WHEN an old year lies comatose, scribes start salivating. There’s so much to write about. Now 2020 lies supine and we have to choose. The late entrants are Rahul Gandhi’s exit to Italy and the latest mutant to the Covid strain, which is said to be 70 per cent worse. I was driving through Italy with my family in 1989. We were caught in the darker streets of Naples, when someone smashed the glass and grabbed my wife’s purse from her and made off. The Italian police registered the case as theft, not robbery. I was driving and was ignorant for a moment of what had happened. Much later, I wrote a jingle:
A lovely place is Napoli
Of rolling hill and sun and sea
And also of the Mafiosi.
But to lift our spirits, there’s cricket. Nothing like cricket, but let us put the dismal things behind us — that ‘36 for 9’ is going to haunt us. We forgot the 41 or 42 we scored under Bedi, the State Bank of India party, the late arrival at the High Commission (by which time many of the guests had left) and the tick off by the enraged BK Nehru, the High Commissioner.
We were not dismissed for 36 due to some fluke. Critics say not a catch was dropped by the Aussies. Captains and coaches do not base their strategies on catches dropped. One ball, the out-swinger, dismissed the whole Indian side! Why? Because most of them played half cock. That’s a term you hardly ever hear now, almost sounds obscene. In the old days, when we played on jute or coir matting, you played either back or forward. Forward, in cricketing terminology, meant you played a yard ahead of the crease. Batting on turf, you closed your eyes, put your left leg a foot ahead and blocked. If the ball swung, and was lucky enough to catch the edge, the batsman was back in the pavilion. Most of our vaunted batsmen in the first Test match played half cock. And if the bat is tilted two or three degrees to the onside, as VVS Laxman once advised, you won’t snick the ball so fatally.
What about the Melbourne triumph, the one which we are basking under? Yes, what a great victory, and that century by Rahane! But the bowlers did it. The Australian batting was not the greatest. Many of their batsmen were tentative, and they couldn’t read Ashwin. Off-spinners are easier to read than leg-break bowlers who roll their wrists, but the Australians failed. The statue game has entered cricket. Statues cause some trouble, one faction does not like a person — and will despoil it. Then there would be retaliation. We must think the matter over — we need not become iconoclasts, for that entails breaking images. Let us do away with having more statues. Why must an administrator of the DDCA, later a Finance Minister, get a statue on a cricket ground? And do we need statues of Shivaji at 4,000 crores in the Arabian Sea? But don’t they plan to break it up? The year also relayed to us the unflinching determination of the government not to deviate from the plan of breaking up vistas and not repealing the farm laws, no matter how the farmers shivered in the cold or some even died, even though a hundred Kisan rails were flagged off. The year 2020 paid tributes to decision-makers who never dither. Excuse my atrocious rhyme, dithering leads to withering.
Talking of Covid-19, a bleak thought struck me the other day. The Wuhan Covid reached even Peru and later Antarctica and the Poles. Suppose one day we get an epidemic that wipes away humanity itself? Can happen, and while it takes Oxford or Pune to devise and manufacture a vaccine, we migrate to kingdom come? The dinosaurs vanished, didn’t they? Are we any better? Well, we made contraptions to kill six million Jews didn’t we, last century? We also produced Edward Jenner and Florence Nightingale. And we are good at coining slogans, and writing poetry. Only last century, we produced TS Eliot and Ramprasad Bismil. Sarfaroshi ki tamannah ab hamare dil mein hai.
What or who are the two heroes of the Covid era? Masks and migrants, alliteration unintended. The migrants we have already forgotten. How fickle can national memory be? A lot of crocodile tears were shed by columnists (mea culpa). Guys wrote poems on migrants! Then came IPL in the desert and we forgot all about them, and voted the same government back in Bihar. If there was an election in UP, Adityanathji, the monk Mukhya Mantri, would have swept the polls. The masks are not as footloose as the migrants. They will stay with us. The year gave us some big gifts as well. There was that driverless train, flagged off by the PM himself, which brought great cheer in a cheerless year. If there was no Covid, the Central Vista would have gone for a toss. Imagine the dust as the Bhavans came down. The Expert Appraisal Committee on Infrastructure has already asked the PWD for a detailed “strategy for management of construction and demolition waste”. If the government is so far-seeing, why is it perpetrating this disaster on us? Incidentally, re-building Delhi was not in the BJP manifesto. Let’s forget it. A new vista, new Parliament House, and hand-cranked love jihad, and antics of the “Gupkar gang”, life will be supremely interesting.