The rise of Alexander Zverev

As I write this piece, Federer and Zverev are warming up to play the Halle grass court final in what should be a mouth-watering clash between arguably the one of the most gifted tennis players and athletes in some time and one Roger Federer. It is perhaps no coincidence that the highlight reel of the Olympic-torch passing match between Federer and Sampras, their only encounter to date, should air just before this final begins.

Zverev has unmistakeable and like-able qualities. He’s got a mean serve, has a world beater of a double handed backhand and can cover real estate on the tennis court like a gazelle. Aggressive of both wings, the guy moves with ease and his game is difficult to read.

A hugely talented and humble kid, he’s got one of the most complete all-court games to have emerged in this thankfully brief interlude when the game kept producing one dimensional baseline sluggers (some of whom have gone on to be knighted – Murray fans, look away). The burden of expectation can be quite crippling – just ask Kei Nishikori who is loved by all of Japan and has many admirers worldwide. A lot was expected of Kei, but injuries have not permitted this little pugilist to fulfil the promise that he still holds. Sasha Zverev, on the other hand, simply has that annoying natural athlete like qualities that only the likes of Federer have shown on a consistent basis.

The only part left to develop in his game is the ability to play big matches. He’s already the tennis superstar the ATP has identified to set the example for the upcoming generation, rather unimaginatively branded #NextGenATP. This will come through a combination of heartbreaking losses as well as the easy ones. As any Rocky montage would tell you, to truly actualise as a champion one must go through a world of professional and personal hurt.

And this final could hurt a lot as he faces the very best in the business. Federer must know the qualities of Zverev and the tennis fraternity knows that Sasha has earned the GOAT’s respect, seeing as he was the penultimate player to beat Roger on grass. This match will truly be the acid test for Zverev as Roger will do his very best to now allow him to dictate terms. But such is his talent, application and love for the game, that even if he takes a hiding, he will emerge as a far better player next time around. He has plenty of years ahead of him to dish out hidings to his peers once these ageing greats have gracefully walked into the sunset. After all he is, rightfully, the chosen one to lead the next line of tennis greats. And of course, there’s always the chance that Nick Kyrgios might show up, hopefully.

The Economics of Fear

Fear, seemingly, is a great motivator. This is a lesson that is espoused in one of the most watched movies on television in India today – The Dark Knight Rises (thanks in part to the constant reruns by WB, Movies NOW and MN+ HD). We learn from the movie that it is only when one has the fear of falling can one truly breakthrough and push limits, cue Bruce Wayne making the jump from one ledge to another, without the rope.

However, it is noteworthy that this is a perspective of fear purely from an individual standpoint. The effects, assuming they are positive, are powerful and can act as enablers of change, of empowerment. It is the collective fear that threatens to keep us resigned to our boundaries and accept the outcome, no matter how undesirable. When we fear as a unit, we collect the multitude of insecurities, doubts and regrets into one giant sad snowball which is then threatened to be rolled down a hill and into the abyss. As stated before, fear is not necessarily a bad thing but it is extremely important that we fear for the right reasons – a highly subjective issue.

If we examine two situations, perhaps this theory of collective fear will be clearer. A farmer with crippling loans who has endured the patchy monsoons and the false promises, who has no other support structure to rely on commits suicide. His fears of not being able to turnaround things, of not being able to feed his family and then be hounded by loan sharks finally consumes him. On the other hand, a fresh faced employee is brought into a strongly hierarchical culture and has difficulty coming to grips with this irrational fear of insubordination. There is no apparent fear of getting laid off, and of course, this person stands to lose a lot less than the farmer. But, there is a feeling that insubordination will significantly hamper her prospects within the organization. She is joined by others who have been conditioned into believing that committing mistakes and opportunism are to be treated as the same thing and consequently, the effect relays from one to the other, making that organization strictly top-down and rather rigid in its approach. The two differences that I perceive in the examples provided is that we don’t see more than one farmer taking their own lives at the exact same instant of time whereas the employee’s metaphorical demise is brought about by a collective fear of the seemingly unknown – the extent of power vested in the hands of a few. The farmer possibly fears for the right reasons whereas the employee is led into believing that things can only get worse without even trying to step on some toes or push any boundaries.

We are conditioned to emulate previous successful models. But like my brother says, when you’re cooking, always try to add some identity to the recipe that you follow, put your own twist to it. History may tend to repeat itself but success is a recipe that requires constant evolution. There are times when you stand to lose a lot and that collective fear of a group of persons must be respected. But that’s just it. Respect does not beget absolute acquiescence. Step on some toes if you can, see if might really is right. If you’re reading this then you are in a much better state than the farmers of India.. and that should dispel your individual fears and motivate you to rise above your peers.

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A cheesier example:

Batman strikes fear into the hearts of a group of villains through which they are disoriented and don’t trust each other to respond well to his tactics. Drop the villain part and just think that through… I feel like I learn new things every time I watch those reruns 🙂

Sunday Rambles

‘I want to help the poor’

Eddie turned to Oliver, and waited for him to continue. When no reply was forthcoming, he settled back to staring at a bunch of school girls who were giggling in the distance.

‘They ruin my fun. The lesser there are in number, the better. Alleviate poverty, heighten your own experiences. How’s that for altruistic?’

‘That’s a strong statement’, Ed grunted.

It was a scorching hot Sunday and the two lads were taking some time off in the shade of a pub’s balcony. Down below and for a stretch beyond that, the honking and whirring of many cars failed to disturb their peace. It was inconceivable that there was even a hint of condensation on their fresh lime sodas. The day had finally come when it was too hot to have a pint.

‘I know it’s a really shitty thing to say… but honestly when you asked me why I don’t play football in my neighbourhood, it’s precisely why. The poor kids ruin all the fun’ said Oliver, the road and the passing yellow and green rickshaws reflecting on his aviators.

‘No strategy?’

‘No strategy’ continued Oliver, ‘no understanding of the game’

‘So what’s to say that one day you won’t be poor?’

‘But I’m talking about here and now. I’m wealthy now, odds are I’ll remain wealthy’

Ed lifted himself off his cane armchair and ordered a plate of dimsums. Oliver sensed his old chum, whom he’d met after 2 long years was going to give him a hard time about this. In time honoured fashion, the boys lit a philosophy stick and continued their passive madness.

‘So what you’re saying is that certain events in everybody’s lives are predestined?’

Oliver blinked at Ed.

‘Pass a dimsum’

‘…that people are born on Earth with lucky chits, lucky passes? They become successful and there are others who are destined to death, or worse poverty?’

‘There’s a possibility of that happening. Pass the dimsum’

‘Ol, how do you explain how we treat the past then, if everything is predestined.’

The girls started to walk away. Oliver mulls over the statement, Ed continues.

‘The only thing that connects us with the past is memories. Do you realize that we are free to choose differently every single day if the memories from the previous day are erased overnight? Who’s to say we don’t already?’

‘But they’re not erased. We remember the past and that moulds us into who we are, we make decisions from an entire set of available decisions based on the experiences we’ve had in the past, thereby making a subset of relatively comfortable alternatives from which we can ultimately choose a path. Pass the goddam dimsums’

As that statement sinks in along with the spliff, the two friends turn their gaze down onto a sweet meats vendor, observing his craft as he plops mashed potatoes onto his frying pan, slowly frying them in what you would call hash browns-ish in the first world.

‘Yet we choose like idiots sometimes’

‘There are always exceptions. The exception to prove the rule. Those tikkis look exceptional’

‘So did those school girls’

‘Let’s be classier than that’

‘Moral high ground after you propound on potentially aiding or exterminating the poor to create an enriched experience for the wealthy? Really?’

‘Huhh… capitalism’, yawned Oliver.

Just a good rant

Here’s how I dealt with failure for a period, a nice litte rant. Have a read.

Pop culture is fascinated by the legend of the phoenix. This most mythical and wonderous creature, whose sole aim in life is to spontaneously combust into either melody or flames. One might ask why? For hope and new beginnings apparently. If I were one, then I for one am gobsmacked by this philosophy.

Perhaps my sanity is being scrutinized at the moment, but I associate the rise and fall and rise again of the phoenix with colourful, dramatic and eventually pointless Salman Khan films. We’ve seen him come back from the dead, unfortunately every time he does that he takes a fraction of our brain cells with him. Only Sallu bhai may cross the great divide between life and death and bursting into song and dance, much like the phoenix. Thankfully by now I would have lost the Harry Potter fanatics after this diatribe. Get over it guys, J.R.R Tolkien is a superior being. End of.

But then again, I can appreciate the plight of the phoenix as it bursts into flames to spawn into an ugly chick (avian not human). Especially now as I feel similar to that Greek god or demi god whose name I can’t remember who was healed every night only to be nearly fatally torn apart by an eagle every morning. Now, that’s a tough life. Surely the wrath of the Gods, centuries on from those ages cannot hold the same effect. Not with the adoption of new Gods and renouncement of old ones every single day, we’re in an age of holy dystopia.

Somehow, this too shall pass. When it rains, it pours.. and all that jazz.

5 months on, it did. And how. Pain is good. Just ask Rocky Balboa.

The Neutrality Propaganda

Capture the flags? If you want to get mugged maybe.

Capture the flags? If you want to get mugged maybe.

There have been instances where well intending elders have cornered me and demanded to know my political allegiances. We’re a country that places heavy importance on tradition, and much like generations gone by, I wasted no time in disappointing these elders. What incensed them though is the abject indifference that they met. I was bombarded with questions like “But surely you have a set of beliefs and values that you hold true to more often than not?”

The funny thing is, political parties in India do hold a firm set of beliefs and ideals – we have communists, secularists, extremists – and they tend to abide by what they preach in all areas but the actual ‘looking after the people, looking after the nation’ bit. The secularists beat about the bush and misuse public money, the communists stagnate and embezzle public money and the extremists beat the other extremists and lick their wounds by, you guessed it, stealing public money. Unfortunately, large sections of the people have embraced this periodic ineptitude – India is a champion of tolerance, and we tolerate the worst.

So how must I identify my own values with that of a cult which claims it can act on the same? Instead, I find great comfort in the limbo of neutrality. This statement again was met by outrage, tea was spilled to the floor as the shocks registered on their wizened elderly faces. How little us young folk know or care about. The devil worship preached by that hippie Lennon has brainwashed us. Why Lennon, why not Lenin. He led a revolution, ruled with an Iron Fist and was brought to tears by a pat on the back as a recent article claimed (maybe it was Stalin, it was a joke of an article). Fisting aside, Lennon brought about a revolution of his own and I just like his vibes better old man! An impasse reached, I dug up a solid philanthropic reason for my inexcusable neutrality – I support the lesser evil at the time.

And with this sweeping statement, the elders turned on each other as to who merited that most bandied about tag of pure serpentine evil. My work here was done.

Imagine all the people, living life in peace.. Yoohoo hoo.” – John Lennon from the album Imagine.

Untimely Decay

People chance upon those clammy moments in life, where you get that lump in your throat and you recall all those quick witted smooth talking moments you may have (or thought you might have) had, but all that skill or experience evades you. You just know that you’re going to outlive the poor sod, bed ridden in front of you, only a year ago you saw her strutting around the corner, out pacing all those other indolent geriatrics and winning the foot race to the sweet shop to fetch your favourite sweet meats. All you’d like to think of is how the mighty have fallen except that you can’t, that bloody lump in your throat has blocked all the blood supply to your brain.
Offer words of encouragements? Quit fooling yourself, the poor thing has seen more years (difficult too) than you and will certainly call your bluff. Make sympathetic and dismissive noises? Only if you’re a self important fat prick I suppose. You notice that there’s not even a ghost of a smile on her face, she is literally exchanging fluids through tubes from all orifices of her body.. You wouldn’t be caught dead smiling in that kind of a state. It appears from all these mildly scarring invalid visits that the feet go first. That’s just the course of nature. Pretty raw deal, seeing as that’s the first most celebrated event of one’s fledgling life. Surely it’s got to be the worst feeling ever because you absolutely dread what’s coming next.. Toilet assistance. You’ve not known shame as a child, soiling diaper after diaper. Now turn up the shame and fast forward 60 years.
Yet the eyes still shine with something. In my case, i feel that memories kindle that flame. That, and a doggedness of existing, no matter how empty. I saw her recall my name, trace the face contours of a relative long gone on my own face. There was a blessing offered mutely and the eyes lit up with tears.. At that moment, we both knew that this would be the last we meet. The lump starts throbbing now and a distraction is sought in the glass of water in front of you. Upon extending the hand for the glass, the slightest twitch is seen on her wrinkled arm. You pat it pathetically, shift uncomfortably in your seat for another 3 minutes and announce your departure. As you exit the doorway, you feel those eyes burning into the back of your head.. Have you the courage to turn around?

The Dream

Excitement is a subjective experience. So it proved when I had the best dream I’ve had in a while. A dream that you would hesitate to tell most of your friends, fearing that they would dismiss it as outlandish. After all, when you recollect and exchange dreams, isn’t the entire purpose of it all to trade the different levels of abstraction the subconscious mind reaches? Maybe not. But it was still a heck of a dream.

Picture this. You’re in a valley surrounded by electric blue mountains as far as the eye can see. There’s not a cloud in the sky and yet there’s that mysterious mist floating in the air. The heavens may break into thunder and lightning at any moment, yet it is pristine (it was allowed in Inception, I can’t see why it can’t work here). Fix that aspect ratio, zoom in a little bit into the surroundings and a great lake greets you. Its shallows glimmering with sunlight, you see the reflection of this light on indistinct faces around you, lost in some incoherent chatter amongst themselves. Too afraid to speak to those treacherous shadows, you peer into the depths of the lake and see great shapes moving around. Suddenly, a fin cuts through the surface of the water, the glistening droplets bouncing of the shark’s body like beads of pearl as it gracefully arcs back in with intent. There is no menace here, the cool gentle breeze rushing through your hair reaffirms that fact.

What do you do now? You see no change in the faces on the banks as they keep babbling. Maybe it was a conversation that was taking place in real time, a world changing debate on whether to have samosas or jalebis for high tea. The appearance of a whale’s tail seems to steel your mind. Respectful distance be damned. There’s a small island in sight, conveniently located off centre to the lake of course. Swim for it. I haven’t neither seen Jaws the film, nor did I see any in the water. I swam for it.

Revisit that raw emotion you felt when you conquered water. When they throw you in the deep end after all that training and you still almost drown, your lungs scream for air and your brain cramps with fear. That exhilarating feeling that you mustn’t, it returned. The island was reached and you’re exhausted. It’s not a nice sandy beach, it’s coarse, raw and uninviting. You’ve never felt better resting your back against anything else. In a daze, you lift yourself up and the coup de grace greets you. The sea serpent’s long scaly back, rolling in slow motion, in and out of the water. The scales, green and blue glowing like hot coals in the sun, absolutely hypnotize you. Again, there is no menace. You watch the magnificent beast, never showing its face, swim majestically between the peaks reflected in the water. Sinking back onto the rocks, you watch the creature swim away as dusk unfolds and the faces disappear.

It’s good to be alive. It’s even better to feel alive when you’re dead to the world.

Put your own twist on Loch Ness, the lake and the famed beast.