Painted faces, yellow all around and raucous cheering until midnight …There’s never a dull moment in an IPL match in namma Chennai
There are yellow streaks on my hair, splattered by an overwhelmed face painter outside the stadium. It isn’t easy being a non-CSK fan in Chepauk and neither is it easy weaving my way through a flood of passionate spectators making their way into the stadium. Then there are the hawkers waving all things yellow — jerseys, caps, vuvuzelas, wigs and those harmless but intimidating-looking groups of sozzled men reeking of alcohol and slurring as they shout “Naanga than win panna porom da,” to a few young boys in Hyderabad Sun Risers jerseys. And yet I make it well in time for the toss. My colleague Udhav is already at the gate. We excitedly chatter our way to the entrance only to be stopped by the guards. “No bags allowed,” they say. A little girl in the queue hugs on to her inflatable zoozoo doll tightly and tugging onto her father’s shirt says, “Appa don’t let them take my doll away.” After we resist they allow the ‘ladies handbag’ but the ‘gents handbag’ has to be gotten rid of. So as Udhav runs around trying to get rid of his bag, I pass in through the many security checks next to which lie mounds of food packets, water bottles, pens, lipsticks… By the time I reach my designated stand Sun Risers Hyderabad is four wickets down and I am probably sweating as much as the harried players on the field. Shortly, the colleague joins me, this time with a CSK flag which he sways animatedly. It’s never really easy when fans of two opposing teams have to write a story together…but we try and luckily so far there’s no love lost.
The players are not the only people who are making money because of the IPL. The hawkers, face painters, auto drivers and petty shop owners also find their business booming on match days. As I reach Gate No. 3, I have this young woman, Rani, waving the local team’s flag right in front of my face. She manages to make me buy her yellow flag after guilt tripping me about how I am not being a true fan. But, I successfully resist her offer to paint CSK on my cheeks. What does IPL mean to her? “On match days, my earnings definitely see a spike,” she says. As the cops shoo her away, I ask about the things that make her unhappy, “Apart from the rude cops, it would be great if people who spend thousands to get inside the stadium don’t bargain with me when they buy a flag for 50 rupees.”
Contrary to what the cricket purists would want us to believe, the shorter, snappier and, arguably, the more entertaining version of the gentlemen’s game is here to stay. People across age groups, time and again are thrilled by the IPL be it the five-year old showing off his dappankoothu moves every time CSK hits a boundary or the 70-year-old couple in yellow (with the lady even wearing two yellow roses on her hair) who nervously prayed every time the team hit an airborne shot. Someone who has developed a fanatical liking to cricket after the success of the IPL is Sai Lakshmi, mother of a third year chemical engineering student, who has managed to go for all the matches in Chennai. What brings her to the stadium day in day out? “It is my love for Chennai, Dhoni and the entertainment that I get from these games,” she says. How does she manage to get tickets? “Most of the time, I buy. But sometimes, ask friends.”
Her son, a football fan, admits to having watched every game of the 2012 edition. He claims to have watched the full match the previous night and then switched over to the Champions League football match that went on till 3 in the morning. How does he manage to wake up and board the college bus at 6 a.m.? “I do it all the time,” he winks.
It’s probably well past their bed time, but there are still quite a number of children present in the stadium. Some of them have school the next day. Twelve-year-old Athreya, seems to have sorted out his schedule for the next morning. Even though his mother insists he could take a day off he is keen on going to school probably to tell his friends that he was at the stadium watching a clincher of a match. A Sachin Tendulkar fan, he is supporting Chennai because he says he belongs to this city and loves it.
Three night matches in a row has been quite the bonanza for Chennaiites and it’s never an easy task to be present on all days but 11-year-old Mansi has being doing so even if it means taking the train from Tiruvanmiyur every time.
There’s confetti in the air and shrill shouts of joy as CSK win the match. Many spectators watch the last over standing near the exit. “I have to quickly rush and get an auto because I have to go to Perambur,” says one of them. The others make a beeline for the MRTS. As the auto drivers outside the stadium see the elated supporters of the home team coming out whistling and cheering, they also seem delighted. A 10-minute ride to the Chintadripet station costs a whopping 200 bucks. For those staying further it gets worse. But constant conversations about the exciting moments during the match keep the fans upbeat.