India skipper Virat Kohli and his vice, centurion Rohit Sharma, could not resist hugging Charulata Patel, an 87-year-old Indian fan, at Edgbaston, during India's World Cup match against Bangladesh.
Call it the soft touch. Call it humility. Call it grace.
Or be cynical, and call it an Instagram sitter. A god-sent Twitter moment.
Whatever be your lens, one thing that was impossible to ignore, or escape, was an 87-year old vuvuzela blowing lady who caught everyone's eye as she ardently rooted for the Indian team when they were playing Bangladesh earlier this week. Charulata Patel, a Kenyan of Indian origin, caught the fancy of the TV cameras by her effervescence and unabated enthusiasm … blowing a bright yellow vuvuzela and waving the Indian flag every time a boundary was struck by the Indian batsmen. The charming old lady who had travelled all the way from London, escorted by her grand-daughter, caught the eye of Virat Kohli and his deputy Rohit Sharma, both of whom sought her out and greeted her with much warmth and respect after the match and even touched her feet to seek blessings.
Dwelling on her celebrated fan moment, Patel told the world, “Virat came to meet me after the match. He touched my feet and I gave him my blessings. I told him to keep up the good work and win the World Cup. I always pray for the Indian team’s success. From the bottom of my heart, I wish the Indian cricket team all the best.” This of course was enough to ignite unparalleled delight and delirium on social media as never before as Indian supporters swooned over the cricket-loving grandma, posting-sharing-liking-loving the tri-colour scarf draped Patel (who also sported a painted tri-colour on her cheek) who became an instant celebrity as the ICC handle saluted her and Kohli tweeted, “Also would like to thank all our fans for all the love support & especially Charulata Patel ji. She's 87 and probably one of the most passionate & dedicated fans I’ve ever seen. Age is just a number, passion takes you leaps & bounds. With her blessings, on to the next one.”
Patel, who is said to be an ardent Team India fan, and keeps a close track of India’s fortunes, said she wishes to be present when India lifts the World Cup at the iconic Lord's on 14 July. The old lady also revealed to the media, “Virat said he would look forward to see me in the rest of the two-three matches but I told him that I do not have the tickets, and then he said, ‘don't worry about the tickets, I will give it to you’ …”. Later, Rohit Sharma, Kohli’s deputy and the man-of-the-match for his masterly 104 versus Bangladesh, too came by to greet and hug Patel.
But India’s brand of sanskari cricket actually shone forth when both the captain and the vice-captain touched the old lady’s feet. And all of India went into raptures with a chorused, “Awwww …!!!”. Such love. Such respect. The same Kohli who only moments earlier had been seen aggressively arguing with the umpires earning a second demerit point and risking a possible suspension, was the cynosure of all eyes as he hugged Patel, then bent down to touch her feet and seek her blessings. A picture of pure humility. Good values. Good etiquette. Good upbringing. Sharma followed. An entire nation had moist eyes, and a lump in the throat. Virat went from brat to cherub in the blink of an eye.
Meanwhile, industrialist Anand Mahindra, who is known to avoid watching India’s matches because he fears he jinxes them and leads the team to defeat, tweeted last evening, “As per my tradition, I wasn’t watching the match. But I’m going to switch it on now just to see this lady... She looks like a match winner...”. After Anand Mahindra tweeted his excitement to watch Charulata on the screen, one of his fans tweeted to him saying, “Why don't you sponsor her?”. To which he replied, “Find out who she is and I promise I will reimburse her ticket costs for the rest of the India matches!”. After which many of his followers tweeted back telling him about the superfan’s identity. So don’t be surprised to see 87-year-old Charulata Patel once again cheering India in the semi-finals.
While the Patel superfan act was enchanting India on the screens, in another side-show post the match, Rohit Sharma presented an autographed hat to a fan named Meena, who was hit by the ball during Bangladesh match. Meena was hit in the stands when Sharma smashed a six (one of his thundering five maximums) during his match-winning century. Sharma very valiantly sought out the young lady and her husband, and gifted her the small memento both as an apology and a thank-you.
The off-field outpouring of love by Kohli and Sharma on the 87-years old superfan and respect shown to the bruised Meena will do plenty of good to the image of Indian cricket. It will bring the fan sitting in the stadium or the one sitting glued to the TV at home closer to his heroes. Moreso the feeling that they are as real, as touchy-feely as the rest of us. As human. As loving. As respectful.
The fan stories of Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary (the Sachin fan), Sugumar D (Virat’s fan), Abdul Jalil Chaudhary (Chacha Cricket of Pakistan), Percy Abeysekera (the Srilankan die-hard), Tiger Milon (Bangladesh’s fan supremo) and others have been captured at various times by media. But never has the kind of real-life fan drama been enacted on the side-lines of a game as happened with the octogenarian Patel. She is every Indian cricket fan’s mom, every Indian cricket lover’s grandmom. She epitomises and celebrates every Indian female fan today in every Indian home (and stadium) who joins the men-folk in cheering for India, praying for the team and making countless ‘deals’ with God to ensure an Indian victory.
Charulata Patel has given the Indian female fan a face. Finally. And how.
Dr. Sandeep Goyal enjoys the very many vignettes of the game of cricket and feels fandom enriches the game through love and devotion.