When I got up this morning, I was really excited and looking forward to watching some test cricket in Bangalore after a gap of three years. And then I read about Paris. Every act of terror sickens me to the core, the immediacy and juxtaposition of the events in Paris against my eagerness to catch the sporting action made it worse. There was a feeling of dread mixed with guilt gnawing at me, forcing me – some might think frivolously – to consider whether to go to the game or not.
The terrorists had triggered a bomb just outside Stad De France as a France-Germany friendly was going on inside. All these details made it a terribly complicated morning. I have often used sport as a port in an emotional storm – I remember during one of my greatest moments of personal tragedy and loss, a friend hugged me tight and calmly whispered the news that India had qualified for the tri series final (this was in 1997). This was not his attempt to trivialise my tragedy; knowing me far too well, he knew I’d interpret this as code for ‘life goes on’.
This morning, I did make it to the stadium partly because I had to hand tickets over to a couple of friends of mine, partly because I felt deep down that sport will provide some succour to that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I am not writing this to make any arguments about what happened in Paris (or for that matter in Beirut just two days ago and in Ankara two weeks back and so on); neither am I offering a point of view or pseudo-expertise comments on how to deal with this. I am only writing this as an intensely personal record of how I coped today.
I went to watch a sporting event. One where the moment I was entering I noticed a lady from South Africa, toddler strapped to her back, and 6 year old son alongside also making her way to the stands. She stopped by at a street vendor and bought her son an India flag, encouraging him to wave it and smile at everyone around. One where as I took my seat South Africa were 15/2 and soon Varun Aaron bowled Hashim Amla with a beauty of a delivery to leave them at 45/3 and in walked A B DeVilliers playing his 100th Test Match. One where the entire crowd at the Chinnaswamy Stadium got to its feet spontaneously and clapped and chanted his name along with the standing ovation to welcome him to the crease. He was walking to the middle in the capacity of an adversary and South Africa’s key asset. And yet, there was so much love and warmth for him all through his innings. It was a remarkable sight, a testament to the unifying power that sport yields.
That moment as DeVilliers walked out to the middle is what lent perspective to my sullen mood. No, it did not solve any problems. It did not make the terror and its horrors go away. But it was life affirming and it helped me cope. Just like that news of India making it to the final was, I interpreted this to be code for ‘life goes on’.