Prasanna woke up and asked,”Have France won?”

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: As I sat on the stone bench on my apartment’s terrace, gazing at the Chamundi Hill, the youngest geological exhibit of Mysore city, a mere 2.5 million years old, as a geologist friend put it once, my gaze and its attendant wonderment was broken by the ring of my cell phone which, out of a sheer nasty habit, has become as much a part of me as every other thing I consider integral to me.

“Let’s all meet at Hotel Metropole at 9 this evening and watch the World Cup soccer finals on the giant screen there,” said the familiar voice.

It belonged to Krishna Prasad. And “we” comprised of, apart from yours truly, the formidably well-informed Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi, sojourning in Mysore for a few weeks before he boards a plane winging its way in the direction of San Francisco shortly.

Krishna and his wife Nagarathna, she of the eternal smile and sunny disposition, and two of my long time mates, the fun loving Sampatha and Prasanna, who among them knew as much about soccer as an Arab camel herder, living in the village of Jubail in Saudi Arabia would know about the technicalities of ice hockey!

Entering the regal looking hotel, a slice of Mysore’s heritage, dating back like most other things Mysorean to the time when the Wodeyars were kings, I looked around like a school boy out on his first school picnic.

After all, I had never taken part ever in this sort of an orchestrated, hyped and colour-induced viewing of any sporting encounter; not even the World Cup finals of a game I abide by till death do us part, cricket!

Friendly greetings from liveried men, wide smiles and warm hand shakes, the routine of being asked how many we were, the swiping of the credit card (ICICI) at the make shift barricade, and then being ushered into the arena where we took position at a table that could house us all.

A large television screen by the age old mango tree in a corner of a courtyard in the middle of the hoary hotel, where I had once met the redoubtable R. Gundu Rao, the once-upon-a-time chief minister of Karnataka.

Smaller televisions strategically placed around the wrought iron tables and chairs, so that you didn’t have to do the equivalent of a yoga posture of swivelling your neck, owl like, in order to catch the action.

A soccer net impersonating a goal post with a couple of soccer balls already in it; men and women scurrying about excitedly, drink in hand, some of them wrapped in a muffler and some others in a shawl and jacket, to beat the impending chill of a decidedly long evening.

I noticed that the quality of the pictures being beamed on the screens of varying dimensions all around was not exactly crystal clear; the grains were one too many but then, so too were the fans inside the humungous stadium in Berlin from which the action was coming to us live.

As all of us settled down in different poses of repose on the metal chairs with their doubtlessly weather beaten and sufficiently flattened cushions, we noticed that the audience comprised mostly of westerners of indeterminable nationalities, presumably the vast majority of them being students of the famous yoga guru, Pattabhi Jois.

A group of men and women sat at a table next to ours. They were western, young and fans of the French team. One of them with unruly Medusa-like locks held a pungi in his hand, clearly a result of his shopping in front of the palace perhaps the previous evening. He blew it with well-rehearsed gusto and every time he did it, his pink cheeks puffed themselves up like an automotive air bag upon sudden impact!

“I will give one-thousand rupees if Zidane scores a goal,” he excitedly gestured to Sampatha who went up to their table to perk them up a little more. The clapping found its own level and the whistling began to happen in pitches ranging from the sedate to the shrill to the staccato. The big match had begun.

A mere seven minutes into the game, it was a “goooooaaaaal” when Florent Malouda drove into the box and was felled by a clumsy challenge from Marco Materazzi.

Zidane stepped up to take the penalty, opting to nonchalantly dink it above the diving Gianluigi Buffon and the ball struck the bar before bouncing down behind the line to put France ahead.

Joyous eruption all around and Sampatha eagerly looked towards the neighbouring table for his one thousand rupees. But the youngster who had ‘struck’ the deal with him was completely immersed in blowing his pungi!

Prasanna looked around like a confused school boy trying to come to grips with advanced algebra before routinely digging into the plate of salad that Nagarathna, so concernedly had brought from the buffet area.

A dark, portly man with a balding pate, in his fifties, walked around with a cigarette in hand and the tattoo of the Italian flag on his sagging cheeks. He looked like he was there more for the fun of it than with any serious intention of contributing to the Italian strategy to win. The flag tattoo on his cheeks could well have been French. He wouldn’t have cared.

The Italians equalized in the 19th minute when Materazzi scored. The shouts in the courtyard where we sat were as expected.

After that the game wore on with neither team making any major headway. Slowly, dinner plates began to show up on the tables as the lack of any great action on the field made most of those present to create some of their own, in a gastronomical sense.

The food was being tucked into; the drinks happened not to abate; the smoke from the odd cigarette made rings on its heavenward spiral; animated conversation had given way to a slouched mental meandering; the waiters stood in the sidelines; and then something happened that jerked, yanked and shook the audience out of its hapless lethargy.

Zinedine Zidane, in an act of thoughtless frenzy, head-butted Marco Materazzi, only to be shown the red card.

A sigh of shock and surprise; Prasanna’s slumped neck straightened. And he opened his eyes to ask, “Have the French won!?”

The French did not win. Zinedine Zidane went out of the playing arena, disgraced. The Italians won in the penalty shoot out.

By then, the beer for the evening had gone a tad flat. The whisky and the rum, though, had left just a small trace inside the rim of the round bottomed glasses that held them for so long, while Zinedine Zidane was trying to conjure up his magic, for the one last time in a world cup game.

Before madness happened to his neurons, that is!