Monthly Archives: January 2018

India’s La Decima

I am a big sports fan. A big football fan. And a huge Real Madrid fan.

Last year, Real Madrid won the tenth European Championship for clubs. An undeniably massive feat. It was an absolute pleasure to watch the match where they won it all with fellow fans. Ecstatic. Delirious. Are some of the words that can describe the night. And also emotional.

The tenth trophy has been hyped up and blown up by every fan and follower of the team. It is the mythical number no team has ever reached. It didn’t matter that no team has ever reached 9 either. It is something about the tenth, or La Decima. Players and fans have been praying for years for La Decima. And once they won it, you could see players cutting their beloved long locks and colouring their beard blonde in an apparent display of their resolutions being successful.

A couple of weeks back, I got the chance to visit the practice sessions of the Jai Jawan Mandal thanks to my friend Radhika and her MPhil thesis. The Jai Jawan Mandal is one of the many associations of young men and very few women in Mumbai who wait for an entire year for one day. The day of Gokulashtami. The birthday of Lord Krishna.

This is a festival, celebrated by mimicking the God’s famed liking to homemade butter. His mother would tie the pot of butter to the roof to keep it away from little Krishna, but he would find ways to break the pot for his butter. Today, we celebrate by building human towers to reach a pot of butter tied high up. As with anything involving men and a crowd gathering, it took the form of a competitive sport where the higher your tower, the better you are. Meanwhile, in Spain they build human towers too, just for sport.

This brings me back to the Jai Jawan Mandal. They have taken this street play and perfected it. For them this is more than a festival. More than a game, more than a sport. It is their life. Sounds familiar?