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Puppets On A Chain

By Sundar Sarukkai
February 28, 2003 23:16 IST
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There is a small ground in Bangalore where I play cricket some weekends.

Like many grounds of its kind, it is only a fraction of the total area of a normal cricket ground. And, as in many of these grounds, more than one match is played simultaneously.

Only tennis ball limited-overs cricket is played here. ODI is yet another ‘ancient' Indian invention, practiced in our grounds and streets much before Packer thought of it.

It is a challenge to bat or field in these grounds. Sometimes, it is like playing in the middle of Chhatrapati Shivaji Station in Mumbai. But there is an interesting dynamic here: teams are almost invariably made of guys who speak the same tongue. Matches, most times, are between teams that speak the same language. The Kannadigas, as locals, get the prime spot on the ground while the Malayalis take a corner.

When the Hindi guys march up, you can always tell the difference. They are dressed well, they are boisterous and they wear the best shoes on the ground. This ground, like many of its kind in urban India, is a microcosm of our country -- people who speak together, play together.

In another part of the ground, the Muslim kids come to play. They speak Urdu and almost all of them are barefoot.

This is what happened last weekend. I was fielding in a corner of the ground when I heard two guys talking. One of them said, ‘Look at these chaps. They speak only in Urdu. Guess who they will be supporting on March 1.' In the cacophony of languages and a medley of parochial teams, only these kids speaking in Urdu stand out.

Yes, get ready. The ides of March are on us early this year.

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I am sitting amidst a group of intellectuals in Bangalore. Many of them are well informed, at least more informed than most others I think. Somebody says, 'Muslims support only Pakistan', and more than one head nods. I am dismayed to hear this canard spread once again. I think of my cousin, very Hindu, who openly supports Australia or England when they play against India.

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I went to the RTO office last week -- and what a terrible experience it was. Corruption, inefficiency, downright rudeness are what I experienced. As I was wondering how to deal with this rot, I heard a person working in this office say, ‘The Indian team should be thrashed.' His companion replied, ‘Yes, but if they lose to Pakistan they must be butchered.'

How often have I heard this said, in so many creative ways, the last few days? It is almost as if we are revving ourselves to an artificial frenzy of hatred. What would we have done if Pakistan had not been created, I wonder. 

I couldn't keep my mouth shut. I turned to these RTO chaps, the guys who had harassed me out of my wits, and asked them what gave them the right to think they can thrash somebody, anybody. One of them angrily replied that the players were not doing their jobs and they deserved to be thrashed. After harassing me and countless others, these guys don't even get the irony of it!

Really, what gives any of us the right to vent our anger on the players? What justifies it? What justifies too the nasty comments about all Muslims in the guise of talking about the match?

Next to my house, a sari merchant is building his ‘palace' and, in doing so, is flouting every rule. They cut marble from morning till night, seven days a week. I can't get three people together to take some action against this rich businessman. In the city, traffic rules are blatantly flouted and pollution control for buses and lorries are nonexistent. Yet, we do not have enough energy to get angry with any of this. We reserve all our righteous anger for the cricket team. And for Pakistan.

Consider this: The whole world, figuratively speaking, gathers itself to protest against a potential war by the US against Iraq. In India? Where there are protests, there are only a pathetic few, friends mostly, shuffling from one crumbling statue to another.

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There is something common between our cricket team and Pakistan. We vent insane anger on both of them, at the slightest provocation and sometimes with no provocation at all.

But we know why we reserve all this anger for the cricket team, don't we? Because, we are told, cricket is one arena where we can be the best in the world. This may or may not be so. But what does it say about ourselves that we want the cricket team to be the best in the world while we go about our jobs and lives satisfied with mediocrity? What does it say about us that we would rather somebody else exhibit the greatness of India while we contribute to its destruction in every way?

Here is what it says. We, as a culture, learn not to take responsibility for ourselves -- our actions and our dreams. Somebody is always doing something for us, something that we ourselves should be doing.

Mothers pamper sons, not allowing them to even wash their own cups and plates. Sisters pick up behind brothers and parents support every passing fancy of their children. Husbands many times mistake their wives for maids. As a culture, a large section of the population used to have low castes to clean their toilets. Even to get a spouse, we have created a great system for somebody else to do an individual's work.

And if you really look at it, this kind of anger and hatred comes dominantly from men. Men of leisure, pampered by mothers, sisters and wives.

When it comes to the nation, we once again abdicate our own responsibilities. We want somebody else to make our nation great. We want somebody else to keep it clean, to govern it well, to take care of its problems and so on.

This is the crux of the problem. We have a dream, of being of top of the world, of thrashing Pakistan or whatever. Most of us don't have the passion or commitment and responsibility to do our part in making those dreams a reality. Our cricket players have to do it on the ground and our soldiers have to do it in the mountains. And while they live our dreams for us, we sit and pass judgement on all of them.

So the RTO chap can be rude and corrupt and doesn't think he has any contribution to make this country great. We litter the streets and break every rule we can because we do not think it is our individual responsibility to make India great as a society. That chore is left to others.

Come on India, you can do better. Ask of yourself in your daily little chores what you ask of the team.

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To get back to the cricket ground. It was nearing the end of the match played by the Muslim kids. One boy took a long, exaggerated run-up. Some of his team members shouted, Shoaib, Shoaib. Shoaib ran in and bowled. A thin boy, a Muslim cap on his head, connected with a massive swipe and the ball flew out of the ground. Spontaneously, a group of his team-mates jumped on him shouting, Sachin, Sachin.

(Sundar Sarukkai is a fellow, National Institute of Advanced Studies, NIAS, Bangalore).

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