Taliban, and that you are getting a daily dose of the tragedy that has befallen the majority of Afghans. The US, that has been in the country for 20 odd years, pulled out in ignominy, another defeat similar to VietNam.

I dare say that the average Afghan is still confused as to why the Americans were there in the first place. To refresh your memory, the mighty nation was retaliating against the attack on 9/11. The Taliban was suspected to have trained the terrorist group Al Qaeda that destroyed the Twin Towers.  The US went there to ‘train’ 300,000 Afghan soldiers who had no interest in fighting, especially after the long war resulting in the expulsion of the Russians. But the pay was good and the perks were good. However, when the question of real fighting came up, the Americans had to do it. Meanwhile millions of dollars flowed into the Afghan treasury (more than two trillion in 20 years), giving Prime Minister Karzai and his cohorts access to easy money. Karzai became a millionaire, the others in government became inordinately rich beyond their wildest dreams. Without any meaningful opposition, the Taliban thrived, and the rest is history. Today, the takeover of the country by the Taliban is all but complete and at a press conference the Taliban declared that there will be no democratic system in Afghanistan. Rather the country will be ruled under sharia law.

Most of you, I am sure, have an idea what sharia law means. For the uninitiated, I am giving below an overview of the law and its implications.

In Arabic sharia means “the clear, well-trodden path to water”.  In practice it is understood, interpreted and applied differently around the world, according to differing traditions and the interpretation/role of Islam in any given government or culture. Leaders, clerics and practitioners take a diverse array of approaches to the traditions and precedents. This is convenient because impromptu leaders can modify the law to suit the immediate need! This diversity includes a role for sharia in criminal law, a stringent code of punishment and personal law that governs issues like marriage, inheritance and child custody.

While Islamic scholars say that Sharia is mainly a code of ethical conduct, worship and charity, when the Taliban last controlled Afghanistan from 1966 to 2001, they enforced a harsh interpretation of sharia law. Women were forced to wear ‘burqas’—the head-to-toe, face covering garment—and had to suffer face beatings if they ventured outside on their own without a male guardian.  Schools for girls were shut. People who violated the Taliban’s rules were punished…publicly executed, whipped or stoned. Punishments for violation of law were notable. Sharia law divides offenses into two general categories: “hadd” offenses which are serious crimes with set penalties and “tazir” crimes where the punishment is left to the discretion of the judge. Hadd offenses include theft and is punishable by amputating the offender’s hand. It would have been nice if the amputation business is also extended to rapists as well.

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Nobody should be fooled into thinking that the Taliban achieved all their power on their own. They also had a great deal of help from China and neighboring Pakistan. In fact, when Kabul fell last week, Islamic terrorist organizations in a number of Pakistani cities doled out sweets to locals…an age-old custom to celebrate good news, like the birth of a baby. And Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that “the contraption that the US had pieced together for Afghanistan has crumbled like a house of cards.”

Way to go Imran!!!

Strange fellow, this Imran Khan.

While being virulently anti-American and anti-English language in general, he himself and went to Oxford. He was a rich playboy, had numerous affairs with English women, married one for a few years, promptly divorced her and married three more. He speaks Oxbridge English and played cricket for the English countries….

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I am sure you have seen enough of the mayhem in Kabul and the airport. Norman Browning shared with me a telling photograph (see below) of passengers in a US army plane. I suppose the practice of fastening seat belts has been ignored for the time being.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan August 15, 2021. Picture taken August 15, 2021. U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. – RC207P9FFGJS

Breaking News

Taliban has issued the first fatwa. Boys and girls are not allowed to sit in the same classroom in universities. Shape of things to come! (Fatwa means a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority)

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Story about colleges in the US. It is the dream of everyone to get educated in the states. Perhaps this story might change all that. In an article that appeared two days ago in SCIENCE101, it says, “National studies still show that getting a degree leads to higher wages, but not all universities and colleges are doing their part. Every year PayScale, a national wage analytics company, keeps schools honest by rating how well their students are doing by measuring their return on investment”.

If you are interested please click on the link below:

https://articles.science101.com/f101/30-universities-with-worst-roi/?utm_source=fb&utm_campaign=Ba_FB_S101WW_T5_WorstROI_UV11CC33BD200AP_v1_S24_1808_A_1865_A_23848119544940485&utm_content=feed&utm_medium=Ba_FB_S101WW_T5_WorstROI_UV11CC33BD200AP_v1_S24_1808&zp_custom1=Ba&fbclid=IwAR1qxN2G1bQVgj1KZpD7IPnTZ_D7Cb1U3bub5rNQF3FfMxfD9des_TN5spU

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At first blush it would appear that the picture was taken in the legislative chamber of a so called “third world country”. No Pilgrims, This is a scene last week from the senate chamber in Georgia, one of the ‘developed’ states in America.

Georgia state legislators in the Senate chamber at the State Capitol in Atlanta. | Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

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Incarceration Redux

I was quite surprised at the vast number of responses to last week’s blog on my incarceration by the British. A couple of comments are worthy of mention. Padmini Ramaswamy wondered if this brief rub with the law affected my being hired by the UN. I am not sure how far back they went to check me out and I was a Canadian candidate. In any event freedom fighters are not considered criminals by the UN.

Another comment came from Dr Liam McGowan of the country of Victoria. He displayed his Irish humor saying this. “Were you in jail in Kerala, Suk? Maybe your voice was not as good as you thought it was and they threw you in as a public service.”

Hats off to classy humor.

In retrospect, I am wondering why, indeed, I chose to reveal this period of my life. And, of course, the blog was short on many details. I did not want to go into some of the sordid details nor to document the many inconveniences, especially, laundering, lack of hygiene and such. Perhaps I wanted some of the third-generation folks (who are avid readers of the blog) to know this unfortunate episode of my life, something that was verboten when I was growing up. I did consider including this in my memoirs, The Vivid Air (Amazon) which was published in 2011. Then something very strange happened. My mother appeared in my dreams and with tearful eyes begged me not to include this. Would  I have offended her memory by making the incident known? I am not sure. At least she did not stop me!

At this point I must mention that the political leaders who were arrested were treated very badly; some of them had broken bones. Remember it is a compatriot beating up another! But the police had simply followed orders.

But what really stung us was that we were not released during the Onam festival which was towards the end of August. The import of the Onam Festival would be appreciated only by those who come from my state—Kerala, of which Liam has made reference to.

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By the time you read this Afghanistan, as you knew it, would be in shambles. The capital would have been surrounded by the Taliban who has already captured ten cities around Kabul the capital and have declared that it is illegal to give or take Covid vaccines. Notices have been posted in hospitals to this effect. Girls cannot go to schools, women cannot take jobs anywhere. A few who did this in the past got their eyes gouged out. What long term benefits there would be if the US stayed on is not clear. But withdrawal has brought with it catastrophic results.

Meanwhile in the land of the free and the home of the brave, where freedom is sacrosanct, the battle against vaccines and vaccination and such is raging on.  The vassals who regularly pay obeisance to the Orange Lama—vassals like Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham, Kevin McCarthy and such are denigrating the use of vaccines, blackballing those officials who defy orders and vaccinate people. It is now very clear that the virus does not affect the Republicans. So why don’t the populace just take membership in the Republican party and avoid the tedium of getting vaccinated. One of the more vocal critics of the vaccine, senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, said earlier this week that he cannot in all conscience approve of anything that would violate his freedom. He shot his fist up when saying ‘Freedom’  in typical Bolshevik style. He is the nemesis of Dr Fauci. He has even coined a new term ‘Faucism’, which when pronounced in a certain way sounds like Fascism.

Meanwhile his wife bought a large number of shares in Gilead Sciences, a company that makes the Covid drug Remdesivir, shortly before the pandemic lockdowns began. The shares, total value worth $15,000, was purchased in February 2020, right as the pandemic was beginning in the US. Remdesivir later became one of the first drugs approved by the FDA to fight the virus. Of course, Dr. Paul can play dumb and say he had no idea that his wife was doing this.

This came in short while ago. 14 Governors have imposed what is called the mask mandate, wearing masks mandatory in schools. 6 have signed Executive orders to the effect that those who impose the mask ban will be severely dealt with.  They have threatened school boards by declaring that they will not get paid if they impose a mask ban.

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It is time for some fun. I strongly suggest that you watch the following 5-minute video called “Tales in the Sand”. The artist called Kseniya Simonova is a master of sand animation. She creates incredible stories through the manipulation of sand, using beautiful imagery and attention to detail. .

I thank Dr. Lila Menon of Kuala Lumpur who provided me with the link.

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On Incarceration

Last week’s blog about the 23rd anniversary of Subtext has enjoyed many ‘likes’ and complimentary email comments and I thank you.

Tomorrow is another anniversary, but the occasion is not very pleasant. Here a little bit of history needs to be clarified.

The 8th of August is considered an important date in the history of Indian independence. On this day in 1942, at a session of the All-India Congress Committee, Mahatma Gandhi passed a resolution declaring the Quit India Movement.

The resolution declared that the ending of the British rule was an immediate necessity for the sake of India and for the success of freedom and democracy, for which the countries of the United Nations were fighting against fascist Germany, Italy and Japan. The resolution called for the withdrawal of the British from India.

Eventually, India became independent on August 15, 1947, but prior to that, every year on August the 8th, the country went into complete lockdown, shops closed, people not turning up for work etc. It was a peaceful protest. The students were also active participants in the movement.

Thus it was that on August 8, 1945 our college organized a shutdown. Such events usually involved student leaders making fiery speeches. But most of these meetings started with a patriotic song decrying the British and such songs were plenty. Since I had a good singing voice, I used to be a permanent fixture at these meetings. Being under five feet, I looked cute as well!  I guess!!

The organization was such that all meetings across India started at 11 in the morning. As such a large number of students and members of the public had assembled at the campus. We had an enormous mango tree on the grounds and the makeshift platform was built around it.

I was in my second year, smallish (as mentioned earlier), who as usual stepped on the stage to start the proceedings with a song. Suddenly about dozen guys stormed the stage. They were plainclothes men. They promptly arrested the entire platform group, including me. Since we were not really politicians, we were not taken to the central jail but to the barracks of the Police Training School. We were put in a long building which had no windows. However, the structure had a half wall about four feet high. And a door, of course. There were no facilities except a commercial type sink.

Someone in the audience rushed to the Accountant General’s Office where my farther worked and gave him the news. He hurried home and gave the news to my mother and as could be expected she went wild. “Do something!”, she screamed at my father. But what could he actually do?!

I believe we were put in our new accommodation around noon. We were given a blanket, a pillow, a towel (called thorthu in local lingo) and a mat to lie on.

I recall crying bitterly. Mercifully the other ‘inmates’ were very kind and sympathetic—after all we were all students. We did not know for how long we would be incarcerated until a warden made his appearance and said that we might as well get used to our new digs for 28 days.

Life in prison was, naturally, different. We had three meals a day, of course, but our movements were restricted. We were supplied with two newspapers—one in the local language and the other in English. The ‘leader’ of the group allotted each one of us the newspaper and the time to read it. I opted for the last so that I had more time to read the papers from cover to cover. I relished reading the national English paper—The Hindu, it was called.

There was a kind of that separated our building from the rest of the campus. We were able to watch marching drills, volleyball etc. in which the police cadets were involved.  There were, I believe ten of us, and we were allowed to walk the grounds if we so fancied, but I stayed in the dorm like space crying.  The one thing I remember very clearly is that I was NOT abused, or ill-treated. Everyone seemed to want to take care of me, consoling me… After all I was 17 years old, an urchin in shorts.

There was a communal bathroom, an outhouse for toilet needs Food was disgustingly poor, the usual breakfast common those days, and a kind of a gruel (called kanji in the local language) for lunch and supper. The only saving grace was that we could wander around the fenced grounds whenever we liked. There were two large trees in the enclosure and we made use of the shade to sit and read or just sit and mope!!

 I recall how I literally ran home on the 28th day. I recall my mother crying in relief. Father had taken a day off to receive me. My siblings were too young to fully comprehend the situation. They had no idea why I was away from home for almost a month.

Many years later, on one of my infrequent visits from overseas, I tried to locate the building. It was still there, housing some kind of a cooperative store. The fencing was no longer there.

I do think of those days occasionally although I had tried to expunge the memory. But how could I?

So. Tomorrow is the anniversary. I admit that I never had, over the years, paid attention to the date. Since the question of anniversaries came up last week, I thought that it might be appropriate to recall the day. Also, many of the younger generation in my family have no clue that the incarceration, actually, happened. My mother was very particular that nobody talks about in public!

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Anything Goes

One of the lasting legacies of Tangerine Lama is that people have been encouraged to be cognizant of the constitution, especially freedom of speech and freedom of action. Freedom of speech allows you to say whatever you like, use foul language without fear or favor. One fondly recalls the Lama employing his freedom of speech to refer to those He did not like or those who did not support him. “Crooked Hillary” is almost a household term now. Many use it to refer to the former first lady. He would refer to the Senate Majority Leader as the ‘son of a bitch’…something no President of the US has used in public. His latest disciple is the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi who said this of the Minority Leader of the House, Keven McCarthy, “He’s such a moron.” Millions of people are paying respect to freedom of action by not getting vaccinated. One such moron refused to get his family vaccinated. As a result, his teen age son died and his wife promptly divorced him.

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For your viewing pleasure, an unusual aerial photo.

Flamingos at Lake Logipi in Kenya.

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Subtext – Anniversary

Today, exactly 23 years ago, I wrote the first Subtext. It was an article for the Arts and Entertainment supplement of the local newspaper Daily Herald Tribune, published in Grande Prairie, Alberta.  The supplement was called Encore! The headline of the debut article was supplied by the editor. It read, “Welcome to Subtext or What Sukumar Reads Between the Lines”.

The blog was not on any specific theme. Rather it was meant to introduce me and the title.

I am reproducing the article verbatim.

At the outset, I wish to thank Encore! for publishing Christina Grant’s very flattering story about my retirement from the local theater scene. It seems that not many are in a mood to accept my decision. Sorry, folks, the decision is irrevocable. My only involvement will be in the role of a dramaturge, should someone seek my opinion on shows. I will also consider acting if a challenging role is offered. (As it happened, I had to eat my words because I directed at least 6 more shows culminating in a block buster production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2006!!! This was my swansong as well)

Immediately after the story appeared, my dear friend and critic of men and manners, Syd Larter, called me to remind me that I could not possibly be in Fiji to celebrate the dawn of the new century. This was in response to our decision to go to Fiji on December 31, 1999. As some of you readers of the DHT are aware Syd has been attempting to tell everyone that the 21st century is many months away—in fact, January 1, 2001.

He is right.

The New York Times for January1, 1901 headlined: “Twentieth Century’s Triumphant Entry”. And continued, “Yesterday was the 19th, today is the 20th. Sometime last night the one died and the other was born.”  Our economists, political commentators agricultural and science experts all speak of the year 2000 in the mistaken belief that the 21st century is going to start then. Only the film ‘2001-A Space Odyssey’ seems to be straight on this matter.

But, Syd, I am not going to usher in the 21st century. I am going to celebrate the dawn of the new millennium. Among other things, I want Nalini to stand astride the International Date Line. The left leg will be in 1999 and the right in 2000! In 1960, we stood astride the equator—one leg was in the northern hemisphere and the other in the south.

Now about the column and the title.

I am reluctant to write an ‘A&E’ column, highlighting the events in the region, commenting on productions, reviewing shows etc. . The DHT reporters would do a better job than me(I). My interest is to look at the arts scene through colored eyes (the pun is unintended), and give opinions rather than content, flavor rather than fact.

Which explains the title.

Subtext is a term coined by the great Russian theorist and dramaturg Constantin Stanislavsky, (the man who conceived the concept of Method Acting), to refer to the meaning that lies behind the playwright’s dialogue. He once said, “Spectators come to the theatre to hear the subtext. They can read the text at home.”  Since it is rather inconvenient, and indeed impossible to check with the playwright what the lines actually mean, the actor/director is compelled to give his/her own interpretation. Thus, the subtext is an opinion. This means that another actor/director will have a different interpretation.

Since the column is an opinion, I thought SUBTEXT would be a suitable title for the blogs.

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Paul Newman likes to tell the story of an exercise at the Actors Studio in New York, an institution I had the privilege of attending, to hone my skills in acting and directing. The actors were told to imagine that it was the time of the Second World War and the last plane to leave the Philippines was about to take off. The student actors were to persuade the guards at the bottom of the steps that they HAD to get on the overloaded plane.

Each student made a passionate plea. One said that she was pregnant and she wanted the child to be born in the US, another that he had to report to the govt very confidential and sensitive material, a third said that he was needed by the army. Finally, it was Newman’s turn. He ran up to the guards and screamed, “I have to get on the plane. I just have to get on the plane.”

“Why?” the asked the guard.

“I am the pilot.”

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I firmly believe that there should be medals at the Olympics for despicable behavior. If there were one, this year’s gold would go to a man (!) called Aaron Reitz. He is an educated man(!!). He is, after all, the Deputy Attorney General of Texas. When Simone Biles, the super gymnast who lives in Spring, just north of Houston, pulled out of two competitions in the Tokyo Games, knowing that if had she continued her mental health would severely suffer.  Reitz said on Tuesday, “Simone Biles is a selfish, childish national embarrassment.” Of course, he knows. As if he has vaulted ten feet or more from the board, and descended head down, and twisted the body before landing so that he does not land on his head.

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If you are watching Beach Volleyball at the Olympics, you will appreciate this. Thanx Janet Longmate for sharing this very meaningful commentary.

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Numbers

5100 plus. The real estate holdings of the Vatican. 4051 properties are in Italy and 1120 abroad. This does not include the Vatican embassies.

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Rituals in the Body Shop

(Apologies, pilgrims. I am constrained to recycle one of my older blogs. What follows was originally published almost to the day 16 years ago—July 22, 2005.)

For the past few months, I have been, off and on, spending a great deal of time in the local body shop, also called the QEII Hospital in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

The other day, for instance, I was watching TV and smoking a relaxing pipe after a hearty meal.  That was when I developed a slight discomfort in the chest. So I did what everyone else does…trekked to the hospital.  And as everyone knows, the first stop is the emergency department.

I love the emergency department.  Not that I love watching misery.  But I love the pure theatre –the drama–of it.  I also find myself in the unique position of casting, mentally, the 124 plays I still want to do.  The pain, sadness, anxiety, anger, irritation, helplessness and occasional mirth are all unrehearsed and hence a joy to watch.

But I digress.

I was finally admitted to the treatment room, and once you are in, until you are discharged, you go through a series of rituals.  It is almost like a rite of passage.  You come out a different person. The pagan rituals begin with your being laid on a stone slab covered with white sheet. Your movements are restricted.  In olden days the priests used rope or vine for this purpose.  But these days they use plastic tubes of various colors, and thickness.  You are hooked up to machines.  A tube is also pushed up your nostrils so that you don’t snort.  I went through all this stoically.  I am a strong man.

After all these preliminaries, another minion…called a nurse…asked me what my problem was.  I said that I had chain in the pest.  Why his face would register mixed emotions of surprise, disbelief and amusement, I could not tell!!  Ah, an actor, I told myself.  What was that again, quoth he.  Does the QEII employ staff who are hard of hearing?  Chain in the pest, I repeated.  You do mean pain in the chest, continued the minion.  Of course I do, I said.  What is wrong with this guy?  Jeez!!

It is customary during this ritual to draw blood….like pagan rituals where blood sacrifices were common. After a while another nurse appeared….a woman this time…quite pretty, in fact.  If she could sing and act, she is a shoo-in for the role of Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar.  So before she proceeded with her agenda, I asked her.  “No I don’t”. I take care of kooks like you, she must have internalized.  I could see that on her face.  How was my pain? on a scale of 1 to 10 where would I place it? It is my firm belief that the person who thought up this question must be punished; sending to drama school would not be a bad idea!  Now, let me see.  On a scale of 1 to 10 eh?  I should say between 4 and 5, say 4.32.  I am fussy about accuracy.  I realized that this woman not only cannot sing or act, but also has no sense of humor!  I mean to say….she did not get it!!

She proceeded to poke me here and there.  Does it hurt?  It did but I did not divulge this information because I was secretly enjoying the procedure.  But my face must have betrayed me.  You see, I am a bad actor.  Ask Lorraine Cook.  She will tell you.  The nurse stopped everything and went away.  Soon the story spread: the guy in 3C is a kook.  The staff, one by one, walked through the room, under the pretext of picking up a tube or peeing can or whatever.  They wanted to have a good look at me.  What am I? Elephant Man??

Finally, Caiaphas arrived.  Sorry, these days, I don’t think of anything but JC.  Again the inquisition.  Did your mother have diabetes?  How should I know?  I don’t have a mother!  She died when I was 4 years old. And too young to ask , mummy, do you have diabetes?  He said, I am asking you this just in case the information comes in handy  in future..  Caiaphas cannot come up with a diagnosis because nothing seemed to be terribly wrong.  So he brought another priest and they whispered for a long time.  Finally he said that I had an abnormal condition called chemosynthroid  palpitatory  thrombokinesis. Wow!  With a condition like this, the only place to go was up…the fifth floor, in fact..

Eventually I got admitted to the ward.  I was on the slab for over 11 hours.

The most exciting thing an initiate looks forward to is the food tray.  I firmly believe that this is the most maligned article under the sun.  My neighbor Kelvin Potter has a theory. You are served the food you get so that you don’t think of the hospital as Club Med, and thus stay on because of the quality of the food.  You could fake a chest pain whenever you want. Now, Kelvin knows what he is talking about; and he does not lie. 

Ah, I digress again. One very important thing about the hospital food is that they label the ‘snack’ given between the main meals. But you have to be a diabetic to deserve it.  One afternoon I was given a banana.  Just so that I don’t misunderstand it as the horn of a wart hog painted yellow by a Zulu, they stick a label saying that it indeed was a banana; and I am thankful for it.  I don’t want to bite into a bone, and break my teeth.

The following day another high priest arrived.  A priestess, in fact. She had in her hands the fearsome blue binder filled with different colored paper—red for blood, gold for urine, green for bile, pink for something else.  My life and my future are in that file.  But I did not like the nonchalant way in which she was waving the thing around.  She also had a dyspeptic look on her face.  I thought she had beans for supper.  I prescribed a healthy dose of Alka Seltzer and Eno’s fruit salt—soto voce, of course. 

How are we today, quoth she. I am beginning to have serious doubts now.  If she does not know the difference between ‘we’ and ‘you’, how is she going to treat me for   chemosynthroid palpitatory  thrombokinesis!!  I am fine, I said.  The pain is all but gone etc.  We are a bit baffled, she said. Does ‘we’ mean the medical community or is she again displaying her appalling ignorance of basic English Grammar?  But I listened.  The tests revealed nothing at all, she continued. Before the onset of pain, did you do anything involving hard labor?  No. In that case what did you have for supper? I noticed that she did not use the word, ’we’.

I said kidney beans; and briefly my mind wandered   ‘as a cloud that floats on high over hills and vales’ and reminisced the gastronomic skills of my wife.  The impeccably shaped brown legume, submerged in the dark red gravy, spiced with fennel, fenugreek and cumin…and of course chili powder.  I suspect I had misty eyes.

 The priestess brought me down to terra firma.  We are discharging you.  All you had was an enormous quantity of gas in your system.  So on your way home get some Alka Seltzer and Eno’s fruit salt.

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The Dabbawallahs of Mumbai

Margaret Bowes, one of the faithful fans of Subtext, while cleaning up her files, came across an article that I had written many years ago on Dabbawallahs. The title will, I am sure, be strange to many of you except the fans in India. I thought I would reproduce it this week .I concede that the readership in India might not find this all that new and original.

I wonder how many know the meaning of the word ’tiffin’?  It was coined by the British (while they were in India) to mean mid-day meal.  This is for many millions of Indians, especially children at school, a very important meal.  Before the invasion of fast-food chains, the hungry Indians either carried with them packaged tiffin or got someone to deliver the meals during the lunch hour.

In Mumbai, the people who deliver the meals are called dabbawallahs, dabba meaning a three or four tiered steel or aluminum container, (see picture below)  and ‘wallah’ meaning one who carries or deals with it.  They pick up the dabbas from homes and deliver them to the clients in schools and offices.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Not when you consider that every day, in Mumbai, around 5,000 dabbawallahs collect and deliver around 200,000 lunches from as far away as sixty kilometers, and that each person carries 40 heavy dabbas at a time!

This is an ingenious distribution system considering the distance they have to travel and the number of clients to be served.  The self-employed entrepreneurs work in groups for four in a sort of multiple relay, ensuring door to door delivery.  The 200,000 dabbas have to go to the right person, they have to start from the point of origin, go through the transshipment in the suburban trains of Bombay, in all seasons including the monsoon, they have to arrive on time at the right place with the right tiffin container!

Forbes magazine recently awarded it a six-sigma performance rating, which ranks the dabbawallahs alongside the likes of GE and Motorola in terms of efficiency and quality of service.  It is all the more astonishing because the carriers are semi-literate or illiterate and in a city in which many observe religious dietary rules, an errant delivery could easily cause offence.  You don’t want to deliver pork curry and rice to a Muslim or beef curry to a Hindu!

To obviate this problem, each tiffin carrier is color-coded and marked with simple acronyms such as HO for hospital, if that is the final destination.  HOS would mean Hospital, Sukumar.

One dabbawallah carries 20 dabbas.  They are packed in a wooden crate about ten feet long and two feet wide and divided into 20 compartments, ten in each row, and one compartment for on dabba. This long contraption is carried on the head.  From the railway station where the relay ends, the dabbawallah runs to his destination.

The dabbas are delivered in meticulous sequence, collected and returned to the homes of origin.

These workers are the link between wives and mothers at home who spend their morning cooking while their husband and children are beavering away in offices, factories or schools.

If the dabbawallahs disappear it will not be because they are inefficient.  Although they have to contend with one of the most chaotic cities in the world, an independent audit has found out that a dabbawallah will only make one mistake per six million deliveries.  No, the blame would go to the western fast-food outlets like MacDonald’s and others. Also, the rapid expansion of the middle class also means that more women are working and they are less inclined to stay home and cook.

Why is this story relevant now, you ask?  Well, Prince Charles, when he visited Mumbai recently was fascinated with this and actually spent time with some of the dabbawallahs at one important relay point or sorting center viz, the Bombay Stock Exchange.  When they heard that the prince was getting married, they decided to contribute towards a wedding gift for Charles and Camilla.  Charles will get a head gear and Camilla will get a silk sari.

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Wimbledon Redux.

I had many interesting comments on last week’s blog. At the post match interview, winner Djokovic was asked if he considered himself the best player ever. He coyly replied that it is up to others to decide. No mention of giants like Federer, Nadal, Borg, Sampras Laver or any of the giants by Joko. I have news for you man, you are NOT going to be voted the best player in tennis. Let me give one of the reasons. You have no class.

On Sunday at the finals, the umpire, the coin tosser, the President of the LTA and your opponent Berrettini were at the net for the coin toss waiting for you and you did make them wait by deciding to get a sip of water from the bottle. It was not as though you had to moisten your throat in preparation for a big speech. No. All you had to say was either ‘heads’ or ‘tail’. But you made them wait and millions of people around the world had noticed it. It was a crass display of arrogance knowing that the others on the court had no choice but wait. Is it a big deal? Probably not. Do you think Federer or any other player of class would have done it? Certainly not. You have no class. No grace.

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One Stitch at a Time.

The landscapes that you see below are photographically real. But they are not photos. They were embroidered one stitch at a time by a talented artist Katrin Vates who lives in Rockville, Maryland.

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