Floating hype, sinking buzz

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In the first of a series, writer Avtar Singh sees the cricket World Cup through other eyes

Waiting Room, Apollo Hospital, Delhi
Waiting Room, Apollo Hospital, Delhi
Photos: Hari Nair

ADMITTEDLY, people in hospital waiting rooms are occupied with issues other than cricketing ones. Yet, the level of indifference on offer at the Apollo Hospital in Jasola, New Delhi, was interesting. it was the first day of the ICC World Cup, apparently the marquee event of the international ODI calendar. Its pseudoolympian stature is obvious from the fact that it only comes around once every four years, in contrast to the travelling circus regularity of its more proletarian cousin, the Twenty20 World Cup. Bangladesh was playing India. our eastern neighbours had knocked us out of the last World Cup. Virender Sehwag had been talking revenge. The Indian dailies had been insisting that excitement in Bangladesh was at a fever pitch. But here, in the waiting rooms of Apollo, the only fevers were literal and physical.

I went looking for action in the obstetrics-gynaecology outpatient waiting room. Men waiting for their wives in an oestrogen-drenched environment would want something reasonably male, like sports on television, to anchor them. Or so I thought. What I found were families with their backs resolutely to the small television. A few passing males, including wandering doctors, stopped to check out the score — after an initial burst, Sehwag had retreated into what passes for a shell in Najafgarh — and shake their heads at all that passivity. A harried looking man and his son watched the game distractedly from one corner. Enjoying it, I asked the boy. Not really, he said. Too slow.

Across the hall and up a flight of stairs is the waiting room for the attendants of long-term patients. Here, in a room full of sofas, I watched Sachin Tendulkar get run out on the sort of deck where that was the only avenue for his excision. Sehwag pointedly looked nowhere at all. I looked around for signs of outrage. “No worries,” said one Sikh gent in front of me. “Our Viru will get a hundred and make up for it.” He then returned to his paranthas. Contraband, said the guard: our friend ignored both him and the television.

Manchester United Café Bar, Delhi
Manchester United Café Bar, Delhi

Upstairs, my father watched live golf from Gurgaon instead of the cricket — Jeev’s in the hunt, I was informed — while next door, in a room just cleared, a small posse of ward boys watched Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in a desultory way. “Dilli ke launde,” was the judgement. Virat Kohli was to follow: without us Dilliwalas, where would the team be? Local pride sated and tea consumed, they returned to their duties. In the smaller waiting rooms on the patients’ floors, the World Cup wasn’t even on.

Downstairs in the Cafe Coffee Day, they were showing Aaj tak, till someone pointed out that the game was available on DD National. Fifteen minutes later, the channel was changed. A family of Middle-Eastern aspect turned their backs to the television. An Indian group followed suit. Kohli walked in, “A massacre, that’s what’s going to happen.”

“Who’d pay to watch that?” a man in line muttered to his friend, who nodded in agreement. “Excuse me sir,” said the chap at the cash register. “Two cappuccinos. Takeaway.” The camera cut away to shots of glum Bangla faces in the stands.

Later, at the Manchester United Café Bar in Basant Lok, I stood at the bar in the glare of three large televisions. Long tables were arranged facing the screens, with stools set up behind them. A few hardcore fans wearing customised India shirts — their own names were screen-printed on them — drank their overpriced beers and watched Sreesanth being taken to the cleaners in grim silence, as if at the cosmic inevitability of it all. Students of Amity Law, I found out. “Been here long?” I asked. “Not really,” I was told. “Can’t afford it”. In the dining section, families and couples ignored the cricket.

I asked a waiter whether the World Cup was taking off. He smiled worriedly and said “abhi tak thanda hai”. Munaf Patel took a wicket and was mobbed by our own les bleus. The bar barely noticed. Outside, a small cluster of dedicated sports fans watched the game on a large flat-screen television in the window of the samsung store. It was a chilly night and a few of the men there were smoking. I wondered why a chaiwala hadn’t arrived yet to solicit our business. Naturally, the only commentary available to us was our own. One sage bemoaned the lack of bowling resources at India’s disposal. “Can’t even get these clowns out,” he said. Another man pointed out that Bangladesh aren’t quite as crap anymore as everyone thinks they are. “Who’ve they beaten recently?” asked another watcher belligerently. “Us, at the last World Cup,” said his friend. We all laughed. Just then, the salespeople inside switched the channel to Discovery. We heckled the store personnel in a half-hearted way. They ignored us through the large plate glass. After a few moments, we all walked our separate ways.

I asked a waiter at a bar in Basant Lok whether the World Cup was taking off. He smiled worriedly and said “abhi tak thanda hai”

Meanwhile, nearby in Vasant Vihar, an uncle was celebrating a momentous birthday. Flocks of turbans had descended on his home. A television had been set up on the terrace and I walked in as the last rites were being administered. My family seemed far more focussed on the booze and snacks than the game. Frankly, bar the early Bangladeshi batting heroics, it really wasn’t much of a game. An aunt protested that the neighbours had put up a gallant fight. “What fight,” countered an uncle. The scorecard would register that the Bangladeshis got smoked by almost a hundred runs. At the rate they scored at, they would have needed another 15 overs to get abreast of the Indian total. That’s not much of a contest. Not between two test-playing sides.

“Another six weeks of this,” said a cousin. Well, at least there’s football.

(Singh is the former editor of  Time Out, Delhi, and the author of the novel, The Beauty of these Present things)

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