Lessons from London- with Tom John!

I had won my first senior national ranking tournament .I was nineteen. Tom sir was coaching in London and had come down for a few weeks to Bangalore. He took me aside after a session and told me, ” Don’t be satisfied with this? You need to come to London play some smaller tournaments. You need the exposure. Now is the right time. ” Before he went back I had a meeting with Prakash sir, Vimal sir and Tom sir and they all told me that I should do a stint with Tom. It would help me.  So I finalised things and got myself ready for a first ever ‘all alone’ trip abroad.  

I reached the London airport with a phone that didn’t make international calls.  I did not have a laptop,  no Google and very limited economic resources. It was decided that Tom sir would meet me on the entrance of the arrival gate. When I reached the arrival gate I realised there were  three of them. It was the London airport not Lohegaon(Pune airport). I picked one and went and stood there.  I didn’t see Tom for a very long time so I decided to go to another gate. After about 45 mins of jumping from one gate to another, I panicked. I had the address but I saw the taxi tariff and realised I would finish half of my cash getting there. So I came back to the first gate and stood there. Just when I was losing hope I saw Tom sir, he looked as worried as me. As we saw each other I smiled with happiness and he cursed. ” You idiot! Why isn’t your phone working? I told you to come to the arrival gate. I have been waiting for an hour now.” ” Sir, I am sorry there are three gates here. I got a little confused.I thought you forgot I am coming.” He finally smiled gave me a hug. ” Don’t go by the colour of my hair. I am not that old.” 

Lesson learnt- When you are travelling alone get a phone with an international roaming sim card. Or buy a local one at the airport immediately after you land.

On the way from the airport  Tom sir told me I was being put up with a Jamaican family. They had an extra room and they would put me up. “They are not going to charge you anything. But make sure you help them in the house, buy groceries. Don’t just sit there watching T.V. Make yourself useful. This is not India, you don’t have maids for everything. No pampering from mommy here.  Also Mike’s daughter is a player so offer to play with her and help her out. ” I was ok with everything else but buying groceries. Well, anything that made me spend money I had decided not to do. I didn’t have much. Also one pound was equal to 80 rupees!!!  I nodded to everything he said. Mike was a tall and handsome black guy. He lived with Rose who I thought was his wife, but wasn’t ,as I would find out the next day. The house was very English there was a nice garden in the front and the back and it was a two floored bungalow. I had a whole room with bathroom and an amazing view at the top.  I felt good.

” Sir, you know what? Mike and Rose are not married. They just live together. Mike says his first wife and Rose are friendly. Its all good between them.  His daughter comes everyday in the evening to meet Mike. Mike’s first wife also lives with another guy without marriage. He and Mike are also cool. So now the wife is taking me sight seeing tomorrow and I would be meeting her for the first time as Rose would see me off. What the hell, sir? So complicated all this is. My mother would have shot Rose and then Mike if she was the wife.” Tom sir laughed for a whole minute on my bewilderment about things and my fascinated expression of them. ” Welcome to London darling. Things here are not as they are back home. People are a lot more evolved, liberated. This doesn’t make any one of them less on morals. Relationships are complicated. ” ” Sir are you saying you are ok with this? You approve of it.” I asked surprised. ” Aditi, there is no right or wrong here. Everybody has the right to live life exactly the way they want to. You can’t judge people on the personal choices they make, as long as their deeds don’t bother the society they live in. In India we are used to the society being  a part in even the personal choices we make. Here people don’t bother in anyone’s personal decisions. I think we should learn to do that in India too.”

On the first day of practice he took me around and showed me all the bus stops that would take me to the stadium. He insisted that I should take the bus and that he was not going to give me a ride everyday. On the first day I took 2 hours to reach the stadium and I was an hour late. I had two bus changes before I reached. After the first bus I stood for almost half an hour on the bus stop which was on the opposite side of the way  I had to go. I was reluctant to ask people around me. I didn’t want to make myself look like a fool. Thankfully a Punjabi woman who must have realised I was lost asked me where I had to go. She laughed and said, ” Arey puttar, tu wrong side khadi hai. Raasta cross kar or bus number 39 le.” I thanked her. I took the 39 and reached my destination. Tom sir didn’t say anything to me. No cursing, nothing.  He is very particular about punctuality. ” Took the wrong bus? ” He asked. “No, the wrong bus-stop.” “This is how you learn.” I did learn, I never got lost and I never got late for practice after that day.

I would leave house at 7 in the morning and get back by 5. Then in the evening I would go and coach Mike’s daughter, for an hour. It was exhausting. Sir seemed pretty pleased with my effort, though there was one thing. “Did you buy groceries?” he asked. “No sir, I didn’t. ” “Why not? You Indians are so inclined towards saving money. When you die you can’t take that money with you, you know. Do you know how expensive it is to live in London. If I would have put you up in a hostel you would have spent 20 pounds per day. Thanks to Mike and Rose you are staying here for free. If not groceries, did you at least offer to take them out for a meal or buy Rose some flowers or chocolates. Just saying thank you is not enough Aditi. You need to be grateful and it needs to be shown with your actions. Don’t be cheap to people that help you. You have to have a big heart.  People always remember a good gesture.” The next day I did get groceries. I got flowers and a box of chocolate and quietly kept it on Rose’s bed.  I got Mike’s favourite bottle of wine and kept it on the table. When Rose came home that night she saw the fridge and the flowers in her room. She rushed to my room gave me a big hug. ” You didn’t have to do that.” she said. From the look on her face and the hug that I got I realised I really needed to do that. Money spent- 30 pounds. Rose’s smile- priceless.

Lessons learnt- Don’t judge people on their personal choices. Your right doesn’t have to be everybody else’s right. Shed your ego and ask questions which make you look stupid. Its better then waiting for a bus that isn’t going to come. Don’t just be grateful in mind but also in kind. Saying thank you is not enough. Make people who help you, feel special. Remember they really don’t have to help you in the first place. Do yourself a favour ,spend that money and buy that bottle of wine. 

Tom sir has taught me a lot of things on court and I have always valued it. Though what I have valued more is everything that he has taught me about growing up as a human being. I owe my feeling of independence and loss of fear of the unknown to this London trip. If Tom sir wouldn’t have pushed me to leave my comfort zone and do it. I would have never done it. That trip gave me so much confidence that since then I have never been afraid of travelling alone to unknown places. I learnt lessons in gratitude and how important it is to show it. Till today Mike and Rose send me a Christmas card. I cherish each one of them.  He taught me to value people and their choices. To look at the world not just with open eyes but with an open mind. Out of everything that he has taught me this is what I cherish the most.

As players we are constantly away from our families. We spend much more time with our coaches. They teach us our values, they  handle our huge egos,make us humble and they push us to do what we think is impossible. To say the truth I am the product of all the coaches I have worked under. I am extremely grateful to all of them.

Recently I was in Bangalore for a tournament. A day before I was off to leave for Pune I just mentioned to Tom sir that I haven’t eaten his delicious cheese omelette for ages. He asked me, ” When do you leave?” ” My flight is at 9 in the morning sir. My taxi will be here at 6.30.”  “Get bread and eggs I will fix you a meal. Be home by 5.30 tomorrow.” I looked at him as if he was joking. ” Why are you looking  at me like that? I am serious , God knows when will I see you again. Just come.” I went. He made me a cheese omelette at 5.30 in the morning, because I love it.  Well, that is Tom John for you! 
(Tom sir currently runs an academy in Bangalore)

Tom sir with Ajay Jayaram. ( Photo courtesy: Ajay)
I dont have any photos with him.. 😦 !


"I really do have a brain, Bollywood."

 I am a movie buff. I love to watch movies of any kind. I actually find a way to enjoy any genre of a movie. Though lately I am kind of angry, frustrated, and bored with everything Bollywood. The majority of the movies that made the 100 crore club almost made me violent with frustration. I wanted to actually stand up in the theatre and shout, ” Stop showing me this crap, you idiots.”  Bollywood undermines my intelligence as an audience most of the times. The critics give a 4 star review to every big banner movie that releases and the review ends saying, ” If you leave your brains at home, you will really enjoy the film.” I really don’t think this is possible. I mean, how do you leave your brain at home and not carry it with you? For how long? I don’t know if it’s just me but I really don’t trust the media anymore. Everything seems paid for,  biased and one sided, owned by a corporate or a politician. The media constantly ignores things we should really be talking about and feeds us with things that make no difference to our lives what-so-ever.  The city supplement of a paper tells me ,who is having an affair with whom, what clothes was that star wearing?, how there is a fight between the two leading actors of a movie?. How does this affect my everyday life.? Why can’t these sections  talk about various problems that the city is facing or NGO’S that are working in the city and how can I contribute in my way to help them? Or tell me an inspiring story of a common man doing extra-ordinary things? There are so many of them. I think the answer I will get from both the media and  bollywood would be, “This sells. This is what makes money.”

 How long are we going to sell mediocre things with an excuse of money?  I have no issues with people making money, but at least there should be an attempt after they make their share to explore and show things that could challenge our limits as an audience. Where we are forced to think about things? Bollywood today makes the kind of movies it does mainly , because the biggest banners and the biggest stars are the biggest cowards. I remember watching Aamir Khan saying in Koffee with Karan, ” I don’t believe in the 100 crore club. I rather be a part of movies that people will remember for ages. Say like Sholay at that time it might not have made 100 crores but every kid knows who Gabbar is. I want to make things which will stay with people for a long time.” He said all this and I went and watched Dhoom 3. It was one of the worst movies in a huge list of bad movies released in the recent years. It made 200 crores,apparently. The most powerful people in the industry fear to experiment  and that disappoints me.  They have so much money and  such intelligent people. Why still they wouldn’t   dare to show me something original? India has so many stories to tell.  Where is the courage? Cinema has an effect on people, especially us Indians. It is such an amazing platform to showcase what India and Indians are made up of! It remains untapped 90% of the times.

 There are some exceptions in Bollywood today. Anurag Kashyap, Dibankar Banarjee, Kiran Rao, Ritesh Batra  and especially Anand Gandhi restore my faith in Bollywood . If they are what the future holds then it excites me as an audience.  I am fascinated  by Anand Gandhi. I saw Ship of Theseus lately and I was stunned, baffled, inspired, excited,sad and touched all at the same time. The movie is almost of three hours. It is long, it takes it’s own sweet time to move ahead. I watched the movie without moving for a second, neither did I look at my phone in all that time. There is no music, it does not have a  known face, no stars, it doesn’t have humour, it doesn’t have men tearing their shirts apart, it doesn’t have women trying extremely hard to look sexy. Still it held my attention for all that time and then some. After the movie ended I sat looking at the blank screen of my computer for what seemed like a very long time. It was overwhelming. I finally realised the power of Cinema of how mesmerising  it can be. There was finally a film that forced me to think, that appreciated my intelligence. That asked something more of me as an audience. It forced me to use my brain, my heart and  my senses.

Anand Gandhi
The movie basically evolves around two questions. Who are you and What is your purpose? The film potrays three different stories which come together beautifully in the end. It is about this three people and their journeys towards answering this fundamental questions. What I really love about the movie is ,it doesn’t try to explain anything to you, it doesn’t suggest what is wrong and what is right, it doesn’t ask you questions or give you any answers. It leaves everything on to you, your very own interpretation of what you see. You have to ask yourself the questions and find your own answers, which is so similar to our real lives too. All the three stories touch a chord. The first one is of a blind but extremely successful photographer, who suddenly gets her eyes back and instead of things becoming easier for her they get difficult. Her art loses the edge and she goes into the mountains to find  inspiration. When she goes there she is so humbled by the beauty of what she sees that she finds herself incapable of clicking even one picture. Her part ends with her packing up her camera and her sitting and staring at the mountains. 

The second one is of a monk who is fighting a case against the use of animals in lab testing. He develops a condition of liver cirohsis  and decides to stop eating or take any medications. He decides to die. His part ends when he is minutes away from death and he calls his disciple to take him to a hospital and give him some food. There is some great  conversation between him and a young friend of his. It is philosophical yet simple at the same time. The third story is about a young man who has just got a kidney transplant done. His motto of life is simple to make money and have fun. He has a grandmother who is constantly asking him to be less materialistic. To indulge in a self less act and to realise how fulfilling it can be. He gets his chance when he is in a hospital and he hears a woman crying helplessly. He finds out that her husband was tricked. His kidney was removed and sold in the pretext of an appendix operation. He finds him living in very poor conditions and really helpless and he decides to find him his kidney. His search takes him to a foreign land. He finds the guy, confronts him and the man agrees to not giving him the kidney, but sponsor his transplant. In the meantime the fraud organisation back in India sends the poor man a check of 6lakh rupees. The poor man calls the guy to express gratitude. The young man tells him to not settle for this. That he had found the guy and he will bring him to court and get him justice, his kidney and much more money. The man yells at him saying he doesn’t want to fight any case the six lakh rupees is enough. The young man comes back to his grandmother. He sits besides her and she says, ”  tum kuch nahi karte toh itna bhi nahi hota.” He looks up at her and she realises he is not satisfied with the result. She looks up at him and says, ” Bas itna hi hota hai.”

The movie has a lot of special moments, a lot of questions that somewhere in our busy lives we have forgotten to ask ourselves. We are so used to our disability that we tune our lives around it and sometimes that becomes our uniqueness and may be its not  exactly a disadvantage. The moment we cure it, we might lose things that make us special.  The photographer is constantly running to get photographs but when she sees the divine form of nature she realises how small her camera is to capture that beauty. The monk fights for those animals tested in the labs and the young man asks him, “Kya farak padta hai kisiko.” To which the monk replies, “Phir waise toh kisi bhi cheez se kisiko kya farak padta hai? “Shouldn’t you live by certain principles? Shouldn’t there be something in life that you are sensitive about that is worth fighting for? If there is nothing what is the meaning of your existence ,of being human. The young man realises the fulfilment a selfless act can give ,though he also learns that there are limitations to how much you can help. What we think a person deserves and what he thinks he deserves are two different things. You can’t fight someone else’s battle all you can do is give him the support to fight his own.

The movie ends with three of them coming together on the occasion of remembering the young guy who is a registered organ donor. His  eight organs are used to help eight lives  when he dies in an accident. ( the three are amongst the eight of them)   What I did observe in that was that the monk is back to regular clothes and not his dhoti. May be he gives up on being a monk and realises that you could find your answers leading a normal life too. 

Bollywood is easily capable of world class cinema. Anand Gandhi is a great example. As an audience we have to support these movies and give them their due. I do have a brain and I  really would like to carry it with me whenever I watch a Bollywood movie.