Football + Flanerie

Every evening I go to play football, it is the one outlet I need to get through the day. The rookie mistake in football is letting the ball run ahead of you. You have to run with the ball, instead of after the ball. Every-time you kick the ball, it must not run faster than you do or you will end up chasing the ball instead of controlling it. Life is like football. The ball in the game is time.

You have to pace yourself up with time, and sometimes, just like the ball, time seems to be moving so fast, and all the things that I just HAVE TO DO are piling up making me feel like I’m on a perpetual hamster wheel that I can’t get off on. I keep chasing after time.

Idly strolling on the streets of Jaipur, being a spectator of the show felt like “slowing down.” I was finally moving with the ball. I didn’t really know where I was going, I had a vague sense of direction after tampering with Google Maps. I was walking towards the old city, my brain said but I was really just walking to get away from the traffic. It seemed just wrong. The quaint little curved lamplights on the dividers stole my heart, while the staggering traffic and congested roads were closing in for the kill. I stopped at a tea stall, nearby, asked for a glass of tea and bought two oranges. So, there I was, sipping tea, nibbling on the orange and soaking in the rest of the world, a passive observer in the middle of huge and utter chaos. The devilish working of Chaos, it’s rule over the city was absolute. It was thorough and incomprehensible. All the people seemed to be chasing an imaginary ball which kept evading them. Everyone was in a hurry. Nobody gave a damn about anybody else. They all had their own business to get to. I could imagine all those people on the bikes and cars with their footballs, running and chasing them, seeing nothing else- caring for nothing else. That’s another rookie mistake, you can’t get far in football if you keep looking down at the ball and forget everything else. You have to be looking up and you have to be attentive to what is going on, the bigger picture. You have to use your peripheral vision to keep the ball under control whilst moving at optimum speed and make necessary decisions by looking around. You can’t just keep playing your game like you’re the only person on the field. Everyone was making rookie mistakes. It was like a grand stadium where every one of these people were players in their own leagues and everyone of them was messing up. Sometimes in football, the impulse to jump and shout comes from herd instinct and a need to conform rather than an impulse from real emotion- so everybody shouts! There is a complete pandemonium. The streets of Jaipur were representative of the herd instinct. Everyone was too engrossed in shouting. It was overwhelming, I walked ahead, got lost, to the inner entrails of the city, to find a place more soothing to senses, away from the madness and disruption.

There were these set of stairs that kept repeating themselves as I kept walking further on. I wanted to climb them and climb right up to the terrace to look at the mad city from above, like a miniature version of a mountaintop. Perhaps looking at the game from an eagle’s view will make some more sense about which side is winning, perhaps it will be less chaos. I walked up one such set of stairs. An orange in my bag. As soon as I reached upstairs, I was immediately disoriented. The ghost temple wore a desolated look, it felt cursed. The roaring noise and frenzy of the city was left behind, it had completely fallen apart, there was a deafening silence. And I have to admit, it felt like I had walked right into a horror movie. The silence was not comforting, it was the kind that raises goosebumps. I was searching for the flight of stairs that I could climb and go upstairs to the terrace. There were pillars on the side, tiny doors leading to what I assumed was the entrance to the praying area. And Lo! I finally spotted the tiny flight of stairs snuggled comfortably between the pillars and doors. I did not think it was possible to feel scared in this humongous city with the diaspora of human civilization marking every inch of it but my heart beat quickened, my senses were heightened and I was very well aware of the pitiful squeaks of my shoes. I took a few steps towards the stairs and just when I had, a gruff husky voice made me take a sharp turn and my heart leapt wildly, it was the caretaker or the ghost of the last caretaker going by the mane of unshaved hair asking me where I was going. He looked at me suspiciously, I was rooted to the spot.

I mumbled, “uh.. to the inner sanctum of the temple to pray,” in hindi, very unconvincingly. I felt like I was committing a crime, under the sheer weight of scrutiny and suspicion in his eyes. It suddenly felt like the most important moment in my life, or the football game, whichever one it was. Everything stood still in the moment. The world stopped revolving around it’s axis, it stopped to watch. The little drama unfolded, I am sure there was a huge invisible crowd watching somewhere, but on the field, the player never gives a seconds thought to that. Regaining some of my footing and wits, I added, “to drop this orange there as an offering and ask for blessings.” I couldn’t really see more than the outline of a man, it was too dark to make out and he did seem to have walked right out of the shadows. He stood there, just watching. The atmosphere was eerie, tense with fright. Now, like a cat with all her hair standing up, I rushed ahead to the doors instead of the staircase, deposited the orange, bowed my head in reverence to the curtains, which I supposed guarded the idol of the god I was asking blessings from. And then I walked out, feeling hot, sheer heat radiating, from my face down. I could feel the eyes of the man burning into my back. Perhaps that’s the reason I have Eczema on my back right now. My walk turned into a run, as I shot down the creaking stairs, fleeting from view. “Good god!” I exclaimed as I walked back into the noise and chaos, the mad frenzy of people filled me with relief. I felt it gushing back into me like water in a basin after the dam is lifted for the first time. And I realized I had found a place more soothing to senses, in the madness and disruption.

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