My love affair with Liverpool FC started in a hotel room in a small hill station called Panchmadhi in the centrally placed Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. I didn’t know that then, of course. I’m not sure what exactly triggered it. I can only lay down the proceedings:
Sometime in the middle of the awfully long summer holidays following my 10th standard exams, I found myself in the presence of my extended family – parents, two pairs of uncles and aunts and 5 cousins (all sisters – a fact that rakshabandhan reminds me of all too sorely every year) – as we trotted northwards in the sleeper class of the highly efficient and obstinately punctual Indian Railways. True to
Gujjus’ Kutchis’ tenacity of travelling light, we were accompanied by not too many more than a dozen suitcases for the week long vacation. Any dearth in the refreshments department is unthinkable, of course – appropriately, there were enough helpings of theplas, khakhdas, dhoklas, chivdas and laddoos to keep ourselves occupied for the 14 hour journey.
Because hotel booking via the web is relatively unheard of in those days and we aren’t quite the type to decant money on travel agents, we find ourselves scurrying through the streets of Panchmadhi from one hotel to another, trying to select our abode for the week. While negotiations are being carried out in one such hotel, I sneak into one of the rooms and switch on the television.
My eyes are open wide in amazement as they stare at the screen, but it looks like the negotiations have broken down because my uncle is dragging me out of the room and I can hear the hospitable taxi driver hurling heartening abuses for the delay. Anyway, my feet seem to be stubbornly glued to the floor because it is 44 minutes on the timer in the highlights they are showing on the television, and the defense is cut open by a magnificent through ball that is just out of reach for the last defender’s out-stretched legs. And now everything’s moving slow-slow-slow as the guy in the white jersey is clean ahead of the defense so that the keeper has to come off his line. But the guy in the white jersey lobs the ball above the keeper who looks behind in despair and now everything’s slower-slower-slower as the ball gently trots goal-wards before the net flutters in a wave like motion, making it 3-0 on the scoreboard. But now fast-fast-fast the team in red are celebrating, there is an arm thumping man with the cup in his hands and a plump baldie gasping for air as he mumbles an interview and now faster-faster-faster my uncle is dragging me with renewed vigour, his hand moves towards my wrist, the remote is snatched and we rush down to the waiting cab and now questions of why how where, but I’m stunned dumbfounded lost for words and we travel in silence to chunmun hotel.
Chunmun is a small hotel that provides a dorm for the 12 of us. Things are said about the dorm allowing us to spend maximum time together, but I doubt if the fact that it comes on the cheap is lost on anyone. I catch my once-arm-dragging uncle cast a disappointed eye on one of the suitcases (wherein, as later inspection educates me, dwells some fancy lingerie).
And thus, in that tiny MP hill station with probably no football following, amid arm-dragging, abuse-hurling, feet-gluing and remote-snatching, in the presence of sex deprived relatives, were sown the seeds of a love, of a passion that continues to grow, to hurt, to evolve, and that I’ll perhaps never manage to explain satisfactorily in words.
PS: This is the link to the highlights of that fateful night in Istanbul.