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Shobhaa De | The festival of Diwali is over Let the festivities go on

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    India's Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja celebrate the wicket of New Zealand's Devon Conway during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 first semi-final match between India and New Zealand, at the Wankhede Stadium, in Mumbai, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (PTI Photo/Kunal Patil)

    I’m writing this the morning after the night before, while India is still on a cricket high… and justifiably so. Cricket, that great equaliser, established forcefully how, when left to ourselves, without pesky politicians to spoil the pitch, we perform at optimum levels and do so with effortless grace. The semi-finals on Wednesday created memorable milestones which will be remembered in not just cricketing history, but history-history, as Team India whacked the ball out of the stadium. The game itself was secondary (sorry, cricket fans!). For me, it was the transformative subtext and subliminal messaging behind the tension-filled match that did the trick. Think of it -- a bunch of guys from very different cultural/religious/economic backgrounds played harmoniously, seamlessly, beautifully… as one. And across India, that single echo of togetherness, unity and unfiltered pride in the country, aptly symbolised by our Men in Blue, generated more euphoria than almost any other public deed, act or announcement ever has or could.

    It’s tempting to say that this euphoria will only get amplified a thousand-fold if the team lift the World Cup on Sunday, November 19. But… it’s important to remind ourselves that cricket is just a game at the end of the day. And like in any other game, there will always be winners and losers. Yes, we are cricket mad and it is we who have elevated cricket to a quasi-religion, with impassioned followers ready to sacrifice themselves at the altar of cricket. Fanaticism can be alarming for those not as invested in the game -- someone like myself, for example. Of course, I did watch Virat Kohli’s moment of glory… and relished every bit of the post-century emotional drama, with Virat deliberately removing his gloves, helmet, placing his bat carefully on the ground, and bowing deeply to Sachin Tendulkar in the stands, effusively acknowledging his reverence and respect for the Bharat Ratna sports star. I could be mistaken, but such a grand gesture from one sportsperson towards another sportsperson is unprecedented in living memory. It made me wonder -- had Virat planned the tribute to the last detail, in case he created that staggering record? Did he discuss it with his wife in advance? Was it agreed he would blow her a kiss only after he’d finished worshipping his idol? Did he know the full impact of the gesture? Or, was he truly one with the moment right then, and oblivious to the thunderous roar of his fans that could be heard across Marine Drive? But when he finally acknowledged their presence, the only optic that mattered was the one of him bowing to the Master Blaster. And sure enough, it was this photograph that was instantly transmitted globally, and made the front page of every newspaper. Whether or not India lifts the Cup tomorrow after the spectacular 10/10 record thus far, it’s Virat’s bowing moment that will enjoy maximum recall whenever ODI World Cup 2023 is discussed.

    So powerful was the feel-good factor generated by India’s win over New Zealand that a lot else got side-tracked and received comparatively paltry coverage. Like the passing of "Biki" Oberoi and Subrata Roy Sahara -- both household names but for entirely different reasons. Hospitality and chit funds are worlds removed. While rich tributes started to pour in minutes after the news of Biki’s death flashed, Subrata’s obituaries were some of the harshest in recent memory. One newspaper titled its obit "The OG chit-fund hustler who destroyed millions…" Other newspapers gave Roy a one-column treatment, indicating that Roy did not warrant much more. Roy’s ponzi scheme cheated the poorest of the poor, and made him one of the wealthiest men in India… till the law caught up with him. It was game over. Surprisingly, Sebi could never prove whose money it was… where it came from… and who Roy was shielding. He was asked to cough up approximately Rs 60,000 crores -- dubbed the most expensive bail bond in the world. Ironically, not a single group of Sahara investors went public with their grievances!

    Sadly, it was only a handful of Bollywood personalities who spoke up about their benefactor and praised his generosity. "None who sought his help went back disappointed…." said his former COO at Sahara India Motion Pictures, while Madhur Bhandarkar, who had met the ailing Roy in hospital a few months ago, added: "He would light up the room with his cheerful spirit…."

    On the few occasions I had briefly met him and his lovely, soft-spoken wife Swapna during their heyday, I had watched with some amusement as Mumbai’s so-called movers and shakers sucked up to the duo and fell over backwards to get face time with Roy. He was feted and celebrated by some of India’s most prominent industrialists, who didn’t think twice before accepting lavish gifts from the man. I recall a prima donna mocking him after enjoying his hospitality over a bizarre dinner at which he’d hired a foreign quartet and a well-known singer to croon to the lady, who later boasted that Roy had gifted her a rare, diamond-studded watch as a back present, before dropping her off in his private helicopter.

    That’s life!

    Biki was born with a golden spoon (no, an entire cutlery set) in his mouth. His was a life of untold privilege and wealth -- a charmed life. Which in no way takes away from his tremendous contribution to the rarefied world of luxury. Roy came out of nowhere and tragically ended up nowhere, even after being named the tenth Most Influential Businessman by India Today in 2012. Roy’s parents were zamindars from Dhaka, so Roy’s wasn’t exactly a rags-to-riches saga. Despite it all, Roy was never granted entry into the snooty, snobby ‘’PLU’’ club. And whatever led to his sudden fall from grace, the consequences were as terrible for him as they were for those who he had supposedly swindled. A case of karma biting back, said the very people who had used him while the going was good.

    My plan this weekend involves watching Tiger 3. Just to keep the adrenalin level high during the run-up to the World Cup finals. And yes … it must have been a first for David Beckham to play second fiddle to not just one, but two incredible sportspeople who got 1.4. billion people together… and on their feet. Thank you, Virat Kohli and Mohammed Shami, for the unmatched magic. Yeh Mera India… I love my India!


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