Friday, November 15, 2013

Good Times

Desultorily on the game of cricket

The game of cricket occupies my mind now and then. At such times I sit and wonder what the relevance is of 100 runs by a bastman. 100 is an arbitrary number in every sense when applied to cricket, whereas the achievement of a bowler who gets 5 wickets in one innings is not, for the reason that there are only 10 possible wickets that can be ever taken in an innings. You can theoretically make many hundreds, given the right conditions.

Another thing that sets me thinking.Not all cricket grounds are the same dimensions. The pitches are all the same dimensions, but boundaries are sometimes short, sometimes not. On the same ground, boundaries vary. Amazing. Yet the game  goes on, with no one in any team complaining. The same thing goes for the type of pitch that is prepared for a game.

With these external variables (and I bet there are many more, more than any rational mind could conjure up), and the variables of the batting order, the rotation of bowlers, and field positions of the rest of the team, it is not surprising that cricket bamboozles the astutest analyst.

To many people, the idea of a drawn game (played over 5 days with breaks for drinks, lunch, and tea...really, tea) holding spectator interest can’t make sense. Yet, that possiblility of no decisive outcome is probably the finest aspect of this game, paradoxically a game of intense competition—not against someone else, but against one’s own self, in some ways almost like another confounding game, namely golf. I imagine that in the nascent days of cricket, guys in wet England went out on the rare sunny day to play a game in two teams, mainly to see who could bowl more men out in the time prescribed.

I am saying that cricket is a bowler’s game that has been appropriated by the batsmen. That’s why the century by a batsman doesn’t make sense as an achievement, but 5 wickets taken by a bowler makes sense.

That’s all I have to say about that, as Forrest Gump would have it.

What a Yarn

How to tell this story without giving away the end?

Well, if in my retirement years I have grown fond of sewing by hand, there was a time when I enjoyed knitting. At Brown, as a graduate student, I got interested in crochet as well, and I used to go to the downtown area to buy wool. Someone showed me how to do the granny square, and I took off on my Afghan trip.

Anyway, here’s the story.

My friends at Brown, Meera and Neeru, both in the sciences (Physics and Electronic Engineering, to be precise) were also pretty good with a ball of yarn and a couple of needles.  Once I remember, the two of them came to see me in a sort of a panic and told me how they had just embarked on a knitting project—a present for a friend—but found themselves suddenly strapped for time thanks  to difficult experiment that had to be completed.  They wanted me to help with the knitting.

It was a pretty lilac and blue scarf they were knitting. They left the yarn and the needles with me. Within a week they returned, and seemed a bit disappointed at my slow progress, although they were very nice about it. While we chatted and enjoyed a bit of weekend cooking, they each took turns with the wool. This time, though, when we parted, Meera pleaded with me to try and speed things up a bit, because the friend’s birthday was fast approaching.

So it went on for a month, and I knitted and knitted, finding to my dismay that they wanted a full six feet long scarf. When that was done, they wanted tassels put in. Other than do a row or two, they really seemed to assume that I would knit a scarf for their friend—I didn’t resent it but I certainly found it odd. Anyway, it was finally done, and they took the completed scarf with many sincere words of appreciation.

Have you got the story yet?

No? Well, if you are a prankster, you would have guessed where the story is going.

Okay, keep working at it.

In the meanwhile, my birthday came around, and we had a great party, complete with Neeru’s  vegetable kheer, Mera’s green moong gashi and a fragrant vegetable rice,  wine and the company of our puzzle-loving, story-telling friends, most of whom were also graduate students, all males, all Indians, all in the sciences. Neeru and Meera gave me my present in a large cardboard carton, which I opened. There was a lot of packaging material.  It took me a while to unpack my present, and sure enough, there it was at the very bottom. It was a beautiful, six-foot long scarf with tassels, in lilac and blue, that I had lovingly hand-knitted for myself.

With Duncan at Jebel Shams

(all photos by Duncan Webb)

Among the most memorable birthday gifts, I have to put right on top the trek along the cliffs of Jebel Shams that Duncan gave me.

Mohan and I are not really outdoor types. But we have enjoyed a few fantastic outings with encouraging friends to explore a forest trail or a waterfall.  While in Muscat, we frequently took the easy way out and went to see stunning sights of deserts, valleys, oases, and the seabed using efficient motorized vehicles.

Somehow, Duncan’s description of the Jebel inspired me to try and do the thing on foot. I didn’t have much confidence in my skills but he was very encouraging. That year, when my birthday came around, I asked Mohan if we could spend the day trekking.

birthday treat 2005

We left the night before and stopped at Nizwa. We must have gone to our favorite souk there. The next morning, we left early after a ridiculous breakfast of soft white bread and jam. Fortunately I did have nuts and dried fruit for the excursion.

The drive in Duncan’s modest four-wheel vehicle was bumpy to say the least, and when we arrived at the village from where we were to embark on the trek to see the valley from the heights of the cliffs, people surrounded us for goodies. Drinking water in plastic bottles is a cherished item there.

There’s not much to say about the climb itself, because it was pretty easy, even for me, although in places the ledges were really narrow. My knees didn’t shake, and Duncan was always there to give me a hand. He led with me following, and Mohan brought up the rear. I told Duncan that it was like Lakshmana, Sita, and Rama walking through the forest to Panchavati.

We arrived at the ruins of a village after walking for some hour or more (I think—it was a while ago, and my memory for details fades). 

abandoned village at the bottom of our trek in shams

We hung about there, and I thought how wonderful it might be to spend overnight at that spot. We had a pleasant picnic and chatted. Duncan is a well-informed individual, and a very engaging companion, in addition to being a loving friend of mine. We left on our return trek with some reluctance, because the breathtaking depth of the valley held you in thrall.

morning --shams

The way back went fine for a while until suddenly my vision began to blur. That’s about when the ledges grew narrower as well. I had no idea what was going on, although I had felt similar difficulties with my vision now and then after a jog along the beach. This time the problem persisted longer than I had ever known, besides being a real hindrance in the terrain where seeing what was in front was absolutely essential.

I sat down, saying I was tired, ate a few apricots, and hoped for the eyes to clear up. The two men were most solicitous. They hung about patiently for me to catch my breath—although what was troubling me was serious. I had to get up because soon the sun would begin to go down. I decided to hold on to Duncan’s hand and let him lead me, and Mohan to keep his hand on my back for a while. I really had problems seeing.

Thankfully, at some point, things cleared up. I forgot all about it when we returned to our jeep for another exciting off-the-road trip, now back to Muscat through more viewpoint stops.

shams view from a stop during our trek

That was the first serious symptom of my diabetes, it turned out. A good 2 years later (in 2007), when I mentioned that once in a while my vision gets blurred, my ophthalmologist quickly pointed me in the direction of the general physician, who confirmed that I was diabetic. Type 2.

That’s another story.

On our way back to Muscat, we went to Misbah village to see the falaj irrigation system. I loved our many visits to Misbah, where you could have your fill of fresh dates in season. Omani dates are special, and when they are freshly ripened, the custardy texture of the pulp spreads its exquisite sweetness on your tongue, tenderly touching each taste bud.

falaj at misbah

My birthday in 2013 has been another one to cherish.

That, too, is another story.

No comments: