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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

a life LIVED

The Hemingway You Didn’t Know: Papa’s Adventures

by Chris on August 11, 2009 · 54 comments
“Never confuse movement with action.”
-Ernest Hemingway
Nearly fifty years after his death, Ernest Hemingway remains a commanding presence in the literary world.  His works annually sell well into the seven figures, and several of his astounding 27 books and 50+ short stories are considered to be masterpieces of American literature.  Even the finest works of fiction pale in comparison, however, to Papa Hemingway’s real life.  His exploits are legendary:  winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, Bronze Star recipient, world class sports fisherman, big game hunter, boxer, bullfighting aficionado, war correspondent…the list goes on.  Leaving the criticism of his literature for the pros, let’s instead take a look at the amazing life of the man himself.
It should be noted that Hemingway was at times neither a gentleman, a good father, nor a proper example of manhood, and no effort will be made here to rewrite history.  Yet for all his flaws he represents an enigma of masculinity that so easily captures the imagination.  His life was filled with the grand adventures that fill the dreams of many young boys and grown men alike.

Hemingway the Sportsman

As an accomplished outdoorsman, Hemingway was equally at home both stalking a lion through Africa’s long grass and cruising the Gulf Stream in search of marlin and tuna. Hemingway had learned how to handle a gun at a young age and was an accomplished hunter.  His interest in the sport varied between pheasant and duck shooting out West to big game safaris in East Africa.  It was in Africa that Hemingway hunted with P.H. Percival, a guide who had also hunted with another legendary sportsman, none other than Teddy Roosevelt.  Hemingway’s love for safari was very clear in his uncontainable excitement in planning his second major hunt in 1954:
“Going back to Africa after all this time, there’s the excitement of a first adventure.  I love Africa and I feel it’s another home, and any time a man can feel that, not counting where he’s born, is where he’s meant to go.”
-Papa Hemingway
During this second safari Hemingway became quite the professional hunter.  The local game warden even left him temporarily in charge of the district he was quartered in, commissioning him an honorary game ranger.  Hemingway loved the post and spent most of his days sorting out problem lions and elephants at the request of the local farmers.
Yet while Hemingway loved hunting, it was when he had a rod in his hand that he was truly successful.  It was from the deck of the Pilar that Hemingway famously landed the largest marlin caught to date in 1935, weighing an astonishing 1175 lbs.   Truly, his greatest exploit by his own reckoning may very well not have been his literary achievements, but his success with rod and reel.  In an interview several years ago, Hemingway’s son recalled that his father’s happiest days were always those spent aboard the boat he made with his own hands, chugging along the Gulf Stream in search of marlin.  During his years spent in the Caribbean, he managed to win every single organized fishing contest put on in Key West, Bimini, and Havana, much to the chagrin of the locals.

Hemingway the Boxer

hemboxing2“My writing is nothing, my boxing is everything.”
-Hemingway in a conversation with Josephine Herbst
Hemingway had practiced the sweet science since childhood and at one point was a successful amateur boxer.  Following one of his victories in a fishing tournament in Bimini, the locals who had participated became angered at his ability to better fish waters they had fished their entire lives.  Seeing an opportunity to combine his passions, he offered the locals a chance to win back their lost money.  The terms were simple…go toe to toe with old Papa in the ring for three rounds and win, and the money would be theirs.  The first challenger, a man who locals claimed could “carry a piano on his head,” made it only a minute and a half before the 35 year old Hemingway put him on the deck.  The next three challengers suffered a similar fate, and Ernest went home with his prize money.
Hemingway’s love for boxing was unmatched by his other passions, and he even had a boxing ring built in the backyard of his Key West home, right next to the pool, so that he could spar with guests.  Hemingway often dedicated his time not spent writing in Key West to boxing, even refereeing matches at the local arena.  In one instance, he was presiding over a match where one fighter was being brutalized by the other.  Every time the fighter would get knocked down, however, he would rise again to take more of a beating.  Weary of seeing his fighter being abused so, the fighter’s manager, “Shine” Forbes, threw in the towel.  Imagine his surprise when the ref picked up the towel and threw it out of the ring!  Shine tried two more times to concede the match by throwing in the towel, and on the final try the ref threw it back in his face, which sent Shine over the edge.  He climbed through the ropes and took a punch at the ref, effectively bringing an end to the match.  Later that evening he was informed that the ref he had thrown a punch at was none other than Ernest Hemingway, local legend and internationally famous author.  Embarrassed, Shine went to Hemingway’s home to apologize and was greeted by a smiling Hemingway who, not bothered by the punch thrown at him, had Shine and his friends come in for some sparring in his personal ring.  Forging a friendship with the man, Hemingway even had Shine and friends spar for his friends’ entertainment at parties, and would pass a hat around afterwards to collect money for the young fighters.
Hemingway’s love of the sport carried over into the literary world as well.  He was known for using boxing analogies in interviews, as well as for attempting to teach the poet Ezra Pound to box during his years in Paris.  Several of his short stories reflect his love for the sport, including short stories Fifty Grand and The Battler, and the novel The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway the Storyteller

It’s no secret that Hemingway could weave a masterful tale behind a typewriter, a fact that is reinforced by a glowing review of Across the River and into the Trees in the New York Times Book Review that labeled him “the most important author since Shakespeare.”  But Hemingway was not just a good storyteller on paper.  The tales he spun for friends and family captivated everyone within earshot, and were frequently so grand and full of wild incidents that those who listened were often left questioning whether one man could really have experienced so much in a single lifetime.  Indeed, many of his tales seemed to stretch the truth, often more than a little.  And yet, as his close friend and biographer A.E. Hotchner wrote, he so convincingly imparted his adventures that even the most outrageous yarn seemed feasible.  He once recounted a tale to Hotchner as they sat down in an old Paris bar Hemingway frequented:
“Back in the old days this was one of the few good, solid bars, and there was an ex-pug who used to come in with a pet lion.  He’d stand at the bar here and the lion would stand here beside him.  He was a very nice lion with good manners – no growls or roars – but, as lions will, he occasionally shit on the floor.  This, of course, had a rather adverse effect on the trade and, as politely as he could, Harry asked the ex-pug not to bring the lion around anymore.  But the next day the pug was back with the lion, lion dropped another load, drinkers dispersed, Harry again made the request.  The third day, same thing.  Realizing it was do or die for poor Harry’s business, this time when the lion let go, I went over, picked up the pug, who had been a welterweight, carried him outside and threw him in the street.  Then I came back and grabbed the lion’s mane and hustled him out of here.  Out on the sidewalk, the lion gave me a look, but he went quietly.” -Papa Hemingway
In Hemingway’s biography, Hotchner accepts this and other tales without question, noting that every time he questioned the truth of such a tale, Hemingway would somehow produce photographs or other corroborating evidence to support his claims.

Hemingway the Nazi Submarine Hunter

Yes, you read that right.  For nearly a year during World War II, Ernest Hemingway converted his 38 foot fishing boat Pilar into a Nazi submarine hunting ship in disguise.  Coordinating with the Havana branch of the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, Hemingway loaded the Pilar down with heavy artillery and small arms alike, all the while maintaining the outward appearance of a standard fishing vessel.  He filled the Pilar with friends interested in being a part of the mission, and they carried out daily patrols in the waters off Cuba.  The goal was to look like a regular fishing vessel so that a Nazi sub would surface and attempt to board them.  The U.S. navy regularly used such tactics, the vessels being known as Q-Ships, in an attempt to draw Nazi subs to the surface.  Once a sub surfaced, the Q-Ships would quickly unveil their hidden firepower and hopefully sink the sub.  Eventually the FBI took over Caribbean counter-espionage, and while the Pilar and her crew never fired on an enemy sub, it was adventure of the highest sort nonetheless.

Hemingway the War Hero

As a young man, Hemingway served with the Red Cross on the Italian Front in World War I.  Originally, he had sought to enlist in the Army, but poor eyesight barred his admittance, leading him to take a position with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver instead.  Not long after arriving at the Italian Front Hemingway was seriously wounded.  While delivering chocolates and cigarettes to soldiers on the line, he was hit by trench mortar fire, leaving over two hundred shrapnel fragments in his leg and nearly destroying his knee.  Despite this gruesome injury, Hemingway managed to drag another injured soldier to safety, having stuffed the cigarettes he was carrying into his own wounds to temporarily stop the bleeding.  Hemingway was to receive the Silver Medal of Military Valor from the Italian government for his courageous actions that day.
Much later in life, following his exploits as a Nazi submarine hunter, Hemingway left again for Europe to see the action of World War II as a war correspondent.  No stranger to action, Hemingway joined the Royal Air Force on bombing raids and followed infantry divisions around Europe wherever the fighting was heaviest.  He witnessed the D-Day invasion from a landing craft just offshore and recorded many of the horrors of the war.  Hemingway went on to take a much more active role in the combat he was there to document, often assuming the role of soldier himself in direct violation of the Geneva Convention’s guidelines for war correspondents.  He once charged up to a cellar known to be filled with German SS, and tossing in a grenade, threw aside his non-combatant designation for the remainder of the war.  In the chaos of war, Hemingway allegedly went on to form his own unit, which inexplicably had twice the firepower and alcohol rations of all other units, no doubt Papa’s doing.  According to Hemingway himself, he and his unit were the first to enter the city during the Liberation of Paris, when he and his unit retook the Ritz Hotel, and more importantly the Ritz Bar, from Nazi control a full day before the Allied liberation force entered the city!  An investigation into his actions during the war by the Army later charged him with several violations of his non-combatant status, including actions such as stripping off his non-combatant insignia and posing as a colonel in order to lead a French resistance group into battle.  He was also accused of keeping a virtual armory in his private room, including anti-tank grenades and German bazookas.  Hemingway responded to the allegations by noting that any titles given to him by the men were simply signs of affection.
“After all, anyone who owned a ship in New England was automatically a captain, and all those from Kentucky were colonels from birth.”
As for the weapons in his room, he claimed he kept them “only for the troop’s convenience.”  Several high ranking friends testified on his behalf, and at the end of the investigation he was not only cleared of all charges, but was awarded the Bronze Star for Bravery as a war correspondent.  Colonel “Buck” Lanham, a close friend and later a Major General, noted:
“He is without question one of the most courageous men I have ever known.  Fear was a stranger to him.”

Hemingway the Survivor

“Man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
-The Old Man and the Sea
Perhaps most unbelievable of all Hemingway’s exploits was the sheer number of potentially fatal diseases and accidents he survived.  Aside from the remnants of fragment in his leg left over from the World War I mortar hit, he also bore a bullet wound in his leg.  This was the result of a self inflicted gunshot, an accident that occurred while trying to finish off a still thrashing shark he had dragged aboard while shark hunting.  While shooting yourself in the leg is by no means the most glamorous thing a man can do, if you must do it, it seems best to do it while shark hunting.  Hemingway’s more severe injuries and ailments came later in life.  In his later years he survived anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, dysentery, skin cancer, hepatitis, anemia, diabetes, high blood pressure, and several major injuries.
During his last safari in East Africa, he survived not one, but two plane crashes.  News of the first crash, deep in the jungles of Uganda, set off reports of his death back home, spawning numerous obituaries which Hemingway would later read daily over his morning coffee with amusement.  Following the crash he, his wife, and the pilot were forced to camp overnight in the middle of elephant country, a survival story in itself.  The second crash, following just several days after the first, was much more severe, and Hemingway was severely injured as a result.  The pilot had been forced to perform an emergency dive to avoid a bird strike, and the plane ground-looped, eventually crashing.  The plane burst into flames upon impact, forcing Hemingway to shoulder the door open and help his wife and the pilot to safety.  He emerged with a laundry list of injuries, including first degree burns, internal bleeding, ruptured kidney, ruptured spleen, ruptured liver, a crushed vertebra and a fractured skull.  Quite the ordeal, yet Hemingway managed a smile for the reporters waiting at his evacuation point, saying to them “my luck, she’s running very good.”  Perhaps a bit of an understatement.  Not a month later Hemingway was back in action, this time receiving second degree burns on his left hand and face while fighting a wildfire.  All this and he lived to tell the tale.

Hemingway the Legend

Hemingway’s life experiences provided the source material for his literary works, and much of his life can be seen reflected in his fiction.  The male protagonists in so many of his stories share both his machismo and his hidden pains, yet always exhibited grace under pressure.  As he himself said:
“In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused.”
-Preface to The First Forty-Nine Stories
Critics during and after his lifetime tried to paint Hemingway as overly macho, claiming that his public persona was merely an act.  Through reading his works and the biographies written about him by close friends, it becomes clear that Ernest Hemingway was not acting.  He was, in fact, one of the most genuine men who ever lived.  He lived life as he wished, never missing opportunities and never forsaking his passions.  Perhaps he is best summed up by actress Marlene Dietrich, a close friend, who commented on his life to his biographer:
“I suppose the most remarkable thing about Ernest is that he has found time to do the things most men only dream about.  He has had the courage, the initiative, the time, the enjoyment to travel, to digest it all, to write, to create it, in a sense.  There is in him a sort of quiet rotation of seasons, with each of them passing overland and then going underground and re-emerging in a kind of rhythm, refreshed and full of renewed vigor.”
A. E. Hotchner Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir
A&E American Author’s Series Ernest Hemingway: Wrestling with Life

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Life Is Not Rocket Science - Shri Abdul Kalam

kalam's journey
Life Is Not Rocket Science
Rocket man, president and inspiration for generations of Indians, Abdul Kalam finally tells his story. Excerpts from his forthcoming autobiography.

The Boat
Living on the island of Rameswaram while I was growing up, the sea was an important part of our lives. Its tides, the lapping of the waves, the sound of trains passing on the Pamban bridge, the birds that always circled the town and the salt in the air are sights and sounds that will always remain linked with my memories of childhood. Apart from its sheer presence around us, the sea was also a source of livelihood for our neighbours and us. Almost every household had some connection with the sea, whether as fishermen or as boat owners.
My father, too, operated a ferry that took people back and forth between the islands of Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi, which is about 22 kilometres away. I still remember the time when he got the idea for this, and how we built that boat.
Rameswaram has, since antiquity, been an important pilgrimage destination. Rama is believed to have stopped here and built the bridge to Lanka when he was on his way to rescue Sita. The temple of Rameswaram is dedicated to Shiva, and houses a lingam fashioned by Sita herself. Some versions of the Ramayana say that Rama, Lakshmana and Sita stopped here to pray to Shiva on their way back to Ayodhya from Lanka.
People visiting our town would go to Dhanushkodi as part of their pilgrimage. A bath at Sagara-Sangam here is considered sacred. The sangam is the meeting place of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. Dhanushkodi is now connected by road and vans take pilgrims there, but way back when I was a child, a ferry was also a good way of reaching the island.
My father, looking to supplement his not very substantial income, decided to start a ferry business. He started building the boat that we needed for this, all by himself initially, right there on the seashore.
Watching the boat come to life from pieces of wood and metal was perhaps my first introduction to the world of eng­ineering. Wood was procured and Ahmed Jalalluddin, a cousin, arrived to help my father out. Every day, I would wait impatiently till I could go to the place where the boat was taking shape. Long pieces of wood were cut into the required shape, dried, smoothened and then joined together. Wood- fires seasoned the wood that made up the hull and the bulkheads. Slowly the bottom, then the sides and the hull began to form in front of our eyes. Many years later, in my work, I would learn how to make rockets and missiles. Complex mathematics and scientific research would be the bedrock of those engineering marvels. But that boat coming up on a seashore, which would take pilgrims and fishermen back and forth...who is to say it was not as important or mom­entous in our lives then?

Illustrations by Priya Sebastian
The building of the boat was an imp­ortant influence for me in another way. It brought Ahmed Jalalluddin into my life. He was much older than me, yet we struck up a friendship. He recognised the inherent desire within me to learn and question, and was always there to lend a patient ear and give words of advice. He could read and write English, and spoke to me about scientists and inv­entions, literature and medicine. Walking with him in the streets of Rameswaram, or by the seaside, or by our boat as it took shape, my mind began to form ideas and ambitions.


My thoughts travelled again and again to the open seas. Was anyone trapped there? What was it like to be in a storm such as this...?

The boat business was a great success. My father emp­loyed some men to operate it, and groups of pilgrims would use the service to reach Dhanushkodi. There were days when I would slip in among the crowd and sit with the crew as they steered the boat to and from Rameswaram. I heard the story of Rama and how he built the bridge to Lanka with the help of his army of monkeys; how he bro­ught back Sita and stopped at Rameswaram again, so that they could perform penance for having killed Ravana; how Hanuman was told to bring back a large lingam from far up north, but when he took too long, Sita would not wait and fashioned a lingam with her own hands to worship Shiva. These stories and many others washed around me in different tongues and shapes, as people from all over India used our ferry service. A little boy among so many was always welcome and there would be someone or the other willing to talk to me, share the story of his life and his reasons for making the pilgrimage. And so the years went by. My school, teachers, Ahmed Jalalluddin and others taught me so many things. But the boat and the people who sailed in it were no less important. In this way, among the waves and the sands, laughter and stories, the days flew by. Then one day, disaster struck.
The Bay of Bengal is hit frequently by cyclones. The months of November and May in particular are dangerous in this regard. I still remember the night of that terrible cyclone vividly. The wind had picked up speed for days, till it became a howling gale. It screamed and whistled in our ears and pulled and hacked at the trees or anything that stood in its way. Soon, a torrential rain started. We had retreated into our houses much earlier. There was no electricity in those days, and the lamps barely managed to stay alive. In that flickering darkness, with the wind working itself into a frenzy, the sound of the rain lashing down outside, we huddled together and waited for the night to pass. My thoughts travelled again and again to the open seas. Was anyone trapped there? What was it like to be in a storm such as this without your mother’s comforting presence close by?
The next morning, after the storm died down, we saw the unbelievable destruction that had been wrought all around us. Trees, houses, plantations were uprooted and devastated. The roads had disappeared under the water and debris blown in by winds that had come in at speeds of over 100 miles an hour. But the worst news of all was the one that hit us like a punch to the stomach. Our boat had been washed away. Now, when I think of that day, I realise that perhaps my father had known this would happen the night before, while we waited for the storm to pass. In his life he had already witnessed so many storms and cyclones. This was just one of them. Yet, he had tried to calm us children down and had made sure we went to sleep without infecting us with his worries. In the light of the morning, seeing his drawn face and the worries lining his eyes, I tried to gather my tho­ug­hts. In my mind I mourned our lost ferry boat fiercely. It felt as though something I had made with my own hands had been gathered up and tossed away thoughtlessly.

Illustrations by Priya Sebastian
Yet, my father’s stoicism is what saw us through this crisis too. In time ano­ther boat came, and business res­umed. Pilgrims and tourists returned. The temple and the mosque filled with worshippers and the markets bustled with men and women, buying and selling once more.
Cyclones and storms struck us again and again. I even learnt to sleep through them. Many years later, in 1964, when I was no longer living in Rameswaram, a massive cyclone struck. This time, it carried away a part of the landmass of Dhanushkodi. A train that was on Pamban Bridge at the time was washed away, with many pilgrims inside. It altered the geography of the area, and Dhanushkodi became a ghost town, never really recovering its former character. Even today, remnants of buildings stand there as monuments to the 1964 cyclone.


My father's stoicism is what saw us through this crisis too. In time another boat came, and business resumed. The pilgrims, tourists returned.

My father lost his ferry boat once more in that storm. He had to rebuild his business yet again. I could not do much to help him practically, for I was far removed from that world. But when I struggled to give shape to the satellite launch vehicle (SLV) rocket, or the Prithvi and Agni missiles, when countdowns and takeoffs were disrupted, and rain came down on our rocket launch sites situated by the sea in Thumba and Chandipur, I always rem­embered the look on my father’s face the day after the storm. It was an acknowledgement of the power of nature, of knowing what it means to live by the sea and make your living from it. Of knowing that there is a larger energy and force that can crush our ambitions and plans in the blink of an eye, and that the only way to survive is to face your troubles and rebuild your life. A Working Boy at Eight
Every morning a large pile of newspapers, both in English and Tamil, is delivered to me. During my travels abroad I like to stay in touch with news from India, which I do by going online to read news articles and editorials in different magazines and papers. The wealth of information now available at the click of a finger amazes me. As a person closely involved with engineering and science, the march of technology should not surprise me, but when I juxtapose our lives today with what it was like 70 years ago, in a small south Indian town, the difference is startling even for me.
I was born in the year 1931. When I was about eight, World War II broke out. Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, and despite the Indian Congress’s opposition, India too, as a British colony, was involved in the war. India’s war effort saw a record number of Indian soldiers being deployed in various war zones around the world. Daily life, however, remained fairly unaffected initially, particularly for us in the southern tip of the country. As I have mentioned, Rameswaram in the 1940s was a sleepy little town that came alive with the arrival of pilgrims. The inhabitants were mostly tradespeople or small businessmen.
The town was dominated by the temple, though there was a mosque and a church too. The inhabitants went about their way fairly peacefully, and other than the normal altercations that break out in any town or village, nothing much of importance happened.
The only source of information about the outside world was the newspaper. The agency that distributed newspapers was run by my cousin Samsuddin. Along with Jal­­­alluddin, he was a big influence in my early life. Tho­ugh he could read and write, Samsuddin was not well travelled, nor highly educated.

Illustrations by Priya Sebastian
Yet he had such affection for me and encouraged me in so many ways that he became a guiding light for me. These men understood my deepest thoughts and feelings before I could articulate them. To me they were adults who could reach out beyond the narrow confi­nes of their daily lives and businesses and see the larger world.
Samsuddin’s newspaper distribution agency was the only one in Rames­w­aram. There were about a thousand literate people in the town, and he delivered newspapers to all of them. The papers carried news about the Independence movement that was heading towards a crescendo at the time. These news items would be read and discussed with great gusto with everyone else.
There would also be news from the war front, about Hitler and the Nazi army. Of course, there were many mundane matters too, like astrological references or bullion rates, which were consulted with utmost interest. The Tamil paper, Dinamani, was the most popular of all these papers.
The way the papers reached Rameswaram was quite unique. They came by morning train and were kept at Rameswaram station. From there, they had to be collected and sent to all the subscribers. This was Samsuddin’s business and he managed it effortlessly. However, as World War II raged, we no longer remained isolated from the world, and it affected my life and the newspaper delivery business in a strange new way.
The British government had placed a number of sanctions and rations on goods. Something like a state of emergency now prevailed in the country. Our large family felt the difficulties acutely. Food, clothes, the needs of the babies of the household, all became difficult to procure and provide for. In our family, there were five sons and daughters, as well as my father’s brothers’ families. My grandmother and mother had to stretch every resource to the utmost to keep everyone fed, clothed and in good health.


The children were always fed first and I don't remember any of us ever going hungry. The women were compromising on their nutrition for us.

As the difficulties of the war started affecting us, Samsuddin came up with a proposal that excited and delighted me tremendously. One fallout of the conditions was that the rail stop at Rameswaram station had been done away with. What would happen to our papers then? How were they to be collected and then distributed to all the people of the town who were looking forward to their daily dose of news? Samsuddin found a way out. The papers would be kept ready in large bundles. As the train chugged down the Rameswaram-Dhanushkodi track, they would be flung out on to the platform. And that is where I came in. Samsuddin ordered me the enjoyable job of catching these bundles of papers being thrown from the moving train and then taking them around town for distribution! My enthusiasm knew no bounds. I was only eight, but I was going to contribute in a meaningful way to the hou­sehold income! For many days I had noticed the amount of food on my mother’s and grandmother’s plates becoming lesser and lesser as they divided the portions between all of us. The children were always fed first and I don’t remember any of us ever going hungry. Obviously, the women were compromising on their nutrition for us. I agreed to Samsuddin’s orders with alacrity.
However, my new job had to be fitted into my regular routine. My studies and school had to continue as before, and the delivery business had to be accommodated amidst all these other activities. Among my siblings and cousins, I had shown an early aptitude for mathematics. My father had arranged for me to take tuitions from our mathematics teacher. However, my teacher had a condition that I, along with the four other students whom he had accepted, needed to reach his home at dawn after having taken a bath. So for a year, which was the duration of the tuition, I started my day while it was still dark outside, with my mother shaking me awake. She herself would have risen before me and got my bath ready. She would then help me bathe and send me on my way to my teacher’s home. There I would study for an hour and return by 5 am. By then my father would be ready to take me to the Arabic School nearby, where I learnt the Quran Sharif.

Illustrations by Priya Sebastian
After my lesson on the Quran Sharif was over, I would sprint away to the railway station. There I would wait, hopping from one leg to the other, eyes and ears keenly open for signs of the oncoming train. Surprisingly, unlike most trains these days, the Madras-Dhanushkodi Mail was rarely delayed! Soon, the engine smoke would be visible in the distance. The horn would be tooted loudly and, with a thunderous roar, the train would pass through the station. I had worked out the best spot from which to keep an eye out for the flying newspaper bundles. Like clockwork, they would be tossed out on to the platform. The train would then huff and puff away, Samsuddin’s person in the train would wave out to me and as the train receded, its whistle growing faint, my job would begin.
I then picked up the bundles, divided them up into batches according to the neighbourhoods in which the papers had to be distributed and off I went. For about an hour I tore around Rameswaram, delivering the papers to everyone. Soon I began to identify people by the papers they read. Many would be waiting for me, and there would always be a friendly word or two. Some would tell me fondly to hurry back home so I would not be late for school! I think most enjoyed being handed their papers by a cheerful eight-year-old.
Our town being on the east coast, by the time the work was over at 8 am, the sun would be high up in the sky. Now I headed back home, where my mother waited with breakfast. A simple meal would be served, but how hungry I was usually! My mother made sure I ate every morsel before sending me out to school. But my work did not end there.
In the evening, after school was over, I would do the rounds of Samsuddin’s newspaper customers again, collecting their dues from them. Then I would meet him, so he could work out the accounts of the day.


The horn tooted loudly and with a thunderous roar the train would pass through. I worked out the best spot to catch the flying newspaper bundles.

At that time, sitting somewhere near the sea, with the breeze blowing in, Jalalluddin or Samsuddin would finally open up the day’s paper. All of us would pore over the black type of the Dinamani. One of them would read aloud the news items, and slowly the larger outside world would enter our consciousness. Gandhi, Congress, Hitler, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, their words and exhortations would hang in the evening air. I would trace the photos and words with my fingers, wondering what it must be like to be out there in the larger world with all of them. Maybe, I thought to myself, one day I would go to the big cities like Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. What would I say if I ever got to meet people like Gandhi and Nehru? But such thoughts were soon interrupted by the calls of my playmates, and then for dinner. There was homework to be done, and even an eight-year-old has only that much energy to spend. By 9 pm I would be fast asleep, as the next day more studies and the life of a working man lay in store all over again. This routine continued for about a year. In that one year of running around with the papers, I grew taller and browner. I also learnt that I could now judge quite accurately the distances I could cover at a sprint with a bundle of papers in my hand, and hence could time my arrival at various localities at the same time every day. I could calculate in my head the amount owed to Samsuddin by each of his subscribers, and could reel out the names of those who had not paid up that day. Mostly, I learnt that to be a working man meant you had to be up and ready to face the day, whatever else may happen to you. Homework, tuition, prayers, all carried on, but the Madras-Dhanushkodi Mail would not wait for me­—I had to be present at the station at the correct time and at the correct point to catch the bundles as they came flying in. It was my first brush with taking up a responsibility and seeing to it that I kept my word to my cousin Samsuddin, no matter what. It was also a most enj­oyable time and I loved every mom­ent of it, notwithstanding the intense tiredness every night. My mother often fretted at my taking up this additional work and the toll it was taking on me, but I shook my head and smiled at her. Knowing that my earnings were somehow helping us all, and that she was secretly proud of me for having taken on the role of a working man at the age of eight kept me going with a smile on my face.
When I Failed
In my life, which has been long and eventful, I have seen great heights of success. I have been part of ventures that have contributed to the growth of our nation in the field of science and technology; I have also had the privilege of occupying the highest office in the country. There are many achievements to look back upon—some of my own doing and some where I had the privilege of being part of teams that were immensely talented. Yet, I firmly believe that unless one has tasted the bitter pill of failure, one cannot aspire enough for success. I have seen both sides of the coin and have learnt life’s toughest lessons when I have stared into the pit of despair that failure brings with it. These lessons are well worth recounting and remembering, as they have helped me work my way through many difficult situations.


"It's Friday afternoon, young man. I want to see a flawless configuration drawing by Monday or your scholarship is over," the prof said sternly.

One of the earliest such episodes from my life happened when I was a student of aeronautics at the Madras Institute of Technology. My design teacher there was Professor Srinivasan, who was also the head of the institute. Once, we were placed in teams of four students each, and our team had to design a low-level attack aircraft. I was in charge of coming up with the aerodynamic design. We worked very hard for weeks. My teammates were designing all the other components, like the propulsion, structure, control and instrumentation. Since our other course work was over at the time, we spent long hours discussing our ideas and researching them. We were all keen to impress our professors with our project. They kept an eye on the progress and after a few days, Professor Srinivasan asked to see the design I had created. When I showed it to him, he examined it with his characteristic critical eye. I stood by, waiting with bated breath to hear his verdict. I still remember the way his eyebrows crinkled as he looked at the paper spread out in front of him. Then he straightened up and his next words stunned me. “This is just not good enough, Kalam,” he said. He turned stern eyes on me and continued, “I expected much better from you. This is dismal work and I am disappointed that someone with your talent has come up with work like this.” I stared at the professor, dumbfounded. I had always been the star pupil in any class and had never ever been pulled up by a teacher for anything. This feeling of embarrassment and shame was a new experience for me, and I did not like it one bit. The professor shook his head some more and told me that I had to redo the entire des­ign, starting from scratch and rethinking all my assumptions. I agreed shamefacedly. Then he broke the next bad news. Not only was I supposed to do the work again, I had to finish it in three days! “Today is Friday afternoon, young man. I want to see a flawless configuration drawing by Monday evening. If you are unable to do so, your scholarship will be stopped.” I was even more dumbfounded now. The scholarship was the only way I could afford to be in college. Without it, I would have to stop my studies. My own ambitions, the dreams of my parents, my sister and Jalalluddin dashed before my eyes and seemed to recede to a distance. It was unthinkable that the future could turn so bleak with a few words spoken by my professor.

Illustrations by Priya Sebastian
I got to work right away, determined to prove myself. I skipped dinner and remained at the drawing board thro­ugh the night. Where earlier the components of my design were floating in my head, now they suddenly came together and took on forms and shapes I could work with. The concentrated work I put in seemed to brush away all the cobwebs of the mind. By the next morning, I was working like a man possessed. I took a short break to eat and freshen up, and went back to work again. By Sunday evening, my work was nearly complete—an eleg­ant, neat design that I was proud of. While I was putting my final touches to it, I sen­sed a presence in the room. It was the professor, still dressed in his tennis whites, on his way back from the club. I didn’t know how long he had been standing there, watching me. Now, as our eyes met, he came forward. He looked critically at my work for many minutes. Then he straightened up and smiled. To my amazement, he hugged me affectionately. Then patting me on the back, he said, “I knew I was putting you under immense pressure when I rejected your work the other day. I set an impossible deadline—yet you have met it with work that I can only call outstanding. As your teacher, I had to push you to your limits so that you could recognise your own true potential.” After two days of extreme dejection, those words were music to my ears and revived my confidence and self-belief.
That day I learnt two lessons: a teacher who has his or her student’s progress in mind is the best possible fri­end, because the teacher knows how to make sure that you excel. And second, there is no such thing as an impossible deadline. I have worked on many tough assignments, some of which had the country’s top leaders watching over my work, but the assurance I gained in my capabilities at MIT thanks to Professor Srinivasan helped me later in life too.


I chose aeronautical engineering because of my fascination for flying. I had nurtured the hope of being able to fly, to handle a machine as it rose higher....

After MIT, I started my working life. Little did I know that even tougher lessons were to follow. I went to work at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore. There I learnt a lot about aircraft and their design and technology. By now I was very sure that I wanted a career in flying. When I emerged as a graduate aeronautical engineer from HAL, I got two job opportunities. One was in the air force and another at the Directorate of Technical Development and Production (DTD&P [Air]) at the ministry of defence. I received interview calls from both. The first was in Dehradun and the second in Delhi. I set forth with great hope in my heart. My first close sight of an aircraft had been at MIT, where two decommissioned aircraft were kept for the demonstration of various subsystems to the students. They had held a special fascination for me, and I was drawn to them again and again. They represented for me man’s ability to think beyond his boundaries, and to give wings to dreams. I had chosen aeronautical engineering as my area of study because of my fascination for flying. Over the years I had nurtured the hope of being able to fly; to handle a machine as it rose higher and higher in the stratosphere was my dearest dream.

Illustrations by Priya Sebastian
As I made my way from Madras to north India for the interviews, I played this dream over and over again in my mind. I was finally on the threshold of becoming a pilot! The journey from Tamil Nadu to Dehradun was a long one—not just geographically but also in terms of the distance I would travel from my humble origins to the prize that lay in the foothills of the Himalayas—a place in the air force as a pilot.
I first halted in Delhi for my interview at DTD&P. I was confident and the interview was an easy one, not requiring me to push the boundaries of my knowledge too far. I spent a week in Delhi and then proceeded to Dehradun for my interview at the Air Force Selection Board. Here, I should mention that at the time, as a young man in my early 20s, I was just beginning to understand how to conduct myself in the wider world. When I had first moved from Rameswaram to the bigger cities for my studies, I was a shy, tongue-tied boy. I had to work hard to develop some assertiveness in my personality. I did this by trying to communicate with different people from all kinds of backgrounds. It was not easy, of course, and there were many moments of frustration and dis­a­­­ppointment. Ho­­wever, by the time I finished my studies and headed out to look for a job, my personality was better developed and I was able to articulate my thoughts well enough in English and Tamil.
To return to my interview at the Air Force Selection Board, as I started answering the queries put forth to me, I realised that along with qualifications and engineering knowledge, they were also looking for a certain kind of ‘smartness’ in the candidate. Physical fitness and an articulate manner were what they were seeking. I gave it my best. I had wanted this job for so long and so deeply that I was determined yet anxious, confident and at the same time tense. Finally the results were announced. I had stood ninth in a batch of twenty-five. There were only eight places available. I had failed to realise my dream of becoming an air force pilot.
I still remember the ache in my heart as I attempted to make sense of what had happened. When a dearly held desire begins to break up, one can feel nothing but despair and emptiness as one tries to come to terms with the end of a dream. I could not bear to be indoors after seeing the result. I had to go out for air and be in the open, because all around me the walls seemed to close in. I walked around for a while till I reached the edge of a cliff. I stood there looking down at the shimmering waters of a lake and wondered what I should do next. Plans needed to be changed and priorities reassessed. I decided to go to Rishikesh for a few days and seek a new way forward.


I still remember the ache in my heart as I tried to make sense of what had happened. When a dearly felt desire breaks up, one feels nothing but despair.

I reached Rishikesh the next morning. I took a dip in the Ganga—a river I had heard so much about, but was seeing and experiencing for the first time in my life. I had been told about the Sivananda ashram that was located a little way up a hill. I walked there. As I entered I felt a strange vibration, a sense of tranquility that was like a balm for my restless soul. Sadhus were seated all around, deep in meditation. I hoped that one among them would be able to answer the questions that troubled me and soothe my worries. I was granted an audience with Swami Sivananda himself. My being a Muslim did not affect him in any way. Instead, before I could speak, he asked what had filled me with sorrow. I only fleetingly wondered how he knew about my sadness before I embarked on any exp­lanation of the recent developments in my life. He listened calmly and then washed away my anxieties with a smile of deep peacefulness. His next words were some of the most profound I had ever heard. His feeble yet deep voice still resonates when I think of them: “Accept your destiny and go ahead with your life. You are not destined to become an air force pilot. What you are destined to become is not revealed now but it is predetermined. Forget this failure, as it was essential to lead you to your destined path. Search, instead, for the true purpose of your existence. Surrender yourself to the wish of God.” That lesson made a deep impression on my mind. Truly, why fight against destiny? This failure, I was sure, was part of a larger plan that God had for me. I ruminated long about this as I went back to Delhi. There, I found that I had been accepted as senior scientific assistant at DTD&P. I gave up my dream of making a career out of flying. I understood now that there was plenty of other work to be done, and I was going to put my heart and soul into the job that had been given to me.
In this way I started my working life. Like me, I am sure almost every person who sets out with a goal has had to face unexpected obstacles. We’ve had to rethink our goals, reorient our paths. Each setback teaches us a new facet of life and something about our own personalities. When we tackle obstacles, we find hidden reserves of courage and resilience we did not know we had. And it is only when we are faced with failure do we realise that these resources were always there within us. We only need to find them and move on with our lives.
My Favourite Books
  • Light from Many Lamps: Edited by Lillian Watson; contains the writings/inspiring stories of many authors. The book has brought me solace in my hours of sadness and uplifted me when I needed advice.
  • Thirukkural: Written by Thiruvalluvar over 2,000 years ago, it's a collection of 1,330 rhyming Tamil couplets or aphorisms (kural). To me, it's provided a code of conduct for my life. It is a work that truly elevates the mind.
  • Man the Unknown by Alexis Carrel: His description of the human body—how it is an intelligent, integrated system—is explained brilliantly. This work should be read by everyone, especially those studying the medical sciences.
  • The Gita: It says, ‘See the flower, how generously it distributes perfume and honey. When its work is done, it falls away quietly. Try to be like it, unassuming despite all its qualities.’
  • The Holy Quran: I have worked with many brilliant engineers/leaders. The words from the Quran ring in my ears when I think of them: ‘Light upon light. Allah guides His light to whom He will.’

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Incredible HistoMap

Missed Connections - a short. anonymous.

I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train.
I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do.
You got on at DeKalb and sat across from me and we made eye contact, briefly. I fell in love with you a little bit, in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you're looking at and fall in love with that person. But still I think there was something there.
Several times we looked at each other and then looked away. I tried to think of something to say to you -- maybe pretend I didn't know where I was going and ask you for directions or say something nice about your boot-shaped earrings, or just say, "Hot day." It all seemed so stupid.
At one point, I caught you staring at me and you immediately averted your eyes. You pulled a book out of your bag and started reading it -- a biography of Lyndon Johnson -- but I noticed you never once turned a page.
My stop was Union Square, but at Union Square I decided to stay on, rationalizing that I could just as easily transfer to the 7 at 42nd Street, but then I didn't get off at 42nd Street either. You must have missed your stop as well, because when we got all the way to the end of the line at Ditmars, we both just sat there in the car, waiting.
I cocked my head at you inquisitively. You shrugged and held up your book as if that was the reason.
Still I said nothing.
We took the train all the way back down -- down through Astoria, across the East River, weaving through midtown, from Times Square to Herald Square to Union Square, under SoHo and Chinatown, up across the bridge back into Brooklyn, past Barclays and Prospect Park, past Flatbush and Midwood and Sheepshead Bay, all the way to Coney Island. And when we got to Coney Island, I knew I had to say something.
Still I said nothing.
And so we went back up.
Up and down the Q line, over and over. We caught the rush hour crowds and then saw them thin out again. We watched the sun set over Manhattan as we crossed the East River. I gave myself deadlines: I'll talk to her before Newkirk; I'll talk to her before Canal. Still I remained silent.
For months we sat on the train saying nothing to each other. We survived on bags of skittles sold to us by kids raising money for their basketball teams. We must have heard a million mariachi bands, had our faces nearly kicked in by a hundred thousand break dancers. I gave money to the beggars until I ran out of singles. When the train went above ground I'd get text messages and voicemails ("Where are you? What happened? Are you okay?") until my phone ran out of battery.
I'll talk to her before daybreak; I'll talk to her before Tuesday. The longer I waited, the harder it got. What could I possibly say to you now, now that we've passed this same station for the hundredth time? Maybe if I could go back to the first time the Q switched over to the local R line for the weekend, I could have said, "Well, this is inconvenient," but I couldn't very well say it now, could I? I would kick myself for days after every time you sneezed -- why hadn't I said "Bless You"? That tiny gesture could have been enough to pivot us into a conversation, but here in stupid silence still we sat.
There were nights when we were the only two souls in the car, perhaps even on the whole train, and even then I felt self-conscious about bothering you. She's reading her book, I thought, she doesn't want to talk to me. Still, there were moments when I felt a connection. Someone would shout something crazy about Jesus and we'd immediately look at each other to register our reactions. A couple of teenagers would exit, holding hands, and we'd both think: Young Love.
For sixty years, we sat in that car, just barely pretending not to notice each other. I got to know you so well, if only peripherally. I memorized the folds of your body, the contours of your face, the patterns of your breath. I saw you cry once after you'd glanced at a neighbor's newspaper. I wondered if you were crying about something specific, or just the general passage of time, so unnoticeable until suddenly noticeable. I wanted to comfort you, wrap my arms around you, assure you I knew everything would be fine, but it felt too familiar; I stayed glued to my seat.
One day, in the middle of the afternoon, you stood up as the train pulled into Queensboro Plaza. It was difficult for you, this simple task of standing up, you hadn't done it in sixty years. Holding onto the rails, you managed to get yourself to the door. You hesitated briefly there, perhaps waiting for me to say something, giving me one last chance to stop you, but rather than spit out a lifetime of suppressed almost-conversations I said nothing, and I watched you slip out between the closing sliding doors.
It took me a few more stops before I realized you were really gone. I kept waiting for you to reenter the subway car, sit down next to me, rest your head on my shoulder. Nothing would be said. Nothing would need to be said.
When the train returned to Queensboro Plaza, I craned my neck as we entered the station. Perhaps you were there, on the platform, still waiting. Perhaps I would see you, smiling and bright, your long gray hair waving in the wind from the oncoming train.
But no, you were gone. And I realized most likely I would never see you again. And I thought about how amazing it is that you can know somebody for sixty years and yet still not really know that person at all.
I stayed on the train until it got to Union Square, at which point I got off and transferred to the L.

the end

Saturday, August 10, 2013

This was once MY big Hollywood pitch for a story. Nice to see it being made. Second time now for me, after Q&A

Lucknow to Hollywood

A movie starring Mad Men’s Jon Hamm will immortalise the remarkable story of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, who went from small-town javelin throwers to big league baseball relief pitchers in America
BATTING FOR THE OTHER SIDE: Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel found a new life in baseball (Photo: DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES)
BATTING FOR THE OTHER SIDE: Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel found a new life in baseball (Photo: DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES)
Jon Hamm, lead actor on the Emmy-winning American TV show Mad Men, may get top billing on Disney’s upcoming true-life sports film Million Dollar Arm, but behind the scenes, two of the key driving forces behind the movie are a pair of modest Indian athletes who made the seemingly impossible jump from humble beginnings in Lucknow to international fame—simply by picking up a baseball in America for the first time in their lives.
Lucknow boys Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel both trained competitively throwing javelins in their youth, heaving the 2.5-metre-long spear countless times each day. Now they are preparing to see their life story play out on the big screen when Million Dollar Arm hits theatres across the world in 2014. It’s all due to their crash-course in baseball, courtesy a visionary American TV promoter, producer and agent, JB Bernstein, played in the film by Hamm.
For Singh, who is still under the wing of the Pittsburgh Pirates and is gradually working up through lower level baseball leagues, the experience has been exciting. Singh’s character will be played by Life of Pi star Suraj Sharma, and to him, the fact that an actor from an Academy Award-winning movie will be portraying him on the big screen is little short of miraculous.
“To hear that they were working on a movie was just really exciting,” Singh says over the telephone from Bradenton, Florida, where he is living at the Pirates’ training complex. “I was very excited to hear that I’d be meeting the guys who are playing us. They were great. We had a good time with them. I never thought I’d be meeting all the celebrities that I’ve been meeting.”
The actors, director Craig Gillespie (of Lars and the Real Girl fame) and other film officials worked closely with Singh, Patel and Bernstein as they filmed in several locations in India, before returning to the US to complete shooting. The whole group, for example, arrived in Atlanta to film scenes on the baseball field at Georgia Tech University, where the cast—which also includes Bill Paxton and Aasif Mandvi— crew and subjects mingled, exchanged stories and learnt stuff from each other. “They were so nice to us,” Singh says of the stars, “We had a great time with them, just hanging out on the set.”
Patel, meanwhile, went only so far in baseball and was released by the Pirates in December 2010. He is back in India now, completing his BA at Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith University in Varanasi and refocusing on javelin training. In the film, he’s being portrayed by Madhur Mittal of Slumdog Millionaire— another Oscar-winning film—and, like Singh, couldn’t have imagined the events of the last few years, especially being the subject of a major motion picture.
‘My life has changed considerably since the movie has been made,’ Patel says. ‘I cannot believe a major Hollywood studio is making a movie about it. It still feels like a dream.’
The email format of the interview and Patel’s quiet nature make it difficult for him to put into perspective how much his and his family’s lives have changed thanks to the film. But Bernstein confirms that Patel and Singh were handsomely paid for the movie. He says, “They are getting paid, but we do not release our clients’ compensation for deals [to anyone else]. You can say that they are being compensated by Disney very well, and both boys have been able to help their families out dramatically.”
Million Dollar Arm tells the tale of Bernstein, who, about six years ago, came up with an idea for a television reality show: to mine a country of more than a billion people for latent talent in baseball, the classic American sport that bears a strong resemblance to cricket.
Bernstein organised Million Dollar Arm, at which 37,000 contestants from across India competed to throw a baseball the hardest—or, in baseball parlance, the best fastball pitch—for a chance at $1 million.
While none of the competitors threw fast enough to win that ultimate prize, Singh and Patel stood first and second, respectively, with their pitching ‘heat’. Singh’s 87 mph effort also won him $100,000. Both earned tryouts in front of dozens of baseball talent scouts in the US. This led to contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who inked Singh and Patel to minor-league deals, making the pair the first Indian nationals to earn professional sports contracts in the US.
While the movie focuses primarily on the transformative experience Bernstein underwent as part of the Million Dollar Arm saga, the American promoter himself says the story wouldn’t have existed without the hard work, dedication and perseverance of the two contest winners, Singh and Patel.
“First and foremost, I’m so proud of Rinku and Dinesh and what they accomplished,” Bernstein says. “What made the story great was that these guys had done something that they knew nothing about; [they] came out and tried it for the first time and were successful.”
“They didn’t even know baseball existed,” he adds, “and like a month later, they’re signing minor-league contracts. That, in and of itself, was something no one thought would ever be possible.”
Even the stars of the Million Dollar Arm movie came away impressed after meeting Singh and Patel on set. While Disney now is tightly regulating media coverage of the film’s production, the interviews granted by the production company reflect the admiration for Singh and Patel that Hollywood bigwigs have.
“These kids went from never having picked up or touched a baseball to relief-quality baseball players in under a year,” Hamm told Variety earlier this month. “That’s insane.” Relievers enter games when the starting pitcher has tired or isn’t pitching well anymore for some reason.
In an interview with The Sporting News, Hamm expressed similar thoughts, especially highlighting the mentor-student relationship between Bernstein and the two young men, all of whose lives and worldviews were transformed by the Million Dollar Arm experience. Hamm also likened the two’s rise to a degree of wealth and fame with his own ascent to the cream of the Hollywood crop, thanks to his iconic character on Mad Men, Don Draper.
“It’s a great story, and it’s a true story,” Hamm told Sporting News writer Ryan Fagan last month. “The reason I was attracted to doing the [film] is that it’s a good, old-fashioned coming-of-age, father/son type of story, even though there are no fathers and no sons, really. It’s just a nice story about hard work, and coming up with a big idea and seeing it through... They were just willing to apply themselves and commit to the programme and maximise the opportunity.”
Hollywood power player Mark Ciardi, one of the producers of the film—who is known to be a backer of similar inspirational sports movies like Miracle, the story of the US ice hockey team’s improbable triumph over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics—told Sports Business Journal’s Terry Lefton earlier this month that the Million Dollar Arm tale actually carries a much more significant message than that of simply throwing a baseball really fast.
“Any great sports movie is not really about sports,” Ciardi said. “This film is about a man’s growth and finding a family he didn’t know he was looking for. That kind of redemptive arc in a character happens in any great movie.”
Running parallel to the evolving Million Dollar Arm story is a concerted effort on the part of US baseball officials to promote the sport in the world’s second most populous country. For example, in February, Major League Baseball (MLB)—the highest level of the sport in the US—announced an outreach initiative in India, led by Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. Larkin visited the country to lead baseball ‘clinics’ and speak about the importance of diversity and sports in the modern age.
For the project, MLB is teaming up with USA Softball (a kind of variant of baseball, often played by women) and the US State Department, which views sport as a way to improve relations with important emerging economies like India. In addition, many believe the film version of Million Dollar Arm will help open the world’s eyes to India’s vast athletic potential.
While entertainment and sports reps in the States feel a desire to impressively represent America and its ‘national pastime’ to the vast Indian populace, both Singh and Patel have, from the time they were announced the winners of the first season of Bernstein’s reality show, recognised their roles as ambassadors of India to the United States and its baseball-crazy audience.
‘When I was in the US, I definitely felt like I was representing my country,’ Patel says. ‘I felt a great sense of pride doing that and hope to represent India in baseball in the future.’ While he no longer pitches or plays baseball professionally, Patel still loves the sport and wants to remain active promoting it in India. “I think baseball has a great opportunity in India,” he says, “but it will require effort and time to make it popular. Contests like Million Dollar Arm can really help. It can happen, and I hope to be involved in making it happen.”
Singh, meanwhile, is doggedly pursuing his pro baseball career and developing into a quality relief pitcher in the Pirates’ minor-league system. He also spent the last off season hurling the ball for the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League.
An August 2012 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette emphasised how Singh, now almost 25, has evolved, thanks to constant hard work, from a novelty or curiosity on the American baseball field into a legitimate Major League prospect. ‘When the Pirates signed a television reality show winner from India a few years ago,’ wrote Post-Gazette reporter Michael Sanserino, ‘some thought the move was a gimmick. But Singh is proving this gimmick’s got game.’
‘He has immersed himself in baseball ever since he signed on with the Pirates in November 08,’ Sanserino added. ‘He is trying to become the first Indian-born player to make the major leagues, although he has already come much further than anyone else from his country.’
Singh’s fastball continues to increase in speed, and he has quickly developed other pitches to add to his repertoire. Unfortunately, he is currently recuperating from a forearm injury, but he’s using the same optimism and drive in this challenge that he has applied since he first tried out for Bernstein’s show five years ago. Making the major leagues remains his ultimate goal.
But Singh is also aware that he continues to represent his country and especially his hometown of Lucknow and home state of Uttar Pradesh, a responsibility he takes seriously as he strives to overcome injury and improve his abilities.
“I’m never going to quit learning,” he says, adding that he hopes to be ready for spring training in 2014. “That’s baseball—you never become perfect. You always have to work on something, some way. So I know I need to keep working. I have to keep moving forward and keep my head at 100 percent... If I make it in baseball, baseball could be huge in India. It’s not just about playing for myself. I’m working to represent my country and open doors for others. I’m working my ass off to give them the opportunity I’ve had. That motivates me. A lot of people [in India] don’t get the opportunities I have, so I can’t wait to get where I want to be in the Major League and make my dream come true. I believe I have the ability, and as long as I never quit learning, it’s going to happen one day.”
Bernstein says that just like Singh has taken naturally to baseball—a sport the youngster had never even tried till a few years ago—the baseball culture in America has accepted him (and Patel) as its own.
“Rinku and Dinesh were the only Indian people a lot of the other players and coaches had ever met,” Bernstein says. “They have been amazing representatives of their country and their families. And it’s so satisfying to see them get that exposure.” “These guys have become like children to me,” Bernstein adds, echoing Hamm’s emotional interpretation of their story. “It’s very gratifying for me to sit back and know that all their success is so well deserved.”

Growing Up on Sportstar ( How the magazine was to shape what I’d do later in life) by Akshay Sawai


In the early 90s, a man visited my father a few times in connection with work. My sister and I thought he resembled Franco Baresi, the balding and grim-faced defender in the Italian football team. ‘Baresi’ became our name for him. One day when he came home, my mother answered the door and told my father, “That Baresi or Qureshi is here.”
Our family was crazy about sports, especially my father, my elder sister and me. My eldest sister also followed sports but not with the same intensity. My mother, a proud patron of Marathi creative arts, looked down upon this plebeian endeavour. But she would have had to somersault across a laser field like Vincent Cassel in Ocean’s Twelve to stay untouched by the sports virus in our house. Inevitably, sports or pop culture influences took root in her mindspace. And so she inadvertently hummed Papa Don’t Preach while making sandalwood paste for the puja, or registered names such as ‘Baresi’. Even today, she is prone to asking me out of the blue, “So what is McEnroe up to these days?”
Three things contributed to my family’s love for sport. My father played local league football and was particular about exercise all his life. He liked everything athletes stood for—style, fitness, and above all else, activity. My father hated lethargy. The second reason was Doordarshan, which in that era (the 80s and 90s), brought home just the right amount of sports. Not too much, as is the case now. Not too little, as was the case before. The third reason, and the focus of this memoir, was sports magazines. This was the pre-internet world and therefore the jazz age for magazines. Men of all ages of that time had piles of sports journals.
Sport and Pastime, published by The Hindu Group, was the top sports magazine of earlier eras. But by the time my generation came round, the three major ones were Sportsweek, Sportsworld and Sportstar. Each belonged to a major newspaper group and city. Sportsweek was a Mumbai product owned by Mid-Day. Sportsworld came from Anandabazar Patrika in Kolkata, and Sportstar from The Hindu in Madras.
My father was a fierce football and hockey lover who laughed at cricket. He subscribed to Sportsweek after India won the 1975 hockey World Cup. The winning team was on the cover. We were a Sportsweek family for almost a decade. It was through Sportsweek that I got acquainted with the names of Khalid AH Ansari and Ayaz Memon, my bosses in later life. I remember excerpts from Sunil Gavaskar’s Idols that the magazine ran, and its coverage of the 1983-84 India-West Indies series. My father also used Sportsweek to improve my English vocabulary. He underlined words and wrote their meanings in the margins. I found out what ‘pathetic’ and ‘vicious’ meant in this fashion. Other random memories of the magazine include a cartoon character called Sporting Sam.
Towards the mid-80s, however, that Chennai Express called Sportstar roared past its rivals. It upped its production quality, introducing glossy paper in key sections of the magazine. It carried syndicated content from around the world and had talented writers on its own staff. Sportstar was like a Yash Chopra movie, lush and international. Name the sport and the magazine was strong on it. Cricket, tennis, Olympics, football, hockey and track-and-field were all better covered in Sportstar. Sportsweek and Sportsworld had quality journalists too. The gifted Rohit Brijnath, for instance, learnt his ropes at Sportsworld. But Sportstar’s overall strength as a product was unmatched. Eventually, our family switched loyalties to Sportstar. I was never a subscriber, but bought many issues off the stands and others from old book shops (sneaking a look at Debonair in the process).
These days, one finds lines about the joy of ‘curling up with a book’ clich├ęd. But to buy the latest Sportstar from a newsstand, or locate a prized past issue at an old paper mart (raddiwala) , and then enjoy it at leisure at home while the rain came down outside was indeed a pleasure.
My obsession with sports magazines made me an expert on raddiwalas in our area, and also the lay of the land in their shops (this was important when money was short and material had to be pilfered). Somehow, the prominent raddiwalas of my childhood were all Gujarati and had names starting with ‘P’. There was Patel Paper Mart, Punjani Paper Mart, Pethani Paper Mart and I think Pravin Paper Mart too. For a while, Patel was the family raddiwala.
One day I was returning home with my father when we saw a four-page poster of Jimmy Connors displayed at Patel’s. Connors on Nehru Road in Vile Parle East. Connors hitting a double-handed backhand with his signature steel Wilson T2000 racquet. Had Connors actually been present at that spot and hit a shot, the ball might have flown across the street and knocked someone drinking cheap liquor at Bharat Hindu Hotel and Bar on his head. The poster was from a foreign magazine, and not any foreign magazine: a French one. Nose in the air, Monsieur Patel quoted the price. “Five rupees, not a paisa less.” Five bucks for a poster was a steep sum at a time when a new Sportstar cost Rs 3. My father, a Jimmy Connors of bargaining, haggled spiritedly. But the gangly Patel won the argument with this clincher, delivered in a Gujarati accent: “Saheb, yeh Jone McEnroe hain. Isko bahut demand hai.
In the film Amelie (French, again), there is a character called Dominique Bredoteau. He is a lonely man estranged from his family. Every Tuesday, Bredoteau buys a chicken and roasts it with potatoes. Once the chicken is cooked, he hungrily cuts it and reaches inside to pick out chicken oysters, one of the bird’s delicious parts. In magazines, the equivalent of oysters are glossy centrefolds. These are easy to steal. You just have to quietly pry the pages off its staple pins and slip the section into another magazine. Then you pay for that one and leave. I pulled off quite a few such heists, until one day, the inevitable happened. I got caught, and escaped a thrashing only by virtue of being a kid.
Sportstar was also the catalyst for my choice of sports journalism as a career. As a student, I was not bad but was distracted. The fundamental problem was I had no interest in commerce, the stream I graduated in. Recently, at the office of a chartered accountant friend, I picked up a book on accountancy and taxes. My spontaneous reaction was a wince. Debit this, credit that. What the duck. Sport, on the other hand, was joy, escape and possible livelihood. I had played a bit myself and read and watched enormous amounts. Besides, I had grown up reading the dispatches of Sportstar staffers from around the world. Not a bad way of earning your bread and bottle.
The writer I followed above everyone else was Nirmal Shekar, The Hindu’s tennis specialist. He went to Wimbledon every year and claimed to know and even dine with superstars. He had a flowery writing style, which to young minds seemed impressive.
He often started articles with quotations of philosophers and intellectuals. (One knows now that some of the things these intellectual heavyweights said were hot air, complicated sentences passing off as profundity.) Many sports journalists of my time were inspired to get into the trade because of Shekar or R Mohan, Sportstar’s chief cricket writer. When I started touring myself, I was curious to see the faces behind the names. I first saw Nirmal at a Davis Cup tie in Jaipur in 1996. I saw Ayaz Memon at a party at the Leela in 1994 for Superhit Muqabla, the popular Hindi songs show on Doordarshan. He was dancing. I met R Mohan before a rained-off one-day international between India and New Zealand in Goa in 1995, an unassuming man in simple clothes. Harsha Bhogle was generous with his time when I approached him as a collegian seeking guidance. At that time a boy named Rihen Mehta had swum the English channel. Bhogle asked me to meet Mehta, write a story and send it to Sportsworld. The story wasn’t used, but it was a good drill. And I didn’t mind the excursion to the Mehtas’ lavish Malabar Hill apartment and a nibble of expensive mithai.
One evening a few days ago, I was clearing out a cupboard. In the bottom shelf was my collection of sports magazines, perhaps around 300 in number, some of them dating back 30 years. I find nostalgia a rich emotion, but 30 years is too long a time. It can’t be healthy to retain something from that far back in your life. Under the hot yellow light of an overhead bulb, I decided to get rid of the collection. Then I flipped open a Sports Illustrated issue from 1999. I had bought it from a raddiwala. The original owner of the copy was Moothedath Madhavan of Denver. His name and address was on a label in the bottom left corner of the cover. The copy had somehow washed ashore in India, and ultimately into my hands. It was a special issue in which writers wrote about a past event they would have liked to witness. Each piece was accompanied by art work, not photographs. It was truly a collector’s item, with rare content. In a piece on Althea Gibson, the first coloured tennis player to win a Grand Slam, Michael Bamberger reveals fascinating information about this seminal figure in sport. As a girl in Harlem, Gibson sometimes rode the subway aimlessly at night to escape the beatings of an alcoholic father, and immersed herself in sport during the day. During her historic triumph at Wimbledon in 1957, she herself spent the evenings drinking whisky and smoking. She slept till late, almost till match time. Rick Reilly writes about Francis Ouimet, a young caddie who miraculously won the 1913 US Open golf. Ouimet was 20, and his caddie 10.
I also found a 1994 copy of Sportstar which had an advertisement for Ray-Ban sunglasses featuring the model Rachel Reuben in a swimsuit, and recalled how coveted that page was years ago. In another issue was a picture of Bishan Singh Bedi doing something you wouldn’t expect him to—skipping. I did discard about two-thirds of the magazines, but could not get myself to part with the rest. ‘For a ringside view of the world of sport’ was the promise of Sportstar. But to readers now, the magazine and others like it are a ringside view of their past.

Friday, August 09, 2013


Mark Mann
Published in the September 2013 issue
Allen was photographed on June 3 at his office in Manhattaan. His forty-eight picture as a director, Blue Jasmine, is now in theaters. Interviewed June 4, 2013

My two teenage girls think of me as ancient. But I'm up before them and wake them to go to school.
What people who don't write don't understand is that they think you make up the line consciously — but you don't. It proceeds from your unconscious. So it's the same surprise to you when it emerges as it is to the audience when the comic says it. I don't think of the joke and then say it. I say it and then realize what I've said. And I laugh at it, because I'm hearing it for the first time myself.
Without fear, you'd never survive.
My dad didn't even teach me how to shave — I learned that from a cabdriver. But the biggest lesson he imparted is that if you don't have your health, you have nothing. No matter how great things are going for you, if you have a toothache, if you have a sore throat, if you're nauseated, or, God forbid, you have some serious thing wrong with you — everything is ruined.
A corned-beef sandwich would be sensational, or one of those big, fat frankfurters, you know, with the mustard. But I don't eat any of that stuff. I haven't had a frankfurter in, I would say, forty-five years. I don't eat enjoyable foods. I eat for my health.
Marshall McLuhan predicted books would become art objects at some point. He was right.
My mother taught me a value — rigid discipline. My father didn't earn enough, and my mother took care of the money and the family, and she had no time for lightness. She always saw the glass a third full. She taught me to work and not to waste time.
I never see a frame of anything I've done after I've done it. I don't even remember what's in the films. And if I'm on the treadmill and I'm surfing the channels and suddenly Manhattan or some other picture comes on, I go right past it. If I saw Manhattan again, I would only see the worst. I would say: "Oh, God, this is so embarrassing. I could have done this. I should have done that." So I spare myself.
In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you've left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you. It's the change of venue, the unblocking the attempt to force the ideas that's crippling you when you're trying to write.
If you're born with a gift, to behave like it's an achievement is not right.
I love Mel Brooks. And I've had wonderful times working with him. But I don't see any similarities between Mel and myself except, you know, we're both short Jews. That's where it ends. His style of humor is completely different. But Bob Hope? I'm practically a plagiarist.
We took a tour of the Acropolis late in the morning, and I looked down upon the theater and felt a connection. I mean, this is where Oedipus debuted. It's amazing for someone who's spent his life in show business or worked in dramatic art to look down at the theater where, thousands of years ago, guys like Mike Nichols and Stephen Sondheim and David Mamet were in togas, thinking, Gee, I can't get this line to work. You know, I've been working on it all night. And that actor, he doesn't know how to deliver it. Sophocles and Euripides and Aristophanes. The costumes are late, and we gotta go on!
It's been said about marriage "You have to know how to fight." And I think there's some wisdom to that. People who live together get into arguments. When you're younger, those arguments tend to escalate, or there's not any wisdom that overrides the argument to keep in perspective. It tends to get out of hand. When you're older, you realize, "Well, this argument will pass. We don't agree, but this is not the end of the world." Experience comes into play.
Back when I started, when I opened Take the Money and Run, the guys at United Artists accumulated the nation's criticisms into a pile this big and I read them all. Texas, Oklahoma, California, New England... That's when I realized that it's ridiculous. I mean, the guy in Tulsa thinks the picture's a masterpiece, and the guy in Vermont thinks it's the dumbest thing he's ever seen. Each guy writes intelligently. The whole thing was so pointless. So I abandoned ever, ever reading any criticisms again. Thanks to my mother, I haven't wasted any time dwelling on whether I'm brilliant or a fool. It's completely unprofitable to think about it.
You can only do so much, and then you're at the mercy of fortune.
Me sitting down for dinner with Ingmar Bergman felt like a house painter sitting down with Picasso.
It's just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don't have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we're just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it's Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There'll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.
A guy will say, "Well, I make my luck." And the same guy walks down the street and a piano that's been hoisted drops on his head. The truth of the matter is your life is very much out of your control.

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