“You will play with us,” their leader commanded, offering me a bat. I didn’t know the first thing about cricket, and I explained this apologetically. “No, no. Baseball. You will teach us baseball,” the boy informed me.
I agreed, secretly hoping I could recall the rules. My first task: assemble two teams, which proved complicated once everyone declared they wanted to play with me. (I carefully kept the fact that I had always been chosen last in PE to myself.)I settled on doubling as ump and catcher. With each “Ball!” I declared, the batting team jumped and cheered with glee. Each “Strike!” ushered a similar chorus from the opposing team. The first run sent the entire field into an uproar. The concept of home base was entirely lost on the batter, and he ran about eight laps around the diamond before I convinced him he had scored. “We won! We won!” his teammates exclaimed. I considered correcting them, but by then it was getting dark, and mothers were beginning to call pitchers and basemen to dinner; we agreed to resume the game promptly at 5:00 the following night.
India may have a sixth of the world’s population, but only fifty-six Indians competed in Beijing. The country’s cricket heroes have no forum to compete, and for decades India’s athletics have suffered from underfunding. I assumed this meant the Olympics would be a non-event, and I would forfeit a chance to cheer for Team USA.
|Chandigarh baseball team|
So when, on the second Tuesday, an Indian rifleman shot his way to a gold medal, the entire country exploded. It was India’s first-ever individual Olympic gold, and it seemed that all one billion citizens were celebrating. By that point in the summer I spent my evenings in cafes painstakingly parsing Punjabi newspaper articles, and every one focused on the triumph: proud remarks from Prime Minister Singh, interviews with the athlete’s parents, his coaches, probably his dentist. One paper, headlined “Believe in India,” argued, “No individual gold has mattered so much to so many people in the history of the Olympics.”
|Farewell to Chandigarh|