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The Indian spirit and cricketers

INDIAN COMMUNITY: Last week I wrote about the Bangladeshi minnows eating the Indian shark.

This caused anxiety to a majority of the Indian business community, especially those who had invested in the World Cup by buying Radio and TV time for millions of dollars to advertise and sell their products.

Sri Lanka made it worse for them by defeating the Indians and knocking them clean out of the tournament.

India’s exit killed the commercial attraction and many Indian Entrepreneurs, who had made bookings in advance to travel to the Caribbean to watch India play in the ‘Super 8’ and beyond cancelled their bookings as if the Caribbean islands had been hit by a tsunami.

In India and Pakistan and to some extent Bangladesh, cricketers are only second to Bollywood heroes. But, unlike the celluloid heroes, the Indians and the Pakistanis forget that their cricketers are real men of flesh and blood.

The Indians make their cricketers virtual Gods. Of the pantheon of Gods, some cricketers are believed to have divine powers or inspired by Gods. Some are superstitious and believe that the Cricketers can perform miracles.

Like in the epics of the Mahabharatha and the Ramayana, the good must overpower and vanquish evil, like the mythical Rama avenging the kidnapping of Sita by Rawana of Sri Lanka.

For the Indians, there is no good God than the Indian Cricketer and those of other countries represent the evil forces. Therefore, the Indian cricketers cannot lose as the Indian people have never known of their mythical Gods losing in any battle.

But under these trying circumstances, where the houses of cricketers are attacked, there may lie a positive strain in the Indian people which we ought to think about and understand.

The average Indian is poorer than the average Sri Lankan or Pakistani. They do not know from where the next meal would come. Thousands sleep on the pavements or under culverts and in concrete Hume pipes due to lack of shelter.

There is degradation and poverty all over. But poverty, in its most intense form, cannot take away the spirit of the average Indian.

They would forego several meals to save a few rupees to see a film on the day it is released and they queue up in the thousands outside cinema halls.

In Sri Lanka, before the advent of TV, the situation was the somewhat similar. I have seen hundreds of people outside cinema halls waiting to see films like Sujatha, Sada Sulang and Mathalang.

But today very few people go to the cinemas where Sinhala films are screened. People are glued to their TV sets at home. The whole concept of going to the cinema has become alien to us.

There are more TV channels in India than the whole of South Asia, but that does not deter the Indian people from going to the cinema hall to see their heroes and heroines.

For them the cinema hall, the giant screen and their hero, who can stop a moving train with his bare hands and save an infant being crushed by the train are things to be perceived on larger than life giant screen.

The whistling and the applause of the audience is not found at home. There is an atmosphere which is electric within the confines of the cinema hall.

Add to this, there are Dolby and DTS sound systems which makes it an exhilarating experience satisfying their mindset. The Indian formula of romance, music, dance, songs and villains will not be erased from the Indian people’s mind for at least another decade.

But, the same could not be said of their Sri Lankan counterparts. Cinema and musical shows and others forms of entertainment have gripped the Indian nation for the last four decades.

Today it has become an uphill task to draw the Sri Lankan crowds away from the TV sitcoms to the cinema hall. It is not because it is expensive and TV is free. There is something in the attitude of the Indians that is different to that of Sri Lankans.

We have film stars amongst us. They can freely walk the streets. Some of them are not even recognized. Only a few recognize and smile with them. But Bollywood heroes can never imagine leading a normal life, even walking or driving.

They will be stripped naked by their fans, who will remove even a button from their clothing to keep as a souvenir of their super idol. Likewise next to the film stars, in their order of popularity, are their cricketers.

British conquerors, who introduced the game to the Indians, would never have dreamt that it would hold such a grip on the Indian population. When the game of cricket was first played in England, the English people had lot of leisure and time at their disposal.

There was no rat race and industrialisation had just started. It was a colonial power and the gentlemen had slaves, maids and children to attend to their daily chores.

When the English introduced cricket to the sub-continent, the Indians had more time at their disposal and it was ideally suited to their temperament and culture. Most of them were poor and had no means of livelihood and were free to watch a test match for six days.

Gradually, the Indians were able to produce players who could match those of the British Raj. This was the only way in which the Indians could teach a lesson to their Colonial masters. The Indians could not fight them though they outnumbered the English, whose superior firepower was sufficient to keep millions of Indians at bay.

The Eden Gardens Cricket Ground was packed with 125,000 spectators every day for a test match. Hundreds of Indians waited outside the grounds just doing nothing. If they got a glimpse of a cricketer, they cheered widely as if they perceived a God who had manifested himself in the form of a man.

Even in Calcutta, one of the poorest cities in the world, where the citizens did not have even the basic amenities such as water and there were hundreds or thousands in hunger, waiting for some person to throw a few crumbs of food to pounce upon like cats and dogs, still these conditions, in which they lived for centuries, would not dampen or diminish their love for the cinema or cricket.

The managers of Cricket in Australia and other countries in the West found it extremely difficult to compete with soccer and basketball. The commercial value of these games was far greater than for cricket.

These players were richer and mightier than cricketers. So, the advent of the cowboy game, with coloured clothing, white balls and other paraphernalia, where a result could be obtained within a day, made such an impact on the conventional idealist, who phoo-phooed this idea of Kerry Packer, the gambler and visionary.

Packer knew if one had to preserve the glory of test cricket which was a connoisseurs’ delight, it should deviate from its rigid rules and be able to compete with soccer, rugby and basketball.

Today everyone is glued to the TV set because of the shortened version of the game. The Indians are rapidly industrializing. Unlike agricultural economy, the industrialized economy made it difficult to watch matches for six days.

Test cricket was fading away even in India when people became more prosperous. With the advent of the one-day game, all the thrills of a six-day test match was encapsulated into a day.

The crowds, who thronged the cinema halls to witness the Bachchans Amir Khans and now Sharukh Khan bashing the villain and rescuing the heroine, could see Sachin Tendulkar within a short period of 100 balls scoring 100 runs.

All sorts of permutations and combinations were being introduced to make the game even more interesting and enchanting.

In Sri Lanka cricket is the most popular game, but even for a one-day match, played on a week day, there were less people at the stadium. In India a word against Sachin Tendulkar is sufficient for someone to be identified as a traitor.

But in Sri Lanka, a sparse crowd witnessed Pakistan play Sri Lanka at the Premadasa Stadium. There were more Muslim brethren, in the far corner of the Stadium, cheering the Pakistan team and booing at the Sri Lankans without anybody even trying to teach them a lesson in patriotism. If this happened in India there would be a Hindu-Muslim clash and houses would have been burnt.

The public themselves built their own idealistic, imaginary world of Indian cricket. Today, the commercialisation of Indian cricket and selling of images of Indian cricketers is a millions dollar industry.

This is a breathtaking new phenomenon. To my mind, there is not a single sportsman in the whole world who can compare with the Indians’ adulation for Sachin Tendulkar.

Just before the World Cup, I saw the great young hero of Indian cricket Mahendra Singh Dhoni walking to keep his appointment with the hair dresser. He was walking because he could not travel by car as hundreds of people filled the streets and the adjacent buildings.

It was an unbelievable sight. TV cameras followed Dhoni, showing it live to the entire country. But in Sri Lanka, Sanath Jayasuriya can walk anywhere without being mobbed by a crowd.

Today we find it difficult to draw a crowd of more than 1,000 spectators for a test match, as people prefer to watch matches on TV.

This even embarrassed Sri Lanka Cricket and they issued free tickets to school children to watch matches. Even the limited overs cricket carnivals, in Dambulla and Galle, draws bigger crowds than Colombo. This is the difference between India and Sri Lanka.

The Indian fans sleep on the pavement, go without food, collect some money and go to the stadium to see their heroes bashing the ball and they feel good. But when they fail they feel bad.

This is why we do not burn the effigies or stone the houses of our cricketers when they fail. We have better things to do. But in India it is different. If India loses they feel that they have been conquered by another country.

That is why I believe that the spirit and the love towards their cricketers and Bollywood heroes are so great. This, to my mind, is a positive trend. Poverty and deprivation cannot diminish the Indian spirits.

We are stagnating and devoid of any spirit. When Indians are becoming IT giants and challenging China to become the industrial giant in the world, there is something in the Indian people which is positive in spirit and which is moving them to achieve their goals.

When we won against India and threw them out of the World Cup, the commentators said that Sri Lankans must be celebrating till morning and there would be crackers. We know the truth. We were sleeping after the victory. I did not hear a single cracker.

There was no such sense of joy spilling on to the streets. Even when we won the World Cup, I was disappointed with the crowds that thronged to meet the cricketers. With all the hype was there a national reaction to the cricketers to compensate the greatest victory they had brought to this land?

In the plane which carried the players the politicians and the spectators back home, the politicians took the business class seats and the cricketers had to struggle to find seats. The crowd in the plane booed at the politicians until saner counsel prevailed and they gave the seats to the cricketers.

Kapil Dev became a millionaire by the fact that he won the coveted World Cup for India and he is one of the most venerated human beings in India.

But our own Arjuna Ranatunga could not even get his club SSC to vote for him when he contested to become the President of Sri Lanka Cricket. When the Australians won the World Cup in 2003, millions of Australians poured into the streets of Melbourne and Sydney to welcome their heroes. It was a magnificent sight.

But here, there are bigger crowds to watch the superstars singing, than to see our national heroes, who brought the World Cup and the hero of our times Sanath Jayasuriya, who was the player of the tournament. This is the difference. When the Indians misbehave as when it happened at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, there were rumors of match fixing. The Indians do not like their super heroes and gods to take bribes.

Very soon Bombay will replace England as the Mecca of Cricket. The Indian films are one of the biggest foreign exchange earners. But we could careless whether we win the World Cup or not. We have become nation devoid of spirit and enthusiasm.

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