Wednesday, 22 October 2008


Yesterday, Villarreal beat Aalborg BK 6-3 at the Madrigal. It reminded me of a rather funny incident which took place about two months back, involving an identical scoreline.
This happened when I was travelling from Victoria to Gatwick Airport. With me in an otherwise empty compartment was a girl, about my age, maybe slightly older. (I’ll continue calling her “the girl” since, in the course of a 30-minute conversation, we didn’t think to exchange names.)
By and by, we began to chat, and I found out she’d been on a backpacking tour of Scotland. We fell to discussing the vicissitudes of being a lone traveller. In the mutual whining that ensued, I mentioned that on top of everything else, I’d missed part of the Olympics. The girl replied that this didn’t worry her a great deal, since her country doesn’t do so well at the Olympics, except for swimming and fencing. So I took an educated guess, and asked her if she was from Hungary, and it turned out she was. Accordingly I introduced the first topic that comes to my mind when I think about Hungary. I mentioned Ferenc Puskás.
At this stage, a brief background may be required for people who haven’t heard of Puskás. Normal people may skip the following paragraph and move on.
The Magical Magyars. Puskas is on the far left.
The Hungarian football team of the 1950s is one of the many things I happen to be crazy about. Puskás was captain of the team. They entered the 1954 World Cup with an unbeaten record stretching back to 1950: clear favourites to win the trophy. They waltzed through to the finals, playing fairytale football, and scoring twenty five goals in four matches. In the final, playing a West Germany team they had earlier beaten 8-3, they inexplicably lost 3-2. That was the last time the Magical Magyars would strut their stuff at a World Cup. For Hungary’s golden generation, there was to be no second chance. 1956 was the year of the Hungarian revolution, and the team was broken up.
Anyway, as soon as I mentioned Puskás, the conversation became more animated.
Girl: Oh! You’ve heard of Puskás? I didn’t think many people outside Hungary knew his name!
Me: Of course I’ve heard of Puskás. I’m crazy about that team. If there was one thing in football history that I could change, I’d change the outcome of the ’54 final.
Girl: We beat the Brits, you know?
Me: (speaking as of a personal triumph) I know, I know. 6-3!
Girl: And at Wembley too! Beat that!
And on cue, spontaneously, illogically, we high-fived.
Now there are a lot of things I don’t like about travelling alone. I often get lonely, I worry almost continuously, I hate taking all the decisions myself, and I have to ask strangers to watch over my luggage when I go to the airport toilet. But for all that, there are some good things about travelling alone. You talk to a lot of different people, and some rummy things happen.
On that trip itself, there were other incidents. In front of Harrods, when I was photographing a Gallardo, a distinguished old gentleman asked me, “Your car, son?” And at Abbey Road, I lent my camera batteries to an Italian couple who had made the pilgrimage to photograph each other crossing the road, but had run out of batteries at the crucial moment. I particularly noticed them because they were singing “Don’t Let Me Down” to their camera. But the Puskás incident remains my favourite.
Was it pointless, laughable, for two people, one from Budapest and one from Calcutta, to high-five on a southbound train to Gatwick, because 55 years ago, on a cold West London night, something special happened on a football field? Probably, yes. But the delight on her face, and the high-five: will I forget that in a hurry? I don’t think so.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Unfinished Art

There’s something about unfinished works of art that seems to fascinate us. Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B minor, Tintin and Alph-Art, Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible trilogy, La Sagrada Família, Sunset at Blandings—all of these tantalize us with their unrealized potential, goad us to speculate whether the finished work may perhaps have turned out to be the artist’s greatest ever. Sometimes, if you mediate long enough upon such a work, you feel you are indeed close to the artist. In your mind, you try to fill in the missing pieces, imagine what the complete work would have been like. But all the while you know that it is an exercise doomed to fail, that you will never truly know. To this ineffable mystique that surrounds unfinished works of art, you may trace a rather immodest desire that I have. Someday, I too would like to

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Internship Nostalgia

Extracts from emails sent to friends during various internships:

To Lahiri (Delhi, April 2007)

The four of us are a bit short on resources when it comes to cooking. We need to buy stuff everyday, and only now have I fully appreciated the importance of a fridge in the household. And I was my usual miserly self when I went out to hire utensils, which means that we have the bare minimum that is required to concoct dinner. Or significantly less than the bare minimum (if you go by what Kisku claims). But we improvise and get by. Kisku and I have discovered a method of toasting bread on a steel hanger which is nothing short of genius.

To Anindita (Bombay, March 2008)

Today in office, Lahiri was telling us what he had to go through to buy a ticket at VT. The demonstration involved him walking on all fours while gesticulating. At that point an associate entered our room.

To Darshana (Bombay, April 2008)

It was Lahiri (who else?) who first got into the habit of swiveling in his chair. Then Ayan picked it up, and also added one vital touch: shouting “Whee!” In a plush library high above downtown Mumbai, three interns sit in expensive chairs, reading magazines, browsing the net, chatting with each other, and sometimes working. Occasionally, they swivel in their chairs and shout “Whee!”

The title of the post may have surprised you initially. Of all things to get nostalgic about, you may well have thought, internships are the strangest.

But now you understand, don’t you? A little?

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Honour Among Credit Derivatives Dealers

An emergency trading session was organized by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association on the day before Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its purpose was to allow dealers in credit default swaps and other types of derivatives to unwind positions linked to Lehman, thereby reducing risk associated with a potential Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Even though the trades technically became invalid when Lehman missed its deadline for bankruptcy filing by a few hours, credit derivatives dealers are agreeing among themselves “in the spirit of things” (to quote a London trader) to honour trades made at the session.

When fear grows too intense to handle,
We shrink into a private smile,
Surprised when here and there a candle
Drives back the dark a little while…

In other news pertaining to world financial markets, the National Debt Clock installed at Times Square in New York, has been forced to drop the dollar sign in the total figure to accommodate a ten trillion dollar figure.

Friday, 3 October 2008