When India went to Mohali (Roundup)

March 30th, 2011 - 9:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Unnatural quiet on the street and excited huddles around TV screens at homes, pubs and open squares in countless towns and villages… bustling India all but stopped in its tracks Wednesday in an unprecedented show of cricketing frenzy to focus on the India-Pakistan World Cup semifinal being played in the north Indian town of Mohali.

As India’s men in blue took on the visiting boys in green in Mohali, 10 km from the Punjab and Haryana capital of Chandigarh, state governments and private sector employers joined hands to ensure that employees got the time needed to watch the cricketing action and more unfold.

With cricket and Pakistan combining to make it a memorable day, it was festive and restive too. Millions took time off work, studies and their daily routine to sit glued to their television screens to watch the match, described as a showdown to remember between two neighbours battling a legacy of fraught ties.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the game. And with them were Congress president Sonia Gandhi, industrialists, film stars and politicians, as well as hundreds of Pakistani fans and a 45-member delegation.

And if they could take time off, the rest of India could too!

Much before the clock struck 2.30 p.m., streets started emptying out as thousands trooped indoors to catch the action on TV.

The Delhi government gave its staff a half-day holiday, as did the Madhya Pradesh government and private sector firms, big and small.

The Madhya Pradesh government even ensured that there would be no power cuts between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m.

“We have bought 1,000 megawatt power so that people can watch the match comfortably,” Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said in Bhopal.

If an infrastructure company in Bhubaneswar allowed its employees to go home after lunch, so did corporate houses in other places, including Ernst & Young that declared a half-day in all the company’s offices countrywide, and small time employers.

“I thought it is best to give a holiday to my workers, most of whom are migrant labourers from West Bengal,” said Chacko Thomas, a contractor in Kottayam, Kerala.

And in companies where change of timings was not possible, managements made arrangements to show the match on LCD screens in cafeterias and elsewhere.

To make sure that the party mood was intact even within the office, elaborate snacks and drinks were ordered.

Students stayed off classes.

In the national capital, where the Delhi Metro and buses reported sparse attendance, Delhi University colleges were nearly empty.

Amit Kumar of Motilal Nehru College told IANS: “A teacher had told us not to come to college because of the match.”

In Bhubaneswar’s Utkal University, students pooled in money and arranged a projector and a screen to watch the match on the lawns.

Quite in contrast to that bustle, normally busy streets, be it Kolkata’s Park Circus, Hyderabad’s Banjara Hills or Lucknow’s Kursi Road, were deserted. It was like undeclared curfew.

Bollywood too took time off.

Director Anurag Basu, for instance, halted shooting of his film “Barfee”. He announced he just couldn’t shoot when the world would be watching the match.

There was one segment that was not so lucky though, busy as they were catering to the many cricket enthusiasts - the service sector.

In east Delhi, cable operator Ramesh Tripathy said: “I arranged for electric generators and checked all the faulty wires by 10 a.m. itself. I don’t want my customers to miss even a single ball of the match.”

And then there were those hundreds who waited on customers and managed affairs at restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.

At the 1 Cafe Bar, in south Delhi’s Saket area, various special packages were on offer.

“Both our restaurants - 1 Cafe Bar and 1 Boulevard - are packed and sold out. We are expecting at least 400 people throughout the day. We have put up three LCD screens for our customers,” said Abhay Singh, a representative of the popular joint.

It was not all a party, however.

India’s tech hub Bangalore did not log out completely and most employees turned up for work at Maharashtra’s legislative headquarters Mantralaya, where the assembly was in session.

With the volatility that accompanies every India-Pakistan match, there were concerns in Kashmir Valley too. A ban on the gathering of more than four people was in place in the summer capital Srinagar.

Win or lose, it was a humdinger of a day.

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