"Cheers!"
By Vishnu Makhijani

Poor Shane Warne! The Australian cricketer has suffered his share of angst. There was this time he walked out of a press where he was to unveil a likeness of himself in soap that was to be auctioned for a children's charity when a reporter remarked: Hey Shanie, that looks rather lean. It was with great difficulty that he was persuaded to return.

Then, he was hauled up for smoking on the field in one of the early editions of the IPL and promised he would mend his his ways.

Then, he did lose considerable weight but he also lost Liz Hurley before their relationship could be taken to its natural conclusion.

Now, it seems, he's gone through the ultimate.

After doing five selfies with people this morning before 8 am on my morning run, I've come to the conclusion that the autograph is dead, he's been quoted as saying.

Oh no! Is that so, indeed? Most certainly not! Wakey, wakey Shanie; are you forgetting your Indian visits where a pen and diary were thrust at you at the slightest opportunity, depending how close to the fence you were fielding?

In India, at least, autograph books will never go out of fashion but they certainly have evolved. During my time in school - quite a few decades ago - autograph books served a dual purpose. One was, of course, to take autographs but they also served another important purpose: Across two pages were drawn a series of squares with the likes of Best Boy, Best Girl, Best Teacher, Best Film, Ambition and the like heading each column.

It's a different thing that the owner of the autograph book was invariably the Best Boy - after all, who wanted to risk a black eye?

The autograph book also served another purpose: for pasting photographs of yourself and your friends and even your parents, for that matter.

There were even contests for filling up the maximum number of autograph books.

These days, when I'm at a loose end - infrequently - or nostalgic, pretty often, I hunt out my old autograph books and relive the days that once were. You come across a name and say: Hey, where's this person today? If a net search doesn't yield results once can always call up a schoolmate, never mind if he or she is in Scotland. If that doesn't yield results, one can always take the via-via route through a friend-of-a-friend or even Facebook, for that matter.

Many an old school chum have I managed to locate in this manner. But more than that, it's reliving those uncluttered days that helps one cope with the stress of the 21st century.

Till about a decade ago, my younger colleagues tell me, autograph books were referred to as Slam Books. Each writer got to fill in two pages, much on the lines detailed above but with greater elaboration. The taking of autographs went on in tandem.

Whether or not these Slam Books will serve today's generation in their later life the altruistic purpose that they have served for me, the fact of the matter is that autograph hunting is alive and well in India.

Visit any stadium during a cricket match, or for that matter, any high-octane sporting event; a mall or a multiplex where a film is being premiered; or, for that matter any place where there's a celebrity and you can be sure of hordes of youngsters - and the not so young too - screaming for autographs.

So, despair not Shanie. Come back to India and I guarantee you will tire of signing autographs. Maybe we could go out for a beer and a smoke after that.

Cheers!

(01.06.2014. Vishnu Makhijani is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])


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