The World Cup football jamboree is over. Thank heavens for that, say I. For the best part of the past four weeks, one could scarcely strike up a conversation on anything other than the frenetic happenings in Qatar. Even those who knew next to nothing about football had a point of view, and not afraid to express it. ‘The goalie went the wrong way, else he could have saved that penalty.’ Quite so. ‘Did you see Harry Kane miss that second penalty against France? What was he thinking? England could have been in the final.’ And how about this for a classic from one who knows his human physiology. ‘Messi has a very low centre of gravity, quite like his legendary compatriot Maradona. That is why he is able to twist, turn and shoot, all in one swift motion with three defenders crowding him.’ Personally, I liked this one best from one of my old school mates, ‘Look, the guy was clearly offside, hatching eggs and the linesman was ogling the girls in the stands.’ Beyond my school days, I have never heard the word hatching employed to mean offside in hockey or football.
Then there was the inevitable social media chit-chat. With a mobile in your hands, a Twitter handle or a Facebook / Instagram account to obey your every command, the world cup is your oyster. Bash away on your keypad and let your friends know that you were there in Qatar, in person. Day after tiresome day, we were treated to photographs of ‘Me and Messi with his kids,’ ‘Buying gold for the wife at some shiny souk,’ ‘Me and Ronaldo kicking sand at the beach,’ ‘Look who I ran into at the stadium, tennis superstar Novak Djokovic. He even obliged with a selfie. As to who he fancied will emerge the champions, his reply was a classic. Since Serbia, Spain and Switzerland went out early, I have no fears of Rafa and Roger giving me the third degree. I am here to enjoy the game.’ I wished him well for the upcoming Australian Open, where he can now play, unvaccinated. ‘Nole, Nole,’ yelled his fans. All these attributed statements are to be taken with a liberal pinch of salt. In short, one’s presence in Qatar provided one with a status symbol to be shared only with high-profile celluloid stars, politicos, business tycoons and journalists. And a winsome, charismatic Swamiji as well. And splashing it all over social media.
The next FIFA World Cup is to be played in the United States, Mexico and Canada in 2026. We can safely assume India will not qualify. However, that should not prevent a robust Indian presence during the games. People of Indian origin in the US and Canada are legion and our social media will brim with colourful stories during the games. Not forgetting the bucketloads of well-heeled Indian tourists landing up for the kick-off. Better start your travel plans right this very minute.
In Qatar, India did have an important decorative presence. Bollywood diva and brand ambassador for French luxury brand, Louis Vuitton, Deepika Padukone unveiled the FIFA trophy, along with former Spanish international Iker Casillas, prior to the start of the final. I mention the Spaniard goalkeeper for the record. No one in India had the faintest clue who he was! And his eyes appeared to be fixed on a different kind of trophy, viz., Ms. Padukone. And who can blame him! We know Deepika has a strong badminton bloodline, but can she tell the difference between a free kick and a spot kick? Hmmm. Social media in India promptly took to trolling Ms. Padukone for her strange and outlandish LVMH attire. Couldn’t they have designed a smashing sari with a lotus motif or something? Just asking. That would have got a thin-skinned section of the nation’s dander up and set the cat among the pigeons here in India.
Ah well, there’s no pleasing some people.
Published in the Deccan Herald dt. 24/12/22.