Why French football team leaves a part of me scared

When ultras in Guwahati gave us a shiver during the clichéd World Cup fever

sanskrita

Sanskrita Bharadwaj | July 1, 2014




Watching France play Nigeria in the World Cup round of 16 last night brought in memories of a different time and place. Shave off 16 calendar years and travel about 2,000 kilometres from south Delhi, where I live at present, and I will tell you the reason for my strong dislike for the French national football team.

It stems from an incident back in the summer of 1998, the year France won the FIFA World Cup, beating Brazil 3-0 in the final. I had barely started learning what the game’s all about, thanks to my dad, a fanatic who worships Brazilian football till date. He worked at the State Bank of India then and often returned late from office. But once he was back, the first thing he did was switch on the TV. The excitement on his face had to be seen to be believed, as though it was the moment in the day he desperately awaited!

As my mother and sister went off to sleep, on those nights I would run towards the TV room and sit next to my father, as he explained the basics of the game.

Fast-forward to the tournament final. Father was late as usual, and as my mother, sister and I tried to go off to sleep, he entered his room and switched on the game. A knock on the door around midnight  forced him to go look out. Apparently, a man outside wanted a glass of water. While father gladly attended to the parched man, my mother, on the other hand, was unaware of it all, considering she had an incredible tendency to stay on guard. Also, had she heard the doorbell, she would have never let dad open the door.

That way, one of our family ‘misfortunes’ could have been avoided.

Soon as my father opened the door we heard the noises gradually becoming louder. And clearer. The three of us – mother, sister and I – were worried as we didn’t know what was happening. My mom, otherwise a feisty woman, tiptoed out hesitantly, asking us siblings to pretend as if we were asleep.

But sleep was the noun farthest from our mind.

I still recall vividly the image of a tall, skinny, dark-skinned man who entered our bedroom and pointed a gun at my face, asking me to shut up. As my sister begged him to leave our house, the man had already punched my father twice, leaving a big black bruise on his eye.

The man was accompanied by another – fat, tall and wearing a monkey cap, this ‘colleague’ of his – who hardly spoke and appeared rather intimidating. With his gun tucked in his pants, he came across as impersonation of a character from a Quentin Tarantino film.

After an hour or so, when they were done clearing out my mother’s remaining pieces of jewellery, father’s meagre savings kept at home, and a few antiques here and there, they grew chatty with me and my sister, engaging us in some inane conversation. The tall man picked up my piggy bank and asked me how much I had saved up. I recall replying – sternly – that I never kept a count. He decided to rob my piggy bank nonetheless.

This was a time when the separatist United Liberated Front of Assam, among many other such groups in northeast India, was seeking to establish a sovereign state through an armed struggle, with its cadres rampantly robbing people. I do not know which group the duo who forced into our home belonged to, but I hope no nine-year-old watching the World Cup 2,000 kilometres away in Guwahati – or anywhere else – last night had any reason to dislike the French national team.

For the uninitiated, France won the game last night, and I did not like it one bit.
 

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