“Let’s Make a WhatsApp Group”: The Five Words Nobody Ever Wants to Hear

Whenever three or more people get engaged in any kind of activity, one of them commits the sin of uttering the five most futile words in the English language: “Let’s make a WhatsApp group.” This puts everybody involved in a bind, as an honest opinion is not what friends and families want. So how do you respond when someone insists, “WhatsApp group yahin banayenge!”
You know the drill — four school friends have met after a decade, they feel guilty for not being in touch, they make a Goa plan that’ll never materialise, and just to show commitment to the cause, one of them declares that a WhatsApp group called Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a mist. A group, that’ll end up discarded like Hrithik Roshan’s phone that Farkhan Akhtar flung out of a moving car. 
Of course, not all pointless WhatsApp groups are created equal. Some are borne out of guilt. Some come into being through sheer stupidity. And some out of compulsion. An office group with bosses is no fun, so let’s create another group without them so we can bitch about them. But then, there are also other coworkers that you want to bitch about, so let’s create another group excluding them. Then, how about a “core friends group” where you do charcha about everyone else except those in the group? And all of this effort is just so that you can gossip
Let’s not forget the “official” group where work-related stuff  is discussed. This group functions a lot like the office: Everyone is politically correct and it’s here where the manager wakes up every Friday evening to assign “urgent” assignments to the team. And then there are those colleagues, who don’t waste a chance to create a new chat group – one of every new project, one for the potluck, one for the dreadful office party. 
There might be 20 people in the entire office but it has 15 chat groups. Of course, most of these groups are pointless as a steak knife at a vegan dinner.
As painful as office WhatsApp groups are, as you switch jobs, they come and go, much like India’s recent spate of RBI governors. But there is no escape from family, and by extension, from family Whatsapp groups, the darkest corner of the internet. There is a family group, there is an extended family group, there are various variations of groups with cousins, and there is one where you’re connected with relatives from your hometown. Despite the variety of family WhatsApp groups, each works like the other: It is replete with good morning messages, festival wishes, birthday wishes, and fake news forwards about how a Pepsi worker’s blood got mixed with the product and he had AIDS so you shouldn’t drink Pepsi anymore. Family WhatsApp groups are the only place where your true bigotry is on display. And even after heated debates between chacha and bhatija over Modi ji, none exit the group. Because come Raksha Bandhan, they’ll have to meet – chacha is one who gives his nephew money for the daaru party and he returns the favour by forwarding his uncle some “raunchy clips”.  So there’s an awkward silence for hours until chachi ji sends that video about that “crocodile spotted in Dadar”. You just sit and suffer through it, like the time you shelled out 500 bucks to catch the first day-first-show of Happy New Year.
While offshoots of school, college, family, and office WhatsApp groups contribute to most of the junk on our phones, there are also random groups that come to life once every few months, like Hema Malini before a general election. These are friends from gym, football buddies, dance class mates, or those two people you once met at a trek five years ago. Friends come and go but the life cycle of a WhatsApp group remains the same. It first begins with bundles of energy, discussions, and debates, with everyone taking part like it was the first day of school. Eventually the enthusiasm wears off and the group is restricted to wishing people on birthdays and forwarding links of your MBA survey because you need hits. A few months down the line, when people stop responding to even anniversary wishes, the group itself goes into a lull, never to be seen active again. 
I know there’s debate around the success rate of PM’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, but a WhatsApp clean-up act is what we need in the digital space. I think we all need to come to an agreement that extraneous groups need to go. Don’t we all need a break from each other? Do we really need an office group after we spend close to 10 hours slogging it out together? And does a family of four need one to debate whether to have baingan or bhindi for dinner over WhatsApp?     
We tend to create WhatsApp groups with a lot more enthusiasm and with equal fervour put it on mute. So if you we can’t stand most most of these chats, the only logical reply to someone saying let’s make a WhatsApp group, is, let’s not. 

How My Cricket Coaching Taught Me Skills that School Could Not

Last ball, three runs to win.
I was the captain of the fielding side, positioned at mid-off. Our pacer Zeeshan Khatri bowled a yorker, the batsman managed to block it, and the ball trickled straight towards the bowler. He could have just taken the ball, strolled towards the stumps, clipped the bails off and won the game for us. But he was all of nine years old and attempted a direct hit at the bowler’s end. It turned out to be an overthrow that flew past me for a boundary and we ended up giving away a match that was sitting on a platter. United Sports Club had lost to Poisar Gymkhana in this nail-biting Under-10 cricket match and all us, red- cheeked boys did on our ride back home to Mira Road is cry. I didn’t know it then, but it was my first lesson in leadership, teamwork, coping with pressure, and dealing with failure. And only sport could teach it to me.
“I want to play cricket for India,” was every child’s dream in the era of Sachin Tendulkar, and I was no different. Every birthday, I got a cricket bat as a gift and I would watch all of India’s games (including Test matches) in their entirety. My father responded to my enthusiasm by getting me enrolled to a summer coaching camp with one motive: “Vacation mein kuch activity karega, warna ghar mein sirf TV dekhega pura din.” But it worked: A boy who was too lazy to get up for a glass of water would now voluntarily wake up at 5 am every morning during summer vacations for cricket coaching.
Our coach, Khan Sir was a typical pot-bellied uncle with Bhagat Singh-wali moustache, who wore a white hat and always walked with his hands crossed at the back. He had an unassuming personality but was quite stern and you didn’t want to cross him when it came to discipline. If you arrived five minutes late, he would just smile and declare “two rounds extra!” and walk away. There was no debate or arguing with Khan Sir and you had no choice but to start running. A murmur, and the punishment would go up by a round. “If I can be on time and everyone else can be on time, why can’t you be on time?” he would ask. A couple of such punishments and you learned to reach early, a habit I maintain to this day.  
Whether it was whispering expletives at a bad umpiring decision, resting during warm-up when you weren’t supposed to, or needlessly flashing outside the off stump (like Quinton de Kock), there was a crafty punishment for every crime. And it was always delivered with a smile, because you were learning a lesson. Khan Sir made it compulsory for all the boys to wash their own soiled clothes and clean their spiked shoes without help from their moms. He would then question parents on whether the kids were complying. If the answer was in the negative, there was more punishment incoming. I didn’t realise it back then, but he taught us early on about entitlement and equality. When one of us told him, “Kapda ladkiyan dhoti hai,” he made the boy not only wash his clothes but everyone’s tiffin boxes. Our coach might have been a man of few words but I’ve not forgotten the lessons he taught us even today, a decade later.
I will never forget the time I once went in to bat without a thigh pad. It was a strict no-no, and unfortunately I got hit. Khan sir was furious. But he had a polite way of making his point, and he just called out me out of the nets immediately and told me to do some fielding drills. He didn’t allow me to bat that entire vacation. I would often forget the multiplication table for seven but I never forgot to wear a thigh pad ever again in my life. You see, Khan sir had very simple ways to deliver complex messages and build habits that would stay with us lifelong.
While school was teaching us about the soil in Sangli and what the Pythagorean theorem was, there were certain skill sets that were out of its purview. It could help me land a great job at TCS or Wipro but not teach me how to handle the work pressure or work as a team in a corporate setup. The curriculum wasn’t designed to teach us teamwork, leadership, patience, decision-making or temperament – skills that are essential to life itself. But sport is a great teacher of things school can’t teach you, and it is the reason I cherish my formal cricket coaching years. I never played cricket at a professional level or ever became really good at it, but those years in coaching prepared me for life itself.  
Afterall, there’s nothing more beautiful than having a good time with your friends on the field and learning life-skills without even realising it.

What is Yuvraj Singh’s Legacy in Indian Cricket? Two World Cups and a Lifetime of Memories

As long as cricket is watched, written, and talked about, people will reference Yuvraj Singh’s heroics at Kingsmead, as the southpaw bludgeoned six sixes in an over. It is the most astonishing moment of play that most of us will experience in our lifetime. Yuvraj Singh played it, Ravi Shatri narrated it, and fans across the world lived it. No one will ever forget what it felt like to be in that moment. As Yuvraj Singh calls curtains on his international career, his lasting legacy will be the delivery of such unforgettable moments, whether it was Natwest 2002, World T20 2007, or World Cup 2011.
There are very few sights in world cricket as pleasing as Yuvraj Singh with his trademark shuffle and beautiful backlift, getting to the pitch of the ball and effortlessly caressing it through covers for a boundary. Seemingly a gentle, almost lazy push, the ball would fly past the infield and no fielder had the audacity to move a muscle. They had the privilege of standing in awe, and appreciating the display. It is cliched to talk of left-handed batsmen and grace, but at the zenith of his powers, Yuvi’s feet moved like a ballerina dancer and his batting was pure art.
Make no mistake, when the situation demanded otherwise, he could also be a bully. Ask Stuart Broad, who got smoked over every part of the ground on that dreaded night in Kingsmead.
The difference between good players and great players lies in when they choose their moment. And Yuvraj was a man for the big occasion. The bigger the stage, the more likely it was to bring out the best in him. India has won two World Cups over the last 15 years, the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and the ODI World Cup in 2011. Yuvraj Singh played a vital role in both, vice-captain in the former and Player of the Tournament in the latter.
When it came to ICC tournaments, Yuvi had no respect for previous records, current form, or fitness reports; he only cared for performance when it mattered most. It could be a 70 of 30, it could be a breakthrough with his modest left-arm floaters, or a moment of magic in the field. Yuvraj Singh could never be left out of a big game.
The only sight that could top Yuvraj’s style and flair with the willow was his gleeful million-dollar smile. Yuvi is the likeable darling of cricket, respected by opposition, adored by commentators, and loved by the fans. In him, supporters saw a character they could relate to, someone who was a celebrity on screen but was just like their friend. He was the young gun in a dressing room featuring Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and Dravid, but that never stopped him from playing pranks on his teammates. Everytime he dived to his left and saved a boundary in the point region, he would share a grin with his buddy Mohammad Kaif fielding at covers. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and never shied away from a bit of bhangra after India had won a game. Yuvi is unapologetically stylish, has a dash of swagger about him, and is unabashedly himself, a persona that transcends the cricket field.
If Sachin Tendulkar is the God of cricket, Yuvraj Singh is the God of the Comeback, on the field and beyond. Dropped a few times from both the Test and ODI team, he always slogged it out in the domestic circuit, returning to form and giving the selectors a good headache. For their part, the fans kept rooting for him. Who could stop a man who had battled cancer to win the World Cup for his country? It was telling of not only his cricketing acumen, but his character as well.
Yuvraj Singh’s story isn’t lived only through his boundaries, wickets, and direct hits, it has also been lived through heartbreaking pictures from hospital rooms and videos of ecstatic celebrations after the World Cup finals. In a career full of highs and lows, Yuvraj Singh delivered memories that we will never forget in our lifetime.

Why the Neighbourhood Men’s Salon is My Favourite Place to Watch a World Cup Game

If you are a crazy rich Indian with frequent flier points that can get you on to any flight you desire, the best place to watch a World Cup game is undoubtedly Lord’s. If you are a city slicker, you’ll probably swipe your card and catch the match with your bros over beers in a plush SoBo watering hole. And if you are an everyday Indian, you’ll flock outside an electronic shop to-and-from work to get an update on the game. But let me commit a cardinal sin here (almost like stating that MS Dhoni should not be called out for “lack of intent”): The best place to watch a cricket match in India is not a stadium or a pub, it’s a men’s salon.  
By men’s salon, I don’t mean those big, branded franchises where your barber is more qualified than you, and you call him a stylist, not a hajaam. I’m talking about that dingy cornershop near your house, which has posters of Salman Khan from Tere Naam plastered on the walls, towels drying outside in the sun, and the fake version of every cream and moisturiser available in the market. (Go-Real, anyone?)
Every Indian neighbourhood is replete with parlours that cater only to men and they are the den of the retired and unemployed. Old Bollywood songs provide the background score as life unfolds lazily inside these salons. There is that odd customer getting a champi while the other hairdressers are waiting around. Nothing really happens inside these parlours… unless there’s a cricket match.
The salon in my gully called Scissors Palace is no different. I have been a regular here since I was a child. We would often rush to the salon for a glass of water after playing in the sun, or to catch the score of a Test match. During exams, when mum would not allow me to watch the game, I’d sneak out of the house, run to Scissors Palace, watch a couple of deliveries, and rush back. It’s been my favourite place to watch cricket ever since.
The owner of the salon is an old Mr Miyagi-type character who has been in the business since my papa was a young lad. He gives the best massages in the world, and his favourite story dates back to 1983, when Kapil paaji lifted the World Cup for India.  
On most days, Scissors Palace is as dull as the first two hours of Ship of Theseus. But on match day, the salon springs to life as every neighbourhood cricket fanatic gravitates toward it like Salman Khan fans throng to Gaiety-Galaxy for an Eid release. These gatherings are simple affairs – there’s no one flaunting an expensive jersey or carrying vuvuzelas or whistles. There is no time to take selfies or post one Instagram story per over. There are no stands named after cricketing greats and there is no place to sit. There’s just a musty shop, where emotions run high and complaints that someone is stepping on your toes are not welcome.
cricket match is probably the only occasion when patrons of Scissors Palace don’t stare at gora models in a magazine but instead have their eyes fixed on the men on screen for 10 straight hours. There are no crisp 4K visuals on a 55-inch flat screen mounted on the wall. There is no surround sound. It’s just a bulky box, which Onida probably stopped manufacturing decades ago, and which goes from colour to black-and-white on a whim. But in all this madness lies the majja.  
You can barely hear the commentators amid all the din. But that’s okay because the asli commentary is being delivered by the 30-odd people cramped inside the salon. They are as passionate about the game as Kohli is about hurling expletives.
Watching a game of cricket in a salon such as Scissors Palace, with complete strangers, is an experience like no other. There are regulars like Mr Miyagi and a couple of building uncles; the rest of the cast keeps changing. Invariably, there’s a teenager who has grown up on a heavy dose of T20 and gets restless if a boundary hasn’t been hit in six minutes. Patience is a virtue, and it is taught to him by Mr Miyagi, who will take an hour for a haircut on a match day – he’s all absorbed in the game and gives you a snip or two in between overs. At the other corner of the salon, Yadav, a young hairdresser, is telling his latest customer about Kuldeep Yadav, who hails from his village and how his chacha ka ladka played with him when they were kids. “Susheel ladka hai,” he says, as if approving of the left-arm chinaman. This is the story Yadav tells everyone who graces his salon chair.
Another regular at all salon screenings is Witty Venkatesh, who gives hot takes of the kind that would make him an instant celeb on Twitter. “We need 327 today.” “I think Rishabh Pant should open the innings with Rohit Sharma.” “Iss paar ya to uss paar. Time waste karne se kuch nahi hoga,” he goes on. Heckling him is Cynical Chacha. He is Scissors Palace most regular patron – you’ll see him at the shop every day of the week. “Bahot satta laga hai ye match pe”, “Sab setting ho gaya hai,” he says each time someone drops a catch or misfields, much to the annoyance of the crowd.
There is a lot of banter, it often turns into a heated debate and an occasional scuffle.    
If India loses the game, everyone from Cynical Chacha to Witty Venkatesh start cursing Kohli and the boys. Everyone turns into a critic, except for Mr Miyagi. I have never heard him say anything bad about the Men in Blue. Not even on their worst days.
And if India wins, the celebration here is not one to miss. The big-hearted Mr Miyagi will treat everyone to cutting chai. The school boys gathered will get a Kohli haircut, Yadav will start practising his bowling action in the aisle. Everyone is high-fiving and hugging their way through the crowd; it’s a lot like a mosh pit now. The post-match analysis will go on for an hour or so after the game, until a tired Mr Miyagi decides to turn off the lights, much to the disappointment of the revellers.   
The crowds disperse with as much enthusiasm if not more as those exiting from the grand gates of Lord’s. We might not have the best seats to the spectacle, but we’ve had the time of our lives. For a few hours in the cramped salon, all is forgotten – the worries about home loans, ailing parents, mounting bills, and promotions. And the differences take a back seat. It doesn’t matter if you backed the BJP or the Congress in the elections, no one cares about what you worship, or what’s the meat on your plate. Because if it is India playing in the World Cup, your unified by only one mantra: Jeetega toh Kohli hi!

I’m a Liberal and I’m Angry With You, India

Iam a liberal and I am alarmed at your choices, India. I cannot recognise you anymore. You have ushered in the dark days of democracy. Why did you vote for Modi?
A vote for Narendra Modi is a vote for hate. A vote for Modi is a vote for a Hindu Rashtra. A vote for Modi is a vote for a regressive and backward India.
A vote for the Trinamool is not a vote for a dictatorial Mamata Banerjee. A vote for the Congress is not a vote for a riot-accused Kamal Nath. A vote for the Samajwadi Party is not a vote for dynasty. A vote for the BSP is not a vote for a corrupt Mayawati. But every single vote for BJP, regardless of the candidate or the rationale behind the vote, is a vote for Pragya Thakur.
The poor in the village might have voted for the BJP because he probably got access to electricity, water, or toilets. The urban youth might have voted for BJP in the hope that he might get a job. Maybe those living in Naxal-affected Chhattisgarh voted for the BJP because their lives are slightly more secure now. But no, elections are about black and white binaries and I will decide that binary for the entire country.
If I didn’t have water to drink and food to eat, would I care if we bombed some terrorists in Pakistan? Of course not. But what do poor people know? Modi spoke about Balakot strikes in a speech, so they voted for him. I am educated and intelligent, so I would never do that, but let me insult the intelligence and wisdom of the masses by claiming they are naive and gullible.
One in two people has voted for the BJP, and each of the 22.6 odd-crore people are wrong. They are evil, poisonous to the core, and bigoted. The majority, comprising people from vastly different economic levels, social backgrounds, religions, castes, languages and cultures, who have somehow gotten together in this fabulous exercise to give us a decisive mandate that points in one direction; they are all wrong. All the infinite wisdom in the world resides in me and only I know what the world should be like.
And today, I am angry with you, India.
The mandate you have given is not one that I like, so I have lost my faith in the system and country itself. I may have lost touch with millions of you, but that is your fault, not mine. So I will label all of you, whom I have never met or know nothing about, as fascists, minority haters, and hate-mongers.
Why did you have to vote for Modi, India?
In a country where over 200 million people live in absolute poverty, I kept warning you that the biggest thing under threat was this abstract “idea of India” that I still can’t explain or define. On the other hand, Modi kept promising electricity, toilets, and security, so you voted for him. Why don’t you, the poor farmer in Madhya Pradesh, have the exact same concerns, as I, a keyboard warrior from Mumbai? Sometimes, you are so heartless, selfish, and narrow-minded, India. And I am livid today.
What was wrong with the Opposition? Maybe they didn’t have any shared ideology except “anyone but Modi”. Maybe they all kept fighting among themselves and kept crossing each other all the time. Maybe they didn’t have a leader that you could look up to. Maybe you couldn’t visualise what that khichdi government would look like if you didn’t vote for Modi. So what?
The subjective and abstract “idea of India” that I have in my head, which means different things for different people, was at stake, and you have disappointed. Your vote has taken the country backward today, into the dark ages. Of course, I am the sole authority that decides which vote takes India forward and vice-versa. What were you thinking?
I hope you feel extremely guilty about what you have done. I may label you ignorant, illiterate, and a terror sympathiser, but remember that I need you by my side in the next election. But today, I am angry with you India.
Yes, I am a liberal but I have no tolerance for this mandate.