Posts Tagged ‘losing’

My quest for the last

 

You know what the problem with life’s lessons is?

They are like Technology.

Just when you think you have mastered one, life reveals its newer versions- Truer versions of truths.

Sometimes they are just upgrades. But often they are completely new, and change your old beliefs so much that it feels stupid to have clung on to them stubbornly all along.

Happens to me all the time. So if you spot contradictions in my posts, remember, they aren’t conversations of a confused soul, but new, improved, updated versions of my beliefs.

Look at 2012, for instance. I started the year eagerly with ‘First, at last’. But grew wiser through the year, and am ending with ‘My quest for the last’.

Coming to think of it, this is a lesson life has been desperately trying to tutor me unsuccessfully for five decades.

Take First Love- a concept that the world has unnecessarily romanticised, given undue importance and immortalised. In a moment I’ll tell you how meaningless it can be.

Mine happened quite early in life. I remember it vividly. I had fallen for that dimpled, giggling, bundle of ecstasy in the cradle next to mine, at the Baby Room in a maternity home. I think I was two days old and she, one. On the third day as the head matron came to take me away, mercilessly separately us young hearts, I remember, I bawled and flapped my tiny hands around in an uneven fight. As I was taken out of the room, I threw one last glance back at my love, just for keeps. She was kicking the air in protest. It was then that her diaper fell off and I saw her stark naked.

She was a he.

Forget the First, no matter how many loves you have in life, the only one that really matters is the last, because that’s the one you get married to and live with for the rest of your life.

Life is clear about its lessons. “It’s not the first, but the last that matters.”

In cricket, it’s not the first, but the last ball that counts. It’s not the first, but the last run that becomes the winning run.

In a race, it’s not how well you start, but how well you finish.

In life, it’s not who you were born as, but who you die as.

In a chocolate box, it’s not the first, but the lone last slab that’s the sweetest.

In your wallet, it’s not the first, but the last coin that’s most precious.

In school, it’s not the first, but the last day of exams that is most memorable.

Dumb me, life was so blatant about its clues and yet I didn’t catch them.

I used to come home from school and say that I was the 35th ranker in class or finished 8th in the 1500-meter heats. But I would never admit I was the last.

This, in spite of the obvious rewards that life doles out to those who finish last.

The last ranker enjoys every day of his school, and has just one bad day in a year- the day of the results. Whereas the first ranker slogs the whole year for that one good day.

But the world continues to equate finishing last to losing.

Which is why 31st December isn’t the last day of the year, but the new year’s eve.

It is never about bidding a fond farewell to the last, but always about ushering in the first.

As I write this, even the precious last seconds of the year have been reduced to just a countdown to 2013.

Not for me. At least, not this year.

I am dwelling in this last moments of 2012, slowing it down, stretching it to an eternity and delaying the year’s last tock after its last tick, as much as I can.

So much, that I have all the time in the world to publish this post.

Whoever thinks that finishing last is easy, should try finishing last in Slow Cycling.

Or, refuse to budge from the end of a bungee jumping queue.

Or, get the last word with his wife, boss or news anchor- that’s like trying to win a shouting match with your echo.

Or simply do what I have just done- become the world’s last blogger of 2012 by publishing the last post of the year in the whole World Wide Web at 11:59:59 on 31st December.

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Losing is the new winning

 

Some clarifications to begin with- the blind beggar that I mentioned in my last post is no Son of God; His words are not the only Untold Truth; and I am no Privileged Customer of His.

Coming to think of it, that was not a unique, once-in-a-lifetime event. The likes of those happen all the time, in all our lives. It’s just that we overlook them.

Blame it on life, if you wish. For, life is truly the most chaotic classroom that I’ve been in. It is one big disorganised classroom, without the quintessential blackboard that would have otherwise summed up all teachings in white on black, for us last benchers to copy down and rote later.

Or, blame God. For, how the hell are we supposed to recognise Him if he’s going to come disguised as blind beggars, moms, dads, teachers, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, Inner Voices, wives, children, nieces, nephews, colleagues, friends and enemies?

Steve Jobs says not to worry: ‘Every encounter, every experience is a dot. At some stage, these dots connect to reveal life’s larger purposes.’

Here are four dots that I accidentally connected last week.

*          *            *

The last day of school was always my worst day of the year. It was always our Results Day. It used to be a day of high tension and drama.

The last day of Standard Seven was the worst. I failed. I was the only one in my class to be DETAINED. (That word still haunts me.) All my friends got PROMOTED to the Eighth.

Though life, since then, has been generous with much bigger failures, that one remains the most hurting. It is the only one that wakes me up in the night even today.

None of my friends would be there with me the next year, I remember, was the first thought that struck me. Raghu, Samar Ghosh, Sai, Sridhar, Satya, all gone. Worse, I will have to sit with juniors whom I had sneered at in corridors, evicted from lunch spots and bullied in play areas. How terrible.

The misery of seeing my friends celebrate their victories, give me a condolence pat and move on, can never be assuaged by a good long weep. Never.

In a situation like that, the last thing you want to see is your sworn enemy for life, walk up to you.

Introducing Kumaresan.

Now, Kumaresan and Peter were two boys the class would stay clear of anywhere, especially on the football field. But on one unnecessarily spirited PT period, I had taken a dangerously advancing Kumaresan head on, at the mouth of our goal post. And had paid the penalty.

When played with hands more than legs, without the protection of the Red Card, a football can inflict considerable damage to mind, body and soul. Especially in the presence of Renee, Hannah, Sheela, Geetha, Alphonsa. I had never spoken to Kumaresan after that incident.

Which is why I hated it when he walked up to me on my worst day, and said, “Congratulations! You have just gained a full year to prepare thoroughly for your Seventh exams! And yes, your friends are gone, but so have your enemies, like me!”

What I then thought was sarcasm meant to sting my heart, seems today as life’s most positive lesson on failure.

*          *            *

You think ODIs, Twenty-20s and IPLs make the ICC and the BCCI innovative? That’s a laugh compared to the instant formats that we in school used to come up with, depending on the time, space and players available. A popular one was Lunch Break cricket played in the corridor outside our classrooms.

On the day I am talking about, it was Immanuel’s IV vs. Ramesh’s IV. He, a captain by virtue of his batting talent. I, the opposing captain by virtue of being the owner of the bat and the ball. Set 16 to win, Immanuel was the last boy batting when the bell rang and we decided to curtail the match to one last over. Mine, naturally.

‘Captain to Captain!’ the onlookers shouted as I sent down the fastest deliveries of my life. Immanuel scored an improbable 14 of the first 5 balls.

Equation now: One ball to go, 2 to win, last wicket in hand. (Familiar plot these days, not then.)

Ramesh runs in to bowl the last ball, as Jha sir enters the class. He bowls the fastest ball the school has seen. (Obviously, with the umpire already back in Jha sir’s class, I had bowled from at least two crease lengths ahead. A no-ball even the Pakistanis can’t match.)

Immanuel moves away from the rising ball and swings his bat. The hook connects. The ball hits the classroom wall at the water-tap end. It’s a six! Immanuel’s team has won!

Almost.

As his team celebrated, Immanuel pointed to the wastepaper basket, and admitted that his bat had hit it- our stumps.

Immanuel ht wkt b Ramesh – 14

It was my team’s turn to rejoice and yell at the losers. I did to Immanuel’s face what even Sreesanth would hesitate to do.

Today I wonder who the actual hero was, and who the real loser was.

*          *            *

Do you have any idea how it feels to be standing on stage in an auditorium filled with over 800 wild and boisterous girls, screaming your name?

No? Michael Jackson knew. Shahrukh Khan knows. And I know.

The year was 1980. The venue: Ethiraj women’s college, Chennai. The event: Just Five Minutes, an intercollegiate extempore contest where one had to speak for five minutes on a topic picked from a bowl on the way to the stage. The topics were funny. And the prize was for the most humorous speaker.

The crowd was as rowdy as it can get. Girls were summarily booed out of the stage. Guys were given half a chance, and were dished out the same treatment if they tried to be funny in a funny way. Some managed to evoke a few laughs and whistles.

The code got cracked after many deaths on stage: Girls wanted to have fun. And fun meant naughty, risqué, double entendres. The closer one got to the explicit, the longer one stayed on stage.

Trembling off stage, waiting for my turn, I forced misplaced confidence into my head: If that’s what they want, that’s what they’ll get.

But just before my turn, Ms. Mathews, the college Principal and Ms. Terror Incarnate, interrupted what was fast turning into a stand-up porn. She threatened to stop the show if the girls and the participants didn’t behave themselves.

So there was absolute silence when they called out the name of the next participant- mine. My wings clipped, my trump card gone, I walked up to the bowl like a shaven sheep to slaughter. My topic: You are atop the Everest when you realise it’s only an ant hill. (Never heard a better description of my life, ever.)

Do you know what it is like to be standing blanked out in front of 800 girls who have just tasted the Forbidden and have been denied more?

I knew the moment of truth would be my opening line. So I began: ‘I’m sorry Ms. Mathews, we are in the 1980s and your views are so 1950s!’

The girls of Ethiraj who were waiting to let Ms. Horrible hear it for all her past sins, found their Che Guevara. They exploded. And local Guevara obliged them with even more.

Organic chemistry says that Nervous Adrenaline when combined with Potent Testosterone in the presence of Willing Catalysts results in Mutated Humans.

I turned into this incorrigible idiot who went on and on, making one sacrilegious statement after the other, most of it thankfully drowned in the riotous atmosphere of the auditorium. I spent my five full minutes educating Ms Mathews. Nothing even remotely relevant to the topic I had picked.

At 19 that’s how easily libido conquers wisdom.

A few minutes later, I was up on stage again. This time to an even bigger reception, to receive my prize from- who else- Ms. Just-Educated. The girls were screaming my name even as Ms. Mathews went up to the podium.

“I wish I could say I’m proud to hand over this prize. That I’m not, but I do respect the verdict of the student jury. I wish to give this young lad a piece of advice though. Winning is not always about popularity or trophies. But it always is and should always be about excellence. Excellence is often the fine art of treading thin lines, in this case between the naughty and the crass. I hope the young lad learns to walk such tightropes sometime in his life.”

I didn’t care then. Today I do. At 50, wisdom regains its independence.

*          *            *

Those three instances would’ve remained unconnected with each other had our building society not organised an early Christmas celebration last week. Wives, kids, maids, pets, all had their quota of good, simple fun the whole day, leaving the grand finale for us dads. A wretched quiz.

Pitted against doctors, engineers, lawyers, corporate honchos, business tycoons and an IIT gold medalist, this could have been worse than a bloody street brawl for me. Thankfully, every question on History, Literature, Geography and Politics was followed by one on Bollywood or Hollywood. My forte. The fight was now even.

After three rounds, it was clearly a fight between the IITian and the Unemployed. Every time the Derek O’Brien imposter asked something like What does section 1168 under the Companies Act 2006 signify? the IITian would answer and receive an almost standing ovation. Every time the imposter asked anything like Why was Yana Gupta in the news lately? I would answer with the stagger of a winner. But all I got in response were giggles.

So we have a partisan crowd here. Unfair, but so is life. I self-talked like a gritty competitor. Every time I looked at my wife for some encouragement, she looked away. Damn.

So it went, until we were tied at the end. ‘Ties are for the suits, not for the cool!’ I said trying to barter humour for popularity. That deal fell through. Nothing of 19 works at 50.

Out came the tie breaker question. From these pictures of eyes, lips, cleavage, navel and legs, can you identify the actresses?

I was up and answering by then. I gave my kids in the crowd a don’t-worry-dad-will-do-you-proud look. In return they shook their heads to say, ‘Don’t go for it dad, please, please dad, don’t!’ I didn’t understand. I ventured ahead.

‘Eyes- Kangana. Lips- Angelina. Cleavage- Hurley. Navel- Shilpa. Legs- Sonam.’

I had clinched it! The Unemployed defeats the IITian, minus crowd and family support!

Two days later, I was going up to my flat in the elevator with the IITian and some others. People helloed him and sought his views on the share market, the steel industry and onion pricing. And as they were about to get out, they turned and asked me, with a wide grin, ‘So Rameshji, what do you think, will Sheila ki jawaani beat Munni badnaam hui?’

It was only later when I began to wonder why winning had so little to do with earning respect, that all the dots connected.

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