|(Photo: B. Sandman)|
On April 2, a most spectacular event occurred: India won its first Cricket World Cup in 28 years. I know it was spectacular because even though I don’t follow much of the sport, a global cheer was heard from Indians around the world. It’s a surprise the Internet didn’t shut down with all the high-five-ing that occurred on every social media outlet the instant the winning wicket was won.
Which, of course, led to the most popular joke going viral that day: “good luck getting IT support on the phone.” Clearly, ethnic Indians everywhere were taking the day off to watch the match. And then the rest of the week to party.
But amidst all the jubilation, there was also this major feel-good moment, one I wanted to embrace but couldn’t quite wrap my head around. Indians everywhere felt united by this victory – we were all just one big, happy family. It sounded so positive, so right, but felt so … off. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, nor did I really give it much thought. (I mean, it was only cricket, right?)
Until I read this article.
Novelist Manu Joseph crystallized my sentiments perfectly when he called this group hug “a deceptive sense of wellbeing.” In India alone, Joseph so aptly explains, daily life “is a fierce contest between the affluent and the educated on the one side, and the brooding impoverished on the other. The pursuit of India’s elite is to protect themselves from India – from its crowds, dust, heat, poverty, politics, governance and everything else that is in plain sight. To achieve this, they embed themselves in their private islands that the forces and the odors of the republic cannot easily penetrate.”
And, he says, “The islands that protect Indians from India are simple and material: A luxurious car with an unspeaking driver who works for 12 hours every day at less than $200 a month, or at least an S.U.V. with strong metal fenders that can absorb routine minor accidents. A house in a beautiful residential community that the Other Indians can enter only as maids and drivers. Membership in an exclusive club. Essentially a life in a bubble…”
Joseph’s theory brings to mind the title of an old book, A Million Mutinies Now, in which Nobel-winning author V.S. Naipaul calls post-colonial India “a country of a million little mutinies.” In the 20 years since he wrote this travelogue, the disparities have only widened – maybe it’s a billion little mutinies now.
Our group hug wasn’t even fleeting – it was just delusional.
Within a week of India’s World Cup victory, two of the country’s activists went on hunger fasts to force the government to introduce anti-corruption legislation. Though the divide between the haves and have-nots are appalling, and the nation’s bureaucracy and corruption staggering, these powerful stances reminded many people of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance movement and aroused feelings of patriotism among even the most skeptical. Again, global cheers – way to go, men! Show them how it’s done.
Within days, the men called off their fasts when government officials agreed to form a committee aimed at studying the corruption committed by, er, government officials. Woohoo… we … gulp ... won.
Meanwhile, not far off in the Middle East, change has arrived sooner. The ongoing Arab Spring is far from over, but it prompted one observer to wonder if the “heady jasmine scent from North Africa” could “waft across the Arabian Sea to India.”
Soon, I’m thinking, very soon.
In the meantime, there you have it – everything I know about sports, in a nutshell.
* My thanks to Alli for this great headline. "It's just not cricket" is an Aussie term that means "having something that is unjust or just plain wrong done to someone or something. It comes from the game of cricket, which is regarded as a gentleman’s game, where fair play is paramount."