- 'Today is a holiday? No restaurant is open ?'
- 'World cup, India, Sri Lanka'
Hmm... TODAY ?!!
In 2007, with no prior planning, I happened to be in India during the last cricket international game series. Now, 4 years later, it's the same coincidence again. That time, during the final game week, Muhammad Kaif, on of India all-time cricket legends and myself happened to meet on a dark alley in a small mountain village. After the rumor had spread, I was busy for a few days creating photo montages for all my friends who were his fans.
Cricket is not only India's national sport, it is each and every neighborhood's game across India. It is played in a yard, alley, street, school, rice field, beach etc... basically any where the land is flat with a 15 feet vacant stretch (quite a challenge to find in big cities, central rural towns or mountain villages).
Two hours later I got a call from Karl, my Tamil friend. 'where are you', 'in my room', 'you come to my house?', 'yes in 20 minutes', ' Ok, OK'.
On my way out I visited the small grocery below my room, run by Eng. Raju, my lodge owner. I wanted to get some milk powder for brewing my first cup of filter coffee with the freshly ground beans and new south Indian kit. The milk powder hadn't arrived but as usual he invited me to sit with him and we got into a chat. Then S.K, father of Karl showed up on his way home, stopped to get two packs of cigarettes.
We then went home together. S.Ks English is limited, although within my 3 weeks of staying here in Kallakurichi we both seemed to pick up on each others language an just this effort alone got us to not only hear each other but listen and bridge the gaps of misunderstanding.
I stopped on the way and got some candies (here called Chocolates) for babies, kids or other neighbors of the Mani's.
We sat down in front of the government TV set. This set, amazingly, is gifted to any low income family in Tamil Nadu. It has an inscription along it's base declaring so. This living room family entertaining center has a 14" screen. Surprisingly, by western standards, I haven't seen anyone complain about a compromised viewing experience.
The game went on with some two lines of statistics on the lower screen. For nearly 5 years I pick up bits and pieces of this game's rules. Only yesterday I realized I could go read about it in Wikipedia. Somehow it was always an indirect experience. I was there because a friend took me with him. This time I managed to understand that each player has 6 balls (one Over) served for him to bat and then another player come to bat and another comes to ball. That time is also traditionally used for TV commercials, so there are quite a lot of commercials in a game with 100 Overs (50:50 is the game's name, means fifty for each group. Other game is the 20:20). Also, I learned that each player can ball up to 10 Overs. The Sri Lankan team maxed this allowance for Malinga, their vicious server (couldn't stop thinking of Ravna from the Ramayana ).
I also found an answer to why do they run with their bat rather then drop it. It is used as an extension to their arm. It is enough to touch a line with the bat for the player to be considered present there.
One surprising insight that hit my mind was the absence of arguments that deteriorate into fighting among rival players. When I found some down time in the game, I asked Karl about it. He said he never seen any on the field. He said thy sometime exchange angry stairs but that's where it ends. Quite an achievement for an open field team game with masculine players, I thought.
Another fact about tolerance and diversity is the Indian team members themselves. In many western countries anti-discrenination legislation is in place, but in India it is a living fact. The diversity on the Indian street is represented in the national team. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian play shoulder to shoulder. It is not an exclusive club neither a gladiators arena for the deprived.
By the time I arrived to watch the game, the mythical Sachin Tendulkar was out as well as the best batter of the game
On the last minutes of the game, outside the open door, the familiar whistles and booms of fire crackers became more frequent and nearer to home.
I took a walk down Gandhi road to the central bus stop, the towns center. I had my camera and thought I could get some snaps of the celebration in the street. It was midnihgt, just an hour past the glorious and historic victory but the streets were as empty as just another ordinary day (minus the sugar cane towing tractors which take a whole day to drive from their villages into town and probably took this one off to watch the game).
Later I was told there's a municipal law that prohibits gatherings on the towns streets past some nighttime deadline.