Brands & Marketing, Columns

The idea of the favourite

For the last thirty years, come winter and out comes the same sweater that one has been wearing for a little over 30 years. It is a particularly unaesthetic choice of apparel. It was gifted to me by my brother, who cannot be blamed in any way for his bad taste for at the time; random computer generated designs on a dirty brown background might well have been all the rage in the 80s. One has no explanation for why one continues to wear it- it carries little emotional significance, and although its forbearance and fortitude have been heroic, is now falling apart in several places. This has not deterred me, for one gets the foul thing darned and mended every single time its demise feels imminent. The only thing one can offer by way of reason, is that it has always been my favourite.

It is not entirely clear how and why things, places and people become our favourites. Some reasons are easy to understand- the person or object in question is truly special, memories have got attached with some, nostalgia is evoked in other cases, a special person or a feeling resides in the object of our attachment. We get used to some things, and regard any change with suspicion. And then there are random choices, fleeting impressions of a favourable kind that harden into something more.

Karsan Ghavri was my favourite cricketer at one time. I followed him with great interest and used to hope quite fervently that he did well. He had middling ability at best, but could be effective on occasion. A couple of his shining moments were enshrined in my memory. There was one time that he scored 86 in a test match in what was then regarded as a blistering pace. Many years later, I happened to see a video of that innings. It was among the streakier displays of batting, that I have seen, with edges and mishits accounting for most of the boundaries that sounded so impressive in the Sushil Chaturvedi amplified account I had heard on my radio. Solkar was another favourite, a brilliant fielder and doughty lower order batsman, but again not a world-beating champion of any kind.

Then there was Rajesh Khanna, not of the heady Aradhana/Kati Patang times but when he was in precipitous decline- the paunchy-jowly- Isiliye Mummy Ne Meri Tumhe Chai Pe Bulaya Hai days. One remembers rejoicing when the unspeakably execrable Chhaila Babu was declared a minor hit, or at the very least, not a total washout, like the rest of his films at the time. There was a foolhardy intensity with which one continued to root for one’s favourite, a contrariness that reason cannot begin to approach. It was not as if one deluded oneself into believing that any of these people were all-time greats or even better than their rivals, but simply that one was aligned to their fortunes and followed those with superstitious passion.

Other favourites are easy to explain. Tendulkar and Dhoni require no explanation. Nor do Borg, Connors, Steffi Graf and Federer. In some cases, one responds to a style of playing. In others, to how people carry themselves. Compressed within people lie philosophies, and we respond to big lofty ideas through forehand crosscourt caresses. Federer or Nadal, Navratilova or Evert, Borg or McEnroe, Arsenal or Manchester United- these are ideological battles being fought in mufti, and we choose sides, sometimes with the knowledge of what we are aligning with and often without any such conscious understanding.

There are some guilty pleasures that all of us enjoy, that this often militates against everything that we apparently hold dear. A song that we love in spite knowing that it is a vile form of syrupy pap. Or as happens particularly in my case, an old Hindi social film replete with evil mothers-in-law and the crumbling and eventual rehabilitation of once happy families which drives me to satisfying tears. Here the battle is clearly between the person one has learned to become and the person who really lives within. The overt layer of acquired sophistication is punctured by our inability to bury all the evidence of our former, unschooled selves.

Perhaps what is important here is not so much as to who our object of adulation is as much the fact that we need to make that investment and mark our ownership. That one’s mine, one decides for no good reason, and having taken that call, the person in question becomes immune to the vagaries of circumstance. A protective shield is thrown around our anointed favourite. We also get to experience the high and lows vicariously; here choosing those not quite worthy has its own set of rewards for it helps us stand apart from the world and feel the pleasure and pain of their changing fortunes more keenly, for they do well only occasionally.

Of course, today choosing anyone or anything as a favourite is becoming fraught with consequences. The thought police that we have nurtured within ourselves asks us a barrage of questions about the appropriateness of our choices. Is that favourite song of ours created in a different era too sexist by our standards today? Does our favourite actor hold political opinions we despise? The value that we place on our own opinion is so great that making a wrong choice in anointing a favourite feels catastrophic. How will we explain this to the 34 people who might be following us on social media?

One could think of favourites as quasi-emissaries of the self, that allow us to participate in the world more directly by putting something of ourselves in play. The favourite embodies something about who we are, without our always being aware of what exactly is being communicated. Which is another way of justifying the choice of a dirty brown sweater that is getting ready to do its bit in the winter of 2019.