How Did the Show Happened– I am a regular reader of the BBC website, so one day late at night I saw a news story where they were inviting reader’s comments on how we view the Olympics. I don’t know what did it but I talked about the time when I used to train as an athlete, a time I really do not like to talk about. Here is a slightly edited version of what I wrote that night-
I used to be a middle distance runner in India, represented my state in the school games. I was a natural at high jump but could never learn Fosbury Flop as there were only sand pits in the small town stadium I used to practice.
The camp prior to the nationals, it was run by a colonel who had no understanding of sports! He would have a weird schedule and would not let me practice according to what my coach prescribed! The food at the camp was appalling. Still at the trials I gave good timings in both 800m and was decent at high jump. However, I peaked too early and performed miserably in the nationals. I was only 16 then. Now I am … with a Ph.D. from … and very happy my academic career.
However, recently a student of mine has started training for middle distance and even now 20 years later our stories are the same. He can afford a personal trainer (thanks to the pockets of prosperity in the country now) but he says nothing much have changed with the camps, the food is still appalling. I think we have money in India but no system or vision.
Even then there are some very good athletes within India, product of their individual efforts. I would be watching Mahesh Bhupati and Leander Paes in Tennis and Rajyavardhan Rathore in shooting. Also I hope the young badminton player Saina Nehwal does well! …
Before the Show– If you managed to watch the video, you really cannot imagine the trouble I gave the BBC technology team! My contact with the BBC was with the most wonderful and really really patient Carolyn Rice. So a few days before the show, on her insistence, I got my webcam out. It was 8.00 or so at night, I had come back from work a while ago and my husband Sesha (who is the technology person at home) gave me the webcam and the installation CD and went back to playing violin. I installed the software (with occasional grunts from Sesha coming my way as support and encouragement) and saw the output of the webcam. My heart sank, the video was so grainy. I immediately wrote to Carolyn that I have a very lousy webcam and I am sorry, that’s it! (not in so many words but definitely to that effect). But she is one lady who does not gets deterred by mere mortals like me.
By the time I appeared on the show we had exchanged around 40 emails (written by both of us combined, still sitting in my gmail) and I had three phone calls from the BBC studios! That is the amount of trouble they took to get me on show.
The first stumbling block we faced was with the link Carolyn sent me to join the web conference. It required some plugin downloads. I did everything and got a message in the end ‘the plugin is not compatible with Firefox version 3.0.1.’ I was ready to give up but not Carolyn! She send me another link, I got the same error again. I offered her to use Internet Explorer and yes, things started working.
Later Sesha asks me to change the focus of the webcam but added that the output has always been bad whenever he used it. And the output could be better on his PC rather than my five year old almost dead laptop. I installed everything again on his PC, all this while shooting many of those 40 mails we exchanged to Carolyn with problems real and imagined.
At one point she asked if she could come in and work with my desktop! My jaw drops in amazement but I of course said yes. So here I am sitting with my hands off the keyboards and the mouse is moving on its own! When I tell this excitedly to Sesha, he gives me that look and says, yeah they do it everyday at work! So much so for my wonder.
Anyway, we move ahead, I adjust the webcam lens and Carolyn says the picture is quite good, though a bit dark, can I get some extra light? Wonder of all wonders, we do not have a table lamp at home! So, I ask my younger nephew to ask one of his friends, if he has one. I get to know that he has and of course I can have it. Next logical step was to check the sound but we cannot check the sound as the headphones I was using, its microphone was broken. I offer tentatively to get a new one tomorrow, thinking she would run out of patience. But Carolyn is patient, she tells me not to worry, we can of course do the sound test the next day.
The next day (that is Friday and the show is on Saturday) it has been raining like anything and I ask Sesha to get the microphones and he agrees. So sometime after 8.00 pm we sit down again and try the sound. Well, the PC has a loose contact with the audio ports, tells Sesha. I ask Carolyn if I should try my laptop? The ever patient person she is, she agrees. I start my laptop (that takes ages to boot and the semicolon key doesn’t work, among many other quirks) move the webcam and the mike and connect to the web conference again. Things are working fine, only that extra light remains. During the day, I somehow forgot about the extra light! She says we will do a mock run again tomorrow, the day of the show, at 2.30 pm my time and I can get the extra light then! I agree.
The D Day– I wake up late (around 11.00 am India time) on Saturday and after a cup of tea, switch on the laptop. The keyboard is working but the mouse pad is not! Whatever tricks my nephew and I try, the laptop would not budge. Sesha is away at his music school. I of course panic. My nephew says let us try using the laptop via the keyboard but I find it too cumbersome. I go back to the PC and ask my nephew to go and get that table lamp. The sound at PC won’t work! The keyboard at the laptop won’t work and the friend’s table lamp has the shades that will cast the light downward only.
I finally decide to give up. It is 1.00 pm and I write another of those 40 mails to Carolyn, this time apologising a lot and basically trying to tell her it is all over. She has other ideas. Within a few minutes of writing that mail there is a call on my cell and yes it is Carolyn on the line. She tells me not to worry about the audio, they would get me on phone if it did not work on the PC! I promise her to try again. I also tell her that we had no power since the last two hours and our power backup (inverter as we all know here) may conk. I am sure that must have made her wonder for a while too! But we decide to test the device at 2.30pm as agreed.
Within a few minutes again, I get a phone call from Beijing and this time it is Adnan Nawaz, the presenter of the show on the line. And I mean he too was so nice on the phone (this will be another blog post) that I was really feeling guilty by now. When I told him about the power cut, he of course understood what type of disaster it meant.
I finally decide to put my limited tech skills to work. I get the external mouse out of Sesha’s laptop bag (it is his office laptop, so I do not go anywhere near it) and attached it to mine! Miraculously it worked! Now only the extra source of light remained. It was 1.45 already and I tell my nephew, lets go to the market and get the kind of table lamp we need. I wrote to Carolyn, saying I am out of the house and to give me till 3.00 pm to get online again.
So a little before 3.00, I sit with my laptop, with the external mouse working and the lamp (which we got after looking in at least 5 shops) throwing a lot of light at my face. Carolyn also comes online and says it is perfect! By 6.15, I go on the show live. And rest of course you can watch on the video!
Could you have ever imagined the real story of how I got on the show? Without the support from Carolyn, I would have given up long ago. And talking to Adnan and having the same South East Aisan heritage also did the trick. But as I said, that would be another post.
So, thank you so much Carolyn for finally getting me on the show. Was I your most difficult viewer? I guess so!