The Religion of Cricket

image source: sportskeeda

India used to be known as the “land of benighted heathens and lesser breeds” (Singer 11) across the West during the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Gradually, these archaic “scratches” (Singer 11) on the minds of the Europeans and Americans have been replaced by the flamboyant images of PM Modi, the sensational Bollywood film industry, and undoubtedly, our cricketers: the Men In Blue. 

In contemporary India, the image of ‘cricket’ is intimately interwoven with the image of the nation. Historically, the English colonisers introduced this sport in our colony, and soon the game became a way of beating the British at their own chosen sport — a way for the slaves to one-up their colonial masters. Today, India has wholeheartedly embraced this piece of colonial legacy.

This image is of Kapil Dev, the then-captain of the Indian cricket team, receiving the World Cup trophy from Robert Carr (also known as Lord Carr of Hadley; Carr was the chairman of Prudential Assurance, the company that sponsored the World Cup in 1983) (Quora) in Lord’s, England. The Prudential World Cup victory of 1983 was the first appearance by an Asian nation in a World Cup final and the first time in the history of this tournament that India had won the world cup.

The inclusion of Indian cricket in class IX CBSE Social Sciences’ syllabus and its prominence in Indian cinema is a testament to the power of its image. The film Lagaan (dir. Ashutosh Gowariker, 2001), the most popular representation of cricket in India is a stark portrayal of the caste system in the country, and racism during the British Raj. “Cricket-fever” is also visible through newspaper headlines (‘The Dream of a Billion Comes True’; carried by a leading Bengali daily on the opening page after the Indian cricket team completed a Test series victory over Pakistan) (Ray 1637), radio shows, and advertisements, including the Kamla Pasand pan masala’s advertisement during the 2019 World Cup which ran with the tagline “Ek Aur Baar”; which coincidentally holds an uncanny resemblance with BJP’s tagline for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections “Phir Ek Baar”. These sources are also an exhibition of the overlapping sentiments of cricket aspirations and nationalist feelings in our country.

A longitudinal study of Indian cricket brings to light a trajectory very similar to that of Indian civilisation: Along with the gradual progression of Indian images in the minds of Europeans and Americans from a peace-loving, stuck-in-the-past, democracy-promoting nation, India has grown to be acknowledged as a vibrant, rapidly technologically advancing, aggressively dominant nation; who holds a firm hegemony over cricket. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest and most organised cricketing board in the world. This transition in India’s cricketing image is in synchrony with the shift from the image of “Nehru, the intellectual world leader” (Singer 11), to Modi, the shrewd politician. This shift can be further exhibited through the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal of 2008 (Scroll.in), where Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh insulted the Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds — a man of West Indian descent — by calling him a “monkey”. This incident is a stark portrayal of India’s evolution from a formerly-oppressed nation, to a country with the soft power to be the oppressor. 

Today, we have moved far ahead from this image of Kapil Dev — humbly accepting the World Cup trophy from a White man, wearing a standardised white shirt with a dark-blue overcoat; to the immediately identifiable bright blue of our jerseys, and to the image of six-sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh, the “God of Cricket” Sachin Tendulkar, and boldly brilliant Captain Kohli. In our modern India, even today superstitions and pujas become the rage when a cricket match is on. It’s certainly not far-fetched to claim that in contemporary India, cricket is held to the standard of a ‘religion’: only what remains to be seen is how strikingly these Gods will continue to live up to their image in the upcoming years, both within the country and abroad.



WORKS CITED 

Quora. “Who presented Kapil Dev the World Cup in 1983?” www.quora.com/Who-presented-Kapil-Dev-the-World-Cup-in-1983. Accessed on 6 March 2021.

Ray, Somshankar. ‘The Wood Magic’: Cricket in India – A Postcolonial Benediction. The International Journal of the History of Sport. 2008.

Singer, Milton. Passage to More Than India: A Sketch of Changing European and American Images. New York: Praeger Publishers. 1972.

Scroll.in. “The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal and how it strained India-Australia cricketing ties”. scroll.in/field/902884/the-monkeygate-scandal-and-how-it-strained-india-australia-cricketing-ties. Accessed on 6 March 2021.

where i found love

Dear you, 

My mother tells me that the first word I ever uttered was ‘Tata’.
It knocked against the curve of my tongue until finally its tip could snake its way around my mouth & puff out a whoosh of sound, ‘Papa’. 

I first met love in a darkened alley where few dare venture of the fear of forgetting where love really belongs. I found love huddled up with a pack of nachos, watching reruns of F. R. I. E. N. D. S. & wondering how he ended up there. But, he did. I first met love in the angry verses of my mother, trying with all their might to pull me out of the dirty alley where they themselves had pushed me in, in throes of pain. I remember pretending that I hadn’t seen him dozing off in a corner, drooling; for a paralysing weakness exposed in a war is half the battle lost even, if the sword in front of you is the little warrior your hands themselves had built up, piece by piece.  

I found love in anger, but I never associated love with anger because every Sunday my father would play chess with me, & let me win; to give me a taste of what victory feels like, until I’m left wanting  for more. I found love in the way my mother would wake me up everyday- with a peck on the cheek & a cruel pulling away of the blanket shield from my tiny fists. I found love in the advice my best friend gave me when I was fifteen, saying that if something makes your heart clench & latch onto the self-doubt you have tried so hard to shove down your throat; clench your fists as tightly as you can, & breathe it out. I found love peeking out from behind the scribbles in my diary, wondering when I would finally let it breathe. I found love on the bridge my brother tried to build over the scars time had left on our family; & I let him. & once I got over the innumerable faces the oceans reflect everyday of what love looks like, I helped him.  

I found love in my best friends’ unannounced visit to my house on my birthday, twelve days after my grandfather had passed away. I found love in the words I write to him, & the music the words on the cards he gave me play, every year. I found love in the loudest scream & the first clap the day I won. & every single time I find love, huddled up, munching & giggling, still wondering how he ended up here, I win. & love claps. 
Love, 
Anushka 

16 December, 2012

We used to kiss in empty corridors, empty classrooms, & empty spots in the school backyard. We used to spill giggles into each other’s mouths wherever we would find spaces empty of light until— ‘empty’ became associated with ‘unsafe.’ 16 December, 2012. ‘It’ used to be a shadow in the back of our minds, a chill down our spines whenever we would dare to think of it; but unimportant otherwise. ‘It’ was the fear of harassment. Unwanted touches, & unasked for stares. ‘It’ was the fear of not knowing what to do with your skin; how to shed it off. 16 December changed that; 16 December made sure that we would feel the ants crawling under our skin with every centimetre our bra’s strap fell. 16 December, 2012 changed a lot of things.

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I was in grade iv & in love with the boy. That morning, there was a heavy pall over the school. He asked me if I had watched the news. We were eleven & in grade iv & news at that time was associated with ‘politics’ & ‘politics’ with something that happened to other people, something boring. We were privileged & oblivious & he asked me if I had seen the news & I said- no. He laughed, & called me a fool. I asked him if he had; he said, “Who wouldn’t, when the news was so scandalous.” 16 December, 2012 completely changed how we viewed empty corridors, empty classrooms, closed curtains on school buses— & the boy called it “scandalous”. A tabloid headline: something that caught eyes & left you with dry mouths & dilated pupils— “scandalous”, meaning “interesting”. 

It happened before that, & it happened after that, but now we knew. Every eleven year old & their teachers & their parents & extended families knew that it could happen to one of us. Boys knew what they could do to one of us. It wasn’t ‘interesting’; it was terrifying. I was requested & threatened & bribed by my parents to not step into another empty corridor ever again. It changed us.

Fast-forward to grade viii & we knew about crushes & love & boys & how those things come together. We knew of sex as magazines snuck into school bags & code words & something that happened to adults. We were fifteen, & we all wanted to be adults. So we lied. We lied to our teachers about where we were during Maths class; & we lied to our parents about who was calling at 21:00 on the landline on a school night. 

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Looking back to grade viiii through grade xii; it’s disconcerting. Our parents did good with the hand they were dealt. How do you explain to a child that, baby, I want you to have the world, but unfortunately the world is not good enough for you? How do you explain to an eleven year old, a fifteen year old, the sheer expanse of your fear? Where do you find words soft enough for their tiny mouths to swallow? 

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I was xvi when the boy I liked called me a slut, & I hit him. His father was called to the school, & he proudly declared that it didn’t matter what his son might have called me; I hit him. How dare I hit his son. He went away scotch free, & the next time I saw him, he winked at me. I was xvi when I realised that hitting someone is always wrong; but sometimes, words can hurt much worse. But, no one cares about wounds that don’t spill blood. We are a breed of animals who learnt how to use numbers & our words; but at the end of the day, we are animals, & we love spilt blood. 

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Grades xi through xii were all about spilt blood. Girls sashaying around in two-third buttoned white shirts, & collarbones framed with grey-striped loosely tied ties— as the Head Girl, I could never decide whether to report them to the teacher in-charge, or ask them out for coffee. Most often than not, I did neither. We spent our teenage years in an age dominated by cat-fights won through Instagram followers, & scales of coolness broken through Snapchat views. I think it was both harder & easier to grow as a queer kid in India in these times— we knew watching girl x girl porn is not unholy, but in an age where crushes are whimsical & chosen on the basis of mutuals, how do you tell the girl she is holy? 

& so, we spilt blood at the altar of choice.

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It’s grade xii, & we have known of sex for four years now. The coolest ones among us have chosen to sneak behind washrooms & to blind spots, & spill giggles into each other’s mouths. (God, I hope you laughed when you chose to make love. I hope you laughed & smiled & crashed & flailed— I hope you didn’t let the monotony of choosing to make love over & over & over again overwhelm you.) We were eighteen, & we were on the edge of falling face-first into the golden light, or something, that looked a lot like golden light. So we lied. We lied to our girlfriends about where we were last night, & we lied to our best friends about not being in love with them. We lied, & held onto our truth tighter.

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16 December, 2012 changed how we viewed ‘choice’. & ‘choice’ became associated with ‘consent’, & ‘consent’ became associated with a thousand-new definitions of no, but not one that spelt it the same way ever again— Don’t try to fix something that’s not broken, dear. We scribbled a thounsad new definition of “no” until no” became replaceable with “she didn’t say no.”, which became further replaceable with “yes”. When I walked through the gates of my school as a student of that institution for the last time, I knew I would be walking out into a world where the act of consent & the privilege of choice are forest-fires & at-the-edge-of-my-fingertips & holy; not because they are the truth, but because we have digressed back to an era where only the men in power hold them in their lungs. They know it to be true in their every breath, & their every utterance. 

Today, I’m xviii, & in love with the boy & the girl. That’s my truth, & that’s the altar on which I choose to spill blood. 

what happiness feels like

And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him.

AARON BURR [Alexander Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton]

“I can’t explain it to you,” she whispers, loud enough to be heard over the silence, “what happiness feels like.”

I ask her to try, for my sake, to draw happiness on the empty ground beneath us. She stands up, suddenly, like her bones rang with the second last church bell signalling the curfew, spits her gum, removes her gun from her front-right pocket, places it a hand’s width apart from her left elbow, and sits on the warm ground. “It feels like the clouds, you know? How we imagine them- soft, bouncy, filled with enough cotton to sleep on, and sprinkled with enough sugar to eat; like the cotton candy ma used to buy us from the carnival each year? That: it feels like white clouds which line the skies of India on summer evenings when the Sun decides to sleep… that’s all I can say, ma chérie.” 

I stare at the sky for a minute, tilt my head along the Earth’s axis, trying to feel all the seasons in ten seconds at my tips, and whisper, “I wanted them to be red, but our professor says they can’t be red because water is blue. I wanted them to be red; how beautiful would a red cloud look! How nice it would be to sleep on a red pillow or eat candies all painted red: it would feel like holding the Sun in our mouths, and swallowing it. How bright we would shine!” 

She allows a throaty chuckle, stretches her legs in front of her, and turns her head towards the sky, “Who says they aren’t red? They are your clouds, ma chérie, your dreams, your happiness. Who says it can’t be red?” She lowers her eyes, fingers playing with the bullets in her pants, and speaks, “Maybe one day, we would all spill enough blood that the water would be red.”