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Goals of our lives

By Shailaja Bajpai

This is the story of men — along with a few women — and their goals in life.
Now, the men and women, like their goals, came in different shapes and sizes: Tennis player Kevin Anderson stood the tallest, perhaps, at 6’8’’, with Queen Elizabeth II possibly the smallest at 5’4’’ — or was she simply dwarfed by the 6’3’’ President of the United States of America, who, as the world saw, had the temerity to walk, yes indeed, before Her Majesty during the inspection of arms and then looked about him as though he had misplaced her. You could almost hear the BBC anchors sing, “God save the Queen”.
A few days later, Trump, no doubt inspired by the World Cup final, scored a self-goal. When Vladimir Putin handed over a football to Donald Trump at Monday’s press conference after their Helsinki summit, commentators on BBC and CNN cried foul. “Incredible performance,’’ said James Clapper, former American National Intelligence Director angrily, accusing the US President of failing to defend his own intelligence services before his Russian counterpart. Trump calmly lobbed the ball to his wife — catching practice?
Late Tuesday, the US President admitted he was caught between “would” and “wouldn’t” in his assessment of Russia’s involvement in the US election process. Goal!
The game plan of all the men — and a few women — on view, was identical: To win, of course, but at the soccer extravaganza in Russia, it was to put the ball inside the goal mouth. Which many players did with considerable aplomb and some with unfortunate consequences. In the words of the Sony 6 TV commentator, the final between Croatia and France was “a curious game of football” which had it all: A self goal, a gift goal, a dubious penalty and three good goals.
Sony 6 scored an own goal of its own like the hapless Croatian Mario Mandzukic. The single commentator format spared it money, no doubt, but not its blushes. We longed for a little “je ne sais quoi” as the French would say, in the commentary box, a few delicate passing shots and deft verbal tiki-taka.
And while we love our very own Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri, they didn’t exactly hit the sweet spot; their often excellent views were delivered without the panache or style they display on the field. After France took home the 18-carat trophy, the studio discussion reduced a shining moment to a dull affair. News channels didn’t fare much better: India Today fielded Boria Majumdar, Monday — doesn’t he do cricket? — who said the turning point for France came against Argentina. ho-hum. As for WION, they had their political editor Kartikeya Sharma describe French celebrations looking and speaking so sternly you thought he was reporting the Trump-Putin meeting. You’d have been much wiser to watch the French channels, France 24 or TV5 Monde-Asie, for the delirium on the streets of Paris. On Sunday and Monday, the Champs Elysees resembled Delacroix’s “Liberty” painting, bathed as it was in a sea of people and waves of French flags.
During the last four weeks, we have learnt this: A goal is a goal in any language, never more so than after listening to the Malayalam commentary (Sony) when a goal was scored, especially by Brazil or Argentina, and the Panama TV commentator (courtesy YouTube) when his team scored its first World Cup goal: He was in tears and you could hear him standing to attention, honestly, even as the scoreline read, England 6, Panama 1.
We also figured out that a goal is a goal by any other name, too. For instance, when the Sony commentator went, “Pogba. Pog-ba!”, you knew the Frenchman had scored France’s third goal against Croatia. (Similarly, when the commentator during the Wimbledon women’s tennis final, said Angelique Kerber did “a Pat”, she meant the winner had climbed up to the box where her mother and team were seated. Star Sports)
Ah names, sometimes we didn’t know who was who, or more accurately, vic was vic (pronounced vich) for Croatia when there were as many as nine of the field whose name concluded in “vic”. So when the commentator said, “Strinic”, you heard “Spinach” and experienced a Popeye moment.
Other things learnt? That a ball can be a weapon off the racquet of Serena Williams as she smote it across the net at Kerber, to cries of “Oh watch out!” from John McEnroe.
Meanwhile, Hima Das sprinted around the final bend in the 400m, passing all comers at the U-20 World Athletics Championships (Star Sports) and the US 400mx4 relay team dropped the baton, giving the Italians “a glorious moment in the sun” as it won gold.
That’s it for now from this commentary position where the goal was to have a ball. And so it came to pass.