When India won the Cricket World Cup 2011, I was at The Walkabout at Temple, London. I had been standing for the past 48 overs because the moment I had sat down on my usual chair, Sehwag had been caught plumb in front of the stumps. I was drinking the same beer for the past 46 odd overs, taking the tiniest of sips because when I had taken that first gulp, the ball had reached the boundary.
My left hand was on the wooden table because the commentators were getting too excited as India reached closer to the target and I didn’t wanna jinx it. About a hour and a half ago, we had a mini photo session and Kohli got caught as we were in the middle of it. Cameras were summarily abolished, there will be enough time for pictures after we won.
Yes, I know these things probably don’t matter. But millions of Indians across the world found solace in similar routines yesterday when they sat (or stood) in front of a TV set willing the universe to help our boys bring it home. Some must have not moved from their seats when India was doing well. Some would have held it in because the last time they went to the toilet a wicket fell.
There would be those who wore the same clothes as the last match coz they were lucky for the team. A group would have refused to utter a negative thought lest it should come true. And another group would have done the exact opposite, uttering every negative thought that entered their heads (Gambhir will get run out, Malinga will take a hatrick, we’ll have another batting collapse) in the hope that if they somehow laid a finger on every possible unfavourable result, the universe would fall for the reverse psychology trap and go the opposite way.
But whether through superstitious twitches or analytical reasoning, a billion people yesterday wanted the same outcome. If there’s even an iota of truth in organized religion or Noetic theory, the Sri Lankans didn’t stand a chance.
Many words have been written on how cricket is a metaphor for life to a majority of the Indian people. Over the past couple of decades, the team has grown in confidence just as India has found its place in the new world order. As the team has conquered uncharted territories, India has gotten to sit on tables it had never been invited to before.
The two obviously aren’t linked in reality but the parallels are uncanny. In the mid 1990s, when we boasted of the most powerful batting line up in the world, every defeat held a mirror to a country that was failing to rise to its potential. Every time the middle order crumbled after Sachin got out, it added more fuel to that notion that the promise of India only existed on paper.
It was a little strange yesterday when Gambhir and Kohli were batting, the 300 odd Indians at The Walkabout chose to chant “Sachin! Sachin!” It took me a while to understand what a part of me perhaps always knew.
Just like the Indian cricket team is a figurative equivalent of the Indian ethos, Sachin is not just a person either. He is an idea, a notion that an Indian can be better than anyone else in the world at what he does. He symbolizes something every Indian has yearned for in its leaders, a hero who shoulders our burdens without complaint, who remains accessible in his humility, who is uncorrupted by fame, unadulterated by popularity.
So many of us wanted this world cup, this one and no other, simply because it pretty much definitely is Sachin’s last. He had been the “one for all” for so many years, it was now time for the “all for one” to kick in. Alexandre Dumas would have been so proud.
But there was one more reason why we wanted this cup. It’s because while we now have the confidence in our abilities, there still were naysayers out there who refused to give us the recognition we thought we deserved.
When the cricket team won the World T20 championship, it was quickly pointed out that it was a new format and teams didn’t know what to expect. Ponting went on record saying that the Aussies hadn’t really taken the tournament seriously. The team then climbed to the top of the ICC Test ranking but that wasn’t enough either.
Again, parallels elsewhere didn’t escape our eyes. The struggle for a permanent seat on the UNSC continues, that NSG exemption wasn’t a walk in the park. When Mittal Steel acquired Arcellor, a lot of the rhetoric was in bad taste and the Tata Group faced a strange disbelief when it announced the Nano. Even in software, India is still stereotyped as the land of back office processing.
An annoying glass ceiling seemed to have been placed right above our heads and when Dhoni hit that six and twirled his bat like a Jedi, at least in the world of cricket it came crashing down.
Twenty-eight years ago, in the year that Kapil’s devils whetted our appetite by bringing the world cup home, Bollywood produced a dark comedy that later became a cult. The protagonists, two middle-class Indians in Mumbai, believed in the honest ideals of the Indian state but were trapped in a web of corruption and deceit.
In the end, they couldn’t break through and the last scene was tragic. Strange for a Bollywood movie, the film hardly had any songs and one ordinary tune casually hummed became an unusual symbol of hope in the 1980s.
As I sang hum honge kaamyaab ek din with 300 Indians in that bar in downtown London with the team reeling at 30/2, I couldn’t help but remember that the song had a tragic context… but thanks to Dhoni and his team, it didn’t matter.
For a billion Indians that din was today.