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Desis Who Love American Sports | OPEN Magazine 03/02/11 2:39 PM

THURSDAY, 03 FEBRUARY 2011

Confessions of a luxury watch salesman search OPEN

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Overwhelmed by an entirely new sort of crowd


frenzy, Indians in the US eventually find (http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?v=250&winname=addthis&pub=openmag&source=tbx-

themselves cheering along lustily. It does not 250&lng=en-


happen overnight, though. us&s=digg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.openthemagazine.com%2Farticle%2Fsports%2Fdesis-who-love-
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BY Akshay Sawai (/category/author/akshay-sawai) EMAIL AUTHOR(S)
(mailto:akshay@openmedianetwork.in)

TAGGED UNDER | desi (/category/tags/desi) | fan (/category/tags/fan) | American sports


(/category/tags/american-sports)

PASSION

Seau’s the restaurant is a well-known sports bar in the Californian city of


San Diego. Its owner is the 41-year-old Junior Seau, who played as
linebacker for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots—two
American football teams. Seau’s has an area of 14,500 sq ft. It beams
matches, or ‘games’ as they say in the US (and now here as well), on 60
televisions and one huge 12-by-14-ft screen.

Despite occasional customer complaints about service and meals, Seau’s is


where most San Diegans head when they seek the rugged mix of explosive
sport and greasy bar food.

In this consummate American setting, if you hear strains of Hindi, you are
probably at the table of Mahek Vyas and his friends. It has platters of
chicken wings, French fries, chips and salsa, and bottles of Heineken beer.
They are among the several desis in the US who welcome football evenings
with a zeal reserved for cricket matches in their earlier lives.

The boys, mostly students in their mid-20s, are saying this about the

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Chargers: “Regular season mein jeet rahe hain saale, phir se playoffs mein
naa marva lein (These bums are winning this regular season, but they’d
better not get busted in the playoffs as usual).”

The Chargers did well last season, but not as well as their fans would have
liked. Now they get another shot, as a new football season kicks off in
America. This means there are National Football League (NFL) as well as
college football games to look forward to. The excitement will culminate
with the Super Bowl, which will decide the NFL winner.

In New York and San Jose, in Austin and Chicago, Indians will have
raucous Super Bowl parties. They will wolf down pizza and beer. They will
join coast-to-coast ‘touchdowwwn!’ uproars. There will be the obligatory
discussion about Super Bowl ads and ad rates.

The year 2010 was only the second time in the event’s history that ad rates
were lower than the previous year’s. The Great Recession pushed 30-
second slots down to $2.5–2.8 million from the 2009 average of $3
million. What will future rates be like? Considering the powerful Indian
presence in America, will there ever be a Nirma Super Bowl ad with
cheerleaders replacing ‘Jaya, Mala, Sushma’ to twirl and trill ‘Sabki pasand
Nirma’?

The embrace of American football is another instance of Indians joining a


cult foreign to them until their very own touchdowns on US runway
tarmacs. When Indians migrate, there are some things about home they
can replicate in their new setting. They can eat their kind of food and
watch their kind of movies. They can bring parents over. But when it
comes to sport, they have to adapt. This is a fascinating process, especially
in the US. England and Australia have cricket, soccer and tennis, games
Indians are more than familiar with. But the US has its own distinct sports
and jock culture. Football is played with hands, shoulders and a coconut-
shaped ball, bats to ‘play ball’ are cylindrical, and defence is an extended
‘dee-fense’.

From shrugging dismissively at American sports to the point where you


start enjoying them with equal gusto, when Drew Brees, the New Orleans
Saints quarterback who was the last Super Bowl’s MVP—Most Valuable
Player, America’s great contribution to sports labels and copied all over the
world—becomes as much a personal idol as Sachin Tendulkar, is a
transformation that takes place in stages. The first phase is painful. This is
when the Indian sports scene, also called cricket, is sorely missed.

“A serious component of my happiness was missing in those early days. It


was tough,” says Atul Kulkarni, 31, a PhD student at the University of
Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, near Chicago. He grew up in Pune watching
cricket, tennis, soccer and Formula 1 racing. He knew that once in the US,
he would be cut off from cricket. But at least he would be part of a thriving
tennis scenario, the US having produced many Hall of Famers, including
his favourite, Pete Sampras. “I thought I would get to play, follow, and
easily find folk to talk about tennis, if not cricket,” says Kulkarni.
“Unfortunately, tennis is not that big here. That was a big disappointment.”

Like many other Indians, Jayant Bodas sacrificed his sleep to get a fix of
cricket in his initial days in the US. Originally from Amravati, Maharashtra,
and now in Louisville, Kentucky, this professional in his late 30s watched
the 2003 World Cup held in South Africa at odd hours on TV. He taped the
games so he could watch them many times over, especially Tendulkar’s
destruction of Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion.

Varun Bubber, 26, on the other hand, used to enjoy playing cricket more
than watching it when he was in India. Once he went to the University of
California in Berkeley, however, he began watching cricket with a passion
that surprised him. “I would stream it online illegally,” he says, “because
willow.tv was too expensive and unreliable.”

At least, Bodas and Bubber had satellite TV and the internet. In 1981, the

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year that writer Dilip D’Souza went to Providence, Rhode Island, to attend
Brown University, “There was American sport, and that’s it.” He had to
wait for Indian newspaper clippings to reach the old-fashioned mail box
for his dose of cricket, or hockey, his other favourite. “That is how I read
about the 1983 World Cup win,” says D’Souza. “An Indian friend sent me
the clippings. I pored over the reports of the final victory. I still have them
somewhere.”

The next step, often, is a desperate effort to play cricket, which leads to
friendships with students from Pakistan, common ground having been
found in the agreement that the game runs in Subcontinental genes. In
some cases, students from places like the West Indies join in. Such
matches mostly begin in unlikely surroundings, at the risk of bemused
stares of passersby.

Come what may, they play. D’Souza says, “I was an impoverished student
and had no money to repair my glasses, the arms of which had fallen off a
couple of days before one of our matches. So I played that whole game—
even bowling fast—with the glasses taped to my nose with scotch-tape.
That was how much I wanted to play cricket.”

The cricket club D’Souza and his friends formed lives on. The Rhode Island
Cricket Club competes as part of a weekend cricket league in New England.

Gradually, though, Indians come to a point where they begin to like and
play American sports too. The challenges and beauty of football, baseball
or basketball become apparent, thanks to a host of factors, the biggest
being America’s vibrant college sports system. What once seemed peculiar
games played by outsized athletes in Archie comics or in a stray copy of
Sports Illustrated start turning into a new passion.

“I was amazed by the strength and agility of football players,” says Bodas.
“A team may have to go up ten yards in four tries. But with 350-lb giants
thudding into you, it assumes the difficulty of a 100 mile run. The other
fascinating thing about football is that it is orchestrated so much by the
coach and his staff from the sidelines.”

“One can’t help but get into the sport because everyone on campus talks
about it, especially if your college team is doing well,” says Sahil Javeri, 26,
an economics graduate from the University of Texas, a football
powerhouse. “Also, the facilities at stadiums are much better. The
atmosphere is ceremonial. Every college has its band. It is not like
watching a Ranji Trophy match.” Bubber agrees, “The passion, the
pageantry, the hot drunken women, the parties before the game, the
celebration or abject dejection later… nothing comes close.”

Often, it is the characters who endear themselves to Indian fans. While


D’Souza considers Larry Bird, the ‘Nice Guy’ basketballer, his role model,
he also has place in his heart for John ‘The Diesel’ Riggins, a former
Washington Redskins football star. A drunk Riggins once fell asleep on the
floor during a speech by George Bush Sr at a black tie Washington party.
At the same event, he told Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court judge:
“Loosen up, Sandy baby. You’re too tight.”

A stage comes when Indians start enjoying the American sport of their
choice more than cricket (at least, some forms of cricket). “Between the
IPL and college football, I’ll choose football,” says Bubber, “But I’ll always
love watching Tests and ODIs.” Yet, some desis struggle to warm up to
American sports. Like Kulkarni, who, for all his years in the US, keeps an
interest in them only for its social value. “I keep abreast of what’s
happening,” he says, “Sports is a big part of American culture, and many
business discussions start with some talk about the latest results.”

Of the American big three, most Indians seem most taken in by football.
Basketball is also popular, especially during the ‘March Madness’ of the
NCAA Championships. Baseball, even though its similarity with cricket
generates curiosity, has the fewest takers. Indians by and large cannot

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comprehend why the New York Yankees would pay Alex Rodriguez $275
million over ten years for the privilege of facing full tosses (albeit swinging
ones). “I found it hard to understand why batters were not able to hit every
ball,” says Kulkarni. “My American friends didn’t understand my doubts.
So, we decided to play. I was able to touch everything my American friends
threw at me. They agreed that cricketers would be better at baseball than
baseball players at cricket.”

Interest in baseball has risen a bit ever since talent scouts from the US
plucked India’s Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel out of obscurity and planted
them into the training programme of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Should they
make it to Major League Baseball, many more might start watching the
game.

As Indians adapt more to American sports, some of them may even bring
some of it back home.

There are signs of it already. Every other Sunday, a group of about 20 are
seen throwing an oblong football around at Bombay’s Mahalaxmi Race
Course. “We play touch football, not tackle. It is still exhausting,” says
Sahil Javeri, “Throwing the ball is a skill in itself. In rugby, you pass the
ball laterally. In football, you throw it forward. It is a fun way of staying in
touch with the game.”

Javeri says they always attract a crowd of flummoxed onlookers. “They


think we play rugby,” he says. Little do they know about that outsized
coconut.

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1 COMMENTS

PERMALINK (/ARTICLE/SPORTS/DESIS -WHO-LOVE -AMERICAN-SPORTS#COMMENT -

7020)

This article is very true to every line as I can pretty much relate to
everything mentioned here. But at the same time, would like to add
something I have realized over years. There are some really bad aspects
to US sports as most of their so called star players have used steroids at
some stage, or are drug addicts, rapists and murderers. Surprisingly
people keep accepting them because they are hooked to the games.

Many of the top players (including top basketball star Kobe, football player
Ben Roethlisberger, Ray Lewis and above mentioned baseball star Alex
Rodriguez) in every game are tainted with worst possible crimes.

So like US sports all you want, but there is that other side to this story :)
27 OCTOBER 2010 | GO PENN STATE

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