You do not speak with any lack of discernible tact about religion, local politics or (may I be forgiven the temerity of even mentioning the word after my gaffe) cricket.
You do not speak with any lack of discernible tact about religion, local politics or (may I be forgiven the temerity of even mentioning the word after my gaffe) cricket.

 

By Ramya Sarma

 

It was just last week that someone tried to kill me…or so I thought for that one crucial moment when all escape routes seemed to be blocked and my bloody – but unbowed – end was a given. It wasn’t that I was being a bad husband, or that I could be a husband at all, since I am all woman, but that I made what tends to be a rather tactless remark in the context of the average Indian conversational ambit. I made the fatal – almost – error of saying that cricket was a “stupid game”. For a few seconds there was a stunned, unbelieving, incredulous silence.

 

Then the quiet, deliberate tap of a glass being set carefully down on the table. The gentle clink of a fork touching a plate. The muted gulp of water rushing down a throat clogged with an undefined but ardently felt emotion. Oops, I thought too late to myself, that was not a good thing to say.

 

It would have been perfectly okay in certain contexts. Just after a college baseball game in Port Jefferson, Long Island, for instance, where most people cannot understand the concept of cricket and why it has to be played with much pomp under circumstances that are alien to any self-respecting contemporary citizen.

 

Or during a formal tea hosted by the Queen of England for the Arsenal team where the idiom would be a ball that is larger and kicked around with the feet rather than with what seems like an oddly configured two-by-four with a strange paint job. Or even at that fabulous after-party for the latest Bollywood blockbuster premiere where in the film there is no role for a wannabe sportsperson of whatever persuasion.

 

But in an Indian home with a group of Indian guests, all hotly debating the virtues of leg-before versus leg – presumably – after, the occasional cry of “Howzzat!” echoing around the spacious sitting room even as terms like “googly”, “mid-on” and “run out”, danced in the air along with a floating cat hair and a bit off fluffy feather the vacuum cleaner and the otherwise eagle eye of the hostess had missed? Never. The deathly silence slowly, inexorably, inevitably grew menacing.

 

There was a sense of violence, barely contained, that overwhelmed the gentle fragrance of sandalwood and hot, sweet ghee that wafted around the dining area. A large man rose from his chair and turned towards the dining table, where the perpetrator of the verbal crime stood. Me. I. Myself, the hostess of the dinner evening, the co-owner of the apartment and the one who had made the remark without sparing a tiny thought for the consequences.

 

You see, I tend to forget that in some – a very few – ways, this is not a free and democratic country. All people are not equal, not where holy cows (forgive me, oh Lord of the Speech Censor Board) are concerned. You do not speak with any lack of discernible tact about religion, local politics or (may I be forgiven the temerity of even mentioning the word after my gaffe) cricket, not unless you want to face a penalty that can range from a cold silence to complete social ostracism to, in some dramatic and extreme cases, murder.

 

I believed for the second that that would be what I was going to have to deal with, as the large gentleman loomed up alongside me as I stood with knees going ever-so-slightly wobbly, my cold and admittedly clammy fingers clenched tight around the handles of a large glass dish holding the ghee-scented dessert. “Pudding?” I asked weakly, as perhaps a form of atonement for my blunder.

 

Mercifully, my guests had known me for as many years as I had been alive. They understood that in some aspects of everyday Indian life, especially cricket, I was not as bright as I could have, should have been. They smiled, forgave, even made a joke about my ignorance. And they continued the meal and its accompanying chatter without too much attention paid to what had been said, without bothering about me, in fact. I was still alive and undaunted. But it had been a close thing…

 

(Ramya knows little, if anything, about the gentleman’s game, but she is capable of inviting comment, occasionally of the murderous kind)