May 17, 2009
THE EX-PAT FILES
Happiness is...watching cricket
By Nilanjana Sengupta
I've been trying to keep up with what is happening around the world while on vacation in Delhi. Indian news is full of the just-concluded general election and its results. World news is being dominated by the happenings in the neighbourhood - Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Singapore-related news, even if big like the recapture of Mas Selamat Kastari, finds a smaller mention.
Thus I was surprised when my eyes caught a persistent ticker message running across the screen one day - 'Akshay Kumar threatened to check out of Singapore hotel because it was not showing the IPL matches'.
Akshay Kumar is a Bollywood superstar who was recently in Singapore to shoot for his new Hindi film. IPL, short for Indian Premier League, is a Twenty20 cricket competition in which eight teams representing different Indian cities and owned by corporate biggies and Bollywood stars battle it out in the game's latest money-spinning format.
The news made it to The Times of India, the nation's largest-selling English newspaper, and other news and entertainment websites, capturing more attention in India than the re-arrest of Mas Selamat, a terrorist. Kumar even blogged about it, according to one such website. Apparently distraught over not being able to follow up on the matches being currently played in South Africa, Kumar pleaded with the hotel manager to start showing the concerned channel and his wish was granted the very next day.
Kumar's distress may seem silly to some but believe me, it is totally understandable. Even though Indians are making their mark in other sports such as tennis and shooting, and the status of 'national sport' is accorded to field hockey, it is cricket that is regarded as the 'superstar' sport.
It is often said that cricket is a religion in India and almost the whole country of one billion people consider themselves a cricket expert even if they have never touched a bat in their life. The players are given demi-god status and are as popular as Bollywood stars, if not more so.
When I lived in India, I would try my best to get the tickets for international matches scheduled to be played in my city. In a country where there are one billion cricket fans, chances are that most of the medium-priced tickets would sell like hot cakes. So apart from striving to buy the tickets, I also tried other means as a back-up - cajoling friends with influential parents who would perhaps be given free tickets by virtue of their status; paying a fraction of the price and buying one of these free tickets or passes handed out to club members who did not want to watch the match but would send their chauffeurs or assistants to the stadium to sell them. Or I would plead with my colleagues in the sports department to keep a lookout for tickets for seats with a good view of the action.
If India won, the whole city would be celebrating, firecrackers would be set off and even the bus driver would waive the fare home.
When I arrived in Singapore in the middle of the Cricket World Cup tournament two years ago, one of my foremost worries was whether I would be able to follow the World Cup matches. The others were looking for accommodation and adapting to a new office and city.
My friends in Singapore who are not from the Indian subcontinent cannot see what the fuss is about a game with 11 players to a side where a ball has to be hit with a bat. And is it true that there is a long version of the game, called a 'Test Match', that is played over five days, they ask incredulously. Yes, it is true.
Of course I love delving into lengthy explanations about how the game is played and why we like it so much. I also love driving by the cricket field that belongs to the Ceylon Sports Club near Little India and watching players in action. It reminds me of the clubs near Marine Drive in Mumbai where local matches would be played on consecutive fields simultaneously.
But what I miss most is sitting in a stadium and engaging in some vociferous cheering in the scorching heat. Some time last year, there was talk of an exhibition match to be played in Singapore featuring international players. However, the event got cancelled. But I hope it gets revived and I can once again enjoy the feeling of watching cricket live from a stadium.
Nilanjana Sengupta is an assistant to the editor on the Straits Times Foreign Desk. An Indian national, she has been in Singapore for two years.