I was a little over 15 when I watched the first ever match of the Indian Premier League back on the 18th of April, 2008 — the eight participating teams with flashy names, jerseys and theme songs wasted no time in instantly captivating young fans like us.
For cricket nuts in India, the league was a fitting sequel to the nation’s T20 World Cup triumph from the preceding year. For others, it served as a freakish alternate universe where the likes of Ricky Ponting were up against Shane Warne while Jacques Kallis took on Makhaya Ntini. To me likewise, it was all about watching Rahul Dravid lead a team named after my favourite Indian city against his close personal friend Sourav Ganguly in a game which would go on to be rightfully remembered for Brendon McCullum’s brutal ton.
It also happened to be my grandfather’s 78th birthday.
Apart from never having followed or taken to sport of any kind, he is a man of many endearing qualities and stories — including leaving his sleepy hometown in Southern India when he was barely a teenager to land up in Bombay and set up shop. A clichéd backstory for most Indians of his time, but worth a revisit whenever we manage to catch up — especially because he ends up introducing new subplots and characters every time. Despite having lost his wife (my grandmother) recently, he continues to solider on as an exceedingly independent and adorable member of my family. He loves taking his hatchback out for a spin, cook his own meals and watch whatever he can find on the telly — even if it’s a Hollywood film he can barely understand. He would usually sit for hours together with folded hands and an unbroken gaze, occasionally smirking for half a second before looking around and regaining his sombre countenance.
I sometimes wonder whether he prefers watching stuff he doesn’t understand simply because he doesn’t have to worry or get carried away by any of it too much.
Despite a fairly wide age gap of 78 years between my grandfather and the league, their shared birthdays and an abundance of time prompted me to sit down and draw some parallels between these two fairly important (albeit contrasting) fixtures of my life. For starters, neither parties are aware of each other’s existence. They are happy in their own (almost) parallel universes which barely overlap. And even if they did, neither parties would pose any interest to each other for glaringly obvious reasons. The generational gap is hard to miss.
Both love sitting down with a good story though.
While my grandfather would usually prefer talking about other grandfathers and grandmothers who are old pals of his, the IPL continues to revel in its paradox of celebrating cricketing superstars as well as rookies scouted from tucked away towns. Unsurprisingly enough, a lion’s share of the receiving end is charmed by these stories and keep coming back for more. Both storytellers always have something deeply personal and relatable to talk about — and they know us well enough to keep us engaged for as long as they desire. And honestly if Bong Jon-Hoo, after winning an Academy award for Parasite, can remind us that the most personal is the most creative, I’m pretty sure there’s something there.
The Indian Premier League has continued to be a yardstick to measure the success of leagues within and beyond cricket thanks to lucrative sponsor deals and contracts, expansion of venues and player pools and continued efforts towards adapting to the changing socio-economic climate. Today, everybody wants in. To be fair, my grandfather has had a far wider range of changes to deal and make peace with. The comparison, therefore, is a lot more challenging in this case — except that there’s an unmissable quality of openness exhibited by both parties. My grandfather has always enjoyed striking up conversations and friendships with the unlikeliest of people — I recall this one time back home in Dubai when he dined at a nearby restaurant and immediately decided to invite the owner over for tea.
Music appears to be a common element for both parties involved too. While the IPL relies on deafening decibels to amp up the atmosphere during games, my grandfather sets the mood with his sitar — an instrument which, if not for The Beatles, would’ve remained relatively unknown to the west. Despite his daily sessions being deeply sacred to him, he doesn’t mind a small audience every now and then. Here again, the scale, genre and audience of both parties are vastly different — but if you take music out of either equation, there is a feeling of incompleteness.
My grandfather turned 90 this year, while the Indian Premier League is scheduled to turn 12 soon. And while it is quite compelling to think about what the the league would look like if it ever makes it all the way to 90, I’m inclined to believe that it may fall a little short of ageing as well as my grandfather has.