So there we were, my nine-year-old girl and I. In our ersatz Arsenal shirts, hunkered down in front of the TV at 5.30 pm on a Sunday, mouths a little agape in the manner in which all followers’ are when they watch their team play, waiting for Arsenal to kick off against Huddersfield Town in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
“I don’t play much football, but you should watch me watch it,” the English poet and critic Ian Hamilton had said. It’s a bit like that in our family. We have turned being a spectator into a spectator sport.
I sipped my tea, and she ate her sweet corn. “I am not worried about this one,” I exhaled. “They are a rubbish team. Arsenal will skewer them.”
In response, Oishi offered a high, dry cackle. “You should know better than to be so sure,” she said in Bengali. Caught unawares, I reflected for a second on who the adult was, and who the child.
“It’s Arsenal, remember?” she said. “Anything might happen.”
Well, ‘anything’ did happen. Almost. No, no almost. It did. All right, what did happen was as close to ‘anything’ as anything could be.
Weaving beautiful patterns, feinting, dodging, dribbling, playing one-two, tic, tac toe, Arsenal scored once, squandered five chances and went into half time only one goal up.
The porous nature of the defence showed up soon enough. Three-fourths of the way into the second half, I took a loo break. No sooner than I had (anyway, we’ll let that be)… there was a pounding on the door.
“Baba, Baba, Baba! Alan Lee. One-one.”
By the time I had (anyway, we’ll let that be)… it was indeed a goal apiece, and Arsenal, down to ten men, were grimly trying to salvage a win in a game in which they should have murdered their opponents.
In the end (life just sometimes turns out somewhat as it ought to), Arsenal won (2-1), and went through to the next round.
“I told you,” Oishi told me with a smirk half of self-congratulation, “you should never be hopeful.” “??”
“If you hope for something good, it won’t happen. It is better to not hope for it, and then, when it happens, it makes you happy.”
VS Naipaul has written about this in The Enigma of Arrival. He called it “a dream of glory together with a general pessimism, a wishing to hope and a nervousness about hoping”.
I wondered if our girl’s feeling was restricted only to sport. It wasn’t.
A few days later, something that we’d thought had been accomplished, something that we were very happy about, was turned on its head. And then, towards the end of the week, there seemed to be a chink of hope about it again.
And Oishi again then reminded us about how useful it was to not be (unduly) hopeful.
How do children learn to be wary of life coshing them on the head? How do they learn to brace for it, develop their own defence mechanism? Do these qualities in them last? Do they morph into something else?
I can’t tell (as always). Can you?”