The thing that has made me feel most at home, every time I have returned to my home city after a spell elsewhere, has been the unlimited access to media bilge. In both Hyderabad and Calcutta newspapers were solely read online, and TV was thin on the ground. So while the first evening home is, for me, about the ineffable pleasure of seeing the city lit up at night and sitting down to a meal of the maternal making, the morning after is when the fact of my being in Bombay really hits home: I brush my teeth, grab my dish of tea, and sit down to lose myself in the gutter press. Ah, Mumbai Mirror, I say to myself, taking up the supplement and peering upon its foetid plumpness. Oh, Bombay Times, I sigh, flipping through the diamond jewellery ads and plugs for chocolate-making classes. Mid-Day, I coo, my good old Mid-Day, as I set out after lunch to the library and take a copy of the world's greatest afternoon tabloid to while away the train journey to Churchgate.
This time the pleasure has been dampened considerably. Part of it may have to do with my sprained ankle, but most of it has to do with a phenomenon so abominable it seems to have sprung fully-formed out of the editorial black hole formed at the heart of the Times of India. It is called the Indian Premier League, and is a Twenty20 cricket tournament that threatens to stretch on for the next forty-five days over the length and breadth of the country. City will fight city like armies on a darkling plain. The teams are named after mosquito repellents and beers. They are owned by business tycoons and Bollywood superstars. I say teams -- I really mean an egregious collection of star cricketers from all over the world who agreed to be auctioned off to the highest bidders for the pleasure of earning themselves a tidy packet.
I have little beef with the Twenty20 format -- there's too much advertising and the uniforms are unseemly [if you go to today's edition of the Daily Telegraph, you will see that England's Twenty20 kit looks like Liverpool's football jersey.] but in this day and age it does feel like an intolerable snobbery to yearn after the traditional form of a game that simply cannot be watched in a sustained fashion by anyone who has to earn their daily bread, and while the short-short may be a difficult format for bowlers, I think, like all reasonable sporting innovation, it may be the chance to bring about some sort of unforeseen but positive development in an aspect of the game itself. Mike Brearley wrote a fine piece for the Observer in which he talks more about the advantages of the Twenty20 game, and the creative demands it may make on spin bowling, among other things.
But I'll tell you what. You live in the same country as this money-spinning exercise, this IPL, and you tell me if it doesn't make you want to vomit. Did you ever imagine the day Rahul Dravid would buckle down with the boot of Vijay Mallya upon his neck? Rahul Dravid leading a team called the Royal Challengers? The cynicism of this whole deal almost makes the English Premier League look like a non-profit organisation to bring culture to the colonies. Who the hell are the Kolkata Knight Riders? Bitch, I say, please.
[A note about the name of the 'team' representing the financial clout of my hometown: I don't know why they're called the Mumbai Indians. It's either an incredibly tasteless attempt to borrow from one of your American sports teams' appropriation of Native American history, or a breathtakingly arrogant play on the city's status as a microcosm of the country. I harbour the forlorn hope that it is the latter, in spite of my determination to pay them no mind. The angriest nuns are often the most partisan.
The reason I know they are called the Mumbai Indians is that today, there was a plug in the papers describing some sort of ceremony to anoint the mercenaries of this particular collective. The rite they held ended in the entire team having a tika applied to their foreheads that contained, among other things, soil from the grounds of Shivaji Park. As anyone with a passing interest in the history of Indian cricket will know, Shivaji Park is the arid, dusty space in the centre of the city that has been a breeding ground for the glorious cricket teams of Bombay, and whence some of the greatest names of the Indian game. The same culture out of which the IPL has sprung has changed, perhaps irreversibly, the role of Shivaji Park, and the Oval, and other amateur academies in big cities all over the country. I'm not sitting in judgment of developments. I just want to remark on the coincidence.]