We recently watched Million Dollar Arm. It is the true story of the underdog making it big, a feel-good movie with a lot of laughs and some moments of drama. It’s about an agent, JB, trying to make it big by going solo. He comes up with the out-of-the-box idea to tap into the cricket-crazy Indian market through baseball players. He finds two boys, Dinesh and Rinku, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But to me, it was more than that.
I am not a sports buff. I don’t understand why you have to drop your bat and run in baseball instead of just carrying it with you like in cricket. Actually, I don’t really understand all the fuss over a silly ball in both the sports. So there, I’ve come out clean. I care zilch about sports.
But Million Dollar Arm resonated with me. There were many funny moments in the film, and many moments where I couldn’t help but cry.
Everything about the Indianness of the movie stayed on with me. Rinku and Dinesh’s selection into the Million Dollar Arm franchise inspires a huge celebration in which their entire village participates, just like the time my father-in-law’s whole village celebrated his retirement from corporate life. They went the whole nine yards, with dhol and sarangi. I remember sharing my astonishment with my husband. “How can completely unrelated people gather together to welcome your father, just because he was born in the same village?” I mused.
In the film, I saw Dinesh’s truck-driver father telling his son that he believes in him. I saw Rinku’s mother’s concern for him, her repetitive request to the "foreigner," JB, to feed and take good care of her son. With Indian parents, kids never grow up. I saw families welling up as they waved them goodbye. And that’s when I recognized my parents and in-laws in these movie characters.
Eighteen months ago when we moved to the U.S., my mother-in-law held on to my husband’s arm. She hugged him and did not let go until it was time for the flight. Appa kept holding my then 3-year-old close to his chest. My grandmother cried and told me that she hoped we’d be back in India soon. “Somehow, people who go there don’t come back," she said, wiping her tears. “Promise me you will.”
My daughter was happy when she heard that her Thata didn’t let her go when we were coming to the States “ ... because he loves me,” she declared proudly. But she did not know that he held onto her because he did not want to let go, because he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to hold her again, or if he’d be able to.
The most important things my parents gave me when we were leaving India were: a picture of our family deity, some holy ash, and vermillion — just like in the movie. Amma said she’d rest much better knowing that Ganesha was with me. I am not very religious: marriage and childbirth changed that part of my life. Somehow, the morning rush to get to work relegated the traditional, hourlong ceremony each day to the bottom of the priority list.
Now, I just prostrate in front of the deities quickly and head on out.
DD does chant some shlokas (Hindu verses) just before going to bed, but that’s probably the closest we come to being religious. We do not perform any elaborate ceremonies at home; we don’t make lavishly rich food preparations like my mother used to. Every festival had a special delicacy tied into the celebration, and Amma would make those in spite of her busy office schedule. DD cannot say that about me.
In the movie, JB is surprised when a cow enters the house. I remember how the priest had insisted that the cow enter my parents' house during the house-warming ceremony. “It is very sacred and will have a great impact on your prosperity and happiness,” he had predicted.
The idea seems very strange and unhygienic, and I remember squirming at the suggestion even then, but my eyes welled up seeing this nod to my country's traditions in the film. I had experienced that episode back home; I was nostalgic. I don’t know if DD and I would be able to associate at that level — she has never witnessed anything like that, and she just laughed at that scene.
When the boys huddle and scream "India!" before their tryout, I felt a shiver run down my spine.
The feeling that you get when you hear your country’s name being chanted is inexplicable. DD kept looking at my face and touching my cheeks. “Why are you crying?” she asked.
That’s when I realized that although she knows she’s an Indian, she does not know what being Indian means.
I hugged her tight. “I wish I could tell you.”