I have been an 'NRI' for a total of 10 years approximately. That phase of life has seen me reside in a couple of countries and visit a lot more. But no matter where my feet have touched the earth, I have always found myself to be truly 'made in India'- the kind of creation that eats, sleeps and breathes Bollywood and brings life to a complete stand still when India plays a cricket match.
My first knowledge of the game was as a four year old, when one Sunday morning, I was being dressed and fussed over,while Mom was neatly packing a picnic lunch and told me "today Daddy has a match and we are going to watch him". She finally gave up fussing over me and started getting dressed, while I scurried over to find Dad. He was in an all-white outfit with a white hat that I had seen many times on T.V., on those afternoons, when Dad would be glued to the television and I would fall asleep in 5 minutes, giving up on comprehending what was so interesting in watching those men in white, with that sleepy voice guy talking constantly.
The infusion of cricket into my veins is attributable to events that occur at home when India plays a match, no matter how trivial the tournament is. Days when India was playing a match were no less than a day of festivities. We would know the exact dates way before the tournament or series started. It would be marked on the calender. Most important matches were always on a Sunday, so all my homework would be done by Saturday night, the menu for breakfast and lunch on Sunday would be decided and whatever preparations needed to be made, would have been done. Sunday morning, Dad would get up early, water the garden, read his morning newspaper, take his shower and settle in his spot on the sofa with a whole lot of reading material spread around him. Mom would wake up, enjoy her tea, take her shower and get to the kitchen to start the whole breakfast routine. She would then come in and suggest a brunch, so she could enjoy watching the match as well. Puri and aloo tomato or Masala dosa would usually be the choice. The TV would be turned on much before the match was to start. Dad would listen to the weather commentary,the condition of the pitch,the grass on the outfield, the discussion of the team, the strengths and weaknesses of each player on both sides, all of it. I would come sleepy eyed and land on the sofa next to Dad, get one of Mom's high pitched instructions to drink my milk, ignore it, until the point when instruction would be followed by a long speech that entailed how I would have to keep getting up during the match to drink milk or eat breakfast and all that. Once the the coin was flipped for the toss, everything stopped at home. Mom made sure, all her chores were done, everyone was fed with standing instructions that no one was to disturb her. She would then sit with an embroidery she was working on, with her eyes glued to the television.
Our matches are always nail biting, cause we never like to win comfortably. We are a generous and humble nation even when we play. We love to give others a chance, make them feel worthy. We are known to bring the best out of our opponents while we touch new lows. But, every now and then, we do fight with every ounce of blood we have in us and surprise ourselves. In the process , we create records and instill fear in other teams for being unpredictable and thus strong. Although at times,I wonder why we never predictably win or for that matter ever win with ease, I think I enjoy the tension. Apart from unifying a culturally diverse India across all generations, it brings out a very passionate side of my Mom.
Now, Mom has never played any sport in her life except for may be hopscotch when she was little. Athleticism and her are miles apart, but when it comes to cricket, she even brings Dad's passion to shame. Her undying love for the team (every member, but a little more fondness for Dada and Sachin) and indefatigable optimism even in the bright lights of defeat are incomparable. Her assessments of why Sachin got out right after his century or why Agarkar's fast bowling is not effective can involve any reason in the world. It could vary from lack of stamina due to over exposure in the game to how Indian food is predominantly vegetarian and therefore does not help players build their stamina, that players should be given a lot of milk and eggs, to possibility of betting, to bad luck, to God taking some momentary rest and not watching over Team India...anything but the fact that Sachin was careless with his shot or that the opponent batsmen had figured a way around Agarkar's fast bowling and he needs to bring variations into his technique.
The best comes when it is one of those nail biting finishes where the match might go in favor of any team. Dad, gives up, blames the bowlers' inability, batsmens' carelessness and the lack of commitment as a team. He starts his post mortem analysis on why we lost even before we actually lose. Mom on the other hand jolts up, sits straight, puts down her embroidery, all eyes on the screen, mumbles silent prayers as the bowler does his run up, depending on whether India is batting or bowling and whether it is a weak batsman or a bowler who has had a bad day today, the prayers carry a different request of means to the same end "let us win!". If it's one of those days when team India has decided to disappoint it's fans, Mom would still defend them and say how once in a while, every great team is allowed to lose. Dad would then mutter how we have had a string of losses in the season, to which Mom would come up with one of those maternal instinct things that says 'you are always harsh on the team'.
Staying independently now and watching the matches alone is not so much fun. As much as it is about the nail biting finish, the twist and turns of the game, it is also about all the excitement that mounts up to d-day, the masala dosa, the sight of Dad looking fresh, with all his reading material around, mom- glasses on her nose, embroidery in hand, constant commentary, prayers and oozing optimism even when India needs 27 runs to win off 1 ball.
It's not just the game, it's something else- indescribable. A sense of bonding that the game brings amongst it's watchers, the passion it evokes, the child in each one of us it brings out into the open, it's ability to bring people out of their barriers- the way it gets my 'cool,'quiet' Dad to voice his frustration and my Mom to swap between being a child, hoping fearlessly for the hopeless; and playing mom to 11 players she has never met in her life before!