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Bucket list entry # 6561: Indian man, German shepherd dog!

Have you seen the movie “The Bucket list”?

It’s not a great movie, or a classic; it’s pretty much candy floss Hollywood, but just happened to feature two stalwarts in Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman, who made a very simple story line look good on-screen.

In fact, on a guys evening out at Prithvi’s place in Bangalore, when there wasn’t anything exciting to do, we hired the DVD almost as an afterthought. The only other notable event of the day was Akash’s ridiculous claim that “The Dark knight” wasn’t such a great movie, and all of us pouncing on him like a pack of wolves!

Back to the bucket list; without getting into a movie review, or storytelling, I would explain the central theme in brief: two old men, who know the end is near, exchange notes about a “bucket list”, or things to do in life, before you “kick the bucket”; and they set about doing just that in the last few days of their lives.

The list itself is a combination of some very simple personal desires that they yearned for, to the extravagant, such as skydiving, tattoos, climbing the pyramids, the French Riviera, the Great Wall of China, a lion safari in Africa etc.

Many random things to do, and places to visit, capture my imagination every once in a while. I think that’s the case for most of us. The only cue I took from the movie was to actually write it down and make a list. However silly the list may sound!

This particular item in my bucket list is a very old fascination: of owning a pet, a dog in particular, and a German shepherd to be precise. Of all dog breeds, I dig the German shepherd the most, the Labrador comes next. To me that’s the best choice for a man, and though many other dogs look much cuter, in terms of intelligence, utility, versatility, and ease of training, the GSD / Alsatian is the king of the canine world! I don’t have too many friends who own a GSD. My cousin Vaish has a terribly cute Pug, but I haven’t played with him 😦

It may not sound like a big deal, and a relatively easy item to tick of the list, but trust me, it’s been a bloody difficult wish to fulfill all these years, and will possibly stay that way for a few more.

To start with, I have to grapple with this huge contradiction that I love animals, but I am scared of being very close to them. Dogs in particular! I am the guy that ticks “Like animals, but at a distance” box in any questionnaire. My pet theory (pun intended) is that if I happen to have my dog starting from the days when it’s a small puppy, I would eventually overcome my fear.

It all started with my neighborhood in Chennai. As little kids, my sister (Poorni) and I were taking a walk around the streets when a friend of mine, who used to have this Alsatian, lost control of the leash and the dog. The dog ran wild and bit my sister, and I was helpless nearby. Poor girl is still petrified of dogs, and I am just 1% less afraid than her! She would hold my hands when there was a dog anywhere in the near vicinity, and I used to act brave. There was no way I could tell her I am equally scared, as having me around was her only source of comfort against any dog!

The problem of stray, street dogs is massive in many Indian cities, most notably Bangalore.  There were these incidents last few years when street dogs attacked people in packs (children in particular) and remains a source of huge debate between animal lovers and the regular people on the roads. Despite being a massive animal lover, in this context, I would place the interests of people above dogs. It may be sad, but that’s the pecking order.

Even if Bangalore evolves an effective mechanism for tackling the stray dog menace, it still doesn’t address the problem of irresponsible owners. Like my friend whose dog bit my sister.

Trust me; this is a massive problem in our country. And it felt even more massive to me when I have traveled abroad. Pets are so well-behaved, and owners are so mature here. I have never heard a dog bark and scare a stranger, or appear intimidating in any way. I have seen that in US, Japan and in Switzerland. I figured out the laws for keeping are very stringent, and well-regulated. Along with pet insurance, regular medical checkups, there are mandatory classes for pets, and owners.  The system pretty much ensures that if at all you have to keep a pet, you have to be extremely sensitive to the animal and fellow human beings.

So that comes to another reason I haven’t had a pet so far. The challenge of keeping a pet to the standard I would like to maintain is difficult in India. There are millions of pet owners in India, but from what I know, not too many of them are sensitive to the pet’s psyche, and its behavior in a public place. What would be easier in India though is to take care of my dog when I am working late, or travelling for e few days. I would find it relatively easier to find a neighbor or friend who takes care in my absence. There are dog walkers in Switzerland, but they come at a price and have their own schedules! Bottom line is, I would like to be a very responsible pet owner, or not have one at all.

On a lighter note, one of the most enjoyable sights from my apartment in Tokyo was a regular “owner – pet – pet – owner” routine I would see from my balcony every evening. The dogs are so well-behaved, (and bloody cute as with anything Japanese) that on the rare occasion when a dog barks at another on the street, the masters stop, apologize profusely  in the long tradition of Japanese manners, exchange pleasantries and become friends. God knows how many business alliances, and love stories have come about that way!

But, by far my biggest challenge has been living in one city long enough to keep a pet. I wouldn’t want to put my dog through relocating cities / countries, and flight journeys! There is no way any dog can live off a suitcase like I do! I remember pleading with Amma to keep a lab, when I wasn’t working yet and didn’t have a place of my own.  Her decisive statement was “If you insist on getting a dog, fine. I can only feed so many people in this house, so it’s either you or the dog. Your choice!”  Appa, and Poorni were eagerly waiting for my response. ..in one of the most decisive moments in my life, I chose myself over the lab instinctively 🙂

 I can thankfully laugh about it today, but on that day I was an angry young man!

So perhaps one day when I know I am going to stay in one city for years together, I would finally knock this long pending item off my bucket list.

Till such day when you visit my house and play with my dog, enjoy the amazing videos here!

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: Since I have made, chopped, and changed such lists  for so long, that it doesn’t make sense to start this series with #1. Those who know me know my fascination with numbers and patterns in numbers. So I would number this series with my favorite numbers rather than 1, 2, 3…6561 is one such number. I was born on a terrific day for a number lover: 8th January, 1981, or 8-1-8-1. 81 * 81 =6561. Also, 8+1=9, and 9*9*9*9 =6561. There you go!

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A woolly weekend in Valais (pronounced something like Wallis!)

Valais, Switzerland was the highlight of my Swiss summer. I had a  completely “off the beaten path” weekend out there, high in the Swiss Alps.

First up, I was by myself checking out the International Alphorn festival in the resort town of Nendaz. Imagine trekking up a hill to a vast open ground and listening to the exotic sounds of the Alphorn reverberate around the mountains…magical!

Then I joined my friends in the Spa town of Leukerbad, and after relaxing overnight, we headed out on a beautiful Sunday morning for “Sheep festival” at Gemmi pass (altitude of 8,000 feet). Our breakfast at that place with a view of the best mountains in the alps was a visual and culinary delight in itself!

The Sheep festival is an annual event where thousands of sheep that have been denied salt for months together at high altitude, are released to a lake bed to fest themselves. So we waited for a few hours around a blue lake waiting for the sheep to coming down by the hundreds and play with the sheep!

After that we trekked the whole day in brilliant conditions and lazed our way back home!

I look back at this as the best memory of the summer of 2009.

They says a picture is worth a thousand words; you could add that a video is worth many pictures;  So, I leave you with some pictures and a Video  🙂

Cheers!

Vasu

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P.S: If you are inclined to look at more pictures and stories from my travels, you might try:

1. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/saurkundi-pass-trek-a-travelogue/

2. https://vasusworld.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/sakura/

Fantasia cricket…

Warning: If you are not a fanatic of that silly game called cricket, don’t bother reading further! 

Picking a fantasy team is the favorite sport for those who don’t actually play the sport at any decent level! Cricket is no exception to the rule, and has billions of arm chair critics and experts like me going around! 

And, as if to induce us to do this even more, Cricinfo – that mother of all cricket websites, is picking an all time XI for all test cricket nations. 

India’s turn has not yet come, but they’re done with England, Australia, New Zealand, and are now with South Africa. 

There is a panel of experts and there is an online voting too, so you pretty much end up with two different teams, but there are many names that would make it to both the teams.

 One common trend I noticed is that the online generation, which is typically young, picks more contemporary players, where as the “experts” tend to grow for players from my grand dad’s generation, of whom there is much written about, but nobody has actually seen.

 I guess all this is speculative, and subjective; so each one is free to play selector! 

Though I am Indian, I think the best two all time test teams would be Australia, and West indies. It’s a no brainier actually! And boy what a contest that would be,  in the imaginative world of your brain where this match could take place!

 Here is Cricinfo’s all time Australia XI: Victor Trumper, Arthur Morris, Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Keith Miller, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath 

Give and take a couple of names based on your taste, this is as good as any team that could take the field. But is it as good as an all time West Indies XI? 

Since Cricinfo hasn’t picked its XI yet, I took the liberty of making my own West Indies list: Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, George Headley, Vivian Richards, Brian Lara, Gary Sobers, Jeffrey Dujon, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Lance Gibbs 

That’s a bloody mighty team, and although Australia would fight like hell, I think West Indies will prevail. 

Picking an Indian XI though, is not easy, primarily because there are a few glaring weaknesses (fielding, fast bowling) that will make it tough against any top team, and because we have very little videos of olden players.

 So I gave myself a few golden rules to pick this XI: 

  • Generation: I am going to pick only from players I have seen in action. So that rules out names like Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Lala Amarnath, Subhash Gupte, Amar Singh, Mohammad Nissar
  • Batting: Variety in batting: a good mix of players with aggressive, risky games + solid technicians who can grind it out + players who can capitalize and score fast against spinners and the old ball.
  • Fielding & catching: This has to be the best fielding & catching XI we can play, as our fielding standards are lousy, and against a real top team we would be made to pay dearly. This was a tough rule for me, as it ruled out a personal favorite G.R Vishwanath, in favor of another personal favorite, but not quite Vishy’s caliber: Mohammed Azharuddin. Thankfully, our slip & close-in catching is as good as any with Dravid, Sunil, and Sachin.
  • Keeping: Since I am playing 5 batsmen + 4 bowlers + one all-rounder, I wanted to pick a wicket keeper whose batting was pretty good & versatile, while being a safe keeper. Amongst M.S. Dhoni, Syed Kirmani, Nayan Mongia, and Farokh Engineer, Dhoni was the better wicketkeeper batsman at number 7
  • Bowling: There has got to be variety in bowling: 2 pace and swing bowlers (spin and reverse swing will be the only factors that will help us get 20 wickets against strong teams), one bowling all-rounder (Kapil, the de facto choice), one leg spin, and one finger spin. Kumble was the obvious first choice spinner, and my second choice had to be a finger spinner (that ruled out Chandra in spite of terrific numbers and a mystery factor) that got good turn (as Kumble doesn’t spin much). The choice was between two sardars: Bedi & Harbhajan. Numbers being fairly similar, I went for Bhajji for his batting at number 8, better fielding, and a slightly modern aggressive streak that has helped us compete better.
  • When in doubt, go by gut instincts, personal bias, and throw stats to the wind: Sehwag, Azhar, Bhajji, Srinath (struggled in early days with no guidance, matured into a deadly bowler, but fitness and terrible support from fielders and other bowlers let his statistics down) are such personal picks. They may make the cut even by statistics – Sehwag’s stats for example, are as good any anybody else’s, but there will be naysayers. That’s why Kapil is also captain ahead of most others. Kapil is the best all-round player in this team, and while that itself is no consideration for captaincy, he deserves the honor purely for his attacking instincts and style of play. And he is the only bloody Indian captain to win a world cup. So I let my favorite’s reign- after all it’s my team! 

And so, here is my all time best Indian test XI dream team:  Kapil’s devils:

Sunil Gavskar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, M.S. Dhoni,  Kapil Dev (Captain), Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath

 I would rate this team as the joint 3rd best with Pakistan & South Africa, but behind West Indies & Australia. 

My verdict (for a 3 match series):

  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time Australia / West indies XI : Will lose
  • Fast pacy pitches against an all time SA XIs : Draw
  • Sub continental pitches against:
    • England, SA, NZ, SL: Will win
    • Pakistan, West Indies, Australia: Draw
  • Swinging conditions against England / NZ XI: Will win 

The most awesome sight for me would be to watch the chalk and cheese pair of Sehwag, and Gavaskar open. If they happen to survive the first session against an attack that has any one amongst: Lillee, McGrath, Ambrose, Holding, Marshall, Imran, Wasim, Waqar, Warne, and then we can beat any opposition anywhere. 

And the contest to savor for a life time would be: India Vs. Pakistan, on any good pitch amongst the few available on the sub continent. 

Here is to some more day dreaming  🙂 

Cheers!

Vasu

 P.S: Those who think the IPL & T20 is cricket may have a different opinion if they watched some classic Australia vs. West Indies clashes from the 60s through the early 90s, which are up on YouTube. That’s pretty much how my fantasy game would have played out.

Select clips that I am in awe of:

Empire of cricket series’ story on the historic series in 1960 featuring the first tied test in Brisbane:

Gary Sobers smashes a double hundred at Melbourne, playing for a Rest of the World XI against Australia:

Dennis Lillee Vs. Viv Richards:

Curtly Ambrose’s spell of 7 for 1 at Perth:

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