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.

Selective Conscience, India?

This post originally appeared on Indiafacts.com on October 10th, 2014 and can be read here

For the last few weeks we have been increasingly exposed to images of young girls in combat gear, barely in their teens, clutching on to outdated artillery. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons are battling it out against the ISIS (Islamic state in Iraq and Syria) in Kobane, a predominantly Kurdish city along the Syria and Turkey border. The city is surrounded by ISIS territory on all sides, and has almost miraculously resisted them for over 3 weeks on gritty will and remarkable courage by the YPG (People’s Protection Units), the armed forces of Syrian Kurdistan. With reports now indicating that the fights have spilled to the streets and the fall of the city imminent, thousands of Kurdish soldiers and an estimated 300,000 civilians are staring at the prospect of a gruesome massacre not unlike others the group has carried out. This is the first time, however, that it would be taking place after the announcement of the US led coalition that pledged to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

ISIS probably touched its moral nadir last week when it beheaded Alan Henning, a British taxi driver-turned- humanitarian worker who had spent months in a street corner collecting funds for an ambulance. He had skipped Christmas with his family to help the children of war-torn Syria. But despite the fact that it is pretty clear that ISIS is the closest one can get to evil personified, I hope that the Indian government refrains from joining what I believe to be an unholy coalition and participating in air strikes against the group. Sadly, it has become increasingly evident that this coalition is a farce and is going to be largely ineffective. I explain why in the paragraphs that follow:

The Kurds are the only group fighting against ISISfor a seemingly just cause and against an existentialist threat, without itself posing a threat to humanity in the future- an aspect that, as history shows, Islamic militants have a very poor track record with. So far, they have also been the most effective group in fighting off ISIS, amid reports of defection by members of FSA(Free Syrian Army) and Al-Nusra (an Al-Qaeda branch) to ISIS. Basically farmers and breeders of livestock, the Kurds are fighting for democracy and a right to a homeland; a right to live in peace as part of a secular fabric- features that the West would normally extoll. Instead, the coalition has been reluctant to aid the YPG due to their alleged links to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party)- a banned left leaning Turkish organisation that had waged a guerrilla war against the Turkish government in the 1980s.

The YPG’s pleas to the international community for better arms and ammunition fall on deaf ears as they are surrounded by the most barbaric group of people in recent history. The Turkish army, the second largest one in NATO, is watching barely hundred metres away on the other side of the border as ISIS closes in on Kobane, allegedly moving its tankers only to strike a pose for the cameras of large international media houses. Turkey is also allegedly a buyer of ISIS oil, the group’s largest source of revenue. Its borders have been porous for ISIS to cross over, but tight when Kurdish fighters attempted to pass to help their kin.This is a good time to remind you that Turkey is an integral part of the US-led coalition against ISIS. Coalition airstrikes, although increased in regularity over the last two days, have been largely ineffective in keeping ISIS from entering the city of Kobane.

Let us now compare the Kurds to the group that the US-led coalition does support- the “moderate” FSA, or Free Syrian Army that was founded to fight the Assad regime. There have been several disturbing reports of defections from the group to ISIS, and one can only take guesses on the arsenal of arms they took with them. A Vice documentary on Syria following the FSAhas young militants promptly reply that an “Islamic State ruled by Shari’a laws” is what they aim for- but of course “one where their Christian brothers too would live in peace”, added as an afterthought presumably for the cameras. As award winning war reporter Aris Roussinos, who has spent a lot of time in Syria embedded with rebel groups recently tweeted, “Equally, FSA & SRF, while ostensibly secular, contain very many fighters committed to an Islamic state (in some form)”. The same Shari’a laws are oft quoted by ISIS to justify every one of their barbaric acts. Groups on both sides- ISIS and the Islamic rebels fighting them, chant chillingly identical cries of “Allah-u Akbar” after every shot they fire.

It is quite obvious that the coalition has picked the wrong side to support in its war against ISIS. The collective sincerity of the coalition is also highly questionable with Turkey in its midst- there is overwhelming evidence of the country’s back-door support to ISIS. For India to join this coalition and spend resources on it is at best a waste, and at worst, blood on its hands.

While joining the coalition is a bad move, there is very little justification for the lack of concern expressed at this growing threat to peace across the world by Indians. Mass genocide and a promise of more to come does not seem to have touched the sensitive bones of any political party in India. This is in stark contrast to the massive outrage by the Congress, even stalling parliamentary proceedings in July, demanding that India condemns the attack on Gaza, questioning if our foreign policy had changed with the new government. The CPI (Communist Party of India) held rallies in several parts of India, condemning Israel and burning effigies. The AAP in its inimitable style had held a candlelight vigil at Jantar Mantar in support of Palestinians, joined gleefully by self-proclaimed secularists and intellectuals. But of course, the Kurds and Yezidis are hardly a vote bank, are they?

However, what is truly distressing is a lack of empathy by civil society itself- educated Muslims who had flooded our social media timelines with images of Gaza, humanists who took to the streets wielding banners with messages of solidarity- all have maintained stoic silence while ISIS carries out systematic ethnic cleansing and murder of innocents. While tears were copiously shed for Gaza, there are none for the brave children and women defending their homelands in Syria. The loud and emotional discussions carried out for the cause of Palestinians have fallen silent for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Our collective hypocrisy as a society is alarming, and should be a cause for deep shame.

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.