Sunday, March 20, 2011

Made in India

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! 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Raising the middle finger.

I have always thought that the meaning of raising the middle finger has had it's own growth around the same era as mine. I remember as a little girl being completely ignorant to the existence of such a gesture. It was not a sight to be seen anywhere around me, not because I was a little girl and did not really hang out with crowds that are more likely to be using it, but it was just not used with such great frequency as today. As I grew and moved to a different country, the verbal usage of the gesture visited my ears more often. I remember being a social misfit as a teenager in that school, hence I've heard the word among the 'cooler' crowd and always wondered what it was supposed to convey. It was sometimes used instead of "Oh my God!"; sometimes as "no way!"; most times in anger, disgust or frustration or as an insult; sometimes in appreciation of something exotic and mind blowing; I never understood it. I knew only one thing,that if I ever dared to use any alphabetical combination that ever came close to 'that word', I would not see the end of that day or the beginning of another one...ever! 

Over time, I realized that the word has just carved a niche of it's own, a very big one, among my generation and if I do not want to be a misfit, I need to learn to recognize the context in which it is used and hence get the meaning it is supposed to convey. I also knew, that my generation had not yet come to the point of cultural deterioration where you were a misfit if you did not use the word. You can always show the same emotions of elation, surprise, ecstasy, mind blown over, anger,disgust, frustration, appreciation and insult, if you really have to hurl one, that is, with a different set of alphabetical combination. You could choose not to use the word and not be looked down upon. So, I chose to be a contemporary of my generation by understanding the various usages of the word and ensured a guaranteed long life by not using it myself. 

This arrangement worked very well for the longest time I could remember, until one day, I on a random note, as an expression of disgust used 'the word'. I had suddenly crossed that line. Suddenly my arrangement went awry somewhere. I was not supposed to have incorporated the word into my vocabulary, but here I was! I had to come up with some new arrangement. I had one of two choices- unlearn what I just learnt or come up with a new way of ensuring my long life. So, I sat and planned of a new way of ensuring my long life. The idea was simple, pull up a collapsible wall through which the word cannot permeate in the presence of a certain crowd that considers it taboo and might cause bodily harm that will result in a very painful end to my existence. That was it. It was as simple as that. So, from that point on, I had mastered the art of pulling up my wall at life threatening places and collapsing it at not-so-life threatening places. 

That arrangement worked very well too, until, one rainy day, I accidentally slammed the iron frame of my window onto my right middle finger. A fat, blue, pulsating, excruciatingly painful finger with the nail threatening to fall off in whole, leaving behind a naked nail bed resulted. That has consistently held onto it's position as  being among the top three most physically painful numbing incidents, I've ever had in my life. I remember tears not rolling down coz I was confused as to what to feel- Should I feel the pain or Should I repent for having been so careless or Should I be larger than human by putting up a brave face, as I was now no more a child or Should I pity myself at having been hurt while I was only trying to do good for every one around me by closing that darned window and not getting them wet. I remember telling myself to just keep it simple and acknowledge the pain, which resulted then in a continuous stream of tears that lasted a minute. With a lot of doctors in the family, care was never the problem. Ice and painkillers took care of it. The turning point was when a simple suggestion was given to increase the weight of comfort in the balance of comfort and discomfort I was feeling. " Keep the finger raised!" 

I looked around at all the elders at home whose center of attention I had become. I raised my entire arm along with the raised finger as suggested-  the logic being the blood flow would reduce taking away the pulsations. It was a very good suggestion and I did feel a lot less pain. For the first few hours I sat there in that position, with a smile inside my head. My thoughts drifted to how life can be funny at the most painful times. I tried to think if there ever was a time when I had imagined that I would be asked to raise the middle finger by the people I had classified as the life threatening crowd. A smile broke onto my face. It came as a surprise to mom. She had all along felt a sense of pride in the way I had handled myself through out the episode and especially now, that I was smiling in the face of it all. She asked me why- and I told her why. 

I saw pride take a step back, behind the curtain of her eyes and anger take a step forward and show itself out. I said the word in my mind and wondered about my after life. Then I magically saw anger step behind the curtains and a smile appear. She looked at me and chuckled like a child who had just done something she was told not to do and realized how much fun it had been! I chuckled with her. Mom had done what she was best at. She had easily slipped in and out of the roles she has always played to me all her life- one of a mother, teaching right from wrong and one of a friend- the best there can be. 

This once, she had somehow found her way into the not-so-life threatening crowd. From then on, she has been the only entity that has had a free passage between the life threatening and not-so life threatening crowd and has always found more comfort among the former.

It was also the only time, raising the middle finger was found to be the right thing to do at home.