Cricket and Chai

Ab humse kaun poochega ki – bhaiya score kya hua hain?

That’s what the chai-walla said on a news channel a few days ago, after it was announced that All India Radio was not going to broadcast the India-Pakistan series, the first test match of which begins tomorrow at Lahore. Chai-stalls and chai are to Indian Cricket what Pubs and Beer are to English Football. Well, almost.

When I was in Pune, hostels did not have TV’s and it became difficult to keep track of cricket. Most mornings began by pouring over cricket news (heh), over a cup or two of chai at one of the 12 chai-stalls I frequented. (Yeah, I just counted) One got used to not watching TV, but we felt deprived when some teachers dismissed the class early so that everyone could go home and watch the match. Sometimes we got lucky and everyone trooped over to a benevolent localites home, but more often than not, we stood for a few hours around one chai-walla or the other, listened to the radio, and sipped tea and ate sugary cream rolls or vada-pavs. We rarely got a place to sit.

Most of the chai-stalls around my hostel had only a radio. People who knew each other only by face would debate Dravid’s position in the team and whether Azhar should still be captain, given his consistently bad form. Sometimes my opinion was sought on a particular point being debated by someone I had never spoken to. Often it would become a free-for-all debate, before someone else would tell everyone to shut up and listen to the commentary. Thirty of the forty people there would respond to a loud “Score kya hua hain?” query from a passerby.

The family who ran a chai-stall outside their home once allowed forty of us into their small living room (no more could fit in), to watch Tendulkar make a hundred during the 1999 World Cup. Tendulkar had just returned from his fathers funeral, and we all cheered and clapped, moist-eyed. That was, however, all the cricket I got to see during that World Cup, though I heard enough on radio at the chai-stalls to debate cricket with others in the hostel.

In my last couple of years in Pune, a new apartment-block came up, and on the ground floor, three new chai-spots opened: two were messes and had TV’s. Whenever India was playing a match, close to a hundred people would be standing around the TV placed on a drum outside each mess, for almost the entire match. There were always more people watching when India was batting, than when fielding.

I remember watching Sehwag slam a ton while standing on my toes outside one of the messes, when England toured India last. On another occasion, the TV was inside the mess and one had to order something to remain seated inside. I sipped eight cups of chai during that innings, and skipped dinner.

After Tendulkar got out during the (famous) Natwest final, I’d gone to a cybercafe. An hour and a half later, I overheard someone talking about how Yuvraj and Kaif were still batting, and rushed to the mess. There was, unfortunately, no place to sit and one could barely see the TV; it was a chilly, breezy evening and I couldn’t even reach the counter to order my cuppa. India won and the resulting cheers were deafening.

And now we hear that there will be no commentary on the radio, and no telecast on DD. Spare a thought for the innumerable cricket-crazy hostelites who won’t be able to watch or hear the series, and the chai-wallas who’ll lose out on business.

You know how people ask you “What were you doing when…” and then proceed to tell you what they were doing? Well, whenever I was asked this question in the context of a match then , I said that I was at a chai-stall.

Crossposted at The Prempanix Discussion Group


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  1. Really good one. We had to undergo something similar during my college days as well.

    Watched the SRT ‘Desert Storm’ on a roadside tv near my hostel, standing on my toes dangerously close to a large open drain. Ofcourse, it was worth it.

  2. Worma: Thanks. I saw Desert Storm at home. Ten Sports shows both the innings every few days, but I never tire of watching them.

    Anirudh: Thanks. I take it that you don’t stay close to a hostel that doesn’t have a TV 😀

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