By Shreya Chakravertty
The plan was a simple one. Sidle up to the TV crew filming outside Hotel Grand Mercure so that the security men assume me to be a part of them and not another threat to the Croatian football team, whose bus was parked right outside. The scheme worked like a charm, until, that is, I dropped my look of nonchalance and found myself blankly staring at Arsene Wenger. I suppose the Arsenal manager and me had similar motives, his club negotiations for Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic far more serious than my simple aim of catching a glimpse of the player, of course.
This lapse in my poise revealed my true, unimportant identity to the guards and I became a part of the many who were being shooed away. Never mind, the more important team was due to depart for the stadium a short distance away, informed a fellow bus-spotter, Junior Texeira. “I take you there in my car,” he offered.
Barely 10 minutes later, the untidy queue of sorts stretching from the gate of Hotel Pullman, screams out to be noticed. Men, women, children, some with dogs in tow, all decked up in the familiar blue and yellow, are discussing what time the bus will leave. “Duas e meia (two-thirty),” offers Clara, who is waiting with her sons, both wearing the No. 10 of Neymar. “Na, duas e quarenta (4.30),” says Eduardo, who is spending his office holiday by sweating it out in a queue, willingly, of course. Neither of them are correct.
The wait is getting longer, just like the screams of “Brasil!” from the national flag-bearing cars passing by is increasing in frequency. The moment finally arrives, a few minutes late, but some of those gathered had probably waited a lifetime. It would be rather ambitious to expect such deeply ingrained fanaticism to be appeased by a few-seconds-long appearance but the waiting yellow-and-blue hordes are overjoyed.
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A few hundred of their camera clicks are accommodated into this cameo by Luiz Felipe Scolari and his boys before the behemoth turns left and goes on its way. Of course, this does not stop many from trying to follow the bus on foot. So what if they didn’t make it inside the stadium, a connection to their heroes is on offer right here.
Rancho de Empada, the pub at the corner, appears to be a microcosm of this football-centric world, swallowing up people as the streets empty out in search of TV screens. The hues of Brazil’s colours are visible half a kilometre away, an oasis of spirit and saturnalia in the now deserted neighbourhood. The bar appears to have spilled over onto the street, with makeshift tables set up even outside the yellow awning. Everyone is dressed for the occasion in colourful hats and wigs, with at least one flag per table.
At my table, when I hear predictions of 8-0, 3-0, 4-0, I courageously venture forth my own: 2-1. My Brazilian friends wag their fingers at me as I clutch my beer glass in defence, just in case. Lucky for me, the national anthems begin just then and everyone stands up, first for Croatia, and then for an extremely thunderous and heartfelt rendition of Hino Nacional Brasileiro.
I decide to stick my neck further out onto the chopping board and ask my friend what would happen if Brazil lose their opener. “We are winning 8-0,” insists Marina, who rushed down to Rancho after wrapping up a work meeting earlier in the day. “But we drink, in either case. If we win, which we will, we drink to celebrate. If we lose, we drink to complain. We will have a party with each match Brazil play.”
This particular party ended with victory, of course, 3-1 after a dubious penalty in favour of the home team. But another of the gang, Aimar, refuses to listen to reason. “The penalty is correct,” he insists, firmly wrapping his flag around himself before high-fiving a fellow believer wearing a yellow jester’s hat, rattling off something in Portuguese while looking at me.
I decide to get the hell out of there before I disturbed the peace any more.
(Shreya Chakravertty is a New Delhi-based freelance writer.)