‘Of cricket and other demons’
Wajahat S. Khan writes about the undertones of racism within the India-Pakistan rivalry.
The former US President Jimmy Carter sneaked a place into the back pages of most Pakistani dailies (which is, unfortunately, where they print the best international stories) by saying that the ‘real’ reason President Barack Obama is encountering such a strong opposition at home is because he’s black. Simple. According to Carter, anti-Obamaism is basically racism. The fact that Carter is from the southern state of Georgia actually added more credibility to the claim: he said that he knows that a racist undercurrent exists in the US, and right now its being channelled against the country’s first black president.
So what? Who cares?
We should. Especially in the wake of yesterday’s victory against the Indian cricket team, we really should look at what version of ‘racism’ applies to us. Consider.
I’m an ok cricket fan. I’m definitely not hard-core, which means that I don’t know exactly at which moment ‘power plays’ are ‘taken’ in what part of the innings, but I do know that strike rates are not as important as overall batting averages and that the dew factor can be bad for one or both teams, depending on the situation. Thus, it wasn’t surprising when I saw most of the Pakistani innings sneaking over my mac as my boss unleashed a weekend project deadline on me on the day of the biggest ODI of the year. But I redeemed myself by wrapping up the project early and leaving work (after all, it was a Pak-India game) and watching the Indian innings in good company.
Good company: Three entreprenuers. Two civil servants. Two lawyers. One sustainable energy developer. One active member of a mainstream political party. And a bunch of random guest appearances by droppers-by who wanted to check the score (we were. after all, at a wedding but not actually attending the function outside - at the cost of testing our friend the groom’s patience).
It was the typical testosterone driven gathering which would be witnessed anywhere in the world. Self-styled urban cowboys who unveil the secret sports analyst inside. The stats guru who has been dormant since the last big India-Pakistan game emerges hand in hand with the aggressive all-rounder who never made it past the Ramzan night-cricket circuit. For the participants, it’s really an exercise of re-living masculine goals and intellectual savvy never achieved. That’s why it’s fun.
Physically, some or all of the following actions can be observed during such a big-game setting. High-fives. Held heads. Chain smoking. Binge drinking. Finger-food demolition. And yes, even text messaging bookies.
But as a boss of mine once told me, incidentally as he nervously watched another big game on his multi-screen monitoring wall years ago, content is king. And the content of this particular gathering was the cheer-leading.
Usually, cheer-leading is fantastic. It’s fun. It’s energetic. It’s a bonding, team building exercise. And it’s a great tool to keep your spirits up when your team is in trouble.
The cheer-leading for this particular match evolved. First, the statisticians pulled out their verbal audit sheets, telling us that Pakistanis are chokers when it comes to big games against India. Yes, the over-all record is in our favour, but we’ve always lost championship games. Always.
‘But they still eat daal!’ hammers back a believer. Laughter.
Daal. The lentil that demarcates the LoC and reinforces the Partition will now decide the fate of our nation’s cricketing zeal.
‘And they worship monkeys!’ says another fan of Team Pakistan. ‘Also elephants, and cows!’
‘Yeah man, meat! Man food! That’s why it doesn’t matter if we don’t take this one. We’re still a team of men!’ summarizes the third, an obvious carnivore as he works through his kunna and Blackberry.
‘Bilkul! It doesn’t matter. Remember the Mumbai attacks? It shook them man. Ten boys took over a city. They’re scared,’ the politico in the gang analyses.
And so it went. High and lows didn’t matter. Muddled political facts, gastronomic stereotypes and psychoanalysis of religious symbolism ended up overshadowing and outweighing the rational logic of the sooth-saying statisticians. Whether Suresh Raina slammed the jittery young pacer Aamer or whether RP Singh was picked up on deep mid-on by a resplendent Yousuf, the cheer-leaders reinforced spirits through an exercise which would have made rioters proud anywhere. From Calcutta to Lahore, from Godhra to Gojra, all famous (or infamous) hate rioters of South Asia must have used the same language in one version or another against whatever group they were targeting. And their partners in Rwanda and Paris and Alabama must have used the same, easy to consume McNuggets of socio-politico-religious chagrin dipped into the snap-to-open barbeque sauce of violence whenever they had gone to town on the ‘other guy’.
But hey, this was cricket. Harmless. Fun. A sport. Our collection of entrepreneurs/lawyers/civil servants/energy developers/politicians were just acting like ‘boys’. They would return to the helm of affairs on Monday morning, ready to be the engines of our growth.
Sure. But not without prejudices.
Sports rivalries are healthy. I’d rather two countries face off for a few hours over the physical control of a round object (which is what cricket boils down to) versus launching projectiles filled with fissile material across each other’s borders (which is what war would boil down to). But to assume that it’s just about ’sport’ in sport rivalries, especially in the context of the unresolved trauma of Partition (and all the cultural and political baggage which comes with it), well, that’s just not cricket!
Khan is a senior anchor on DawnNews TV and a lecturer of current affairs.