Im not a cricket fan. I know the sport, because I'm an Indian. You cannot call yourself an Indian if you dont know the game. It's in our blood. But like me, there are some who are allowed to find the sport tedious. Oh so tedious. But being a continent away from home, the city that houses Sachin Tendulkar, stirs up a passion in the sport you'd otherwise ignore. To break it down: Living in the UK has taught me many things about myself, but most of all, it taught me a love of cricket and an understanding to why it's my nation's passion and in its prayers. The morning of the final, my significant other's heavy metal alarm started ringing at an hour where light hadnt really made an appearance. For a change, he put it off himself, and frantically started typing on his iPhone. Instead of kicking him, telling him to go to sleep or just flat-out ignoring him, I found myself asking, from the sincerest part of my half-asleep brain, "Who won the toss?" It didnt occur to me that he could have been checking something else. It was day of the final. And it was being played in our home. He couldnt have been checking anything else. It didnt even occur to me that cricket is not normally something that would emerge from my almost-unconscious. This game was more to me than just a World Cup. The passion of the sport exuded enough energy to tie me back to home. London has many virtues and I love it with all my heart. But it comes nowhere close to the energy of India, something that makes me wilt on even the most perfect of London days. When we stepped out of the house, it was one of those most perfect of London days - where people wriggle their shoulders in the sunshine, the daffodils are dancing, and scores of Indian students are grinning all over the streets, the colours of the flag painted on their faces. We found ourselves in a basement bar, where the flag emblazoned the walls as well as the faces of strangers+friends who like us, had come to spend a good many hours alternating between pumping our fists and swearing. We spoke to friends. We laughed at the Sri Lankans. We drank Coke. We drank beer. We painted our faces. We checked out the opposite sex. We laughed at the ads. We cheered. We cursed. And all of us, all the time, prayed that we would win. For Sachin, for his last World Cup. I dont believe in religion, but I do believe in Sachin. His name means pure. He is our national treasure, the cleanest one we own. If you belong to India, you belong to the Republic of Sachin. It's that simple. When we won, and my significant other lifted me up, I laughed at him from the air, from a blurry haze of blissful faces. As I twirled air-fully in his arms, I felt the burdens of bad news from home, the job market and the looming dissertation leaving my shoulders. Just for today, I would let it go. As Sachin was carried around the pitch, we all stood and bellowed the national anthem. It will forever be the kind of miracle you'd never be able to comprehend. Most of us had been born&brought up abroad, with international schooling under our belt. We hadnt been forcefed the national anthem from birth. We barely KNEW the national anthem. We could hum it, yes. Sing it, probably not so well. But somehow, from this yearning, patriotic and homesick part of us, the beautiful song came to our lips, and we sang loudly; strong in our heartfelt victory for our country. That night, as we watched from my significant others window, fireworks lit the sky above my beautiful friend, the River Thames. We were sending a message to home, us Indians a continent away. We were sending our painful regret at not being there, and a heartfelt joy&relief acknowledgment, that no-one, could be as happy as the billions of Indians scattered across the planet at that moment. Indians of the Republic of Sachin slept well that night. If they slept at all.
Some months ago, I found myself in a personal slump. One of those unfortunate situations where nothing was really going wrong, but nothing was really going right either. So I walked the streets of Kingston, chainsmoking and desperately looking for some kind of answer. Clarity falling from the skies would have been greatly appreciated. Instead, I found myself staring at a poster for London Jazz Festival month. A beautiful festival that would begin at my local theatre with a John Etheridge showcase in a few days time. These were all signs. What else could it be?
So I clutched at this straw. Jazz would save me, like it had so many times before. I considered going alone, but the more I heard about the magic that was Etheridge, the more I realised that would be selfish. So I took my oldest friend and my newest friend, the latter who would soon become my significant other i.e. if we ever fight, I will blame Etheridge.
There three of us stood, in the rain, waiting for it to start - The Jazz Geek (me), The Metal Head (The New Friend - TNF) and The I-Love-Music-So-As-Long-As-I-Have-A-Good-Time-It's-Cool-Person (The Old Friend - TOF). I spent a few moments worrying about the grief I'd have to suffer if they both hated it, but before I could really do or say anything about it, we were sprawled on wooden steps, waiting for it to start.
I was right. Etheridge saved me. As soon as he started with a cover of Miles Davis' classic "Doxy", I felt waves of uncertainty and the burdens of personal disaster leaving my shoulders. Clarity crept into my freezing toes, and for the first time in weeks, I didnt worry or wonder about "what-if's" and "whys and wheres".
After a few songs had been performed, I ventured hesitant peeks at TNF & TOF sitting next to me, and I breathed even easier. TNF sat in silent concentration, enjoyment and understanding washing over the planes of his face with an occasional comment about how beautiful Etheridge's guitars were. TOF spent the entire evening whispering "Thats amazing, did you hear what he just did?" over and over again.
Im not saying that Etheridge saved me to the extent that my slump was resolved overnight. But his music and his humour cleared my head and replaced hyperventilation with steady breaths. A few days later I found myself calm enough to resolve my slump on my own, and I endured the loss by purchasing "Doxy" as a single and driving my flatmates crazy by keeping it on repeat for days.
When I started growing immune to the powers of "Doxy", again I found myself walking the streets of Kingston. This time with a friend who had uncovered secrets of Kingston streets that he was more than willing to share with me. So in the bitter cold, down lanes and through alleys, we walked.
And reached Collector's Records. I've been in love before. With friends, with men, with books, with albums. This is the first time I've fallen in love with a store. Records in racks and shelves and turntables to play them on before you decide to own them. We stayed till almost-closing time, discovering, exclaiming and placing on turntables. I left with Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel and more, tucked under my arm, beautifully preserved in their original vinyl selves - the second best thing to owning them as people, in my opinion. And they cost me less than a pack of cigarettes would have.
I may be immune to the powers of Doxy by now (thanks to my own excessive listening), but I'll always remember it as the song that healed me. Even years later if I find it in pristine vinyl on a dusty shelf in a dingily beautiful record store.
My favourite part of London is how almost everyday is a burst of bibliomaniac joy.
Its the small stuff, like having manic 10 hour classes, and running home to grab a few hours of shut-eye before another class at 8pm, only to be kept awake by doors slamming and loud laughing from the kitchen, only to slam my door open to lose my temper at whomever I see first, to find that a flatmate has wedged a whole pile of packages from Amazon under my door. For me, me, me.
Its the big stuff, like trudging sleepily in the rain in my pajama's to get some coffee, only to find my tattered copy of "Howl" that I'd given up tearfully for lost, placed next to the coffee machine, with a post-it saying, "I dont know which building you're in, but I see you hovering around here all the time, so I thought this would be the best place to return it. I hope you actually find this, and if you're not you, then sod off, this doesn't belong to you"
And then its the truly perfect stuff, like becoming an accidental and active participant of BookCrossing.
I'd heard of BookCrossing in one of my first Publishing classes, where 60-odd book geeks including myself, gathered to talk about how reading is a community - a dying community in some respects, but for those who love to read, an exciting community nonetheless.
BookCrossing, essentially, is the "the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise." I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard of, and it gave me, and the other people sitting around me, goosebumps just thinking about it. We all told our professor, that it sounded almost too good to be true, and it was probably just one of those things, like the Tooth Fairy, who you truly believe is real, just because you want to believe it, when deepdown, you know its a parent who is the real Tooth Fairy. She nodded wisely, and said, "Wait and see, you won't see it coming"
And then, a few days ago, I got onto a bus and sat on a book. I hardly ever do this, since books are my personal God and religion, and well, you don't normally sit on your God. When I got up, it was a much worn copy of "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop", which is one of those books you've always thought you should read, but it was either out of stock, or too expensive, and along the journey of all the other books you've wanted painfully, you sort of pushed it at the back of your mind. On the book, was a note stapled to the cover, "Read this and pass it on" and on the title page, were the initials of all the people who'd read it and the dates they'd found it.
I forgot I had a tottering pile of textbooks to wade through by the next day, forgot that I had groceries to buy, food to cook, laundry to do, trash to take out. I forgot social commitments and Skype dates. I forgot that it was raining and that my heater wasn't working and I was, to put it mildly, freezing. I forgot about Stoner Sam and his Stonery Sammy ways. I had been crossed with a book and nothing else mattered.
I passed it on last night. I left it on a table at the cafe I usually frequent. Before I left, the proprietor grinned at me and said, "You've picked prime property there, honey. That book knows that table well"
That book, knows more people and places than I do. And Im grateful I got to know it, and that it has KM 4-10-2010 permanently embedded in its pages.
Note: A very Appy Birday to the old man of the blog, Harry from WetheUs and well, everyone who reads us etc.