Ours is a country that’s full of crazy men and unhappy women. This is particularly true on the day of a cricket match involving the Indian Cricket team – when men conveniently forget and forego all their responsibilities to discuss the brilliance of Sachin’s leg spinner or Ajit Agarkar’s solid forward defence, while women either end up working overtime responding to countless requests of chai and pakoras, or are asked to sit quietly and watch this sacrosanct game. But for all the talk about cricket being a gentleman’s game, no experience came close to watching it in the company of my grandmother, whose love for the game could only be matched by her loyalty for any man who played for India.
Back in the early 90s, the Indian Cricket team was not as celebrated as their current counterparts. It was a team of paradoxes – a fast bowler opened the batting, a leg spinner was their fastest bowler and the oldest member was also the team’s best outfielder. The eventual result of the game never really mattered as long as Sachin was the highest scorer. Even if the highest individual score was a mere 31 out of the team’s overall score of 173 all out in 48.5 overs.
But then my grandmother was the ever empathizing fan who kept insisting, “It’s not easy for a 17-year old boy to play with older men”, “ Do you know how difficult it is to go to an alien country and eat their food”, “We were never as tall and strong as those fair (skin-toned as opposed to natured) Australians”, “Indians were never raised to do nothing else but play cricket like those dark West Indians”, or “At least, we will never cheat with bad umpiring and win like those bloody Pakistanis in Sharjah”.
She’d also rationalise her fondness for the men in blue with several gems like “After all, he’s from Bombay”, “He looks so smart, he must surely be a Brahmin”, “Did you know his mother tongue is Konkani and not Marathi”, or the best one, “ I’ve heard he’s employed by Canara Bank, where I maintain my savings account.” Her patriotism was so fervent, that I never dared to admit that Wasim and Waqar were my favourite bowlers, lest I be disowned.
But in hindsight, that’s perhaps what turned me into a critic. My only agenda was to oppose everything that grandma would say during the course of the game. So if you were ever to follow the conversations of the Pai household during a game of cricket, you may be inclined to believe that India was at once the best and the worst team in the world. So a “See they will easily beat Pakistan today” would be followed by “What’s the point, they lose to them on Friday (Sharjah Cup Finals, for the uninitiated, was always contested on a Friday) anyway.” Likewise, “Poor Fellow! Srinath better take some rest. He has fitness problems” would get a “Useless fellows! They should all stop playing and sit at home. None of them are fit to play for the country” as a response.
Somehow, none of my taunts would shake her belief in Indian Cricket. I always imaged that as a cricket fan, Granny was like one of those doting mothers you encountered at school, who believed her son was god’s gift to the Mensa Society, and he’d stand first in class every time but didn’t because he was never a teacher’s pet.
But for all the debates, Grandma always knew that my heart was in the right place. And I’d secretly celebrate ever Indian victory, even if Sachin was out for a duck. And that it had nothing to do with her treating us to a pack of Ruffles (now called Lays) or a bar of Cadbury’s Break every time India won. May be that was her way of ensuring that I inherited her love for Cricket. So thank you Bapamma – watching cricket has never been the same without you.