I’m inducted into the creed of cricket and cringe as bandits attack; I’m thanked with pink icing and farewelled with pork.
As well as power cuts and oppressive heat, summer brought the 76-match IPL cricket series. The Indian Premiere League is apparently the second-highest paid sporting association after the NBA. Players earn on average US$4 million per year and teams have been sold for over US$300 million, some to Bollywood stars. I’ve read that 80% of cricket’s global revenue comes from India.
I’m at sixes and sevens when it comes to cricket, but many Indians have said I resemble NZ’s cricket captain Daniel Vettori. I wouldn’t know. I hadn’t heard of him before I came. There’s even a Kiwi or two on the IPL teams. I thought I should experience the Indian obsession before I leave, and I can almost count it as religious study. Cricket is practically a creed here. When Sachin Tendulkar came to visit one front page screamed, “GOD COMES TO TOWN” – only at a second glance did I see the small font “cricket” that came first. So I joined the boys to watch the gods play live on TV several evenings.
Cricket must be one of England’s most enduring gifts to its former colony and it’s been called an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British, but the IPL hype recalled American football more than leisurely British reserve. Teams have names like the “Delhi Daredevils”, “Pune Warriors” or “Deccan Chargers”, with logos of roaring lions, a snorting bull or a mounted spearman. Cheerleaders in miniskirts dance with pompoms.
My students taught me the rules, or tried: as one writer said, “baseball is to cricket as simple addition is to calculus”. I understood enough to share their excitement as the Chennai Super Kings took out the Kolkata Knight Riders with a six in the very last ball. I savoured the accent of an Aussie commentator, and was surprised by eloquent outbursts from the junior cook, whom I’d thought did not speak English: “Catch, catch, come on… very good, very good catch – three wickets out!… Oh beauty, what a six, yeah!” Phrases from years of cricket-watching, I presume. I shared the frustration when lights and TV died – praying for power to come back, beseeching someone to switch on the diesel generator, texting friends for updates. At 9 pm, someone from the North replied, it was still 45oC in Delhi. I’m glad I’d escaped to down here by summer.
I enjoyed the adverts as much as the game, for their snatches of Hindi and humour. A car drives through a rocky desert on a dark and stormy night. It is forced to stop where a tree trunk blocks the road. A gang of fierce bandits swoops down. Driver and wife quail in terror. The bandit chief, with a wicked grin, taps on the car window with the butt of his gun. Electric window slides down a crack. With an even broader grin the bandit asks in an eager wheedling tone, “What is score?” Camera zooms in to the built-in TV on the car dashboard. Batsman strikes and crowd erupts and bandits group around to watch: it’s the latest feature of car model X.
One morning in the last week of English teaching, as the wives and children of students arrived for the coming semester, I found a baby bat trembling on the curtain of my classroom. It flew off once gently bumped onto the windowsill. For our farewell party, the lady teachers baked peanut brownies, chocolate chip biscuits and cupcakes with pink raspberry icing. The smell reminded me of home. The class presented us each with a hand-made card and a group photo with warm thanks, although some admitted of our Kiwi accents that: “the first few days I couldn’t get much because of adjusting pronunciation.”
In the final days of teaching, I had a little Bangalore belly, my only sickness here. The other teachers covered my classes while I studied the tiles of my bathroom and made occasional excursions to bed. I’d read that Indians love to play doctor and it seemed to be true. For my stomach, one student prescribed gulab jamun, a desert made from balls of milk powder soaked in sweet syrup, or maybe lemon juice. Another said that sleeping under a fan with a bare stomach is bad for digestion – I always do! A third recommended I try bananas and avoid jackfruit. Several expected me to be dosing up on drugs. I took my own prescription of dry crackers or toast and Marmite, with glasses of the orange-flavoured rehydration mixture my Auckland doctor had prescribed – almost the only item of my medicine box that I used except for daily malaria tablets – and a day later things were looking up.
On most weekends students from the Northeast states prepared their chilli pork special, so hot it made their own noses run. On my final evening, I helped Worchihan cook it in the male students’ kitchenette. For chefs among my readers, here’s the formula:
Ingredients: pork, onions, garlic, ginger, salt, turmeric, and chilli powder from local markets. King chillies and fermented bamboo shoots from the Northeast.
Instructions: Peel and slice onions, garlic and ginger, then crush with mortar and pestle. Combine all ingredients and cook for an hour or two. Do not add water.
In the cramped room, in long sleeves with trousers tucked into my socks to keep off mosquitoes, it was sweaty work. While we peeled and cut and crushed, Surendra entertained us with his guitar – Amazing Grace et al. – and with music on his phone. “This is when we have fun”, said Worchihan once the pot was bubbling away: time to relax and chat, shaking the saucepan every five minutes to mix and avoid burning. They helped me identify words in Bollywood songs and Hindi Christian choruses, before dancing to the Back Street Boys and Justin Bieber’s “Baby Baby Baby”.
Then up to the TV room for the interstate cricket semi-final of Delhi vs Chennai. The last Delhi batter went out around 10:30pm and we trooped back down for pork and rice. The spicy pork was a slight gamble with my recovering stomach but too good to miss, and despite my contribution it didn’t disappoint. Except for Kevi, who complained that we’d only added four king chillies: there’d be a better taste with eight.