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'A wishing to hope'

india Updated: Jul 11, 2010 01:00 IST

The greatest show on earth will come to an end on Monday morning, leaving a World-Cup-shaped hole in the life of our family — and in that of millions of others. Our second-most-favourite team is in the final, so our eight-year-old daughter — a staunch Barcelona fan — will vocally get behind the team that has seven Barca players.

But that's only our second-most-favourite team. And Sunday night is only the final.

For us, the defining moment of our World Cup came on the evening of Saturday, July 3, when the team we really root for (as regular readers of this column might know), root for with the kind of zeal and irrational allegiance that fandom engenders, were pillaged, murdered, quartered and sent back to where they came from by Germany.

Argentina had been abject. But try using that as an explanation to an eight-year-old.

Oishi's entire day was a slow wind-up to the game in the evening. She fretted. She was distracted. She became sullen, and exuberant in turns. "I have thousands of butterflies in my stomach," she said.

Watching her, I was reminded of myself when I was eight (I was reminded of myself as I still am), and I knew how it went, this unsettling combination of high-strung anxiety and excitement.

As Thomas Muller scored to rip the heart out of Argentina, she sat slumped on the sofa, disbelieving, her face in her hands.

"How could this happen?" she whispered.

I, having turned being a spectator into a spectator sport many decades ago, grimaced. (My wife watched. And watched me.) "It happens. All the time," I said.

At 0-2, she slapped her forehead in anger and frustration, both emotions eliding into a sort of gloom-laden, anguished questioning: "Baba, what will happen?" "What will happen?"

0-3 brought on a fist-pounding, foot-stomping disappointment tinged with the dawning and irrevocable realisation that it was all over for Argentina.

Don't cry for us, Argentina. We shall, for you.

Dead and buried already, the fourth goal was a richly-deserved nail in the coffin.

"Argentina were outplayed," I said with my adult's objectivity. "But it wasn't fair," Oishi said, with her child's habit of not spotting the truth even when it coshes you on the head.

It didn't help that Oishi's grandmother, an ardent supporter of Germany's, phoned to gloat. Seeing her on the verge of tears, I took the phone away.

She was inconsolable. Gutted myself, I tried to make her feel better, make her mind this humiliation a little less.

And it suddenly struck me, that for the first time in my life, my grieving at a sporting loss had to be subsumed into my gestures of consolation and solace-giving as a parent.

Is this what father-hood is?

And then she asked it. "Baba, where will the next World Cup be held? Argentina will still be rubbish, but will Maradona still be the coach?"

And I knew then that she was getting ready to be in it for the long haul.

She was getting ready to participate in what V.S. Naipaul described as "a dream of glory together with a general pessimism, a wishing to hope and a nervousness about hoping".

I wouldn't wish this masochism upon anyone. But if you are afflicted by it, who can save you?