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This, that and the other. Mostly the other
All the times in this true story are approximate. When you are battling against a conspiring world to watch a cricket match, the last thing on your mind is the passage of time. However, I have tried to keep the rounded-off markers somewhat accurate.
8:05 AM: Wait. I just woke up before the alarm on my phone went off. Has this ever happened before? Is there something special happening toda…
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, India Pakistan India Pakistan match match match match… aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…
8:10 AM: My heart is still beating irregularly. But I have calmed down somewhat by now. Having changed from my sleeping lungi (Gucci) into my daytime lounging lungi (Versace, Spring-Summer 2008) I look out of the window of my hotel. Outside, the beautiful hills of Laufelfingen roll away. Sheep graze. Morning mist rolls in and out, almost with the regularity of the Swiss train system.
How did I find myself in this situation? Why, of all the places in the world, am I in a tiny village 40 minutes out of the Swiss city of Basel hours before an India-Pakistan match?
The hotel-room TV has a collection of one dozen channels. Not one of which is in English. And all of which are currently covering the nuclear problems in Fukushima. No mention of the India-Pakistan match anywhere?
Where is the editorial balance you stupid European media fellows?
Where is Times Now when you need it?
8:20 AM: Twitter. The bloody thing has never been this alive before. Lots of jokes. Most in good taste. I join in. I laugh occasionally at the insanity of it all. But inside there is little laughter.
There is memory. There is fear.
I've spent 16 of my 31 years in Abu Dhabi. Sharjah is a stupendously boring two-hour drive away. But I have fun cousins there. Once the two boys got so bored during their school vacations that they set fire to the refrigerator.
I grew up watching a lot of Sharjah cricket.
The scars run long and deep.
9:30 AM: The morning poses three problems. First, I have to check out by 11am and shift to a concentration camp of a hotel in Basel. Second, I will be on a train and then a tram for approximately one hour. Thirdly, how how how will I watch this match?
10:00 AM: Illegal video stream of the match on TV. I pack my bags.
Dhoni wins the toss!
Gasp gasp gasp gasp.
Everyone on TV, by which I mean laptop, is convinced that this is a 300 pitch. Sidhu says something sensible before meandering into a metaphor so deep that Lonely Planets have been written to help people enter it, spend sometime sightseeing inside and then leave.
11:00 AM: Breakfast finished. Bags loaded on bus. Short shuttle to Laufelfingen railway station.
We are definitely losing this match. No chance we can win it. No chance, Life is meaningless. …
I inform Roland, the driver, about why I am so nervy. This is the biggest sports rivalry in the world, I remind him. Roland, who is Swiss, merely nods and smiles politely in a neutral fashion.
I take my iPhone and slap him across his neutral, un-committing face brutally.
But only in my mind.
11:20 AM: Disaster disaster disaster.My Swisscom wifi card just expired. Now I can't even get the score on the phone at Sissach, where I need to change trains. Sinking feeling.
It is quite likely that if I don't watch the match, India will lose it. This is too much responsibility on my young shoulders.
Which is when the missus sends a text message. Umar Gul is being taken to pieces. Sehwag is on fire.
Phew. This is a good start.
No Sehwag, no Sehwag, no. Don't start so aggressively and take risks
Well played, Viru. You just keep demoralising the Pakistanis…
Sehwag stop now. Stop. Control.
Briefly I wish I was one of the Swiss people on the train who don't give a damn.
11:25 AM: Train changed at Sissach. Also boarding with me is a little girl and mother, who look and sound vaguely Indonesian. Girl sits opposite me and opens a children's book - The Blood-sucking Nude Vampires trilogy, I think.
Brainwave. I take out my Kindle ebook reader, open the browser and open the ESPNcricinfo.com mobile page.
Sehwag racing along. Tendulkar more cautious.
11:31 AM: Disaster! Calamity! Swine flu!
Mother asks girl something in Indonesian. She laughs. Immediately Sehwag falls. The little monster has jinxed him. I take my Kindle and slap her across the face with it a few times till she is taught an adequate lesson.
But only in my mind.
12:15 PM: Everything is going downhill. Everything. My new hotel only has internet via LAN cable. But I have a laptop that doesn't have a port.
Battery on the Kindle dropping.
Law of averages catches up with Yuvi. Bad, sinking feeling. Collapse imminent. And then Powerplay. India plays football better than batting Powerplay.
Who is this Wahab Riaz fellow? Where does Pakistan get these fast bowlers? Maybe they process them at Kahuta.
I personally know maybe 10 Pakistanis in all. And almost all of them are wonderful people. Half of them worked in dad's company. I grew up in the gulf for the most part oblivious to any issues between the two countries besides the cricket.
Occasional hate speech pops up on Twitter. I am reminded of an anecdote. After a school picnic in 1995 I am walking home with other friends from Abu Dhabi Indian School. School bus has broken down. And the walk is long and somewhat unsafe. Car slows down and offers us a lift. Pakistani family makes room for us. Head of the family, who is driving, points out that we should be friends and not enemies. He makes short, inspiring speech. We thank him and get out. Friend starts laughing. I ask why - man and family were very nice?
He says he stuffed a half-eaten sandwich into seatback pocket. Now Pakistani's car will stink for weeks. Everyone agrees this is a very shrewd and patriotic move.
1:10 PM: Driven to desperation by quick wickets and stagnating run rate, I run to the press centre at the BaselWorld exhibition where I have been working for the last week. Fair is almost over. Centre deserted. Press-only wifi is generous.
Illegal streaming resumes. Kindle is switched off, saved for emergencies.
Sachin is dismissed after scoring a fighting 80-something. And then Dhoni is lost.
The brain has given up hope. Mohali shouldn't be so hard to bat on. The famed batting attack is collapsing again. Why god, why does this happen only to us? Why can't we get one decent break as a country? What are we doing wrong? Is it Bappi Lahiri?
2:30 PM: Hunger strikes. And besides, press centre is beginning to shut down. I leave with some Indian journos to a nearby McDonalds.
Many experts have written off the team: 260 is peanuts on this pitch. Pakistan will score it easily. Most of these experts I agree with. They are very smart fellows. They are very practical. They are probably right.
I make a mental note to hunt each one of them down later and kill them slowly and painfully with blunt objects.
Heart has hope. We can defend this. Dhoni chose Ashish Nehra in place of Ashwin. Everyone is outraged. I am also little bit outraged. I like Ashwin. He reminds me of a young, angry Mohanlal when he bowls.
But then Dhoni knows slightly more cricket than I do.
Zaheer I like. Good chap.
Munaf Patel has the aggression and ferocity of a humanities librarian who has already opted for voluntary retirement.
Nehra is a fast bowler only if you are fast-forwarding through a DVD of his bowling.
|Mother asks girl something in Indonesian. She laughs. Immediately Sehwag falls. The little monster has jinxed him. I take my Kindle and slap her across the face with it a few times till she is taught an adequate lesson|
Confidence comes and goes.
2:45 PM: *Popular Delhi obscenity* Kindle runs out of battery. Nobody has wifi. Nobody has internet on their phones.
Whenever I refresh ESPNcricinfo, India tends to take a wicket. But now what can I do? How will the Boys In Blue manage without me?
"Sidin. McDonalds usually has free wifi no?" ventures attractive female colleague.
I make mental note to praise her Facebook pictures, even the ugly ones, and open laptop.
Mother of Sachin, the wifi is working!
Speed is a crawl. Somehow I am able to find a Pakistani TV stream.
Eyes on cricket. Hands around Big Tasty burger without bacon but with cheese.
(Take Pakistani TV ad. Mute it. Same as Indian ad.)
3:15 PM: One more, one more.
3:25 PM: One more, one more, one more.
Refresh refresh refresh refresh refresh refresh refresh refresh refresh... repeat
4:00 PM: Wifi just died. Four more wickets to win and McDonalds conspires to spoil Indian innings.
I scream in anger, rush for the french-fry machine, douse the employees in oil, set them alight and then run away. The McDonalds outlet explodes into flames.
But only in my mind.
I enquire. Free wifi is only for 30 minutes every four hours. Or some such stupid thing.
4:10 PM: I get the other two Indians present to create their own wifi logins for their phones. One guy did not even know his phone had wifi. (Don't worry. Mental note has been made. Waterboarding.)
5:00 PM: Tension. Suspense. People in McDonalds are beginning to wonder what is going on. I order two coffees to alleviate the shame.
5:15 PM: Some IP address cookie fraud is achieved and wifi is again made to work on laptop. Video stream struggling. Eighty thousand viewers online.
Wahab Riaz smashes ball.
Sachin catches ball and celebrates.
I love Sachin celebrating. Are there DVDs of clips of Sachin celebrating?
Very, very close.
5:15 PM: Forget everything I said about Nehra. Nehra is the greatest bowler to bowl a cricket ball after that popular, aggressive fast bowler from Kerala.
5:30 PM: Moments before the wifi license runs out…
We win, we win we win, we win, we win.
Ayyo Deivame! We have won.
McDonalds scandalised by whooping, high-fiving, hugging, jumping trio of Indian journalists. Run out of restaurant with arms in air.
The rest of the night is spent in a delightful, triumphant afterglow.
Two laptops, three phones, one Kindle and three wifi networks have been consumed in the space of eight hours. Thousands of tweets sent and received.
All for this one night. Little bit dampness in eyes.
Dinner is cup noodles and press-kit chocolate.
On the tram back to the hotel, Raghu Dixit is playing on the iPod. But in the heart there is room for only song, an old classic that I will now present as sung by a very Malayali colleague of my father's, many years ago when they had things called the Rothman's Cup and Friday matches in Sharjah:
"Jeetendra, bhai, Jeetendra, Hindustan Jeetendra."
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