The world is round, not flat. Which means that interests, abilities, concerns and hopes — all the stuff that go into making cultures — vary from place to place, even as another feature of the world being a globe, globalisation, smoothens the edges, making corners and folds run into each other and disappear. In this spherical setting, we are all worshippers of the ball, that basic object of primal shape. Some of us are the high priests of this faith; some even semi-divine participants; while the most of us are awe-struck devotees who watch the rituals of the ball from the sides of fields, stands in stadia or from the sanctity of our seat in front of the television screen. Every four years, the highest form of worship of the sphere comes calling and regardless of whether we’re weekend enthusiasts or die-hard fanatics, the Football World Cup reminds us of the capacity of fellow humans to create beauty through action. While it would have been grand to participate in this festival through the strong and short-cut medium of national pride, for us in India, it is enough to celebrate World Cup football by being gawkers, blessed onlookers.
In a roundabout way, Indian World Cup-watchers will be enjoying the Beautiful Game in its purest form minus any other attachments. We may manufacture our support for a particular national team, mimicking patriotism in a novel, distanced manner, but let’s face it: the non-combatant nature of our interest will be the equivalent of loving a great monument or a great novel without having to make that mandatory bow to an ‘India connect’ that, in so many cases, replaces our aesthetic judgement with something more banal.
If we can marvel at the much-proclaimed genius of a Lionel Messi without having to be an Argentine or a Catalan from Barcelona (Messi’s club); if we can root for the underdog, United States, against England, without worrying about ‘geopolitical hegemony’ and some such things; if we can cheer till our throats get hoarse when Brazil plays, well, anybody else, we must be in a lucky position unencumbered by baser, non-negotiable forms of support. And so what if Indian football is as close to the Beautiful Game as chicken tikka masala is to our own kebab fare? As purveyors of unadulterated beauty, we have the advantage of following, with no strings attached, a month-long display of sorcery.