Of course, once he knew that his home team had made it into the playoffs and that they had the home-field advantage, the temptation to postpone his trip home was great, and the martyrdom, when he found out he could not, was greater. Kudduthu vekalai—he was not born fortunate. Like all his trips to India, where he has relatives scattered all over the subcontinent and he is attending multiple family functions in several cities, it became, even in the planning stage, a super trip, a logistical nightmare, impossible to tweak or change, without punitive penalties from his parents—the original home-team-and-referee all rolled into one. An ardent fan of the Seattle Seahawks, my husband, like others in the city, has waited 30 years for the drought to end, but while the Seahawks and the team’s other fans have finally shaken the monkey off their backs, my husband will be watching monkeys swinging from branch to branch to branch and feeling they’ve all alighted on him. Poor man.
Believe me, I feel for him. I offered to tape the Seahawk-Panther game. But a taped football game, he said, would not be the same. “Like watching clothes tumbling in the dryer?” I asked sympathetically. “I’ll know the outcome already,” he replied morosely. He tried to console himself by saying his relatives in India had televisions. Maybe, if he got lucky, he could watch the live broadcast soon after his arrival.
His plane is scheduled to land in Delhi three hours before kick-off in Seattle. I can imagine his impatience as the aircraft taxies to the gate, the interminable lag of luggage, the relief when he sights his suitcase, the winding lines of people moving at slug pace for customs and immigration clearance, the bureaucracy of endless interrogation before his visa is stamped and he is allowed outside into the bracing winter cold. He’ll search the milling crowds for his cousin, Prabhakar, who has come to the airport in the middle of the night. (Delhi is 13.5 hours ahead of Seattle.) They’ll wave, shake hands, talk briefly about the trip, and my husband will get down to business. Will he be able to watch the football game as soon as he gets home? And the odd thing is that Prabhakar will not think this request odd. Or ungracious. That’s the mysterious camaraderie of male cousins whose bonding comes from their shared interest in sports: cricket, tennis, soccer. So why not American football? Same difference. It’s all about balls. And of course it must be watched. What Prabhakar doesn’t know is, given that my husband will be viewing the game in the dead of night, no one in the household will sleep, for my husband can be as energetic, intense and raucous as 70,000 ticket-holders watching the game at the Qwest Field. He is Seattle’s 12th man. His relatives will compulsorily hear play-by-play analyses and get a crash course on an alien sport, even if they are curled up in bed, quilted razais covering their heads.
Herein lies the enigma that is my husband. He is an engineer and words don’t come easily. Perhaps this is an affliction that all engineers share. How else to explain that there are no TV shows—sitcoms or dramas—about engineers, and yet there are so many about doctors and lawyers? In addition to this professional handicap, English is my husband’s second language. He still counts in Tamil. Though he does not have the words to teach his daughters math so that they can comprehend the mystery of numbers, he can transform the rough-and-tumble of football into a game of well-planned maneuvers and make even his mother, clad in a nine-yard sari, see the strategy of a four-quarters game that is built around 10-yard gains.
Forget passing the conversational ball on all other subjects. He needs to size and measure each word and come up with a blueprint before he speaks. He can design, build, and demolish a whole city more quickly than he can verbalize a complete sentence in idiomatic English. Football magically releases him from verbal inhibitions and the words that are dammed up inside him roar out non-stop from kick-off to the final whistle. Ignore the accent and he is a red-blooded American yelling, “The coach messed up. He should have seen this play coming. It was a fake, man.” Or “Hell, he had both his hands around the ball and he let go.” Or in deeper disgust, “Oh, come on, intercepted again? He is throwing to his opponents instead of his teammates. Your teammates are the ones wearing the same color uniform as yours, moron.” Or with purest, edge-of-the-armchair electric energy, “The ball fell into his hands, did you see? Right into his hands. Wide open and no tackle. Run, run, run, run. Go, go, go, go,” shouted with the absolute faith that his words alone are empowering the player to make the touchdown. Watching my husband watch a football game is more than spectator sport; it’s a source of endless mystification. How does he know a fullback from a tight end? How did he learn this lingo?
I miss him. Not wanting to be the only house in Washington state without the television on, I click on the remote, sit in his armchair decorously quiet, and sip cups of chai.
The game starts. The ball moves; men built like bulldozers smash into mountainous men. First down. Ten yards. I wonder what would happen to football if the United States adopted the metric system. Without my husband, I’m watching a game without a quarterback. I need him to keep me focused on the game, play by play. Without him, my mind is a monkey. Especially when the TV camera pans to the packed stadium after the Seahawks’ first touchdown. A sea of faces and bellies painted blue. The standing, stomping, hollering, whistling crowd roars and roars. Our newly built Qwest Field must be shaking as if experiencing an earthquake, I think, and it’s a small swing, from that branch of thought, to remember and replay the horrendous devastation of Katrina and the images of that other packed stadium, the Superdome, with cots crammed together, trash everywhere, overflowing toilets and the poverty of the Third World in a Superpower Country. Over 30,000 people trapped, waiting to be evacuated to the Houston Astrodome. Desperate people in search of safe harbor, exchanging one football stadium for another. Kudduthu vekalai, they were not born fortunate.
It is a real downer to be thinking of this, when I should be elated about our touchdown. Diehard fans watching a game don’t think about anything but football, especially when their team is doing really well. The team’s focused attitude of winning, its camaraderie, spills into the audience so that people feel they are the team, the 12th man. When they’re in this frenzy of winning, the last thing they want to remember is the disaster of Katrina. Doesn’t mean they are insensitive. They watch football the way people in India flock to Bollywood movies, so that they can forget about the troubles of the world.
As I jump, monkey-like, from thought to thought, the game has moved on apace. A blue giant tumbles into the end zone and the crowd goes wild. Another punts the ball. A guy in white—a Panther—catches the ball, rolls with it, then gets up and runs, on and on. Touchdown. Flag down. This means that the Panther touchdown doesn’t count. A zebra striped man comes out onto the field. “Penalty is ruled no penalty. Touchdown is good.” What just happened? Without my husband, there is no explanation. I put my face close to the screen, thinking that proximity will help me understand. How can they do that? They can’t say “penalty” and then take it back. Feeling a little miffed, I grab a tea cookie, and then realize that I just talked to myself.
More bodies smash together. I wince. That’s got to hurt. I swill my tea. The Panthers throw for a pass. Suddenly a blue colossus leaps into the air and grabs the ball. “Interception!” It’s the fourth quarter, 27-14. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat. Even I can taste the victory. Seattle throws the ball in a graceful arc. Unbidden, I leap to my feet. If my husband were with me he’d be yelling, “Catch it! Catch it! Go Go Go! YES!” 34-14, with four minutes left to play. We’ve won.
“We crushed them,” the fans crow, and if my husband got lucky, found a TV station that was broadcasting the game, if there wasn’t a power outage, he will be shouting the same. A fan screams, waving a banner that says, “Next stop, Motown!” Next stop, Detroit. Ford Field.
Hard on the heels of the Seahawks victory comes the news that Ford Motor Co., the nation’s second-largest automaker, who in 1999 purchased the naming rights to the stadium where the Seahawks will play in the Superbowl, will cut 25,000 to 30,000 jobs and close 14 facilities by 2012. Manasu oru korungu, the mind is a monkey. It takes super-size blinders not to make leaps, see ironies. It takes a diehard football fan. I miss my husband.
Freelance editor and writer Radhika Kumar lives in Federal Way, Wash.