O over the last four weeks, I watched exactly 17 minutes of football. The experience was interesting — 22 humans, strung on a thread of sustained tension, calculating and coordinating to get one ball past several moving obstacles: playing chess while running very fast. I realized one doesn’t need to understand the role played by the central defence to appreciate the football aesthetic. I, too, with my dubious credentials, could make sense of the beautiful game — really, it should be watched with Bach’s concertos playing in the background.
That said, I suppose I no longer qualify as a football hater. But this nebulous position, equidistant from love and hate, adds yet another identity crisis for the 20-something urban Indian female. By that, I do not mean, in any universe, that women do not watch or play football — I’ve been rendered friendless in the last month, because a large chunk of my social circle, men and women, have been busy watching World Cup broadcasts, buying team jerseys, ordering pizza and Coca Cola, drinking beer and swamping social media with updates. The money I saved has been the only consolation.
I doubt if there is anyone in the city who has managed to escape the World Cup phenomenon altogether: it was in the papers, on the internet, on cigarette packets, on television screens, on the streets and, if you’re in Bengal, pretty much on everyone’s lips. And this is not just a personal point of view. For Sarbani Shankar Mondol alias Kochuda’s wife, it got particularly frustrating. Vexed by Kochuda’s immense enthusiasm for the sport, she had to finally take matters to the local panchayat. Her husband, a die-hard Brazil fan, had ended up hurting her while kicking around in bed after Brazil’s 1-7 loss to Germany. The Birbhum resident, Kochuda, like most fans in Brazil, badly wanted the country to win this year — a World Cup victory would have done wonders for its economy. Or so the Fifa president would claim.
Alas, this was not to be. So, where does one turn to for hope? Off the field, perhaps. Far removed from the generic cliché that is this year’s official World Cup song is a man named Tom Zé, a founding member of the Tropicalia music movement that set out to defy military dictatorship in Brazil in the 1960s. Tropicalia began as an avant garde resistance to the cool jazz from the American west coast, associated in Brazil with the sleek Fifties capitalism of General Motors and Coca Cola. Zé’s contemporaries, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, also part of the Tropicalia movement, went on to become megastars (apart from being exiled in 1969 for their political opposition). On the other hand, Zé, (Brazil’s ‘sugarman’) faded into obscurity. Thankfully, David Byrne, the Oscar winning new wave musician and label chief, ‘discovered’ him in the Nineties, before which Zé had plans of working in his nephew’s gas station.
With firm anti-establishment roots, Zé’s recent decision to lend his voice to a Coca Cola television advertisement promoting the Fifa World Cup surprised and angered a nation that was protesting against the obscene amount of money being spent on the sporting event. He was branded a sell-out. Tom Zé responded to this criticism through a new song that roughly implies something like this: “Who says Tom Zé sold out to Coca Cola? The commercial was propaganda for Tom Zé instead”.
The soundscape of his music is a strange mix of eccentric vocals and instruments (including an electric drill). For those nursing football heartbreak this season, this brand of delightful irreverence could be an effective palate cleanser. Perhaps now is the time for Bangalis and Brazilians to bond over something that is not football.