Monday, March 21, 2016

Bharat Mata Ki Jai

On the day of the India Pakistan T 20 match on 19th March 2016, we had a most unusual, and in retrospect, pleasant experience.

As is the norm, a backstory. I have watched several sporting encounters – be they soccer matches between countries, Rugby matches, Formula 1, even cricket – being televised in bars and pubs out of India. The hallowed Bombay Gymkhana is also where I have watched televised sporting encounters. This has a charm of its own. Passions can be high. When watching Rugby or Soccer, the sight and sound of the hundreds of spectators singing “You Will Never Walk Alone” or “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” or “Auld Lang Sang” or “Waltzing Matilda” has always been deeply emotional for me. Often the emotion was so much that I had wiped away that errant tear that rolled down my cheek and maintained a stiff upper lip, I wondered, when we in India would have a similar sense of, dare I use the word – Nationalism or patriotism?

Let’s face it, rarely, if ever, do we, as in the spectators, sing the National Anthem at sporting events. At times we heard shouts of “Ganpati Bappa Morya” coming through the television, but, frankly, at the cost of being guilty of blasphemy, that really does not have the same emotional appeal of 10000 spectators singing in unison.

I have written about the The Irish House pub that has opened a very close to home. This has become a favourite with us. Importantly, during the unconditional Happy Hours from 5 pm to 8 pm every evening you get drinks at half price, and thankfully, the music has become softer. When we were there for a quick tipple on Thursday, the staff asked if we would like to see the India Pakistan T 20 match on 19th March 2016 at the Irish House. So, on the 19th we strolled down to Irish House. The place was packed with happy, young people who, obviously had similar ideas. Mind you the match was delayed by an hour because of rain. We were given a place to sit, ordered our drinks and soaked in the atmosphere.

As I said happy, people all around. Many foreigners who were quite oblivious to what was going to enfold. As match time neared the crowds kept coming in. The place was heaving with the crush of humanity.

Then, the telecast started and it was like a flame had been lit in the bar. The atmosphere suddenly turned electric. Sachin Tendulkar came and spoke and the bar erupted with chants of ‘Saaachiiin Saaachiiin’. I was astounded. This was followed by wild applause when Amitabh Bachchan came and spoke. I was fairly surprised at this reaction from the punters in the bar.

What followed was, to me, staggering.

Amitabh Bachchan started to sing the Indian National Anthem. Mind you this was on Television being relayed from Kolkata. One cue, every single person in the bar stood up and a few sang along. The sound of Amitabh’s voice over the speakers in the bar was completely and totally drowned out by the vigorous, robust and hearty chorus of “Jaya He Jaya He” that the people in the bar shouted. This was followed by an enthusiastic loud and long round of applause by the punters. This was deeply emotional. I had a welter of thoughts and emotions. I was at the same time, proud and strangely embarrassed. I had never seen this kind of reaction – well I lie - I had seen it once at the Wagah Border but that was so utterly filmi that I was disgusted. There was no filmi backdrop, no `Rang De Basanti Chola’ and `Mere Desh Ki Dharti’ no homilies from Her Ladyship the Hon’ble Pratibha Rani. This was pure unabashed nationalism or patriotism.

No, I did not shed a tear. But, I was deeply affected by this reaction of people. People who are like me - westernised, drinkers, living in one of the most expensive areas of Mumbai, in a bar - all of whom, I would think, like Kiran Rao [Khan], harbour thought of fleeing, suddenly being caught in this nationalism or patriotism.

In the end, India won. In the end, if there is one thing that has changed in Mumbai among the rich and the sophisticates it a feeling of nationalism or patriotism.

And I am glad.

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