The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Weep, my beloved country, for the game
By Rooma Mehra

IT was the year 1986: Three pairs of eyes are glued to the TV screen. Tiger-like Pakistani Khan charges in. One of Azharís stumps does a miraculous somersault in the air before landing on the ground. At that moment, an unpardonable crime is inadvertently committed. I guffaw. A pair of furious eyes shift their attention from the screen to me. My sister hisses, "What is there to laugh about?"

"It was a great ball," Ireply, automatically sheepish.

"Shut up!" she glowers at me. While I sit, boycotted by both the ladies, my patriotism suddenly in doubt, mentally juggling words effective enough to arouse true sportswomanship, they start getting personal. "The Imran magic, huh? Your favourite, isnít he?" The sarcasm hits me with the impact Imranís ball had had on Azharís stumps. "On the contrary", I retort icily .. and meaning it, "Viv Richards happens to be my favourite cricketer!" I think I vaguely hear the word "traitor!" on my way out.


Year 2000: Money? How much? Great ball or money? Traitors?

1986: Adifferent scenario. It is the final ball of the final match of the tournament. It is also the deciding ball.Five pairs of eyes are glued to the TV screen. At that moment nothing else exists. The telephone is ringing incessantly. All office-going relatives and friends are calling every ten minutes to ask the score. All five pairs of ears pretend not to hear. But the harsh ringing persists. I finally get up. "Uncle, one ball and they need a boundary to win. I think we have won .. wait, Chetan Sharma is coming in to bowl the last ball.." I can hear hushed whispers at the other end of the phone. Excitement has reached its peak. "Miandad facing the ball. There comes the ball .. a full toss .. a full toss? .. a full toss? ... and..." I refuse to believe it! Stunned silence in the room.A frenzy of excitement at the other end of the phone. "Hello! Hello! What happened? What happened? Have we won?"

"Miandad hit a six!" I do not recognise my own undignified squeak.

My brother and sister-in-law suddenly remember some important work and make a hurried exit. I see my eldest brother changing into his jogging shoes and uncharacteristically offer to join him and my sister.

Two hours, some jogging, some walking and plenty of talking later, we find, on our return, a very perplexed and anxious mother waiting for us at the head of a fully laid-out dining table. "Eat?" All five look askance at each other. I suppose it is a case of displaced glances, since nobody can bear the sight of food. All we see is a run, re-run and re-re-run of Miandad clobbering Chetan Sharmaís full toss for a six into the stands ..

Year 2000: Money? Money? How much money? Is it possible? The home team had wept that day .. Talking about weeping .. Is it possible? I feel a shiver run up my spine..

October 31, 1987: My transistor is on. Working alone in the upstairs room of the Garhi Artistsí Studios. Some excitement as Chetan Sharma bowls out a Kiwi batsman. "Aha", I nod approvingly, scooping out another lump of clay at the same time as Chetan bowls out the next batsman, too. This is not a time to be alone, I suddenly realise. "Chetan Sharma is on a hat-trick!" I yell, hoping feverently that at least one more artist downstairs is interested in cricket. To my delight, four highly excited fellow-artists rush in to hear about Chetan Sharmaís moment of glory. "The first hat-trick in World Cup! Bravo!" That night, five pairs of eyes watch in the TV highlights, the diminutive Chetan go berserk after his hat-trick! Five happier people witness a bear-hug involving Sidhu and Chetan and five people reach a near pinnacle of happiness as 21 runs are hammered out in a single over by our little master preceded and succeeded by more of the same stuff by him Srikkanth and Azhar.

2000: It is not possible. Please tell us who all were involved .. and prove it. We are feeling very foolish.

October 2, 1987: The morning of November 2 was an eventful affair as everyone incredulously read Viv Richardsí comment: "It will be Pakistan or England" in the newspaper. "I am sure he means Pakistan or India", Imutter, trying to be loyal to my favourite, as I begin reading the report and finally dismiss the utterances of my ex-favourite as highly subjective. I could vouch, on that day, that at least five Indian cricket-lovers were praying for the good health of Tauseef and Akram. For, after all, what significance had a World Cup Final if it was not Kapilís and Imranís devils meeting on the Calcutta grounds!

2000: Devils?

October 5, 1987: That dark evening of the November 5, five unusually silent people sit in a loose semi-circle with aching hearts and twiddling thumbs. Hearts aching for those one or two valiant ones in the two teams of the sub-continent who had indeed given their best and been let down by their teams, and twiddling our thumbs in indecision because of the inevitable question .. who does one support in the finals? "The Aussies, I guess", I hear the voices of my brothers. "After all, arenít they from the so-called "weaker Pool A!" "Well! May the best team win .." croaks another voice. "You mean may the best team Ďof that dayí winí" ..that is my sister quoting Imran.

2000: Could it have been Pakistan and India? Money? How much money?

We win no World Cups after that. And what significance World Cups ...

And what significance my first ever poem, written after my fatherís untimely death. Kapil Dev just had to find a place in the poem, because Dad was incomplete without his magnificent passion for cricket and his almost child-like admiration for Kapil Dev. I do not see him, more often than not in my thoughts, without a bat in his right hand or a ball in his left .. (He was a left-handed bowler.)

My hackles rise at the mention of the word "cricket" and the wasted emotion on the game. First we wept with the commentators. Then we wept with Kapil being grilled by Karan Thapar.

Now, weep, my beloved country, weep for the game .. and the lost matches we will forever be unsure about.

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