In Shillong, never is masculinity as intensively interrogated as during the World Cup. This is also the time when the rate of television buyers goes up.
Growing up in the outskirts of the city, very few households had televisions. At the time, a television was simply a luxury my struggling parents couldn’t afford. However, much like everyone around, their obsession with football was undeniable.
In this place, football is its own religion. The world cup, a pilgrimage.
I recall my father narrating a story of how prior to when I was born, people would undertake long journeys on busses to the borders of Bangladesh. The reason behind these journeys was because at the time, they weren’t able to watch the game live. The only way to do this was to carry televisions and antennas to these areas, hoping that somehow this box powered by the bus’s battery will receive a channel from Bangladesh that features the live game.
Eventually when live broadcasts were available at the comfort of the television owner’s home, the pilgrimage became daily journeys to their houses.
Amongst the Khasis, there exist an almost fanatical love for football.
I remember distinctly, in ’98 my mother and father would often take me to my grandmother’s. My grandmother at the time owned a tiny television with no cable. Her house had people flooding to the streets (most of them, men). ‘Ma kyllain (tobacco) smoke covered the whole house, even as my grandmother complained. This happened again during the world cup of 2002. It wasn’t until I was much older when we had a television of our own. But then, the crowd began to gather at our house. Now it’s 2018, most own a television set and judging by the crowd that fills tech stores, some more will take home their own television soon enough. But houses are still not devoid of crowds. Something about the world cup brings people together, despite the televisions they own.
Amongst the Khasis, there exist an almost fanatical love for football. In many ways, this game has infused itself in the lived experience of the people. For many of us, our value and our position in the society is evaluated by the way we affiliate and imagine our own lives around this game.
Personally, I had never developed a love for any sport, let alone football. This year’s world cup for me is a time machine. As it takes me back, I rediscover an old feeling of resilience. Each time the world cup happened, it has allowed for me to become a target of collective bullying. “Why are you such a sissy?”, “What kind of man are you?”, “Hijras like you should not be born”. And suddenly, it is 1998 again. A relative who was supposed to babysit me, locked me outside instead. I was too feminine to watch the game, in the same room with his testosterone reeking friends. I peeped through a slit between the planks that built the house, the only desire was to be included- to belong. It is 2018, I am that little boy again, excluded once more from gatherings, conversations, camaraderie. Once again, I peep through the same slit. The only difference now is that I have come to revel in the exclusion, in escaping the binary.
This world cup, I no longer mourn for myself. I mourn however, for all those who are harassed, abused, and shamed for defying to fit in a prefixed mold of how they must perform gender.