Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs’

The saga of a Chicago Cubs baseball cap

June 29, 2011

24 May 2011

There is not a possession of mine with more sentimental value to me than my Chicago Cubs baseball cap.

The hat is actually the third Cubs headpiece of mine, but the first was merely a visor, and the second was lost sometime in 6th grade. So for six years this cap has marked my loyalty to Chicago’s more popular baseball team. I’ve worn it on the grass of Wrigley Field in Chicago. I’ve worn it in some of the most beautiful cities in North India. Lately, I’ve taken to wearing it daily around Nagpur, a necessary weapon against the searing sun.

The cap is facing forward on my head as I enter a rickshaw sawari se, as I’ve grown accustomed to in the last two months or so – with others. My placement in this rickshaw is more awkward than usual, and both my knees are sticking out in the open air. Without a backpack, my Hindi copy and water bottle are perched precariously on my lap, and I use my free arms to keep myself in the auto. My head is facing the stiff wind as the rickshaw accelerates, and I can feel the air tugging under the bill of my cap.

The rickshaw turns a corner, speeds up, and my cap flies backwards off my head into the road behind us.

My first thought was whether or not it was worth telling the auto-wallah to stop.

My second thought was an immediate “yes”.

I instruct the driver to stop. It takes 50 meters or so for him to understand what I’m trying to say, but he eventually comes to a halt. I pay him and walk back towards the spot where I’d lost my cap. I can catch another auto later. Right now I needed to find my cap as quickly as possible.

Just after getting out, a lady on a bicycle tries to tell me something. She doesn’t speak English – only Hindi. I understand a bit of what she’s trying to say, but her speech is too quick and frantic for me. I think she’s trying to tell me she saw someone take my cap. Whatever her message, I’m in a hurry to run back and retrieve the headgear, and I turn to go and get it. But she keeps talking. Is she trying to tell me it’s out of my hands forever? That I should just let it be taken?

I walk back, moving as quickly as possible given the traffic and the absence of functioning sidewalks. Passing through a dimly lit tunnel makes my journey back a slow one. It takes two minutes for me to arrive at the spot where I’d lost my hat, and I scan the street left and right. Am I two minutes too late?

I look at the people in the surrounding shops. No one is wearing it.

I look for a flash of royal blue and a red “C” on every surface. It’s not there.

I begin to contemplate the fact that my hat has been lost forever.

It isn’t the beauty of the cap that I would miss. Jagged white stains cake the outside, salty preservation of my perspiration. Threads are missing or sticking out awkwardly at every angle, colored much darker than they were on the day of purchase. The bill has patches of something black and grimy – perhaps oil from the many times I’d adjusted the chains of bikes in our convoy of foreigners before adjusting my hat. My name is written, underlined, and accentuated with artfully drawn initials on the bottom of the bill – the novice art skills of my 14-year-old self rendered immortal with a Sharpie.

This cap isn’t just about my support of the Chicago Cubs – Lord knows it hasn’t done anything to help them win many baseball games lately. Rather, it’s about the things I’ve done with it on. I’ve played tennis in it in Champaign, and I’ve played cricket in it in Nagpur. I’ve been to baseball stadiums in it in America, and I’ve been to cricket stadiums in it in India. Friends have worn it. Family has worn it. My cat’s worn it. Even a goat in Jaisalmer wore it once – (though the knowledge of that would make my friends reluctant to touch it for some reason). In both America and India, the best moments of my life had come with it on, or not far away.

This hat meant more to me than it meant to anyone else in the world. And that’s why losing it felt so bad.

I finish looking and walk back where I came from, beginning a secondary sweep of the area in case I’d missed it earlier. It isn’t lying in the street. No one is wearing it. It isn’t to be found anywh…wh–

What’s that?

A 20-some year old mechanic is holding my cap in his hand, the adjustable Velcro strap in the back having been tightened to its fullest. Whoever had just been wearing it undoubtedly had a small head. My heart leaps. I call after him.

Bhaiyah!

He turns and looks at me, the blue-billed cap still grasped firmly in hand. I point at it and ask for my cap in simple Hindi. “Mera cap! Yeh mera. Haa, yeh mera cap hai.” My cap! It’s mine. Yes, it’s my cap.

The man seems sad to relinquish this treasured symbol of Western culture. His expression is akin to the one of the man who picked up my watch when I dropped it in the road one day. Then, too, I came back looking for it, and spotted it quickly. The man had responded with a somber “okay”, as if I was supposed to tell him to keep it. Most Indians love the idea of America, but they love America’s stuff even more. The man with my cap seems as let down by giving up the valuable as I had been just 30 seconds earlier. Reluctantly, he hands it over.

This cap has been through a lot lately. So have I. But we’re both still here – weather-worn but intact. This cap, like me, has survived another day.

Before I flagged down another auto, I fastened the cap around my head more tightly than before.

From now on, it will be staying firmly on me.

🙂

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North Tour: Dharamsala: An antidote for hubbub

April 19, 2011

Monday, 7 March

DHARAMSALA: Hubbub is an unintentional, unavoidable side effect of manmade monuments.

I have never visited a famous structure anywhere in the world devoid of human hustle and bustle (at least during operating hours). As we saw at The Golden Temple yesterday, people will inevitably come if a place is worth visiting. Where people go, chaos follows. Only natural beauty can be exempt of the undertone of human noise, but as we noticed on the beaches of Goa, that’s no guarantee of silence. Great places always attract great masses of people, in turn transforming them into tourist traps. And tourist traps are not tranquil places.

At least, that’s what I thought before visiting the Dalai Lama’s house today.

Amidst steep green hills and towering snow-capped mountains, we saw our share of foreigners in Dharamsala. There may have been more tourists from outside India than in, and they appeared to have come a long way. Westerners in NFL jackets walked amidst Buddhist monks in maroon and yellow robes. This was a place for tourists.

But it wasn’t really a tourist place. It didn’t have the feel of one, anyhow.

Hubbub was utterly absent. The quietness was striking. Maybe it had something to do with the surrounding air, brought in chilly gusts with a far lower concentration of car exhaust than in most parts of India. The omnipresent pine trees visible for miles in every direction cleaned the air effectively, and the thin winding roads nearby weren’t SUV friendly anyway. The silence wasn’t quite pindrop, but it was close.

Quietness is another of those things that’s hard to come by in India, so it’s even more rewarding when it comes. Walking through Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama’s modest abode, there was no need to speak. Sometimes beauty requires no spoken words.

As we were about to leave, I spotted a man wearing a Chicago White Sox baseball cap.

Chicago’s two baseball teams – the Cubs and White Sox – are bitter enemies. Tension between the teams is always high. Banter between fans of opposing allegiances has the propensity to escalate. At each of the team’s six matchups every year, fights inevitably break out in the stands. It’s not a friendly rivalry.

I pulled my Cubs hat out of my backpack and put it on.

I looked at him.

Seconds later, the man looked at me.

Something came alive in his eyes as he saw the hat I was wearing. He was in the midst of a conversation as he saw me, but it seemed to lull for just a moment. It had just taken a split-second for a connection to be made between us. No matter that we were over 8,000 miles from Chicago. He knew the meaning, the history, and the symbolism behind our headgear, and so did I.

He looked away and continued conversing with his friend.

There was no need to disturb the peace.

🙂

Cricket: A new kind of fandom

February 23, 2011

Ask anyone who’s known me since the age of eight to associate one word with me, and there’s a good change “baseball” would be the first in their mind.

It’s understandable. There’s no denying my obsession with baseball and the Chicago Cubs, which began in 2001 when Sammy Sosa‘s home run hops convinced me to board the bandwagon for both. Ten years later, I have no plans to leave either one. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit playing fantasy baseball in recent years, and it’s possible I’ve used Bleed Cubbie Blue as a timepass more than any other website. I’ve bored a number of friends with my baseball lectures on Gmail Chat (intentionally, I have to admit). That said, without my knowledge of the sport, I probably wouldn’t have won the 2010 Illinois state sports writing championship.

Then I came to India, and fell in love with a different bat and ball sport.

For seven months I’ve lived in the land where balls are bowled, not pitched. Where a ball hit over the boundary is a “6” not a home run. Where games have just one or two innings, but take between three hours and five days to play.

Cricket is king in India, and no other sport even comes close. There’s not a country in the world with more cricket fans than India. Field hockey is actually the country’s national sport, but cricket’s popularity transcends any other. Badminton, basketball and soccer have sizable followings in India, but none is even a tenth that of cricket.

Admittedly, people here pay baseball its due when I tell them what country I’m from. Pride glimmers in me every time people are quick to acknowledge the sport – usually before basketball and (American) football. At least to the outside world, baseball is still America’s national pastime, and when discussing America’s landmarks, I always put Wrigley Field up there with The Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and The Golden Gate Bridge.

But cricket isn’t baseball.

I found myself on the learning curve for a sport for the first time in about a decade upon my arrival in India. This time, Sports Illustrated for Kids didn’t offer me much help. In the primal stages of my sports fandom I’d been eased into several games simultaneously. I acquired at least a baseline knowledge for baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, tennis, NASCAR and soccer, choosing to further pursue the sports in which I gained the most interest. In time, I became reasonably literate in other sports – swimming, volleyball, softball, lacrosse, track and field, cross country, field hockey. In July, I could probably have even gone on a tangent about billiards if you asked me.

But not cricket.

Before I got the news I was coming to India, I knew precisely three things about cricket: that it was played with a bat and a ball, that they used these things called wickets, and that it had something to do with tea.

I expected to learn about cricket while in India, but that didn’t keep what I learned from surprising me. The learning curve wasn’t so much steep as it was congested and full of detours. In America, baseball is packaged nicely into 30 teams belonging to 28 cities, thanks to the omnipotence of its preeminent league – MLB. You root for the team with familial ties in a familiar location, so the Chicago Cubs were a natural fit. Same for the NFL, the NBA and the NHL. You root for one club, and root against its opponent from some other North American city. It’s just how America does sports.

I ran into trouble when I applied that Western thinking to cricket. So Nagpur doesn’t have a franchise in the Indian Premier League (IPL)? Fine. I’ll just root for whatever team my host family roots for. So which one is it? The Mumbai Indians? The Deccan Chargers? The Bangalore Royal Challengers?

Eventually, I learned I’d been focusing my fandom onto a fledgling two-year-old league that used the newest, shortest and most controversial of cricket’s three main formats – T20. None of its teams had regional fanbases akin to those of American teams, and most here have chosen to root for teams with the most Indian players rather than those with geographical proximity.

The IPL is young, and has tremendous potential for growth. But real cricket fans root for their country’s team, not their city’s.

Team India is one of, if not the best cricket teams in the world. In any format, really, but Test Matches and One Day Internationals (ODIs) will get the most people to watch. There might not be anything that unites the 1.1 billion people in India better than its cricket team. For 12 months a year, up to 12 hours a day, you’ll find TVs across India tuned to cricket. Trying to find an Indian who’s not a cricket fan is like trying to find an American rooting against their country in the Olympics: they exist, but very few are willing to openly admit it.

Now the Olympics of cricket have come to South Asia. To Nagpur itself.

The Cricket World Cup is underway. And I’m going.

🙂

To be continued…