Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Awakening of a “Serious” Gamer

The Awakening of a “Serious” Gamer

A Playstation 2 Controller
Captured by Avnish Bansal

"5-1". It made fun of me, straight to my face. Nobody would do that and even if they did, it was certainly not like me to get offended. But it was offensive this time. It was strange; some temporary, unreal numbers with an alphanumeric character in between were enough to offend me while real comments, real words were not. And here I grew up believing that words hurt more than anything in the world.

I haven’t explained what 5-1 is, have I? Pardon me for that. Well, the football lovers among you must have seen it. It’s the score of a football match. Most or perhaps even all of you will think that it was the final of a major tournament and the team I was supporting suffered a humiliating 1-5 defeat which offended me, made me sad, dejected and nonplussed. That’s not what happened, though.

You are right in that a football match was involved, only it wasn’t real. I was playing. With my pal. On a Playstation. And it was me who just got handed the 1-5 defeat wrapped in maniacal laughter. As he scored each goal, he gave out a laugh that made me want to throw the controller at his rabbit’s teeth and kick him incessantly. But I didn’t do that. I kept on collecting all that humiliation and made a big ball of it inside me. I will exact vengeance upon you someday, you… I thought. And when I do, I will serve it to you with that very ball of humiliation that you have given to me today. We’ll see how you feel, then.

I was able to even things out a bit in the next match. Even in that match he scored a goal in the 7th minute, but eventually I managed to end it in a 2-2 draw. I still wasn’t satisfied. A draw? Seriously? I need a WIN!! He was still laughing when we were packing the console and the wires inside his Playstation box. He laughed the whole way when I dropped him home. 


“Are you alright, boy?” my dad asked me as I was lying on the sofa, my eyes directed at the television screen but my thoughts elsewhere.

“Yeah, why?”

“I asked for the bottle of water thrice but it seemed like you were in another world!” he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said and handed the bottle to him while he eyed me suspiciously. He was right. I was in another world where I had a Playstation controller in my hand and we were playing FIFA 14 again. A whole match, with every tiny detail, every pass, every tackle, every shoot and every save, was going on inside my head and I was figuring out possible maneuvers to breach my pal’s defense and kick the ball into the net more than he could. 

He had defeated me before and I had defeated him too, but no defeat could be pricklier than this and no victory more rewarding than the one I would get in my revenge match.

When I went to bed, the match inside my head was still going on. I had managed to breach my pal’s defenses once or twice but he was breaching mine with far more ease and comfort. That made me jealous. 

I must have devised a fruit-bearing strategy in my dreams like those early scientists but I didn’t remember. All I knew was this: the guy who woke up the next morning was someone who would be angered beyond placation at the sight of his opponent scoring a goal, who would give the match his all without pulling back when he was on the verge of defeat, who would harbor an animosity beyond reconciliation when he suffered defeat and someone who would see those hands that handed him defeat not as the ones belonging to a casual, fellow gamer but as a formidable foe who had to be vanquished at any cost.

It certainly wasn’t me.
 -Avnish Bansal

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Portugal’s Journey in UEFA Euro Cup 2016

Portugal’s Journey in UEFA Euro Cup 2016

The Portugal national football team in UEFA Euro Cup 2016

When Portugal was sitting in the bottom half of the group standings after playing two consecutive draws with Iceland and Austria, things weren’t looking exactly hopeful for them. Getting into the round of 16 wasn’t an easy task as their next encounter was with Hungary who was the group topper. Their hopes of reaching the round of 16 depended on the parallel match between Iceland and Austria. Portugal had to win to strengthen their chances of progressing further in the tournament but all they could manage was a grueling 3-3 draw. Iceland defeated Austria 2-1 in the parallel match which left Portugal at the third place in its group with a 64%chance of entering the round of 16.

Portugal barely managed to go ahead but given how it had performed in the group stages, with more number of goal attempts than any other team and yet managing a draw every time, not to mention a missed penalty by their captain Cristiano Ronaldo against Austria; few believed that it would make it any further in the tournament.

They were up against Croatia, who was fresh from upsetting Spain 2-1 in their previous game. One didn’t have to be a genius to predict who would win this game but as it turned out, Portugal handed a defeat to Croatia by beating them 1-0. The Portuguese were now in the quarter finals where they were to face Poland. Poland had scraped through to the quarter finals, beating the Swiss by 5-4 in penalty shootouts. The situation was somewhat similar here; this game also went as far as the penalty shootouts. The only difference was Poland was on the receiving end here as they lost to Portugal 3-5 in the penalties.

Quite amazingly, Portugal had converted its rugged start to a smooth sailing and was now in the semis. Amazingly still, it was Wales who were to give them competition. This was Wales’s first major tournament semi final and the match was widely termed as the “Ronaldo-Bale showdown”.  Pepe, the Portuguese defender was sitting this one out. Wales’s determination was evident as soon as the game began while Ronaldo’s Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale’s accurate shot attempts and fierce free-kicks mesmerized the onlookers. Disappointingly for Wales, Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio didn’t let any of them get past him. The first goal of the game came off Ronaldo’s head around the 52nd minute and a second one followed soon after as Nani deflected one into the goal and booked Portugal a berth in their second Euro Cup final.

The loss of the 2004 Euro Cup final threatened to repeat itself as the formidable hosts France made their way to the finals after beating Germany. It was an eventful match, as befits a final. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese captain pursuing his first Euro Cup in his second final with Portugal, had to go off the field in the 25th minute, very much against his wishes after being struck in the knee by France no. 8 Dimitri Payet. The tackle looked clean, but soon after that Ronaldo was on the ground, clutching his knee tightly and apparently in a lot of agony. He went off the field twice temporarily to get treatment before reluctantly embracing the fact that he wouldn’t be able to play the rest of the match. He strapped the captain’s armband to Nani and was carried off on a stretcher as Portugal’s hopes dimmed even further at the departure of their captain. Ronaldo was substituted by Ricardo Quaresma.

Even though no goals had been scored yet, the French were looking stronger with 60% possession and more than twice the no. of passes of Portugal. They were continuously attacking but it was Rui Patricio who fended off every one of those attacks and managed to keep his team afloat. Portugal tried to gain the upper hand as they brought the possession ratio to 45-55. The match was in the extra time of the second half and France almost won the tournament in the 90+2nd minute when substitute Gignac hit the goalpost. Millions had their hearts in their mouths as the ball was cleared off the Portuguese half. Turned out that was the closest they could get to the Portuguese net. Soon, the 90 minutes were over with a goal yet to be scored.

The first half of the extra time showed the same picture as the rest of the match but it was in the second half that the real action, the climax, took place. In the 108th minute, French player Koscielny was erroneously booked for a handball even though he profusely denied touching the ball. The replays corroborated his pleas as the ball had clearly been deflected off Eder’s hand. Who knew that touch to the ball could prove so lucky. 

It was Guerreiro who took the free kick in place of the unavailable Ronaldo. It was a real good chance of scoring and the trajectory seemed to be perfect until the ball hit the bar and bounced away from the net. Many fans might have thought this as an indication that the game would go into the penalties if Portugal could hold its nerves. However, it did something more than that as Eder shot the ball straight into the corner of the net, inches away from the fingertips of the French goalie Lloris.
Screams of euphoria erupted in the stadium as the Portuguese began celebrating. Even Ronaldo with his bandaged knee didn’t show any signs of being injured as he jumped with joy. Every second after the 109th minute was like an eternity to a supporter of Portugal as the French, Les Bleus became more desperate in their attacks. They even managed to give Portugal quite a scare in the last moments of the game but the newly found energy of the Portuguese didn’t let them score.

It’s not over until it’s over. Fans and players, substitutes and coaches alike sat with bated breath, waiting for the final whistle from the ref and there it was. Portugal had emerged as the winner of this edition of the UEFA Euro Cup and how so! They defied every expectation and played spiritedly, without any sign of dejection even after losing their captain in the early stages of the game. It was a very emotional evening for Cristiano Ronaldo as he experienced the journey between two extremes - from complete despair after leaving the field on a stretcher to an overwhelming sense of joy and satisfaction as he lifted the trophy on the evening of 11th July 2016.

The star of the match was undoubtedly Eder who sealed the win for Portugal with a stunning goal but it was as a unit that Portugal gave a head-on competition to the favorites, France. Unfortunately, France could not break the 32-year old curse of a host nation never winning the title. The last time it happened was in 1984 when it was none other than Les Bleus themselves who had won the title and they had a chance to repeat the feat, but a highly inspired Portugal side didn’t let them do it and so, the curse would carry on for four more years.

One couldn’t help but feel sorry for the French team and especially for Antoine Griezmann, who was awarded the golden boot, having scored 6 goals, which is the second most of all time in a single edition; the record held by his compatriot Michael Platini with 9 goals in the 1984 edition.

It was a match worthy of being called a final; exciting, eventful with fierce competition from either side leading to a nail-biting finish. For Portugal, this was surely a journey of finding its spark which it seemed to have lost in the initial stages of the tournament, but it showed everyone what can be achieved when you do find it. Many congratulations to the Portugal team and sympathy to the French team. We hope you continue to play well and entertain us and we look forward to seeing the both of you battling it out on the pitch soon!

The Portugal team celebrates its win over France

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Standard Arrangement

The Standard Arrangement

 It was his first project of school. He was in fifth standard and they were given the task of collecting pictures of things having national importance and paste in their scrap books. It was also the first time he was working in a scrap book. So he was very excited and wanted his work to turn out as good as possible.

He managed to find four pictures. When he was sticking them, he placed each picture on one corner of the page so that all four corners were occupied, and looked at the arrangement for some time. It looked too…ordinary. Everyone did it that way, as if it was the socially accepted, standard arrangement of four pictures on a page. No, let’s make some changes, he thought.

He moved the picture that was on the lower right corner to the center of the page. There, this is not ordinary anymore. From a distance, the pictures appeared to make a ‘7’. He quickly glued them, wrote their descriptions on the adjacent page and stuffed it in his schoolbag. The next day at school, he was the first one to submit it for correction.

When he got it back, though, the first thing he saw was a big, red question mark on the lower right corner of the page where he had stuck the pictures. Why? He thought. Is something missing? He couldn’t think of anything, so he borrowed his friend’s scrap book and tried to take a hint from that. His friend had stuck five pictures, one on each corner of the page and the fifth one in the center. He looked at his own scrap book. There was that big, red question mark, lying comfortably where a fifth picture should have been.

So that’s what it is for, a fifth picture. He got it now. But there was no fifth picture! He had only had four pictures from the start, and four pictures were what he intended to stick there! Unaware of that, the teacher had been expecting a fifth picture because that was what the standard arrangement for five pictures on a page was – four on each corner and one in the center. He had filled all the positions except the lower right corner, hence the question mark.

He was saddened; disappointed that his first effort for the project hadn’t paid off as he had expected. That question marked looked bad, ominous. It had ruined his work and tarnished its appearance. Fine. With a sigh, he returned his friend’s scrapbook and tried to steer his thoughts away from the project and the question mark.

If one was to observe his scrapbook at the end of the session, they would find that all the pictures after the first project were stuck properly and neatly, in the standard arrangements of four, five or six pictures on one page, depending on the number of pictures he had stuck for each project; and there were no question marks on them either. 

He had paid his excitement and the tendency to wander away from ‘standard’ in return for a clean, highly graded scrapbook.  
 -Avnish Bansal

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Droplets on a glass window
Captured by Avnish Bansal

The light in his room was still on. It was 3 a.m. He had been studying for his exam the next day, and was so anxious that sleep would not come no matter what he did to convince it to change its plans. He listened to chillout remixes (they were known to be of a sleep-inducing nature), closed his eyes, lay straight with hands crossed and gently rested over his stomach and pretended to float in mid-air and even imagined looking at himself sleeping through the eyes of someone perched on the ceiling of his room. Nothing worked. So, he had no choice but to remain awake and proceed to take another exam with a sleepless night behind it.

He couldn’t wait for it to be over. These exams had been going on for too long now and the first one, Mathematics, had been postponed so they would stretch even longer now. That meant preparing for it again. Once was burden enough; having to do it twice was unthinkable. He was infuriated when this had happened but there was nothing he could have done about it. Reluctantly, he started preparations for the next exam.

Two of those had passed without any unusual occurrence. Today was the third. It was raining heavily when he got out of bed. A bad start to the day, already. He hated rains, and this feeling was going to be intensified in the hours to come.

He hoped for the wretched rain to stop by the time he would leave for the exam, but staying true to its wretchedness, it didn’t. When he stepped out of the confines of his home, the rain stared mockingly at his helplessness. When he had read the poem ‘Rain Rain Go Away’ in kindergarten, he could never have thought that one day he would relate so much to it; its first two lines, specifically. It had seemed a pretty mundane poem, then.

 Rain, rain, go away.
 Come again another day.

He donned a raincoat; more to fulfill his mother’s wish to see him in a raincoat than to stay dry. He did hate getting wet, but wearing a raincoat was like submitting to the domination of the rain, which he could never imagine doing.

He divested of the raincoat as soon as he was out of any visual contact with his mother and frustratingly stuffed it in his bag. It was still pouring down when he reached the examination centre. His hair stuck to his forehead like the starfish stuck to the fish tank in Finding Nemo. He liked that movie, but right now his thoughts were as far away from it as they could get.

He had reached an hour early, planning to get a quick glance at everything before the exam began. He had just taken his book out after taking shelter in the building marked ‘Information Technology’ when he heard someone say, “Has the exam been cancelled, buddy?”

No. God, no, he thought. This shouldn’t happen. I have had enough of this crap already. One guy took out his phone and checked on the internet. Many others huddled around him to see for themselves if it was really true.

Hoping against everything for the news to be false, he stared back into the Electronics textbook but the words seemed to have no meaning at all. His thoughts were elsewhere and they couldn’t be put to rest until he had confirmed the news. So he made his way up a flight of stairs to the Exam Control Room. There was a group of students there too and the way they were standing looked like another phone-carrying guy was the cynosure of their attention. He joined the group.

“See, there’s the message from the university,” he showed on his phone’s screen. The guy was an official of the control room. His information had to be reliable. “The exam’s been postponed. It’s written on the website.”

True enough, there were the words, as mocking and apathetic as the rain.

He wanted to flail his hands in disbelief, break the glass windows that were hosting a raindrop race which would make all those raindrops fall to the ground (not that it would matter to them) and set his textbooks ablaze (the fire could hurt the rain before getting vanquished); but he realized he was in a social setting so he put on a mask of sanity and went downstairs, out of the building and straight into the rain.

Another reason to hate it. He couldn’t see how anyone could love it.
It caused huge inconvenience to everyone.
It caused accidents and deaths every year.
It was whimsical. It started and ceased as it pleased so no one would be ready for it.
Countless repercussions of its whims affected everyone, as one of them had just done. Apparently, the exam was postponed due to many areas in the state being flooded by rains.

All of those things were condoned by helpless people for one sole reason – sustenance. The wretched thing, however wretched it may be, gave something without which no one could live. It had people’s lives in its hands. They depended on it for their survival.
No wonder the rain was so whimsical.
No wonder it acted as it pleased.
No wonder it didn’t care about the aftereffects of its actions.

If something as colossal and powerful as rain couldn’t prevent its authority from getting to its head, what chance did puny humans have of remaining modest?

They ignored the limits of their influence when they exploited nature. Why shouldn’t the rain do the same?

He couldn’t decide who he should hate more: the wretched rain or those “prudent” fellow human beings of his.
-Avnish Bansal