Games People Play

It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”~ Alice

Indians are cricket crazy.

Of all the billion plus Indians, Cordell  found the only 4 who weren’t interested in the game. It came up towards the end of our journey when we had to go watch the India- Aus  Brisbane match. Looked to us like an  an utter waste of a day. We grumbled about it a bit to Aaron and among ourselves- all  4 of us  had one or the other  personal  agenda we needed  a day for- and somehow the people who set our schedule  for those weeks in Australia  just forgot to factor  it  in- that we may want a day  in Australia to do our own thing.
Mahima’s- Rides and tons of shopping.
Gurmeet’s- Sleep, so that he would  recover  somewhat to get back to work immediately on reaching home.
Mine- Catch up with family  I hadn’t met  for years, especially to see the newest addition there. Buy a few gifts to take back home.
Amer’s- That’s a whole post by itself!

Of course, all that  changed once we were at the cricket match. Was it the beer Joe had offered us?

But first..
We went  to the East Coburg Cricket Club on a blustery day- cold windy and cloudy. None of us were prepared for it. Just as well none of this made the cut- everyone looked a bit hunched up, fake-cheery and quite ill-clad for the weather.
2 learnings for me were:
Forget the politeness of respecting  secrecy about the forthcoming  locations/ experiences- Ask  Chris or Aaron  if we’re filming indoors or outdoors and  how the weather would  be the next day.
Sports can actually  unite hearts. Even cricket.

I know nothing about cricket (Once I sat next to Sidhu on a flight , one of our really famous  bowlers who was in great form then, and didn’t recognize him until 2 hours later when we both reached our destination and he picked up his India kit-holder ) but even I  knew about Harbhajan Singh, Symonds  and ‘monkey-gate’. I’m pretty sure Bhajji  didn’t say ‘monkey’ and actually said an Indian  swear word that sounds very close to it- not because I am defending him, but because ‘monkey’ isn’t  really a slur in India. Many north Indian men would say the other more abusive  word quite naturally under stressful circumstances. Actually ‘monkey’ may even be used as an endearment to a child, and I doubt ‘terms of  endearment’ was  the mood  in play that day.
Basically not an episode that united hearts.

But the ECCC did that.  Also the camaraderie. Such a diverse number of ethnicity blending in at one place was amazing.
Just like George, fondly known as The General.
He shared with us-
“Neighbours, colleagues and school friends would congregate in the warmer months with little more than pride and bragging rights at stake. That was until 1981, when me and my mates decided to step things up. It was myself, some of the neighborhood guys and some old school friends.”
I found his  recruiting methods particularly interesting-
“We’ve come across a lot of sub-continent players, such as taxi drivers, 7-Eleven workers and so on,” he said.“For example, if you go and fill up your tank and come across a sub-continental bloke, I’ll often invite them to training and exchange phone numbers.”

It would have been a great fun only  if  it wasn’t  blowing chilly gusts. ( I’ve lived in really cold places like Ladakh, where the temp goes down to -30* C, but that was a long time ago. Pune, my city has spoilt  me rotten with its glorious weather all through the year) The only thing I wanted to do after we had spoken to George and the others  was escape to the club house.

But first we tried our hand at bowling.
Amer- Okay-ish.
G-man- Good.
Mahima- Okay-ish, but thrilled to keep at it- her run-up was almost half a mile. (Great to build up an appetite for the barbecue that followed, only, she was vegetarian. However, the ECCC extended  great  hospitality and kept the vegetarians in mind.)
I- was the worst. The ball was so wide that the batsman at a  parallel practice pitch hit it for a four.

That done, I made a quiet exit. Good decision.

Thanks to two club members in there, I was able to do a visual tour of  the club’s history- the black & white pictures on the walls tell heart- warming stories attesting to  many nationalities playing cricket together as a team.
The best was yet to come.
One of the people sitting there looked  like an  Indian. He seemed shy, but was forthcoming  when I asked him to tell me something about his experiences with the club.
It turned out he was a Punjabi, a Pakistani. What a wonderful chance meeting. We discussed everything but cricket. Time flew.
Looking at us,  who could have  guessed our countries have a terribly  fractured history with each other-  the political relationship  has been ‘strained’ at it’s best, we’ve been at war with each other  at its  worst .
Both of us shared a lot in common- language, history, culture, movies, telly serials,  food, social fabric and an aspiration to be able to freely visit each others’  country  somewhere in the future.
I told him about how  Mahi and  my favorite songs (in fact most  of India’s)- the ones we were listening to all through the Aussie  road trip- were the ones sung by Pakistani singers. He talked of all his favorite movie  heroes  and heroines being Indian. I told him about our love for Pakistani suits and embroidery, and that many of us   girls from border towns  like Amritsar grew up following Pakistani fashion trends  from watching their television serials. We spoke about Amritsar where his grandparents belonged to  until  the partition forced them to choose to take that train to Pakistan  in 1947;  I had spent my teenage years there, so I  told him about that city he still considered his heritage.He was a graduate from the same college my  grandmother had studied ‘Education’ in- Govt College of Lahore  (in 1939).  We exchanged stories of  teenage crushes we had across the border- Rahat Kazmi, Imran Khan….. (my most treasured possession in college  was a photograph with the Pakistani bowler  Imran Khan with his arm around my shoulders,  it still must lie somewhere!)

There were  so many stories to exchange, I think we were both quite emotional  by the time the others joined us. We both knew that this was a chance meeting we would treasure, even though we did not even  know each others names. Exchanging  details  seemed  unnecessary.
The  politics across our  borders divides, while  common  people ( apart from  the fundamentalists) on both sides work quietly towards  ‘Aman kii aasha’- A hope for peace.

Except at cricket. It’s a war. Pride is at stake. Also money- the illegal betting mafia makes a killing. An India- Pak match means offices shut early, students bunk college and there’s not much point in keeping shops open that day.
But for a couple of years in between, Australia was  India’s  new Pakistan. The rivalry on the field was intense. Perhaps off it too.
It’s a bit funny how there were  2 neat divides in some urbane  Indian social  groups when men and women watched the Aus-India matches  together on Tv. Of course everyone wanted India to win, and the cheers went up accordingly. However, while the men cheered our Indian team all the way through, women would cheer for the Indian team  but keep saying how the Aussie players had better bodies and  body-language  than our boys in blue. 

Coming back..
When Aaron told us we’d be seeing a cricket match none of us looked thrilled. In fact I think we made a few faces ( a very Indian turn of phrase, a literal translation ) and looked at each other with knowing eyes- It would be a be a boring day. Cricket was such a boring game for all 4 of us!

We were so wrong.

 The atmosphere was electrifying. The noise was deafening. The Swami Army was at it’s dhol (Indian drum) best, and dancing to it was a high.  It was fun!
Even without the beer Joe offered us.
A teetotaler, I was determined to make an exception for a highly recommended ( by Aussies)  Aussie  experience- until the 4th sip when the blue and green team jerseys  began to blur into each other, and the other Indians all around us began to look at me oddly- I was  cheering and also  doing some neat  ‘bhangra’ steps each time something interesting happened on the field, including when the Aussie batsmen cracked a few sixes. Since the cameras were on us  I’m hoping  most people there would have assumed that  this broad-minded  global stance was for the filming and wouldn’t have attributed it to the 4th dangerous sip of beer.

 I gave that  glass  to one of the Indian boys sitting behind us  who saw me keep it  under the seat and  said- ” If you’re not going to drink, might’s well watch a cricket match in India!”**
 On our way to the press enclosure to talk to  some important  cricket names, we came across these Aussie fans who stopped and asked me if I was a famous Bollywood actor (thanks to the cameras around us and  their  hazy vision due to looking through a sliced and carved- out watermelon shell). Naturally I said yes, ha!

They all wanted to take pictures.

 (Reminded me  bit about myself  in a flight back home  from Barbados with someone who every man in sight was taking pictures  of.  I didn’t recognize him but took a pix  anyway- how else do you find out who the celebrity was! Later that day  the men in my family were aghast  at my lack of   general knowledge; in fact my 6 year old nephew took one look at the picture  and said- “The whole world knows Steve Vaugh!”)

 One of the melon-heads  said he loved Bollywood and could I please dance a few  Bollywood  dance steps with him. Some thoughts in the still- fuzzy head-

Here in the middle of the foyer?

Why didn’t I  join my cousins back home when they went for Bollywood-dance classes (We do that- weddings in India are all about song & dance, and you are expected to make filmy moves.)

I hope this dance doesn’t get past the final edit. Everyone back home would be mortified. Not because I danced with a water-melon head (which is both rare and  funny  if you are an Indian) but because my lack of  intensity in the  Bollywood ‘jhatkkas matkas’  (twists & jerks)  would make  my  Indian friends  hang their heads  in shame.

It didn’t make the cut. Nor did Amer with the Flintstone shirt his new friends  gifted him.
Just comes to my mind- What do they do with the miles of  unused footage. Would they agree to give it back to us? Would it make a funnier even more interesting DDR?  I have a feeling it might!

We left the stadium as soon as the filming was over, much before we lost the match. The walk back to the hotel was a good oportunity to tell  Aaron  I was sorry about  our whinging about spending the day watching the match.

I can’t say about the cricket, however,   the day wasn’t boring at all. In fact, I could easily  do it again- but only in Australia- and  with a little help from Joe!

**Alcohol is not permitted in public places in India. In fact there is so much security that  it  is painful to watch cricket at a stadium. Only the really cricket-crazy go there- which I guess is all of India.*