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Retail Therapy

Written by Wednesday, 15 May 2013 09:46


Retail Therapy

 Keep cool this summer:

Make the most of summer this season with Pepe Jeans. On a purchase of merchandise worth Rs 5,000, you get a branded limited edition watch on purchases worth Rs 7,500 you get a pair of limited edition couples watches for free. You can choose from a range of tshirt, skirts, denims, shorts, skirts, dresses, tops and accessories like bags, caps, scarves, belts and much more. Available at all Pepe jeans outlets


Written by Sunday, 07 April 2013 13:40

A fan of Test cricket explains why he remains sceptical about the T20 format, and the annual league tamasha


Written by Saturday, 08 December 2012 08:43

As India’s greatest batsman goes into the evening of his career, Dev S Sukumar examines the arguments being made for and against his retirement.

The Warrior Sage in Tattered Jeans

Written by Monday, 24 September 2012 08:16


Over four decades, Avinash Subramanyam has travelled to the world’s greatest senseis and mastered the most difficult of martial arts. He shares with P Radhika his insights into training, body intelligence, everyday life and spirituality.


 What is important in budo, the ‘martial path’ or the ‘way of the warrior', is not merely the destination but the journey itself. This is one of the many lessons you come away with after meeting Avinash Subramanyam, one of India’s foremost martial arts practitioners.


Avinash, as he likes to be called, excels in various forms-Karate, Ninjitsu, Tai Chi, Dao Yin, Lian Gong and Qi Gong. The website of his centre ( lists his achievements, but no list can adequately capture the man who likes to describe himself as ‘ordinary’. Looking at him in jeans and t-shirt, you could mistake him for any other. But there is something to this ‘ordinary man’ that warrants a story. 


 Thirty-nine years ago, his martial arts journey began in Hyderabad, “perhaps to overcome intimidation by people around me”. Beginning with boxing and judo at 13, he subsequently learnt karate for 15 years. “But there was something lacking,” he recalls. This void set him on a journey that took him all across the world, from China to Japan to Canada, and to teachers in the remotest of places.


Bruce Lee was not a name in India when Avinash started learning martial arts. But in the mid-1970s, he was becoming a phenomenon in India, and as a result Chinese martial arts gained popularity. At 24, Avinash was already teaching karate to about 1,000 people in the Indian army, and a 1,000-photo documentation of his training sent to a karate master in Japan earned him his first travel abroad to learn the art. But the locale was not of the slightest interest to Avinash, who did not even cross a road to see Tokyo or take in any of Japan’s tourist attractions. All his wanderings were limited to the realm of the arts he was learning. 


And they were no less exciting. He realised the martial arts were “not about aggression or fighting an opponent but fighting the inadequacy within oneself.” Avinash has trained, over the last four decades, under the greatest teachers, some the very founders of art forms: Tai Chi (Grand Master Feng Zhiqiang), Dao Yin (Grand Master Zuang Guangde) and Lian Gong (Grand Master Zhyuan Yuan Ming). 


 “It is enough to know each was unique; they had unbelievable knowledge. In comparison, I am nothing. But names are not important, for how can I do justice to the innumerable nameless people who have shown me what budo means-a five-year-old child in Japan who corrected my technique, showing me in a single move what I, as a martial arts teacher, was struggling to grasp, and an 80-year-old teacher who effortlessly sliced through wooden blocks with a katana (a Japanese sword) when I, with all my training, couldn’t even manage to hold the blocks in place?”


 Simplicity and humility not only marked the lives of great masters but also their martial arts. One of Avinash’s teachers told him to spend a year each mastering just one punch, one block and one kick, since “one technique is all techniques”. He also got a word of caution to keep his kick simple: “The higher you kick the harder you fall”.


 At 14, proud that he could do a hundred push-ups, Avinash asked his teacher how many he could do. The answer left him sceptical: 5,000! The teacher then stood upright and pushed his hands upwards. He smiled and said, “You waste your whole life pushing downwards, but I lift the sky”. The upward movement embodied a way of life measured not by big, strong arms and muscles but by internal freedom and strength.


 Training at Seefar focuses on developing internal energy or the life-force called qi, or what is known in India as prana. To put it in the words of Master Shifu of Kung Fu Panda, it helps “harness the flow of the universe” to achieve the impossible. Avinash recounts watching wrinkled 80- year-old Japanese masters, bent with age, who could, without any ado, slice through rolls of mats with a sword.


It is possible qi accounts for the inexplicable events in Avinash’s own life. He once survived an electric shock that ripped through his body when he came into contact with a 11,000-volt live wire. Defying medical logic, he managed to drive himself to the hospital, and then come out unscathed. The point is not to question medical science, he says, but to recognise possibilities beyond reason and logic.


Martial arts training reveals something vastly undermined: body intelligence. Usually, we process our thoughts and actions through our brains. But if we acknowledge the existence and vastness of knowledge that lies beyond analytical reasoning, says Avinash, we begin to understand body intelligence. He cites his experience: “I learnt to kick well when I let my leg kick; I learnt to punch better when I let my hand punch.” That does not mean the mind is not important. “Ultimately”, he observes, “we need to achieve synergy of mind, body, spirit and soul.” 


 Body intelligence also explains why animals play such a central role in Avinash’s life. Chinese martial arts have drawn on movements of the tiger, snake, crane and monkey in forms such as Qi Gong, Wing Chung and Wushu. But essentially, Avinash says, what we need to learn from the animals is their uninhibited freedom when they fight. When a leopard weighing 60-100 kg attacks a bison weighing 1,000 kg, it goes for the enemy fearlessly. It is not technique or muscle but this freedom, uncontrolled by reason, that is the key to a good punch or kick. The inner force arising from freedom can help one scale ‘impossible’heights, whether in martial combat or in life.


Avinash’s connect with animals is not limited to their fighting ability. He lives with four dogs (only because he can’t have more!) and cares for many around his neighbourhood. You will find him stop his car or pause during his walk to feed stray dogs and cats, or call a doctor to treat their wounds. This love wasn’t acquired by will: “It is just there”. Once, he pulled a stray cat out of the gutter, and when the doctor said it required warmth to survive, he placed it inside his shirt, slept with it without twitching a muscle, and brushed his teeth and ate without disturbing it. This selfless love constitutes the essence of Avinash’s life.  


For him, the truth of each person’s life lies underneath all the muck accumulated over the years, and which martial arts training can unveil. And Avinash’s truth lies in his special bond with strays, defenceless against the cruelty inflicted on them.


If this picture of Avinash conjures up images of an austere, robe-wearing philosopher, it is far from the truth. Avinash readily admits he is not a man of intellect or philosophy. He can be the absolute prankster, and falls off his chair sharing a joke or watching Laurel and Hardy. People around him tease him for how slapstick and unserious he can be. He enjoys his Absolute and Glenfiddich, his Marlboros and Dunhill ultra lights. He is an ordinary man, but one living it in an extraordinary manner.


In a freewheeling interview over four sittings, he explains the connection between martial arts and karma, spirituality, and intuition.


You say martial arts training cuts through the identities we are known by, clearing away the muck, and shows what’s the real self. What does this mean in concrete terms? 


Largely, we identify ourselves through the experiences of our life and a conscious understanding of those experiences. Training helps us get a glimpse of the internal universe built not consciously but on body intelligence. If you take the film The Bourne Identity, after Jason Bourne is riddled with bullet injuries in his head, he loses consciousness and has no memory of the past. But, when the doctor throws a gun at him, he breaks it into bits and pieces. He can take on seven people in combat. His consciousness doesn’t know that he can open a gun but his body knows it. This is body memory, body intelligence. 


 When you practise martial arts like Tai Chi, with a focus on internal training, there is a cleansing of the body through the awakening of qi. This happens because martial arts draws largely from animal styles, and helps the body synchronise with nature, which in turn awakens qi. We need to realise that this is a bodily awakening, not that of the mind or the brain. Even in yoga, for example, the awakening in the kundalini is represented with a serpent at the tip of the spine and not in the brain. This awakening creates internal harmony that leads to a realisation of a whole new self.


Management gurus talk about the importance of intuition and gut feeling. Are you saying something different when you talk about body intelligence? 


 Intuition is part of a higher experience that develops when you confront danger and death. A mountain climber develops intuition because he confronts death at every step. When you practice weapon training, you know even a small mistake can lead to injury. But what experiences of a management person can help build intuition? Intuition is body language honed by real life experience, by long years of training. You cannot teach instinct on a blackboard. You can’t ask 20 questions and decide whether a person has instinct or not. Also, how much can outbound activities like monkey crawl and spider web help develop instinct? Management concepts are right but they need to be accompanied by concrete internal training.


How else does training in the martial arts benefit a person? 


It is a mistake to think martial arts is merely for those interested in learning combat. In fact, it’s a way of life. Training builds great body language. It vastly improves your health because you train to react to the world at the level of the skin and not with your heart and mind. This reduces the body-mind damage manifested through illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, cancer and depression. At the level of the psyche, internal training builds tremendous confidence, security and energy. It increases your threshold to bear hunger, thirst, sleep and pain. Negative emotions such as fear, insecurity, jealousy and anger diminish. You feel so internally secure that you need very little externally, in terms of work and relationships, to make you happy. That is true joy. 


Though you emphasise internal or spiritual training, you are not a guru in saffron or white. What do spirituality and religion mean to you? 


Spirituality is an understanding of self, an acknowledgement of internal changes that occur with training. If you take my own example, when I was young, I did not believe in God. I believed that everything that happened in my life was because of me. But life and training taught me differently. They led me to believe in nature, universe and God beyond the ‘me’, the ego. I have experienced how with training a person becomes less hard and rigid. My greatest teachers were the kindest and gentlest of people. For me the most spiritual people are those who accept their mistakes, come out of the hard and brittle ways of life, and empathise with others. This quest for inner knowledge, to know who you are and what makes you tick, is an expression of spirituality. This is different from a mere practice of religious rituals. Martial arts’ training that focuses on internal freedom sheds you of religious dogma and restriction. You are not bound by anything, and you walk tall, walk free. You learn to accept all paths as having some value. You may say martial arts is a religion with its own discipline. But it does not prescribe dos and don’ts; it doesn’t say that our path is the only path to truth. 


 During your college going years, you were free and rebellious—a drag-racing, 501 jeans-wearing man. How do you explain your transition?


 True, when I was young I was a biker, racer and rebel, but I was also training. I was disciplined. And training changes you. I realised to rebel for the sake of rebelling was not cool. I did not wear torn 501 jeans because it was fashionable. I continue to wear 501s for 40 years because I believe it reflects me. The holes release the tension in the cloth, making it more comfortable. It makes it easier for me to move and kick in an emergency. When I see the holes, I also see it as reflecting my life (smiles): it makes me humble.


(Radhika is a post-doctoral researcher at Nimhans, Bangalore and a student of Avinash Subramanyam) 


Team Baroda’s recent win of the national T20 title has turned the spotlight on an interesting phenomenon—coaches from our state quietly turning around the fortunes of Ranji teams all over the country 


Baroda ended their decade-long title drought in domestic cricket in March this year when they won the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 championship. It was their first national title since winning the Ranji Trophy a decade ago in 2001. 


 While the win brought cheers to the cricketing fraternity of Baroda, known for its great cricketing history, there is a Karnataka connection to savour. Former Karnataka cricketer and Ranji coach Sanath Kumar is the Baroda coach. It was his first national assignment when he took over two years ago.


Baroda’s success not only proved his mettle as a coach, but was also an indication why coaches from Karnataka are so much in demand on the domestic circuit these days 


Kumar isn’t the only coach from Karnataka to taste success last season.Former Indian all-rounder Sunil Joshi, who picked up Hyderabad’s reins after they were demoted to the Plate Group (consisting of the second-tier of Ranji teams), had a fantastic debut season as a coach. 


 Though he could not help Hyderabad win any silverware, he ensured that the team was back in the elite league. The icing on the cake came when Hyderabad sprang a surprise by qualifying for the national finals of the Vijay Hazare trophy ahead of much fancied Tamil Nadu.


Today, Kumar and Joshi aren’t the only coaches from Karnataka in charge of Ranji teams of other states. Former Indian pacer and former India bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad has been appointed coach of Uttar Pradesh, while former India batsman Sujith Somasundar will be guiding the Kerala Ranji team. 


 Looking back, stalwarts like Roger Binny have coached teams like Bengal, but this is the first time coaches from Karnataka are at the helm of several state Ranji teams simultaneously.


And back home, even the Karnataka team is being coached by former Karnataka batsman J Arun Kumar. So what is it about the cricket gurus from Karnataka that other teams find so attractive? 


Arun Kumar says, “They are well-equipped to handle elite players as they are technically sound when compared to coaches from other states.” Arun Kumar helped Karnataka reach the finals of the Ranji Trophy in 2010 after a long gap of 11 years 


 “Coaches from the old school of thought want to believe they are masters of the game. But new age coaches realise they and the players share a symbiotic relationship... and coaches are seen as support staff,” he explains.


Most coaches from Karnataka are young, and they can vibe with young players from any state. “And once there is a comfort level between the coach and the players, the results are automatically visible on the field,” says Arun Kumar .


 Somasunder adds good communication skills to the mix: “These days, communication is a big challenge for coaches. If you take a look at coaches from Karnataka, their communication skills are decent. They can understand the players and today, that matters a great deal.”


 The former Karnataka opener believes coaches can strategise well only if they understand the players. “These days, during Ranji Trophy matches, one can no longer shout and give directions from the boundary line. So planning becomes a key factor for any coach,” says Somasunder, who is already making a difference to the Kerala team.


In fact, just after Somasunder took over, the young Kerala side managed to reach the finals of the Buchi Babu cricket tournament in Chennai earlier this month. 


 Not all coaches have the same style. Sunil Joshi, a more senior professional, likes to lead by example. “I am a fitness freak and when the players see me work out relentlessly, they are inspired to emulate me. Similarly, when I bowl at the nets for long spells, the boys ask me how I manage without a break. My answer to them is simple—I enjoy what I do. That’s their cue—when you start enjoying what you do, results are bound to show,” says Joshi.


His success last year could also be credited to the fact that he was still active on the domestic circuit when he took over Hyderabad. “Since I have been playing the game, I’m aware of the demands of domestic cricket. That’s an advantage when it comes to motivating the boys,” Joshi says. There are other factors. Karnataka’s young coaches have worked their way up through a structured system on the cricket field 


 “Cooperative competition is a term I use to describe cricket in Karnataka. While there is immense competition among the players, we also share knowledge,” says Somasunder.


Coaches from Karnataka use the same method while coaching other teams, and in most cases, the results are favourable. When coaches from Karnataka work outside, they go with an open mind, and no prejudices. 


 “And players find us different from local coaches, who usually take the players for granted. Even the players open up easily and feel free to share their views,” says Arun Kumar. When he used to play, he recalls, coaches would simply pick flaws.


For teams like Hyderabad and Kerala, a coach from Karnataka also gives insights into the opposition when they play Karnataka in the South Zone tournaments. 


 But coaches don’t set much store by that ‘advantage’. “Yes, knowledge about the opposition does help, but these days, most teams know enough about their opposition. It might help if a player is making his debut and the coach has seen him play local cricket. But that’s inconsequential,” explains Somasunder, whose team lost to Karnataka in the Buchi Babu finals.


 In any case, when the new Ranji season gets under way next month, it will not only be the Karnataka players who will be fighting it out for the championship, but also cricketers-turned-coaches from the state who will want to guide their teams to glory.


(Angshuman Deb Barma is a freelance sports journalist and has been following Karnataka cricket closely) 


A loser’s brave story

Written by Tuesday, 04 September 2012 10:21

National record holder Sahana Kumari explains the hardships she faced in London, and the humiliation she lives through after returning from the Olympics without a medal.

Participating in the recently concluded Olympics 2012 in London was a dreamcome- true for national record holding athlete Sahana Kumari. A resident of Jnana Bharati, she had hired a foreign coach with the intention of bringing home a medal, but things didn’t go the way she had planned. Sahana hails from Mangalore, and now lives with her husband and daughter in Bangalore. She failed to clear even in the qualifying round, following one of the worst performances in her highjump career. Sahana, who holds the national record in women’s high jump at 1.92 metres, could barely manage 1.80 metres in London. One of nine state athletes who took partin the event, she was the only one to represent India in high jump. But for all that, the state sports authorities added insult to injury by not turning up to receive her on her return.Sahana tells Talk even friends and neighbours are treating her differently because she failed to win a medal. Excerpts from an interview: First of all, let us congratulate you on being among the rare mom-athlete Olympians. For that, I can thank my family. My husband and parents have supported me, emotionally and financially, to help me realise my dream.



You told the media that you didn’t clear the qualifying round because of the severe cold in London…


I did complain of the severe cold. It led to my worst performance. But there were other reasons as well. For instance, I didn’t get enough time for a last round of practice. If I had managed at least two hours of practice before the qualifying rounds, I could’ve warmed up and performed better. To warm up on Indian grounds is easy, but in that hostile weather it was difficult.



Why didn’t the Olympics Association fund you?


Indian Olympics Association (IOA) funds only the individual athlete and not the coach. Even that was so tight that an Olympian having an extra cup of coffee or sandwich had to pay from her own pocket. Athletes from other countries were not only funded well, but their coaches were funded, too. That’s why I decided to fund my own trip, mostly with help.


Is it tougher for women athletes who have children?


I don’t think so. If an athlete says she can’t achieve anything because she has a daughter or a son, then it’s completely untrue. Whatever I’ve achieved today is because of my family’s support.


You said there was no one to greet you at the airport on your return…


Yes, it was the most humiliating moment for me. The same people who wished me good luck when I got selected were not concerned with me after I failed to win a medal. They weren’t interested. There was no one present at the airport except my family.


How about friends and neighbours?


There’s been a drastic change in the way my neighbours and friends are treating me now. In our country, participation in a big sports event is not good enough. It feels horrible to face people who think that I’ve brought a bad name to the country by not winning a single medal. The questions asked by my neighbours and friends, even when I am in public, are hurtful and incredibly difficult to deal with. They don’t even know that it I didn’t participate in the Olympics with the government’s money. Before you left for the Olympics, the sports minister had announced that Olympians from the state would get Rs 10 lakh each… Such statements are gimmicks, pure publicity stunts. If they are so concerned, they should have picked up our training bills over these years. I’m not complaining only about money, but the lack of moral support. All they do is, when we are departing for a big event, come with garlands and make speeches as though they have been taking care of us all these years. I’m sick of their false promises.



Do you blame cricket mania for the poor support for athletes?

No. Look at England and Australia, who do well in cricket but also treat their athletes with respect. Here we watch cricket throughout the year, but are not excited about the Olympics, organised once in four years, or about the athletes who participate. Frankly, people’s attitude towards sport need to change.



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