'Berlo' - Then And Now
That was the only occasion when I ever got to see the Genesis of a proper political cartoon. The Maker: Thomas Kodenkandath ('Thommy'), scientist, artist and (then occasional and now prolific) cartoonist. The place: Trieste, Italy. The year: 1994. And playing God in 'Thommychettan''s vision was billionaire and soccer-club owner Silvio Berlusconi, who had just assumed premiership of Italy, promising a sharp revival of the country from economic doldrums.
Later during that visit, I spent a few days in Rome among a group of Italian students. The Soccer World Cup had just started and Italy was to open its campaign against Ireland. My host Francesco invited me to watch the match at a party of youngsters. The party happened somewhere outside the city; it was a very lively and drunken gathering numbering least a hundred; and a huge-screened telly had been set up.
The match kicked off and the Italian commentary, animated and loud and repeating the names of national heroes "Baresi,... Donadoni.... Roberto Baggio!.... Donadoni!..." reminded me of radio commenataries in Malayalam from my childhood... Then suddenly Ireland scored a goal. There was a hushed silence among the TV watchers; and suddenly someone began to clap and a large fraction of the audience started a round of applause.
I stepped away to fetch a drink and saw several of my new friends - surprisingly, Francesco included - standing away and chatting and not watching the match at all. I asked them why they were staying aloof.
Francesco said: "You know, all of us are great football-lovers but we are also committed left-wing activists. We are just not for Berlusconi, who is a big-time capitalist and is very right-wing."
"But what has the premier's politics got to do with the world cup?" I asked.
"Actually, he owns the clubs for which most of these guys, Baresi, Maldini, Donadoni,... play. And these chaps had made public statements supporting Berlusconi's politics. Many in our group cannot identify with guys who say such irresponsible things, just because they are paid by some politician. You know what, Elena (his girlfriend) actually wants Italy to lose!"
"And what about YOU?"
"I want Italy to win. But I am not going to support them 100 percent; I will try not to watch Italy's matches!"
"I too support Italy!" I said earnestly "but in support of your cause, I too will skip today's match."
It was just as well. Ireland won the match and most party-ers looked seriously shaken, including the majority of those who did not watch.
I returned to India in another couple of days. In my then hostel, I was the sole Italy-supporter and watched the Azzurri revive and win hard-fought matches against Bulgaria, Nigeria, Spain... before they narrowly lost the final (it was easily the most exciting *goalless* match I ever have seen; the decision came via a 'shootout') to Brazil. Even old Francesco gradually got hooked and watched the latter stage of the tournament with great interest - he even sent me a long email analyzing the final, describing how the Italian defense led by a semi-fit Baresi and Maldini had held the rampaging Brazilian forwards at bay for a full 120 minutes.
When Italy actually won the Cup in 2006, I was again a steady supporter; but age had taken its toll and I did not feel anything like the excitement I felt cheering for them in a losing cause a dozen years previously.
More interestingly, 'Berlo' is back as the Premier of Italy; and judging from the papers, is up to some rather different kinds of ballgames. Wonder what Thommy (whose latest work may be seen at http://drawnopinions.blogspot.com) and Francesco would have to say on the recent developments!