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Give as good as you get

By Sunaad Raghuram
March 21, 2003 15:08 IST
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Here is a story for you, obviously apocryphal, but one which bears to be told. There were a bunch of eleven boys who lived in India. Out of the 24 hours in a day, they spent fourteen and a half of them, playing a game known as cricket. They didn't have all the talent in the world, except for one who was called Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. But the boys came together, distributed their capabilities among themselves, put together a show of solidarity, played out of their skins, as it were, fought for the team's cause and won. What did they win? A once-in-four-years show that is put up by the cricket world and called the World Cup of the game. The venue: Not too far from the Cape of Good Hope in the southern tip of Africa. Date: 23 March 2003.

Somewhere in New Delhi on 23 March 2003 at 9.30 pm IST -- or Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, even Mantikyathanahalli or that little village so close to where I live with the funniest name of it all, Doora, which means ‘far' in my native tongue Kannada! -- I hear crackers exploding, 'rockets' screaming into the darkness, fireworks spraying flowers of a million colours in a great medley of fine fantasy and pure sulphur. I see flares lighting the sky; I see men and women pumping each others hands in congratulations, talking in sheer nerve-tingling animation; I hear voices, millions of them as it were, saying just one thing, WE DID IT, but in a million different ways.

I see people dancing on the streets in unstoppable abandon as if they all had won the biggest lottery in world history. I notice men, women, children, boys and girls crying for joy, huddling together and hugging each other, patting each other on the back, hollering at the top of their voices; some rolling on the ground in sheer ecstasy, some others in the throes of elation as if they were scampering up seventh heaven and taking a leap onto cloud nine in a state of complete bliss. Some almost in a Himalayan trance of joy. Living out their dreams, laughing out their life's worries, stamping out their tensions; in a state of cathartic explosion, flushing out the detritus of a collectively flawed Karma in a nation of poverty, penitence and pestilence. End of story.

Ours is a country where the love of cricket is so overpowering, so intense and so intimately deep that such scenes are quite but expected to happen. When the hope of millions would have triumphed; the dreams of the young and the old alike would have come so wonderfully true. When it is time for a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid or a Javagal Srinath or for that matter anybody else in the Indian team to be seen as the messiah, as the friend, as the torchbearer who lead us all up the path of happiness. Why there has to be so much hysteria, though, concerning a game, is a point that sociologists or even psychologists have to rack their mind's about.

The whole point of this essay is to touch upon something very vital, to discuss an issue, which has lain dormant for too long for our collective comfort. In a land of cricket worshippers, where the bat and ball are symbols of nationhood, where our cricketers are consecrated in the shrines of the heart, there is an aspect of national relevance that needs to be addressed. Whether those so revered, loved and even deified owe a debt of gratitude to the nation and its people. And there cannot be a better time than the World Cup, with its multi-million rupee dimensions, to entertain thoughts on the concept of charity.

Now here is a question that begs an answer. How many of our 'Men in Blue', other than keeping themselves looking cute, as they are exhorted to do by dainty damsels without a clue, have ever played any meaningful part in the affairs of the nation; of society at large? A nation that bestows on them the status of super stars; a nation that treats them like they belong to the pantheon of gods high up in heaven; a society that bases its very existence, in many ways, on their success and prays in feverish unison for them to win and succeed and be on top.

If you think sportsmen are not expected to play ball on issues concerning the nation, may you be reminded that in a country where faith, hope, belief and loyalty have all been placed by millions and millions of men and women at the lotus feet of the national cricketer; and in a country, let's face it, which is among the poorest and the most backward of them all, there are multifarious opportunities for the makers of opinion, the setters of trends, the architects of social mores, the builders of attitudes-our cricketers-to make a difference, however slight, to the way their fellow countrymen live.

It is a question of owning ones moral responsibility. It's a question of exhibiting a certain moral fibre that makes you think of giving back to the society that has put you on a pedestal so high that it almost touches the stratosphere. It is also a question of humility, of sensitivity, of being grateful. To the millions who live and die by you.

There was one Ian Botham who walked, walked and walked the length of snowy Britain beginning from a place called John O Groats to another known as Land's End, with an elephant in tow, not for personal aggrandisement or amusement. But for spreading awareness about cancer and raising money for its research. There was an Imran Khan who said that his greatest aim in life was to dedicate not just huge sums of money but also his heart to building a cancer hospital for the poor in Pakistan. That he wanted to perpetuate the memory of his deceased mother is incidental.

There is a Steve Waugh who belongs to one of the richest countries in the world and yet flies thousands of miles every now and then to Kolkata, in spite of his maddening schedules, to be amidst the underprivileged and the unhappy. And make an attempt to improve their lives, as part of a campaign organized by a social organization called Udayan.

There was a Roy Fredricks who went down in cricket history not just as one of the most devastating batsmen ever but also as someone with a social conscience who became a sports minister in his native Guyana and strived for the upliftment of sport.

And slightly digressing from cricket, there was a Nana Patekar, that firebrand of an actor, who went all the way to Kargil, if not to achieve anything else but to enthuse and egg on those national sentinels, our soldiers, during the Kargil war. His words may not have contributed to military strategy but they definitely went a long way in making a group of human beings, holed up in one of the most inhospitable terrains on earth, shelling mortars and firing bullets on behalf of the nation at an impossibly sure risk to life and limb, feel a lot better mentally.

To make a point, I'd like to say how very responsible and humane it would have been if any member of the Indian team had gone to earthquake-ravaged Gujarat when the affected parts of that state were literally crying out for help and succour. How very soul enriching it would have been had the Indian team thought of seriously raising funds in an organized manner for the flood affected, the poor and the needy souls of our land? Or even better, if our cricketers had the heart to donate any amount of consequence in situations like this from the millions and millions of rupees that they so casually make in life.

If a Sachin Tendulkar or a Sourav Ganguly or a Rahul Dravid were to lead the entire team on a fund collection drive for a worthy cause, I'm sure millions of rupees more would just so causally fall into the kitty, as so many more people, corporates included, would surely pitch in. That is the power of cricket and cricketers in our land.

In hindsight, it is not such a great thing after all, is it, for some of our cricketers to come on television and point the index finger once in a way in the direction of the audience and say: 'The tiger is our national animal. Let's save it.' Is it so terribly wrong to ask: what have they done, in unison; together; as a force; as one cohesive unit to at least make an attempt to mitigate the plight of our land?

It is not my brief, even for a moment, to suggest that all that the likes of Ian Botham and Imran Khan or Steve Waugh and Roy Fredricks did or have been doing has been so momentous that it has dramatically changed, overnight, the situations on the ground. My intent is to drive home the point that these were men who at least showed a semblance of social responsibility; a commitment towards society and in whose attitudes towards fellow men, there was an admirable feel.

When our cricketers return, World Cup in their baggage or not, customs-duty will be waived off on the goodies that they'll bring in tons; taxes will never be levied on the prize money they would've earned, bouquets as large as the Eiffel Tower will be thrust into their hands by the dozens; the biggest garlands ever strung together by human hands will adorn their necks; the red carpet will be rolled out, the motorcades will be longer than the eye can see and...

The rest of the nation? Let it do it's own nation building. On half empty stomachs. In tattered clothes and shattered homes. Amidst the muckiness and murkiness of the tunnel of a largely dank life. Is this our lot, really?

(Sunaad Raghuram is the author of 'Veerappan The Untold Story', Viking, 2001)

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Sunaad Raghuram