Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Jinnu Moydheen

This story is not my own, it is an old legend, which means that it belongs to no one and that it belongs to everyone. It originates from North Kerala, or so I have been told. I cannot be sure because I don't know the story of Jinnu Moydheen, a magical presence in the small football fields up north of this small state called Kerala, the green appendix of the Indian subcontinent. The magical thing about this legend is that there is no need to hear it, or read it, only knowing the name of the protagonist - Jinnu Moydheen; is sufficient to invoke the sweet aroma of a tale in a mind fertile enough to accept it. Jinnu, meaning genie in the lingua franca, a powerful spirit, golden lamps, castles in Persia, aromatic markets, intoxicating harems, howling of a distant sand storm in the infinite desert; Moydheen, a common Muslim name in Kerala, a boy playing ball in the monsoon soaked field, getting into harmless fights with his brothers, sleeping with his head on his mother's lap, dreaming how boys everywhere dream, dreaming dreams that only a boy can dream. It is a story contained in its name, a story whose name is the story itself, there is no story without that name, the name is everything, perhaps there is no story but only the name, which in turn is the story and the name.

One can hear the story being told (or the name being uttered) during cold, misty mornings in tea shops. Tea shops that contain in their entirety a small hut, two benches, a samovar, a bunch of bananas hanging by a rope from the flimsy roof of the hut, and the owner Raghavan, who is adept at throwing tea into the air and catching it in a glass without spilling. And as his patrons wait, watching Raghavan expertly transfer a thread of tea couple of feet long from a glass in his right hand to a glass in his left in the pretext of cooling tea, the newspaper boy comes down the road on a cycle which is too big for him and throws a single copy of the morning newspaper into the tea shop. Following usual practice, one of the patrons who is literate reads from the newspaper aloud so that everyone, including the old men who never went to school and Raghavan who is occupied in the performance of tea cooling as if in a trance (Raghavan also never went to school), can hear the daily news. But all news doesn’t interest the tea shop crowd, who are more fickler than Shakespeare's Roman mob, and the designated news-reader should navigate them adeptly like Antony, reading only the news that interests them.

'Communists stage a walkout from the Parliament' says the reader
'Hmmmm...', the patrons shake their head.
'Father murders family, later kills himself'
'Ooohhh....' murmurs the crowd.
'10 sovereigns of gold, TV, laptop stolen'

At last the sports page is reached. It is full of news about cricket which the reader avoids. In a small column in the left bottom corner of the page the reader finds what he is looking for.

'Hattricks for Ronaldo and Messi'
The crowd is silent, only the sound of tea crashing turbulently into empty glasses can be heard, the reader holds his breath waiting for the start of another hour long , pointless debate on which of the two is better.
Then someone, someone old I presume, says 'Ronaldo and Messi are good. But not as good as Jinnu Moydheen'

'Jinnu Moydheena?' someone else asks, may be he is new to the place.

'Sometimes during football games the ball flies towards the net as if it was kicked by someone invisible. A shot that is sure to bulge the net, no one would even be near it when it flies towards goal magically. When that shot goes in it means Jinnu Moydheen has scored. The score is updated and the match restarts from kick off.'

This is how one hears of Jinnu Moydheen. For the curious reader who wants to know more I will delve into his genesis.

Moydheen, as he was known before he attained football divinity, was the last of 4 brothers of a neither rich nor poor family from North Kerala.Even from the beginning, before birth, there were signs that Moydheen's destiny would be inexorably linked with the ball. His mother,at the time eight months pregnant with Moydheen, went to watch a seven-a-side football game and was hit on her stomach by a wayward free-kick forcing Moydheen to come out one month in advance. Sure the unimaginative doctors said that it was the force of the hit that cut short his stay in his mother's womb, but the truth is that after feeling a football so close to him while swimming in foetal fluid Moydheen couldn't wait one more month to get out there and start kicking it. Moydheen's brothers also used to play football and the ball they used, which was more like a bundle of dirty rags covering an old rubber bladder, was passed on to Moydheen. The ball and Moydheen were inseparable, where ever he went the ball went with him, like the sheep in the nursery rhyme, but Moydheen never touched the ball with his hands, he would kick ahead and walk behind it, occasionally scooping it into the air and juggling it with his knees, sometimes balancing it on his forehead. When he ate the ball was under the dining table, when he bathed the ball soaked with him and when his mother deemed the old pile of rags to be too dirty to be in bed both Moydheen and the ball slept on the floor locked in embrace. A thin and seemingly unhealthy kid, Moydheen's idol was Garrincha, the bent winged Brazilian angel, who with his polio bent legs weaved magic on the field and afterwards drank himself to death when he realized that he had reached an age which was too old to play football. And like Garrnicha Moydheen too was unplayable in the field, he was lighting fast and could get past a defender in the blink of an eye, a deft touch a drop of the shoulder and he would leave his opponents stranded. It seemed that great things were in store for little Moydheen, who in his own way was one with the ball.

Once every four years, during the time of the football world cup, the small state of Kerala becomes in itself the complete microscopic copy of the football playing world. People take sides with fervour that is unmatched even during election times. Although there may be fans supporting the European teams, who with their technical finesse and ruthless ambition epitomize the continent that once ruled the world, these lost souls are a minority. The heart of Kerala lies, both in literature and in football, with their brothers half way across the world in South America. In the uncertain, crass,mostly illogical, and breathtakingly beautiful style of the Argentines and Brazilians the people here see the kind of game played in their own streets, by the shirtless local boys in the monsoon rain with empty bottles as goal posts and the fattest kid as the goalie. So for one month, when the tournament is played in some far off country whose name most people in Kerala are hearing for the first time, the state is draped in the yellow of Brazil and the blue of Argentina, battle lines are drawn, and in the air hangs a festivity that I believe only occurs in the third world, the kind of festivity, a gaiety that must be smelled to be known. Moydheen like his three brothers and father, was a Brazil fan. In Pele, Garrincha, Vava, Zico and Socrates, Moydheen saw the Gods of football and in Maradona he saw the Lucifer.

In the summer of 1986, a week before kick-off of the World Cup in Mexico, Moydheen, heady from destroying a team of Argentina fans in a seven-a-side football game, proclaimed something that would change his life forever.
'Brazil will lift the cup. Argentina will lose. Let Allah cripple me if that doesn't happen!'

One can hardly blame Moydheen's optimism in the matter. In the 1982 World Cup the Brazilian team with the likes of Zico and Socrates played the most beautiful kind of football ever seen, Joga Bonito! Though they lost to the Dutch in the later stages of the competition the team now had a chance to set history straight, to play the beautiful game and to win the beautiful cup.

The tournament started and Moydheen watched the World Cup in the small black and white TV in the town library, the only television in the whole district. Sitting on his haunches in a room full of fellow football fans, Moydheen watched every game in all its grainy glory, making out what he could and imagining the rest. Both Brazil and Argentina brushed aside the opposition in the group stages and moved forward. While Brazil played in their signature free flowing attacking style, the Albiceleste too marched on with some gritty displays and shows of brilliance by Diego Maradona. In the quarter stages Brazil was set to play France. Brazil played the game in typical fashion, creating scores of chances but converting none. As Brazil finally scored, Moydheen rejoiced, but France soon equalized and as time wore on Moydheen grew nervous, as the score kept tied in deadlock. The omens seemed to be against the Brazilians. Zico, who could score from free-kicks 30 yards out failed to score a penalty and nerves got the better of Socrates when he missed a open header on goal. The match went to extra time and then to penalties and in the raffle of the shoot-out Brazil bit dust, the joga bonito failed. Moydheen was devastated, but he did not fall into despair. Brazil might have lost, but there was a chance that Argentina would lose too and then he would be able to salvage atleast a part of his lost pride. Argentina faced England in the quarter finals, and Moydheen sat down in front of the TV to watch the game, praying to the God he believed in and to the many others he didn't to make Argentina lose, and may be break Maradona's leg too in the process. In the first half the game remained scoreless, but in the beginning of the second half the diminutive Maradona poked the ball past England's towering goal keeper, Peter Shilton, with his hand. The referee didn't see this altercation and the goal stood. Moydheen couldn't believe what he saw. Surely God wouldn't allow such a travesty! In his heart of hearts Moydheen knew or hoped that England will score to maintain the balance sheet of justice. But little did Moydheen know that there was no justice in football and that the hand that scored for the Argentines was the hand of the same Gods he prayed to. Moydheen watched on not losing hope and it was then that Maradona received the ball in his own half and charged like a blue and white comet into the English half. In his black and white screen Moydhenn saw English defenders fall like skittles trying to get the ball off him, one ,two, three... they kept tumbling down, Maradona was now inside the English box, Peter Shilton dived to get the ball but was beaten by the Argentine's touch and sprawled like dead octopus on the field as Maradona slotted home to complete a magnificent goal. The TV room erupted in euphoria of having witnessed perhaps the greatest goal in football history and Moydheen hopes sunk without a trace. The rest of the game he watched like a catatonic, no thinking anything, not saying anything, just watching for he knew that the English could now score a hundred goals but Argentina would always win, as one cannot lose after scoring a goal like that. Argentina won that match, and the rest of the matches, beating the Germans in the final to lift the cup. Moydheen didn't bother watching any of the matches after the quarters, he knew the outcome of the tournament the moment he saw Maradona rip England apart.

The night Argentina won the cup Moydheen had a terrible dream. In the dream he saw Diego Maradona in full Argentine kit, biting a Cuban cigar, sawing off his legs with a chain saw. In the morning when Moydheen woke up and tried to walk he found that some thing had changed. His legs were bent inwards and his knees were inside out, he was crippled and could barely walk, and for sure he couldn't play football any more. The days when he could play with the ball as if it was an extension of himself were over, a part of Moydheen died that night. He would still go to see matches when his friends played, sitting in the stands shouting 'shoot!' and 'pass!', and then for a second he would forget about his legs and would get up in excitement to run into the pitch and play, but then his weak knees would remind him painfully of his misery and he would sit down again to watch the game. Moydheen accepted his fate as a punishment from God for his arrogance, for the certainty with which he tried to predict the future. For four years he lived like this, still loving football, still loving his ball but unable to play, just watching.

It was another World cup summer and the customary seven-a-side football match between Brazil and Argentina fans was under way while Moydheen watched from the stands. The Argentina fans scored the first goal and in celebration they mocked Moydheen. 'Still think Brazil would win?' they shouted at him, taunting him in chorus. Moydheen couldn't take it any longer, four years of frustration and disappointment finally cracked something inside his psyche, he hobbled on to the field and signalled to his friends that he wanted to play, and they let him do it out of sympathy. He could barely control the ball or move around the pitch, whenever he got the ball he passed it someone near him, kicking the ball with whatever little strength he had in his flimsy and grotesque legs. His friends tried to get him involved in the game as much as they could, but it was hopeless. The pitiful game looked set to end in a 1-0 defeat for Moydheen's team, but then someone passed Moydheen the ball near the half way line. This time instead of kicking the ball to someone nearby, Moydheen trudged forward with the ball in his feet, picking up speed and balance as he moved forward. An opposition defender approached him trying to tackle him and take the ball, but Moydheen dragged the ball back with his right foot and adeptly turned on like a dancer leaving the defender in dust, he dashed forth with the ball, defenders fell in numbers, it was carnage and it seemed that the old Moydheen was back, soon he was inside the opposition box and the goalkeeper like everyone else on the pitch could only watch Moydheen curl the ball into the top corner of the net and then vanish into thin air, gone, like a spirit into the netherworld.

Nobody saw Moydheen after that but a new phenomenon became common during seven-a-side matches. The ball, often in the middle of the field would suddenly spring to life and dart forward as if dribbled by an invisible force, it would then race into the penalty box and slot itself into the corner of the goal. When that happens, it means that Jinnu Moydhhen has scored, and by the universal rules of football, the score is updated and the game resumes from kick-off.

-  AJ