Maybe it was when the Indian women’s hockey team embraced each other, delirious at the upset of upsets they had pulled off at the Olympics.
Or, maybe it was when Roger Federer bid a tearful goodbye to Centre Court, having just been humbled 6-0 in what is increasingly looking likely to be his last set of tennis at Wimbledon.
Or, maybe it was during a fictional setting – episode 5 of season 2 of Ted Lasso which celebrated choosing what your heart wants as the Rolling Stones’ She’s A Rainbow played on the soundtrack.
Or, maybe it was all of these incrementally.
Somewhere in 2021, while watching sport, in both real and fictional settings, I decided to open myself up to feel all the feels, deeply, in the bones, being 100% vulnerable and holding no emotion back. I have watched sport with a lot of emotional investment over the years, but 2021 began feeling different from the Gabba win onwards. I suddenly wished I could share that historic triumph with my dad, with whom I watched my first ever test series when India toured Australia in 1991. That opened a spigot I had subconsciously kept closed tight all these years. The trickle from there would become a full-blown torrent of emotions by the team we dealt with the horrors of the second wave.
I suffered a pretty bad bout of the virus myself, and my health wouldn’t be the same for months to come. But during my feverish state when I felt like all strength had left my body, I saw Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold score a crucial winner against Aston Villa and instinctively punched the air, surprising myself with the reserve of energy I had. And then Italy won the Euros and as someone who’s been an Italy fan since the Roberto Baggio days, I was elated, but what astonished me was that the day after the final was the best I had felt health wise since the accursed first week of April. The feelings sport can stoke evidently have healing powers.
Weeks later, during the Olympics, my heart would both swell with pride and joy while at the same time acutely ache as I let myself be carried emotionally away on the roller-coaster that was the Indian women’s and men’s hockey campaigns. Never in my life had I teared up that many times watching live sport. Maybe the pandemic had left me emotionally raw, or maybe I was just getting old.
Neither had I bargained to tear up at the screen, whether be it at Ted Lasso’s second season or at the theater when I walked in donning my most cynical self to watch ‘83, only to be disarmed and sit there bawling my eyes out barely thirty minutes in. The sequence would repeat two more times. I shed tears of relatability, joy and felt that ache that seeing something ethereally beautiful brings when reading this gorgeous and life-affirming piece by a good twitter friend, Abhishek Chopra, about watching cricket in person after a long pandemic induced gap.
I have been a reluctant crier even in the worst of times, but something in the sport watching and processing experience in 2021 fundamentally shifted a gear inside of me, and opened up reserves of tears I didn’t know I had. There’s a scene in ‘83 when a teary eyed Jimmy Amarnath who’s just got off the phone with his dad (who praises him for his semifinal heroics) tells Kapil Dev ‘Kisi ko batana mat main ro raha tha.’ Sport watching in 2021 for me – from seeing the 8-year-old Brentford fan when they beat Arsenal (their first top flight win after returning to the first division after a 74-year gap) to India’s triumphs and heartbreaks, to Federer’s fading fortunes, to seeing Gianluca Vialli lift the Euro cup, to penning a private letter for a fan crestfallen at their team’s defeat at a major tournament or a personalised sports analogy note for a friend going through a tough time – has been the antithesis of that line. I want to tell everybody ki main ro raha tha. And I think I was better for it.
To tears, of all sorts, in 2022 and beyond.