JAI HIND! INDIA! INDIA! INDIA!
For long, India’s enthusiasm for cricket has been second to none, and since last Saturday, their ability to play the game is also second to none. For those of you at home more concerned with the approaching NBA playoffs or the world series of competitive eating at Famous Nathan’s, the World Cup of Cricket has been taking place, and India destroyed the competition (like Kobayashi destroys hotdogs). The last time India won the Cup was in 1983, the year I was born. For 28 years, that victory has played over and over again on Indian television. Now, the 2011 World Cup will be permanently scribed into the annals of Indian history. I’m glad I was witness to the hysteria that accompanied the history-making.
A true cricket test match lasts five days. However, to make the sport slightly more watchable, the game has been modified to last a mere eight hours or so. That’s eight hours of men with bats tapping a ball and running back and forth between sticks about 277 times per side. Were it not for the insanity that India creates around the game, it would be the most unbearably boring sport next only to curling. And yet, somehow, the madness of India’s mass fanaticism turns cricket into an adrenaline rush second to none. Even a staunch critic like me now has a heavy case of cricket fever that I expect to last a lifetime.
The streets of Bangalore were full of celebration following the victory. Men hung their bare bodies out of vehicles, swinging their blue jerseys like helicopters. Staggering drunks high-fived policemen. My friend Nisha stood precariously in the middle of traffic, proudly sporting her team India Wilbur Sargunaraj jersey to supportive motorists. Strangers embraced. “INDIA” was being screamed by every person in every place. The enthusiasm for a common cause was like none I had ever seen before, and all for a group of blue clad, pot-bellied athletes.
Nobody should deny the significance of India’s victory. The people of India disserve every bit of excitement and national pride that was brought by the triumph. But as someone who works with an organization that wants to see a more inspired and unified India, one wonders why everyone is able to unify over balls and wickets for a few weeks? How does that enthusiastic sense of oneness flood like a title wave, and then recede so swiftly? It is quite possible that two strangers, who embraced over a common sense of belonging on Saturday night, are now busy exploiting each other. The project I work on at Ashoka envisions a proactive and empathetic society, but I doubt we will ever achieve the brief yet intense sense of action and empathy that was inspired by men in blue sweat suits. What does it take to inspire a nation to practice all-inclusive unity?
A friend of mine texted me: “We are the champions my friend.” (people love Freddy Mercury here because he was a Parsi)
Not sure if he was trying to rub India’s victory in my face (does the US even have a cricket team?) I asked him, “Who exactly is ‘we’?”
His reply reflected the sense of brotherhood felt on the streets during the celebration, “We is all who want to belong. Everyone is welcome.”
That statement, or rather that attitude, suggests that the people of India were sharing their victory with world. The empathy and enthusiasm went beyond that of nationalism. It extended to anyone who wanted to partake in a positive wave that was greater than the sum of individuals. Anyone present for the celebrations could feel it. It didn’t matter that I was a white guy wearing a yellow shirt; I was still hugged, high fived, and congratulated. It was my victory as much as anyone’s. It was a victory with no exclusion, an exemplary display of sharing.
And yet today is another day at work. Another day of being ripped off by auto drivers squeezing a few extra rupees out of the foreigner. News of Karnataka’s assembly elections is starting to trickle into the front page of the papers and the exploitative dog-eat-dog world of political campaigning will soon take main stage. The 2011 World Cup will be played on television for the next 28 years. But will anyone remember that “we is all who want to belong. Everyone is welcome”? Will people find reasons beyond cricket to embrace strangers, to be positive to any and all who want to be positive back, to empathize and be part of the augmentation of collective emotion? It is possible. Saturday night was proof of that. Maybe Ashoka could hire Tendulkar and Dhoni as consultants.