Game Plan

Pickle ball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, particularly among seniors, and several of the friends whom I play table tennis with have encouraged me to try it. They, like me, are in their seventies or even older and they tell me I should have no trouble picking it up. The trouble is that, every so often, I hear of another friend or acquaintance  who has injured himself playing the game. Last year, Akhil fell and broke his collar bone. His arm was in a sling for three months, he had to have surgery and he is still not 100%. This summer, Frank wrenched his back and Rich hurt his ribs. Hearing about these mishaps makes me cautious about trying the sport myself even though it seems a lot of fun. After my less than successful attempt at badminton, I have become even more leery about trying pickle ball much as I am tempted to do so.

Last week, therefore, I went to the pickle ball courts, mainly to see my friends in action and partly to resolve my doubts. Pickle ball, for those who have not seen it being played, is like a combination of tennis and badminton. It is played on a court half the size of a tennis court which means much less running around. The ball is a hollow perforated ball of hard plastic and the racket is like the one used in paddleball. Scoring is like badminton except that a game consists of eleven points. Unlike tennis, the serve is underhand; none of those 120-140 mph tennis serves that you see Raonic or Cilic release. Rallies , particularly when seniors are playing, are short and there was not much running about. Given the low speeds of the  ball and the half size court, it is no wonder that pickle ball is so popular with the senior contingent. As I watched my friends play, I realized that I could probably do as well as them. At the same time, I resolved not to  overestimate my physical abilities or to try to do too much.

A friend of mine who lives down the street told me that the main cause of injuries is that out of shape people who have never played any games before try to do things that they are not accustomed to. He himself, before he goes to the pickle ball courts , does twenty minutes of yoga and then has pickle-ball practice for another fifteen minutes. In his garage, he has a large square of plywood leaning against the wall. He hits a pickle-ball against it, much like tennis players hitting a tennis ball against a wall. Between the yoga and the practice, he is thoroughly warmed up and limber by the time he takes the court. It’s a routine that I think is eminently sensible.

My plan in the coming months is to get a similar sized plywood piece for our garage, borrow a racket from one of my wounded friends and see how I do. By the time spring rolls around, I should have a good idea of whether pickle ball is in my future. Next April, either I will be on the pickle-ball court or I will have given up the game once and for all.



Reality Check

At a picnic last month, a friend called out to me , saying that he had badminton rackets and shuttles and would I like to try a few rallies? I accepted with alacrity because I’d always loved badminton. We walked a little ways to a grassy patch and began to play. What a disaster! For one thing, there was a mild breeze blowing. When it was at our backs, the shuttle sailed over our heads and far out of reach. On the other hand, when we were hitting into the breeze, the shuttle didn’t make much headway and fell well short of where we wanted it to go. All in all, it was the rare ” rally” that lasted even three shots. What was more frustrating though was the difficulty I experienced in trying to get to the shuttle. My reactions were slow and my feet felt leaden. It was no fun stumbling around and I was not unhappy when my wife sent word that I should call it a day. A doctor friend who had been watching us play cautioned her that we were risking injury by playing in our casual footwear.

As we walked back, I reflected how the passage of time lays everyone low. I had last played badminton in 1975 and now, more than forty-five years later, at age seventy-five, just getting the racket on the shuttle was difficult. I had thought that because I still play table tennis reasonably well, that my skills had not eroded so much. I was wrong, as my brief foray proved my badminton playing days were over. So gradually does the change take place that one is not aware of it and thinks he is still almost the same as he once was.

However, the discovery was not in the least a cause for lament. After all, I had not played the game for forty-five years so how could I miss what I’d not enjoyed in so long ?  In fact, it was a liberating feeling. There is nothing to prove anymore. If others continue to play the game, more power to them. I’m not in competition with them or with anyone else.

There are other  advantages too. Now, when I see a game being played I am better able to appreciate the skill, the dexterity and the endurance of the players. At the recent All England championships,  Nozomi Okuhara ( Japan) defeated P.V. Sindhu in the Women’s Singles final in an epic match that some have called the greatest of all time. One amazing rally lasted seventy -three shots. Seventy three ! In fifteen minutes of play, my friend and I barely managed to hit the shuttle that many times. I now appreciate Okuhara and Sindhu’s performance even more than I previously did. So too do I feel about Roger Federer’s balletic grace on the tennis court or Odell Beckham’s acrobatic catches in the end zone.

So, you will not see me feeling sorry for my lost skills or for the fact that some pastimes are now beyond me. When one door closes, another one opens. Next spring, as soon as it is warm enough outdoors, you will find me on the bocci court trying to pick up a game which I can easily hope to play for the next decade.  Who knows? I might even try my hand at pickle-ball.

Many TV shows allow you to travel the world, see different places and eat different foods while sitting in the comfort of your home.  There is one I discovered recently which I think you will quickly become your favorite as it has mine. It is Migrationology.com, a vlog or video log by Mark Weins and you can watch it on You Tube.

Mark Weins is a 31 year old American, born in Arizona, brought up in France and Africa by missionary parents, who now lives in Bangkok with his Thai wife, Ying, and their one year old son, Mika. He has been producing these videos for the past six years, first in Asia but lately in Europe and the rest of the world. His videos make you feel that  you are at the table with him ; you can see that roadside stall or restaurant, smell the food, almost taste it.

What makes these videos so appealing, so much more enjoyable than the rest? It’s three things. Firstly, the camera work. The visuals are crisp and the editing masterly. The narrative focuses on the food and the ambience, mostly the former and just enough of the latter to give viewers a feel for the country Mark is visiting. BTW, Mark Weins is a one man show. He is the star, the cameraman ( he uses a video camera on a stick, like the one you shoot selfies with), the writer, the planner and the editor.  Secondly, the restaurants and the roadside stalls he eats at are just the sort that any foodie traveler would love to experience. They are recommended to him by his legion of fans worldwide who often guide him and accompany him to the best local haunts Next to home cooking, this is the most authentic food there is. Lastly, and most importantly, Mark’s personality is  a big reason for the popularity of his videos. He is knowledgeable about food without being pedantic, always pleasant and smiling, personable, good natured and respectful of the places he finds himself in and the people he encounters. I’ve never seen him say anything bad about anyone or any place that he has been to. Never.

Recently, I watched videos of Mark’s five day trip to Mumbai, India , the city where I grew up. I saw him visit familiar places, go to  restaurants that I’ve been to, eat dishes I’ve enjoyed. For instance, on Day 4 of his trip, Mark tried nalli nihari and tandoori roti at the Noor Mohammed Hotel on Mohammedali Road, demolished a vegetable sandwich  street side, and ate a malai cream ( a sweet dessert made from the first milk, or colostrum, of a cow that has just given birth). Then onto the Elco Arcade for bhel, pani puri and sev puri before a final stop at the Jai Jawan Punjabi restaurant on Linking Road in Khar for a dinner featuring Fried prawns, Tandoori Chicken and Daal Makhani. Imagine… all this in a single day. Truly, the man is a fearless eater with a cast iron stomach and the amount of food he can put away is amazing.

Mark is an adventurous eater though he does not go out of his way to find bizarre foods. He eats the local specialties, stuff that you and I would love to eat and he eats street food without a care in the world. He is not too fond of sweet things but  loves spicy foods and crunchy things. I watched in horror as he popped a fresh green chilly into his mouth and chewed on it.  Mentally, I was screaming” Don’t do it, Mark! Don’t do it!” but all he did was go ” Umm, a little spicy.”

I love to watch Mark eat. As the first morsel pops into his mouth, his eyes open wide in delight and a blissful smile spreads over his face. Then his eyes close in ecstasy and he goes ” Wow!” as he slowly tilts sideways to the right. Words can’t adequately describe this spectacle; you have to watch the video. Most dishes provoke this reaction in Mark but I have become an expert in gauging how much Mark really loves a dish. The reaction I’ve described means that the dish is top classs, A-1, not to be missed. If , however, he omits the sideways lean, it means just ” Good”, not ” Very Good or excellent”. If, on the other hand, Mark goes ” Ummm!’ while widening his eyes and pointing to the dish, it means the dish is just OK. He never finds a dish less than OK. Once, in Korea, when he was tasting sea pineapples- a shell fish that looks like a miniature pineapple – he said the fish flavor was very intense. That should have been enough to warn viewers away from it. ” Intense” is also the adjective he used to describe traffic in Mumbai, an epic understatement. Mumbai traffic is terrible, exhausting, intolerable. Comparatively, being caught in rush hour traffic in New York is relaxing.

Mark’s enjoyment of food may seem theatrical but it is genuine. When he was eating nalli nihari, a sinfully rich dish of mutton and bone marrow,  on his first stop that day, he expertly scooped it up with his tandoori roti but ran out of roti before he finished the dish. No problem. Remarking that the nalli nihari could be eaten like a soup, he grabbed a spoon and polished off the rest of the dish.

Many of us dream of traveling and eating  all over the world. Mark did too. The difference is that he went out on a limb in the pursuit of what he wanted to do and is now living his dream. Strangely , I am not jealous of him. I’m just happy that I get to watch his videos and share his experiences, even if it is only vicariously. You can too. remember ” Mark Weins” on You tube. Or if you want to read his blog, it’s migrationology.com.



In the seventies, my wife was doing a medical technology course in Trenton, NJ and it was a hard slog. Her day began early ( and ended late) but one thing she looked forward to was a breakfast bagel at the hospital canteen. Not just any bagel but an egg bagel, halved and toasted on a griddle and dripping, dripping, with melted butter. Golden yellow with brown streaks, salty, buttery, crisp on the outside but dense and slightly chewy on the inside…  I never did get to taste this delectable treat but she described it so well, and so often, that I thought I had! I did however make these bagels at home, often, though I cut down on the butter.

Those are the first bagels I remember though I must have eaten bagels earlier. Those bagels are my gold standard  and I measure all others against them. I cannot imagine eating an untoasted bagel ; I would rather do without. Nowadays,  my wife and I occasionally go to Kettleman’s, a nearby deli in Somerset. We go there early and pick up our bagels at the counter … Hers is a multigrain bagel with jalapeno cream cheese, mine an egg bagel with garden vegetable cream cheese. Both toasted, of course. Washed down with a container of Kettleman’s coffee, it is a breakfast for the gods. Sitting there surrounded by other retirees, dawdling over our breakfasts, watching office-goers pick up their orders and rush out… nothing could be finer!

It is the common wisdom that the bagels in New York City are the best in the world. There is something about the texture that seems just impossible to replicate elsewhere. New York bagels have just the right amount of chewiness which contrasts nicely with the lightly glazed exterior. Those who have lived in the New York area can never forget them. I have heard of a group of New Yorkers who retired to Florida decades ago but still satisfy their hunger for the bagels of their New York days.Whenever any one of them travels to New York, it is understood that he will take along an extra carry-on bag and bring it back crammed with bagels to be shared. Luckily for me, enough New Yorkers have moved to the suburbs that the bagels in New Jersey are almost as good.

Exactly what makes New York bagels so distinctive and so good is a matter of much debate. The general opinion is that it is the New York water supply which is piped in from pristine upstate reservoirs. Admittedly, the water is very good ( at one time , it was being bottled and sold in other parts of the country for $ 2.50 for a 16 oz. bottle) but could water make so much difference in the taste of a bagel? I don’t think so but am hard pressed to think what the reason might be. My guess is that the best bagel makers, the old timers who learnt the craft from their fathers and grandfathers, never moved away from the New York area because, elsewhere, the product is not as much appreciated and the demand is much less. At least that is what I think.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I found how inferior bagels are outside of the New York area. We spent two weeks in Frisco and, purely by chance, discovered a Katz’s deli within walking distance. Naturally, I went there ASAP and picked up a half dozen bagels. What a disappointment ! They were nothing like the real thing. They were misshapen, smaller than their New York cousins and had a texture that was all wrong. They were also more expensive. I later found another bagel place , also within walking distance, where the bagels were larger but no better and where they cost $2 apiece. Two dollars for a plain untoasted bagel without at toppings! Highway robbery! At Kettlemans they are 95 cents each and at another nearby bagelry, on Wednesdays, I can get a dozen bagels, good bagels for only $ 5.49 which works out to 46 cents apiece.

Lately, I have been reading about Montreal Bagels and how they are the best in the world, better than those in New York.  That they are markedly different, I understand because there are significant differences in the way they are made. Montreal bagels are thinner and flatter, have a bigger hole and are less dense. They are also sweetish, being boiled in honeyed water before being baked in wood fired ovens. New York bagels, on the other hand are boiled in water with malt and baked in traditional ovens. This gives them a shiny crust with a hint of crispness.

Which is better? The New York or the Montreal ? Opinions abound and are divided roughly down the middle. I guess it all depends on what you are accustomed to. If you have a New York background, you will plump for the New York bagel; if you are from Montreal, you’ll vote for the Montreal variety. The only true test would be to ask those who have never eaten a bagel and are not from either New York or Montreal.  I haven’t heard of such a survey yet.

No Women Allowed

On the outskirts of Philadelphia is a very exclusive country club does not admit women. The prohibition against women is so strictly enforced that members are even discouraged from having their wives drop them off at the clubhouse. Indeed , some of the stories about how far the club goes to preserve the sanctity of this all male bastion are difficult to believe.

For instance, it is rumored that once or twice a year, a burka clad figure can be seen flitting about the clubhouse offices. No, it is not some religious fanatic; it’s merely the female accountant who has been smuggled in to balance the books. Then there is the apocryphal  story about the time, some years ago, when a club member passed away and left a substantial sum of money to be used for the renovation of the the clubhouse. The bequest was gratefully accepted and the renovation completed but the club stewards then faced a tricky problem. Should the widow be invited to the dedication ceremony? There was a long discussion, behind closed doors, and an agreement was finally hammered out. The widow was invited to attend … providing she left the premises immediately after the ceremony.

One final anecdote : A club member was stricken with chest pains while he was in the clubhouse. He was made as comfortable as possible and the First Aid squad summoned. The ambulance was there in minutes  and two EMTs quickly alighted and rolled out a gurney. But there was a problem and you can guess what it was. One EMT was a man, the other a woman. Even in this dire situation, the club stuck to its rules; the female EMT was told that she could not enter the premises. Luckily, the male EMT was able to load the patient into the ambulance with the help of the other club members and  rushed to the hospital where he made a complete recovery.  Some weeks later, when he was back at the club, he was told what had transpired and is reported to have responded: “Had to do it! Had to do it! Perfectly understand!”

No doubt, you who are reading this have questions to ask . Questions like ” What is the membership of this club like? What’s so great about the club? And, finally, How can such blatant discrimination be tolerated nearly one hundred years after women secured the right to vote? Here are the answers:

The club members are rich old white men, most of whom have their money in a variety of businesses.( They have to be rich because the annual membership dues run into the tens of thousands). They like the club’s all-male environment because they can make business deals in peace and’ boys can be boys’. The club does boast an excellent golf course but it is underused. It also has an excellent kitchen which puts out gourmet food. The members don’t come to the club to play golf; they come there to eat, drink, gamble and doing whatever they want unfettered by the presence of women. Gambling is very big at the club. A member once wagered and lost his car lease on a bet. Another member is reputed to have gambled away a million dollars in a single year. Yet another, no doubt under the influence of drink, is supposed to have played a ground of golf while clad only in his underwear. Crude behavior, it seems is not only tolerated, it is the norm. One member, a Cardinal no less, is alleged to have let out a loud fart while in the clubhouse and said, unapologetically, ” Cardinals fart too”.

Which woman would want to be in an environment like this where crudity and boorishness are the order of the day? No wonder women have not tried to overturn the restrictions against female membership.





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.


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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