Cricket: For Whom It Really Matters

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This post was originally written on 26th March 2015 in the wake of India’s defeat in the World Cup semi-final against Australia. The post was published in OpIndia.com and can be read here.

The streets outside office are chaotic to say the least, with Kolkata’s trademark yellow cabs zipping around in all directions in the junction with murderous intent, while hordes of people deftly maneuver around them on foot, cigarettes in hand and unfazed in expression. Majestic stone and brick buildings from the colonial era line the street, discoloured with neglect but oozing beauty and charm- ignored by the people making their to and from work, or making a living under their shadows. These hawkers line both sides of the street, selling fruits, magazines or cooking delicious meals on hot embers and stoves.

It was under one of these magnificent buildings- now the corporate headquarters of a large conglomerate that I first discovered the chaiwalla. He sat behind a large aluminium pot filled with bubbling milk, flinging tea powder and sugar skilfully from where he sat. Soon I was a regular, and today was no different. The street was significantly less crowded, both from people and vehicles, but it was business as usual for all the hawkers. The chaiwalla sat with a transistor close to him, listening to the commentary of the semi-final match against Australia while pouring steaming hot tea into kulhads with rapid pace. He looked up at me and handed a cup immediately while he shouted “Ladies First” through a massive grin. “Dada, the score looks too huge for us to chase, you think we’ll win?” I asked in Hindi. The Aussie innings was nearing an end and it was a competitive score to say the least. “Of course!” he replied, “We have Dhoni & Virat, one of them will hit a century and India will win, you wait and watch!” I muttered “Let’s see” and left.

Hours later it was time for a second cup of tea. India had lost 8 wickets, and defeat was imminent. I went downstairs to be met by a very surly chaiwalla. He banged his chai vessel on the stove with a deafening clank, and screamed at a nearby customer to be patient for his turn. He didn’t look up when I asked for my tea, and simply placed the cup with a “thud” on the table near me. Excited shouts wafted from his transistor, and it was evident that India had lost the match. I took my cup and joined my colleague in the corner of the street. We sipped on our chai, watching people in heated discussions and op-eds about what lost us the match. Sadness and disappointment were the moods all around, with expressions of resignation- “we did come pretty far after all, and they tried hard”. Suddenly, a man who was standing near us looked at us and immediately went into a rapid and emotional monologue in Bengali on his disappointment while brandishing his beedi, with my colleague acknowledging with sympathetic noises. Once he was done, he walked away and my colleague and I exchanged amused glances.

This is cricket in India. It is the glue that can bring together our diverse people, spanning multiple languages, cuisines and cultures. But most importantly, it is the joy that lights up the lives of millions who barely earn a living performing mundane chores day in and day out, struggling to make ends meet and with just about enough to survive each day. It is the sole entertainment for those who cannot afford pretty things or vacations. Many have little else to look forward to in their lives but an Indian victory or a big knock from their favourite player.

And this is why the attitude of some of most “intellectual” and educated upsets me deeply. First we were subjected to Ashis Nandy’s bizarre explanation that India shouldn’t win the World Cup because it would reinforce already “too high” Nationalistic feelings. Then the popular Outlook magazine then ran a poll, seemingly seriously, asking people If India Should Win the World Cup? (Duh!) During the match itself, a popular comedienne tweeted that it really doesn’t matter if a homophobic country wins or loses ‘some silly’ game (What’s the connection?). And then of course there’s Times Now, running a hateful campaign against our Men in Blue after their loss, using the hashtag #ShamedInSydney.

The likes of Times Now, Ashis Nandy and their ilk need a wake-up call from their self-obsessed elitism. This isn’t about you, and never will be. You don’t represent the multitude of Indians for who cricket actually matters-so much. Hell, a huge cricket fan myself, I wouldn’t give me too much importance from a cricket perspective. I am part of a fortunate minority who can recover from a cricketing loss and find other things to look forward to in my life- like a nice dinner, drinks with friends or a fun weekend plan. Someone wishing loss to the Indian side is either highly delusional or incredibly selfish. And another who decides to call hate towards the side, a lot less gracious than the millions who will feel depressed for days while still ending their day with a prayer to their favourite cricketing idol.

Why are we different?

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This post was originally written on January 27th 2013, in wake of the Delhi rape incident

A lot has been said, spoken, ranted and abused after the case of the horrific rape in Delhi recently. I have seethed in anger and frustration as I watched news reports of the incident, and was rocked with rage as I watched the barrage of insensitive, shameful and acutely distressing comments made by people of prominence in our country. There have been several articles and blogs about the incident and the social problem that plagues India, and I didn’t really feel the urge to pitch in myself. For one, I haven’t written much besides B-school essays over the last few years, and I didn’t think I had anything more intelligent to offer than what was already written so well by so many others. Yet, today I felt like putting pen down to paper although I have a million other things to do, mostly because of observations made off late.
A month ago, I moved to Singapore for my MBA. One statement that I heard ever so often by everyone who lived here and knew the city was that “Singapore is safe!” For someone moving out of home for the first time, this comment was of great comfort, and I now know after a month that it is completely true. Although Bangalore is relatively safe compared to the more notorious north India, the safety and feeling of liberation that I feel here is incredible. I have come home at midnight alone, using public transport on several occasions, and I have not felt unsafe even for a moment. Women here are dressed impeccably and appropriately to the hot and humid weather, and not once have I noticed a single man give her a looking-down.
I have the privilege of sharing a flat in Singapore with a single Singaporean male and a Singaporean couple. At this moment, I would like to add with sadness that it would’ve been unthinkable for me to live under the same roof with a strange Indian man. Moving on with my point- I have had the opportunity to observe the couple at close quarters, since I now consider them friends. Both of them are working professionals, and seem to have erratic work timings. In a country where it is not affordable to hire help to do the laundry and clean up, I watch with admiration and joy as they both share the housework seamlessly. They take turns doing the laundry, cooking, or buying home the dinner. It is simply a matter of convenience; the person who gets home earlier takes care of the housework. This is not what I have grown up watching in any Indian family I have known closely. I believe things are changing, but when they have, I have heard of mothers-in-law complaining that their sons are now being made to do housework.
What makes the society so different from ours? Why does India treat its women the way she does? (Isn’t it an irony our country is deemed to be of the feminine gender?) This question obviously isn’t an easy one to answer, and is probably due to extremely complex and deep-rooted issues that go back a long way. One observation I have to make, however, is that Indian men seem to have a fixation to associating all women to their mothers, sisters and sometimes, wives. How often did we hear references to mothers and sisters during the protest marches in Delhi? I don’t really have a problem with it, and really, if imagining all women as sisters and mothers is what prevents someone from committing a rape, then please do so by all means. What I would like Indian men to do, however, is regard women as fellow human beings, as an equal. Not someone who simply needs to be your sister or mother, but a person with the same aspirations as you have – of a career; of education and learning; of the same ambitions you have- money, peace and good health, even sexual needs. A sister and mother invoke feeling of compassion and protection- of a weak person who needs you. Women do not need anyone; they need respect and an equal chance.
I have often heard myself be called a feminist. I do not agree. There is certainly nothing wrong with being one, but calling me a feminist is akin to calling a man who does not rape a paragon of virtue. Just because something that is wrong is so commonplace, does not make it right. Seeking equality of gender is not feminism; it is simply demanding the right thing when status-quo is so wrong. It is time that every one of us do our bit- and do the right thing.