Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Jottings - Slice of life - 129 ( Rafa’s immortality, and the poignant absence of a great Journalist to celebrate the ecstatic moment)

Jottings - Slice of life - 129 ( Rafa’s immortality, and the poignant absence of a great Journalist to celebrate the ecstatic moment)
Some sporting events and statistics are ethereal. As the word suggests - it is not of this world, but belongs to a sphere far away from the range, aptitude and grasp of ordinary mortals.How else would we assess Aussie cricketeer Don Bradman’s almost unbelievable batting average of 99.94, or mercurial Squash player Jahangir khan’s incredible winning streak of 555 tournaments between 1981-86 without missing a single game for any reason whatsoever, or Edwin Moses deer like agility, grace and speed that led him to win 122 straight races without ever touching a hurdle enroute, before his 123rd race - when in the last 50 meters, his left toe gently scraped against the top bar of the last hurdle ever so lightly causing it to sway a little by its impact only to regain balance - as a breathless audience watched Moses complete one more historic sprint, or Baby Ruth’s unbelievable 40 Home runs in 11 consecutive seasons of Baseball, a feat that baffles baseball pundits even today; and now Rafael Nadal’s ten French open Men singles titles - an achievement unlikely to be surpassed for generations to come, unless the nature of tennis changes, or it somehow becomes easier to play this beautiful game on hard clay courts - a surface on which an athlete needs the highest levels of talent, physical strength, stamina, precision and endurance to battle consistently over long periods of time.
We are blessed as a generation to have grown up watching two of the greatest tennis players - Roger and Rafa - to have graced the tennis court, after Borg and McEnroe enthralled us with their magic in the 1980’s. While Roger epitomizes the skill, grace and poise tennis can ever reach, Rafa personifies grit, determination and indomitable spirit the game has ever seen. Between them, there is nothing much to choose. As a puritan, when both play against each other, my heart would often go out to Roger, secretly urging, praying he could make that delectable pass , classic crosscourt or impeccable down the line shot to break the iron wall of Rafa; but my intellect would scoff and smile at such a suggestion. How could Rafa not reach the ball? How could Rafa not turn a seemingly lost point into a winner from nowhere? It was always a battle between the heart and the mind; and more often than not mind would threaten to win, unless Roger played near perfect tennis, or could come up with something magical.
On clay courts, Rafa’s skill is unmatched. Only in those tournaments, where he chose to abdicate his throne for reasons of health or otherwise, others have won. So it has been for nearly two decades . Even yesterday, at the old age of thirty two (can you believe it, Rafa is only 32), battling injuries and not half as good as we known him to be be, his young opponent full of energy and talent in a French open finals was absolutely no match. It was one sided game, almost a surprisingly pleasant cruise for Nadal into history books and unto posterity.
I wish my favorite Sportswriter Nirmal Shekar was alive to write about Nadal’s achievement. In the last thirty years, Shekar’s peerless prose, incisive understanding of sportsmen and what drives them to greatness and daring, his ability to place sport and its heroes and heroines in the larger context of human life and culture, has in a way been my own inspiration to write as I do. He died peacefully at the age of 60 in February this year. There was not a sport that Nirmal shekar could not touch and write about with authority and grace. His deep knowledge of literature and Western Philosophy allowed his essays to sparkle and go beyond the ordinary to lift achievements in sport into rarified spheres of adulation and honor - granting them immortality in words in their respective arenas. Writing an essay on the racing genius Ayrton senna after his tragic death on the track in 2004. Nirmal shekar wrote, as only he could write:
“..It is almost a sacrilege to speak of records and statistics in a tribute to the Brazilian genius. For records were as irrelevant and insignificant to Senna as mystical powers are to a saint. His motivation was more spiritual than sporting…”
or when he wrote of Mohammad Ali,
“..At his peak, and for much longer, death was the last thing you thought of while talking about Ali. But this much is sure. Whatever course sport takes in the future, the legend of Ali will live on as long as civilization, as we know it, does.”
I will miss his writing , and so will readers all over the world who value prose in whatever style it appears. During his lifetime, Nirmal shekar found time to write only one complete book. That was about the famous tennis family from South india - Ramanathan and Ramesh Krishnan. A sumptuous book written with clarity, style and wit in his lucid prose. He didn't have to write many more books. After all, each essay he crafted week after week for newspapers and magazines he worked for, is in itself a study in how sports journalism should strive to be, and how good prose should be written. If one were to compile all his essays written over four decades and issue it in book form, it should be more than sufficient to grant him a permanent place among the greatest columnists, writers and commentators of his generation anywhere in the world.
On January 28th, in his last piece for his favorite paper, he concluded his essay, for the last time, with the following words
“…. the truth is, nothing may be forever – except perhaps Bradman’s Test batting average of 99.94 – immune to evolution. And, sport is no exception..”
Yes Nirmal Shekar, I agree.. Nothing may be forever, but your passionate prose sure will.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

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