July 18, 2009

Safely in goal

One evening in a STD booth in the Naseem Bagh area of Srinagar, I have to wait several minutes for a pretty thing to finish her hushed call. Waiting with me are two tall young men, Firdous and Mansoor. All friendly curiosity, they lean over to ask me where I'm from, what I'm doing here, how I like Kashmir and its people (very much), have I watched the football tournament at the University, where am I staying, will I come home for some "a-one" wazwan food?

They also fill me in on their lives.

Mansoor actually laughs as he tells me of the time they were studying at Delhi University, staying in the hostel. When their hostel-mates learned they were from Kashmir, they assumed some bizarre things. One said to Mansoor in all seriousness, I thought you'd be carrying guns and bombs! I mean, you're from Kashmir, aren't you a terrorist?

And Mansoor and Firdous laugh some more.

Meanwhile, the pretty thing is taking her own time with her call, giggling nonstop. I finally give up and leave. As I say goodbye to my two new friends, Firdous says: "Next time, you're staying with me, OK?"

At DU, they thought this guy was a terrorist. Oh yeah.

The football tournament features university teams from all over the North. When I get there to watch, Kashmir is busy making Bundelkhand look like nincompoops. Every time Bundelkhand kicks off, a Kashmir player steals the ball. A few passes and slick moves later, it nestles safely in Bundelkhand's goal. In five minutes that I watch this disaster, Kashmir scores four times.

On the next field, Jamia is playing Lucknow. More even, this match, but marred by a peculiar commentary. The man behind the mike practically fawns on the Jamia team. "They are showing the real guts!" "I am positive Jamia will score first!" "They will definitely win this game!" "Lucknow has floundered [sic] another chance!" "That was a magnanimous [sic] effort by Jamia!" -- and he didn't mean that Jamia was generously turning the ball over to their opponents. That skill being Bundelkhand's monopoly anyway.

So odd is this fount of words that in the audience, we begin looking at each other, baffled and amused. But magnanimous or magnificent or something else, the match ends in a tie and is decided by a penalty shootout. Jamia takes the first shot and scores, which causes the loudspeaker to erupt: "I TOLD YOU JAMIA WOULD SCORE FIRST!"

Only minutes later, a Jamia player kicks too high and his team loses the match. This brings some introspection: "We are not biased in favour of any team, we just want to see good football."

And we just want to hear reasonable commentary.

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