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Tipping or service charges are so much a part of eating out in America that it is strange to be in an environment where tipping is not the norm. Five years ago, on a trip to Tokyo, we were taken aback to find that tips were not expected, where they were politely returned to us. We learned quickly and did not repeat our mistake. It was a practice that I wish existed elsewhere.

Though I always add tips when paying restaurant tabs, it is something that leaves me feeling either foolish or parsimonious. Did I tip too little or too much? Sometimes, I am not sure. Years ago, 15% was the standard tip, then it became 18%. Now , we are told it should be 20%, even 25% for exceptional service. Why? Why do these standards keep changing, always going up? Also, initially, the percentage was supposed to be calculated on the food and beverage cost; then it switched to a percentage of the entire bill, including tax. Finally, with the hefty markup on wines and drinks, the expected tip increases out of all proportion to the service being provided.

Tips were supposed to be optional, not mandatory. Now, they are expected as a right. They are even suggested and encouraged where they should not be. At the coffee shop where I pick up a bagel and coffee, there is a tip jar on the counter. What exactly is the tip for in this instance? For ringing up my order and handing it to me? I don’t buy it.

Service charges are not the answer. They merely mean a mandatory tip, whether the service is good or not and just take the guesswork out of figuring out what is appropriate. Besides, one has way of knowing how much of the service charge actually goes to the wait-staff and how much is skimmed off by the management, something I suspect happens a lot.

By not including the service in the basic cost of the meal, restaurants are doing what the airlines do. Keeping the stated price low and then socking customers with extras. Airlines do it to hide the true cost of a flight; restaurant owners do it to pass on the cost to diners and to avoid paying employees a living wage.

I’m glad therefore glad to read that some restaurants ( many of them owned by Danny Meyer) in New York City have abolished the practice of tipping. The prices listed on the menu ( plus tax) are the total cost of the meal. No hidden charges. This way, I can look at the prices on the online menu and decide whether a particular restaurant is worthwhile or whether it is too rich for my blood.

P.S The above might make me seem a curmudgeon but I don’t think I am. I am careful to tip ( and quite generously too) at ordinary restaurants. At low end restaurants, I tip more because I know the servers don’t make much. What gets my goat is the outsize charge for service at the upper end restaurants that I occasionally eat at.

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After their runner-up finish in the just concluded Women’s World Cup, the Indian women cricketers came home to a rousing welcome from fans and unprecedented coverage on TV and newspapers. Hundreds of fans, more than half of them girls and women, were on hand to greet them at the airport, to cheer them and get them to pose for selfies. It must have been an unbelievable experience for the cricketers who have labored in obscurity for all these many years.

Prior to the WWC ( Women’s World Cup), most cricket fans in India would have been hard put to name any of these women cricketers.  I myself had only heard of two of them, Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami but I live in the U.S where cricket coverage  is almost non-existent. Once the WWC started , however, I quickly became familiar with all of the players, their stats and even some of their life stories. As the tournament progressed, my interest grew and their performances in the semifinal and final blew my mind… as it did the minds of cricket fans in India, male and female. Mithali Raj, the Indian captain, had only 7,000 Twitter followers at the start of the World Cup; by the time it ended, the number had swelled to 155,000. It was recognition long overdue for a player who has devoted over 20 years of her life to the game.  A former teammate has related how during training camps, Mithali’s day would start at 4:30 each morning and end only at 8 at night; in between, she would go full tilt all the time. Knowing that curries would not be available when touring abroad, Mithali would go on a diet of boiled vegetables and saltless food one month before the tour started. Now that is dedication.

What I’m really happy about is that the fans adulation  did not diminish in spite of the loss in the final. I hope that fan interest in women’s cricket will continue and result in TV coverage and financial opportunities for the women players.

The truth is  that Indian women cricketers have been shamefully neglected until now. Of the 15 players who represented India in the WWC, only 11 had been awarded contracts by the BCCI and of those eleven, seven had contracts paying them less than $ 1,500 per month. Such parsimony on the part of the BCCI is unconscionable when one considers its bulging coffers and the riches it  lavishes on the men cricketers and the opportunities it gives them in terms of TV coverage, fame and endorsements.

By contrast, the women’s game has no televised games or regular tournaments. The BCCI even refused to let the team participate in multi-discipline tournaments such  as the 2014  Asian Games where the Pakistani women won the gold. I can’t conceive of any reason for such step-motherly treatment except sheer bloody-mindedness and arrogance on the part of the BCCI. After the 2017 WWC, it is difficult to imagine the mistake will be repeated for the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Jakarta.

The lack of international experience definitely affected player performance in the WWC. Only two of the players had played abroad ( in Australia’s WBBL) :Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana. The former played one of the greatest ever innings in the emifinal against Australia and almost singlehandedly catapulted India into the final. Mandhana had two big scores in the first two matches before tailing off. Who knows but that with more experience against foreign players and big match opportunities India might not have held their nerve and pipped England in the final.

These women cricketers have it tough every step of the way. No financial security, poor coaching, no regularly scheduled tournaments and no TV coverage. Most of them got their starts by chance. For instance, some were noticed by perceptive coaches when they went with their brothers to the practice nets. Their parents made great sacrifices to give them the opportunity to compete at higher levels of the game. And , in order to do so, they themselves had to make considerable personal sacrifice,  forgoing education and putting off marriage to play the game they loved. A fortunate few got BCCI contracts or jobs in the Railways or other such organizations, the rest got nothing.

All this will change. There is no way things will go back to what they were before. The women’s  performances  have caught the imagination of the Indian cricketing public and you can bet the BCCI will be quick to capitalize. There is talk of an IPL type tournament for women. If it happens, the resulting TV coverage and financial perks will increase participation in the women’s game, create a larger pool of players who will be better equipped to challenge Australia, England and S, Africa and, down the road, bring greater glory to the country. Good for them. I can hardly wait.

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In a thrilling Women’s World Cup final this past Sunday, India’s women cricketers lost a nail biter to the England Women. They fell 9 runs short and the issue was in doubt until the last over. The sell out crowd at Lords certainly got their money’s worth. Congratulations to England on their victory and to both sides for a well-played match that should do wonders for women’s cricket worldwide. The game attracted more than 100 million viewers all over the world in addition to many more, like me, who followed it on ESPN  Cricinfo.

As a fan of Indian cricket, I am, of course, disappointed by the result but I am elated by India’s heroic performance and the way on which they conducted themselves throughout. Prior to the tournament, a semifinal berth would have been considered an achievement. To make it to the final and come within nine runs of victory was astonishing.  The group stage of the tournament had its share of close finishes, notably England’s squeaker over Australia, but it was the knockout stage of the tournament that really ignited fan interest. The semifinals and the final provided enthralling cricket with each match better than the previous one.

In the first semifinal,( Eng. vs. S.A), South Africa put on 218 for 6 in their allotted 50 overs. In reply, England keep losing wickets at regular intervals; the only batsman to cross the half century mark is Sara Taylor with 54. At the end of the 49th over, England are 216 for 7. With three runs needed off 5 balls, sheet anchor Jenny Gunn hits a single; two runs needed off 4. Next ball, Laura Marsh is clean bowled. Still 2 runs needed as tail-ender Anya Shrubsole walks in. No worries. She smacks a boundary the first ball she faces and England are through to the finals as South Africa lose yet another heart breaker.

Tournament favorites Australia were expected to defeat India handily in the second semi-final. They had trounced India in their group match and India had had to defeat New Zealand in a must win match just to make it to the semis.

What a match! Almost a week later, I still get goosebumps thinking about it . India batting first got off to a slow start; then, Harmanpreet Kaur took over, hammering an unbeaten 171 off just 115  deliveries, with 20 fours and 7 sixes. Despite mounting fatigue, she kept accelerating and smashed her last 103 runs off only 40 balls. Mithali Raj ( 36) and Deepti Sharma (25) provided able support but it was Harmanpreet Kaur’s show all the way. Australia tried everything they had , constantly varying their field placings, packing the boundary line, offspin, legspin, pace…. Everything. Nothing worked as Harmanpreet picked them apart, going the aerial route or finding the gaps between fielders. No wonder she was admiringly christened  Harmanator, Harmonster, Kaurageous and other such nicknames. With India piling up 281/ 4 in 42 overs, Australia faced a daunting task. It got worse when their star player was clean bowled off a snorter and wickets fell at regular intervals. At 169 for 9, the match appeared over but Alex Blackwell, the last recognized batsman, had other ideas. With the stout support of # 11 Kirsten Burns, she kept fighting until she was dismissed for 90 with Australia at 246, just 35 runs short of their target. A gallant display.

The final could not possibly match the fireworks of the semi-final but it was even more gripping with the issue decided only in the last three balls. At 145/3 in 32 overs, England looked poised for a big total when Jhulan Goswami ripped out the heart of the batting order with three quick wickets and England reeling at 164/6. However, useful contributions from the lower order got England to 228/7. In reply, India lost two quick wickets including that of captain Mithali Raj. With things looking bleak at 43/2, Poonam Raut was joined by the redoubtable Harmanpreet and they took the score to 143 before the latter holed out. Still they progressed steadily to 191 without further loss and victory seemed guaranteed. Then unbelievably they collapsed, with the last 7 wickets falling for only 28 runs. Kudos to the England players for holding their nerve and to Anya Shrubsole who finished with a six wicket haul.

It would have been a fairytale ending if India had won in what is certainly the last World Cup match for captain Mithali Raj and veteran medium pacer Jhulan Goswami. It would have been a fitting climax to cap 20 year careers in which they have struggled mightily for little reward. Still, I am not one of those who will moan about missed opportunities in the final, inopportune runouts, or questionable selections and suchlike. These women gave it their all, they displayed unbelievable grit and they won friends with their behavior on and off the field. They should be proud of themselves and what they achieved and we should be proud of them. India’s male cricketers could learn a lot from them.

Thank you, ladies! Bravo! Bravo!

 

 

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Compared to other sports, the game of tennis gives rise to fewer jokes. Many of them play off the tennis term ” Love”. For example, ” Never fall for a tennis pro. He thinks love is nothing.”  Or about tennis racquets. ” Why is tennis such a noisy game?.  Because each player reaches a racquet( racket).” There is a good joke about Little Johnny and the two black tennis balls but it is politically incorrect and I won’t repeat it here. You can look it up yourself.

After the Wimbledon final two Sundays ago, a friend from Malaysia sent me this joke which I think deserves a wider audience.

(As you will recall), Marin Cilic had all kinds of problems with Federer’s pinpoint serving in the Wimbledon final. The following day, he went to the library and asked to borrow a book that would teach him to better handle Federer’s serve.

The librarian flatly refused Cilic’s request for the book .

” You won’t return it either”, she said.

 

 

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I watched the  Wimbledon Mens Singles Final this morning, on ESPN, and it was both a delight and a relief. It was a delight because, as a Federer fan, I’d been waiting for Roger to clinch his 19th Grand Slam ever since the Australian Open in January. It was a relief to a Federer fan who knows all too well that anything can happen in a sport where 35 ( almost 36) years of age means that one is a geriatric.

From a tennis fan’s point of view, the tennis on display this morning was disappointing because the match was so one- sided. Marin Cilic had looked in great form in the earlier rounds including in his four set semifinal win over big serving Sam Querry, and his subpar display this morning was mystifying. Apparently, he suffered an injury to his foot … but when ? The tumble he took early in the match did not appear to be that serious, nor did it seem to result in any lasting injury. I thought I heard one of the McEnroes mention that it had happened in the semifinal but I could be mistaken. More likely, it was nerves that got the better of Cilic, who is a high strung type. In any case, he was outclassed and was never in the match.

Even though the quality of play was not outstanding, there was still a lot to enjoy, as there is in any match in which Federer is involved. First and foremost, there is his style which makes everything look so smooth and effortless. The flowing groundstrokes, the serve effective because of its pinpoint placement rather than sheer pace, the way in which he glides , seemingly unhurried, all over the court and the unparalleled beauty of that one- handed backhand. What I appreciate, too, is his approach to the game, the manner in which he goes for his shots rather than play safe and wait for his opponent to make mistakes. Finally, there is the obvious enjoyment he derives from tennis and his on-court demeanor. He is intense but always in control of his emotions; he is not one to yell, or curse, or abuse his racket. Those are the things that set him apart from everyone else. That is why he is such a fan favorite all over the world and why  the crowd is in his corner even when he is playing the home-town favorite. It was wonderful to see the reaction of the Wimbledon crowd this morning when he won.

With this victory, Roger Federer leaps into second place in the standings behind his arch rival, Rafael Nadal. Even so, even if he wins the U.S Open in September, I doubt that he will be # 1 at year’s end since he plays so few tournaments these days. At this stage of his career, the Number 1 ranking is no big deal. Far more important is to conserve his energy and prolong his career and, hopefully, win another Grand Slam or two and stay ahead of Nadal. With his two Grand Slams this year, Roger has increased his lead over Rafa, from three to four. I think he is safely out of reach but one more GS at Flushing Meadows would put the issue beyond doubt. Go Roger!

P.S There are some armchair ” experts” who will sneer at Roger’s win because he didn’t have to meet and defeat any of the Big Three ( Novak, Andy Murray and Rafa). It is a silly argument because all of them entered in the tournament and their early exits were not any fault of Roger’s.

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About twenty five years ago, I started seeing an appetizer called Chicken 65 listed on the menus of Indian restaurants. It consisted of  reddish hued deep fried chicken pieces and it was quite spicy.The name was a mystery and no one seemed to know its origin. There were some fanciful explanations, each more absurd than the last. One held that the dish contained sixty-five spices. This didn’t hold much water because I doubt that the pantry of Indian spices is that extensive. Besides, would restaurants go to the trouble of mixing up so many spices in making a single appetizer? Another theory was that the dish was a favorite of Indian soldiers at the frontlines during the 1965 India- Pakistan war and was named in their honor. This was scarcely more credible. Yet other theory was that 65 chillies were used for every kilogram of chicken. It too was easily debunked because so many chillies would make the dish too hot to eat.

This afternoon I finally happened upon what looks like a plausible explanation.

We were lunching at the Paradise Biryani Pointe in Bridgewater, NJ when I noticed a wooden plaque on the wall. ” The Origin of Chicken 65″, it proclaimed. According to it, the menu at a military canteen in Chennai ( formerly Madras) listed dishes only in Tamil. Many of the jawans ( soldiers) frequenting the canteen were from the northern states and did not know Tamil. They took to ordering dishes from the menu by number and number 65 , a fiery chicken dish, was a big favorite. Thus “Chicken, 65” became a frequent request and eventually became a menu entry. This version makes more sense than everything I’ve heard.

So, now you know.

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At the library, I came across a book with the arresting title “ Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate” by Brad Warner. How could I resist it ? I didn’t and it was an interesting read. One passage that I found particularly striking was this:

” Those who hope for purity and righteousness always try and destroy that which disturbs them. They think the disturbance comes from outside themselves. This is a serious problem. Wars, suicide bombings and all sorts of nasty things start from the premise that we can destroy ” evil’ outside ourselves without dealing with the evil within.”

How true. The example that leaps to mind is the societies of the Middle East where men try to avoid temptation by forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe. It is a custom that is doomed to fail. One Western visitor noticed that in Kabul, young men hang around hoping for a glimpse of an ankle as women raise their chadors or burqas  when stepping over a high roadside curb. Enough said.

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