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Steamy hot rooms and a semi final

INDIA | Wednesday, 30 March 2011 | Views [599]

March 30, 2011.
Tapola River Camp.

I could feel the sweat building up at the nape of my neck and my singlet was beginning to stick to my back. That itchy feeling from sitting on a hard surface for too long was irritating me and I kept shifting in my place, while keenly aware of the fact that one of the students had their feet wedged by my backside. Behind me, the kids were lounging back on one another’s propped up knees, or against the back wall of the community hall. Some dangled their legs out the side of the railings of the pseudo-stage we were arranged on, all the while flapping their shirts or waving their hands intermittently to circulate some air. Young village boys sprawled out in front of me, resting on the crossed legs of their fathers. Our local guides made their space on the stage area, happy to have a view of the box. Bachelors of the village stood resting on the railings, watching the highs and lows of the game while wise old villagers stood further away, closer to the doors, eyeing the match while standing bare-chested in their saris. A knife glinted at the waist of one man, reminding me of the Omani belts in the souqs. The air was hot and thick, and the community hall was filled with the most incredible array of people, each with their own very different story.

Go outside to get some cool night air? No way. The match is on.

It was the second innings, Pakistan hit a six in the Cricket World Cup Semi Final against India, and the air rang out with and a resounding ‘oh crap’. I shot a gleeful look at Shazad, keenly aware that whoever’s team lost that game, the other would be spending the night outside the tents, keeping watch over the kids and sharing company with the mosquitoes. Trust him to come up with a wager like that; I would’ve gone with lugging extra water for the next hike, or going iPod-less all day. I hate mosquitoes. I was only backing Pakistan this time because every Indian I’d encountered so far rejoiced in reminding me that Australia had been beaten by India in the group rounds, particularly Shazad. Otherwise, I’d have been right there, supporting the country whose hospitality I was currently enjoying, and cheering with the kids supporting their home team with incredible patriotism.

Australia.

It seems to be a place they all know, thanks to the cricket. I suppose it beats having to try and explain where Ireland is, like my colleague did many times. They knew where Australia was, and a plethora of players. I love that there’s this instant talking point in India, even though I know relatively little about cricket. I actually surprised myself with the amount of knowledge that I’d taken on over the past few years of Andrew’s obsession with the game. I was there, in the first innings, bare-footed and legs crossed on the floor of a different village lounge room, explaining the game, movements and scoring systems to my Irish comrade. If I got confused, Shazad was there to clarify the technical aspects, but I think I did Andrew proud with my CrashCourse101 to understanding “what’s on the box that everyone’s cheering at”.

It’s cliché to say that the atmosphere was electric; but hey, it was. My colleagues had retired for the second innings, choosing hot chai or a stiff whisky in the kitchen of the camp with the staff over more time connecting with the kids. Personally, I was not going to miss a game integral to the culture of the country. This was the lead up to the rugby finals for New Zealand, the AFL final for Victorians, State of Origin for the east-coasters but on a monstrously HUGE scale. This was the stuff memories are made of, and I was watching for two, knowing how much Andrew would have loved to have been in India for more of the World Cup games. The passion rang out from my students, celebrating their players, discussing whether or not the Punjabi team members were fat, or pointing out the size of Pakistani noses. They chatted to me more about being Indian, and what it was like to have cricket travelling through your veins every day. They cheered, they laughed, and they made fun of me as Pakistan neared their loss, knowing my fate for the night.

Somewhere during the match, the commentary changed from Hindi to English, and I realised I could understand what was being said. I dropped out of my little world where I’d been relishing in the thoughts of how ingrained I was in that place, blissfully unaware of what was being said around me. I sat among people with so many different belief systems, experiences and values, but with the same goal – to find the outcome of the game, and to see if India would indeed make it through to the final. I felt connected to the rest of the world again in the way that you can only when immersing yourself in something completely different from everything you know. I’ve had these times before, sitting around a smoking iron kettle on the campfire in a Thai hill tribe, sharing a bottle of rum with Hem in Bakhtapur on Christmas Day, sitting with my legs hanging out the window of a Sheffield student dorm at 2am. They’re intense, passionate moments that remind you to LIVE every moment that you have. They remind you to talk to others, learn about their world, to share your own, and to know that there’s so much more beyond your own doorstop.

For a moment there, I really loved cricket.

Oh, and Pakistan lost.

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