Cricket can drive a nation crazy.
Nowhere is the adage more true than in India. I called BJP General Secretary Pramod Mahajan on March 7, the day India was to play Kenya in the Super Sixes in the World Cup. I wanted some information on the Ayodhya issue. He found it odd when I requested an appointment, "Kamal hai [This is strange]! Aap match nahin dekhti [Aren't you watching the match]?"
On March 8, Women's Day, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's foster-daughter Namita Bhattacharya was chatting with women journalists on the lush green lawns of 7, Race Course Road. The topic? Cricket, of course.
Namita said Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley was with Vajpayee the previous day, explaining why the PM should consider a trip to South Africa if India qualifies for the final. At precisely that moment, Namita entered the room to inform Vajpayee that India were a dismal 24 for 3 against Kenya (India won the match thanks to a scintillating 107 by captain Sourav Ganguly)!
One influential television content provider told a gossip columnist how India's powerful politicians want a ride aboard booze baron Vijay Mallya's plane, Cricket Express, which is flying celebrities to South Africa for the final.
In Rajkot, Gujarat, ordinary people are paying Rs 600 per ticket to watch India play the World Cup on huge screens at the city's multiplex theatres. When India won against Pakistan (March 1), five schools in Rajkot declared a holiday.
Lajpat Nagar, Delhi's shopping paradise for the middle class, is deserted during matches. The place is normally packed to the gills with shoppers and traffic jams.
Then there is the danger of giving unintended offence. On a flight to Mumbai last week, my co-passenger was chatting with me about cricket. When I asked him the names of the Australian and New Zealand captains -- I honestly did not know who they were -- he was offended. He thought I was pulling his leg.
The ensuing silence between us was interrupted by the captain's announcement: India had thrashed Sri Lanka.
All the passengers clapped with delight; everyone was grinning. Thank God they did not give our team a collective standing ovation 40,000 feet in the air.
In Mumbai, I caught up with my aunt. She is 66 years old and always grumbles I don't take her out to restaurants. This time, that particular complaint was missing. Instead, she told me watching a 'live' match strengthens family ties.
She has a special menu for these 'special' days. Only those dishes that can be prepared before the match starts and be given the final touches in between bowler Ashish Nehra's overs are prepared.
She even gave me a clipping of an article on the cricket Ganesha temple in Chennai, where special mantras are chanted to ensure India brings home the Cup. Before I could comment, she asked me, "How much would Mandira Bedi's sari -- the one she wore when India defeated Pakistan -- cost?" Before I could answer, she told me she was sure it was a Ritu Kumar creation!
I didn't have the heart to tell her about another news report: Sub-inspector Dharmendrasinh Jhala was shocked when a man confessed he had throttled his wife after they fought over the India-Pakistan match. Apparently, there was a blackout in the man's house during the match so he wanted to shift their television set to the neighbour's house. The latter had electricity, but no television set. His wife refused, so, in a fit of rage, he killed her. He is now in custody. The police have filed an FIR mentioning the above details.
Happily, most people don't go to such a violent extent.
Rajdeep Sardesai, son of former Test batsman Dilip Sardesai and television anchor, is thoroughly enjoying the World Cup. He says he has been a cricket fan for all his 37 years! Rajdeep refuses to allow his son Ishaan, who prefers football, to escape the cricket mania. "I have promised him a trip to South Africa if India enters the final."
"We are seeing a form of aggressive nationalism," Rajdeep explains. "It has both sides, negative and positive, but it has united India. Live matches bring people together."
Design: Dominic Xavier