Posts Tagged ‘Mumbai’

Cricket: India versus Sri Lanka: Bigger than the Super Bowl (and a lot of other things, too)

June 27, 2011

You think the Super Bowl is a big event?

At least half of the 300 million people in the USA tune in for the country’s biggest sporting event each year. There’s a two-week buildup to the championship game of America’s most popular sport; there’s no escaping the conversations in the days before the game. It’s the crown jewel of American sporting events. Everyone knows about it. And it happens every year.

But the spectacle is exclusively American. Unlike premier events in other major sports – such as basketball’s NBA Finals or tennis’ U.S. Open – no one but North Americans know or care about it. Half of the people who watch the Super Bowl would admit they only do so for its famous commercials and the halftime show. There’s a difference, see, between an event everyone knows about and one everyone cares about.

In India, not only does everyone know about the Cricket World Cup, everyone cares.

The only single-sport event that compares to the Cricket World Cup is soccer’s FIFA World Cup. In fact, the international football tournament eclipses cricket in both number of viewers and countries in which the tournament is relevant.

But there is no other country in the world with as many people that care about one particular sport as India.

And on 2 April, India was in the final of the sport’s premier event. In Mumbai.

This was certainly going to be a home game.


It’s an eight-hour match, but I planned to keep my eyes fixated on every ball bowled. My host family had recently bought a new HD TV, and everyone in the household, including me, was engrossed in the action.

Sri Lanka wins the opening coin toss and opts to bat first. Early on, things look good for India, and they keep Sri Lanka’s total low. But Sri Lanka picks up their strike rate towards the end of their innings, and as Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene finishes Sri Lanka’s innings with a stoic “6”, winning looks like it will be a difficult task for India.

Throughout the match, Franzi and Anaïs text me, asking for explanations of what’s going on. Neither is a cricket fan. That means something. When non-sports fans are so invested in the outcome of a match, there must be something significant about its result. Cricket is on almost everyday in India, but this is not an ordinary match. Everyone is watching – even the foreigners who know nothing of yorkers, dot balls and cover drives.

This game matters.

India’s innings begins. The team’s two opening batsmen – Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, two of the world’s best cricketers – are out within the first few overs. It’s like if the Packers had lost both Aaron Rodgers and Donald Driver five minutes into the third quarter of the Super Bowl. Like the Spanish football team losing David Villa and Andrés Iniesta five minutes into the second half of the World Cup final.

Sri Lanka’s blond-dreadlocked fast bowler – Lasith Malinga – is responsible for Tendulkar’s wicket. I inform Franzi, but she’s already heard. “I really dislike this crazy hair mob guy for that!” she tells me.

For a good hour or so, an India win looks improbable. 1.2 billion people are stunned. For now, everything depends on Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, and whether they can amass the rest of the 260-some runs required to win. As the overs pass, the required rate begins to increase ominously. Kohli performs well, but then his wicket is the third to be taken.

MS Dhoni enters as Kohli’s replacement.

At that moment, the game changes.

Dhoni is the face most synonymous with Indian cricket, the face you’re most likely to see in advertisements across the country. The wicket-keeper and captain, he is arguably the most important player on the field. Cricket’s team captains are like baseball’s extinct breed of player-managers, the ones held most responsible for their team’s performance. Dhoni has made some questionable decisions in the tournament so far, but he’s led India this far. Now he has the chance to lead his team to the round of one.

He’s given himself that chance.

See, Dhoni has put himself in early. Yuvraj Singh, who would later be named MVP of the tournament, is listed ahead of Dhoni in the order, but the captain wants to be on the field with the game on the line. It’s a legal move in cricket, and a bold one.

Dhoni proceeds to lead his team to the finish line.

First with Gambhir as his partner, then with Singh, the captain plays the best innings of his life in the most important game of his life. India’s required run rate – the best measure of the feasibility of India’s win – decreases. That’s good. Soon it’s on par with the completed run rate. And then India needs just a run to win with seven balls remaining. Dhoni’s on strike.

Dhoni hits the ball high in the Mumbai air. The fans anticipate the result long before the ball lands about 12 rows deep. An entire country rises together.

Six runs. India wins the World Cup.

Franzi texts me moments later.


Me too.


I’d been rooting for India the whole time. I wanted them to win because they were my team, as much a part of my heart now as the Chicago Cubs have been for years. But I was also keen to see what the aftermath of an Indian victory would look like, and how it would compare to the celebration three days earlier after the Pakistan win.

It’s better.

Less than a minute after Dhoni’s six, I stick my head outside and just listen. The firecrackers are louder and last longer than the ones set off at Diwali. The horns I’m hearing are not car horns – the usual – but air horns squeezed for no reason but celebration. Music is being blared from so many portals I can’t discern a single song. So many people are shouting and screaming in the streets, it sounds a never-ending roar, as if all 33,000 fans in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium had been picked up and dropped blocks from our house.


My host family is watching the postgame show as intently as they watched the game. Tendulkar is being paraded around the field on his teammates shoulders, the only hole on his impressive cricket resume just having been filled. Players and coaches spray champagne, conduct interviews, and make laps around the field. The trophy is lifted into the air. I look into my host grandparents’ eyes, and they seem to be a little wet.

I go out into the street and watch the party. Standing atop a median on the corner of the intersection, I get a good view of Shankar Nagar square, grateful my height gives me an advantage over the many Indians around me. Normally one of Nagpur’s better-functioning intersections, the square has been absolutely overtaken by humanity. The scene is like the aftermath of the Pakistan win, but somehow more…complete. People aren’t holding back. Men are dancing everywhere to whatever tune is being played – in cars with open windows, standing atop motorcycles, or with both feet jumping on the ground. I pity whatever vehicles need to get through; drivers are bemoaning the fact they didn’t take a shortcut. Saket-dada disappears into the crowd somewhere, and doesn’t return until he calls for me to unlock the door at 2 a.m.

At home, we celebrate with ice cream for the second time in four nights. We watch the news, where news of celebrations similar to those in Nagpur are pouring in. The reporter in Delhi is shouting desperately above the hysterical crowd, which the videographer is having trouble shooting due to the crowd’s inability to stay still. It’s like this all over India. 1.2 billion people are rejoicing. To them, there is no better place in the world to be right now than India. And I have to agree. There is no better place to be.

As I say goodnight to my host dad that evening, I try to find some words to put the day in perspective.

“Once in a lifetime,” I tell him. “That’s all I can say.”



South Tour: Mumbai & Nagpur – It’s not “Goodbye,” it’s “See you again”

January 3, 2011

13 Dec – 14 Dec

NAGPUR: I’m trying to remember when I first fell in love with the city of Mumbai.

Was it when I walked through the train station to see the facade up front, after passing through a lobby that was the most crowded, bustling room I’d ever been in?

Was it when the skyline of the city’s downtown suddenly appeared on our bus ride in, a maze of skyscrapers sandwiched by pale blue sky and pale blue sea?

Was it when our bus pulled up between the Gateway to India and the Taj Hotel, as if one historic monument wasn’t enough for the moment?

Whatever it was, it was enough for me to seriously consider buying an I (heart) Mumbai t-shirt, although I ultimately decided to pass.

I think the consensus we reached is that Mumbai is like New York, Chicago, Miami and Toronto – like New York as a country’s metropolitan hub, like Chicago with its iconic skyline, like Miami in the glimmering marriage of city and sea, and like Toronto because…Toronto is also a big city that people know. Whatever city Mumbai most resembles, we spent our time enjoying the world’s largest city, not dreading our departure at the end of the day.

And that’s the way it should be.

Although our breakfast at the train station was probably the worst of the tour, that hardly mattered, given what we were to see that day. Our decision to skip the Elephanta Caves was a good one, as it gave us a full day to enjoy the city. Our morning was filled with great opportunities for photo ops. Both the road coming in and a park overlooking the sea provided outstanding views of Mumbai’s skyline. The Gateway of India, of course, looked great no matter where the picture was taken from.

While staring at the Taj Hotel, I was overwhelmed by poignancy as I realized what I was staring at. Saddened as I was by my memories of 26/11 and my recollection of the events from those days, I was equally inspired by the scene Wednesday – of people milling about as normal, Indians and foreigners alike. All the while the Taj Hotel stood monumental as ever, unscarred, as if nothing had ever happened 25 months before.

The rest of our afternoon was mostly spent shopping. Some of us got early starts on Secret Santa shopping, while others picked out souvenirs for themselves. We also visited a mosque at the end of a 500-meter long pier before splitting up and spending our afternoon in three separate groups. Our final four hours together were relaxing and free of obligation in one of the busiest cities in the world.

And just like that, the tour was over. One last walk back to the bus. One last group photograph. One last ride to the train station. Outside the terminal where the Indore kids were dropped, everyone from one district had a goodbye hug for their friends in the other. Some eyes were glossier than others, but I think we all agreed our goodbyes were too abrupt, and a narrow street next to heaps of trash was not the ideal setting in which to bid each other adieu.

Except it’s never “goodbye” with Rotary, they say. It’s “see you again”. When will “again” be? That’s the question.

But I know that day will come – for everyone on this tour.

Until next time, whenever that is, I have the memories inscribed in this journal to fall back on.

For me, “that day” has already come for fourteen in our tour group. For the nine others from District 3030, it came soon hereafter, as everyday practices began the next Monday for our Christmas Day presentation. For Sabrina, who left the tour early to attend a wedding in Mumbai, it came the day after the tour ended, in Nagpur. For Jordan, Amanda and Kelsey [Vermont, USA], it came about two weeks later, as they also came to Nagpur to prepare for the presentation. For RK, it was Christmas Day. For Nikolas and Hannah [Germany], it will probably come when we embark on the North Tour in February. That only leaves Sebastian and Aafreen [India], who I’ll be sure to meet on some future date.

You know home won’t be the same when you spend a month away from it.

Even though the home I came back to is my second home, halfway around the world from my first, a lot changed in the 25 days I was gone. Saket-dada, my host brother, is now staying in his hometown of Pune as he enjoys his school holidays. A new ping-pong table sits next to Jojo and Diana outside. A new rug lies upstairs, a MacBook Pro is my host dad’s new laptop, and the TV that used to sit idle in my bedroom is now featured by the dining room table.

It’s also a lot colder here, to the point that I actually wore my jacket – for five minutes. The 60-degree (F) nights will have everyone back home jealous, but here such weather is cause for two sweaters, a woolen hat, and a scarf.

Several nights, the temperature has dropped into the 40s, cause for me to wear my jacket to bed on more than one occasion. My tolerance for cold, while still higher than that of anyone I know here, is lower than it was in the US. It has dropped below freezing in parts of India, and there is snow in Kashmir.

This past week has been my vacation, not the 25 days before coming back. Because at the end of a vacation, aren’t you supposed to feel relaxed? Aren’t you supposed to be rejuvenated? Aren’t the monkeys supposed to have climbed off your back, leaving you ready to once-again face the world?

It’s because of my last week in Nagpur that I’d argue this tour was not a vacation. A departure from normal? Yes. But not a break. The only fatigue I’ve felt comparable to this is that of the first days of school breaks each year, following months of uninterrupted study. And this tour was just 25 days.

These were my thoughts as I lay in bed exhausted my first day back, my body still swaying to and fro as it had on the train, happy to finally be lying on a stable, familiar bed. You can’t make these kinds of memories in the places we did and call our tour a vacation.

That’s the best argument my mind can make right now, anyway.

As for my body, it’s too tired to argue. I’m bas.*


* – Bas is Hindi for “enough”. Although not proper Hinglish, we often used the phrase on the tour to say “I’ve had enough”.

Click to enlarge

On the digestion of Indian culture

July 31, 2010

For days I’ve been telling myself to write another blog.

I wanted to write something pithy here, like ‘Everything’s the same, despite being halfway around the world’ or ‘Everything is different because I’m halfway around the world’ or even ‘I can feel the earth spinning more quickly here.’ (I can’t, by the way.)

Then again, I’ve only spent ten days in India, and I’ve been blessed with each of the five symptoms treated by Pepto-Bismol for the last four of them. At the moment I’m completely healthy, but as I laid in bed earlier this week, I thought about what I could definitively say about India.

Here’s my pithy statement:

India overwhelms your senses.

All five of my senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch – have been in overdrive since I got here, as I’ve digested the culture both literally and figuratively.

I’ve heard mosquitoes buzzing and birds chirping. Our family’s two dogs bark, and the three parrots squawk. Chainsaws buzz next door and a man calls out prayers from the street each morning. The air-conditioner, however, always hums loudly enough to keep me asleep.

In the streets, burnt gasoline from the cars, rickshaws and scooters dominates the air. In my house I’ve encountered dozens of smells – from wafts of bug spray to the now-familiar smells in the kitchen. The nighttime air in Mumbai had a distinctive fresh smell, one shared by parts of Nagpur. Of all the senses, smell is the hardest to describe.

The food – when I can safely digest it – has been wonderful and often surprisingly similar to Western food. Not all Indian food is spicy, by the way. Unfortunately I’m not well enough versed in the food to describe it well either, but I’ve had potatoes, rice, toast, cereal and some delicious pizza. The pizza, however, has less sauce and cheese, and more fresh vegetables. Milk, tea, and juices are also very common.

But my eyes have worked harder than any other part of my body so far, even my stomach. Everywhere I look, there is competition for my attention.

People vied for my attention – arms outstretched – when I approached a currency exchange booth in Mumbai. Signs vie for my attention in the streets, each more colorful than the next – written in both Hindi and English to make sure everyone understands the meaning.

There’s no shortage of things to see: cows, motorcycles and colorful people in the street. A palm tree sits just outside my bedroom, as do a dozen other plants. Everything seems more bright than in the USA, just painted less thoroughly.

In time, this will all become ordinary, rather than overwhelming.

For now though, I’m in the process of giving my eyes, my stomach and my head some time to digest it all.


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From Nagpur, India: Blog number one

July 24, 2010

To prepare myself for my trip to India, I acclimated myself to the heat, got my medicine and my shots, read three or four books about India, talked with dozens of people about India, watched a couple movies about India, watched YouTube videos of Nagpur, ate Indian food, went to a conference with people who had been to India, listened to Bollywood music, and heck, I even started this blog about India a month and a half before I’d be there.

None of that, however, compares to actually living in India.

Never in my life have I spent time in a culture so different than that in the United States.

In America, you’ll hear honks when one driver wants to signal to another that they’ve made a mistake. In India, a honk means I’m coming through!

In America, you’ll find only cars and trucks on the roads, with bicycles and pedestrians along side it. In India, the road is shared by cars, motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, cows, dogs, goats, and pedestrians alike.

In America, indoor smells generally only come from an individual’s perfume or deodorant. In India, there is a distinct smell everywhere you go indoors and out – the exhaust from the motorcycles in the street, the incense burning in houses, or the food cooking in the family’s kitchen.

In short, there is a lot to adapt to.

My first “India” moment came immediately after our plane landed in Mumbai Wednesday night. As I approached the plane’s exit, I was expecting a walkway, just as there was in every other large airport I had arrived at in my life. Instead, I was directed down the steps and onto a bus.

Imagine the most crowded city bus you’ve ever been on in the US. Now increase the number of people by about 50 percent. That’s about how crowded our bus was. Yet no one complained. The short ride to the terminal was an ordinary one.

Welcome to India, Chris.

Several shenanigans later, my plane arrived in Nagpur. Whereas outside an American airport the size of Nagpur’s you might find a few taxis and a couple dozen people milling around, in Nagpur there were maybe 100 people crammed alongside each other behind a railing, vying for passengers’ attention as they walked to the street.

I didn’t need to worry about that, however, as the District YEO, and three members of my host family waved at me, the only young American in the vicinity with blonde hair and a pin-speckled Rotary jacket.

My host family is excellent. I live with a host dad, mom, brother, cousin, grandmother and grandfather. The family dynamic is at the crux of Indian life. Everyone has been extremely helpful and hospitable, despite my trivial foibles thus far.

I’ve had to get used to the Indian style of meals – eating with the right hand and serving with the left. The learning curve is short, however, and the food has been excellent. Each meal has roti, rice, water, and a variety of other foods – some spicy, others not. The roti is held with the right hand and used to scoop up the other food on the plate. The rice is picked up with four fingers and pushed into the mouth with the thumb. There is no silverware, except a spoon to spread jam on the bread in the morning.

All that said, Indian life has its similarities to Western culture as well. I have air-conditioning and house fans, use a Western-style bathroom, and watching TV is a popular form of entertainment. I have opportunities to rest each day. My bed is comfortable. I am safe. I am healthy. I am happy. I have adapted.

My internet is slow, so on most days this will be the only website I check. I will post as often as I can without spending too much time online. If you have questions, please ask them right here. You know what you want to know better than I do.

Until next time.


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