Friday, May 27, 2016

LearnNBlog #6: American Handball

American Handball – a sport in which players use their hands to hit a ball against a wall. Similar to Squash but with no racquets. Also referred to as “Hand Tennis” or “Hand Squash” and bears no resemblance to the Olympic sport of Handball (as is usually the case with most things having “American” prefixed to them).

The basic aim of the game is to ensure that a player hits the ball back on to the ball before it can bounce twice on the ground. And the first bounce back from the ball should be within the prescribed court boundaries. The only equipment needed is rubber ball, usually blue in colour and referred to as simply the blueball. The scoring is simple with lengths of the games varying from 11 to 15 to 21 points.

First accounts of the game appear in 15th century Scotland. There the game moved to Ireland. Irish immigrants took the game along with them to USA where it flourished in schools and colleges. It's a popular game in the USA but is fairly unknown outside the country (with a few exceptions). National handball championship have been organised since 1919. The game is played in singles and doubles format.

So how come "American Handball" arrived on this blog? Well, because I have played it in school. As per one of the articles, my alma mater, Loyola School, Jamshedpur, has the only handball courts in the whole of the Indian sub-continent. A legacy from the American priests who started the school. Also explains why I have never met anyone else who has even heard about this form of handball or seen the blueball. The games were frenetic. There was a fast and furious race to take over the four courts during the breaks and just after school hours. There would be usually be a big crowd around the playing area keeping score, so that their turn came faster. The large crowd ensured that line call disputes were resolved easily. Games were mostly doubles (to accommodate more students), but have been involved in a double court 4-a-side bash also (Played across 2 adjacent courts together).  The walls of the courts even had their own graffiti. It certainly was one fun event.

And, we called it handball. After all it was our game!!!

The Loyola, Jamshedpur Handball Courts

The Blueball
Other Readings
American Handball (Wikipedia)
Five of the most Interesting Handball Courts in the World (WPHLive)
Handball, United States (Book Extract - Sports Around the World: History, Culture & Practice)
Handball - the 'Corny' Game (Loyola School, Jamshedpur)
The Five Places (Nishantzworld)

Previously on LearnNBlog - Olympic Quota Place

Saturday, May 21, 2016

MovieNotes: Deadpool

Title: Deadpool (IMDB)
*ing: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein
Language: English
Director: Tim Miller
Genre: Comic Book, Superhero

Basic Premise
A mercenary, who has been stricken by a life-threatening disease, agrees to undergo a radical procedure. The procedure induces mutation which gives him super healing powers but alters his appearance. He uses the powers to find the man responsible for his scarred appearance in order to reverse them so that he can go back to his family.

Deadpool is a super hero who doesn't take his being a super hero too seriously. He has his own little mission, find the man who he thinks can heal his scarred appearance so that he can go back to his wife. No grand notions of fighting crime or saving the world here. He just wants to get on with his own life.

Even the movie makers don't want the audience to take things too seriously. Thus the opening credits seem more like the ones made by the Honest Trailers team than a top Hollywood studio. The movie is truly self-deprecating with comments about producers not giving enough budget to get more X-Men characters into the movie. Deadpool even comments that Ryan Reynolds gets movie just because of his looks and not any acting skills.

The best bits of the movie are when Deadpool breaks the fourth wall and starts talking to the audience. 

And you have to love a movie which begins with the song "Mera Joota Hai Japani". 

Mandatory India connect - The Indian taxi driver.

Rating - 8/10. For bringing a self-deprecating sense of humor into the increasingly similar superhero genre.

Previously on MovieNotes:  The Jungle Book

Bonus: The song मेरा जूता है जापानी from Raj Kapoor's Shree 420

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

LearnNBlog #5: Olympic Quota Place

The Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav debate has been raging on for sometime as to which of these wrestlers should be representing India at Rio Olympics. While each side has their own merit, what has come to the fore is the term Olympic Quota Place.

We are in Olympic Year – the once in four years sporting extravaganza which is considered the pinnacle of sports. And for good reason. Because forget winning, even getting a chance to participate is not easy to come. Ever since its start, the Olympics became bigger and bigger. So big that it was almost impossible for any one city to host them without going bankrupt (like Montreal in 1976). To limit the size and ensure timely completion, caps on number of sports and the participants in each event were introduced. 

With the cap in participation, qualification systems came into place. The qualification system varies from sport to sport, with the respective Governing body deciding the number of quota places and their distribution 

  • Some spots are reserved for the host nation. 
  • Places are distributed to ensure that all continents are represented. 
  • Some individual sports go directly by the rankings (like Tennis, Badminton, Golf etc.), with upper limits set on each nation’s entries. 
  • Some sports have continental and world qualification events (e.g. Hockey, Boxing Wretling etc). Sometime world championships and continental championships double up as qualifiers for Olympics with specific number of places allocated in each event. 
  • Others have set qualification criterion (e.g. Athletics, Swimming). All athletes who meet them can participate in the event, subject to being nominated by their respective National Olympic Committee (NOC). 
  • Some wild cards are also awarded. 
In certain sports (like Shooting, Wrestling, Boxing, Archery etc), Quotas are awarded in each event in the various qualifying events. The individual athlete participates in the qualifier and earns the quota. However the quota is not awarded to the athlete but the NOC which they represent. The NOC has every right to 
  • nominate the same athlete (the usual case), Or
  • nominate a different athlete, whom they believe has a better chance (rare but not uncommon with form being the criterion), Or
  • exchange the quota in one event with another within the same sport (e.g. India exchanged the Quota place earned by Sanjeev Rajput in 50m air rifle 3 positions for a Quota place in Trap shooting)
  • surrender the quota (not send anyone e.g. South Africa’ Hockey teams are not being sent in spite of qualifying for the main rounds).
In many cases, once an NOC has secured a Quota in a particular event, it doesn’t participate in subsequent qualifiers for the same event.

Now coming back to the Narsingh-Sushil debate. In the 74 KG freestyle wrestling event, Narsingh represented India in Sushil’s absence (through injury) in the 2015 World Championships. He won a bronze medal and the Olympic quota place. Earlier Sushil had won the Gold in 2014 Commonwealth Games in the same category. Sushil has also been a two-time Olympic medallist (albeit in a different weight category). Now, Narsingh wants to be India’s nominee for the Olympics (after all, he earned the Quota place), while Sushil wants a selection trial (that is the only way for him). While the wrestling federation fidgets and takes a decision, the issue has brewed over with matter having reached the courts now. 

In my opinion, Narsingh Yadav should be the one representing India at Rio. After all he has earned the quota, whereas Sushil Kumar is coming back from injury and hasn’t participated in any competitive action in more than a year. Probably a trial would have been a fair way to go about, but it is too late in the day now for that circumstance.

Other Readings
Previously on LearnNBlog: The Produnova Vault

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Isla de Calma: Diu

Isla de Calma or the isle of calm, is how the tiny island of Diu, off the coast of Gujarat is advertised. And coming from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, this tiny island with a population of 21,000 seems an altogether different world - an island of calm and tranquility.

The little island packs in something for everyone - modern water sports, with Hindu temples, a 400 year old Portugese church, an old fort, a war memorial, clean empty beaches and even a natural cave system all within its 40 square kilometers area. Little tourist attractions are coming up all over the township.  It even has its own music festival (Missed that one)

It can be accessed via road from Gujarat being connected via a bridge and has its own little airport as well. And being an Union territory, there is no prohibition here. What you don't see are people and traffic. The best way to move around the island is to hire a two-wheeler (which is not that expensive). There is not much of a market here. 

Here is a small pictorial journey of the place.
A Model of the INS Khukri on display at the War Memorial
INS Khukri remains India's only warship to be sunk in battle. It was torpedoed by Pakistani submarines during the 1971 War. 194 men aboard the ship lost their lives.
Plaque commerorating the sailors of INS Khukri
The Naida Caves - natural wonders created by the forces of nature over millions of years -  a geologists' delight
The 5 Shiv Lingas - and it gets washed by the waves during high tides
Lord Shiva - with the backdrop of the Arabian Sea

Roads of Diu - Clean, tree-lined, well-lit and mostly empty 
St. Paul's Church - built in early 17th century
The fort bells - ringing in since 1720
Zampa Gateway - entrance to the walled town 
The twin-branching Hokka trees - found all over the island
Diu tourism building small tourist attractions like a dinosaur park all over the island
Sunset Point - there is something beautiful about lying back on the sand and watching the sun go down the horizon across the sea
Best part of the trip, hardly any crowds. You can easily become one with the nature. A perfect getaway from the maddening rush of the daily life. And as this ad says. it is the isle of calm.