The Allegro That Didn’t Move: What the World Cup 2003 Meant to an Eleven-Year-Old in Ranchi

REUTERS/Howard Burditt
22 February, 2015

As an 11-year old in 2003, I didn’t have too many things to cheer about. Neither did the street I lived in. These are my memories of a time when cricket was all that India had.

The day of the final, I was to earn my own memory. I would no longer need to listen to Bhaiya’s (my brother) accounts of cricket matches. But our TV set was painfully small and often black-and-white. Nani (my grandmother) had generously left it in her old house for us to use. Her new house was near the naala. When I asked my mother what a “naala” was in English she said “stream,” but father called it a “drain.” Nani was a rich woman with a big colour-TV set, but she could not get a cable-connection in her house because of the naala. One of the most creative undertakings of my eleven-year-old self was to imagine a setting where Nani’s TV set would come to our house and ours would go to theirs. At least one TV would be complete then. But the day of the final, India and Australia were both colourless. Even the pink Allegro bicycle did not work in Ranchi like it used to in Indore. The fixed exercise cycle, advertised by the name “Allegro” in glossy brochures, was one of the many things damaged in the truck ride from the west of India to the east. In Indore, the Allegro was the hottest part of non-alcoholic Muslim parties at our swank flat. It kept children occupied in pedaling competitions, which gave bellied uncles and aunties the chance to play tombola, and trifle with each other’s spouses.

“Arey, why is Gul not eating?” my father said.

“Why don’t you only ask Gul?” said someone giggling.

“Hee heee hee hee.”

The Allegro cycle meant good times. But its speedometer did not work here in Ranchi. Now, it was only about the pedalling. Perhaps that is why it stood abandoned in the galiyara (corridor), pressed as closely to the wall as was possible. It gave only a little trouble to Mummy when she paced up and down the galiyara at nights to help her acidity.

But the afternoon of the World Cup final, I was sitting on the Allegro and pedalling really fast. It was my bit to make India win. 359 was a huge score for India to chase. On TV they said that no team had ever chased anything even near that total. But Bhaiya called me, and said in English: “See, in the 2001 Nat West Trophy against England, India chased above 300 after being 5 down for 150.” I memorized the fact, like most of the things he said. He was four years older than me, and knew everything about cricket. If I had a story, I would have to press his legs while telling him. But when he told me a story, I listened.

He had gone to Nani’s naala house in the early morning to burst crackers in the open grounds as every Australian wicket fell. By lunchtime that day, the expensive box had only been opened twice. By lunchtime that day, Bazaar Mohalla’s tailors glanced less at the TV set on the loft in their shop and started cutting salwars faster, the boys on the nukkad (corner) were back to talking about Shahid Afridi. By lunchtime that day, my mother had gone to sleep; she could never see her team lose. I don’t remember where Papa was, he never cared about cricket.

I spent the forty-five minutes of the lunch break pedaling the Allegro in the galiyara, hoping some sweat would appear on my forehead. The long, thin passage had grilled windows on one side and entrances to many rooms on the other. In the dark of night, if I had to pass the galiyara to go to the other end of the house, I would start singing loudly to tell myself I was not scared. Sometimes, when my fear was out of hand, I would run. But during the day, the grilled windows would steal sunlight for us from the next house. That windowed wall was what separated Bahu-Nani’s (my grandmother’s cousin) house from ours. But we could see their big open veranda even when we didn’t want to. We could see chickens, a well, often Bahu-Nani washing clothes in the open bathroom and sometimes herself. But Mummy had told us to never look there, even if there were only chickens around. Partition was a generation old. Grand-Nana’s (my great-grandfather on my mother’s side) big family used to live together. Then cousins fought like they generally do, and built a wall like they generally do. But Nana left windows for the sunlight, if not Bahu-Nani’s wet self. I do not know if Bahu-Nani or her grandchildren came out in her veranda that afternoon of the final. But it helps my story if she did and said something rude to me about the match that made me cycle faster. They saw no reason to support India.

23rd March at the Wanderers

Seeing the toss one would have said,

No brain in Ganguly's head

That he chose to field in the toss

And made us suffer a 359 run loss.

Sachin was out in the first over

No doubt about it, it was all over

So went the poem my brother wrote the day after the final. He even sent it to a poetry competition later. My Allegro session didn’t help. India had lost the finals. The Bengali Bhaiya opposite our house had put a lot of money on the match, our tenant tailor told us. Bengali Bhaiya was sitting sadly in his “ladies items” shop, taking solace in showing customers ear-rings. Mummy was outside at the tenant tailor’s, warning him the hundredth time to not mess up the lehengas for a wedding. I kept running back and forth from the TV room inside the house to the tailor's shop outside to tell Mummy about the fall of each Indian wicket. I remember the one which hurt the most, “Sehwag bhi gaya Mummy” (Even Sehwag is gone). Mummy had been pretending the match was over, like the Bengali, and the tailor, and the maulana. But:

“Really? He is gone?”

”Ptch ptch so badly they all played.”

“No! Sehwag made 82!”

The tailor shop was actually a part of our house, or rather of Nani's old house. It was what used to be Nani's drawing room. Six months earlier, they had broken the wall facing the road and made it a shop. The rent came to our house. Nani and Nana had recently shifted to their new naala bungalow, which was breezy enough for their advancing age, unlike this Bazaar Mohalla. This is where my parents, Bhaiya and I were living—in Nani's haunting haveli-like house in the middle of Bazaar Mohalla with a strange TV set and no fridge. We had just arrived from Indore; father’s best-friend had cheated him in their business of special-plumbing-pipes (which had aluminium in the middle), and he, hurt and righteous at forty-seven, declared, “I myself will change my ‘territory’ and go away!” So he came to Ranchi and began afresh. It wasn’t too bad; we always knew these discomforts were temporary. My greatest sorrow was leaving my friends Sanju and Sunita, and my popularity in my old school. The new school gave me no attention, except for the questions of “really?” for being a teacher’s daughter. We ate well and were clothed fine. Mummy and Papa managed to hide most of their anxiety, but passed it on through sermons on the value of hard-earned money (and I grew up to be a calculator). But it wasn’t too bad.

India winning the World Cup would have changed our lives. I was certain it would have; I am sure my mother and brother were too. All our lives could have changed after that win, and we knew it, without saying it or thinking it. We didn’t say it because it was scary. The thought was as unreal at the start of the final, as at the start of the tournament, and as when Sehwag got out. We had not dreamt for long, only in short secret breaths. It was scary to imagine India winning, because who knew how to celebrate that? But India didn’t win, and we all took it, knowing without words that we were never going to make it in the first place. We all took it, coming back to usual life, without words, knowing that there was no shortcut; we have to lead our lives, India wouldn't have won.

It was 2003, but the town of Ranchi had nothing to cheer about; no malls and no pizza home deliveries. People often talked about salaries in call centres, but the Bazaar Mohalla was untouched by real dreams. Years of accumulated failure loomed over its streets. The World Cup win would have replaced the black-and-white TV set in my house, steadied my father's business, got my mother a permanent school job and made us shift to a house in a decent colony where I could wear skirts.

We, the bored of a failed nation, got goodies from first cousins in Canada, whose cricket team, by the way, wore the most ridiculous shade of red, and got paid much less than our cricketers, Bhaiya told me. “The BCCI is very rich you know that? We are the richest cricket board in the world,” he said. That felt pretty great.

Shireen Azam is a PhD researcher at the University of Oxford.