I woke up to gentle nudges from my mother.
‘Uthe por. Khela shuru hobe, dekhbi na? (Wake up, the game is going to start. Won’t you watch it?)
I used to wake up, rub my eyes and turn my attention to the already blaring TV set. A football match between two countries was set to begin in a World Cup tournament. It was perhaps 2 or 3 in the morning, and most likely I had school the next day. Yet, she woke me up. Yet, she let me watch. When my father chided about school and health, she said, ‘There will always be school, but Football World Cup comes around every four years!’ I have seen very few football enthusiasts like my mother and thankfully, she has passed on her zeal for the game to me. I learnt the rules of offside, the different positions of footballers and other nuances of the game from her. Football, for me, is so much more than just a game. It is the companionship of my mother and sometimes father, sipping cups of tea in the middle of week night and watching athletes fight it out over the possession of a ball on the field. It is the resounding GOAAAAAAAAL erupting in the neighborhood at the dark hours of night when a foreign team scored (India never had a team to field in the global arena and still does not). It is the collective joy of our favored team’s win. It is the combined sadness of an entire community when our favorite team lost. Football was my first means to connect with the world without quite being aware of it. It certainly was a means to bond with my football crazy city of Kolkata.
I grew up in those dark days of no internet and no cable. Our entertainments were limited to newspapers, magazines, and the limited shows that Doordarshan provided on television. But those were enough to fire up our fervor for football. After watching an early morning football game we would go to school and analyze each shot, each miss, each corner, each penalty. We would defend our favorite soccer player and berate the opponents. We read up the sports pages and spouted statistics to impress. During lunch and recess, we would take a temporary break from playing basketball and kick around a soccer ball pretending to be Zico or Zidane. We would talk of nothing else. What else was there to talk about when the World cup was being fought over in the global arena? We lived in football haze. And how we loved that. We would get home, finish our evening chores, get to bed and set the alarm for the next game. My mother, I remember, watched the game and cooked the next day’s meal before dawn so she could rest the following day. This became our routine for the entire month. We lived during the night and drooped during the day. We were football owls.
The road side dadas (local neighborhood boys) hung the flags of their respective teams by the roadside and set up shrines to their football teams complete with garlanded photographs of the footballers. Our paara (neighborhood) donned the yellow and green of Brazil. Our next paara sported blue and white of Argentina. There were trash talks galore:
‘Ja, ja neche neche goal debo toder!’ (Get lost, we will dance into your goals!)
‘Dekhe nebo, dekhe nebo toder!’ (We shall see!)
All good-natured, all in good humor. But these built up the ambiance and that whole month of the tournament was nothing like ordinary times. Most of my friends, family, acquaintances were caught up in football fever. Our schedules, lives, homework, jobs rotated around the schedules of our favorite teams. In public buses and trains complete strangers either bonded over Bebeto’s crib dance or exchanged heated words over Maradona’s controversial goal. There was either hate or love in my world, there was very little indifference. You were either a friend or a foe. There was nothing in between. There must have been folks who did not care for our frenzy. For us, they simply faded into oblivion – for that month. And after the Final game was played and the after the Champion team lifted the trophy, we walked around for a few days in a daze, lost, dejected and unsure of what to say when football talk died down. Commuters looked forlornly out of the windows in silence and snapped at fellow commuters, we picked up the basketball again in school, we lovingly looked at our scrapbooks full of pictures and statistics of the World Cup tournament till we put them away and forgot about them, our mothers became the dragon ladies, stickler for rules and disciplines. And life, for a while, lost its color. Till the next craze – local football, Wimbledon, cricket whatever. And the fan frenzy returned with a vengeance.
I am a middle aged woman now as Soccer world cup 2014 gets underway, living in a country where soccer is not a religion. I am a chauffeur, chef, educator, counselor, disciplinarian, hugs giver – or in one word, a mother. I don’t have enough time to indulge in football frenzy anymore. Yet, I can’t seem to help it. I have the schedule posted on my refrigerator wall, I have the games highlighted, I have time set aside. And thanks to Facebook, I get to watch the game with my fellow enthusiasts who are scattered all over the world. We discuss the game, we berate teams, we trash talk, we laugh together and we plan which games to watch together virtually. It is not the same as watching it with my mother in the middle of night and with the entire neighborhood, but it works quite well.
I surprise my new friends with my soccer zeal. Do you even know anything about the footballers in the Brazil team that you are cheering for, they ask! I do not know a thing! I do not have any statistics or any information on the players of Brazil memorized anymore, but does that really matter? The support for my team is not dependent on any of that. I say Brazil will win simply because I believe. Yes, they were the world champions five times, yes they play amazingly beautiful football but most importantly the faith comes straight from the heart. The heart does not care for numbers or reason. It just remembers the passion of the past, the moments that I have lived during past Football World Cups and it simply picks up from there.
And non soccer enthusiasts? I love you deeply, I really do but you simply do NOT exist for me till July 13th 2014. I hope you don’t mind. It is not personal. 🙂