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Memories of watching cricket in India circa 1983

by Bored Guest

Watching the finals on June 25 1983 on an incipient Indian TV network is one of the most defining moments in the history of my generation in India. For a few months, we Indians were on top of the world. That euphoria, however, did not last long. The West Indians came to India immediately after the World Cup finals and inflicted the most gut wrenching sequence of losses in a series of matches on Indian soil. Both the highs and lows of that year were televised.

Things were much different back then. Cricket was not as commercial as it is today and the biggest checks the cricketers got were from endorsing assorted shaving products, clothing lines and an occasional mail order English teaching course and looked to steady government jobs to support them during the off-season. The billions of dollars for broadcast rights were unheard of and the only source for watching cricket was the government's public broadcasting channel called Door-Darshan. It was the dawn of television in India and the color broadcast had been introduced only the year before in 1982 to showcase the Asian games held in Delhi. The TV craze had finally reached a stage where the first TV showroom (an entire store selling TVs!) opened in our little town. Being from a lower middle class family with little disposable income and no particular interest in early technology adaption, we relied on accommodating neighbors to watch TV.

We lived in a typical middle class Hindu locality with a few pockets of wealth clearly marked by freshly installed antenna on the roofs. Arrival of the TV upended the social hierarchy in the neighborhood. The earlier caste based superiority inherent in our society now seemed secondary to the social cache that came with owning TVs. Previously, the stereotypes based on caste and sub-caste were taken for granted as matters of fact than prejudice and never allowed to interfere with daily life in the neighborhood. The Brahmins felt superior to their merchant class neighbors but were not about to stop borrowing sugar from them. The merchant family who considered their Brahmin Math teacher neighbor to be uncouth for treating his wife as an untouchable for a few days a month nevertheless sent their daughters to him for Math coaching classes. All that changed with TV. People who would drop everything and babysit us, would now demand that we be picked back before the 7:30 PM Hindi soap opera started. The TV owners started displaying caste based favoritism reflected in who was invited to watch the weekly Hindi movie on Sunday evenings. My parents associated arrival of TV with the decline of society and refused anything to do with it.

As children we never let these differences deter us from gaining access to a home with TV. We barged into any home that allowed us in. Over time, we mapped out the TV landscape in the neighborhood and rated the homes on hospitality index. We never crossed out the neighborhood grinches from the list as they served as essential back-ups in case of electricity failure. We had a thorough understanding of the local electrical grid system and mastered the pattern of rolling blackouts imposed by the city's electricity department to predict with utter certainty the best house to watch TV at any given time. We also became privy to critical information such as the fact that although Sheshadris and the Joshis shared a wall, their electrical supply was controlled by two separate transformers, which meant that they were never in danger of being out of power at the same time. For us gaining entry into one house, though it did not guaranty automatic entry to the other in case of a black-out, improved statistically, our ability to watch uninterrupted cricket. An ability to climb roofs and fix intransigent antennae become indispensable during windy days and gained us entry into a grateful home.

Among a few houses with TVs in the immediate neighborhood, there was only one home with a brand new color TV and obviously the best ticket in town. A cement merchant, Mr Builda had imported a Sony TV just in time to watch the world cup cricket. Although the Buildas were neighbors, intimidating differences in wealth, social status and his spoiled children prevented us from seeking routine entrance into their home. His oldest son Gopal had pioneered a metered entry system which he gleefully implemented during cricket games. At any given moment, he would allow two people from the teeming masses waiting outside the compound walls into his house to sit by the shoe stand and watch TV. A sociopath in making, Gopal, would then arbitrarily decide that the chosen pair was no longer suitable for that day's TV viewing and boot them out. He would then walk back to the compound wall and pick another pair of equally eager and sniveling youth ready to sit by the door and enjoy a few minutes of pure cricketing joy in color. The humiliation was not worth the excitement but the lure of color was irresistible.

The alternatives were less exciting but less humiliating as well. There was Mr Deshpande and his 21" TV with a gritty screen which had a serious issue with the vertical hold control (which steadied the picture in the vertical direction), making it appear as if we were watching the game on panels drawn on an ancient scroll. The V-hold knob had to be finely positioned and held by hand to ensure image stability. Unfortunately for few of us, that meant taking turns standing behind the TV during the game. The geniuses who had designed the TV had thought the best place for the knob was in the panel behind the cathode ray tube.

A few streets down, Mr Sathkhed owned one of the earliest indigenous TVs made by the government owned EC TV company. The 21" TV came ensconced in fine wood panelling. Mr Sathkhed, a physics professor at the local college, had covered the screen with a blue transluscent plastic shield. According to his deep understanding of physics, this shield was supposed to protect us from the harmful rays of the TV. We were not sure it worked but it definitely made the game appear as if it was played on Pandora.

Then there was the tiny 15" TV at Rao's. The Raos were nice folks and our immediate neighbors always allowing any number of people into their living room to watch the game. The only problem was getting through Mr Rao's aging mother who always sat by the door in her wooden chair chewing paan and positioned herself as the official gatekeeper of the household. Her criterion for allowing children into her son's home was simple. She would cast a scrutinizing eye on the salivating horde at the door and inquire the last names of the assembled; Joshis, Deshpandes, Kulkarnis and other assorted Brahmin last names were met with polite approval and ushered inside. The rest of us, whose last names gave away our lowly pedigree, swallowed our pride and waited patiently trying to catch the attention of Mr Rao and circumvent the old dragon at the gates of hell.

The final option was the 21" TV at Mr Patil's home. Here the stars aligned perfectly for me. We were of the same caste, and Mr Patil was the nicest person known to man and his house had a sprawling living room able to seat 15 people comfortably. But the demands of the cricket season ensured there were at least three times as many people at any given time. Watching cricket at Mr Patil's house was not for those with weak bladders. The concept of re-entry did not exist in that house. A seat relinquished to attend the nature's call was quickly filled by someone else who had prepared well for the 8 hour stretch.

On the day of the World Cup final, 25th June 1983, I walked by Mr Builda's house and saw Gopal in his element trying to lord over the sea of people assembled by his house. I quickly headed to Mr Patil's house where I spent rest of the afternoon till my bladder-control failed me and ended up at Mr Deshpande's which left me with severe headache. By the Innings break, India had put up a paltry 183 runs in the sixty overs making the game a foregone conclusion even in the minds of hardcore Indian fans. The West Indies innings started with a quick wicket but the arrival of King Richards changed the game. A gloom settled on the crowd at Deshpande’s as Richards dismantled the Indian attack and I shuffled out dejected, heading home to get dinner and sleep, hoping to wake up to a miracle. On my way home I passed by Mr Rao’s house. As I turned the corner, I saw his mother sitting by the door in her usual position. Something in me snapped that day, the days of humiliation suffered at her hands bubbled up and with nothing to lose, I decided to act. It was time to confront the bigoted old woman and tell her that in this modern era, cricket was more than religion and caste and that all men were created equal and cricket did not care whether you were a Brahmin or an Untouchable. I wanted to drag her in and show her the example of the Indian team made of Hindus, Muslims and Christians all playing side by side.

I stood in front of her in anticipation of her question and she did not disappoint, squinting her eyes to inquire if my pedigree was suitable enough to be allowed inside. As I prepared to confront her, I heard a loud noise from the living room with the three words an Indian cricket fan had been waiting to hear “Richards is out!” This was the catch that changed the game, the Indian captain running a long distance while looking back to catch the arcing mishit from Richards. This was the miracle everyone was hoping for and I had missed it. Time was short and I needed to act quickly before the replays ended. I puffed up my chest drew in my breath and blurted that I was son of Mr Joshi, the Brahmin priest, from the next street over. The revolution could wait for another day.

Her failing eyesight and the noises around me worked in my favor. I was allowed in with a gentle pat on my back. I went in ashamed at myself for being a turncoat for a couple of hours of entertainment. But the guilt was soon forgotten as the last West Indies wicket fell and the jubilant Indian team ran back to the pavilion. We all cried tears of joy and hugged each other that night, Joshis and Jogikalmaths, Patils and Raos, setting aside our petty differences. On that night there was only one set of gods to worship, the eleven men in pajamas.

by Gangadhar Jogikalmath

13 comments:

Naked Cricket said...

Welcome on bored Gangadhar. Wata trip.

Golandaaz said...

Super!!

Vidooshak said...

Awesome....I too remember the days when we acquired our new Videocon color TV. Given our govt subsidized world every neighbor in the colony had the same type of TV. When we discovered that we could use any remote on any TV, the mayhem we created by switching off people's TV's through their living room windows was worth it...

Govind Raj said...

A nice trip down the memory lane. I too have many stories of TVmiliation in the early days of TV. Being from a small town in south Karnataka, we didn't have TV in 1983. It was all Radio commentary. TV came in 1986 and our first taste was the shattering Miandad six at Sharjah !

This also coincided with our visiting the TV homes or loitering outside the windows for those lateral glimpses.

Great story Gangadhar !

straight point said...

ripper...

Bhaskar Khaund said...

Wow , I felt i was in Malgudi ! And the writing was nothing less than Mr. RKN. Fantastic read and superb stuff Gangadhar , shall look forward to more !
Btw , i seem to recall that there was a transmission break in the 83Finals , perhaps for News or something, bcos of which we missed the WI middle order collapse , including king viv's legendary dismissal. when it resumed they were 7 down or something...is that right ? anybody else recall this ?

Bhaskar Khaund said...

My favourite / most resonant words in the whole piece was "Vertical Hold"". When did we last hear it ? it's like a word you've forgotten all your long life and one fine day , it pops up PHATAAK ! n u remember your past 7 lives in flashback or something... :)

Anonymous said...

Sachin now sings, watch this...


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0U28o-9BSE

crownish said...

wow, how lucky is my espn generation?!

great read GJ!

Anonymous said...

wow.............

John said...

FANTASTIC! Article better than Kapil's catch.

Jayne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jayne said...

Superb stuff - I've shared it on Facebook. For anyone who remembers who has the first "X" in their neighbourhood, with a glimpse of India in the early 1980s and, of course, cricket!