The summer is over. The signs are unmistakeable, at least here in Delhi, and they all seem to have to do with our roads. The avenues, underpasses and motorways of our city are waist-high with water, on either side decorated by broken trees and fallen electricity lines.
The conversion of our Ring Roads into Olympic-style swimming pools (not part of the Commonwealth Games project, I assure you) means that on top of every flyover there is a broken down taxi with a sad-looking driver pretending to fix it as a thousand curses are spat at him from the crawling traffic behind. (On a side note, has anyone else wondered who is building these taxis that always seem to make it up the flyover but are incapable of completing the simpler task of rolling down?) Us long-term Delhiwallas know it’s a good thing the monsoons leave the roads in an utter mess; without this we would never actually know when the summer was over. Since the rain doesn’t bring with it any drop in temperature, just converts the entire city into one massive sauna-spa, visitors tend to assume the heat here just goes on and on and on without ever reaching a conclusion. A bit like The Bold and The Beautiful. Or Hell.
Of course for the sports devotee, the surest sign the summer is over is that the Indian cricket team will conclude its well-deserved break, and once again they will be back on our screens. Yes, our heroes will return from summers spent in various forms of rest and relaxation. As far as I can tell from the media, the majority of our heroes have spent this summer posing in nipple-revealing Armani shirts for Delhi Times, Bombay Times, Jullunder Times, Cochin Times, and any other Times that will have them; a few have chosen to spend the time better getting to know various peripheral Bollywood actresses who might once have appeared in a film starring Fardeen Khan but are now ‘on hiatus’; one hero even flirted with the wrong side of the law, driving around a brand-new Hummer without license plates as if the Chandigarh police might fail to notice a shining new tank on their roads. But we forgive them all that, because it’s the summer, and boys will be boys. Now that the Champions Trophy is about to begin, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Harbhajan and the rest can get back to doing what they do best, back to the endeavour that has elevated them above the rest of us, back to the activity that has brought them fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams: they’re all gearing up for a long new season of making Pepsi commercials. Ah, sorry, don’t know how that got in there. I meant, of course, that they will get back to batting, bowling and all the rest of that jazz, and we will love them once again for doing it better than we could.
Of course the return of the cricket signals the arrival of another, darker, phenomenon, one that over the last few years has crept unobtrusively into the game we love without as much as a ‘What the Hell?’. I am talking, of course, about The Return of the Curiously Accented Commentator. The Curiously Accented Commentator first rose to prominence during India’s victorious campaign at the 20-20 World Cup in South Africa, when the pencil-moustached former all-rounder Ravi Shastri began to repeatedly refer to six-hitting hero Yuvraj Singh as ’Yoooovraj Singh’, somewhat in the manner of a badly constipated Australian. Now anyone who has grown up in India knows that its pronounced Yuvraaj, as in the Hindi word for prince, but Shastri, having spent so much time between Englishmen, South Africans and Australians in the commentary box, began to speak as if he had just graduated from a finishing school situated on an island halfway between Cape Town and Sydney. Each time Yuvi would hit another six Shastri would add more ooo’s to his name, saying: ”Yoovraj won’t take that sort of bowling from Broad’, then ‘Yoooovraj has just cleared the boundary again.’ I’m sure this kindness endeared him to his cronies in the commentary box, after all there are not many people who will intentionally mispronounce words on national television, but for those of us watching in India, it just made him sound like a bit of a twit.
Of course Shastri was not the first commentator to suffer this affliction, just the first Indian. No, the Yuri Gagarin to Shastri’s Rakesh Sharma is the incomparable pacer Waqar Younis, who once spent two weeks playing county cricket in England, and consequently acquired such a strong twang that when he talks he sounds like he’s auditioning for a Guy Ritchie movie. A number of Pakistanis have followed suit, dropping in and out of a Cockney-Aussie-Saffer hybrid as if the dulcet tones of Lahore and Karachi had no place in the commentary box. But we are lucky, because the BCCI has decided to cut off ties with Pakistan, and no longer are we forced to hear the most luminous stars of Pakistani cricket speaking like London-based kebab shop owners. They could have taken a cue from the great West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding, who in his long career as a commentator has never once deviated from his standard practice of sounding like he is mumbling the lyrics to a Bob Marley song.
Even so, if amongst the Indian commentary contingent the Accent Phenomenon was restricted to Shastri you could perhaps ignore it, tell yourself ’it’s just one man’ and move on. But Ravi’s influence in the commentary box is ample. Slowly the disease has been spreading. One man particularly affected is the Tamil Nadu spinner L. Sivaramakrishnan. Now when Mr Sivaramakrishnan first appeared on our television screens he sounded like he was about to ask you if you wanted saambar with your dosa. I’m not making fun, but the man had a Tamil accent so thick you could use it to mend the sole of your shoes. Now from this same mouth you hear, ‘Yoovi’, ‘Seewag’, ‘Sashin’ and ‘Calcoota’, and all you can think is, what happened to that nice South Indian chap I used to know?