Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bengali in Beijing - In the company of legends

Have been a sports journalist for a decade now, but today was the day it all added up to something seriously significant. Years of doing stories, making pages, doing shows, the's all feeling worthwhile now. The day interactions and encounters with cricketers big and small were forgotten (possibly for good), and time was spent watching, interviewing and interacting with real stars. Real heroes. Real athletes. Athletes I have spoken about in superlatives more often than not.

It started with a hastily-planned trip to the men's football final - Argentina vs Nigeria.

Yeah, I was there - let's establish that more than ever before, because this blog might just make a lot of people very jealous.

The fire was burning in the cauldron - it will have to for a couple more days before it can be extinguished without fear of the wrath of Zeus and the rest hitting the world.

The man himself! Lionel Messi walks out of the tunnel. Is he looking at me perchance? Let me believe he is for the moment. Four electric bursts. A couple of assists. Good enough.

Juan Roman Riquelme. Interesting, isn't it, that Messi qualifies as an Under-23 player. So Argentina could afford to field the likes of Riquelme and Javier Mascherano. Riquelme is so bloody laidback. But the ball just doesn't leave his boots. Defenders and defensive midfielders can hassle him till kingdom come, but Riquelme will hold on to the ball.

In the stands, Bora Milutinovic. Here because he is a former China coach.

The best footballer in the world at the moment walks back to the changing room at the end of the match...after the whole team celebrated like crazy on the ground.

The man in the yellow shirt with the long hair waving to the crowds is Ronaldinho, in case you didn't recognise him. Brazil won bronze. The bugger just didn't turn my way. But the roar when he walked out was clear indication that he is still China's favourite 'European' footballer. Far ahead of Messi.

Now then, if you thought the day was over at the end of the football match (which Argentina won 1-0 by the way), you're way off, guys! Yep, had an interview with Yelena Isinbayeva lined up. Easily the greatest track and field athlete of her generation from either sex - stunning to boot. And Russian.

Just before the interview - she is an inch taller than me - three with the heels she was in.

Okay, Messi, Riquelme, Ronaldinho, Mascherano, Isinbayeva...and then Tyson Gay. Met him at the Omega show as well. The man who would be king - the man who's going back home without a single medal. They are all with Usain Bolt. Idiot didn't even qualify for the 100m final!

And then at Vijender's medal ceremony...he doesn't quite qualify as a legend - not by a long shot, but what the heck!

What a day! What an absolutely mindnumbing day. I'm a sports freak first and then a sports journalist. Today was all about that sports freak. And it was awesome while it lasted.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bengali in Beijing - V-Day in China

The first one is of Vijender during his bout - the semi-final. At the end of it, a bronze. Good enough...we'll take it, won't we?

After the bout, and the loss, facing the media. Importantly, everyone was happy enough with the outcome. Obviously. He's done more than anyone ever has.

And much afterwards, with me, after I had done - hopefully - my last story for the tour.

Bengali in Beijing - Eating out

One of the big incentives of the Beijing visit was the possibility that there would be snakes and other exotic animals to eat. And the place to go to, unless you have a lot of time and can really explore the options, is Wang Fu Jing (pronounced 'Ching'). The equivalent of Lahore's Food Street, it's a long line of thelas that have every conceivable edible animal. They say that if an animal doesn't find mention on the menu here, it has never been eaten. So there are snakes, scorpions, various kinds of worms, locusts, sea urchins, sea horses...the list is endless. The Dog Liver has been taken off the menu keeping in mind the sensibilities of the millions of tourists.

Momos being made at Wang Fu Jin. Choose your stuffing - this one's a pork and cabbage option.

Bengalis surveying. My old friend Gonchoo, whose scooter I wrecked back in 2000 along with part of my face, has been in Beijing for 8 years now. Studying first. Then working. Currently with Ogilvy PR. A pro as far as the Chinese language is concerned as well as the lanes and bylanes of Beijing. Also someone who has spent enough time eating most everything China serves up.

Me and the snake. Have been scared of them forever, but when skinned and ready to be grilled, they don't look as scary or creepy. Small snakes of course, not a cobra or a black mamba or something... This one will be chopped into pieces now, skewered, and grilled. Then it will be eaten. By me. Quite crunchy. A bit like fish, but the texture is totally different.

Random shot of the place. I ate a lot of other stuff, including a bit of the more mundane beef and stuff...couldn't quite bring myself to try the lizard, but tried almost everything else. And most everything was highly palatable. Except the swallows stuffed with pumpkin they served up. Yuck!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bengali in Beijing - Indian Idol II

Yeah, I'm still an Akhil fan. But look at this man. He's gone and done it, hasn't he? If he goes higher than bronze, and if he can sell himself well after that once he is in India, this boy's your next big thing. He's got everything a marketing man needs.

Poor Sushil Kumar. No one, absolutely no one, was aware of what he was upto across at the CAU Gymnasium at the Olympic Green. No one. I felt so bloody guilty even going up to him and meeting him afterwards. Indian medallist number two - he will take it, won't he?

Akhil. He's just lost his quarterfinal bout in this picture. But he remains the biggest character of the lot. And still my favourite...

Bengali in Beijing - Euphoria

Could it possibly get better than this? Three bleedin' medals. It's spectacular. Absolutely spectacular. And today has to be the greatest day in Indian sport. At par with whatever else you want to nominate.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bengali in Beijing - At Changcheng...

...or at the Great Wall of China. Had to go. Went. Saw one of the greatest - if not the greatest - structure of the man-made world. Did a story. Came back with an experience to last a lifetime.

Above: The first sighting of the Great Wall. From the ropeway that takes you up from Mutianyu to the Great Wall. It's a bit scary actually...but worth it entirely.

Strangely, no photos of me during the ropeway ride. This one's of Shantanu Pusalkar, the upright and honourable Times Now reporter who was travelling with us.

Soon after reaching the Great Wall. Not quite up on the Wall yet. It's behind me in the picture. But I need to turn to my left, walk up 12 steps, and then set foot on the structure proper.

At the Wall. Looking out one of the lookout points. See, the Wall built to keep away the Mongols and the Manchurians around the northern border of China. So there were a million-and-a-half soldiers guarding it. Which meant there needed to be lookouts.

Quite unnecessary, you would think. Seeing, that these massive mountains would ordinarily keep most attackers away.
Tourists - me included. The interesting thing about the Great Wall of China is that while it's absolutely spectacular, formidable and many other adjectives, you get only one, or two, photo angles. Because, simply put, it's just a wall. Which means that all 6,400 kilometres of it look the same. The views are awesome, but the wall itself doesn't offer too many varied backgrounds.

Bengali in Beijing - At Tiananmen Square

The Bengali in Beijing series would have been incomplete without a trip to Tiananmen Square. No reason to miss it anyway. It's a straight subway (metro) ride from where we stay, and is, in fact, in the 'backside' of Forbidden City, which I didn't realise when we went to FC the other day. We had gotten in the other side and went out the same way after roaming around inside.

Anyway, T-Square is no big deal apart from two big facts - (a) that it can fit a million people when it feels like it, and (b) 1989. It's essentially become a Sunday spot for the locals now. And it's been Olympic-ised with myriad banners and signages. But the memorial (with regard to 1989) at the back does send a chill up your spine. Not that the memorial is remarkable in any's just that I'm Bengali.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bengali in Beijing - The Name's Bolt!

I told you I was there. Witnessing the race to be the Fastest Man on Earth. Tyson Gay had crashed out in the qualifiers, making the three-horse race a two-horse race. Of course, Asafa Powell eventually finished fifth - but that's immaterial. It really was about Bolt. Usain Bolt.

This one's of the eight men at the start - just after taking off. They're all blurs. Obviously. Not because of the camera - well, maybe partly. But they're all blurs anyway.

At the finish line then. I had made up my mind to click when the group was five paces off the line. Did so. But when you're setting a world record, chances are, this is what you will do to a poor unprofessional cameraperson shooting with an automatic digicam. Yeah, the rest are there, but Bolt is out of the frame. Only the heel of one of his shoes can be seen if you check carefully.

There - the world record. The usual pose immediately afterwards. 9.69, the time. You wonder what might have happened if the Jamaican in Bolt hadn't woken up 10 metres off the finish line, when he suddenly started waving his arms about and celebrating with whacks to his chest and stuff. Probably not 9.60, but certainly 9.62 or 9.63. What say?

Posing with his golden shoes afterwards. When we were in Jamaica for the cricket World Cup, the intelligent and witty Atreyo Mukhopadhyay had told me very seriously that when Jamaicans are born, a little hole is made in their head and a worm is put in. The worms act up every once in a way and that's when the Jamaicans do strange things. Which is what you see in Jamaica all the time. Guys walking around quietly and then suddenly breaking into something inexplicable. Like Bolt. A complete weirdo. His celebrations were fantastic, starting from the 90th metre of the race.

There he goes again. The archer's pose that he put on even at the start when his name was announced. He saw himself on the giant screen and did the exact same thing. This, when the other seven were limbering up, mouthing prayers, etc. These Jamaicans...

And then the official press interview. 9.69. End of story. For a man who has always been a 200-metre runner and won his first major 100-metre race only in May this year.

Bengali in Beijing - Bolt!!!

Saw it happen. Saw it happen right in front of my eyes. I was just off the finish line - three tiers up. The race finished just below where I was standing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bengali in Beijing - Indian Idol

He's the man. Always has been. My pick. The best 'sportsperson' you'll ever meet. And he's got a medal lined up in Beijing for sure.

Bengali in Beijing - At Forbidden City

First came the Mings (with an apostrophe somewhere there), and then came the Qings (with another apostrophe somewhere). This much we all know. Somewhere along the way, the Forbidden City was created. It became the Imperial Palace of the Mings (waast), and then served as the Imperial Palace of the Qings (waas). This – according to details mentioned in guide books – means that it served as the palace for almost five centuries.

Some other basic numbers explain how massive and imposing the City is. It has 999 buildings – because 9 is another lucky number for the Chinese…lucky because according to ancient Chinese nonsense, 9 is the largest possible number. There are 8,707 bays of rooms. A total area of 720,000 square metres covered.

Obviously, touring all of it is (a) only possible over a week or so, (b) impossible. I had around two hours. This means I could only rush through a portion of it. Enough, I suppose, to form a general idea in my head and be madly excited. Enough, also, to keep my camera happy.

PS: As some of the pictures might have told you, I've bought myself a pink waist pouch.

Bengali in Beijing - Randomness

Just to put up some stray photographs before deleting the pictures from my camera. As you will see, most of the time so far has been spent around the Olympics, but the Indians are slowly inching their way away from the Games, and that's slowly giving me more and more time to explore the city. Those photos will come up gradually.
Officials of Lenovo - the man in the light blue jacket is the chief designer of the company - the guy responsible for the beautiful 'Cloud of Promise' Olympic torch, lying in front of him.
Behind me, the badminton courts - Saina Nehwal is crashing out while this photograph is being taken.
The Games volunteers celebrate the birthday of one of the kids at the Worker's Gymnasium - the boxing arena.
More from the Federer Experience. This is Day Two. King Roger walks in - he walked out less than an hour later having demolished Paes and Bhupathi along with Wawrinka.
From the match. An action shot that's remotely acceptable. The rest have all been discarded. Federer's just served out wide to Bhupathi's backhand. Bhupathi will return it for Wawrinka to volley home a winner.
At the Independence Day celebration at the Ambassador's residence. Former MEA Spokesperson Nirupama Rao is the Ambassador. Nice gathering of Beijing Indians - about 300 of them. Nice occasion. But afterwards we were treated to bad, small, red samosas, soggy kachoris and sweet paav-bhajis. Why?!
Aah! My favourite. Old man peddling something Chinese - his face is exactly like the Kabuki mask we have at home.

Communication is always a hassle in Beijing. English is hardly spoken, though a whole generation of locals are being forced to study the language now. Not well enough though. As this photo explains. It's mostly sign language. Some vague sounds and grunts. A lot of nothingness. But so far we have gotten by.