When we met the Indians

Mogambo - Mr India

The Indians beat us 100 – 1.

You are in hot waters

The men came out of bottles. No, really, they did. The referee had walked to the middle of the pitch and put the bottle there. Moments later, they popped out like bubbles from a can of coke, taking human shapes as they rose into the air to land fully dressed to the shocked silence of a packed stadium. The venue is still a bit hazy. I suppose the tellers treated it as an unimportant detail. What was not left out was the fact that they were football players of the Indian national team. And they were barefooted.

Throughout my childhood days, I had imagined it was right for FIFA to ban people who refused to wear football boots in an official competition. I wasn’t in the least bothered that most of our community games were organised with us playing with our bare feet slapping hard against caked, barren earth or concrete slabs. Many times a stubbed toe would send us home to a round of spanking because we had played with our school uniforms in the dirt. And the only apothecary involved a towel dabbed, frequently, in previously boiled water; “You are in hot waters,” was more than a saying among old heads.

The Football of the 90s

While the Indians beating us by 100 – 1 score line was nothing but a fake, I must say it was not borne out of thin air. The 90s was a peculiar period in the lives of most us, and among the games we played was counters ball. (A minute’s silence for those who don’t know this.) We would mark the colours of various national football teams on the backs of counters and play a football match. Pebbles or balls from grandma’s counting beads served as balls.

At the bare age of 7, I remember our sitting room hosting family and friends who had come to watch USA 94. It was a large, coloured Sharp television set we had gotten the previous year. I was rooting for Italy because I had close relatives hustling it out there. Few matches remain with me to this day, but I recall how I thought the Argentinians colluded with the referee to dupe Nigeria and dump them out of the tournament. That Caniggia goal during the quick free kick didn’t sit well with my little mind back then.

In the game against the Indians, the referee was said to pull out the captain out of his pocket. Or was it from a match box? Who knows, the details vary all the time. If ever there was an epitome of bias in any event, it was that. While there was never a recollection of the referee actually passing unfair judgement during the game, and the stories are peculiarly silent over this, this manner of events cast in the mind of the listener a certain obvious unfairness towards the Ghanaian. It reminded us of Nigeria being supposedly treated unfairly at the hands of the South Americans. And so that distrust in the referee was nurtured within logical, visible parameters; namely, the defeat of a fellow African nation at the hands of a man wearing short blacks!

And because it was a story to make legends and heroes of our unknown past, it was said the football always turned into a wild beast whenever our goal keeper tried to catch it. Some said it was a tiger, while others maintained it was a lion. I would go with tiger for obvious reasons. What ensued were a 100 goals from the Indians because, naturally, no sane human being would try standing in the path of roaring beast, no matter how pretty they looked in their sun-coloured pelt. To compound our woes as, the football would turn into a heavy cook pot when any of our players tried to kick it. That made it impossible to move the ball around let alone score a goal.

In the creation of legends, the underdog tag needs to be greatly exaggerated. Who cared about a boy who walked down an empty street to play football? Without an articulated truck knocking him down so that he had to learn to walk again? Next story, please! In a way, the Indians themselves were guilty of our exaggerated consciousness. Why?

I am a disco dancer!

I remember it as the days of uncanny depictions of movie posters by painters at crude, under the roof cinemas. Our heroes, in addition to Mac Jordan Amartey and IdiKoko, included such villains as Mogambo, whose single wickedness was enough to cause legends like Jimmy and Anthony to sweat for their victories. I am particularly reminded of the most pervasive sound of this era: the sound of a gun shooting like a star ricocheting off of a metal basin in space. Kpishaa. Kpishaa. Kpishaa!

There was the story of the snake and mongoose, each of them men who could switch forms into the beastly characters. There was some where monkeys were heroes, and another where Anthony, after saving a cobra from being burnt by some unscrupulous ruffians, was himself saved from falling into a crocodile pit owned by, you guessed it, Mogambo! And who could forget Nagin the Snake Girl? It thus seemed a natural connection to make between what we had seen and been awed by, with what we hadn’t seen but could only conjecture.

It didn’t matter that there were no subtitles at the time. Perhaps, it did matter. Our lack of understanding of their dialogues fuelled our wild imaginations. Don’t be fooled. We understood nahin because the person shook her head when she said it. We understood papaa. We understood the sound of music when the flute started and a silk-clad woman began ‘waisting her shakes’.

The Indians, in their generosity, made it a rule that we would win if we were able to score just one goal. We got that goal, of course. Our player, nameless and featureless, kicked the cook pot so hard it took the Indian keeper by surprise. Well, the shock of pain was enough to cause the player’s death eventually, leaving behind a jubilant crowd. We had won and we were happy. As for the dead man, we would mourn later. Make him a king and a martyr and put him on the Milo tin.

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