Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Wish you were not here

There are moments in life,when walking down the memory lane you stop and ponder for a while.There are some historic,revolutionary,unique or amazing incidents where you halt and say "I was there".This one I look back and say "I was there but I wish I wasn't".

You would know very well what I am talking about by seeing the photograph if you were any Indian or Windies player.Or even a cricket fanatic who can put 2 and 2 together.For others,it's that unforgettable bottle throwing incident that almost cancelled the match at Keenan Stadium,Jamshedpur.

I always wished I would write about that day.Well I've got my moment now.

Spending 500 bucks for a cricket match is a huge investment,especially when you're the one who always runs short of cash when friends decide to go for a movie.I had harrowing experiences with cheaper tickets so I took the risk.At 6.30 A.M in the morning and the line alraedy about a mile long,things weren't looking good already.But somehow the arrogant me was convinced that there was some other entrance for people paying more,as there should be.Well I was not entirely wrong for all the other gates had separate entrances except mine,which was shoved together with the student stands.Too late before I realised this and the line was already 2.5 miles long.

So I stood there at the back.Acquaintances all over the queue offered me a better place.But don't know why,I was bent on experiencing the worst.The match had already started in the stadium.Ironically we were left to ask scores from neighbouring houses.

All the excitement was dead once I reached the gates.A few agitated officials were shouting that the stands were jam packed and there was now way we could get in.They were offering a refund of course.But I hadn't withstood all this for nothing.I chose to go in,for I had not withstood all this for nothing.

The first difficult part was finding the way in.There were so many people blocking the entrance,the aisle and the passages.I began with "excuse me,could you please" aimed at virtually anyone who could listen.Immediately I got an insight from someone in the crowd.

"This way you are never getting in.This is not your school,you have to push your way in".

I knew this as a matter of fact,but thought would'nt have to try it.By then I was very irritated and manners were the last thing that mattered to me probably.Plus I had seen a lot of Super 12 rugby lately and was eager to perform in a simulation and score a try.Nevermind my pace but after 15 minutes of wriggling,pushing,elbowing and what not I finally managed to touchdown.

But there was a bigger problem at hand now.As you would have guessed,the entrance was just precursor of things to come in the stands.Obviously I got no seats.I was luck enough to somehow manage to get a foot in near the zoo-like cage type thing that separated us and the greens.I figured out that it was impossible to stand the whole match.The experience of being punished in school reguraly came in handy here.I knelt down effortlessly on the concrete and got my first look at the action.

The first look i had at the scores,17 overs had already gone by.I didn't give up though.I changed positions and somehow managed to sit through the entire 50 overs.At the end I half expected someone to come out of the pavilion and congratulate me for my awesome feat and offer me drinks.But I guess since a thousand others were doing the same thing,they held back.

Lunch time meant that few people in the stands had realised that they had more important work to do than to sit in this pig-sty like environment they had bought for half a thousand.And for people like us it meant salvation.My knees were sore,but I don't know why I didn't feel the pain.I was thirsty though,and hungry too and this is where I saw the glaring mismanagement that took place.

The authorities had banned any food,water bottles and other things like firecrackers,electronic items etc.And the first thing I saw when I entered was a man going around with a handycam!No,he was not a cameraman.Needless to say cameras were plenty.

The thing that pinched,and pinched hard though was the water management policy.Having banned bottles inside the stands,JCA was expected to provides water pouches a la railway platforms.But here the main sponsors (Pepsi,Pepsi,Pepsi.I don't plan holding back the names) were making merry by selling bottles at DOUBLE the MRP.Yes double! No wonder people thought that they might as well put the bottle to some other use to compensate for the extra bucks.This was blacmarketing in the open.

My throat was parched dry.25 overs were left in the game but I already felt like leaving.Some kind gentleman got some water,and was kinder still to give some to me.That refuel somewhat changed my mind and I decided to stay.But already there were signs that something was about to give.Bored and frustrated people,exhausted and thirsty and disappointed with India playing the way it was,were discovering novel ways to entertain themselves.

The songs between overs made a group of boys stand up and dance.What were they thinking? Dancing in the sun is never fun,and dancing with people waiting with empty bottles looking for an outlet of their frustration is hardly sensible.The imminent happened.

Boom!! Bang!! Bottles from all sides crashed onto every part of their anatomy.The ones hitting the head drew the loudest cheers.Needless to say,they sad down immediately.

A teenage girl got up to leave.This was too much distraction from the match. Bang!! Crash!! Bottles from all side converged upon her.She sat down,almost reduced to tears.

A bald man got up to look for a friend.Wait,Bald man? This one required special treatment.Everyone aimed at the shiny target.Few missed.He turned around and shouted expletives for a while.He turned back and even more missiles were aimed his way.He figured out he was fighting a lost cause here.

Minor skirmishes here and there followed.The police tried to interrupt.So they were made the next target.They shouted,they waved lathis menacingly.They were hit even harder.

Almost as a symbolic next stage the bottles started entering the ground of play.The first few hardly made it beyond the advertisement boards.The people at lower tiers thought this was a revolt against them,they retaliated and were hit back hard.They realised it was much more fun joining hands and targeting the players.So Jyoti Yadav became the next target.At fine leg from one end,he became the epitome of bottle throwing success.

Luckily he was alarmed a bit before things got ugly.He complained.Police and senior officials came around to placate the crowd.Instead the crowd was aggravated by now.DSP,SP-no one was spared.The SP,I remember stood upright and stared meanfully at the crowd.No one liked this.He was hit immediately on the forehead.He stood staring to feed his ego.He got hit again and left immediately.

It was when Ganguly came around and pleaded people to stop the show stopped for a while.But not for long.When the home team gets hit for 13 runs in the 46th over in a tight match tilting the balance towards the opponents,the crowd isn't exactly pleasant.An explosion occured.

The people felt that the team was incompetent and decided to take matters in their own hands.I haven't seen anything like this.A swarm of bottles almost made a cloud above my head.It was incessant firing.Nevermind the target.We were hit so often.I wasn't even once tempted to return the favor or join the party.The two schoolboys beside me were.Perhaps one of the few good things I have ever done,I somehow managed them to do otherwise.And what was even more amazing,they listened to me! To make it clear,they weren't related to me.Total strangers.

Anway the scene was like the shown in the pictures.A few flares could be seen.Actual flares.Fiery ones.And a diwali "rocket" converted the canvas shade above us down to ashes.I wasn't scared but I was on the verge of getting a bit shaken up.This was the first taste of rowdy crowd behaviour that I was witnessing firsthand.Thankfully it was not a violent one and wasn't directed to anyone in particular.For obvious reasons play was halted.

It gets dark pretty early back home,and to make matters worse it was late november.Shortest days of year.Apparently our stand was causing the most trouble as it was literally on fire above.The match refree did a round.Amazingly not a bottle thrown.The canvas burnt away pretty quick.West Indies were desperate to win and more importantly it was not their players who were in the outfield facing the rage.

Mike Procter took a punt.After 10 minutes of stopped play the match was resumed.Amazingly India started to claw back.Nehra's 47th and 49th overs produced around 6 runs and about 3 wickets.Everyone was on the edge of their seat.Ready to throw a bottle if anything dared go wrong.Luckily for Windies that happened on the last ball.Needing 3 to win off the last ball.Agarkar bowled a fulltoss and Sarwan happily dispatched that to the fence.

Anticlimax of anticlimaxes.With no play to be stopped,no one to be afraid of,the crowd erupted.But this was just out of pure frustration than anything.Plus empty bottles are hardly of any use.So another round of bottle throwing followed.And this one was bigger.Even the seats above pavilion,seating the elite population couldn't restrain themselves.Bottles came in from all parts. Authorities ran for over and luckily got some.

I was past care though.I didn't stay to watch the presentations and suffer seeing any more paranoia.And I was on the verge of being dehydrated.I left with a heavy heart,a lumpy throat and sour memories.Tears would have rolled probably if I had had enough water.

I vowed not to watch another cricket match in my home city.But that's a vow I make everytime I come out of the stands,irked by crowd behaviour and authorities' handling of affairs.Probably the cricket lover inside me is strong enough to withstand all this nonsense,and show up for another match.I sometimes convince myself,that probably,probably someday I will get better treatment and watch a match without having any grievances afterwards.And most probably I won't get that here in India,where inspite of being such a money spinner crciket officials don't even care for the basic facilities that a cricket stadium have.

So until SCG,Centurion or Lord's I will just shut up and watch.With tears held back.

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