Preparing for War

posted by on 2007.09.24, under India, Travel

Today this country went to war, and after a nail biting finish, came out victors of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup of Cricket. An emotional day, the city nearly shut down for it, and only 2 places in town were showing the game. I had the opportunity to watch the game with a great group of guys from Habsiguda, the area which I am staying. Tensions were felt early on, as the pub we chose by default only had one working tv and the only table we could sit at had a horrible view of the screen. The first play of a game was nearly a run out, India barely saved the wicket, and from then on I knew my blood pressure would be at risk for the next 4 hours. India batted in a modest 157 runs, which made my relatives in 3 different continents whom I spoke with at the break extremely nervous. Pakistan showed signs of early domination, but India stayed a threat by taking key wickets early on. The game came down to the last over, like most of these 20 over matches. Pakistan had only 10 runs to win off 6 balls, and hammered a six run boundary shot.

I made a mental note at that point that I would keep my cool if India lost, and started preparing myself for the disappointment, which seems to be ever present in the teams I choose to be a fan of. This was a bit different than my failing Cleveland Browns, or Chicago Cubs…This was my home. India doesn’t have the reputation of being competitive athletes back in the US, so naturally to see them in the finals of a world cup tournament took pride to a new level. Just moments earlier, the place had been shaking with Bhangra music, chants in the native language for India to win, and the hardest high fives I have been associated with. The disappointed I have usually experienced in my days as a sports fan lingered in the back of my mind during all this, as it seemed to good to be true when India took the 9th wicket after slowing Pakistan’s run rate to nearly 6 runs per over.

As it turns out, the very next ball, after my spirits had been weakened, India took the final wicket, catching a flyball. The place I was in, “On The Rocks” nearly crumbled, men continued to celebrate for an hour more, dancing Bhangra together and partying. The bar offered to buy everyone a round of drinks on the house, just as long as they closed out their bar tabs. My uncles who told me earlier they were preparing for war, celebrated in their respective locations. I danced with men I did not know, and felt no insecurity about it, as it was pure celebration, and something I needed after years of my teams letting me down. India was the last team anyone picked to win this tournament, and I hope that their success in South Africa, along with the reactions of the new style of the game will give cricket the support it needs to continue to grow.

I recently watched a Hindi movie called Lagaan, which was recommended to me by some relatives in Bombay. The movie is about a farming community in India 100’s of years ago that were ruled under the British. After having their tax (lagaan) doubled by a corrupt British ruler, who was insulted by the refusal of his Indian subordinate to eat chicken (a vegetarian), a group of the Indian farmers were talked into playing the British army in a cricket match. If they won, they would be exempt of any taxes for 3 years, if they lost they would have to pay 3x the normal tax. The movie is an entertaining story about how these farmers learned the game, overcame adversary, and battled their abusive imperialist rulers. It had a “Mighty Ducks” feel to it at times, but there were moments where the filmmaker was able to brilliantly get an emotional response out of the viewer, such as a scene involving an “untouchable” being allowed to play with the rest, as his crippled arm became an asset in the form of a leg spin.

I thought about this movie many times during the match tonight. My recent focus on cricket in this blog is not because of the game itself, most of my fascination is with the fans. The national sport of India is actually field hockey, but cricket is what holds this country together. With corruption abound, misfortune in many aspects of life, exploitation, religious conflicts, and natural disasters, cricket allows for anyone to escape for a few hours, and put all thoughts aside and support your country. The streets were packed tonight with people cheering, riding on motorcycles waving the Indian flag, which I hear is the only time the flag ever comes out in the city. The mood will likely carry over to tomorrow’s Ganesh Festival…The final day of the celebration where all the statues of the Elephant god will be immersed in the water.

I have heard of a place called Old City, which I have been cautioned to keep a safe distance from. Someone told me that it is rumored that Osama Bin Laden might hiding there, amid the 25% of the city living in poverty in narrow alley ways. Apparently tomorrow the crowds of people will pass through this heavily Muslim populated area, with the Ganesh statues, their drums, and red dye participating in the celebration. There has been a public warning of terrorism tomorrow, as a letter was delivered to the Chief of Police in Andra Pradesh. I am hoping that the day passes by without any disturbance or violence, and that all people here can enjoy their festivals, whether it is for Ganesh, Ramadan, or the celebration of cricketism, India’s other religion.

The one disturbing part of the match for me was the post game interview. Pakistan’s captain thanked the fans in Pakistan for their support, as well as all the Muslims around the world. I hope more people like me did not see this match as a religious battle. I am curious if people in India were cheering Pakistan on in this match. I know that I would never tolerate a fellow MSU spartan who was publicly a U of M fan during the epic college battles on the football field and basketball court. But, I don’t really know much about or understand a lot of the conflict here, hopefully will gain more insight during the 4 months while keeping an open mind in the process.

Politics and religion aside on this one I hope, Lagaan was just a movie afterall. This game had 10,000 crores at stake though, and I heard something about gambling on sports here being illegal. I wonder if there was an Lagaan (tax) on any of those profits made.



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