Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review - Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin

During the French Open 2010, former world No.1 Rafael Nadal was walking down the streets of Paris flanked by Carlos Costa- his agent and former tennis player- on one side and Toni Nadal- his coach (and uncle)- on the other. Nadal was walking in the middle of the two. Suddenly, Toni stops and says “we can’t have this”. He thought it might seem that Rafa is a special person and the others his escorts, so he changed the order and made Nadal walk at the end.

From singling out Rafael during his growing years whilst coaching young kids at the local tennis club at Manacor, a small town on the Spanish island of Mallorca- using rough language, shouting and yelling more at Rafa than all the other kids, making him stay behind after practice sessions to pick up all the balls and sweep the courts- to being the ‘toughest coach in the world’, this was all part of Toni’s devious strategy over the years to toughen up Rafael to play through all sort of pain, under all sorts of conditions, to throw the bathroom tub when the opponent throws kitchen sink at him; to endure: the one quality that has made Rafael Nadal one of the toughest players to beat on the tennis tour. Toni’s relentless methods and his relationship with Rafael Nadal takes centre stage in Nadal’s autobiography called Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin.  

The book is written in collaboration with John Carlin- a Barcelona-based senior international writer for one of the large Spanish newspapers, El Pais. Every chapter of Rafa contains two parts; one as seen through Nadal’s eyes and one seen through Carlin’s. The book recounts Nadal’s life through the lens of two of the most important matches he’s ever played; Wimbledon 2008 men’s singles final where he beat the then-ranked No.1 Roger Federer is a thrilling five-set final and U.S. Open 2010 men’s singles final which he also won for the first time becoming just the seventh man in the Open era to win all four grand slam titles in a career.

Sports autobiographies can only be as intense as much the subject- on whom the book is based upon- opens up. That’s precisely why Andre Agassi’s classic Open remains one of the best stories ever told. But much of Agassi’s life seen through Open takes its roots from his troubled upbringing and the kind of struggles he’s had to face growing up in the harsh desert of Las Vegas to morph into one of tennis’s most colourful characters. Rafael Nadal’s- former world No.1 and presently ranked second in men’s tennis- childhood has been very pleasant and protective, on the other hand, with little spice occasionally thrown in. Yet, through his autobiography, he gives us precious insights and tells us numerous stories whilst growing up, his feelings, aspirations, insecurities and copiously takes us through various events- year after year- that’s made him to be the sort of killing machine on the tennis courts that we have known.

The book takes a non-linear narrative; it goes back and forth in flashbacks and gives it a sense of a thriller, much like Jon Wertheim’s well-written and insightful take on the same 2008 men’s singles Wimbledon final between Nadal and Federer (Stokes of Genius), though clearly not in the same league. But unlike Stokes of Genius that gives us a glimpse of Nadal, Federer and Wimbledon in equal measures, Rafa takes us through his childhood days in great detail. He may be a feared rival on the tennis court, but he is scared of darkness and dogs. His mentor and also former No.1 Carlos Moya has to lock up his dog when Nadal comes home, visiting. And don’t forget to turn off the fireplace before you go to sleep, he’ll call home and tell his mother about three to four times if he’s out with friends or partying, always afraid of a calamity that he fears may befall on his family.

Growing up in a joint family set up, he lived in a five floor building with his grandparents, parents, his father’s three brothers and a sister their spouses and their families. Surely, a long-time coach of a top tennis player would be raking in a handsome fee you’d think, but Rafa tells us that all of Toni’s earnings come only from Rafael's own dad’s business where Toni is an equal and dormant partner; Rafael doesn't pay him a penny. The family's one message to him has always been: ‘be humble, keep your feet firmly on your ground and never disrespect anyone.’ But being around his loved ones at all times also gave him the sense of continuity so important, according to Joan Forcados, his physical trainer, to Nadal’s success, such as Toni being around for 20 years and others in entourage with him for well over 10 years.

This continuity got a setback when Nadal’s parents separated in 2009; a rare glimpse of what went through his mind and the eventual darkness he slipped into, that also led him to lose his only match at the French Open ever; an event that he has otherwise won six times. “Through all these years of constant travel and eve more frenzied claims on my time as my fame had grown, Manacor and our neighboring seaside resort of Porto Cristo was a bubble of peace and sanity, a private world where I could isolate myself from the celebrity madness and be entirely myself again. Fishing, golf, friends, the old routine of family lunches and dinners – all that had changed. My father had moved out of our Porto Cristo home, and now when we sat down to eat or watch TV, he wasn’t there. Where there had been laughter and jokes, a heavy silence hung. Paradise had become paradise lost.” But Nadal would soon bounce back in 2010, winning three of the last four grand slams of the calendar year to complete his career slam.

Rafa does get a bit flat towards the latter half when his minute to minute decision making during his key matches gets a bit too much. Instead, a critical analysis of his opponents- much like Agassi in Open- would have been more interesting. Like how he felt when Djokovic was impersonating everyone around, especially Nadal the most. But we couldn’t expect that from Nadal who’s ever so diplomatic and well-mannered could we? It’s also possibly why he has written so less about the trauma he faced after his parent’s separation, focusing largely on the positive side for most part of the book.

The minor complaints aside, Rafa is a good read. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Love2HateU is rock on

We love to hate celebrities, berate them, calling them names, criticize them sitting on our couch munching away popcorn as they keep mouthing away some of the lousiest dialogues we've ever heard...or so we think. But what if they pop out of your TV screen, magically appear before you, put a gun on your head and say "Huh! so you were saying...?" That's pretty much the premise of Star World's latest television show called 'Love2HateU'. The show is presented by model-turned-actor Arjun Rampal and it makes celebrities come face to face with their haters.

I just watched the first show and came away pretty impressed. Each one-hour episode will have two celebrities facing their haters. The hater is a common man that the producers of the show seem to scout for, bring them to a place on the pretext of taking some interview on why s/he hates the celebrity so much. Basically, to make him or her get comfortable with the criticism. The celebrity is nearby and watching all this action from some hidden cameras. Once the hater is done talking, the celebrity walks out and meets the hater and takes him surprise. Then, both of them have a chat moderated by show presenter Arjun Rampal, sort out their 'differences', all the whole hoping that the hate-o-meter comes down!

The concept is original on Indian television and the show seems to be well directed. Rampal was the first celebrity to meet his hater, followed by director Madhur Bhandarkar. I liked Rampal's encounter more than Bhandarkar's. The former was light, breezy and the camaradie between Rampal and his hater, Farhan, a stand-up comedian and writer was entertaining. Farhan's criticism of Rampal was caustic- calling him furniture and expressionless- and I wouldn't be surprised if Rampal would have wanted to punch him. Rampal defended his mannerisms, especially Farhan's contest that he should not have won the national award for the movie 'Rock On'. Rampal made Farhan to stand-up comedy on the sets (The Comedy Store, Lower Parel, Mumbai; because Farhan is a stand-up comedian) and crack his usual bunch of Arjun Rampal jokes. That was silly in a funny way. Rampal followed up the act with his own, berating Farhan's favourite bashing subject: Arjun Rampal! That was better.

Love2HateU is a refreshing change from all the soppy soaps in the name of entertainment that we get to see on TV these days. The choice of celebrities will play a vital role to the show's success. Interesting celebrities can keep the show alive and the banter kicking. Next week is author Chetan Bhagat and producer / director Farah Khan, but I am already looking forward to Farah Khan's episode.

Le Pain Quotidien

Yesterday was my second visit to Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ), a bakery-cum-patisserie at Coloba, near the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Hotel. It is a French style cafe with a good seating arrangement and leisurely ambiance that kind of reminds you of the various sidewalk cafes in Europe. Only that this is not a sidewalk cafe, it's a proper indoor cafe. As soon as you enter the place, you cannot miss the display of desserts on your left. I think it's a nice ploy by the management to suck you in as soon as enter the place; you don't feel like going out again till you've had something.

I am told the breakfast spread is the best at LPQ and that's the one must-have meal here. But the first time I went there, it was evening and I had purposely timed it in such a way that I could have something substantial. Though on a Sunday evening that it was, having an empty stomach is not easy because Sunday is Dhansakh day and my mum's dhansakh- or anyone's for that matter- can be quite filling and heavy. Dhansakh is a thick brown masala dal, chicken or mutton cooked in it, served with brown rice. The dish is quite heavy, so if you have it even at lunch, you can feel quite full till late evening. But in a good way though.

Even so, I tried to time my visit in such a way that we could make the most. My friend Ayeshea is a foodie, so being in her company, especially at places and times like these, is always a pleasure. We had Ham & Chedder Tartine (Rs425) and Roast Chicken Mozzarell (Rs350) as the main course. Then, we followed it up with assam tea (Rs125) for me and Hot Chocolate (Rs175) and finally rounded it up with desserts (chocolate cheesecake; Rs110). I liked the Ham Tartine more than the chicken one, as the latter was a bit dry, but both the tartines were very tasty. I repeated both these Tartines yesterday too when I was there over lunch with mom. The choco cheese cake was very heavy if had after a meal, so I avoided that yesterday. Instead I had the Apple Crumble (Rs195) which was delicious. The Crumble was of the perfect temperature and texture and it melted as soon as you put your fork in it. Served with ice-cream, it's one of LPQ's best desserts.

Overall, the ambiance is easy going. There is sitting arrangement at an upper level too, but both the times I sat on the ground floor. There are individual tables of two to four, a bar table height sitting for two as well as a long oval table- called the community table- that could sit about 10 people at one shot, but is most often used by several different sets of people, to give it a community feel. The place is infested by foreigners, partly I guess, because of its location as you don't see more foreigners at one place in Mumbai than in or around Coloba and the Gateway of India and also partly I think because of the menu and its ambiance.

Yesterday we bought home 2 croissant breads that we had over breakfast today (Sunday) morning and another dessert, Soft Centred chocolate cake (Rs195). My mom also had their homemade Lemonade (Rs125) which was one of the best lemonades I've had. The only other lemonade that I really like to have is served at the Colah's, an ancient Parsi cafe in Navsari, in the State of Gujarat, that serves it in bottles that also appear to be as age-old as the place itself, with a very unique cap, quite unlike anything you see these days. The bottle, the drink, the place; everything smacks of nostalgia in the days of Pepsi and Coke. I wish I could have more of Colah's. But if you're in Mumbai, I suggest you visit LPQ quickly. A meal for two could come at about Rs1,300 and it's totally worth it.

Picture #1: LPQ's bread display
Picture #2: The community table that is very traditional to LPQ
Pictury courtesy:

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