Birthdays in India
Today is my host mother's birthday. Birthdays in India are handled differently from birthdays in the United States. At about 1030 yesterday my brothers rather urgently asked me if I wanted to go "roaming", which is how they describe going somewhere on their motorbikes. So we went outside and they informed me that tomorrow was their mother's birthday. So we looked for a still-open gift shop in Prime Arcade (our local mall) and we found some very nice cards for her.
Up until midnight I was playing Carrom (a marvelous game with slight similarities to pool) with Akshay, Pratik and Roosil and then Akshay said that it being now his mother's birthday, we had to go give her the cards.
Additionally, it was also the birthday of one of Akshay's friends, so after wishing his mother well, we took one of those awesome motorcycle rides over to the house of the friend. There were 5 or 6 friends there, and Pratmesh (the birthday boy) had cake, chips and drinks for us. Then we went home and my father took us all out for iced coffee. This all at like 1 in the morning.
So in India, birthdays are a midnight event. Which I have to say, is a very fun idea. Driving back from the coffee shop to the home, for some reason I felt more contented than I ever had before during this stay. I don't know what it was - maybe it was that I felt more fully accepted into the family than I had before and that I realized that I have great affection for these folks. It also might just be that we were out at night, and the cool loveliness of late summer nights always puts me at peace.
Everyone talks about soccer as the world sport, and I never really doubted that. Statistics of World Cup TV ratings don't lie. But I didn't realize until now that it truly has the ability to connect people. It has served as one of my only cultural touchstones with a group of people living a lifestyle that is, in almost every way, hugely different from my own.
Soccer is the 2nd biggest sport in India after cricket. I'm afraid that despite Pratik and Akshay's best efforts to explain to me the finer points of the game, I really don't see the appeal of cricket. My post-Lagaan cricket-obsessive phase is long over. Soccer, though, is something I like.
This year I watched the World Cup obsessively. I watched as many games as I could. I had never really seen soccer before, and I basically decided to obsess over the World Cup and the Netherlands Oranje because these sort of sporting events are infectious, and I wanted to join in. I was delighted to find that soccer is an excellent game. It was pure luck that I am right now at the height of my new soccer obsession.
People in India truly love soccer. It gives me great conversations to have with the new kids I meet in school. It gives me things to talk about with my brothers. I play a FIFA game on the PS2 with Pratik with great frequency. I kick a ball around in the street with my brothers and a bunch of little kids. And nearly everyone in this country will talk to you about it - almost no exceptions. The other day I had a lengthy conversation with my Stats teacher about this year's World Cup. I don't think I would have had much to say to him otherwise.
Indian soccer fits the vision that I think a lot of people have of soccer in impoverished nations - a huge crowd of delighted folks kicking a deflated ball around a trashy pitch with no nets behind the goalposts. But this is the charm of it - that soccer is a game that makes people so excited that they will do anything to play it. The other thing - it's cheap. For cricket you need a ball, a paddle, quite a few players, wickets. Soccer - you need a ball. Not even any other people, necessarily. This, I think, is why soccer became the world's sport and not baseball or basketball - the accessibility.
I hope all of you Rotary kids watched the World Cup. It's been immensely helpful.
On the topic of other Rotary kids, if I'm not mistaken the Sweden folks left today and the Brazil kids are heading out the day after tomorrow. Make the most of your remaining time and everyone have an absolute blast. No matter how different your lifestyle becomes, the human body is a very adaptive entity. I'm a week and a half in, and I get more comfortable by the day.