Thursday, April 14

Who can it be now ?

After 2 years and countless bus trips, you'd think I'd have learnt my lesson by now. Sadly, like a plethora of guys out there, I'm a sufferer of what is called the 'Empty Seat Agony' syndrome (ESAS). I didn't stand a chance, really.

Sufferers of ESAS are generally guys who are implicitly aware of the vagaries of Fate & the sinister machinations of the universe. Raised on a special diet of awkward social situations and an instinctive understanding of self-pathos, we're stuck in the limbo of the great evolutionary game. Usually well-read, of above average intelligence, cynical and/or pessimistic, we possess a sense of humour that is devastating & self-depreciating.

We're not loquacious, know the meaning of the word 'loquacious' & of course, cannot (possibly will not) dance to save our lives. Dance, in the ESAS world, is a random flailing of limbs and we cannot be convinced otherwise. In terms of looks, the word most likely to attach itself to us is - Hmm. A number of this species of guy have cornered the market in playing the brother / supportive shoulder to the dame of interest. But the one thing we suffer in common is Empty Seat Agony. There's always a little spark of hope and it refuses to die.

It starts innocuously enough. At Dadar, one example gets on the bus to Pune & takes his seat. Habitual paranoia against the universe means that he'll be there at least 5 - 10 minutes early. The adjoining seat will be empty. He will keep his backpack in the storage, stretch his legs, plug in the earphones and twiddle his thumbs. The wait has begun. You see, that bloody spark of hope will send out enticing signals to the mind, usually along the lines of:

"What are the odds, huh ?"
"Hmm... 5 minutes to go, the other seats are taken and no one yet."
"Nah... no way. Snap out of it. You've been on enough bus rides to know better. But still..."
"Holy crap. Please old uncle, don't sit next to me... whew, he's not."
"Damn. No one is sitting in the next seat. Now what ?"

ESAS happens, is what. From Dadar to Chembur and then on to Vashi, even on the face of irrefutable proof of a thousand previous journeys, the poor sod is praying to high heaven that a reasonably cute dame open to intelligent conversation (with him) will take that empty seat.

Every time, without fail, the seat will be taken by another guy, who's expression will range from a mutually recognised disappointment (because he's another ESAS victim) to complete indifference. The original protagonist is forced to adopt Hamlet's expression of WTF-tinged resignation and pray the music player doesn't give out. Of course, if he's really lucky (and he is, on average) the guy sitting next to him is a combination of the following:
  • Old
  • Suffering from flatulence
  • An incessant & loud phone-talker
  • Obese and sweating
  • Has the flu and no shyness about largesse in spreading it
  • The snorer
  • The noisy eater
  • Anti-deodorant
  • Believes in airing some very ripe socks once he's sat down
  • Is travel-sick and does not have a plastic bag
Frankly, the old guys (with no other afflictions) are pretty decent, apart from possible weak bladders. But a combination of any of the others (take my word for it) is our hero's Waterloo. The obituary might as well say "He died bravely. Smelling faintly of rotten cabbage. Or socks."

The hope destroyer who sat next to me recently brought fresh problems. Hardly had he sat down, that he took out the cellphone and began to play Hangman. Now, I don't know whether he suffered from a lack of understanding on the point of the game or took ghoulish pleasure in failing, but an awful lot of guys were hung during that bus ride. It was like watching a kid come to grips with potty-training. For example, having been clued in that the 5-letter word was a 'direction', this bloke proceeded to stare into the middle distance for about a minute a la Zen exercises. He then proceeded to try the letter E.

I wanted to emulate the game, garrotte the fellow myself and put him and the world out of their misery.

Like I said at the start, its been 2 years and not once have I managed to find myself sitting next to a girl, never mind cute, intelligent OR otherwise. Yes, I should give up the ghost by now. But you know just as well as I do that come the next journey I'll take, there'll be an empty seat next to me and hope will clear its throat and begin humming a song. Its the Empty Seat Agony Syndrome, I tell you.

We are like this only.

Song for the moment: Poor Boy - Cliff & the Shadows

And yes, the music player gave out 20 minutes out of Vashi. Go figure.

Sunday, April 3

King of anything

(Much has, is being & will be written about the 2nd of April 2011. This is my sentimental contribution.)

I am 28 years old, the amount of time a nation waited. It is a nation of sufferers & cynics, a country where it is easier to be corrupt than to be a good person. A place which makes it hard to simply and truly wear a worn out heart on a scuffed sleeve and wait for joy. Think about what experiences an inherently religious nation has to go through before the idea of 'belief' mutates into something that must be constantly tested.

This is the same country that voluntarily chooses to fall in love with a team sport in which 11 men have ample opportunities to fail individually. A sport hosted in arenas that have plumbed the depths of human decency. One who's administrators are, collectively, about as criminally incompetent, indifferent & selfish as a group of people can be. This is a place where a nation's passion for a sport constantly fights a bloodied battle with faith.

This is the Indian's relationship with cricket.

I'm an early 80's kid and my mother would often tell me the story of June 25th, 1983. About how a young woman flew up three flights of stairs holding her 6 month old son and saw the moment. About how, earlier in the day, she knew, with an instinct that was hers alone, that 38 would be the highest individual score. About... an enviable belief that turned into a moment of joy which made life seem bearable, even if it was for an instant.

I don't know if that was the seed, but I have watched and loved cricket since I can remember. But I did not have the belief. One side of me is the partisan Indian fan. I don't know about the fancy gimmicks of today, but the heart has bled a normal red for the team. The other side has appreciated great bowling & the flawless graceful technique of batsmanship, no matter who the opposition.

More often than not though, my experiences have been coloured by disbelief. When India managed to win, it was there. When India managed to lose, it was there. That's what you get for watching India play cricket.

And then there is India's bond with Sachin Tendulkar. No sportsman in the history of any game has or will take on the burdens he has. None other can cause a collective plumb in a nation's spirit simply by not being successful on the day. Or raise it, by succeeding. Think about the incomprehensible, unfair enormity of it. That is all.

So yes, when he was out yesterday, I did what 28 years of conditioning commanded - I stopped watching. Thank heavens for Cricinfo, though.

See, I don't have the luxury of forgetting Sharjah 1986, Eden Gardens 1996, Chennai 1999 or Johannesburg 2003. Yes, in the past few years, India has won more than it has lost and, in the process, pulled some spectacular ones off. There have been a lot of soothing moments. Yet, before yesterday, say the words 'India, Sri Lanka, World cup' and I'm willing to bet that the first image that pops into the mind's eye was the sight of a grown man's heart-rending tears as he left the field. There are some embers that glow, no matter how much time has passed.

So, for me yesterday was about the average Indian fan's journey watching a team normally snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was about the finest partnership in Indian cricket and one that will go down in history - the one between a captain and a coach.

It was about watching SRT cry in public for the first time ever and understanding, for they were tears of joy.

It was about shedding tears myself; for him, for the past & for the ancient blood hum of sport which lives beyond words.

The burning embers from watching 28 years of cricket were extinguished on the night of 2nd April, 2011.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll begin to believe.

Song for the moment: Chariots of Fire- Vangelis