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Friday, February 20, 2009

The Folks

Thank you. 

I look at the world and I see UN schools being bombed in Gaza. I see the (needless) media frenzy over someone as insignificant as Jane Goody. I see a corrupt monetary system. I see people generally not getting along. Where's the good? Where are the things that make you want to wake up the next day?

They exist. And I want to thank two of them. My parents.

When all those bad things overwhelm me (like after watching Zeitgeist, for example - a movie everyone should watch), I like to dream about my house in Bangalore and the warmth and unconditional love that radiate from it. I listen to my friends talk about how they're going to go visit their dad on the weekend and I feel thankful that mine loves my mum. I look at broken families and I smile when I remember my family on one of our signature holidays. You take them for granted till you leave them. My parents are the best people I know - and there's no hyperbole to be found here. Not a trace.

I look at some of my friends' parents with skepticism. The ones I used to think were cool because they let them do whatever they want and I'm grateful my parents were 'firm but fair'. This is one of those moments where the self-fulfilling prophecy of "you'll thank us when you're older" seems to have fulfilled itself. I look at some of my friends' parents who are on the other end of the scale. Treatment of teenage boys has never seen such polarity. Stalin could have learned a thing or two about totalitarian government from this lot. They were - if I said 'no disrespect here', I'd be lying - irrationally strict and in many ways, backward. They irked me because I could see the look of helplessness and anguish on their sons' faces and I couldn't do little about it. All I could do was come home and be happy that I was who I was thanks to my parents being who they were.

I'm 18 now. I've left the creche. I'm out in the real world where you have to be accountable for yourself and 'man up'. I am happy with who I am. I am happy with the product that the conveyor belt that was my childhood, has churned out. I know who I am and where I come from and where I want to go and I have no one but my parents to thank for this. Had they planned it all out this way? I don't know. Perhaps. Maybe I helped myself grow a little but I know they did the bulk of the footwork in that respect. 

I feel sorry for kids who didn't have a dad growing up. I know some and they are fine individuals, but would have been much better had they been provided with half the dad I got. I take after my dad a lot. I surprise myself by the amount I do. I have met a lot of people in my life but I don't think I've met a better planner and organiser than him. Sure, some people may be smarter (although the more I think about who exactly, the more I doubt that statement) but no one puts faith into the world like he does. Even when the world kicks him in the teeth. My dad has this amazing ability of starting out every task or project, with the belief that everyone in the world is a good person who will work as hard as he will. And living in India, when this IS the case, it's a pleasant surprise. When I see my dad bitter or angry it saddens me because I know why. I think he wishes everyone would keep to their word like he did. He isn't perfect and we have had our disagreements, but there's something about his attitude towards life that I've hopefully got a bit of and that is to go out into any endeavour and trust other people to do their best. It's an honesty you'd be hard pressed to find and I love him for it. I love when my dad puts on his reading glasses, gets a pen and paper, and draws up a table. It sums him up. Also, did mention that he knows everything?

I can't imagine my dad when he's older but I sure can picture my mum, say, 20 years down the line. She'll be sitting in our garden, reading Bliss Divine or some such text and smiling. My mum is always smiling. I have always been a big fan of my mum, right from a very early age. She will no doubt harp on about the various things I've said to/about her over the years in the comments box - I eagerly await them! I love when my mum gets angry. Her temper usually lasts for four to five minutes. It's triggered by something as trivial as my sister (I'm tempted to end this sentence here) wanting a different snack to what everyone else is being made. Soon after, it can be quelled by something like 'shikran' (a simple combination of chopped banana, sugar and milk). Then, she will float away to her office and leave us all smiling. My mum is the kind to walk into my sister's room when we're watching an Arsenal match and ask who's playing, and before we can answer, asking me to go across the street and get some bread. My mother is terrible with technology but I wouldn't have it any other way. I get cheap thrills by lapping up compliments from her/my sister/women in general (oooooh no he didn't!) when I've fixed the most minute technical difficulty. My mum has changed a lot ever since she found yoga but she hasn't really changed in her attitude towards raising me and my sister and I'm grateful. I can't wait to talk about philosophy with her this summer. I have never really sat and discussed deep  matters with my parents - not enough, anyway. This will change. 

I think now that I've grown up (or so I hope), I can look at my parents as individuals rather than my father and mother. I can understand better why they do things, why they make mistakes and what drives them. This has been fascinating because it was like meeting two new people. And they were amongst the most interesting people I've had the pleasure of knowing. My parents used to be these two godly figures whom I had no choice but to obey and I could only look at them as my parents, not as Vijay Bhat and Nilima Bhat. I see all the bad in the world and I think it is balanced by what I feel when I think of my family. They are the good in my world. Not the only good, but probably the biggest contributor. I don't think I'd change a thing about the way they've raised me. 

I'm glad we ate as a family. I'm glad you got angry at me when I lied. I'm glad you didn't force me to do things I didn't fully believe in. I'm glad you recognised what inexpressible joy football brings me. I'm glad you made us write those holiday reports. I wouldn't change a thing.

Thank you. For everything.


PS. I still think you over-reacted when I broke that window ;-)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A spiritual experience?

King's Cross station came and went. I was shocked and confused: how would I get to the stadium now?! Apparently it was over-crowded so the train wouldn't be stopping there! There was barely an hour left till kick-off! How would I get there in time now? I asked advice from fellow tube compartment passengers as to which was the quickest way to get to the Finsbury Park tube station. Some said the bus, some said to stay on the tube and change at the next stop and take a spectacular dog's leg and some said to get off at the next station and walk to another tube station. In the end, I chose to do the latter. I scurried through twilight lit (twilit?) central London on foot, from Farringdon tube station to Holburn, kind, savvy Londoners giving me directions every few hundred yards.

I finally got onto the tube heading northbound, squashed into a carriage with many more football fans, some Brazilian, some Italian, some (like me), just there to experience the spectacle. I heard flowing, easy going Portuguese and fast, harsh Italian being spoken and I saw as many blue scarves, as I did yellow ones. We got off at Finsbury Park station and sprinted to the stadium. Behind and in front of me, both sides of supporters were already singing songs dedicated to their national teams. I smiled as I ran, covered in a few layers of clothes and my trusted white scarf. It's quite a walk (or run, in this case) from the tube station to the magnificent Emirates Stadium so when we arrived at it's exterior, we were all out of breath and had trouble navigating through the crowd in search of our particular turnstiles. Still, the sight of this glowing masterpiece of architecture, almost pulsating with noise, was not lost on me, as I took a few seconds to stand and admire its beauty. I felt the same way when I looked at Kanjimjanga (or K2, the world's second tallest peak) back in 9th grade. It wasn't as good as the Taj Mahal, but then, few things are. Maybe Sashimi. 

I climbed the stairs to my seat in the upper tier, two at a time. I still hadn't emerged into the middle of the ground, I was still inside the stands, surrounded by ugly concrete. But then I walked through the narrow tunnel towards my block and emerged into heaven. The interior Emirates stadium is sight to behold during the day, but at night, under floodlights it really takes your breath away. My senses were overloaded. I asked the steward to direct me towards my seat and after jostling past people who were already there, I finally sat down. After spending the best part of an hour, zipping around Central London on foot or standing up in a train, I sat down. It was bliss. I had a chance to take in the aura of the place.

There were colours everywhere; I had never seen the stadium (albeit, after going for only 3 matches) like this before. There were the blue shirts of the Italian fans and the vibrant yellows and greens of the Brazilians, interspersed with the blacks coats of neutrals like me and the red and white of the decor of the stands. Camera flashes sparkled every few seconds. The pitch was the kind of green carpet any footballer dreams about. Not a divot in sight. The floodlights made the white lines and electronic advertising boards jump out, like glitter on a piece of paper. Oh and the sound. The Italian fans were pumping out battle-cries of "I-ta-lia, I-ta-lia" in a deafening chorus only to be matched but the various songs sent forth by the legions of Brazil fans. It was like a tennis match of song. It cold night air whipped past my now almost hairless head (I really should have taken my wooly hat after my haircut!) but I was too excited and happy to care. Someone started a Mexican wave that coursed around the stadium just as goosebumps coursed over my skin when Brazil scored. I felt a sense of joy and happiness, not because they had scored, but because I could experience this, this sensation. It was just like I'd imagined it, yet still surreal. Was this state of euphoria what they call a spiritual experience? Where you feel connected to an occasion or place or a point in time that is like nothing you've ever felt before and struggle to describe with words? To me, it may well have been.

The Brazil fans jumped to their feet and fist-pumped the air! A pretty Brazilian girl in front of me began doing some variation of the Samba - a tad distracting for a teenage guy, but hey, can't complain! Flags and banners were waved with new enthusiasm and the same songs that were sung before, had a whole new energy about them. Below me, the Brazilian players on the pitch came together in the far corner to celebrate while the Italians walked back to the halfway line, heads hung in disappointment. It was a goal of beauty, from a footballing purists stand point. One touch passing was capped off by a clinical finish. I was so taken up by the brilliance of the occasion, that I'd forgotten that the world's best player were meters away from me, playing the sport they and I love.

The Brazilians were magicians - Ronaldinho and Robinho in particular. They were here to please the crowd as much as they were here to win a football match. They were showmen. I remember Robinho tricking a pair of Italian defenders with some hyptonising step-overs, before threading a simple ball between the two of them! The crowd went wild and he acknowledged. Ronaldinho was at it all night long. He was doing clever flicks and picking out passes that I could barely pull off in my back garden, let alone in front of 60,000 people! He was out there to have fun - and the crowd were loving it. Brazil were running a clinic. Italy had no answer. Their star players, De Rossi and Pirlo both had off-nights and their famously water-tight defence, seemed no match for Brazil's cheeky attack. It was only a matter of time before the second goal came. It was if Robinho had planned 2 steps ahead of everyone else and was already thinking about beating the second defender before he'd embarrassed the first. He nicked the ball of a rather lazy Andrea Pirlo, dribbled around him, put in a couple of (now trademark) step-overs to flummox the second defender and fired a low shot into the far corner that had the world's best keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, beaten. 

The crowd exploded again. Italian fans behind me put their heads in their hands and acknowledged that they had seen a piece of magic. I bet that musicians feel this way when they go to see their favourite bands/musicians play live and witness talent that is infinitely greater than theirs, not with jealousy, but with sheer, dumb admiration. Robinho had been playing cheer-warranting back-heels and no-look flicks all game long, but this goal was on a different level. I can imagine him doing this to defenders at a school level, and still feeling the same joy now. How good were these guys? It humbles you to see the sheer mighty presence of Adriano, winning headers up front - he was built like a bull. The blistering pace of Marcello and Alexander Pato left me, traditionally the slowest player on the team, in shock. The passing of Italy's Andrea Pirlo even made me angry. How can someone look so indifferent when pinging a 60 yard ball to the feet of a team-mate? He did it at ease - it was like watching someone play him on the video game! You know how you always think, when watching matches on TV, "that looks easy, I could play for XYZ club!"? Well I no longer think that! Each player on show was a master at his trade - well, apart from Dossena (Liverpool fans will know what I'm talking about!)

I'd been to a few live Arsenal matches before this and they were great because I'm a huge Arsenal fan but this seemed like a different experience. This was the 5-time world cup winners, Brazil, going up against the 4-time, and current, world champions, Italy. Football is one of the things I live for - food, writing and family being the others. Was this as good as it gets? For me, yes.  This was one of the best things I have ever done. This was an unforgettable night and one that will provide me with happy dreams and memories, for years to come.