Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ganpati bappa Moraya!!!


Have you ever been through traffic jams caused by loud processions taking up more than half of the road and pounding music in your ears till you're sure you've gone completely deaf? I have, on several occasions, and I've cursed the tradition, the people who follow it, and the law enforcement officials for allowing it! That's why, when I was offered a chance to be part of a visarjan procession here, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to know how people enjoy themselves with abandon when they're causing so much of noise pollution and traffic nuisance. 

What can I say? The rhythm gets to you! For about an hour I stood around awkwardly taking photographs because I didn't know anybody. I walked back and forth along the procession as it slowly made it's way towards the Chowpatty. Dhol and zhanza were the instruments of choice and what a rhythm they beat up! Poor things though, some of the percussionists were spraying themselves with Deep Heat while others were wearing gloves and bandages around their palms and arms. Nevertheless, they kept everybody thoroughly entertained and seeing people dance gave them more enthusiasm.

After about an hour of standing around and staring, I stood near the dhol tasha players and I actually started enjoying myself. The noise was deafening and I could hear my heart pounding, but instead of getting angry, I just felt like dancing! I guess the reason it's terrible when you're riding is, you get distracted from controlling your vehicle and that can be quite scary. We had a line of volunteers who held a rope up, barricading us from stepping out of half the road space. Although cars and bikes did face trouble, I don't think anybody was stuck for more than a minute. Although the sound of firecrackers added to the frenzy created by the dhol, I wish we hadn't burst them. That is really scary to people driving on the road.

Finally, I asked one of the zhanza players to lend me his pair of zhanzas and I clanked them till my arms hurt. I found a group of girls around my age, and started dancing with them. Amidst all that, free food was being distributed. I had a mango ice cream, wada pav and sugarcane juice. As time progressed, I think we needed better energy boosters (hint hint). The best part was seeing small kids sitting up on the truck which was carrying the Ganesh murtis. A few kids were making groups and dancing amongst us too. Everybody from aunties to kids of all ages were thoroughly enjoying themselves. I felt out of place because I didn't know anybody, but gradually I realized that many people were dancing alone and I lost my inhibitions.

I didn't go all the way to the Chowpatty because it gets too crowded there. Nevertheless, I got a taste of what it's like to be a part of a procession and why so many people take part in it. Do I approve of it? Only if it's done in a responsible manner with no fireworks and a few volunteers actively involved in controlling the space that the procession takes up on road. And of course, it should happen only once a year!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Need v/s greed

Calling up kids at 10 pm in the night and dealing with their suspicious parents was scary enough. Therefore, you can imagine my plight when I decided to write a story on train hawkers and my teacher said to me, "get good quotes".

I don't really remember who told me that selling goods on trains is illegal but I thought it would be an interesting idea to follow up. However, I was scared of two things. First, I was scared of talking to the train hawkers as I felt they might misunderstand me, get too friendly or too aggressive. Second, I realized that I might need to speak to police officials too, and this was even scarier than the first part.

I started in small doses, pretending to be interested in buying jewelery or foodstuffs, while trying to make conversation. The easiest question I asked was, "where do you get your stuff from?". Most  hawkers were forthcoming about this and soon I had collected enough data in this part. I now needed to move on to tougher questions. 

At this stage, I started actually buying stuff. I bought a pair of hairpins from a small girl, some chikki from an old woman, 2 bottles of nailpolish from a girl around my age. I bought stuff primarily because I felt that the hawkers would open up to me only if they didn't think I was wasting their time. However, I soon realized that I was buying more out of guilt, than anything else. Moreover, almost all the hawkers I spoke to were more than happy to speak to me, even when I asked the tough questions.

If you mention the word 'Police' in front of any "respectable" person, that person immediately flinches. I am not judging here, I belong to the same crowd. Since hawking is illegal, I expected the hawkers to turn cold or aggressive the moment I asked them if the police has ever caught them. To my surprise, they didn't even bat an eyelid. Most of them calmly told me that they'd been to jail more than a couple of times. I came to know much later on that RPF officials take haftas from all train hawkers, besides fining them. No wonder hawkers are still allowed to operate without licenses, as it allows RPF officials to make some money on the side. 

In contrast to this, I asked a fellow commuter who was buying jewelery on the train if she knew that hawking on trains was illegal. She immediately started pretending that I was made of air. As a consumer, she is the last person who would be held responsible for buying illegal goods. It's ironic that she and people like us shy away at the first mention of anything illegal or related to the police.

I wasn't brave enough to ask RPF officials if they took bribes. The only information I got from them was that hawkers should attempt to get licenses. When I asked a few hawkers why they didn't get licenses issued from the government, one enterprising hawker told me, "Indira Gandhi ke zamaane mein license milta tha! Ab milta hi nahi hai!".

Despite taking a lot of initiative, my story was incomplete because I didn't have the guts to ask the toughest questions. However, I think it was a good start and it made me realize that every person has a story to tell. You just need to be attentive enough to know where the most interesting part of the story is.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Table Tennis as a profession

 This is the essay that I submitted for the mind map assignment (refer to previous post). A few things might seem unnecessary, but I just wanted to put this up as it was submitted. I've realized, at times, its necessary to state the obvious. :)

Table tennis is a sport in which 2 or 4 players hit a small light ball across a table, with the help of rackets. Though widely played in schools, colleges and game-rooms of corporate companies, it is perhaps one of the most underrated sports in India. Since it is largely looked upon as a means of passing time, it is rarely thought of as a suitable profession. This article explores the commercial viability of being a professional table tennis player.

If you want to pursue table tennis as a profession, the first thing that you would need to do is sharpen your skills and get your techniques right. Practice with friends who play well, and familiarize yourself with the rulebook. The next step would be to join a training camp. If your school has a TT training centre, enroll yourself for starters, before heading towards a professional TT training camp.
To test your caliber, you can participate in district and state level tournaments which are held in every state. Table tennis clubs are still a novelty, but you might find one if you’re staying in a metropolitan city. Once you achieve a good rank at the State Level, the State Government Association can pass on your name to the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) for participation in National Level Tournaments. TTFI was one of the founding members of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and its most important task is to send players to the ITTF Pro Tour international tournaments to represent India.

The most popular international table tennis competitions are ITTF Pro Tour, World Championships, World Cup (also sanctioned by ITTF) and Olympics.  Continental championships like European Championship, Asian Championships are fiercely competitive. Professional table tennis players also play for clubs, apart from their countries. However, in India, there are very few professional clubs as of now.

While considering table tennis as a profession, do remember that till the national level, you have to largely depend on prize money as a means of income. If you’re good, you might get individual sponsorship from companies, but this will need to be your initiative mainly. Mostly, players at national and international level earn a living through table tennis. If you do not make it to the international level, you can apply for a job in the sports quota in government organizations. Another option is to become a coach at a table tennis training camp. However, to have high credibility and earn well, you should have played well at the national level.

Some of the famous Indian players who have represented India internationally are Kamlesh Mehta, Chetan Baboor and Achanta Sharath Kamal . Lack of professional clubs leaves TT players largely at the mercy of prize money, which may be irregular. However, a few people believe that table tennis is slowly gaining popularity in India and in another 5-10 years, India might start having its own professional clubs. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for that!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My first "journalistic" phone call

Being an avid table tennis player (but not a very good one), I thought this would be an interesting topic for an essay using mind maps. Let me rewind a little. During one of our English lectures, our teacher taught us the concept of mind maps. The idea is to draw a visual representation of any topic that you are going to write about, by drawing 6 main arms, representing the 6 main topics ,each of which has 2 arms, representing the sub-topics. The number can vary according to the level of detail and complexity of the topic. Once the mind map is ready, all your information is structured properly and your work is reduced to a large extent when you actually start writing. I must confess, I'm an unstructured writer and till date I preferred it because it's more fun to write in the flow. However, mind maps seem like a handy tool to write structured, logical essays. 

Coming back to the main topic, I chose "Table Tennis as a profession" as the topic for the mind map essay. When I started writing, I realized that I have no idea what to write! Googling didn't yield any results either. Finally, I landed on the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) website. As I browsed through, trying to get some ounce of information, I noticed that names and contact information of a few players (members of TTFI) had been put up. Some of the players were barely above 20. I was in a terrible dilemma for some time, wondering if it's ethical to call up kids and bug them, that too for a school assignment. I felt like I was thoroughly invading their privacy! Plus, I'm the last person to go and speak to strangers. Yeah yeah I know I'm in journalism, I'm getting used to it!

I finally plucked up courage and called up on the first number I came across. A very strict sounding voice on the other hand informed me that his daughter was not available. He asked me to identify myself and my intention for calling his daughter. I had half a mind to hang up on him, but I realized I'm not doing anything wrong. After a few more misses, Abishek agreed to help me out. I felt like a real journalist, calling up strangers and troubling them for my work. I must have spoken to Abishek for almost half an hour. At first he was thoroughly confused about who I am and why I was calling him. Must have seemed really strange for a guy in Chennai to receive a call from Mumbai from a girl claiming to be in some college and asking for information on table tennis. However, he was very sweet and patient and I finally wrote that article. 

I didn't get a spectacular grade for it, mainly because I screwed up the mind map concept. Most probably this was because I'm an unstructured writer by default. However, my teacher seemed really impressed by the information I'd put together and she remarked "good attempt!". The main point is, I had great fun doing the assignment!

After reading this, I'm sure you'd like to know the prospects of table tennis as a profession. Next post, coming up soon! :D