I have sat in a plane for 10 hours, only to get off and walk into another plane for a 10 hour flight, rotating my feet to avoid getting cramps. I have walked all day, not even sitting for lunch, rotating my feet to avoid getting cramps.
I have eaten some of the most delicious food in my life, over a leisurely afternoon watching a football match with some nice chilled beer. I have gulped down the most atrocious sandwich ever with the help of a too-watery orange juice, hurriedly grabbed on my way to some airport.
I have panicked and paid 130 BRL (Brazilian Reals, pronounces hay-ees) to go from the airport to my hostel, not knowing the language and not having a map, with just a faint realization that the cab driver is literally taking me for a ride. I have planned and covered the same journey back in 8 BRL, through bus, a walk, and a metro line which involved two changes across three lines, again without knowing the language or without having a map.
I have stood in a fancy pub, listening to music I didn’t understand but could move my foot to, sipping over-priced caipirinha, observing how dim lighting and some alcohol enables some guys to effortlessly chat up pretty women they have just met. I have sat in an ordinary bar, watching a game I claim to understand but couldn’t move my foot to, gulping down cheap cachaça shots, and realizing how lighting and alcohol don’t make a difference to my inability to chat up pretty women.
I have been at the receiving end of implicit racism, not outright hostility but a sense of being treated a bit coldly because I am brown. I have been at the receiving end of very warm hospitality, a sense of being treated like an honoured guest, my skin colour notwithstanding. I have seen perfect strangers nod and smile at me, in a sort of acknowledgement of universal brotherhood. I have seen my own countrymen, deliberately look away when I try to make eye-contact, in a sort of acknowledgement of ‘hey, I know you are a desi. Stay away!”
I have seen people go out of their way to help me. A Gol airline employee who left his desk to walk me all the way to the lost baggage room, to retrieve my delayed baggage (the story of the delayed baggage deserves a separate post in itself. Coming soon!). I have seen people go out of their way to avoid me. From people on the road who stepped away when stopped for directions, to people at the Alitalia airline counter who gave mono-syllabic responses to queries.
I have stood transfixed at the beach, struck by the beauty of the people and the place, and have had to make a conscious effort not to perpetuate the cliché about Indians staring at other people. And, to quote David Foster Wallace, “I have seen nearly naked a lot of people I would prefer not to have seen nearly naked.”
I have seen a football match so exciting, the kind that makes the fans’ efforts to wear crazy outfits and paint their country’s colours on their faces and scream and chant their team’s slogan for 2 hours straight seem worth it all. I have seen a football match so boring, the kind that makes the fans boo and jeer and slow clap after some time, and pass remarks like “joga borito!”
I have struggled to communicate a single line to some Brazilians, with my non-existent Portuguese. I have been part of a 2 hour conversation with a Brazilian, in a mix of English-Portuguese-dumb charadese, where we discussed sports, politics, religion and the immortality of Ayrton Senna, while polishing off a bottle of local cachaça. And that’s when it hit me.
Love of sport and hatred towards politicians need no language. No matter what your skin colour, no matter where you come from, no matter how old you are, no matter what tongue you speak.
PS: As the world cup comes to an end, I can look back at this tournament and say happily "I was there. For only a brief period, but I was there!"
PS2: In January, I promised myself this list. As part of the mid-year review, I think I am on track to do #1, #2, and with this trip I can safely say I have ticked off #4. Now, the running, the cooking and the organizing remain!