50 Days of I.P.Hell


50 Days of I.P.Hell

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In my dreams sometimes, I hear the raucous roar of the masses assembled in the stands. I see them – the unruly herd, shuffling along the footpaths, their garishly painted faces locked in frighteningly ecstatic expressions. They carry with them weapons that shatter my Sunday peace: vuvuzelas, whistles, and their own indefatigable vocal chords. I am afraid. Very afraid.

The Indian Premier League may probably be the most revolutionary innovation to have hit the game of cricket in the last 20 years, but I have become roadkill on the path to the future. I have the misfortune of living opposite Wankhede Stadium, home of Mumbai Indians and land of the rowdies. And my sanity is ready to give up on me. Today, what people all over Mumbai refer to as a “home game”, I call fucking bullshit.

It wasn’t always this way. As a boy, a match at the stadium was a grand occasion. But just as Khaled Hosseini had to see his beautiful, progressive Afghanistan fall into ruin in the hands of the Taliban, I too have had to live through the radicalisation of my former haunt. The maddened masses, whipped up into a frenzy by promises of a “new, exciting format”, descended upon what was once hallowed ground and with them came a gamut of characters – cheerleaders, MCs, and street vendors that thrive in the ecosystem of the pulsing mob.

Over the next 50 days, Wankhede Stadium will draw crowds that will put medieval witch burning to shame, but it’s people like me who will go up on the stake. The din outside will be chaotic. The fans will shriek, the hype men will hype, the commentators will holler into microphones, and speakers will blast out the loudest Bollywood hits at a decibel level that is a human rights violation.

In 2013, I remember spending the night at a friend’s house. It was the sixth edition of the IPL. Waking late the next afternoon, I made my way back home. Hung-over and exhausted, I braved the late afternoon sun, only to be greeted by a police barricade and a grumpy traffic cop.

“No entry,” he snarled.

This madness has gone on for a decade now, and I break out into a cold sweat every time I hear that damn trumpet.

I tried explaining to him that my house was in the lane, but he refused to see reason. Eventually, he hinted at accepting a bribe. To allow me entry into my own house! “Fuck that,” I thought, and drove off. But I wasn’t allowed to enter the next lane, or the next. Finally, I had to park half a kilometre away, in a pay-and-park zone no less, and drag my fatigued carcass back home on weary feet.

If displacing me from my home wasn’t enough, the IPL took the fight to my stomach. It was a nasty low blow. A man’s gotta eat. After I had locked myself inside my house, I turned to the comfort food and ordered a shawarma online. Trying to ignore the ruckus, I frantically tracked the delivery boy, as he picked up the parcel from the restaurant and made his way over. My heart sank as I saw him slowing down as he got closer to my house. “It’s just traffic,” I muttered to myself. But soon after, he came to a dead halt. My phone rang. With a knot in my stomach, I answered. It was the delivery boy, calling to let me know that he’d been stopped by my old friend, the traffic cop.

That day, I wept.

Since then things have gotten worse. I’ve had the crest prised off my car bumper by people lounging on the road, my bike seat fabric ripped by kids waiting outside the stadium, and I’ve been followed around by a gaggle of street vendors with vuvuzelas that sound like nuclear alarms. This madness has gone on for a decade now, and I break out into a cold sweat every time I hear that damn trumpet.

Thankfully, in this mini pogrom against the residents of Marine Drive, I am not alone. On the morning after the match, I take great solace in seeing other cricket refugees like myself stumbling out of their homes with bleary eyes and unsteady feet. Robbed of sleep and serenity, we make our way through the debris of discarded team flags, food wrappers, and disembodied Malinga wigs.

Now, the 11th edition of the IPL is here, and I’m shivering under my blanket, dreading the next 50 days. If I don’t make it through this time let my epitaph read: Inshallah, the boy played well.