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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 13, New Delhi, March 19, 2016

Reflections from Eden Gardens

Sunday 20 March 2016, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

There is much to learn for ourselves from the stormy experiences of the World Cup cricket that we all have been watching excitedly in the last two weeks, particularly from what happened at Bangalore on March 9 and what followed four days later in Calcutta on March 13. It is not just the question of having gone through a hideous ordeal at Calcutta after the rout that the Indian team had to face at the hands of the young Sri Lankan team, who definitely outclassed Mohammed Azharuddin and his men. Professional mistakes might have been committed by the Indian side when it let Sri Lanka bat first while the wicket was known to be weak and was bound to crumble. There might have been other serious factors behind India’s collapse.

But what happened in Calcutta that has put the entire country to shame had nothing to do with the players but the wider public, the spectators who had come in thousands and hundred thousands to watch the match. The vandalism let loose by a section of angry spectators was no doubt shocking but not totally unexpected. For weeks before the great match at the Eden Gardens, there was a mammoth ad-campaign creating an unprecedented frenzy, presenting a larger-than-life illusion about cricket and its heroes. The essence of a long-tested healthy game—which was supposed to have helped in the moulding of an entire nation—is the motto that victory or defeat did not matter and that playing cricket is playing fair. The fact that cricket has been democratised by its acceptance by the common millions in many parts of what was once the British Empire, shows that its true message of healthy rivalry without rancour or bitterness has permeated down to millions in the decolonised world of free nations.

However, the high-tension media blitz spread over one long month has been an eye-opener about the mass intoxication that overpowered millions as part of the global advertisement drive of Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola together with the Wills cigarette. The legal injunction that requires every cigarette advertisement to carry the warning that cigarette smoking is injurious to health was ignored and the VIPs and Chief Ministers associated themselves with the carnival whose main commercial incentive was to promote a particular brand of cigarette. High tension bordering on mass hysteria that was spread through hi-tech communication channels—and this was reinforced by betting on players and teams a la horse racing—obviously overpowered the message of civilised recreation that cricket originally stood for and in its place came a fearsome orgy of violence and hatred, rousing all the basest instincts in a human being. This could be seen in the unbelievable wave of hysteria in Pakistan, leading to suicide, arson, mob outburst just because the Pakistani team lost at Bangalore. The bonhomie that dominated the top cricketers from Pakistan and India playing together in a combined team at Colombo hardly a month ago—as a gesture of South Asian solidarity when the Australians and West Indies had chosen to stay away from Sri Lanka proclaiming their refusal to accept Sri Lanka’s assurances of security from terrorist violence—was almost wiped off by what happened in Pakistan in the wake of the defeat of its team in Bangalore and was compounded by the shameful display in Calcutta at the rout of the Indian team.

If one counts up the sum-total of all the three episodes, it would seem that the beastliness in the wake of Pakistan’s Bangalore defeat and India’s Calcutta defeat has wiped off the spon-taneous jubiliation that one could discern at the Colombo demonstration of Indo-Pakistan amity and goodwill. From this one cannot help drawing the inference that the ultra-modern ad-dictated life-style of today, serviced by the present-day information technology, does not necessary on its own generate fraternal goodwill. The hi-tech society does not by itself ensure a better world to live in, a world of peace and amity. What is urgently needed is the cultivation of a new civilisational approach that will be able to look upon a neighbour’s victory as one’s own, and there is nothing to be ashamed about at one’s own defeat at the hands of a neighbour. This is a mandate that life itself imposes upon every Indian since our country happens to be big and physically more powerful than every one of our neighbours. It is, therefore, our duty to ensure that no bad blood shall be spilt at any encounter between India and Pakistan, whether it is among sportsmen in the playing field, or our scholars in the colloquium and the laboratory or between our businessmen at the marketplace. And when the occasion will arise, we in India should share in the success of our neighbours even if it has come by way of having to face defeat at their hands.

Five decades have gone by since four countries of today’s South Asia broke out of the colonial yoke of the British Raj. With our common civilisational heritage, social and cultural links that refuse to be broken, the imperative of sharing many gifts of nature, particularly the waters of the mighty rivers that flow through our lands, it is sheer common sense that we live and let our peoples grow up in mutual harmony, and brotherly amity. Instead, we have succeeded in amassing huge arsenals which we can hardly use against others, but point them against ourselves, building up the phantom of monstrous hostility against each other.

The image of the enemy that we nurture is about our neighbour, and we let our people starve while we readily pile up deadly arms on the distorted assumption that our neighbours are our greatest enemies. So long we stick on to this insensate mindset of suspicion and hatred, our social and cultural intractions can never flourish, initiative for mutual help and joint endeavour will be starved out. And only in that artificially worked up hostility, we shall play cricket as if it is the theatre for pitched battles and no amount of world cricket tournament will help. If we have to generate real peace and understanding among our brothers and sisters in our neighbourhood, we have to make conscious efforts at coming closer to each other, know each other closely and share in each other’s moments of joy and sorrow, of triumphs and tribulations. This can be achieved by making a determined endeavour at discarding weapons that kill each other and set up, in its place and with the resources so saved, a common destiny of peace and prosperity, of happiness and goodwill. Deep within us lies buried that urge for a new understanding, and it comes up at times—as happened when the World Cup final was played at next-door Lahore on March 17—and the entire South Asian fraternity, the good citizens in Pakistan and India, those at Bangalore and Calcutta, praying for Sri Lanka to win the final match.

At home, we have many lessons to learn from the Eden Gardens vandalism. The shameful incident has no doubt been condemned by many both in Calcutta and elsewhere, and it has been righty regarded as a blot on the fair name of India. However, it is time for us to note that although hooliganism at the Eden Gardens was perpetreated in the presence of VVIPs, political or otherwise, there was no effort on the part of any of them to intervene. The Chief Minister of West Bengal, who was present on the occasion and was witness to the ugly episode, did not come out to intervene. He is no novice in dealing with the crowd. One recalls many an occasion in his early political career when he had single-handedly intervened in defence of the underdog, and yet he chose to be just a mute spectator to the rampage by a motley group of hooligans on March 13. When the referee of the match, Clive Lloyd, could take to the mike asking for order, what prevented Jyoti Basu to take up the loud- speaker and appeal to the people to see that the handful of goondas did not sully the fair name of Calcutta? This cannot be left to the police, the CRP, the RAF and what have you.

The great legacy of our freedom struggle has been to inculcate the courage to actively inter-vene wherever any wrong-doing is committed. Our leaders are not expected to be ensconced with security guards and henchmen. Calcutta is this year celebrating the birth centenary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Can anybody imagine that he would have just remained a disconsolate spectator at the Eden Gardens and would not have leapt out of the VIP box to silence and chase out the hooligans? Courage is not displayed through angry words and angrier demonstrations alone: courage demands active intervention against any misdoing.

The Eden Gardens incident has a great lesson to impart for us all. In a flash, it has shown up the rot in our public life today. Not only is the goonda on the prowl, it is time our leaders braced up to themselves take up the fight and root out the anti-social, whether it is the hawala-man in the parlour or the goonda at the Eden Gardens cricket ground.

[By arrangement with The Tribune]

(Mainstream, March 23, 1996)