(Published in Indian Express on April 30th 2010 under title of Indian Tamasha League)
By Sanjay Jha
Dad, I know who is going to win the finals today, said my daughter , her countenance betraying some apparent hidden knowledge far beyond what her thirteen years could potentially possess. No you don’t , I said, dismissing her with the same casual flourish with which the IPL Commissioner promised to swat the erstwhile Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor. She was as adamant as newly crowned teenagers usually are; I know who is going to win. Everyone is saying it. Yes, really? Who and how did you figure that one out ? It’s fixed, dad. You should be knowing. Those are just silly rumors, I said , quickly feigning indifference and moved on, but I am extremely compelled to revisit the mood and the moments of just a few weeks ago.
I have never been the IPL sort so had stubbornly resisted the occasionally susceptible urge to go and see the trapeze act and confirm its intrinsic absurdity . It helped that the Y 2008 first edition matches were held at Wankhede stadium, a collapsing monstrosity with an insufferable choke. In that famous cricket abode if you left your precious seat on account of an emergency call from nature, by the time you returned a different posterior would claim to be its legitimate title holder. Seat numbers were purely numbers on printed tickets. The IPL 2 was in any case abruptly transported to distant South Africa and making a peregrination to watch a 3 hour extravaganza was not sufficient motivation enough to undertake a 8 hour flight . But IPL 3 was back in familiar territory, better still it was made abundantly accommodating for us as it was being held in the Cricket Club of India of whom one was fortunately a member. An evening date with IPL seemed like a tantalizing possibility courtesy a celestial design. I yet resisted it.
But IPL’s marketing mantra was clearly working and my tennis-playing , football-watching daughter called me up and said—Dad, can I go for the IPL match this week-end? For the branded purist in cricketing terms that was sacrilege. The ultimate transgression. But she was going with a whole bunch of equally excited school chums so the blasphemy angle was promptly discarded. And that became a convenient excuse for me to experience the dreaded poison. Escorting my daughter assuaged my guilty-conscience. As I walked into CCI that first day I trembled momentarily , feeling like a hypocrite who condemned the underwear version publicly but had still sneaked in to watch the side show, no matter how contemptible.
At first, what hit me like a hard sock was the maddening noise sustained efficiently at high decibel levels throughout the match. The cheerleaders initial fancy seemed to have abated somewhat even though they danced vigorously to Bollywood tunes and everyone shook in tandem. Every time there was a dull session ( meaning not a single six in an over) the DJs would punctuate the “terrible boredom” with a typical ear-splitting truck horn, and like in the famous Pablovian experiment the crowd would respond with an equally loud incoherent cheer. The advertising sideboards flashed in modern-day digital mode, brightly colored lights frequently shuffling between sponsor brands. The giant score board flashed ads during the over itself , and during action replay one could see players check their acrobatic calisthenics on it with a satisfied smug. Intermittently, giant lights flashed on and off for no perceptible reason as if to remind us that electric power supply was a national priority. When the match got over, it was like a Diwali firecrackers display that nobody really cared for.
The Mexican wave usually started from the vociferous East Stands , after a few aborted attempts. That’s where the wild East exists maybe , pervaded by raging enthusiasm which had a contagious multiplier effect, but by the time the undulating wave reached the more stuffed –up far pavilions consisting of the glitterati sort it rapidly fizzled out . My daughter and I exchanged SMSs ( she was in the family stand ) .She was enjoying herself and the Mexican arm-movements.
The DJs raised a huge crescendo announcing , Mumbai, do you want a six? The crowd yelled –Yes, in a brilliantly coordinated chorus. And often I suspected the bowler patiently awaited the DJs cues before running in to bowl. The synchronicity is palpably professional and could embarrass Broadway musical choreographers. Cricket is not just innocuous entertainment in IPL it is like a Roman gladiator show on a giant 70 mm screen , satisfying the bloodthirsty urge of pleasure-seekers wanting ruthless destruction from the willow. Only sixes will do. As Kieron Pollard hammered one hapless soul into abject submission , the stadium burst into wild celebrations and paroxysms of derisive laughter.
The IPL also has an ingenious device to keep everyone on the tenterhooks of fleeting fame , as TV cameras carry that ubiquitous ability to transplant anyone onto the giant screen at short notice .Almost everyone secretly hopes to be there briefly overshadowing Sachin Tendulkar’s frame. The lottery element is clearly a visceral element of IPL involving even the spectators. The strategic time-outs are ostensibly to take a quick drinks-break from the official supplier in the surly summer heat , as one does not see much animated confabulation other than an occasional huddle; it is like a quick bio-break in the middle of a flashy presentation.
In the distinguished members enclosure in CCI , the aroma of fresh vegetables squeezed amidst blue cheese and garlic mayonnaise in Subway sandwiches dominated French perfume . Everyone suddenly appeared hugely gluttonous and possessing a gargantuan appetite. People moved gingerly balancing cans of beer in their forearms. Middle-aged couples with protruding paunches shook involuntarily to the latest chartbusters while the demographic dividend crowd exchanged SMS’s sitting next to each other. Others blew franchise –branded horns, waved flags and had several curse them from behind for causing obstruction. Everyone looked everywhere but at the cricket pitch, where attention was diverted only when the bowler ran in to bowl. I guess everyone had concluded that field placements in IPL is a superfluous arrangement. In fact, most seemed more glued to TV sets placed strategically to ensure that they did not miss if Shah Rukh Khan decided to drop in for a casual visit. Usually all dismissals were first spotted there than on the field right in front . IPL clearly is a high-energy evening party for a new elitist cricketing class who are willing to spend even more than they do in multiplex theatres. Over and over again.
Thus, I ended up watching lanky Saurabh Tiwary do some serious collateral damage this season. After the first few games, I felt a sense of ennui and forced exhilaration , but I may have been a solitary figure out here. I couldn’t care less though. . I had conceded partial defeat to the oversold commercial logic that IPL was genuine consumer demand being professionally satiated by franchise owners. Since my daughter was happy, I had reluctantly agreed to a hasty compromise of sorts. If IPL was indeed a reality of our times, so be it, and frankly, how did my opinion matter?
But then just as suddenly the Kochi franchise auction chaos happened. Modi twittered. A Minister resigned, USD 50 million kick-backs was alleged, IT raids followed, slush money trails , conflict of interest, shameless profiteering , political involvement, and bitter squabbles became the new evening distraction. Then someone uttered the words betting syndicate, and before long the dreaded shadow of match-fixing made its appearance after a decade in hibernation.
This Monday morning following the final IPL match the night before , my daughter went to school after having watched all of Mumbai Indians local matches at CCI over the past few weeks, bunking tuitions, missing play practise, sleeping late-nights and following Tiwary’s heroics, not wanting to know if they won the final.