Their cup runneth over

March 31st, 20111:04 pm @

Ironic indifference at the British Council.

People will tell you the final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup happens this Saturday in Bombay. From India’s point of view, they’re wrong – the final happened yesterday in Mohali, and India won.

Nothing quite compares to the level of passion involved in an India v Pakistan cricket match – Rangers v Celtic; Australia v England; Blur v Oasis – just can’t describe the tension and emotional investment of this particular match up.

Throw in the fact that a World Cup title is at stake and you’ve got yourself a country-stopping event. Many workplaces gave their staff a half-day off so they could watch the match. Unfortunately, mine was not among them, although once the game kicked off the workflow reduced significantly – no-one in India was doing anything newsworthy, except the 22 blokes in colourful pyjamas in Mohali.

After work I was due to meet my wife at what can best be described as a “Monumental Cock Up In Scheduling” – a “book” launch at the British Council (by “book” I mean “graphic novel” or, to normal people, a “comic book”). It’s difficult to believe that someone, somewhere, didn’t put up their hand to suggest that the night of a World Cup semi-final wasn’t the best time for an event, any event. Perhaps they did and the organising luvvies, having no interest in sport themselves, thought it wasn’t that big a deal – I mean, how can this cricket compare to a comic book launch? Clearly, someone eventually got a clue and they installed a screen to show the match and put on free booze and food – thus ensuring more than a handful of people turned up.

By the time I left the office the run chase was well under way. Outside the building a Mercedes was sat in the car park; its doors open wide and the radio on loud, with a group of uniformed drivers leaning against it listening to the match.

Not bothering to look for an auto – as if there’d be one, and if there were I’d be lucky to survive the bhang- and whiskey-fuelled ride – I proceeded on foot to the British Council. The streets around the office were so devoid of life it may as well have been 2am, or midday after a zombie apocalypse. The only sign of life was the distinctive sound of cricket commentary emanating from crackling car radios.

Further along, where a series of shops were usually buzzing with life, the scene was equally desolate, apart from a group of about 20 or 30 guys crammed around an old TV someone had set up on a wall. Suddenly one of them broke away from the crowd and bolted across the street. It was a rickshaw driver dashing to catch his runaway auto, which was rolling down the empty street.

At the British Council it was an altogether different – and in many ways more surreal – scene. Mercifully, I’d missed the “book” launch and had arrived in time for the opening of the free bar. If you’ve never seen the free bar at a Delhi arts event, it’s a sight to behold. It’s difficult to describe, but the word feral should probably feature prominently in any efforts. Forget thoughts of well-educated, well-dressed, erudite people waiting patiently for a drink. No, this is more mosh pit at a Prodigy gig than opening night at La Scala, with septuagenarians pushing octogenarians out of the way to bark “more beer” at the barmen.

Out on the floor it’s no more civilised. The poor guys bringing around food barely make it a few feet before being mobbed by the hordes of men – it’s always men – who linger outside the kitchen and wolf down any food that appears. Not that you really want to indulge in too much of the food at these events. The anonymous, deep-fried portions have the odd ability to simultaneously clog your cardiovascular system and clear out your alimentary canal.

Away from the food and drink the crowd was split between those watching every ball and those studiously avoiding any view of the screen, lest their hipster credentials be tarnished by accusations they were interested in anything so mainstream as “ergh, sport”. Coming straight from work and dressed in a business shirt and trousers I felt somewhat out of place in the crowd – like Don Draper hanging out with his lover’s beatnik buddies, but without any of the Don’s suaveness.

Eventually, however, even the most heavily bespectacled hipsters took a passing – albeit ironic – interest as events progressed and India looked like snatching the game back. At this point we were starving and decided to make a tactical exit to get some real food and where we didn’t have to contend with angry old men.

A nearby Japanese restaurant was a good option as we knew they had a TV and would be showing the game. Chomping down sushi and gyoza we watched India wrest control of the match from Pakistan, who were putting up a spirited effort, but it was never going to be enough. As the overs wound down the waiting staff – who by now had given up any pretence of working – were joined by the kitchen staff in front of the TV to see the final wicket fall and India move through to the final.

Outside, the fireworks started and impromptu street parties got into swing. India had done what they needed to do and as far as the crowds on the street were concerned, Saturday would either be the sugar syrup on the gulab jamun, or a minor disappointment, depending on the outcome.

Image on front from Flickr user ablight.

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