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If a picture is worth a thousand words, the book 100 Photographs : The Most Influential Images of Our Time is worth more than a hundred thousand. A Time publication, it offers readers a valuable retrospective of our lives and times. Many of the photographs we have seen before; I myself recall seeing at least 80 of them at one time or another and being deeply impressed by them. You too will remember many, if not most, of them.

The format of the book is simple. The photographs are on the right hand pages and opposite each, on the left hand page, is a description of the circumstances in which it was taken, its historical significance and its back story. While the photographs are rivetting, the stories behind them  are no less interesting. This is a book to be read, not merely looked at.

The photographs themselves are divided into three broad categories _ Icons, Evidence and Innovation. Under Icons, there are such memorable images as ” Lunch Atop a Skyscraper”. It shows 11 construction workers casually eating lunch or reading newspapers while perched on the narrow beam of a skyscraper under construction, their legs dangling over 800 feet of air. Just looking at the photo gives me vertigo. Other photos in this category include Winston Churchill’s portrait by Karsh of Ottawa, Betty Grable’s saucy pinup pose which gladdened the hearts of GIs during WWII, Flag Raising on Iwo Jima and Babe Ruth’s farewell appearance at Yankee Stadium. Under Evidence, we have searing images such as Burning Monk ( the self immolation of a Buddhist Monk protesting the Vietnam war), Jewish Boy surrenders in Warsaw, Saigon Execution and A Man on the Moon. Some of these in Somalia, Biafra, Iran, Vietnam and Iraq are so disturbing that I had to quickly turn the page. In the last category, Innovation, there are pictures of Salvador Dali’s hijinks, an X-Ray of the Hand of Mrs. William Rontgen, the First Cell Phone picture and the Oscars selfie. While I understand the iconic nature of the photographs in this section, I found them less compelling than the others.

All hundred photos though are ” important”, chronicling as they do important moments in the human experience. The photographers who took them constitute a virtual Who’s Who of photography. They include Margaret Bourke White, Robert Capa, Karsh of Ottawa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Richard Avedon and Edward Steichen.

The book is notable not only for the photographs but for their back stories and the feelings and emotions that they evoke. For instance, ” Country Doctor” shows Dr. Ernest Ceriani of Kremmling, CO walking home through a weed strewn lot after a hard day of home visits.  Looking at the stark photograph, you can see how bone-tired the doctor is, sense his dedication and innate goodness. You know that no matter how exhausted he is, he will be making his rounds again tomorrow. This is a man who loves what he does; he is not in it for the money.” VJ Day in Times Square” shows a sailor who has grabbed a nurse, bending her back and planting a passionate kiss on her lips. The moment captures perfectly the sense of exuberance and relief that the war was at long last over.

Sometimes the descriptions correct long held impressions. ” Saigon Execution” shows the South Vietnamese chief of police firing a bullet through the head of a bound prisoner. The photo symbolized the brutality of war and galvanized American public opinion against the Vietnam war. What I did not know, and what the book reveals, was that the prisoner was the leader of a terrorist squad that that had just killed the family of one of the police chief’s friends. This is not to excuse the chief’s action but it provides the context for it.

Sometimes, my feelings were at variance with widely held views. One such photograph is ” Muhammed Ali vs. Sonny Liston” It shows the 23-year old Ali towering over Liston whom he has just kayoed and taunting him ” Get up and fight, sucker”. As the write-up explains, the ” perfectly composed image captures Ali radiating the strength and poetic brashness that made him the nation’s most beloved and reviled athlete”. True enough, but what I also remember is that there have been persistent rumors that the fight was fixed, that Liston played dead after a phantom blow to the chin. To my mind, the photo also captures Ali’s arrogance and the cruelty he displayed particularly in a later fight with Ernie Terrell.

This book will evoke myriad emotions in its readers… nostalgia, exhilaration, pity, fear, awe, anger, loathing  and disgust. But above all, it will arouse  a feeling of wonder at the vagaries of human behavior.

You can see the entire project at http://www.TIME.com/100photos.



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At the recently concluded Australian Open, 82 year- old tennis icon Rod Laver presented the trophies to Federer and Nadal. A good  of mine from Malaysia watched the match and the trophy presentation and was moved to send me a list of Aussie greats from the fifties and sixties who are still with us. It is a remarkably long list. Here it is :

Frank Sedgeman  …89

Rod Laver               … 82

Roy Emerson         … 80

Neale Fraser          … 83

Mervyn Rose           .. 87

Mal Anderson         .. 81

Ashley Cooper       … 80

Fred Stolle              … 78

Bob Hewitt              … 77

This is by no means a complete list. Others include Margaret Smith Court ( 74), John Newcombe ( 72), Tony Roche (71) , Colin Dibley( 71) and Owen Davidson (73). The only Aussie players of that era who passed away early are Lew Hoad , who died at age 59 of leukemia, and Ken Fletcher who succumbed to cancer at age 65. I can’t think of anyone else.

When I got this list I  marveled at it.  What was the secret of the longevity of these players ? But as I thought about it, I began to understand that it was not all that remarkable, that were plenty of good reasons . Here are some:

  1. Tennis is a non-contact sport. There is no danger of life threatening injuries as in football, wrestling or boxing. Since the players are on opposite sides of the court, there is no chance of collisions as in soccer,basketball or baseball. And because the ball is not being hurled at a player, there is little chance of getting beaned and seriously injured as in baseball or cricket. When a tennis player does get hit ( a rare occurrence), the ball is comparatively soft and doesn’t result in lasting injury.
  2. Tennis requires a combination of speed, agility, strength  and endurance. Players are not oversize, overweight behemoths as in football. They don’t have to be excessively tall as in basketball. They are slightly bigger and taller than the average and the combination of attributes required to play tennis ensures that they are very fit.
  3. Tennis players do not have guaranteed contracts or signing bonuses. In other pro sports many athletes, unaccustomed to having large sums of money, go berserk. They start spending like there is no tomorrow, acquire a coterie of hangers-on and not infrequently take to drugs or drink as they party. They run through their cash very fast and live the rest of their lives in poverty, lucky to get jobs if at all. The stress takes its toll and shortens life spans. In tennis, on the other hand, the players have to continue to play well to make a good living. They do not get sudden windfalls but their careers are longer and the money comes in regularly.
  4. Tennis players compete almost year round. In the U.S, football, basketball and baseball seasons last between six and eight months ( including training camp). The extended off-season means plenty of time for players to indulge in their appetites, get overweight and out of shape.. and then go on a crash diet to get fit for the coming season. Not good for their bodies or their health.
  5. Tennis is a game that can be played almost to the end of one’s life. Many tennis pros continue to be associated with the game even after they retire. They become coaches, run training academies or camps. Even when they don’t, they keep playing  for love of the game, often well into their seventies. Tennis doesn’t require much in the way of equipment or facilities and it is not difficult to find another friend or two or three to play regularly. It shows. Did you see how trim Rod Laver looked at eighty-two?
  6. . Tennis players, in general, have a more stable family life. Because of the almost year round playing season, they travel with their wives and are not subject to the same temptations as , say, pro football or basketball players.Lest you wonder if this applies only to Aussie players, here are some stats about tennis players from other countries. Among those still alive: Vic Seixas  93, Budge Patty  92, Bob Falkenburg  91,Dick Savitt 89 and Tony Trabert 86. Don Budge died at age 84, Ted Schroeder 85  Ellsworth Vines 82, Jack Kramer 88,Bobby Riggs 77 and Fred Perry (England, 85). Almost the only ones who died comparatively early were Chuck Mckinley ( d. 45) Bill Tilden( d. 60) and Pancho Gonzales ( d.67) but they were not the norm. McKinley succumbed to brain cancer. Tilden was dogged by suspicions that he was gay and it ruined his later life. Gonzales had a tumultuous life during which he was married and divorced six times and died in poverty.The reasons then  for the longevity of tennis players are  no secret. They would seem to be regular exercise, moderation in eating and drinking, stable finances, a fulfilling family life and continued devotion to exercise and fitness even in retirement.

    Happily, these are things that we all can do or aspire to.

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After his splendid performance in Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady is being hailed as the Greatest QB of All Time. It seems we sports fans are not just content to watch a great game; we have to grade our sports heroes, compare them to those of previous eras, make up lists of the all-time greats and select The Greatest. In tennis we have Federer camps and Nadal  camps, each avowing that their man is the Greatest. In NBA basketball, Michael Jordan sits alone at the top but in a few years LeBron James will no doubt be touted as  the Best ever. And in NFL football, Tom Brady is being anointed the Greatest Of All Time..

It is bad enough to try to choose the Greatest in an individual sport; in team sports, it is just plain ridiculous. As I had written in one of my previous posts, there are many factors that make it impossible to compare players from different eras. In the case of tennis, these include equipment, playing surfaces, quality of opposition, Open era or not, travel conditions and training methods but at least we are comparing one individual player to another. In team sports, the player is only one of many on a team. No matter how great he is, he cannot win unless he has a good supporting cast. Many elite players never played on a good team and never won even one ring. On the other hand, some so-so players won multiple rings though they were only bit players championship teams. Robert Horry was part of six NBA championship winning teams but no one would consider in the same class as Michael Jordan who won ” only” five. My point: Don’t use stats to declare someone the Greatest, particularly in a team sport.

Tom Brady is a terrific passer, a fierce competitor, a great decision maker with a wonderful feel for the game situation and has had a long glittering career. But don’t tell me that his seven Super Bowl appearances, his five Super Bowl rings and his four Super Bowl MVP awards qualify him as the best ever. Consider how much his career has been enhanced by having Bill Belichick as the Coach -GM of his team. Belichick is a masterful coach who has no peer when it comes to making in-game adjustments and confounding opposing teams who thought they had the game won ( Think Atlanta Falcons). He is not just a defensive genius, he is also a master motivator who consistently gets the best out of his players.  As  good a coach as he is, Belichick is an even better judge of talent and of working within the salary cap limitations. Time and again, he has picked up players from the scrap heap and coaxed one or two more good seasons out of them. He has also used trades and lower round draft picks to build the team and he has no peer in knowing when to cut a player. As a result, Brady has had a good supporting cast throughout his New England tenure. How many fewer rings would he have had if he was playing in San Diego ? How many more Super Bowls would Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning have won if they had Bill Belichick in their corner?

Brady’s situation reminds me of Bill Russell’s career with the Boston Celtics. Russell was a terrific defensive player, relentless on the boards and possessor of a fierce desire to win. He was limited offensively but he didn’t need to worry about scoring points. Red Auerbach, the coach- GM pf the Celtics, was the basketball version of Bill Belichick. A shrewd horse trader and a great judge of talent he was consistently able to put together great teams that meshed into unbeatable juggernauts. Good as the L.A. Lakers were, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor just did not have the supporting cast to compete against the Celtic teams of Russell, Cousy, Sharman, Nelson, Heinsohn, Havlicheck, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and others. Bill Russell was a great player but I would not consider him the Greatest. Even among centers of his time, I would rate Wilt Chamberlain ahead of him.

This is not to put down Bill Russell or Tom Brady. If you want to say they are the most successful players in their respective sports, I would agree with you absolutely. The numbers of rings they each won prove that beyond a doubt. If you want to call them the Greatest ever, you are entitled to your opinion, but don’t expect me to agree with you. There is no such thing as the Greatest, and definitely not in a team sport. .

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The reviews for the movie ” Dangal” have been uniformly good with most critics giving it 4 or 4.5 stars out of 5. The acting, the theme, the music, the cinematography have all in for praise but one review had an interesting sidelight. It said, in part,

The elevation of women is still a manifestation of an unfulfilled male dream. It is still the male who emerges as the true hero, not the women. ….. Geeta is nothing without her father, her man.”

For myself, I don’t agree. I can see how one might come to such a conclusion but I don’t think it is warranted. While the early part of the movie necessarily focuses on Mahavir Singh Phogat and his efforts to turn his daughters into world class wrestlers, the focus gradually changes to the daughters, particularly Geeta. In fact, in the climactic sequences as Geeta battles to a gold medal, Mahavir Singh is not even in the audience, thanks to the machinations of the coach. During the match, she remembers his words of advice but it his her skill and dogged will to succeed that carry her to victory. Afterwards, when Geeta seeks out her father and shows him the gold medal, he looks at it, then places it around her neck. How can anyone say of the film that ” Geeta is nothing without her father“.?

What you think?


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On a gray winter day, what can be better than a movie and a pizza in the company of good friends ? And when that movie is a wonderful… outstanding!

Last Friday was just  such a day  and the movie we saw was ” Dangal” (The Wrestling Competition), the Bollywood blockbuster that has been breaking all box-office records since its  December 23rd release. I am not a particular fan of Bollywood movies but I have to say that Dangal is superb. If you have not yet seen it, I would urge you to do so ASAP. The movie  has English sub-titles and can be enjoyed by everyone, Indian or not.

Dangal  is the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters, Geeta and Babita. Phogat was a prominent wrestler who had to give up his wrestling career in order to earn a living. He decided to train his sons to succeed in the wrestling arena but his wife and he were blessed with four daughters , one after the other, no sons.Unwilling to give up his dream of bringing honor to the nation on the sports field, he transferred his ambitions to his two oldest daughters,  Geeta and Babita. He got the idea when they beat up two neighborhood boys who had been harassing them. Subjecting his daughters to a punishing training program and a strict diet, he had them enter wrestling competitions against boys. How they bought into his ideas and achieved national and international wrestling prominence is the story of this film; I will not spoil it for you by giving you more details.

Aamir Khan plays a large part in the success of this film, and I mean that literally. In order to play the role of the wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, he put on 60 lbs. and has also delivered a bravura performance. He convincingly depicts Mahavir Singh’s single-minded determination, his resourcefulness , his never-say die attitude and his struggle to put aside his love for his daughters in order to spur them to greater and greater heights. He is to be applauded for taking such a role at a time when he is still a box-office draw in hero roles. Aamir’s is only one of many fine performances. Sakshi Tanwar as his wife Daya Kaur, the two girls who play the young daughters,  and Fatima Sana Shaikh in the role of the grown up Geeta are all excellent. Indeed, the entire supporting cast is to be commended for its fine acting.

While the scenes of Geeta competing in the Commonwealth championships are exciting, I thoroughly enjoyed the early part of the film set in rural Punjab and Haryana. The village atmosphere and the wrestling competitions have the feel of authenticity and flashes of humor enliven a film that could easily have become serious and leaden.The narrow minded small- town attitudes towards girls and women are subtly but unflinchingly depicted, making it all the sweeter when Geeta and Babita burst the barriers. The upbeat musical sound track by Pritam is also a huge plus.

One of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when the young bride details her fate ( and that of girl children in rural India) and causes Geeta and Babita to drop their resistance to their father’s diktat. Hopefully, this film will play an important part in changing the way girl children are regarded. Realizing this, four Indian states have given Dangal tax free status to promote the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao ( Save your Daughters, educate your daughters) program, the object of which is to eradicate female foeticide and promote female education. The film also casts a harsh light on the arrogance and hide-bound attitudes of India’s sports bureaucracy.

In an otherwise  terrific production, there are two minor blemishes. One is the portrayal of the national coach who goes to extremes in trying to discredit Geeta’s father and take the credit for her success. The other is the slighting nature of the pre-match remarks of Geeta’s Australian opponent. Neither happened in real life and one wonders why it was necessary to fabricate them. Why do we need a villain ( or villains) in the story?

Still, this should not detract from the excellence of the film and one wishes it much box-office success both for its entertainment value and its uplifting, inspiring message.

P.S The pizza at Bertucci’s Brick Oven Pizza was good too… but not as good as the movie.

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Since I don’t subscribe to any of the cricket TV channels, I rely on ESPN Cricinfo for my cricket news. Recently, however, I was visiting in L.A and got to see the India- England test match on TV. What a surprise to see almost all the Indian players with beards! Even some of the formerly clean shaven lads were sporting some serious facial shrubbery. Not like Moeen Ali  or Hashim Amla whose beards come down to the middle of their chests but nevertheless pretty thick.

Now, anyone has a right to grow a beard but these were scruffy and, in my eyes, unattractive. I have a beard myself, but it is short and I try to keep it well trimmed. I am at a loss to understand why the Indian team has gone in for these abominations.

I know that Muslims do favor beards but, other than Mohammed Shami, I don’t think there are any Muslims on the current team. (Even the Pakistani team, which is predominantly Muslim has only three or four bearded players). So if that is not the reason, what is?

One theory that I have heard, a ridiculous one, is that these players grow long beards to make themselves unattractive to the opposite sex . This , supposedly, is to enable them to concentrate wholly on their cricket. Poppycock! Other  than Virat Kohli, I don’t think anyone could be so dedicated to the game. And Kohli has a film star girlfriend. Other theories are 1) that it is a fashion statement  and 2) that it is Kohli’s diktat, meant to ensure solidarity, an us-against-the world attitude. None of these theories hold any water.

Myself, I think it is a good luck charm. Recently, the Indian team has been on a roll, thanks to some impressive all-round performances and some spin-friendly pitches. Having won the series against New Zealand they are now up 3-0 on England though the 5th Test is presently interestingly poised. It could be that they don’t want to jinx themselves by shaving. It has happened in other sports, whether ice-hockey or tennis or football.

If that is indeed the reason, I am in the horns of a dilemma. One the one hand, I can’t bring myself to root against India but, on the other hand, I don’t want to see the  Indian team  take the field looking like eleven Hashim Amlas.


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I had not thought about Joe Louis for the longest time. When I was growing up in India, Joe Louis was idolized by my parents. They did not know much about the societal problems that he faced but they admired his personality, the modesty and generosity that was a such a contrast to the ferocity that he exhibited within the ropes. They were also much taken with the manner in which, after having lost to Max Schmeling, he won the re-match by savagely knocking the German to the floor multiple times en route to a first round KO. I had not been born at the time of Louis’ greatest fights but I remember when an over-the-hill Louis was defeated by Ezzard Charles. My parents were devastated by the loss as were millions of Americans, black and white. I shared their gloom. After I emigrated to the U.S in the late sixties, I read up on Joe Louis, his fights against Primo Carnera, Billy Conn, Max Baer, Jersey Joe Walcott and others, and about his problems with the IRS, drugs and drinking in his later years. Then I forgot about him as Muhammad Ali took center stage.

Recently, I brought home a library book” Knockout”, a photo-biography of Joe Louis by George Sullivan, published by National Geographic. As I read it, the old memories came flooding back. The book seemed to have been written for young adults but the photographs were great and it did have one tidbit that I hadn’t heard of before.

After Pearl Harbor, Louis enlisted in the army and was used to help build soldiers’ confidence and boost their spirits  by participating in boxing exhibitions. While at Fort Riley, Kansas, he met and befriended Jackie Robinson, Major League baseball’s first African- American player. Robinson told Joe that he wanted to become an officer but was unable to attend Officer Candidate School because the army would not accept applications from African American soldiers. Joe quietly called an influential friend in Washington D.C who intervened in the situation. As a result, Robinson and seventeen other African American soldiers were admitted to officers Candidate School. Jackie Robinson eventually became a lieutenant, something Joe Louis took great pride in.

Muhammad Ali was definitely one of the all-time boxing greats  and deserves credit for his stand against the Vietnam War but I never warmed to him. His persona was the polar opposite of that of Joe Louis. He was bombastic, boastful, vain and he had a mean streak even outside the ring. The pundits excuse his running off at the mouth on the grounds that he did it to publicize his fights and build up the gate. Others said that he did it to hide his nervousness; this was particularly true before the first Sonny Liston fight. (BTW, to digress just a little, I have my doubts about the second bout in which Liston was unexpectedly knocked out in the very first round, felled by what some felt was a phantom blow.) I also remember Ali badmouthing Smokin’ Joe Frazier, not in Ali’s class as a boxer but a stout hearted warrior who gave him all he could handle in three titanic bouts including the Thrilla in Manila. And the bout with Ernie Terrell where he propped up a dazed opponent and punished him some more by swiping his face with the laces on his gloves– because Terrell called him by his given name, Cassius Clay, rather than Muhammad Ali. Most of all, I cannot forget how, at a boxing match in Las Vegas when Joe Louis was wheeled to ringside in his wheelchair Ali slighted him by referring to him as a “cripple”.

In 2005, the International Boxing Research Association singled out Joe Louis as the greatest heavyweight of all time. I’ll leave it to the boxing pundits to argue over who was the best  … the self-proclaimed ” Greatest”,  Joe Louis or  Jack Johnson but, in my heart, there can be only one Number One: the” Brown Bomber”, Joe Louis.


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