A sports journalist realises he can no longer don the hat of a fan and adjusts reluctantly to the new reality.
On my way to the IPL match between Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals at the Ferozeshah Kotla stadium on April 6, I found myself sharing an auto (a three-wheeler) with three boys who seemed to be in their early 20s. Since it was a short ride from the Pragati Maidan Metro station, I agreed to sit beside the driver at the front.
The trio sat behind me and began to recount anecdotes from their previous trips to this cricket ground. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation and soon found myself speaking to them.
The attraction of striking up such conversations, I believe, is the human tendency to identify oneself with others who are going to the same destination. For sports fans, the feeling of oneness is a much-desired emotion.
The experience, I presume, is similar to a pilgrimage. No wonder, fans tend to equate their sporting heroes with God!
“So, from which stand will you watch the match?,” I asked the guy to my extreme-left.
“We’re supposed to enter from gates 10 to 15…”
“Should be the West Stand,” I broke in, in an attempt to show that I’m not an ordinary cricket fan.
“Where will you sit?”
“The press box,” I said, rather sheepishly.
The auto driver and the rest responded in admiration through a long “Whoaaa.”
Unfortunately, the reaction left me slightly disappointed. The revelation of my identity as a sports reporter ensured that I was going to be perceived differently by my co-passengers for the rest of the ride.
My craving to be considered an ordinary fan failed to achieve fulfillment.
The trio reached its destination soon and I shifted to the back seat, waiting for the different gate which allowed me entry into the press box. Upon arriving at the security check point, however, I was suddenly brought back to the world of a common fan. Unfortunately, I wasn’t delighted.
The security check process is a great leveler, I learnt. The fact that as a journalist you sit inside a press box covered by glass is hardly considered by the policeman. Drop all the coins in your pocket and off you go!
Slightly taken aback by the police’s failure to treat me differently from the rest, I haggled in vain for a while.
Walking towards the media centre afterwards, I wondered to myself whether I was actually different from the boys I had met on the auto…
The answer arrived soon enough. As I settled down on my carefully chosen seat at the press box, the phrase “best seat in the house” acquired a different meaning.
The culinary delights offered to journalists there further reinforced my growing separation from the fan that sits under the piercing rays of the summer sun and buys exorbitantly-priced food to ensure his presence for the entire duration of the game.
I could ramble on self-indulgently about the air-conditioner and the excellent Wi-Fi network but I should stop now. The argument has been made.
Last month, I watched the final Test of the India-Australia series at the same stadium from the stands. Bereft of the luxuries which welcomed me on my latest visit to the Kotla, I struggled with a side view of the proceedings and poor quality food.
One could see my ‘elevation’ to the press box as a culmination of the hard yards done over the years. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Many fans would have watched more matches inside a stadium and could still teach me a thing or two about the sport.
We would love to be in your position, people tell me. Yet, the yearning to be identified by a common fan as one’s own refuses to go away. As I walked away from the stadium after the T20 match, the memory of another such aficionado came rushing back to my mind.
On the second morning of that Test in March, I had shared an auto with him too. The same distance and destination! We discussed the match’s state with much interest until he left me at the corner which led to an entrance gate to the stadium.
When we parted ways, there was no need to know anything else about each other. There was a whole-hearted acceptance of each other’s observations on the contest and one’s status as a ‘common’ cricket fan.
On Saturday, that equilibrium was disturbed due to my separate identity as a sports journalist. The accompanying burden induced slight discomfort. I should get used to it.