The heart picks up…

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. 🙂

Confessions of a facebook addict while in rehab!

In a moment of insanity, I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I gave myself a deadline when I will sever my connection with the Facebook world…for a while! Strangely, I was excited and nervous about it at the same time. I was excited that I will be free of the constant desire to check on everybody’s business and sad that I will miss the fun banter and often times the serious exchange of ideas that I had grown to enjoy so much.

My trip to Rome was an eye opener. I stayed away from the internet and Facebook for seven days. Since I was spending my every waking moment exploring, enjoying, experiencing Rome, I didn’t miss Facebook. But how would it be in my real life where I am often bogged down by chores, responsibilities, decisions? Connecting with friends on Facebook was like a breath of fresh air for me. But the problem was, the breath of fresh air had become a violent storm. I felt constantly drawn to the iPad or the computer to check if anybody wrote back on my status update or how many comments did I get on my picture? Facebook sometimes exposed my follies and often times triggered my thinking brain which stays dormant mostly as I switch laundry or mow the lawn. It was a huge, happy time sucker. My folly, I realized, is vanity. I choose the ‘good’ pictures to share with my friends on Facebook. I check how many likes I got on my updates. At the same time, the non confrontational me finds enough courage online to comment on issues I feel strongly about. Facebook is like a fantasy world full of laughter and camaraderie. I started living in the fantasy world while my real world started collapsing around me.

Mother’s day morning was special. After the usual excitement of handmade cards, gifts, hugs, cuddles, Sahana, Ryan and I just sat in the living room for an ordinary chat. I didn’t have my iPad, Sahana didn’t have her iTouch. She said, “This is just wonderful. We are sitting together and looking at each other. We never do this. We are either working, or studying or at sports or on our computers/ipads/itouch. We should take at least an hour each day to do just this – chat!” Ryan was lying on the couch, he piped in his philosophical input, “I am the only free person here. Mommy is always on her iPad, daddy is on his computer and Sahana is on her iTouch. I am the only one who is free, the only one with a life!”

I left for Rome in the afternoon. But I carried little Ryan’s words in my heart. It came back to me again and again as I roamed the streets of Rome. Without my cell phone, my iPad or my computer, I was completely disconnected from the world-wide web. I was free. I came back home and plunged right back into social networking, posting pictures of my trip, writing blogs and posting them, checking often to see the comments and stats. Life resumed, chores piled up and I escaped into my virtual life, laughing, bantering, reading poetry, exchanging ideas on important issues, being armchair analyst. My virtual life was brimming with happiness and friends. My real life? Well…if a day had 36 hours, I would have been fine. But it doesn’t and I wasn’t fine. I decided to deactivate and focus on things that were important.

Resistant to change, I pooh poohed Facebook when it was first mentioned to me couple of years ago. “I am never getting on it, that’s not who I am, I am a private person”, I said. My best friend from college didn’t let go. She connected with old friends, people were asking for me. Those magical college days, those inseparable friends – I was sold. The first few months, for me, were full of new discoveries, of reunions, joy of connecting with old friends, sharing my story and hearing theirs. I was often chanting “Facebook zindabad” (long live Facebook) online and off. But without my knowledge, things started getting out of control.

So one fine morning, I chatted briefly with friends, went to my account settings, my fingers shook for a few seconds over the ‘deactivate’ button and I touched it. I felt a strange sensation of severing connection with a fantasy world where I was loved and wanted. I am loved a lot in my real world too, but in the Facebook world that feeling of being loved is quite palpable, it’s there, out in front of you, in written words! That’s paradoxical, don’t you think? Palpable love in a virtual world? I make it sound dramatic but the sense of loss was real. It was done!

I was surprised though, to realize that with the sense of loss there was also a sense of unfettered glee. Freedom from my self-inflicted imprisonment in the unreal world of Facebook. On the first day, I got so much done, the feeling of being productive was exhilarating. At night, I started missing my friends. I was sad to think I would wake up the next morning and won’t say a cheery good morning to the friends with my morning cup of coffee.

Day 2 was miserable. I was moping around the house constantly thinking of the people I left behind in my virtual world. I had forced my husband to hold a wager that I won’t go back for at least two weeks. The fear of losing out to him kept me from running to the computer and logging myself back on, but oh, I was sad! I haven’t had any experience with kicking an addiction, but on ‘Day 2’, I got a clear idea of what people go through during withdrawal. At the same time, I felt good about being strong at resisting the urge.

Day 3 was much better. Facebook was loosening its hold on me. I was thinking and focusing on things at hand more instead of rushing through chores to get back on the site. I sat and read with Ryan, focusing only on the little body nestled to me while he read. I listened to Sahana focusing only on her words and making a mental note where and when to drop her off and pick her up. She mostly talks to me as her personal taxi driver as her social life and school life is buzzing with activities. I completed my chores on time, read a few pages, wrote a few words, the ‘pre Facebook me’ was back.

This distance was important for me, not only to get a control over my addiction to social networking, but also to get a perspective on why I spent so much time on it. I still love what Facebook world has to offer – some wonderful, like-minded friends, uncomplicated relationships, heartfelt laughter, food for thoughts but it also showed me I can get on Facebook on my terms. I will go back to it, I miss my friends too much not to. But I know I can cut back my time on it. If I feel myself slip sliding back into the same addiction, I will do the same – hover over the deactivate button, my fingers shaking and finally touch it to sever connection temporarily, with a feeling of deja vu. I learnt a lesson about myself, through something as trivial as Facebook, that I actually do have self-restraint. It’s a good feeling.