Burdens of History

2002081800400101.gif“Athleticism has never been associated with Indian cricket, nor with Indians in general, and that has been a chip on the shoulder of Indian manhood.” Somini Sengupta, If It’s Hip, Fast and Furious, Is It Cricket?, 2007

“Through the same passes from time immemorial warlike races had swept down on the sun-steeped plains of the Five Rivers
and rich alluvial tracts of the Ganges and Jumna to conquer the effete dwellers therein and subdue them to their will. In India history repeats itself with monotonous sameness. In its enervating plains, far removed from the invigorating sea-breeze and the bracing cold of the mountain ranges, the keen eye, undaunted heart, and relentless arm of the successive hardy northern immigrants slowly but surely tend to change to the placid look, folded hands and brooding mind of the Eastern Sage, who, content to dream his dream of life, wearily turns from the conflict and dire struggle for existence, time after time introduced by the more warlike northern conquerors ever coming and going like the monsoon storms.” W. D. Frazer, British India, 1896.

Yeh Din

As a birthday gift (contestable) to you, my gentle reader, I will post all the things that have been looming in my head for the past week. All. Watch this space.

I.

India vs. Pakistan in the World Cup Twenty20 Finals. I am sure this is big news in the subcontinent. Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Dhoni. Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi. There is a solid defense of the Twenty20 format by Osman Samiuddin from the Pakistani [and Indian, as well] perspective:

About right, too, for the format is one the average Pakistani, fan and player, easily recognises and feels comfortable with. England may have been responsible for institutionalising and selling the concept, but its informal, Asian cousin, played out on streets with apartments as spectators and on grounds with cement pitches and dangerous outfields has long been Pakistan cricket’s lifeline.

This is, then, really the game that us desi kids played and play. The tennis ball version [taped ball or not], usually 10 or 12 overs; the hard ball version, 20 or 25 overs; on a cement pitch; front-foot, across the line batting; block hole, yorker bowling; aggressive fielding, running; uptempo and hurried pace. I have played this version of the game my entire life. Here is the rub, though. When we played this game, the goal was to get better, to learn to stay at the crease, to master the art of bowling according to a plan not as a reaction, to learn to keep control of the ball even after you have hit it. The goal, was to play a full game of cricket. There were/are tons of yuvrags, afridis … everyone had to have such players. They were called dharay (clobberers). I don’t remember any particular pride associated with such a designation.

Admit it. The odds are stacked against the bowler in cricket. The batsman is padded, and has a very thick stick and can catch a break by moving to the non-stricker’s end. The beauty of cricket is to make those odds even out – by pitch, by bowl, by field, by pace. And then ask the bat to rise to the occasion. 2020 makes a mockery of that balance and stacks everything to credit the bat. Smaller boundaries, hampered field placement, and the urge to “measure the distance of the Sixes”.

Sure it is fun comparing Yuvrag’s 6 in six balls performance, to Gibb’s 6 in six balls during WC 2007 and, further back, to Sir Gary Sobers’ 6 in six balls in 1968. But do these batsmen qualify as genus Britannicus, to quote CLR James? Judging from the Test career of Sir Gary Sobers, of course. Will we get a similar chance to judge the young Yuvraj Singh? I have no idea. And I fear that we will not find out. I fear that the 2020 will splinter a team into a perfectly natural division of skill-sets, of specialist dharays like Shahid Afridi never having to grow beyond what they played in their backyards. How will someone like Shane Warne or Abdul Qadir or Imran Khan emerge out of this format? Nathan Bracken? Pfft. That, in a nutshell, is the reason I remain unenthusiastic about this format.

II

This October 6 election is a sham and a joke. So are these noble sentiments from Benazir Bhutto. I also would like to call your attention to William Dalrymple’s contrarian take in Democracy, not terror, is the engine of political Islam. He has some good points but he ignores that the reason _only_ the religious parties have been able to make a popular appeal is that every other possible democratic voice has been brutally silenced in the last 50 years by repressive, dictatorial regimes. The stats of Muslim Brotherhood and MMA in Egypt or Pakistan do not, then, reveal a populist appeal of militant Islam but the lack of any option EXCEPT the dictatorial one or the Islamist one: whether in Cairo or Karachi. The Mosque is the only place left for political mobilization – after the living room and the street have been taken away by the State. Furthermore, it is rather simplistic to call every religious party “Islamist”. Dalrymple, I know, knows better. There is, of course, a place and role for religious belief in political sphere. Mark Lilla can talk all he wants about the American exceptionalism but we are all watching the saga of the Mormon Mitt Romney or the lack of Democratic appeal to the Sunday Crowd. Simply because an observant Muslim wants to run for the Parliament does not mean that country will become “Teh Axis of Evil!”. And Hamas/Palestine is symptomatic of the rest of the Islamicate world … since when? Of course, I won’t badger the point by pointing out that the only so-called “existing democracy” in the Middle East – Israel – has never been accused of being “secular”.
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