It was my kids’ hairdresser in India that said it first to me – that life during the time of FIFA world cup could be challenging for him. Watching how non-comprehensive I was of that, he explained further. “People, especially teenagers and young adult boys – want all sort of hairstyles, and this is the time when I need to update myself to make sure that I can meet their unreal expectations”. I was amused to hear this, however left it as is. Next turn was of my friend’s, a freelance theatre person. He said he is waiting for the world cup to be over for his actors to come back to their rehearsal sessions. A few such testimonies later, I realised how the FIFA world cup plays a huge role in the everyday lives of the inhabitants of my homeland Kerala.
Being part of a country that crashed out in the second round of qualifiers in the 2018 world cup, the pertinent question is as to why there is so much of interest still. Some may state that we are being prisoners of nostalgia and the loyalty of the most to the good old heroes Brazil and Argentina themselves serve as the proof for that. The large hoardings and flexes that support Brazil, Argentina and so forth in pretty much every village/ town centres were a feast for the eyes; though not very environment friendly. (I have recently noted that High Court judges have alerted the state Government of Kerala on the environmental issues these increased number of flexes may cause – so it might become a thing of the past in the years to come).
Keralites are known to be a news hungry community who like to read voraciously and develop learned opinions on everything under the sun. The spirit of the world cup could be something related – there is no way a Malayali can sit still while the whole world is fired up about a game. I recollect a friend telling me quite a while ago, that she learnt to locate the countries on the world map following the ones that play in the world cup. The fact that the spirit stood its ground even when the game of cricket engulfed the whole nation is something amazing. I always wonder, would any of these football heroes – Neymar from Brazil, Messi from Argentina or Ronaldo from Portugal (these are most worshipped footballers in Kerala currently) – know that they are superstars in an Indian state that spreads over some 38,000 odd square kilometers?
Living in Sydney for the past decade, I had kind of lost track with the world cup games as the life overshadowed the privilege of enjoying the games. These pleasant memories poured back in, by being in Kerala this world cup season. Below are what I recollected / found astounding in the FIFA world cup football season amidst the pouring monsoons in 2018,
- Games of soccer in the muddy puddles; in every nook and corner
- Even amidst a state-wide flood that claimed a few lives, there was no cutback in the enthusiasm.
- Communal arrangements to watch the games – the gatherings in local libraries become fashionable once again, when people stay up late to watch the game on a common TV screen. The small food joints around the area flourish too, catering to the regular requirement of black tea/ coffee and snacks, right until midnight and during early mornings.
- The best icebreaker in every conversation is about the game, of course at the risk of potential heated discussions.
- ESPN broadcasted the commentary in only 3 languages in India – English, Hindi and Malayalam, and the most entertaining of these is the Malayalam one, thanks to the animated style of the commentator – Shaiju Damodaran. Anand Mahindra’s tweet was the best example – “Ok that’s it. I’m switching to this channel with commentary in Malayalam. No, I don’t understand the language but I don’t need to—these guys are so pumped up they make the English & Hindi commentators sound tame!”
- Every cloth shop sells jerseys – at least Brazil’s and Argentina’s!
- If you are travelling, you are bombarded with info on the world cup as the FM radios are abuzz with trivia about the same.
- There is only one hip topic – of which team you support. Religion, caste and creed – none of those polarisations exist!
- The most upmarket restaurants were adorned with the jerseys and flags – it was an unmissable trend.
- Abundance of larger than life size figurines of the football favourites were available to click selfies with!
- One of the restaurants I went to even had a football inspired menu!
I am not much of a sports buff. But it indeed was a pleasure to immerse myself in this festival of diversity after a long time. Whilst the migrant power has been emphasised in this season, particularly after France won the game with a team that is claimed to be of 80% African and 50% Muslim players; there is no denying that this is a game that taught a community the power of diversity and true multiculturalism.
Or for that matter, isn’t this why the whole world looks forward to this global festival that happens in every 4 years?