Monday, January 7, 2008

reporting for duty

Apologies for the protracted silence over the holiday season - I have been in the process of packing and moving cities, which, as anyone who has had the pleasure of doing so will tell you, is no mean task. The bally things are most resistant to budging.

[The mini-hiatus may also be interpreted in footballing terms as the obligatory period of mourning after a derby loss, but having covered this particular ground let us move quickly along, as though the subject were never spoken of.]

I write to you now from the fair city of Calcutta, having traversed the breadth of my country, all the way across from my hometown of Bombay. It is said that, had the Indian National Congress not centered its political activities [in main, resisting the yoke of Empire] increasingly in Bombay around the turn of the nineteenth century, the country’s sporting culture might have had football occupying the centre and the imagination of the masses, instead of cricket. It would be specious to call Calcutta a footballing city; it would be doing a disservice to Eden Gardens, and the enthusiastically occupied nets on the sporting fields of my campus, and the many and varied products advertised by that lion among men, Sourav Ganguly, on billboards by the sides of the road all the way from the airport to the heart of the city, and others besides. But it has more football to it than Bombay does, certainly. It has a footballing culture. It is home to clubs that are named after associations and regions, rather than their sponsor companies, and to Asia’s oldest derby, among other things. But more on that as the angry nun comes to grips with her new surroundings, and tries, once again, to learn to do laundry successfully without the help of a washing machine. A belated but heartfelt happy 2008 to all. May your footballing lives all be roundly miserable unless we support the same clubs, but filled with items of interest otherwise.

Two things: For a city with footballing culture the parts of Calcutta I have been inhabiting lack greatly in the one thing ubiquitous in Bombay, viz. replica football jerseys, of the cheap, suffocating polyester that keeps one agreeably warm in the middle of the cold wave that is hitting us here. So far I have only seen one person wear such a thing. [It was, funnily enough, a vintage Milan one. Jaundiced eye?]

The other: in the corner of a foreign field there remains a piece of Bombay; it was four days and a defeat ago, but I am glad that the last great cricketing act I was able to follow before leaving home was this magnificent Sachin Tendulkar century. It felt like the return of an old, beloved friend. One almost turned one’s head to look for Shane Warne grinning ruefully at the bowler’s end.

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