My Dear Students | Identifying opportunities: How a Bangladeshi seized his chance in NYC
(‘My dear students’, a fortnightly column that is a conversation with young minds on current events, books, popular culture — just about anything that’s worth talking over a cup of coffee.)
My dear students,
Today’s letter is part nostalgia and part appreciation of someone who made use of an unexpected opportunity. All of you must have been told at some point of time that you must grab opportunities when they arise.
Today, I will tell you about someone who not only snatched an opportunity when it arose but also had fun doing it. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of this person. I know him only as the Bangladeshi. He was the owner of a nondescript restaurant in New York. His restaurant was what is called a Deli in New York; it was reasonably clean, spacious and inviting. The only thing it lacked was a customer. It stated that it was open 24 hours but the opening hours did not open new customer opportunities for the Bangladeshi. But here’s the thing; his woes were resolved spectacularly when the 2003 World Cup cricket came along.
I lived in New York at that time. That city was many things then, but what it was not was a cricket fan friendly city. I am not talking about India level cricket crazy friendly but it wasn’t even reasonably convenient to watch cricket. One could watch cricket matches on satellite television or on some dodgy streaming sites with 2003 technology. The Bangladeshi decided to order the cricket World cup on the only big screen in his Deli. It did not matter to him that his American customers, the few that patronised his establishment, would be annoyed, because they would be asleep. The World Cup was in South Africa, and therefore the games were telecast through the night in New York.
The Bangladeshi loved cricket and would have probably watched all the games by himself anyway, but he also decided to spread the word to South Asians living in New York who were desperately looking for viewing options. Gradually, the word spread that in a corner of the upper east side New York, there was a place where people could gather to watch the cricket World Cup.
The cricket World Cup had games being played continuously for nearly six weeks. In some cases, there were simultaneous games being played. Every night, the Bangladeshi Deli had South Asians gathered in droves, eating his food as they watched the eight hours of cricket through the night. We had to endure some terrible advertisements in between. In fact, only two advertisements were being shown in a continuous loop. There was an Indian mobile ad that looked like it had been made by the mobile phone owner in his garage. There was also an ad about hair transplants that, in hindsight, I should have paid more attention to. The Bangladeshi watched every game assiduously and the only time he tripped up was when he insisted on watching a game in which Bangladesh was playing, while at the same time an Indian game was being telecast. The crowd rose against him and the poor man felt first-hand the wrath of a giant neighbour, and had to cede his ground.
The icing on the cake was the India-Pakistan match on March 1, 2003. I am sure all of us have our respective cherished memories of that day. I got to the Bangladeshi restaurant at 7 pm and grabbed a seat. By 10 pm, the whole place was packed to the rafters. This is the upper east side of NY we are talking about. The cops turned up to say this is a fire risk. After a hushed discussion with the Bangladeshi, they left. After they left, the Bangladeshi declared the battle as a ‘Championship Game’ requiring an extra fee. No one complained.
The demographic proportion was three-fourths Indian and one-fourths Pakistani, and by 11.30 pm, it was getting out of control. There was a real but unstated danger of fights breaking out. Such was the mood that even an academic like me was sloganeering for no reason. And then on TV, the banner ‘India v Pakistan’ was shown and the crowd went wild. It was like the Wagah border for some time. The Bangladeshi owner had a Puerto Rican assistant who, not having met any South Asian cricket fans before, became very worried. He stood up on the chair, calmed us down and told us about ‘how people should live in peace with each other.’ To this day, I still have this image in mind; it is 11.45 pm, freezing cold in NY, I am in a Bangladeshi shop with Indians and Pakistanis and a Puerto Rican is talking to us about world peace.
Anyway, Tendulkar’s knock was of course the main course of the night. Afterwards all of us who were there (my wife, my friends) went to another 24 hour diner to have breakfast and then finally went home to sleep. I remember emailing a friend and asking him to compare this innings to the ‘desert storm’ and he wrote back saying in terms of batting under pressure, this innings was better than the desert storm. After the World Cup concluded, I never saw the Bangladeshi again. But while it lasted, he had fun and made some money at the same time.