January 25, 2020
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Expat Frenzy

Looking for cricket at 3 am in the Big Apple

Expat Frenzy

THE frost hung from the bare trees and a thick sheet of ice covered the sidewalk. It was 3 am and minus 5 degrees Celsius in the land of the Superbowl and basketball. But ateeming crowd in high spirits—hailing from all over the Indian subcontinent—was determined to catch some Indian sun via satellite. Inside the Gramercy Park Theatre, there would be eight hours of cricket fever—live from Bangalore and on a big screen—and the diehards were eager to catch it.

The queue started building up hours before the match. America would have considered them an esoteric bunch (the New York press thought domestic Japanese Sumo wrestling matches more newsworthy). A total of five games—none live—were screened on pay TV by a premier cable channel. But it was obvious the all-American company didn't have its finger on the subcontinental pulse: the Bangalore game was not shown, though it would have brought the greatest profits.

And so, in the heart of the frozen Big Apple—Manhattan's Murray Hill, or Curry Hill, for its subcontinental population—cricket united the shivering masses. Pakistanis, Indians, SriLankans, Bangladeshis—and even a solitary German in a Pashmina shawl (five years in the subcontinent had made him a cricket addict). They were all betting on who would win the toss and how much Sachin Tendulkar would score.

Punjabi raucousness was as much in evidence as was dulcet Bengali and chaste Urdu. And all the while, an enormous bouncer with panther eyes and woolly hair screamed jovial obscenities in a hardcore Brooklyn "Nu Yoak" accent. "Listen, yaw'll think yoore gonna woatch that m...f.. game? Huh? Ya heerme or what? Get in a line, I say!"

There was a roaring black market and tickets rapidly changed hands for $20 each—double their original price. The queue stretched all the way down to the gleaming skyscrapers of Lexington Avenue. A New York Police Department car slowed down, cops shook their heads in disbelief, and picked up speed again. And a Bangladeshi gently offered me first place in the queue he had been standing in since midnight. In a city where push comes to shove, never mind your gender, the whiff of a 'ladies queue' was nostalgic.

A mere half an hour into the game, there were no more tickets to be had in the 450-seat hall. "Get yer a...s ta Noo Jersey, the Almora still has 150 seats. Call toll free 1-800 (to book ahead)." The queue changed direction in a flash, and a horde rushed towards the nearest phone booth. Taxis screeched to a halt and a stream of people dived in, to make the one-hour trip across the icy Hudson river. And rival nationalities shared cabs, miles and miles away from the nonsensical tensions back home.

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