It was in early June when Gilberto, owner of a Flamengo boteco (similar to the bare-minimum Udupi-style bars that you find by Mumbai’s railways stations) decided to order 60 tubelights. He had calculated that it takes exactly ten light-sticks to design one two-dimensional star. And in the vacant space above his boteco’s awning, Gilberto placed six stars.
One star for each of Brazil’s five World Cup trophies in the distant past, and one for the Selecao’s soon-to-be-won Copa in the near future. For a good part of the days gone by, Gilberto’s representation of a nation’s collective prayers for the Hexa, the sixth title, was a raucous hit. Every time Brazil won a match, the inhabitants of the shore-side Flamengo collected in the hundreds outside Gilberto’s bar, drinking his cerveja (beer) and chanting the night away in rapturous celebrations. In the backdrop, the green stars — filled with an equal share of neon and hope — kept the revellers bright company.
On Saturday morning though, just hours before Brazil’s final match of this campaign and just a day before the World Cup final, a solemn Gilberto stood high on his toes to dismantle his shiny creation. “Six is an unlucky number,” he said, as he peeled off the lights one at a time. “The Selecao lost its sixth match of the World Cup and even Germany beat us by a difference of six goals. We never did earn our sixth star.” Once removed, the starless edifice bore an ugly gap.
For nearly a month, all of Brazil, a most benevolent and manic host nation of the 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup, personified its expectations with such symbols and saturnalia. But once tragedy struck with the 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals, the revelry choked on its misery. Now, until either Argentina or Germany hoist the trophy on Sunday evening at the Maracana, the country will continue to host a World Cup within its shores. But it could be a cricket World Cup for all the locals care.
Like the vacancy above the boteco’s awning, the void is amply visible all over Brazil. At the high-end shopping district of Savassi in Belo Horizonte, the locals choose to ignore the unappealing collection of scotch-tape plasters stuck on shop windows. Those sticky pieces of plastic once held posters of Brazil’s darling footballers within their framework. Now the posterboys have been removed from their pedestal, in apparent haste.
Inside the mall, a headless cut-out of what was once David Luiz (Brazil’s central defender and captain during the soul-crushing loss that occurred in this very city) points at a SIM card in his right palm. “Vandals,” said the steward at the mobile-store, with a simple shrug.
Take a walk down Avenida Paulista, continued…