Monthly Archives: October 2014

The One Thing I Took for Granted

It was May of 2010 and I had just landed at the Bangalore International Airport early in the morning. I was coming back home after my first two semesters at Virginia Tech. By the time I reached home, it was about 8 AM and I was already hungry. My mom was clearly enthusiastic about cooking for me, but that morning she mentioned that I would have the Idli & Chutney that my grandmother had cooked an hour earlier. Apparently, my grandmother – who lived just a few blocks down the road – had woken up early just so she could cook breakfast for me. And she knew exactly what to cook. The Idli and Chutney that she used to make was the kind of stuff that could fix anything and everything. I think the word I am looking for is ‘panacea’.

So here I was, not having eaten ‘home food’ for over 10 months and my mom served me my grandmother’s best creation for breakfast. I sat in my chair and broke the first idli into a small piece, took a generous dipping of the chutney and put it in my mouth.

To this day, I cannot think of a more profound moment I have had when I ate something. Before I could chew the food and swallow it, I had broken down and was crying like a little baby. It was not just the feeling of experiencing something after a long time that made me cry. It was the realization that I was experiencing after a long time, something I had just taken for granted all my life that hit me like a cannon ball. And I didn’t have to tell my mom anything. She knew exactly why I was crying and that there was just no consoling me at that point. I cried for some 10-15 mins before I resumed eating my breakfast. Needless to say, I stuffed myself with what would have otherwise been a sizable breakfast for 3 people.

In hindsight, that realization seems a lot more obvious. But it does not make it any less significant. Food is one of the things that we are conditioned to take for granted (unless you are in a poor financial situation or related circumstances) while we were growing up. We always assumed that no matter what happens in this world – barring a natural or man made disaster – we would always have dinner served at the time we expect it to. So much so, that we even felt entitled to complain when it was delayed by a few minutes. Breakfast was always prepared 15-20 mins before we left for school or college. It just had to be. There was no other option. It would be an apocalyptic hell if it was delayed even for a few minutes. And all the food we were served had also better be something we liked to eat.

And so being served food that I preferred, at the right time, day after day for over 20 years was something I had gotten so used to that I had never comprehended the idea of anything different. Even when I lived in the hostels during college, the hostel mess always had the food ready at regular times. In any case, I went back home every 2 or 3 weeks during my undergraduate years. So it was only when I moved half way across the world here to the USA did I face the extremely strange situation of nobody serving me my preferred food 3 times a day at my new home.

In hindsight, the way I initially reacted to that is almost comical. I was in complete denial for the first couple of weeks and just did not eat any breakfast. I ate out for lunch and made some makeshift dinner (read cereal). It was at least a month before I came to terms with it and started cooking. Fortunately for me, I found that I took immense pleasure in the act of cooking. And after that there was no looking back. I learnt – mostly through experimentation and long phone calls with my mom – to cook most of the dishes that my mom made on a regular basis and took great pride in sending her photographs of my cooking. Needless to say, she was very impressed and very happy that I was eating home cooked food. And so after the first couple of months, I rarely ate outside and continued to get better at cooking. I even became popular among my Indian and American friends at VT for my cooking!

But when I had that first bite of Idli Chutney on my first return back home, I also knew that I would never ever match the taste that my mom or my grandmother made. Because you see, the dishes my mom or my grandmother ever made were not just made up of spices and vegetables. They were always made with unconditional love. And I suppose it really was THAT ingredient that I had taken for granted in all the food I had ever been served at home. It was also the ingredient that I had missed the most and could never put into my dishes. No wonder I broke down when I had that breakfast back then.

A few months after that, when I was back in the US and having just graduated, I learnt that my grandmother had unexpectedly passed away.  I will never see her again and that pains me to no end. I will also never have her Idli and Chutney once more, but I know that she is still out there helping me to recreate that taste I fear I will never get to experience again.

So yes, we take a lot of things for granted and don’t even know it. It only comes to the surface when it is absent and absent for a long time. So enjoy it while you still have a chance. But also, always pause to appreciate its existence while it lasts.

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Example Demonstrating the Inherent Bias in a Sports Fan

Yesterday I watched with great satisfaction Chelsea getting the better of Arsenal (well, duh!) early in the morning. That pretty much made my day and my weekend. The match was not without incident. Arsene Wenger openly pushed Mourinho in the latter’s technical area following a Gary Cahill tackle on Alexis Sanchez. I am not as interested in why Wenger pushed Mourinho or what exactly transpired there. What drew my attention earlier today is how fans from the two teams reacted to the news that Arsene Wenger wouldn’t be charged by the FA. For this, I looked at the SB Nation blogs for both the teams. (Yes, I follow the Arsenal and Man Utd SB Nation blogs in addition to Chelsea’s).

Wenger pushing Mourinho. But of course, Mourinho is at fault!

If you are not aware, SB Nation is a very well organized website with separate blogs for each sports team across different sports and geographies. The content is generally admirable and there are usually few posts every day on each blog, so this way you will always have something to read about your team. As a fan, this is invaluable as it gives a sense of being part of a fan community from all over the world. You should definitely check it out. But I digress.

So following the FA’s announcement today, We Ain’t Got No History, SB Nation’s Chelsea Blog ran a post that pretty much summed up my feelings. Just the hypocrisy of the FA when it comes to punishing Mourinho (or Pardew for that matter) over other managers is something that never seems to go away. I can possibly write an entire post on that but I won’t. For the most part, WAGNH’s post covers it – with a generous dose of sarcasm and an underlying frustration. Here is a quote from there:

“Point B” was of course on the pitch, where managers aren’t allowed, technically, but let’s not worry too much about technicalities.  It’s not like they matter anyway.

Here’s a thought exercise.  Say we reverse the roles, and it’s Jose Mourinho (or, say, Alan Pardew) who puts both hands on Wenger’s chest and shoves him (however meekly), just how many games do you think he would’ve gotten here?  Three?  Four?  Ten?  Perhaps with a public flogging or two?

Mind you, the Arsenal manager received a fine and a one-match ban for a “sarcastic pat on the back” of the fourth official in 2010.  It’s good to know that the FA considers a light tap on the back a far harsher offense than physically confronting the opposing manager in his own technical area.

The tone and the text is self explanatory. Chelsea fans have seen Mourinho being fined and/or banned for far less by the FA. And watching Wenger go without as much as a warning obviously bothers us. But, whatever. Chelsea still won and Arsene Wenger still hasn’t won the only contest against Mourinho that actually matters – the one on the pitch. I was ready to cease my interest in this incident and get on with my work. But then…..

In comes The Short Fuse! SB Nation’s Arsenal blog. Ah! The Arsenal fans must be extremely relieved that their manager didn’t get any further punishment, right? Perhaps they realized that a manager just going out of his technical area itself constitutes a violation of the game’s rules? Nevermind actually pushing the other manager in the latter’s technical area! Surely they know that a manager is not allowed on the pitch itself? Obviously only the medical team is allowed on the pitch in case of injury, right?

Well, Fuck all that! Here is what The Short Fuse had to say (Bold emphasis added by me):

Both managers have admitted, in their own words, that it was a heated match.  Mourinho stated, accurately, that he’s been guilty of doing “many wrong things in football”, with Wenger confirming in his post-match press conference that Mourinho was guilty yet again in the sport by preventing him from attending to his fallen player, in this case Alexis Sanchez, after being viciously assaulted by Gary Cahill.

After agreeing with Mourinho in that he was wrong, while concluding that Wenger – who’s only got the best interests and concern for his player – was acting in good faith and acted only after being unjustly provoked, the FA made the correct and honest decision today.

I don’t even know where to start. Read the text slowly paying attention to each and every word or phrase. Look at the choice of words used here: ‘fallen player’, ‘viciously assaulted’, ‘Wenger confirming’ that ‘Mourinho was guilty yet again’, ‘being unjustly provoked’?????? Really??

Just to clarify, here is Mourinho’s full quote (You should really read all the quotes here):

But to be fair, I do so many wrong things in football, sometimes you lose emotions but not this time. This time I was just in my technical area and it was not my problem. Story over.

Ah! Nothing makes a quote fit your own narrative more than just picking pieces of it that you like! In addition to the quote manipulation, the choice of words used in the post reeks of complete and unapologetic bias. Apparently Mourinho was at fault because Wenger just confirmed it. Yes, that is all you need. Wenger confirmed that Mourinho was at fault. Case closed. Let’s all go home, eh? And while we are on the way, let’s also give Mourinho a 3 match ban OK?

(On a side note, this is exactly the kind of quotes I expect to hear on Fox News. Complete and unapologetic bias).

Now I can definitely understand the agitated state of mind of the Arsenal fan following yet another loss to Chelsea (and Mourinho). I can also understand the frustration and helplessness of supporting a constantly under achieving team. I can almost feel the outrage in the mind of the guy who wrote that Arsenal post. And it is something I have felt myself many many times over in the past decade or so that I have supported Chelsea. (God knows what all I wanted to do to referee Tom Overbo after the Chelsea – Barcelona semi-final from 2009). So yes I understand the outrage. But to blatantly portray a situation in a favorable light to your fellow fans while painting the other team as evil by twisting quotes and facts (especially like the above) shows something far more fundamental in a sports fan’s psyche. It shows the basic human condition of the need to rationalize by choosing to believe biased points of view.

Sports gives rise to many such situations at an extraordinary frequency – irrespective of whom you support. Add to this all the passion and rivalries that are part of any sport and you have a recipe for extreme mood swings on a weekly basis at the very least! And when the human mind has to cope with these mood swings, it just turns to the ever present tools of rationalization, confirmation bias and subjective validation to make itself feel better. These tools manifest themselves in things such as online arguments, finding fault with the referee, conspiracy theories, declaring that the other team ‘just didn’t deserve to win’, finding a scapegoat, calling for someone’s head, manipulating and presenting quotes and facts that fit our narrative, collective commiseration, etc. The list really is pretty long.

So when we have situations where we are extremely frustrated – like your sports team losing to a hated rival – our minds automatically look for how we can rationalize and justify the loss. Because if we can indeed justify it, then we get a sense of satisfaction from ‘knowing’ that there was something out of our team’s control that cost the result. This does not make us feel happy but it definitely helps in dealing with the pain. (Trust me I have been there many times).

And this is what The Short Fuse has done. The writer has clearly succumbed to the mind’s need to rationalize. His mind is essentially telling him: “Fuck objectivity! I just need to feel good right now!” And THAT, is a celebration of the human condition. The resulting piece only shows to what extent he must have been feeling that outrage and frustration.

The interesting thing about this is that it is not restricted to just sports. The same feelings of outrage, frustration and ultimately rationalization/justification also prevail strongly in all things that we hold sacred. These include topics such as religion, gun control, politics etc. The more passionate you get about something and hold it sacred, the less objective you tend to get in that topic. It is just the way the mind works.

Isn’t it indeed a fascinating world we live in – where we can put sports, religion and gun control in the same box?