Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Kenyans and the 3000m SteepleChase among other things

Before Hicham's event, the 3000m steeplechase witnessed camaraderie of a
different kind. 3 Kenyans led the pack in the last lap. The leader then turned
back to his compatriots and urged them to catch up while he slowed with
disregard to setting a record. Then the trio crossed the finish line one after
the other, in what is another fond memory from this Olympics. The silver
medallist is barely out of his teens and will be the guy to watch at the next
one. Apparently the Kenyans have not had a good run(no pun intended!) at this
edition, being eclipsed by other nations in their events. But sport has its own
way of creating romance!

One need only look at 1924 Paris, where Eric Liddell refused to run on a Sunday
in his best event of 100 m sprint, but ran in 400m and won, to see proof of

I am hoping Paula Radcliffe does the same with 10000m after failing to finish
the event she has so dominated in the last 2 years.

Hicham El Guerrouj

Earlier in the day, Hicham El Guerrouj who was the sentimental favourite won
the 1500 m. This was another race. For the amount of romance for the sportslover
in the Olympics, there could perhaps be a category of poetry composed every 4
years! Hicham had fallen in the Atlanta Olympics in his best event and was
without a medal in 1996.

In Sydney the Kenyan Lagat had outsprinted him in the
last few metres. Hicham was thus looking to his first Olympic gold in the
event, the fact that the WR in his name notwithstanding. In fact Lagat has the
2nd best time. Earlier this year when Lagat beat Hicham at Zurich with a
scorching time, the only person with a better timing in all time was Noureddine
Morceli, a legend in his own right, until Hicham came along.

Usually middle/long distance (esp. marathon) runners don't race from the start. Most
prefer to sprint late. The only exception I know is Paula Radcliffe, to whom I
shall dedicate another blog who races from the word "go", decimating opposition.
Anyways, in this race there were 3 Kenyans, the youngest being used to set the
pace. He did the 1st lap at a good pace leading the pack. However Hicham took
the lead from the 2nd lap and kept improving his strides. This was startling
since one would think that Hicham would stick to his known technique of
finishing well sprinting the last lap. But then when destiny beckons, the great
ones cock a snook at history! Hicham was soon joined by Lagat who kept up with
him for the 2nd and 3rd laps and they broke away from the pack. In the last lap
Lagat had the faster paces, however Hicham held on to the slender lead and if
there had been even another 20m, Lagat would have won! One could see Lagatr
stretching every sinew to beat Hicham in the race. After the race, Hicham
broke down and Lagat embraced him, trying to console the winner. May Pierre's
Coubertin's soul rest in peace!

The young kenyan who selflessly set the pace
came last. But then he's 19 years old and may well be the next big star of
Kenya. Hicham will in all probability settle down in life with his newly born
kid. Post race, he went around doing the customary Olympic winner routine,
finding someone with his or her country's flag and then doing the lap of honour.
He also did an impromptu jig in front of the doting crowd which was backing him.

Yelena Isinbayeva

Great People rise and shine on big occasions.

Yesterday belonged to Yelena Isinbayeva. The absolutely stunning 22 yr old
Russian was the WR holder at 4.9 m in Pole Vault for women. However yesterday
night or rather today early morning, the early scores were being set by a
confident Anna Rogowska from Poland and another Polish athlete, Birek.

Yelena did vaults of 4.55 and 4.65 on 1st tries. Then she fouled 4.7 and 4.75. She
took a courageous decision to skip 2nd and 3rd tries for both 4.7 and 4.75 and
try 4.8 on her last attempt. At that point Anna Rogowska had cleared 4.75 on 1st
try and was sitting pretty. Also was Feofanova with a similar record. If Yelena
had fouled she would have had to contend with a bronze since she hadn't cleared
4.75 on 1st attempt while both Anna and Feofanova had.

Then Yelena literally raised the bar. She looked around and kept muttering words
of motivation/prayer to herself. She also put some solution onto her palms for
gripping the pole.Then she went and cleared 4.8. Feofanova followed with the
same. Anna Rogowska fouled at 4.85.

Yelena shrieked as she passed the bar safely in midair realising that her grit
was in its place.

Then Yelena looked around and went for 4.85. She cleared. Then followed the
familiar shriek in mid air. Feofanova who was watching began to sulk as she now
had to meet or beat this. Yelena went ahead and covered her head with a
towel/jersey while Feofanova vaulted. Sadly Feofanova fouled 4.85 and had also
fouled 4.8 earlier.

Then the attention shifted to the gritty Yelena. The cameras panned to show her
as now the gold was hers for the taking. What would she do next? Like the
legendary Bubka, this woman now went on to beat herself.

She looked mildly embarassed while the cameras showed her wiping herself. I
mean everything she was doing was on TV, in her moment of truth. I mention this as
this woman looked so resplendent and human.

Now she eased out, looked around smiling as if confused with what to do next. .
She smiled and then began her muttering/praying routine. Her face betrayed a
certain incredulity at what she was attempting next. She raised her eyebrows as
she muttered and then smiled mischieviously like a kid caught stealing cookies.
She went for 4.91 considering that the WR at 4.9 was already hers.

Very few top athletes breaking WRs look so relaxed. The only such instance I
have seen is Shawn Crawford who audaciously started a conversation about 8 m
before the 100m sprint finish with Gatlin, while the rest of the field was
atleast a few paces behind! Although Gatlin won the finals, I guess Crawford
would also do well in the future.

And by God, did Yelena deliver. Before she took off the judges stopped to
recheck the height of the bar once again. She then smeared that solution for

And then she went for it, soared well above 4.91 (She's reported to have cleared
5m in practice) and shrieked in mid air, cried and then landed, in that order.
This time even the somewhat unfortunate Feofanova broke into a genuine smile of
appreciation for her compatriot.

This spectacle was watched attentively by the other competitors who were
watching like in one of those exhibition events that Bubka used to take part in,
where he had only himself to beat!

The last time one felt so thrilled was Michael Johnson ran my favourite race of
all time in 200m at Atlanta when he ran the 2nd 100m in 9.2 s after running the
1st 10.12, to set a time that will perhaps stay till the next Olympics.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Conquest of the ET crossword

First I would like to set the table (first thought of writing "set the stage",
then thought "setting stage is too grandiose") as to why this event is so
significant in my life.

In 1996 I entered engineering at REC Trichy and was promptly initiated into
culturals early. One fine morning our 4th year seniors decided to take the bold
and unprecedented step of taking us facchas (first year students) to
intercollegiate competitions. The norm till then had been to let 4th years and
3rd years go out and stake their claim for glory while the kids developed into
studs. Sometimes 2nd years also went out.

So one day in September/October 1996, we woke up at 4 am (actually by then I had
gotten into the habit of not sleeping till early morning or "night out" as we
call it) and hence didn't sleep much.

While we got together and then set out for a college in Karaikudi, it was about
5:30 am. Then we were joined by our seniors. We boarded a bus to town where we
were expected to change buses to reach Karaikudi. When we got on the local bus,
one senior (named Anil) unwrapped a newspaper which he had kept in his bag till
then. This was the Hindu crossword. Then while we watched fascinatedly, he began
to fill up clues. Another 3rd year senior (I think it was Rama) said, "Watch
this guy. By the time we reach town (which was about a 30 min journey), he would
have cracked the grid." And promptly enough when we reached town, Anil was upto
his reputation.

We eagerly asked him for the newspaper and tried to figure out what the clues
meant. Later at CECRI, the only competition we had was from IIT Madras which
generates a bank of quizzers, much like Pakistan generates fast bowlers. God
knows where they come from, but they keep coming!

Anyways as the events unfolded, my team (Karan Malla (my best buddy and teammate
for all of 4 years except in the inter departmental competitions since he was in
Computer Science and I was in Electrical and Electronics Engg.), Prithu Sinha
(my department mate and one crazy human calculator. He can compute inverse
tangents to a second decimal place!)) and myself did make it to the quizzes, but
we didn't win anything. I also participated in the crossword for the first time
in my life with Prithu (also a first timer at crosswords, but with a fantastic
capability in English). We eventually came 4th in the finals, which was a
pleasant surprise. As things would turn out, I would win nothing at Karaikudi in
my 1st 2 outings, but more than made up in my next 2(last 2) outings winning
everything I entered, but then that's another story.

This first taste of blood whetted my appetite for some pursuit which would
provide an avenue to pass time (of which you had lots if you were like me in
engg. !) as well as develop a new hobby. We came back to college and subscribed
to the Hindu. We were at it for about a year. Several batchmates got really good
at it. I was ok at it and could crack the Hindu grid by the time we got to
second term. I began subscribing to the Economic Times (which is perhaps the
most readable Indian business paper, meaning that the Business Line from the
Hindu group is good, but is much like the Hindu, boring!), since we discovered
that the ET had the Daily Mail (UK) crossword which was much tougher to crack.

So I used to try to solve almost everyday. We got some gyaan as well from
seniors like Anil, Seenu and Varma. Anil and Varma were teammates and still are
crossie maniacs. Both subscribe to the London Times / NY Times crosswords which
are paid subscriptions and crack them as well. The only time Varma and Anil
faced each other, was in the above mentioned inter departmental fest since Varma
was in Electronics and Anil was in Comp. Sc. .This was a treat to watch as they
used to watch each other solve trying to finish before the other so that their
dept could get more points. In the only one, we were witnesses to, Anil finished
first and submitted. A somewhat disappointed Varma did the same, a little later.
Anil had one wrong clue and hence Varma won!

There were several cracks at the ET crossword by us together (raghu, lambu and
me), raghu alone, sidin (Domain Maximus) alone, sidin and me a few times, but I
had never done this all by myself.

My previous best had been a couple of years ago when I had just 4 clues left.
Later it turned out that one of my solutions was wrong which had blocked me from
cracking 2 of the 4. Anyways it had been a sad story till yesterday.

Yesterday I started on a bright note on the way to work. I cracked about 6 on
the bus to work in the morning itself. Since I was feeling restless at work and
had nothing to do, I left early. I went to Barista which has proved to be
beneficial in the past to cerebral pursuits such as this one.

The invigorating effect of caffeine led to all but 4 clues being cracked. I
thought that I should leave the final onslaught before going to bed. While I had
dinner at a friend's place, he pointed one error.

Before he could dampen this enthusiasm any more, I snatched my grid and decided
to go for it.

And then it happened. One of the tough clues unravelled itself and I had a 15
letter clue done. The rest was simple.

And here I sit smugly with the crossword nestled in my wallet as a two
dimensional witness of my feat.

I have never pursued anything for such an extended period of time. And I have
contemplated picking up something easier, but then thanks to the indefatigable
male ego, this has survived. This makes it doubly pleasant.

The last time I felt like this was when I did 2.8 kms in 10 mins 39 secs.
Although that's another story, I have never managed to go below even 11 mins for
that distance. So I know its significance


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

ET Crossword

I cracked the entire grid of the Economic Times Crossword (licensed from Daily Mail UK) today after about 6 years of trying.

Happy as Heaven.

More when I come back to earth.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Anju's dates

For those of you who are following Anju Bobby George, at the Olympics, her first big date is the 25th when she takes the field for the first heats.
If she makes it, then the finals are on 27th.
Here's wishing her good luck

Sunday, August 08, 2004

God be with her

On 13th August 2004, less than a week from now, Anju Bobby George who shall be proudly carrying the Indian flag shall attempt to bring succour to a country which has been starved of athletic achievements and hence heroes.

I shall be praying for her and also hope that her run of form is not stained like quite a few athletes in the recent past.

God be with her!


My best buddy and I were discussing about a series called "Coupling" which airs in the US, about a group of 3 men and 3 women all of whom have had a romantic link in the past. This led to a discussion on whether you could "hit on" your best friend's girlfriend if you found her interesting. I mean most people from my kind of background would find it taboo and besides fantasizing about your best pal's girl is not exactly the heart of our value system!

This prompted me to pen down what we look for, in women. Although most men in the universe have sex on their minds for a significant time of their lives, it is not the activity that neither men nor women can indulge in for most of their active lives. Atleast my group of people agrees on this and hence most of the women we have found attractive have always been interesting women and not always for their physical attributes. Not to say that we ignore them, but only to say that we are not fixated.

Just as an aside, if interface were the only important thing, most of the world's mission critical applications would run on Windows!

I believe that the cerebral woman affords a man a challenging partner across the coffee table. If you sat down to discuss whether Van Gogh was insane since he bit off his friend's ear, the least you would expect is that your woman would know that he did!

If you wanted to go on a walk on a trip to Ladakh you would want her to share your passion for walking in the mountains soaking in the air quite unlike what we get in the cities these days, except dear old Bangalore!

If you felt like taking a vacation in Europe retracing the Tour de France, she would know that its amongst mankind's most romantic challenges of physical and mental endurance.

It is not being informed alone, it is sharing the passion and the ability to recreate the same light in the other's eyes that one carries, about things one knows and perhaps more importantly, about things one doesn't.

I have met very few guys whose best friends were women and would safely make this assumption, that it holds that till one's marriage, one's best friend is probably a guy. I would also expect that most guys earnestly hope that their girlfriends or wives end up taking up that place.

I have had the good fortune of having women as my best friends for more than 2/3rds of my life and also having several interesting experiences while trying to find a girlfriend!

One expects the world out of one's woman in life. Is it fair? I guess so. Who doesn't want everything?!

What does life churn out? I suppose that once one finds his woman in life, she means the world to him and hence QED.

And about the woman in my life? When I am done with this life, I shall write down my first blog of my afterlife!

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Work and other things

As Mbas, most students realize that the money you will make after 2 years of studies is obviously an object while sitting for jobs.
If someone tells you that they money is no object, they are either fooling you or worse still - fooling themselves (or perhaps both)!
My senior batch had this to say about jobs after rather tepid placements- Some got placed, most got misplaced.
At the end of almost a year and half at work, I can add to the above - Quite a few get displaced as well.

I have worked with one of the following in mind

  • I think that the company will benefit from something I am doing or lose something if I don't
  • I like the guy who's asking me for something
  • The task assigned is a part of my duties - regardless of my inclinations

As time wears, one would like to do less routine work and more planning work (not necessarily where to put up the next factory or whether to outsource our accounting work!), but also whom to groom as the next engineering head, for ex.

Not too many companies spend too much time on what are seemingly important issues. Time is spent on complying to audits or 'selectively' displaying information to people who will certify that they are world class in X or Y.

Bovine Excretum!

And I have been to considerable number of companies which do worse than us! Apparently one can 'arrange' for most such certifications!

The reason for my admiration for Toyota stems from the fact that they spend a massive amount of time on planning and then religious implementation of what has been drawn out after much discussion. But once such a plan is agreed upon no questions are asked. This is core to the way we work. Challenge should be on the quantum of improvement possible, not how much benefit will be realized.

People at Toyota have described the effort of companies trying to replicate their efforts as trying to create replicas of the Buddha rather than practice what he taught! And Toyota proudly invites people to come to their plants and understand how they work. Till date none has reproduced the results despite trying to reproduce their systems.

What would you rather do? Work at a sloppy large company paying well or work at an inspired workplace at a modest pay or work for a fantastic boss at an unknown place?

One has to make one's choices.