Jinxed it

by Sidin Vadukut in


The family and I moved to Bromley, a suburb in the South East of London, in May last year. For the schools, primarily. But also for a little piece of garden, an extra bedroom and an office that I didn't have to share with anybody except too many headphones and far too many books. On all these fronts we have been amply rewarded for our endeavours. And quite the endeavour it was. Just thinking of the last twelve months makes me want to faint onto my sofa in exhaustion. We packed, unpacked, repacked, moved things upstairs, moved things downstairs. We had to knock down a wall, rip out a kitchen, put in a new kitchen, replace power sockets, replace the satellite dish, replace the flooring... 

But these days, when the weather is beginning to get a bit warmer and then sun a bit more forthright, I step outside and sometimes just stand there listening to the birdsong. Birdsong, I suppose, is a bit like love or hunger. You don't notice it until you do. And then you notice nothing else.

A few weeks ago, now that life seemed to have returned to a semblance of normalcy, I decided to go and see my local club play football. Frequent visitors to this blog will recall that once upon a time I used to live right outside Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. I now live a twenty minute walk away from Bomley FC's Hayes Lane ground. It is impossible to exaggerate the difference between the two venues. 

This plan had been forming in mind for many, many weeks. What greater sign of commitment to your local community is there than to go and see the local football team play in the fifth tier of English football. Bromley FC play in the Vanarama National League.  

Arsenal play in the Premier League. Then there is the Championship, League One, League Two and the National League. Confusingly enough the National League is what many people here call 'Non-league Football'. Because it is semi-professional at best, and a bunch of barbers and school teachers and accountants at worst.

Bromley FC, the night I went to see the Ravens for the first time, were sitting somewhere in the middle of the National League table. Which is not bad for a team that had only recently been promoted up to this level of football. (Organized English football, I am told, goes down fourteen levels. Crazy.) 

The club, however, was coming off a somewhat bad run of form. They had just lost 4-0 in their previous game. And I was hoping my presence would perk things up. After all, in seven years of watching Arsenal play live at the Emirates infrequently, my club has won every single time. Really. It is a great record.

So the missus dropped me on Hayes Lane, and I walked down a dark path to the ground. Which wasn't too bad at all. Comparable to a good college football ground in Kerala in every aspect except for the excellent pub and the green pitch. I showed my ticket to the cheerful girl in club colours at the gate, walked up to the pitch, had a look around, nodded in self-satisfaction, and then went to the pub for a pint. Inside my jacket pocket I carried enough cash to procure a burger, chips (french fries) and tea at half time. It was a very cold night. But I soon found a vacant seat and sat down to enjoy...

Bromley conceded a penalty after five minutes. Braintree Town scored. 1-0. There was a murmur of disapproval in the stands. (Later I was informed that less than 500 people attended the match. More people get arrested for anti-social behaviour at each Manchester United game excluding players. However the murmur was strong.)

Then Bromley's Lee Minshull was sent off in the 16th minute. 

In the 32nd minute Bromley's Daniel Johnson was also sent off. And in the ensuing brouhaha Bromley manager Neil Smith was also dismissed. 

One minute later Bormley conceded another penalty. 2-0. 

And just before half-time Braintree scored again. 3-0. 

At half time I walked over to buy my burger, fries and tea in a mood that can only be called "Bencho yeh kya ho raha hai". 

I was fully expecting to come back to my seat for the second half expecting to find the crowd in a violent mood. Instead I spent the next 45 minutes enjoying exquisite gallows humour. Resigned to humilation, the Bromley FC fans were indulging in some comedy to somehow get through the next 45 minutes. Memories of IIT-JEE papers came flooding back.

Braintree scored twice more by the 73rd minute.

I have never, in all my life, witnessed a more one-sided sporting event. (I have participated in a far more humiliating contest. But that is another story.) 

When the final whistle was blown some fans stayed back to applaud the Bromley players back into the tunnel. The referee walked away to resounding boos. I applauded and booed respectively, had another drink, and then went back home. And then after thirty minutes of waiting for the missus to stop laughing I went to bed. 

Bromley are playing at home again on the 25th.  

I am conflicted.


The Corpse That Spoke

by Sidin Vadukut in


I have a new book-type kind of thing out! It costs Rs. 30 and will take you, quite literally, 30 minutes to read. Do it man! Do it! (Click on the picture.)

 

P.S. I am hopeless at this blogging thing no? But I am rectifying this.


What We Remember (feat. Downloadable Masters Essay)

by Sidin Vadukut in


Around this time last year, as some of you may be aware, I enrolled in a Masters program at Birkbeck College in London. For some years now I had nurtured this plan of going back to college and learning something entirely new—maybe History or Design or some such. But mostly history. And then last summer I was spurred into actually taking my applications seriously after running into a Twitter acquaintance who has since become a good friend. This doctoral student at Warwick University told me to stop wasting my time and immediately email professors all over London.

One thing led to another and by August 2015 I had admissions to the MA History course at UCL and the MA Historical Research course at Birkbeck. Both, obviously, as a part-time student. (Not that the full-time course was impossible. It is just that I didn’t want to take a risk. I am an Indian journalist you see. It has been years since I did any actual work. So I decided to complete my MA over a less hectic 24-month period.)

I finally chose Birkbeck and have had the time of my life ever since. It has been very challenging. The average class requires some 200 pages of reading and plenty of thinking. And this is if you just restrict yourself to the compulsory readings. Optional readings often run into hundreds of pages more. Per lecture. Crazy. There are no examinations to pass, thankfully, as each module is evaluated via the submission of a 5000-word essay.

Which is what I wanted to blog about in the first place.

For my first module, on the theories and methods of historical research, I submitted an essay on the declassifications of Soviet archives on the Space Program and the Nazi-Soviet Pact. How did these declassifications take place? How did Russians receive these declassifications? How did they react afterwards?

(Why did I choose this topic? Two reasons. There was an excellent exhibition on the Soviet Space Program taking place at the Science Museum when I was choosing topics. And secondly the Netaji Bose files were being debated at the time. Click. Click.)

You can download and read the essay PDF here. I am happy to report that essay was marked well and I passed the module.

But ever since the essay I have been fascinated by a particular aspect of post-Soviet life in Russia: public memory and collective memory. How do Russians, old and young, process their past history?

No-one, I think, has asked this question better than Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich. Her latest book is Secondhand Time. Lithub ran an excerpt from the book this week:

“So here it is, freedom! Is it everything we had hoped it would be? We were prepared to die for our ideals. To prove ourselves in battle. Instead, we ushered in a Chekhovian life. Without any history. Without any values except for the value of human life—life in general. Now we have new dreams: building a house, buying a decent car, planting gooseberries… Freedom turned out to mean the rehabilitation of bourgeois existence, which has traditionally been suppressed in Russia. The freedom of Her Highness Consumption. Darkness exalted. The darkness of desire and instinct—the mysterious human life, of which we only ever had approximate notions. For our entire history, we’d been surviving instead of living.”

You can read more here. You can also read an interview with Alexievich here.

I cannot wait to read Secondhand Time.

Anyway… more on the MA and my experiences going back to university in future posts. Cheers chaps.


Letter from Milton Keynes

by Sidin Vadukut in


In between P.V. Sindhu’s and Sakshi Malik’s triumphs, the Olympics helped to generate great levels of national self-indignation. And this, inevitably, led to Indians—you, me, Shobhaa De—indulging in what I think is a particularly Indian form of solutionism.

What do I mean by this? Firebrand technology writer Evgeny Morozov is a staunch critic of modern-day technological solutionism, something The Guardian defined as “the idea that given the right code, algorithms and robots, technology can solve all of mankind’s problems, effectively making life “frictionless” and “trouble-free”.

My definition of Indian solutionism is slightly more global in terms of agency but local in that I confine it to Indian problems. Indian solutionism is the idea, perhaps increasingly widespread, that all of Indian problems boil down to one or two drivers that can easily be rectified if only certain agents would modify their behaviour. We see this solutionism in play during every moment of national indignation.

More here.


Hero

by Sidin Vadukut in


All my life I have wanted to be a hero. I've wanted to be the guy that does the right thing when everyone is else doing the wrong thing. Or not doing anything at all. Rescue babies from fires. Tackle terrorist on the plane. Catch children falling from the balconies of medium-rise buildings. Be the one metallurgist in the stadium when the police are trying diffuse the bomb and the last hurdle is a general knowledge question: "What happens when you rapidly cool austenitic steel without giving time for the carbon to diffuse?"

"MARTENSITE! MARTENSITE!" I would scream, bounding down the steps, thus saving everybody in the stadium and subsequently appearing on News Hour.

The closest I've ever come to doing anything remotely heroic is staging a walkout from my class in engineering college. Not because I am Malayali--*laughter*--but because the night before somebody fell off a hostel terrace and died, and the authorities were trying to hush it up by acting as if nothing happened. Oh and I also broke a story on CWG 2010 corruption long before it became cool to do so.

Anyways. I digress. This is a story of a true hero.

But then Norman did something else. “I believe in what you believe. Do you have another one of those for me ?” he asked pointing to the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the others’ chests. “That way I can show my support in your cause.” Smith admitted to being astonished, ruminating: “Who is this white Australian guy? He won his silver medal, can’t he just take it and that be enough!”.
Smith responded that he didn’t, also because he would not be denied his badge. There happened to be a white American rower with them, Paul Hoffman, an activist with the Olympic Project for Human Rights. After hearing everything he thought “if a white Australian is going to ask me for an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge, then by God he would have one!” Hoffman didn’t hesitate: “I gave him the only one I had: mine”.

I've read this story many times before in different places. And each time I am moved tremendously.

The White Man in That Photo