Monday, April 18, 2011

The India-Pakistan Circus

30 March:
Armed with two bags , one containing a laptop and the other, papers of no consequence  which I nevertheless lug with me daily to office, I sat tight in my rickshaw. My breath was drawing itself for prolonged periods of time and I was visibly shaking. The roads were as pleasant as Switzerland could possibly be and yet I had just exited my residence in Bandra, Mumbai. What , then , were the reasons for  this odd calm in the surroundings and palpitating tension within me? Well , imagine you are with me for a moment and I still won't tell you. Instead I will direct you to shut your eyes and concentrate hard on sounds from nearby. Within about two minutes of such concentration , you will have heard  two countries being referred to in a vastly different manner. In short , one  being praised gloriously and referred to as the Mother ; the supposedly possessing a mother whose genitals were being regularly referred to.

I felt no shame in hearing this coarseness. Across the border , I'm sure I  heard  folk yelling exactly the same thing about the same two countries ; only with the roles interchanged. Indeed , this lot are of a rather more dangerous temperament , though they profess to have 'big hearts' .

I reached my workplace and soon realised that no-one was even making a pretence of working. Laptop screens were were as black as night, desk chairs were the temperature of an ice-cube and the desks themselves , devoid of any belongings. Reached the cafeteria, the atmosphere change almost knocked me flat. It was buzzing like a stadium. Vaguely discernible was a painful explanation of the lbw rule being made by one of our senior male staff to one of our  female staff. She was nodding just  a little too vigourously to be following completely and I garnered the impression that all she wanted to see was the ball zooming towards the boundary, without getting into bothersome matters of 'offering a shot' and 'pitching outseide leg stump'. I have, indeed , observed this in nearly all members of that gentle sex.

National anthems were soon done and Umar Gul began bowling the most immaculate filth at Virender Sehwag. Each boundary was cheered like Sehwag had been straight driving perfect yorkers from Joel Garner for four. The elevation of Sehwag was something the entire city participated in and I overheard someone assigning him divine status. The honour of this status is slightly diminished , by every Indian cricket player from the past twenty years having been assigned it at some point of time in his life.

Eventually, Prateek came up to me declaring that he was an honest boy and would not waste office electricity when he wasn't working. I admired him plenty for that and proposed that we 'find a place' . He giggled a little and suggested someplace called Esco Bar where there was promised glorious rewards among which huge screens , hot girls, flowing beer , rolling pizza and jumping French Fries featured prominently. Some of these had an 'unlimited' tag attached to them; for safety, I omit to mention precisely which.

Very soon,  we were there, after a journey in which Prateek gave me his opinion about various intricacies of the game. He is a fast learner, is that old egg; during the previous match , he did not know the difference between 'wicket' , 'pitch'  and 'stumps'.

Esco Bar , itself, was a place where the overwhelming greatest feature, was not girls, beer or pizza but Sweat.
This demon followed me about wherever I tried to hide myself. 'There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother'  says the Bible. To that I say , as long as that friend is only one friend and is not from Esco Bar.
 Long after I had realised that finding a permanent seat amid scores of insane fans who had tied themselves into knots to protect seats for their fellow creatures was quixotic, I found myself standing in a corner. I tried to make myself look small and insignificant - doing so, I found that it was rather difficult to actually see what was going on on the big screen. I discerned that Umar Gul had ceased plying his filth and the Pakistani fielders resumed plying theirs every time Sachin Tendulkar was on strike. Shadid Afridi looked like all the butter than would not melt in his mouth had been transferred to the fingers of his fielders , where it was doing a wonderful job. This , and other incidents, led me to soon become absorbed in what was now a wild scrap between the two politically feuding nations. The quality of cricket, itself , was on the poorer side - this did not daunt my mates at the club in the slightest bit. An outside edge by a Tendulkar who had suddenly lost his fluency was greeted with a roar. Shahid Afridi's review was overturned and a volley of the choicest abuse was hurled at him. Indeed , it mattered not the slightest bit that both teams were rolling in muck and slogging it out a fist-fight in which no team really had the upper hand.

I , however , had a fight of my own to contend with . It was basically , Me vs  Everyone Else. The aim of Everyone Else seemed to be to apply as much sweat to Me as was possible. The aim of Me was to avoid this sweat.
A sharp observer will notice that we were at cross purposes.
A game of Hide and Seek , inevitably followed and indeed continued for a good one hour. The game, you will be forced to admit was Unfair. I was taking on over a hundred people single handed. It felt good , I may tell you, to be battling under those odds, like Achilles. However Achilles must have enjoyed his dead bodies more than I enjoyed my little battle. I soon quit , in this respect we(Achilles and I) are not so similar. In others , we are virtually identical.

As for the match - it went on with a few noteworthy Esco incidents . One was our continual problem of where to plant the behind; apparently over and above the twelve hundred that we had already paid , you had to pay some more if you wanted to avoid rubbing a sore back against a counter in a poor simulation of a bad massage. I was evicted twice , once from a group of youngish people who stared at me apprehensively before asking 'sir' if he would move because their 'guests had come' and the other by a bunch of middle aged Sindhi women who said, 'Hey, you move now ah, our guests have come'.
I rather think this line was a recommendation of one nasty looking waiter who made a pretence of giving me vodka shots every time India hit a boundary. I was dead sure that he was giving me none other than sweetened lemon juice adulterated by pure methyl alcohol.

This selfsame waiter also resulted in the burning of my upper palette when he served me my Venus-hot free pizza. With this burnt palette and the fact that I was swimming in a mixture of oil (from eating too many French Fries on account of having nothing better to do with myself)  and beer , you will excuse me if I did not partake of the overflowing cup of hot air that flowed through the country on India's victory.
The only entertainment at that place other than the cricket , in the midst of falsely euphoric and highly sweaty males was that provided by the girls in that place. You see, as far as this species goes , I instinctively react in a
different manner. It was with an indulgent eye that I viewed a nineteen year old who spilled a fair amount of beer on me during one of her random air-finger-pointing-coupled-with-woo-screaming episodes. It was with a benevolent eye that I witnessed a pair of them scream with fresh delight at the replay of a wicket that had fallen half an hour previously (it was now the Pakistani innings) . It was , however with some shock that I looked on as another one pointed a finger at the screen and shrieked wildly upon Shoaib Akhtar's appearing there , seated primly in the dressing room. This was followed by a slightly vulgar dance accompanied by very heavy panting.

We won , there was joy , exultation and madness. Keen to put as much distance as was possible between myself and that bar , I said a very hurried goodbye to the fellows I had gone there with. For good measure too, as, not long after , when I was curled up in my bed I heard such a mass of honking that it  could mean only one thing-every street in Bandra was jammed. That cleared up in a bit, however, the sound of broken glass and screeching tyres, not to mention a good many loud bangs tore its way through my much deserved sleep for the rest of that night.

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