I have been very far from India for a long time now. Geographically that is (mentally I really haven’t ventured too far away). And that also means I had been far removed from my friends of yore for a long time. Friends who I still identify with the most, friends with whom I shared experiences that forged many facets of the personality I’m today, friends who probably know me threadbare, friends with whom I share many common passions, men who are friends for life.
Sport in general is one of those shared passions and Cricket is more so in particular. In my early days here in the US, I think I sub-consciously yearned to be in the same room with those buddies of mine every time I sat down in front of my laptop in the wee hours of the morning to watch a game of cricket. I would stay up the whole night and watch the game alright; all 100 overs of it. I would enjoy it too but somewhere deep down inside I was melancholic for the fact that it wasn’t a shared experience with my homies. I soon graduated from viewing on a laptop to enjoying the action on multiple generations of big, bright flat screen HDTVs and eventually to kicking back in the plush warm embrace of the chamois recliners, taking in the crisp, vibrant colors of 4k images beamed onto a 120 inch screen by a best in class 4k UHD projector and surrounded by rich, room filling sound courtesy of the 8 audiophile grade speakers driven by a beast of an A/V receiver. Of course, with the choicest beer, single malt or bourbon in hand. The experience almost teleported you to the arena where the real action transpired. Sadly, this lap of luxury wasn’t antidote enough for that deep seated melancholy that refused to budge!
And then one fine day, someone added me to a WhatsApp group of my homies, created by my homies for my homies!! It was the single most exciting thing that had happened to me in a decade of living abroad (usual disclaimers apply). I was thrilled to bits to be able to connect with all my long lost partners of many a crime and all of them simultaneously at that!! It was as if I was in the mess hall of our boys hostel or in front of the tea shop at the gate of our engineering college with all of my boys gathered around just hanging out, banter laden with the silt of expletives overflowing the banks of the river called propriety.
I was suddenly happy for no good reason, admittedly way too much on my phone much to the chagrin of my dear wife and my older son who was absolutely loathe to sharing my attention and affection with anybody or anything else. It was as if I was a character in the reality TV series called ‘Hangout with my boys’ and we were in a room discussing sports, religion, politics and anything else that caught our fancy on any given day. In the early days it was non-stop, high-octane, marathon action. We just took breaks to eat, poop and shower (probably the only pure break was when we were in the shower!) and then we were right back at it. We were all hardened addicts who couldn’t get this drug into their systems fast enough and it seemed no amount of rehab or family intervention was going to get us off of it.
But then all ‘good things’ must come to an end. Work and family pressure combined with general fatigue started to set in and the effects of this drug started wearing off. Thankfully, this ‘good thing’ was more like Cocaine and less like Meth. We indulged in it but not to the point of self-annihilation. The ‘lines we snorted’ were restricted to the weekend bashes which took the shape of marathon quiz sessions or emotionally charged debates on hot-button political issues. This arrangement seemed to work well for a while until many of the participants started capitulating to the cruel demands of domestication and slowly started opting-out of even these rationed out, time-bound weekend scrimmages.
So it was dark again and melancholy had come back as a squatter from where it was evicted. But as they say, where there is darkness, light cannot be too far away. And that beam of bright light that rammed through the the heavy pall of darkness to dispel it came in the form of an international cricket match which featured the Indian cricket team. That fateful day, somebody casually announced in the group that toss had been taken and India was about to bat first. And that was it. That most innocuous sentences by one of my friends and one that was devoid of any particular motive had implications far exceeding its content or intent. It instantly converted fifteen of us into seasoned commentators who would go on to provide ball-by-ball coverage and exchange blow-by-blow accounts of the entire cricket match for the next 7-8 hours.
It was magical! We were geographically dispersed, thousands of miles apart from one another and yet were were all jointly experiencing the emotional crests and troughs of our shared passion in those golden moments.
And here I’m after 2 years of when this first happened, penning my experiences as we continue to this day gravitate to our phones as creatures of habit every time the Indian cricket team gets ready to battle. For those few hours this band of brothers is back in that crammed and humid 5’*5′ room with a CRT monitor precariously perched on a bed of Electronics Engineering books beaming images from a far away land channeled via a TV Tuner card jutting out of an ‘assembled’ CPU tower that had one side cover removed to allow for maximum ventilation. They are jointly witnessing cricketing history in the making when the great Brian Lara single handedly brought the mighty Aussies to their knees.
As the Aussies would say……..WhatsApp, you beauty!