Hockey, hockey, everywhere

Hockey is ubiquitous in Bhubaneswar. As one waits at the baggage carousel, a group of twenty-something girls is clicking selfies in front of a 3-D signboard that says “My heart beats for hockey” (with a hockey stick piercing the heart instead of an arrow). Near the exit, a grinning Manpreet Singh, the Indian hockey team skipper, is on an advertising board attached to a shoe-shining machine. The captains of teams of World Cup participants smile from the billboards right outside the exit. The stretch of road that leads to the airport have numerous billboards of the World Cup, many of them featuring Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Mr Patnaik (clad in white) is spotted more than the official mascot of World Cup – Olly, the Olive Ridley turtle – who’s mostly restricted to graffitis.

Oversuspicious security guards

There are clusters of guards located at numerous spots within the stadium, too, on the eve of the opening ceremony, featuring performances of AR Rahman, Madhuri Dixit, Shah Rukh Khan among others, to be attended by several political dignitaries including the CM.

Speaking of security folk, the writer meets one from England. Andy Halliday, the manager of the English team, was formerly a specialist firearms officer in the Metropolitan Police of London. He was serving The Met during the London bombings of 2005. As he tries to remember an occasion of adventure at the writer’s insistence, a loose firecracker explodes near the ground and he flinches. Maybe his current job, which he says includes doing the team’s laundry, has softened him.

Watching Madhuri Dixit and AR Rahman

On Tuesday, in a spectacular opening ceremony at the Kalinga Athletics Stadium, Madhuri Dixit dances to a musical recital (voiced by her) about the elements of nature. Her movements – to indicate the ether’s vastness or the serenity of flowing river – are graceful. But some mediapersons grow increasingly impatient – they perhaps expected her to perform a perky Bollywood number. By the time Dixit starts a passage on humanity, one of them gets up to leave. To climax the ceremony, following Dixit, enters AR Rahman. Most of the near-10,000 crowd filling the Kalinga let out a huge roar and wave their flashlight-lit phones when they see his face on the big screens. After singing and playing the keyboard for some of his famous compositions, he ends the show with the anthem he’s composed for the World Cup accompanied by five non-stop minutes of colourful fireworks. The dazzle and brilliance in the sky is something we all hope will be seen on the field when the tournament gets underway.

‘The Kalinga atmosphere’ isn’t a mere hype

There was much written, spoken and tweeted about the atmosphere during a hockey match, especially involving India, at the Kalinga hockey stadium. Some of the accounts, the writer thought, were exaggerated – intentionally or otherwise. He stands corrected now. The crowd that attended India’s first match against South Africa was bigger, noisier and created a larger buzz than the one that witnessed Shahrukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and AR Rahman. Clearly, the city of Bhubaneswar love hockey players more than stars of pop-culture.