Monday, February 13, 2006

Choti Choti Khushian

I left work early today. India and Pakistan were playing a one-day game at Gaddafi and a quick phone call meant I had invites to a corporate box at the stadium. I was told to come to the main entrance and then call upstairs for someone to escort me to the box.

The rickshaw dropped me off outside the stadium. Police barricades were restricting traffic. There was a huge crowd around the perimeter, mostly schoolboys who had bunked class to cheer their team on. Their brightly colored blazers bore emblems of the schools they were missing from. Food vendors were selling a variety of spicy treats. I walked over to the main entrance and called upstairs.

The network was busy. I tried a variety of numbers. None of them went through. It was as if the cries emanating from the excited crowds within rose as a thick wall, blocking off all intrusion, all voices apart from their own. The stadium was the world, the center of all ambition, as thousands of wills locked in place to spur their side on.

My call finally went through. My host said he would be down in a minute and could I please make myself visible.

I moved into view.

“Bhai-jaan, aap mujhe bhi apne saath andar le jaa saktay hain?” a small voice spoke up beside me. (“Excuse me, could you please take me in with you?”)

I saw a young boy, the peach fuzz fresh on his lip, looking at me pleadingly.

For a moment, I thought about exchanging my ticket for him and asking my host if he could go instead of me. And then I realized how inappropriate it would be, this young boy, sitting incongruously in a room full of people he didn’t know. No, it would be too awkward.

“Nahin beta, mushkil hoga,” I said and went ahead to meet my escort.

We went upstairs. The room was packed. Some of my friends were there. A few faces were familiar from television. I put my bag in the corner, took my lab-coat off and found a seat near the front.

“Have you had lunch?” my host asked.

“No, not yet.”

A waiter was sent to get me lunch.

“There’s a fridge in the corner with soft drinks. Help yourself, son.”

“Thank you.” The waiter returned with a plate of food piled high with pulao, karhai chicken and soft, creamy saag.

The second innings had just started. Mohammad Asif was making the ball sing around the Indians. Their batsmen were clueless. We all sat riveted to our seats, following the match both on the ground as well as the television screen in the box. Someone opened up a box of black forest cake and slices were passed around. PCB hospitality ensured a constant round of tea and coffee. Celebrities walked in and out, including, ironically enough, two actors featuring in a current biscuit commercial. “Abay, tu?” their friend teased them. Everyone was enjoying the game.

The president’s helicopter flew by and, suddenly, I thought of the boy outside. Of all the people who were in the room with me, maybe he deserved to be there the most. I thought of the look on his face when I refused him.

A camera crew came in to capture our excitement. They were followed by a group of young girls from Karachi, bored of sitting with their parents in the corporate box next door. A visiting flurry of anxiety rippled through the room. One of the girls was being bothered by an unwanted SMS suitor. “How did he get my number?” she fretted. “The phone is registered in my driver’s name!”

Pakistan’s fortunes fell. Sachin Tendulkar, playing an effortless innings, stabilized the match. When he left, Yuvraj and Dhoni came in and blasted the ball around the ground. “Dhoni ne dhunaai kar di,” the guy sitting next to me remarked. I grinned mirthlessly. What looked to be a nail-biter ended in a dismal defeat as Pakistan lost by five wickets. Not even Musharaff sahib’s good humor, complimenting Dhoni’s leonine hair, could lift our spirits. Nobody likes to lose.

And yet, the more I think about it now, the more I realize how a greater loss occurred today. Even before the innings had started something valuable and precious had been denied.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this post :) the last line says it all. Baita keh kar kuch deny nahi karna chahiye tha. Were those girls really as clueless as you described them to be :p sigh you should take a bus sometime, you meet alll sorts of people.

You know..silence is just as bad at times then saying the wrong thing. Silence prevents action.

1:01 PM  

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