Where do you begin writing on something like this, what do you say that doesn’t sound trite, or tactless, or just plain trivial? After 40+ hours of watching non-stop images of heartbreak and heroism, of fear and fortitude, of ordinary people being moved to do extraordinary things, how do you write of sport interrupted?
But I’m just going to try. I began writing just after we wrapped up Thursday’s stories on England deciding to call off the rest of the ODI series, CA suspending travel to India and the repercussions of the CLT20 being postponed. That’s when someone called to say my uncle was on TV, standing in front of the Oberoi-Trident. I found he was trying to tell someone in the NSG that his friend and his wife were trapped in room 2716 of the Trident and being a severe heart patient, his friend couldn’t walk down the floors.
Any thought of cricket obviously went out of the nearest smoggy Delhi window, as everyone who knew anyone in the security forces at work, tried to help. They asked that we convey a message: “There’s a major gun battle on, stay in the room and someone will come to get you.” They were thankfully rescued on Friday, but so many others were not.
Coming back to cricket after that message required some effort, but we did, even as some wondered whether we should feel the self-righteous indignation we heard from some channels on double standards, because the 2005 Ashes went on despite the 7/7 bombings in London. We just couldn’t.
What we were watching in Mumbai, the urban war that is nearing a close at the time of writing, was so different from anything we, or the world for that matter, had ever witnessed, that it seemed silly to flog that particular horse.
Indian cricketers we spoke to had much the same view. “Kuch bhi bolo,” said one. “I don’t want to play right now. I want to be with my family.” Another spoke of how he realised he was running on energy he didn’t know he had, given the amount of cricket India had played of late. He said that watching the images from Mumbai had sapped him.
“We’ve stayed at the Taj so many times, I cannot believe this is happening. Bahut zyaada tha ye sab, kisi ka mood nahi hai khelne ka. We’ve been watching TV and waiting to go home. This is no time for cricket.” And then he added, more subdued, “but I hope to be in Mumbai next month for the second Test.”
That he won’t be. At the moment, though the BCCI says the series is on, the Test has been moved to Chennai. At the same time, we still don’t know if the English players will return to India. They can’t be blamed for being worried and dramatically worried, but I do hope the series materialises. One has to hope. Still, given the heartache we have witnessed, it will be sad that come December 19, the cricketers will not be lining up at the Brabourne, not a very long walk from the Oberoi.
Mumbai, time and again, has shown it is not just a city that never sleeps, it is a city that never dies. But this time, what the city has faced, has been beyond anything ever witnessed.
Yet, if any city deserves its opportunities to take its mind off being constantly ravaged and savaged, deserves its celebrations and a chance to try and be normal, it is India’s incredible city. At this point, sport is insignificant, two weeks on, it might mean a bit more. Sport after all, builds bridges, even heals. And for Mumbai, as for diverse India, there’s nothing as normal, as binding, as exhilarating, as cricket.