India shuts down for India-Pakistan showdown

India shuts down for India-Pakistan showdown

Mumbai: India’s billion-strong population will be calling in sick to work, shutting shops early and even cancelling doctor’s appointments to make sure they watch Wednesday’s much-hyped World Cup semi-final match against arch rivals Pakistan.

Daily life will grind to a halt in cricket’s spiritual home as fans from all walks of life settle down to watch one of the sport’s most intense rivalries.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani are among those scheduled to watch the encounter, along with Bollywood celebrities and corporate czars.

“I might work till around 12 pm. After that my cab is probably going to break down," Sham Kesh, a cab driver in Mumbai, told Reuters with a twinkle in his eye.

“It’s a huge match, and I cannot afford to miss it even if it means not working. I doubt there will be many cabs on the roads tomorrow," he said.

The rest of the country is following suit.

On social networking site Facebook, more than 100,000 people voted a resounding “yes" to a poll on whether 30 March should be declared a national holiday in India, while another 40,000 said they were just going to “bunk" work.

With productivity threatening to dip considerably, even the bosses have given in. Several firms are planning to declare a half-day holiday, while others have set up giant screens in their offices to allow employees to watch the match in the office.

“We’ll start earlier than normal and finish by mid-afternoon. We’ve also got a screen set up in our office so that everyone can watch it together," Ashish Hemrajani, CEO of Bigtree Entertainment, a company that has around 70 employees in his Mumbai office alone, told Reuters.

Aching Tooth

A spokesman for Reliance Industries, India’s top listed firm, said employees would be allowed to watch the match in conference rooms.

Even urgent matters such as an aching tooth are not motivation enough for true cricket fans to give up a chance to watch the match.

“We usually have a full calendar but this Wednesday, we’ve barely got two appointments pencilled in, and even they are women. Everyone else has asked to postpone their appointments so they can stay home," Shraddha Gokhale, a dentist who works at a dental clinic in Central Mumbai said.

There is no escaping the hype surrounding the showdown, with channels running a constant stream of analysis and news, scrutinising every move and analysing every decision taken by the two teams.

Even Bollywood, the world’s biggest film industry is cancelling shoots and heading to Mohali to watch the match live. Actors Aamir Khan, Rahul Bose and Suneil Shetty are among those watching it, while others plan to take the day off and watch it at home.

“It’s India Pakistan! It’s the biggest match there is? How can anyone miss it," Shetty told Reuters.

Since the two teams set-up the clash last week, all other headlines have been pushed off the front pages of newspapers and a minority few believe the hype is too much.

“I don’t believe you should let cricket overtake your life, it’s just a game after all but I’m not sure you can convince a lot of people about that, especially for tomorrow’s game," Hemrajani said.