Among the electronic appliances at home, our television falls at the bottom of a list ranked by usage. Its screen stays blank most of the time, unless we decide, on a spur, to watch a movie on a weekend evening. We get thirty-five channels via the cable, and only CNN is in English: it isn’t our preferred medium to absorb world affairs. The old-fashioned radio does admirably well each morning (we do not mind at all that the news is in Hochdeutsch), and as for the rest there’s Economist and The New Yorker. The last time I watched CNN on TV was in the spring of 2011. (Growing up in India in the Eighties, those early days of Doordarshan, the daily 9 pm news was a regular fixture at home, and some newscasters — Salma Sultan, Geetanjali Aiyer — were household names. ‘The world this week’, Prannoy Roy’s news capsule that rounded up international events, aired at 10:30 pm each Thursday. It brought us, among other news, the fall of the Berlin wall and the arrival of CD as a technology to replace LPs. A quaint, black&white memory.)
Tennis is another exception, and the tennis court perhaps the most featured image on our TV screen. I do not watch the regular ATP circuit — those matches are mere dress rehearsals, — but the Grand Slams have me glued to the sofa.
All this changes once every four years, when the FIFA World Cup begins. I try hard to keep status quo. I resolve, at the beginning, not to watch anything until the semis, but succumb before the referee blows a whistle in the opener. Little else gets done at home the next four weeks. The television overtakes the microwave and the iMac in usage rankings, stopping just below the perennially active refrigerator. I watch every match my time-zone permits, then complain to my wife that football is playing havoc with my routine. I tell her I’m not watching the dull pre-quarters stage (when games usually drag on for 120 minutes before the drama of penalties plays out), then join her at the sofa when the anthems begin. I consume, in these four weeks, more news and opinions on the web than I normally do in a year. It’s unreasonable, this attention I willingly consent to this silly game, and inexplicable. I do not watch the European football leagues — why this surge of passion during the World Cup?