|Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas|
If you are a crazy rich Indian with frequent flier points that can get you on to any flight you desire, the best place to watch a World Cup game is undoubtedly Lord’s. If you are a city slicker, you’ll probably swipe your card and catch the match with your bros over beers in a plush SoBo watering hole. And if you are an everyday Indian, you’ll flock outside an electronic shop to-and-from work to get an update on the game. But let me commit a cardinal sin here (almost like stating that MS Dhoni should not be called out for “lack of intent”): The best place to watch a cricket match in India is not a stadium or a pub, it’s a men’s salon.
By men’s salon, I don’t mean those big, branded franchises where your barber is more qualified than you, and you call him a stylist, not a hajaam. I’m talking about that dingy cornershop near your house, which has posters of Salman Khan from Tere Naam plastered on the walls, towels drying outside in the sun, and the fake version of every cream and moisturiser available in the market. (Go-Real, anyone?)
Every Indian neighbourhood is replete with parlours that cater only to men and they are the den of the retired and unemployed. Old Bollywood songs provide the background score as life unfolds lazily inside these salons. There is that odd customer getting a champi while the other hairdressers are waiting around. Nothing really happens inside these parlours… unless there’s a cricket match.
The salon in my gully called Scissors Palace is no different. I have been a regular here since I was a child. We would often rush to the salon for a glass of water after playing in the sun, or to catch the score of a Test match. During exams, when mum would not allow me to watch the game, I’d sneak out of the house, run to Scissors Palace, watch a couple of deliveries, and rush back. It’s been my favourite place to watch cricket ever since.
The owner of the salon is an old Mr Miyagi-type character who has been in the business since my papa was a young lad. He gives the best massages in the world, and his favourite story dates back to 1983, when Kapil paaji lifted the World Cup for India.
On most days, Scissors Palace is as dull as the first two hours of Ship of Theseus. But on match day, the salon springs to life as every neighbourhood cricket fanatic gravitates toward it like Salman Khan fans throng to Gaiety-Galaxy for an Eid release. These gatherings are simple affairs – there’s no one flaunting an expensive jersey or carrying vuvuzelas or whistles. There is no time to take selfies or post one Instagram story per over. There are no stands named after cricketing greats and there is no place to sit. There’s just a musty shop, where emotions run high and complaints that someone is stepping on your toes are not welcome.
A cricket match is probably the only occasion when patrons of Scissors Palace don’t stare at gora models in a magazine but instead have their eyes fixed on the men on screen for 10 straight hours. There are no crisp 4K visuals on a 55-inch flat screen mounted on the wall. There is no surround sound. It’s just a bulky box, which Onida probably stopped manufacturing decades ago, and which goes from colour to black-and-white on a whim. But in all this madness lies the majja.
You can barely hear the commentators amid all the din. But that’s okay because the asli commentary is being delivered by the 30-odd people cramped inside the salon. They are as passionate about the game as Kohli is about hurling expletives.
Watching a game of cricket in a salon such as Scissors Palace, with complete strangers, is an experience like no other. There are regulars like Mr Miyagi and a couple of building uncles; the rest of the cast keeps changing. Invariably, there’s a teenager who has grown up on a heavy dose of T20 and gets restless if a boundary hasn’t been hit in six minutes. Patience is a virtue, and it is taught to him by Mr Miyagi, who will take an hour for a haircut on a match day – he’s all absorbed in the game and gives you a snip or two in between overs. At the other corner of the salon, Yadav, a young hairdresser, is telling his latest customer about Kuldeep Yadav, who hails from his village and how his chacha ka ladka played with him when they were kids. “Susheel ladka hai,” he says, as if approving of the left-arm chinaman. This is the story Yadav tells everyone who graces his salon chair.
Another regular at all salon screenings is Witty Venkatesh, who gives hot takes of the kind that would make him an instant celeb on Twitter. “We need 327 today.” “I think Rishabh Pant should open the innings with Rohit Sharma.” “Iss paar ya to uss paar. Time waste karne se kuch nahi hoga,” he goes on. Heckling him is Cynical Chacha. He is Scissors Palace most regular patron – you’ll see him at the shop every day of the week. “Bahot satta laga hai ye match pe”, “Sab setting ho gaya hai,” he says each time someone drops a catch or misfields, much to the annoyance of the crowd.
There is a lot of banter, it often turns into a heated debate and an occasional scuffle.
If India loses the game, everyone from Cynical Chacha to Witty Venkatesh start cursing Kohli and the boys. Everyone turns into a critic, except for Mr Miyagi. I have never heard him say anything bad about the Men in Blue. Not even on their worst days.
And if India wins, the celebration here is not one to miss. The big-hearted Mr Miyagi will treat everyone to cutting chai. The school boys gathered will get a Kohli haircut, Yadav will start practising his bowling action in the aisle. Everyone is high-fiving and hugging their way through the crowd; it’s a lot like a mosh pit now. The post-match analysis will go on for an hour or so after the game, until a tired Mr Miyagi decides to turn off the lights, much to the disappointment of the revellers.
The crowds disperse with as much enthusiasm if not more as those exiting from the grand gates of Lord’s. We might not have the best seats to the spectacle, but we’ve had the time of our lives. For a few hours in the cramped salon, all is forgotten – the worries about home loans, ailing parents, mounting bills, and promotions. And the differences take a back seat. It doesn’t matter if you backed the BJP or the Congress in the elections, no one cares about what you worship, or what’s the meat on your plate. Because if it is India playing in the World Cup, your unified by only one mantra: Jeetega toh Kohli hi!
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