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     Volume 4 Issue 20 | November 5 , 2004 |

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By dawn's early light

Shashi Tharoor

The doorman regarded us with undisguised skepticism. It was 3:30 a.m. -- not the usual hour for visitors to drop by, even in Manhattan. "They're-expecting us," I told him firmly. "Buzz upstairs and see."

He did, and they were. But the grizzled guardian at the gates couldn't suppress a shake of his head as he directed my friend Nikhil and me to the elevators. Our hostess, Neera, greeted us at her door and led us down a darkened hallway past a bedroom where one of their sons slept under a blanket. "He has an exam in the morning," she whispered. In the master bedroom a television flickered. Our host, Sanjay, resplendent in white cotton pajamas and sitting propped up in bed, waved us to a sofa. "They won the toss," he announced in tones of doom. "We're getting clobbered."

Nikhil and I sat down heavily, after only three hours' sleep. "Maybe we shouldn't have got up for this," I said as raucous shouts arose from the TV. "Are you kidding?" Nikhil replied. "Would you have missed this for anything?"

I had to admit I wouldn't. After years of being denied the most sublime pleasure known to Subcontinental man -- watching an international cricket match -- this was heaven. For fans like me, New York has long been a citadel of barbarism, where the world's greatest sport is neither played nor reported in the papers. For decades we had to get our news of important matches via shortwave radio. The Internet for the first time brought live scores on demand -- manna from on high. But to actually see a match? So what if it was taking place nearly a dozen time zones away? Nothing could beat having a friend in Manhattan with a satellite dish who was (a) a cricket fan and (b) willing to let you into his home in the middle of the night to watch the Indian team in action.

Satellite television has spawned a curious subculture in the city. On days of crucial matches, shadowy brown figures flit through the dark predawn streets, heading for the homes of the privileged few who own satellite dishes. They whisper into cell phones in an arcane code: Who's at silly mid-on? Has Irfan bowled a maiden?

So, it was that recent Sunday morning. Roused by the hoots and whistles emanating from the TV, Neera and Sanjay's house-guest wandered in, bleary-eyed from sleep. A while later their elder son awoke; a recent recruit at a big-name Wall Street firm, he had gotten home from work after midnight but was determined to catch an hour or two of cricket before heading back to the office at 7 a.m. The younger son, with his accounting exam to take, joined us next. As the cricketers on screen trooped off to their stadium lunch, Neera whipped up a breakfast of eggs and bagels for the watchers. The match resumed, and as the Manhattan morning advanced, friends who had been obliged to keep more conventional hours began to drop in: a family with young children, another from Connecticut, a young couple who had eyes mainly for each other despite the magnetism of the match.

Conversation sparkled in the combination of Hindi and English that Indians know as Hinglish. A nephew of Sanjay's arrived with his baby; when he heard the score he almost dropped the infant. Relatives who couldn't make it called from assorted locations to ask for news. Masala chai flowed. By noon it was over. India had lost, half a world away. Nikhil and I headed back to reality. "What's goin' on up there, anyways?" the doorman asked. I opened my mouth to explain, then shut it again. "You're American," I said with a sigh. "You wouldn't understand."

© 2004, Newsweek Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.



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