Our swadeshi reality

Like parliamentary governance, the civil service, defence forces, law and journalism, sport is also a legacy of colonialism that we take for granted

Asians and Europeans view life differently. With dowry deaths and bride-burning rampant, family values must defer even more to a son-in-law than to a son. Joint families mean an open society in which there’s no such thing as insider information.

Kautilya’s immemorial comment about it being impossible not to taste the sweetness of the honey on one’s tongue guides us. Parliamentary conduct may not be cricket but cricket is an extension of the parliamentary affairs minister’s jurisdiction.
The story of a Chinese mandarin calling on a British diplomat to find him vigorously playing tennis with a colleague graphically illustrated these differences.
Asked how he liked the game, the mandarin looked at the red-faced, sweating and panting Britons before replying, “Very interesting, but couldn’t you hire a couple of coolies to do it?” Some might say sport isn’t alone in being so transmuted in Asia. Almost every institution and tradition we have inherited is similarly Indianised.
Of course, the fictional story about the mandarin violates all modern canons of what is socially, culturally and ethnically appropriate. But all the same, the cricket scandal makes me think that some players, politicians, officials and businessmen take a more realistic view of cricket than would ever have occurred to Kipling’s “flannelled fools”. Why else would a worthy like Lalu Prasad Yadav, who may have as much difficulty as I do in distinguishing a cricket bat from a hockey stick, throw his non-existent hat in the ring?
The popular Bengali novelist Sankar tells of a man with an umbrella on a bright and sunny day wagering a Chinese jury $5,000 that it would rain in five minutes. “Five minutes passed without any rain and the man cast a meaningful glance and left after handing over $5,000.” It wasn’t a bribe, it was a bet. Chiang Kai-shek’s pragmatic China did not pretend to ban betting.
Football, which coined the word “shamateurism”, woke up long ago to sport’s immense political and commercial possibilities. There were exciting tales about a bunch of bookies in Malaysia fixing soccer matches in Britain. “Football is in a disastrous state,” Chris Eaton, director of sport integrity at the International Centre for Sport Security, lamented. “Fixing of matches for criminal gambling fraud purposes is absolutely endemic worldwide.” At least 50 out of the 209 member-nations of Fifa, soccer’s governing body, launched match-fixing investigations last year. Many thought Europol, the European Union’s police body, was excessively conservative in claiming to have detected 680 “suspicious” games worldwide since 2008. Italy’s mafia and Russia’s underworld have joined Malaysian bookies and Chinese triads in clandestine multibillion dollar operations.
Cricket’s biggest match-fixing scandal erupted in 2000, when Hansie Cronje, the former South African captain whose plane crash death in 2002 is still the subject of speculation, admitted to accepting money to throw matches.
The scandal may never have broken if Delhi Police — Asia again! — hadn’t revealed the recording of a conversation between Cronje and Sanjay Chawla, a London-based NRI representing an Indian betting syndicate. Soon other players, including our own Mohammad Azharuddin and Saleem Malik, were implicated. One can’t forget Kapil Dev’s tearful television appearances.
Sporadic allegations of fixing since then are a reminder that with everyone on the make, society no longer distinguishes between “gentlemen” and “players”. Scandal reared its head again in 2010, when Scotland Yard questioned three leading Pakistan players whom the ICC suspended for spot-fixing.
Some draw a distinction between match-fixing and spot-fixing and individual indulgence in performance-enhancing dope or drugs. In a Sydney debate that the BBC broadcast last Sunday, a sizeable 33.7 per cent of the audience saw no harm in athletes taking drugs. When a cyclist, runner or wrestler is caught taking drugs, it can be blamed on the understandable — if not pardonable — private urge to win at all costs. Like Harold Abrahams in that magnificent film, Chariots of Fire, engaging “the greatest trainer in the world” to coach him in running. The Cambridge dons (Abrahams was an undergraduate) disapproved. Paid professional training violated the notion of gentleman amateurs. Moreover, the trainer’s name and antecedents offended their belief in the sanctity of Englishness. Though London-born, Scipio Africanus “Sam” Mussabini couldn’t have been more foreign in their eyes, being of Arab, Turkish, French and Italian ancestry. Abrahams explained simply that he ran because he was Jewish. Presumably, he had to prove that a Jew was every bit the equal of an Anglo-Saxon.
But while drugs might bring an individual fame, medals and even money, match-fixing means bribing selected players to cheat in order to enrich distant betters and criminal syndicates. That’s where group culture, national values and priorities come in.
Like parliamentary governance, the civil service, defence forces, law and journalism, sport is also a legacy of colonialism that we take for granted. Given the force of Indianisation, I sometimes wonder whether MPs and MLAs who shriek and squabble in what English terminology calls the “Well of the House” are not under the impression they are demonstrating at the village well!
Seriously though, a state governor’s speech inaugurating legislative sessions and outlining the government’s programme directly replicates the British monarch’s speech to the Houses of Parliament. We add masala to that ritual by shouting down governors whose speeches then have to be taken as read. Asia can’t be in permanent bondage to the West. It’s our sovereign right to Indianise legislative and judicial procedures, the media and the administration in the light of our own national values.
It’s cricket’s turn. Actually, desi cricket flourishes in the streets where ragamuffins using bricks for stumps have great fun. That’s Bharat. It’s the cricket on India’s pitches that must adjust to swadeshi reality.

The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author

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