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Who cares about the other side?

By Anita Nair
February 28, 2003 19:25 IST
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You really can't blame me for this. If there is any one you need to point a finger at, lift that accusing index digit and waggle it towards my childhood…

They came to my parents' home in hordes to watch television. We had one of the first TV sets in town. But everyone watched movies and documentaries, film song sequences and the Republic Day parades.

The cricket matches that were telecast were ignored; no one was interested except my two boy cousins and my brother. Willy-nilly I was nominated as hand maiden. The official provider of soft drinks and eats, and so began my tutelage into the art of appreciating cricket….

The problem, of course, with my tutors was that they seldom watched a match unless India played. And so it has come to be that I don't watch a cricket match unless India is playing.

We lounged in my living room and cheered and heckled the players... nothing was explained to me, nor was I even included in the discussion. But when India won, there would appear a gleam in their eye that would include me in its celebration. I was there for India. You were there too. Their eyes danced….

I haven't seen my boy cousins in many years but the habit of those formative years have stayed with me. I don't watch cricket unless India is playing.


Now, when it comes to football, I'll watch any game. During the World Cup last year I watched every single match. Picking my side depending on how I am feeling that day, or on which one of my editions is doing well. If the French edition was doing better than the Italian one, I'd cheer the French on, etc. There was neither logic nor even prejudice applied. It was merely a matter of whim.

I haven't missed the Wimbledon or the US Open matches from the time they were telecast on Indian television. But with cricket, it doesn't matter to me if the two sides are playing the World Cup Finals. I am not watching if India is not playing….

And if India is playing, I feel personally responsible to cheer them on from my living room. That's another one of those formative year habits. I haven't ever watched a single cricket match live. It's always been brought into my place of living. Apart from the fact that my vision blurs out after about 10 feet, why would I exchange the ability of multi-tasking--- watching cricket, shelling peas, grooming the dog, writing, all done while seated in front of the TV?  Every time there's been a big match played in Chennai or Bangalore, the two cities that I have played out my life in, I have said 'NO' to invitations. You can go perch in an uncomfortable seat all day or day and night, I am staying home, I say!

How do I explain to them that what makes watching a match played on TV special for me is that it is more intimate an experience than it ever could be if I were at the stadium…watching the determined steeling of features as Srinath bowled, seeing the glee when Azharuddin picked a catch, or a flicker of a smile that stretches Sachin's lips despite it being his umpteenth sixer!

I sit there and think these are my countrymen who are accomplishing this and I have to be there for them…. If I step out of the room, they'll know that I went away…. and they might lose their momentum….

If they lose, it is a personal failure.

I know there are serious cricket aficionados who appreciate the nuances of the game. To them, all sides are alike. But most of the cricket watching public, even if they won't admit it, are just like me…. Why else aren't the streets of Bangalore erupting with the sound of crackers every night? And why is it that on nights India plays and wins, crackers boom their pyrotechnic voices in festivity? I might have watched a match between Pakistan and England if I had nothing else to do or see on TV.

Ever since this World Cup began, I have been traveling to strange places, where cricket means nothing. I have had to miss the first few matches India played. My first match was the India-England one at Durban. But why hadn't anyone warned me of the circus that is a precursor to having to watch a match on a particular TV channel? Bimbettes posturing as cricket experts [there's more reasoning to my elderly aunt's ‘he's got such a sweet face so I hope they'll let him bat first' than to the bimbette's assessment of  the batting order], tarot card readers muttering vague inanities [I am still reeling from the ‘three key personalities' reading], airing of cricketer's favourite recipes, their preferred brand of underwear and deo ….and all this while serious cricketers of the past watch on….

I don't know if I am imagining this, but most of panellists seem to wear a look of long suffering…'all of this as well for cricket' their faces seem to say…. Like me [to be able to watch a match played half way across the world in my living room] they have to pay a price for privileges but at the end of it all, it's worth everything when India puts up a great show. And you are willing to forgive the TV channel for making a mockery of a game that is sacred to so many.

Perhaps how sacred cricket is, is best measured when there is a match between India and Pakistan. Some years ago I was in a small town in the USA at a writers' retreat. This was just before the Kargil war. The director of the residency and I were breakfasting together. He wanted to know about the India-Pakistan situation. I am no expert on foreign affairs, like I am no expert on cricket. All I can talk about is my own personal reading of a state of affairs, be it diplomatic ties or a cricket match. So I repeated what a friend's father said a long time ago to me: ‘We suppress our hostilities from turning into war by playing cricket matches against each other.'

Obviously we didn't suppress it hard that time because, a few months later, Kargil happened….

When India and Pakistan play against each other, life will come to a standstill in most households in India. Even in my little village which, despite having a football crazy populace who threatened to break up the cable TV operator's office if he didn't organize the right channel during the football World Cup, has its own MCC (Mundakotukurussi Cricket Club).

We will watch the game played as if it were the World Cup finals.  We will each in our hearts transform these ordinary men into heroes who had better win this war. We will pray and make offerings; we will chew on potato wafers and drink our beers and try and still our heaving hearts.

And then, at mid- time, I will call my brother and he and I will voice, as we usually do this thought [that is perhaps an echo of a thought through a million minds]: If there hadn't ever been a partition, think of what our team would have been like.

(Anita Nair is the author of the best selling novels The Better Man and Ladies Coupe, published in 19 languages across the world. More recently she has edited an anthology of writings about Kerala titled ‘Where the Rain is Born'. Visit her at


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