No, it’s not really fair of me to tag it like that, but that’s the way I’ve always seen it. An unbridled, rampant, commercialized mass lunacy; an obsession spreading like butter on a skillet in hell. And I’m not talking about sudoku here.
Putting on my philosopher’s hat for a bit, I have to ask – When a craze spreads across a large enough number of people, is it still a craze? Or has that craze gotten promoted to ‘normal’? And does that further mean that the person who does not have that craze in then no longer ‘normal’, and therefore crazy? These are the kind of things that I think about when I get bored.
But then again, it IS quite a valid point. The male member of the human species is somehow automatically tagged as a sports lover. Sports have somehow been ingrained into male psyche, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case since time immemorial. Perhaps it all started when Moog the Neanderthal started bouncing rocks on his wooden club trying to hit his fellow hunter-gatherer right smack on the center of his loincloth. Even back then, I’m sure there were a large number of spectators who kept count of how many times he missed his mark. This was, of course, far more difficult at the time, because math, numbers and counting wasn’t invented yet. Even in Moog’s day, there were probably some guys who would have preferred to hang out in their den watching caveman drawings – a poor substitute for TV if you ask me. But most likely, these people were looked down upon as abnormal specimens of mankind; They were the ones who got the leftover mastodon parts and were never invited to fermented tree-sap parties, where all the cool kids hung out.
It hasn’t changed much, except, of course, the loincloth bashing game, which has long since been banished as barbaric, uncivilized and rather obsolete ever since Sir Jaques Trapp invented the jockstrap. While the format has modernized, the theme is the same… Today, guys generally gather around large TVs and hurl abuses at their favourite team in the hope that their thoughtful choice of bad language will motivate them to play better. Most of them are educated, and are aware that television broadcast systems only offer one way communication, but such is their trustful faith that they are willing to try just about anything…
In India, the drug of choice is cricket, and has been, for as long as I can remember. Employees fake illnesses to watch matches. Students skip exams to play cricket. Friends hang out in local pubs to watch it on large screen TVs. Even as a kid, I was always expected to enjoy the bat ‘n bounce game. I never understood the attraction, but being a rather fair minded guy, I kept telling myself that my infatuation with movies probably sounds just as crazy to the sports nuts as well… I was reluctant to admit it at first, but what can I say; I can be pretty convincing.
When I was growing up, somehow, everyone felt that this was eccentric. While society looks up with some amount of awe and interest on eccentric old men, eccentric children were never seen in the same light. Uncles, aunts and assorted guests would prod along trying to find ‘my sport’ – as if it’s just a matter of the right question at the right time…
“No, uncle. I don’t like cricket”
“No cricket? Dear me… how peculiar. So what is it that you like? Football?”
“No. I don’t really…”
“What an interesting young man… How about hockey?”
“No. Not hockey either”
and on and on it would go… And the next time they come, they’d ask the same questions again… hoping, praying that I’ve finally come to my senses and picked up on some sport. There was no tiring them; no retreat, no surrender. They were the kind of interrogators who don’t quit until they get the answer.
“That’s it! You got me… That’s my favourite sport. Tennis… I love the game… Now, if you’ll excuse m…”
“Oh, tennis! How wonderful. Who’s your favourite player?”
“My.. my favourite what?”
“Your favourite player… You must have one…”
“Oh, you know… most of them… I have a great appreciation for them…”
“All of them… I mean… how do you choose?”
“Just pick any one… ”
“It’s all of them… any of them that err… played on the TV in front of me over all these years… It’s a vast variety of err… people… err that…”
So yes, I started the Sarah Palin routine quite a long time before she did, but I don’t begrudge her the title. Her version is so much more entertaining. Neither of ours were effective, at any rate. Of course, now I know better. Being vague wasn’t the solution. The secret of passing level one was not to be specific. If I had another shot at it, I bet I’d get it right…
“So… what sport is it that you li..?”
“I like Timuan Rangunya”
“Timuwha wa what??”
“Tim… Timu… is that like a fish or something?”
“What?” – This is when I’d squint one eye and look at him as if he just asked me what a Pope was
“I err… I haven’t heard of…”
“You haven’t heard of Timuan Rangunya? It’s only the most awesome tripedal twin focus type three field sport to come out of Papua New Guinea, South Africa”
“Eh? Wha? I…. But… Hey, Papua New Guinea is not in Africa. It’s a sepa…”
“Did I say Papua NEW Guinea. My bad. I meant Papua Old Guinea.”
“Old Guinea?? I haven’t…”
“It’s under an oppressive rule right now, you know. It’s heartwarming to know that from the depths of depravity, genocide, and tribal wars, they still managed to come up with a great and powerful sport like Timuan Rangunya.”
“Fun fact. Roamd Skweilda, who retired in 2007, is the greatest Timuan Rangunya player EVER – with over 240 goals, 125 simhulais, and nearly 400 kulvan rings”
“Yes, difficult to believe, isn’t it? You should have seen the last ring he scored in the 2007 Shikaka Cup. His right arm was almost bitten off by the crocodile”
“Ok, ok. Alligator, if you want to get technical. And the best part was…”
“Err… Hamish, why don’t you… just… go and watch a movie or something?”
“If you say so. But remember, we really should talk about Timuan Rangunya sometime.”
I’m pretty sure that would have worked. I could have gotten away with it too. I was just a kid, and kids can get away with most things, if they play their face right. But these tactics are seen to be rather ineffective when you’re in your late teens or above. I remember once when one of my uncles had visited me during an exam study holiday, which I was blatantly misusing for my movie watching needs… He suddenly came in all excited and said – “Hamish. It’s a very heated match. India has a good chance… Come quick!”
It was an earnest, eager call from an obviously passionate cricket fan. And as much as watching a field full of grown men chasing down balls in a field full of testosterone bored me to no extent, I couldn’t just say no to the poor guy. I loved that uncle of mine, and I just couldn’t do it cold heartedly. I decided I’ll just go over, watch for a bit, and slowly explain that I suddenly developed a brain tumor and might need to go back and rest – by which I mean ‘watch the rest of Die Hard 2’.
But just before I started on the rehearsed tumor monologue, my quick and observant eye spotted a vital statistic on screen which completely changed the plan of action.
It was the 47th over. 47th! I didn’t know much about cricket… hardly anything in fact, but I did know that this one was slated to end at 50. That meant I just needed to sit along for 3 overs. That’s like 15-20 minutes, I estimated. I can wait that long. It’s not like I hadn’t seen Die Hard 2 before.
So I sat along. I started cheering for the team. That’s when I truly appreciated that the players wore proud uniforms with clearly stenciled lettering marking their country. Other than a few key players, I wouldn’t have recognized any of the players. It would have been mildly perplexing for my uncle AND deeply embarrassing for me if I started rooting for the wrong team.
“Goddamn it! Score, you idiot! Score”
“RUN! What are you waiting for, you lazy slowpoke??”
“What are you tapping the ball for? Hey, show some guts and hit the ball, you coward!”
These were just some of the comments I shouted out during the three overs. I don’t regret the name calling. For most people, that is a practice to vent out their frustration over the game. For me, it was a sneaky ploy to cover for the fact that I didn’t know any of their names. My uncle was happy he had someone to share the game with; I was happy to be of service, and well, I’ll admit it – it was fun shouting at the TV screen.
It was fun. And it was fun only because I took in only three overs. Cricket, I decided, can be fun in small doses. And today, after nearly a decade, the sports industry seems to be thinking along the same lines… The IPL. The newer, crisper, flashier format that has taken the country by storm. It’s so big it’s eating into the entertainment industry, pulling crowds out of the theaters and onto the various IPL channels. Its comparative shortness seems to have driven it’s popularity even further among today’s time-starved populace. Even people who had little or no interest in cricket before the IPL phenomenon has joined hands with the dark side.
Not me, though. I’ll stick to Timuan Rangunya. I hear Roamd Skweilda is coming out of retirement.