Monday, April 11, 2011

One World Cup. Three Indias

Barely has the hangover of winning the cricket World Cup passed, we are already seamlessly transported to yet more cricket - the inaugural pageantry of another IPL season, with his imperial majesty, King Khan, personally jiving on the stage. Skimpily clad cheerleaders match him wiggle for wiggle and are already bending their bodies into poses that are too challenging even to the most seasoned Yoga instructors. Never mind that these females don’t know – and perhaps don’t care – about the rules of cricket. And of course, all these are annotated by a voice in the background in chaste Australian accent. It is raining cricket in India.

Welcome to the new age Indian cricket and how a mere game played by the excesses of the Raj gentry is blindsiding an entire nation of nearly a billion and a quarter people.

To understand this, let us first look at the World cup. The buzz about winning the cup will not subside any time soon. All kinds of ripple effects are still taking place. People are clamoring for a Bharat Ratna award for Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketing phenom. Move is afoot to make cricket the national game of India. Perhaps there are moves afoot to make cricket the national animal of India as well, and the national bird and the national what-have-you. And crown Tendulkar the emperor of India. Gifts, accolades and plain flattery have been pouring in on the World cup winning team – not to mention all those fat endorsements and advertisement contracts. The Central government, in its infinite wisdom has decided to exempt the BCCI’s World Cup profits from taxes and this has added about Rs. 400 crores to their already bloated kitty. Even the Chief Minister of Karnataka has decided to give 25 Lakh rupees to each member of the team, although no one in the team is from Karnataka.

Here is where I want to press on the brakes. If you think about the Karnataka largesse, this is money taken away from building new high schools or putting teachers in those schools. Many of the government funded schools lack in basic amenities like a hygienic toilet and this is the kind of money that could have built toilets in nearly five hundred schools. Five hundred schools and thousands of school children lost out to sixteen willow-wielding men. If this is not an example of the rich getting richer, what is? I wish I saw newspaper headlines that Dhoni and company donated one crore rupees toward some charities or that an IPL team has given away a thousand free tickets to slum children. (but then, why should they?) Obscene amounts of money are generated, transacted and put away in India in the name of cricket that we need to have a national introspection on the whole thing. There is something that is not quite right about the way we cricket in this country. You can argue big time about how the national morale is lifted by the world cup victory and so forth. But going overboard with tax reliefs, free plots, government prize money etc. is ridiculous.

Cricket, as we know it, has been taken to the proverbial next level in India. Cricket today is not what it was when Duleepsinghji played and our grandfathers watched. Now all cricket is international – a Maharashtra vs. Gujarat Ranji Trophy match (with no Australian commentators) simply won’t cut it. Today’s cricket is a powerful product, that is packaged attractively, marketed aggressively and kills its competition ruthlessly. It is a money and fame machine – so much so, many politicians from all parties have a finger in it. Although cricket in India at any level is a private enterprise in the hands of a few powerful people, the local Bhayya Lal and Ramaswamy feel very patriotic aboui the Indian team and think the team is selected by a government body that regulates it. Cricket’s hold is so powerful that it is not just the opiate of the masses; it has replaced oxygen in the atmosphere in India.

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The dizzying world of Dhoni and company, the dismal world of Ramaswamy and Bhayya Lal – and the non-descrept world of everyone in between make up the three Indias that I want to talk about. I know the conventional wisdom is to divide India into two Indias. But the faux sociologist that I am, I will stick in another layer – and try to make a case for why today’s cricket negatively impacts all three layers.

The elite top layer – and I am going to call it the India-shining layer is the India Inc. layer whose creature comfort levels would make the American upper middle class green with envy. The vast middle layer is what I would call the jugaad layer. And the equally vast bottom layer, the scum of the earth layer is who I would refer to as the Aam aadmi layer.

The India Inc layer is the creamiest. The rich, the visible and the powerful dwell here. This is the layer that the NRI crowd plugs into and rave about to their white friends. They are the billionaires, CEOs, millionaires, assorted top government ‘servants’, the elite of all shades and your ordinary crorepatis. They holiday in Europe (or maybe they go on eco-tourism these days in some pristine corner of the globe), shop in Harrods, have a retinue of servants (and their maids network through Facebook) and dine in restaurants with liveried waiters. Their Rolls Royces and BMWs cruise through the Golden Quadrilateral. They typically have just one or two kids who are hard-wired for success and send them off to Australia or the USA for higher studies. The lucky few of them would get their kids coached into IITs and IIMs – breathing on their necks right from kindergarten. They are the ones who were lucky enough to get the World cup tickets and they are the ones who would shell out the American prices charged for the IPL tickets.

Like in all other layers, life in the India Inc layer is very competitive too. The elite does not want to surrender their place in the hierarchy. They pass the baton to their children and make sure that their children have every advantage in the book, be it attending an acting school in New York or getting an MBA from Ivy League. Today you have to be from a well-known public school, with celebrity parents, with solid credentials even to play the boy next door part in a movie. Heartwarming stories like a Vinod Kambli making it to the test team or a Rajnikant rising to superstardom are confined to just the history books.

With so much action all around, no wonder kids in this bracket are jumping over each other to play big league cricket - just when playing professional cricket is becoming more and more difficult. There are no transparent and fair farm systems in India that spot cricketing talent, groom it and feed a constant supply of it to the teams. A vaguely subjective bunch of selectors picks the team. So, what we have now is an army of cricket moms (and their relatively benign but deep-pocketed husbands) pushing their progenies into cricket camps – sometimes even sending them to England and Australia. In gated communities of suburban India, child cricketers flourish – all with shimmering cricket bats (and all of them wanting to bat, but nobody wanting to field) And if cricket is not the calling of their children, the cricket moms are quick to change color and push their kids equally strongly through chess camps, modeling and creative writing camps. The World cup victory has made these tigress moms spin even faster. Now they will probably enroll their already-cricketing children into attitude-tuning classes and focusing attention classes.

And for a whole bunch of India shining folks – males in particular - winning the world cup is the right excuse for non-stop partying in five star establishments. Some of them also go out and buy the ‘IPL limited edition’ cars and male fragrances – advertised by models who look like Greek Gods (they don’t look like Indian gods, mind you). Everything is connected to cricket. Everything connected to cricket is pricey. Every India Shining guy spends on that pricey thingummy associated with cricket. Never mind inflation and rocket prices. Everyone is happy. Exactly like in the descendancy of great civilizations.

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The middle India is the Jugaad layer. ‘Jugaad’ roughly translates into ‘workaround’ and basically stands for the quintessentially desi trait of somehow beating the system – any system. Even though the India Inc. layer indulges in jugaad, they are often rich and influential enough to buy happiness and advantage. It is the middle class that doesn’t have that kind of money, but still wants to maximize their happiness. They try to be innovative, clever, wily, aggressive, sneaky – whatever takes them ahead. They are the ones who jump red lights at signals if it gives them a few minute advantage. They are the multitude who dot the gridlocked roads and streets in motorbikes. They are the lakhs of people who write the UPSC exams and queue up in long lines for the job interview. They get into the street corner engineering colleges, go to ‘Spoken English’ classes and the lucky few will get IT jobs. In a few years, some of them may even sell off their rickety bikes and buy used Nano cars. They communicate to each other through missed calls. They send ‘Happy Diwali’ SMS messages to a hundred friends because they are on the unlimited SMS plan. (The clever service providers got wind of this and have decided to charge a fee for SMS sent on festival days. So, what does the jugaad layer do? It sends advanced Happy Diwali messages two days earlier, for free) They are the ones who sell out tatkal train reservations in ten minutes. They ask for soft drinks without ice. Expediency is the key word. You have to rush, you have to be quicker than the thousands who are thronging, you have to be meaner – and you have to be ahead. (There was even a New York Times article about expediency and the Indians)

And the World Cup and cricket? The juagaad layer can’t afford to go to the stadiums. So, they all watch it assiduously on TV. Never mind the lost productivity. They pore over newspaper stories. They analyze IPL advertisements. Since they cannot buy IPL edition of anything, they talk proudly about their uncle who went to a game. They whisper about Yuvraj not being on good terms with Dhoni, as if Dhoni personally told them. Their children fervently watch the IPL games which fall exactly in the same time period when school final exams are scheduled. (In India today, more children know the Duckworth rule than the Pythogorean theorem) They play phatta cricket enthusiastically. Yet not one of them stands a chance of ever making it to any cricket team, at any level. The jugaad layer thinks that anybody’s cricket knowledge is indicative of their jugaad skills themselves.

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The third segment of Indian population – the ‘Aam aadmi’ class that persists in the background as little blobs, crowding up the landscape - has it the worst. They are the millions who are below the poverty line. (India has more poor people than the entire sub-Saharan Africa). They are the ones who have no hopes in life; who drop out of school before completing class ten; who don’t have primary healthcare in their villages; who defecate in the open; who drink away their wife’s one month pay in one giant drinking binge and then borrow money at 4 percent interest (that is 4 percent per month); whose children have just one set of clothing and no IPL clothing at all and since they don’t have good drinking water, they face all kinds of infections and diseases; they kill each other for ten rupees; they have no representation, no voice and no mechanism of organizing themselves. It used to be that most of them worked in the agriculture sector in the villages. But these days, many of them migrate to the cities or work in the so-called rural employment schemes, building roads to nowhere. In a bizarre reverse Robin Hood effect, their hard earned money finds its way to the Shah Rukh Khans and the Rajnikants because the aam aadmis are repeat movie goers. (the Jugaad layer simply downloads it from somewhere and the India Shining layer sees just one show in a multiplex with popcorn and soda)

Cricket touches the aam aadmis too – at least some of them. (No, they don’t realize that their chief Minister has willed away their development money to Dhoni and co.) They know there was a Cup and that India won it and yes, they should feel proud of it. Some of them even cash in on it, by hawking cricket trinkets at traffic lights to the India Shining layer in their cars. The India Inc. doesn’t buy anything, of course. The merchandise is fake and shoddy anyway, (made by some aam aadmis in Ulhaasnagar) Already there is significant penetration of cricket in rural India. There are even children named Sachin and Kapil Dev in rural Tamil Nadu. But it is what they don’t know about cricket in aam aadmi India that impacts them much more.

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I am coming out and saying that cricket – as it exists today - is the bane of modern India. It is that ‘ten step backward’ for every positive achievement made in India. I am sure a lynch mob is already being sent to my house to hang me from the nearest lamppost. And a lot of you, who have been reading up to this point probably feel that I am a jealous whiner who needs to be reined in.

On the other hand, we may yet live peacefully and equitably with cricket and not be tyrannized by it. A few recent events are the resons for my optimism.

First, the visit of Warren Buffett and his beckoning the India Inc. big shots to donate more to charity – bringing to focus the need for private efforts in mitigating poverty in a country like India. There should be really no aam aadmi class. Open your purses, start soup kitchens, sponsor poor schools, educate the underprivileged, control virulent diseases and keep on going. I am sure the Ambanis and the Hindujas, the Dhonis and the Mallyas are reasonable and generous people who would want to leave legacies far bigger than their business empires. Second of all, there are general elections to the State Assemblies in several states and I think this is where the jugaad class will play a big role, by debating about parties, issues and the candidates. And finally, the fast by Anna Hazare crusading against corruption. Someone who has no bank account, no property and lives in a 10 X 10 room has to be the biggest aam aadmi of them all and kudos to Anna Saheb for giving voice to his layer of people.

Perhaps the next World cup team will donate five crores to the welfare of Karnataka school children. .

4 Comments:

At Monday, April 11, 2011 8:43:00 AM, Blogger Nappinnai NC said...

Wow, you wrote a nice 'truth' illuminated article. I think i was the only indian who didn't watch the world cup! If i go by someone's description of cricket as 'orgasm', all indians have to make an appointment with the Physician(Urologist) for their 'unending' erection even after the game is over:-) You ripping people who send SMS is awesome. You can do it even better. That's what i want to see in your forthcoming articles. Atlast you're regaining your ruthless and unyielding humor.

I had my orgasmic moments when Viv Richards was on the field. Helmets are unfair to bowlers, Viv is the only 'fairest' batsman ever to play(without helmet as he had the vision like Big Cats) in the game called cricket. 'Eye of the Tiger' man...I'm thinking about Viv in the second world cup, all wickets are gone, Michael Holding, who doesn't even know to hold a bat, is on the other end and Viv's main concern was to avoid Mike facing the bowler. Windies won anyway against Brit. Viv recklessly gave up his wicket in the third world cup. That's why India won. When Viv was out, Windies fate was sealed right then. When he retired from playing cricket, i retired from watching cricket.

How can i ever forget Oscar Wilde's wildest quotes like this one:' i can never play cricket. it requires one to assume indecent postures'. Oh My God, he described cricketers as whores! What an audacity Oscar had:-) Reminds me of the Brit comedian Ricky Gervais.

Be happy they haven't started building temples for these guys!

One indian dude says Cricket is the only sport that has the largest audience in the entire world. What hell one can expect when India's population alone is approxly 1.2 Billion. God is very biased...

Let me give the final verdict:-)

The Antiguan is the God/King of Cricket. I don't mind if people consider Sachin as one of the 12 Apostles! Hahaha..., i'm talking like Ajay Palwayanteeswaran!

 
At Monday, April 11, 2011 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous Arjun Jagannathan said...

Excellent post.
I too am thoroughly disgusted by the total commercialization of cricket, and what irks me the most is that so few people realize it or even seem to have an issue with it. The IPL starting 6 days after the WC is absurd and an affront to common sense. FIFA for example wouldn't even think of scheduling the EURO immediately after the Football WC
IMO this idea could have worked only in India where people have their priorities messed up beyond belief.
In fact I'd say that cricket, bollywood trash and the media are the bane of modern India in that order except for TN where the order would be kollywood trash, cricket and the media.

@Nappinnai:Michael holding was in fact a pretty handy batsman! (6 test 50s and 2 ODI 50s)and IMO the most insightful commentator, with a delightful singsong Jamaican accent and a delicious sense of deadpan humour:'Courtney Walsh walks out to bat in his customary number 11 position'.
And dont be so confident about temples for cricketers..after all it could just be that they do exist and we haven't yet heard of them...India is a funny country after all

 
At Wednesday, April 13, 2011 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous aamir said...

Good blog, but I will disagree with the last part about Warren Buffet:

Firstly Buffet is a big investor in POSCO, a company involved in open looting of resources in India. 2ndly, both Azim Premji and Murthy are very generous and yet not boastful: it is not something one needs to learn from Buffet. Most importantly, generosity from corporate heads won’t solve poverty – it can’t. You can build a few hospitals and schools, but that won’t cause a mass scale improvement in poverty which require structural changes. There is no precedence of a few individuals solving a country or a state's poverty. No matter what, it is eventually only the government that has the capacity to solve big issue: individuals with wealth don’t.

 
At Thursday, April 14, 2011 8:25:00 AM, Blogger Nappinnai NC said...

Aamir, your first point(wrt Buffett) is correct but your last statement(Govt) is not! After all, govt officials are elected by the people. Everybody can only make a local impact. They can not change the world with their finite mind,means,above all finite 'life'.

BTW, Buffett made some millions in 'deductibles' alone last year from the investments made by the investors in his own company. There was an article on 'Buffet's hypocricy' and even Gates co-founder's book casts a shadow on Gates character! Human beings are not perfect, so some sort of scandal will always be there. One should be happy that atleast they are doing their best.

There are so many indians who don't like Gandhi, who was the backbone, pillar for India getting the freedom. All these Indians should be put in Congo. Then they will know what life means. You can't satisfy everybody in life. Sun & moon don't wait for anybody's approval/disapproval. If they did, our Earth, before any Govt, would have shut down.

People need to have 'common sense', which is uncommon, to know who to vote for and who to throw out. Here i would like to invoke the 'mysterious' God factor wrt 'common sense' of people.

As an individual, we do our best. If one can flash a great smile at a person, i consider that as 'added value' to one's life. We need to try to solve the problems at fundamental level(like Physics does at matter level), only then we can hope to minimize the suffering/poverty which will automatically maximize the peace/happiness around the world.

The only cure for ignorance is 'education'. In 'strictest' sense, education means to improve one's level of thinking and not degrees that are awarded by giving money or just by roting & vomiting in the exams, which are plenty in India!

There was one Jewish-Austrian Mathematician/logician Kurt Godel, who emigrated to US in 1930s, found so many logical inconsistencices/flaws in US constitution laws. Einstein, being close friend, accompanied Godel to distract him from jeopardizing his citizenship. when Godel took his citizenship oath, he told the judge that US constituition is such that it allows a person to turn bad than good. Fortunately the judge had a good sense of humor and passed Godel for citizenship.

Let me close it by saying majority of the Govt officials have no brains...I'm surprised how you made the statement that it is only the Govt that has the power to resolve any BIG issue. There are only three things that drive a 'man' crazy: sex, money, power/fame. Most of the officials fall victim to one of these. Why officials? Let's take a common man. If money stops coming, will an individual continue going to work and if so, for how long-till death?

 

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