Friday, 12 March 2021
Sunday, 6 December 2020
"Diego Armando Maradona", said my history teacher, on a chilly December morning, talking about football as that was the morning topic of discussion, "was the best ever and will always be the best ever". This was the first time I had heard of his name. Us students were used to this grumpy Arsenal fan ranting about old players. The school had always been decidedly Manchester United and he had at times thrown names like Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, combined with words like best and greatest, to sway some of the students to the side of the Gunners. I had always sympathized with him, waging a war against a bunch of hooligan supporters of a sad football club who were drunk on their own success. "United will fall off their perch, just like Liverpool did", he said. And so it was all the more surprising when he mentioned a name that was not of an ex-Arsenal player.
Growing up, football was not something we cared about. We were cricket nerds, memorizing boring statistics to use during lunch debates. Sachin was the greatest ever. We had heard of Pele, the model player, liked by everyone and who won Brazil the world cup as an 18 year old. My earliest memories of a FIFA World Cup were watching the highlights of the 2002 World Cup. Football was absolutely alien to us born in a cricket mad country, and yet utterly fascinating. We saw people from countries we had only heard about - countries like Denmark and Sweden, Trinidad and Senegal. And yet, once the world cup ended, we forgot all about football. It was only after 4 years that we noticed football again. This time all the news was about a bald French player called Zidane. Everybody said that he was carrying the French to the finals. My brother and I were not allowed to watch the final, as our father refused to let us stay awake past our bedtime, instead watching the match alone and telling us in the morning that Zidane had head-butted an Italian player and got sent off. Wow! Did we regret not watching it live! By 2010, we had immersed ourselves in the footballing culture. Video games meant that we started enjoying football more and everyone in school had chosen a club, most of them Manchester United.
Back to that December morning and as we were listening to our teacher talk about the greatness of Diego, we realized he was talking about his journey to football. He had elaborately described the 1986 world cup and those two famous goals. He talked about how he, as a 10 year old boy, was listening on the radio the next day about this Argentine player who had dribbled past 8 players to score a goal. And that is when I realized that he was not just talking about Maradona or how great a player he was. He was talking about how this short man from Argentina had introduced the world of football to him. It was his story of playing football in his childhood, on the streets of Kerala, dreaming of winning the world cup, just like Maradona had done. Maradona's goals were not mere statistics, they were history itself , an epiphany, an almost spiritual awakening for the non Europeans. To this day, Argentina is loved by people all over the world because of Maradona. He was a short diminutive brown man, who bested the white man at his own game. His story had captivated and inspired millions of people like my history teacher. Our teacher subtly did not mention anything about Maradona's history with drugs or other run-ins with authorities.
And as he finished talking, one could almost see a sense of pride in his eyes. He had done his bit in keeping the legend of Diego Maradona alive. He had baptized a bunch of teenagers to the church of Maradona. By the next week, somebody had downloaded videos of his goals from YouTube and sent them to everyone. It was already part of the collections of "great goals" videos.
They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and the second, a bit later on, when somebody mentions your name for the last time. Maradona's story will be told a thousand times over. And for that reason Maradona remains immortal.
Sunday, 20 September 2020
Yesterday I found the blog of an old friend, someone I last saw years ago. I haven't talked to for her around 3 years now. Reading her blog took me down the memory lane. I was a different person back then. I was younger, optimistic, healthier and happier. I was also a student with very little money. It was nice to reminisce about a simpler time in my life. I also thought about my friend. If I had met her now, I am not so sure she would be a friend, probably just a pleasant acquaintance. She and I are very different. And that made me wonder, how many of the relationships we have in our life are just because some people are there at a particular moment. That friend in school you grew close to because they too hated maths. Or that college roommate who was allotted the same dorm by chance. Maybe it is not just our friends. Maybe the career or education that we are so proud of is also a product of coincidences.
It also made me wonder, how easy is was to make friends when I was younger. I think if I had met that shy coworker who sits on the opposite desk some years back, we would be very good friends. Or the guy next door who annoys everyone on the floor by leaving his beer bottles outside his door. He is not very different from some of college friends.
As I basked in the glory of my very unremarkable observations, I thought about the friend who I had lost touch with. I remember the first time we got our salaries and went out to celebrate. We had tried sushi and realised that everybody who said they loved sushi were lying. Nobody wants to be the weirdo who hates sushi. People gobble up raw fish, so that they are not social outcasts. Our eventual dinner was "pav bhaji" from a roadside stall. Would she be stunned to know that I loved sushi now? Or had she strangled her free spirit too, by stuffing herself with raw fish?
I wanted to know. I was hopeful. I thought about reaching out to her. But somehow I couldn't. I have a photograph of the night, when she and I tried to eat sushi. We were young and hopeful. We had talked all night about life, love, philosophy and our dreams. And that's the memory I wanted to preserve.
Old Friends by Simon & Garfunkel