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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stand up, for the champions, for the champions, stand up!

If only you knew Sachu, how I felt, when you held the cup in your hands and ran joyfully past me. Up in Sachin Tendulkar Stand, every single person screamed your name as hoarsely as they could, but I just stood there, mute and stunned, the world a blur. For that one moment, you did not hear me chant your name, neither did you see me close my eyes, but that is how we have always been. If only you knew how my heart cried and sang with happiness. April 2nd, 2011 stands frozen in time

The previous night, as I boarded the train to Mumbai, all that I carried was the ‘Cricket Revolucion’ tee and my flag, in the hope that if India won, I’d sprint to Marine Drive from wherever my television was, and join in the celebrations. Then 330 in night, Aneesh Madani told me that he was going to the Wankhede in the morning in a last ditch effort to try for tickets, and I could join him.

My heart was leaping even when our ‘local’ crossed Marine Lines and reached Churchgate. At 7 in the morning, the only people that stood outside the stadium were the caterers. Staring at the edifice, I wondered if I could ever enter it. Apparently not, because every broker was selling his tickets between Rs 40,000 to 1 lakh. At nine, the Mumbai police pushed us out of the road and we roamed helplessly around the sea front. As time wore on, and the clock struck eleven, I was getting desperate and ready to throw the entire 30k I had in my bank account. An hour later, a pan-chewing dog-eared fellow offered two East Stand tickets for 55,000. Somewhere down the road, a father was coating his son’s face with orange, white and green, and minutes later the son returned the favour. It looked magical but for the first time in my life, I wanted to become a pickpocket and run for my life with those two tickets.

“When you truly love something, the whole world conspires for you to achieve it.” At one, at our wit’s end, an IPL manager called Aneesh and told us he could offer us two tickets. We flew to the Trident Oberoi, and as Aneesh readied himself in the loo before meeting the man, I felt like kicking him for taking so much time. Later, my ticket read ‘P-374, Level 2, Sachin Tendulkar Stand’. Sachin Tendulkar Stand. How apt.

We ran to the stadium, calling up everyone we could to tell them of the news. I don’t know if I have ever enjoyed standing so much in a line that had over five thousand people representing it.

The Wankhede is beautiful.

For all the discomfort that an average Indian has had to endure to get into a stadium, it becomes all worth it once you are inside. We danced with the music, we sang with the music, we made every Lankan in the field know how much we despised him albeit only for the day. We let every single Indian know how much we loved him, even Sreesanth. With every run the Indian batsmen hit, our voices grew louder. Every time someone hit a boundary, Santosh shook his hips with an abandon that only Shilpa Shetty can match and if his id had not read “Security Officer Mumbai Police’, I would never have guessed so. It was also nice to know that police constables do have facebook profiles, and I will be featuring in one such photo album my hip as curvaceous as Santosh’s.

My father insists that we should not confuse sports with patriotism, but I fail miserably to heed his words. In my immature mind, sport has everything to do with loyalty and patriotism and whenever A R Rahman’s ‘Vande Mataram’ reverberated through the stadium, we looked skywards and sang with so much emotion that our very bodies arced backwards, and I felt goose pimples rippling through my flesh.

And then Dhoni hit his six and we were world champions. For 19 years, I had been waiting for this moment. For 19 years, I have been declaring before every world cup that ‘this time India will win’. For 19 years, I have felt hurt even angry when people poke jokes at my team, or call them ‘fixers’ or ‘chokers’, any single word against my team. If only you knew, India, that every time you have stepped onto a cricket ground, I have supported you as faithfully as I have loved. When I looked around, I knew there were several hundreds like me, each taking in the moment individually.

When Dhoni hit his six, a nation went wild. All I could was close my eyes, and soak in the moment. A dream has come true, in silence lay my feelings, and I felt numbed. A minute later, we were all hugging each other as tightly as Yuvraj had held on to Dhoni mid-pitch, some smiling, some crying and some hurling expletives at the rest of the world, pumping their fists in glorious aggression. And then Sachin Tendulkar came running out into the ground smiling, and in that one movement the entire thirty thousand plus in the Wankhede forgot every other emotion they were experiencing and the whole crowd chanted his name unitedly with a happiness that only he has received on a play ground. Later, as the team took the victory lap,as Yuvraj became all emotional and egged on the crowd to scream louder, the crowd roared madly. There was so much fire in his eyes, one knew how much it meant to him. There is so much one can say about a man by the way he plays his sport. I will never forget those moments ever.

As we packed into the crowded corridors on the way out, there was not an inch of space and we moved at a snail’s pace. Then someone from the back broke out singing, “We are the champions”, and every body in that hall joined in, making it the biggest chorus in Mumbai ever. The policewalas who had looked so tense and therefore rude, earlier in the morning, smiled broadly now, and the crowd hugged every single CPRF and Mumbai policeman on our way out. Out at Marine Drive, a city went ballistic in its celebrations, bikes, cars, roofs of card adorned with people and flags. It seemed as if the whole city had come out on one road and had gone berserk in its joy. We stood on top of police posts and waved our flags, we hopped moving cars’ roofs and sang, we went mad. What a shot Dhoni, tu stud hai yaar!

Hours later, when I finally returned to Bandra at 7 in the morning, they were still showing people celebration on television. Tomorrow, they will reward all the players obscenely, hold interviews with their families, friends, chaiwalas; ask celebrities what they think of India’s win; show countless repeats of the match; ask ex-players what they think; hold state functions and give honorary positions to players which they have no clue about. Dhoni knows it as well as we do, that it is a fickle country and we reward only when we win, never to improve. But that is tomorrow. Today let us just dance on the road with the man who walked out of the stadium, or the one who came all the way from Singapore just to see this game, or the one who ran till Marine Drive from his slum after the match - who does not even know where Sri Lanka is, but is dancing because their country is now world champions. From the other room, I could hear Aneesh hum the song “stand up for the champions

Two days later, the song still refuses to leave me.

"I was built to be the best
Number one and nothing less
Leave me to my destiny
I have waited patiently
I have vision' oh I believe
I know I can count on me
So stand up, for the champions
For the champions stand up…”

We did it, Sachu.I can now rest in peace.