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From Oindrila Mukherjee, USA
Trying desperately to find a live stream for the World Cup final on the Internet that won’t buffer at key moments turns out to be an impossible task. Buffer, wicket. Buffer, six. Buffer, India wins the World Cup. Yes, it’s true that I missed some of the most special seconds of the historic final. But thanks to the illegal streaming from just one or two sources, I was able to catch most of the tournament online for free, either on a small window or a full screen with blurry images. Squinting my eyes, cursing at the buffering video, sitting alone in my darkened room on a Saturday morning in Atlanta, Georgia, I watched India reach its ultimate goal.
In the hours leading up to the final, throughout the actual game, and of course immediately following it, I found myself almost involuntarily switching between Twitter and Facebook, sharing status updates and tweets with friends and strangers. It made me feel at once part of a community, and also incredibly alone, as news of celebrations poured in from India. Scenes at the Wankhede, traffic jams in Mumbai and Delhi, party at the India Gate, crowds of people on the streets of other cities, all through that night, parties I wasn’t invited to. So near, and yet so far. The exile’s crisis in the age of the Internet.
Away from the communal environs of university, it is hard even for a dedicated sports fan to keep track of cricket in the U.S. where the World Series is played between domestic baseball teams, and where college football and basketball drive fans to partisan frenzy. While English soccer fans who live here can follow their Premier League teams in select sports bars on Saturday mornings, it’s a lot harder for cricket fans from the subcontinent – let’s face it the only cricket fans here are from the subcontinent – to find a place where a cricket match is being broadcast. It’s usually upto desi communities to organise viewings, which then become hubs for communal socialising much like religious festivals.
This year, the World Cup was available for a decent fee to subscribers of Dish or Direct TV, both satellite cable providers. For those of us without satellite dishes, the only legitimate option was to go online and pay Willow TV for live streaming. And for those reluctant to dish out (no pun intended) the fee, let’s say for a student, there’s always the option of illegal streaming from a few sources.
Of course online streaming means putting up with frequent buffering that causes the video to freeze, often at crucial moments. Still, with higher Internet speeds these days, the buffering has improved in recent times, and watching matches streamed online is better than not watching them at all. So there you are, up at the crack of dawn, hunched over your Mac or PC, trying to catch up or tune in, not only to a game, but to a cultural experience which was once your very own. When the crowd begins to roar during a bowler’s run up, it sounds just like a time capsule has arrived to transport you to another place, another time.
The time is childhood, or adolescence, or whenever it was, the innocent age, before you left your country, before you became an expat. The place is your high school, college, street corner, local haunts, Eden Gardens, Wankhede, Feroz Shah. Wherever you sat on the bleachers or got special tickets to the clubhouse. Wherever you were with friends or family.
Since following cricket on a regular basis is so difficult in the US, I often find myself feeling like Rip Van Winkle when I do watch a game. When I’m vacationing in India every couple of years for instance or, as happened this past month, during the World Cup. I was a little bewildered by the DRS, the Powerplay, the hype around some cricketers I hadn’t actually heard of. As one who used to be an avid sports quizzer once upon a time, this ignorance is embarrassing to admit to. However, it is a fact. Cricket and I are no longer close friends. We’re, at best, acquaintances who meet only occasionally, and have to start over again.
And yet. And yet. When Dhoni hit his by-now famous six, the six that, like Miandad’s against India, will pass into cricketing legend and will be retold to future generations just as our parents, aunts, and uncles went on and on about Kapil’s unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe in 1983, the moment, quite literally, froze. The video buffered the shot. One second India needed a couple of runs to win, and the next players were embracing and crying on the field, an anti-climax that was so predictable that it didn’t even hurt. Because that moment was greater than cricket, greater than sport. When the crowds in Mumbai erupted, when Facebook exploded into giddy exclamations of joy and shock, the tears I found myself shedding weren’t all of joy. With victory comes the realization, stronger than at any other time, of being away. My friend, Prerona, watching the match from Edinburgh, exchanged notes with me online after the match, in between updating her status. “There is,” she said, “no one to hug.”
At exactly the same time, from another corner of the world, another friend, Sandeep, reported his experience of watching the final with Sri Lankan and Indian fans at the Selangor Club in Kuala Lampur. “If someone hit a good shot half the crowd cheered as it neared the ropes, and when it was fielded on the boundary the other half cheered.”
Exile is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you feel alienated and removed from your people, and on the other you feel connected more closely to the rest of the world, to all the world. You belong nowhere, you belong everywhere.
Through the years spent watching cricket in different cities around England and the U.S., with Australians, South Africans, Englishmen, and Pakistanis, at various times, on screens of various sizes, with different results, through the ecstasies and agonies that are a part of any sport lover’s life, through it all, these memories from further back suddenly become clearer. Huddling around a black and white TV with a lot of grown ups as a little girl in 1983, watching my parents and their friends celebrate something I wasn’t quite able to comprehend the magnitude of. Playing para cricket in Calcutta with a group of boys before being dismissed SBW – Skirt Before Wicket. Going for a spontaneous drive to the Eden Gardens with the family on the eve of the 1987 World cup final to catch a glimpse of the floodlit stadium, and discovering that the entire city had had the same idea, thereby causing a traffic jam outside the stadium in the middle of the night. Gossiping with friends in high school about Wasim Akram’s good looks. Looking on from red-cushioned seats in the clubhouse in 1996 in disbelief and humiliation as a few crazy fans hurled trash onto the field to disrupt India’s semi-final against Sri Lanka.
They say nostalgia is the refuge and also the somewhat pathetic crutch of the exile. But forgive the sentimentality, for the memories have nothing to do with cricket. They are about the foods we miss, the sounds we once heard, the colours that fade. They are about family, and childhood, and innocence. Because in the end, for an Indian expat, watching cricket is like going home.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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