My first glimpse of the sunrise after pulling an all-nighter was not at a teenage pyjama party; nor after studying for my exams all night long. It was after a late night World Cup football match being played in faraway Mexico. Exhilarated after a particularly goal-some match, my father turned my attention to the open skies beyond our living room veranda. ‘Oi dekh,’ he said, pointing outside, and that’s how a 12-year-old saw the dark skies changing light, with the dawn of a new day. Father and daughter, standing side by side. Silently watching one of God’s many miracles. After a particularly goal-some soccer match in faraway Mexico.
That was the year of Maradona, with a little help from ‘the hand of God’! A strict parent, my father had forbidden any posters from being put on the walls; but I had created my own collage (if you remember the glossy Sportstar magazine, you’ll know what the centerspread meant to kids back in the 1980s). Crowded in with Wham!, Dire Straits and Michael Jackson were centerspreads of Boris Becker, Gabriela Sabatini, Platini, Zico, Sócrates and Maradona behind my door! It was an ingenious arrangement (that my brother often blackmailed me with) – since nothing was visible on my walls and my father would rarely stand behind my closed door! My mother knew, of course, like so many other things that mothers make it their business to know. (Reading The Godfather and A Stone for Danny Fisher with brown paper covers at the dining table, for instance; I mean, what exactly was I thinking?!). I also had this scrapbook (an ancient invention that thankfully children have no clue about these days) filled with newspaper cuttings of Maradona. In those pre-Google, and indeed pre-Internet days, if there was anything out there out there on Maradona, my neatly labelled scrapbook knew about it all…
That was my year of discovering the dawn, and a South American land called Argentina. All because my father and I would ritualistically watch those soccer matches late into the night. I remember my mother once walking into our midnight football fest and giving it to my father for keeping me up all night before my exams. ‘She has school in the morning, and her exams are coming up next week. If she had to remain awake, shouldn’t she have been studying?’ Those were the times my father would become an indulgent parent, remembering his own boyhood perhaps. ‘Exams come every year, but the World Cup only comes up once in four years,’ he replied, winking at me.
My hero that he is, that was my father’s way of teaching me how to live life. Descendants of refugees from East Bengal in 1947, we do not come from a particularly wealthy family, and nor do we have it in us to suddenly strike it rich. My father knew that his children would have to make their place in the world through hard work; he knew life would have endless exams waiting for us. What he could give me, and has been successful in giving, is the trick of learning how to extract joy from everyday life. How to savour a glass of water as if it were wine. Watching raindrops slide down a high-tension wire as if they were pearl drops…
When the next World Cup came around, it was the year of my secondary board exams and my Italian romance. My father indulged my flighty affairs with Baggio and Donadoni, while remaining the staunch Deutschland fan that he has always been. My earliest World Cup memories are of my father watching recordings of Beckenbauer holding up the cup for West Germany in 1974. My Italian beaux broke my heart in 1990, however, when they finished as third runners up. That year West Germany won the cup with a single goal against Argentina in the finals. And I think I passed by board exams.
The USA World Cup in 1994 was perhaps the last one my father and I watched together under the same roof. I left home the next year for my post-graduation; and discovered my calling in life, quite by chance, just like my father had taught me, subliminally… My years of adolescent Latino affairs are long gone now, and I have shifted my loyalties to stand by my father, rooting for Germany. It was a very special day for us, as you can imagine, when my nephew was born during the World Cup semi-finals between Brazil and Germany in 2014. Germany won 7-1 against Brazil. It was the 8th of July, and with 8 goals scored in a power-packed match, my nephew was nicknamed, ‘Goaltu’!
That year Germany went on to win the cup again, with Der Kaiser (Beckenbauer’s old nickname) as the coach of the winning team. My father’s all-time hero had caught it full circle; and so had my father, with the birth of his first grandchild.
My father and I are still watching this World Cup together, although thousands of miles separate us. As we watched the Spanish tiqui-taca magic unfold over the Russian steppes late last night, I kept calling him up with each goal and penalty kick. My mother long asleep, and my husband (a cricket fan) sleeping in the guest room, it was back to our father-daughter duo watching yet another World Cup together in the middle of the night. As Ronaldo scored his hat trick, equalising the Spanish–Portugal group match with 3 goals each, minutes before full time, I called up my father. There was no need to say anything. We are keeping up a tradition all of our own: viva el fútbol!
By SAON BHATTACHARYA