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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fade In, Fade Out...!—Part-4


I stood there for some time, not knowing what to make of the words just uttered by my erstwhile friend, and what to do next. However, I decided to do the most sensible thing at that moment. I went in heading for the bar. As I pushed my way through the revolving glass doors I came to a standstill again looking at the spectacle.

The bar was spacious, rectangular in size, with a full glass wall giving a view of the street outside and a wood-paneled wall on the other side. To my utter surprise and shock, the whole interior was filled with thick layers of smoke rising up to the false ceiling. How on earth they are allowed to smoke inside, I thought in dismay; my mind taking an overview of all the steps taken by the public authorities in recent years to save people from exposure to passive smoking. What amazed me next were the customers there.

Most of them were young boys and girls. Almost everyone was smoking, throwing out rings of smoke upwards. Some were looking up squealing in ecstasy while a few others were bent over the tables, jerky and sneezing; some were staring around with total disinterest and glazed eyes; some were either howling or moaning or plain crying and some others were swaying from side to side in their merriment with their bodies hitting or brushing against other bodies. I didn’t take long to understand what was going on.

It was obviously a drug bar, and I was astounded as to how this could be done so openly and in such a brazen manner. My first impulse was to dial the police if any in this strange place, but somehow my mobile phone and I became poles apart in the happenings so far. A few addicts became aware of me standing uncertainly in front of the entrance, and they stared at me, as if trying to evaluate me; a few seemed to jeer at me while some others communicated to me pitifully, ‘give us sustenance...give us sustenance...please!” My amazement fast giving way to fear I made a hasty retreat.

Out of the bar I walked disoriented and aimless for a few minutes, not at all bothered about the streets or the landscape or the skyline. Suddenly again, I found myself in front of a restaurant which, to my great relief, looked like a traditional one with two rows of neatly arranged desks and chairs and normal looking waiters moving around taking orders from customers scrutinising the menus. However, something else was waiting for me inside.

As I entered the open doorway heading for an empty table the manager behind the cash counter moved around in great speed, and walking past me slapped a waiter busy taking orders unawares; he repeated his unprecedented acts on three other waiters, slapping them with fury and vehemence. As I was destined that night I stood transfixed there, one more time. Now, the manager was shouting like a madman.

There was a moment of absolute silence in the restaurant following the manager’s acts with customers and staff alike stunned and immobilized. From the incoherent words of the manager I surmised that sometime back the hotel owner’s daughter with a few of her friends visited the restaurant for dinner, and one or more waiters misbehaved with them, not knowing their credentials or simply ignoring them. The daughter and group left in a huff, and the manager got a resounding bashing from the owner over phone. So he acted upon it immediately. However, before his action fully justified his fury something more dramatic happened.

Three goons with guns ready and pointed in their hands entered the restaurant. One of them stood guarding the entrance, one aimed his gun point-black at the manager’s head and the third one took position at the rear end. And I was like a duck sitting pretty amid the strangest scenario. This cannot go on any longer as far as my safety is concerned, I decided. I was an accidental bystander and therefore there was no reason why I should compromise my safety. I started moving towards the entrance slowly as a heated exchange of words was taking place between the manager and the gun-toting goon.

I almost made it. But unfortunately, just at the final moment of exit I accidentally brushed against the goon standing there, and his gun fell to the ground. Before the goon could react to that I acted impulsively and with a good presence of mind. I instantly stooped down, picked up the gun and hander it over to him with a sweet smile. The bewildered thug also managed a grin, and as I made my last move to exit he said to me in a rather paralyzing perplexity, “You gotta be a good man! But many good guys gotta die sooner than others! Nah..?” he hollered in great merriment over his own humor.  “Enjoy the night, goodbye!” I smiled weakly back at him and slowly moved out. The goon leaned out of the entrance to watch me, still giggling.

About twenty yards ahead the road turned right, and if I was able to round that corner I would finally move out of his sight. I watched many movies and read many thrillers where the villains appeared to be very suave, sophisticated and benevolent, but at the climax they used to murder the victims mercilessly. Those twenty yards seemed to be an eternity as I started moving slowly ahead measuring every step and at the same time keeping an absolute outward calm. The imminent probability that he might put a bullet through my back any time was a horrific thought that refused to leave my mind.

Nothing happened for about ten yards. I quickened my pace only by a fraction now so that it didn’t get noticed, suppressing my extreme desire to break into a dead run, and just vanish round the corner...and escape...

                                                                                    (To be continued...)

Friday, June 7, 2019

ICC Cricket World Cup-2019: When The Umpire Wanted Gayle Out!

Photo: espncricinfo.com 

The headline above is not an allegation, it’s only an observation based on hard facts. However, this observation reflects badly on the umpiring standards in the biggest cricket event of the world.  We had recently seen ludicrous umpiring errors in Indian Premiere League-2019. ICC Cricket World Cup can hardly be compared with the former, and we fervently hope that standards would improve as this was just the first week of the tournament.

It all happened in the 10th match of the ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 at Trent Bridge, England between Australia and West Indies. Winning the toss West Indies put Australia into bat, reduced them to 79 for 5 thanks to fiery spells by Thomas and Cortrell that reminded us of the likes of Malcolm Marshall & Co of yore, and as was their wont, West Indies let go allowing the Aussies to amass 288. Still, it was not an impossible target, and West Indies seemed to be cruising nicely with Hope and Heitmyer going great guns. Again, as Caribbean old habits die hard, the batsmen snatched defeat from victory, preferring to go only for the big shots without any kind of pressure. And, they lost by a mere 15 runs. Now, back to our point of concern.

Only in the third over of the match Aussie pacer Starc appealed for a caught behind against Chris Gayle, and the umpire upheld it. Gayle was never known to have shown disrespect or mistrust in umpiring in his strikingly aggressive career, and never sulked after adverse decisions. Therefore, when he shook his head implying that there was no snick and asked for the DRS it was very believable and genuine. The review proved that the ball never touched the bat, and in fact, could have brushed against the off stump without dislodging the bails. Gayle won the DRS. In the same over Starc again appealed for an LBW, and the umpire promptly upheld it while this writer watching television live telecast could clearly see that the ball was veering away from the leg stump. Gayle raised his eyebrows in wonder and asked for the second DRS. The review showed how the ball was missing the leg stump by quite a big margin. Gayle won his second DRS and also opened up with his breathtaking shots. Perhaps, some people who mattered sulked.

The umpire and Starc combined all over again. The appeal was for an LBW with the umpire raising his finger immediately. This time Gayle looked a little bewildered, and asked for his third DRS. The review was not lost yet again, but since the ball was in line and seemed to have struck the top edge of the leg stump the umpire’s decision had to be upheld. And Gayle departed. He was allowed to score only 20 runs.

And then, the real explosion came. Later replays showed that the ball prior to the one that got Gayle out was a no ball by a big leap, but the same umpire never seemed to notice it. Therefore, the ball that got Gayle out finally was a free-hit ball where no batsman could ever get out.

The above observations do not intend to take away credit due to Starc who had a five-wicket haul thanks to consistent pace, line and length, and to Australian captain Finch who showed a thoroughly professional approach making West Indies play into their plans.

The other highlights of the first week, positively, included England, Bangladesh and India beating a beleaguered South Africa in their respective openers where mention must be made about Bangladesh’s aggression and the quality of both batting and bowling; West Indies routing Pakistan, and then Pakistan beating hot favourites England showing precision batting, bowling and fielding, and the fact that no mention by anybody was made as to why England offered batting opportunity to Pakistan on a platter, as the pitch was full of runs and the hosts were full of confidence; valiant Bangladesh losing in a tight match against New Zealand and Sri Lanka managing to register their first win over Afghanistan by a narrow margin.  

With the round-robin league in operation ICC Cricket World Cup-2019 promises to be a fierce battle between nations upholding their national pride and belief. Each one of the ten teams is capable of scripting history—one cannot even write off South Africa and Sri Lanka as yet. We only hope no cricketer suffers like Chris Gayle did in the exciting days of the tournament ahead. India has big matches coming up—against Australia on 9th June, against New Zealand on 13th June and the ultimate one against Pakistan on 16th June.

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