Glee & Nostalgia: Emotions that make the World Cup
Arms reaching up and holding the trophy aloft. The World Cup trophy, designed by Italian goldsmith Silvio Gazzaniga, is a perfect symbol of the only true world sport and its greatest tournament. No matter the total number of countries qualifying for the finals, the world takes a break for Copa del Mundo.
For all their controversies, FIFA does get one thing right.
It is open to debate what exactly would bring Calcutta to a greater standstill - Sachin Tendulkar or Lionel Messi. Possibly the latter. The atmosphere was infectious during the World Cup in my football crazy hometown, entire localities would draw battle lines with yellow-blue or blue-white buntings. There was also a curious solidarity and mutual respect - heckle all you want during the game, but once the final whistle blows, empathise. Celebrate the sport, not just the team.
Apart from the I-League fixtures which the paterfamilias religiously attended, my family watched more cricket than football on TV. Both sports were passionately followed at home - I was taught the rules of lbw and offside at the dinner table. Cricket was sacrosanct, and silence was mandatory during a match (this was before the T20 and IPL era). But football was visceral, transforming my Dad's usual poker face into a canvas of conflicting sentiments.
EPL and the Champions League were not a part of my family lore. European clubs would excite, but not incite feelings. That was reserved for East Bengal/Mohun Bagan and the World Cup.
India hasn't qualified for the World Cup, I have no high hopes of it qualifying in the foreseeable future. Neither does my Dad, and neither did his Dad. But emotions run high in my house - for once a month, every four years, we are honourary Brazilians.
Why Brazil? To be honest, I don't know. It is a fact of life - the sun rises in the east, stars come out at night, and Pele is God. If not Pele, then Maradona. If neither of the Latin American giants, then Eusebio or Hierro. The bottom line always was, support whom you want, as long as they are from Latin America or the Iberian Peninsula. Rest of Europe, according to my family, ruined the game.
"Too much technique," they would say. The Germans won matches with their clinical precision but sucked the joy from the sport. The sheer thrill of watching Roberto Carlos juggling the ball like a maestro on the sideline, an impossible free kick from a toothy Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona beating four English defenders to score The Goal of the Century - that is football. It is a lifetime of emotions packed into 90 minutes.
I remember 2002, Cafu lifting the cup, my Dad and Granddad raising a celebratory glass of whiskey. Then 2010, the Netherlands shocking Brazil in the quarters, Dad drinking a pensive glass of whiskey, alone. 2014, my first World Cup away from home, Dad and I mourning Brazil's 1-7 embarrassment to Germany over a late-night call. This year, we do a quick mid-game analysis during halftime and a slightly longer discussion after the final whistle.
My father treats the World Cup as a sacred quadrennial ritual - not only for the Gods on the field but also for the people he used to see it with. For him, it is a means to reminiscence the time and the people gone by, as well as to create new memories.
Eight World Cups later, I think I understand what he means. The World Cup is more than the sport, it is about everyone who is there with you celebrating a goal or mourning a loss. I have my own memories of the tournament and every four years, I dust their gilt-edged frames while making space for some new ones, with people both old and new.
La Copa De La Vida. The Cup of Life. No tournament can ever come close.
Also, Selecao Brasileira forever. Don't ask me why. It is what it is.