The conflict is pretty glaring, and painful. And, we have been living with it...
In the blue corner is the middle class existence in the national capital — the middle-aged man, slowed down to a finer, meditative plane of existence in the one week or so of house arrest by a virus. With the less tumultuous, no rush-hour, quarantined existence, he listens to the birds chirp from his balcony, while filling his lungs with clean air. Reduced PM 2.5 levels — which everyone had wrongly attributed to some poor farmer kilometres away in the hinterlands of Punjab or Haryana — help with this. The fresh air, because of next to zero vehicles on the road, proves Delhi’s problems lie in the wide avenues of the NCR, within its unwarranted power trip and fragile, first-world ego. The freshness in the air he breathes gets a tinge of lavender — the soulful rendition from a soprano on stage, streamed from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra’s online concert hall, the one which they have made free to help first-worlders fight off mental stress during social distancing.
On the red — the one closer to reality — corner, he spends the evening depressed. He is moved by the videos of hordes of migrant workers, who had made Delhi their temporary home, challenge the Coronavirus, their fear of death superseded by hunger in a city which they know hardly cares about their health or welfare. They were trying to reach where they know they belong — their villages — not very far off from the capital, but quite distant from its priorities. They want to reach home, to the song of the birds from childhood which they recognise as their own, without the high-pitched ambience of a blonde soprano, of course.
India’s reality is in this conflict, the divide — the plate clanging men and women on their balconies in South Delhi, and the men, women and infants in the multiple queues at Anand Vihar Terminal, trying to catch a bus home. Both hope to avoid an illness they can't pronounce correctly, let alone understand its preventive protocols. We are already quite a long way on the path of doom with Covid-19. Having said that, when Indian society as we knew it had already gone down that path, gripped by pandemic of the mob lynching kind, this, an impersonal sounding Covid-19, seems a much lesser affliction.
Oh, I forgot I was supposed to write cricket here... Let the Game begin!
We can look back on some of the best matches in cricket history in the time one gets between the reruns of Mahabharata and Ramayana on State TV. An all-time best Test XI, with Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman in it. Plenty of best XIs doing the rounds these days. Cricket is supposed to be the thinking man’s game. The irony is in the fact that in these days of crisis, aficionados loop back to the game’s heritage, which has been put on life support by its establishment. The game is limited to practically three nations, and now, when the world needs larger than the game stances, it seems to have cut itself off social responsibilities as well. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has always been in a limbo, a quarantine, imposed by its own sense of non importance, perhaps. That continues unabashed! Unlike FIFA, which started campaigns in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the ICC remains frozen. An illustration of the difference between a global, mass movement that is football, and a wannabe global game that cricket has become now.
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One can’t say the same for the Indian cricket board, though. The BCCI is, arguably, the only significant sporting body in the country. Moolah wise, especially.
Sourav Ganguly’s organisation, with the base of Gods revered by India’s billion plus populace, could do so much more. So, even as it remains indifferent to the dangers of Covid-19 on one end — sticking to the irresponsible hope of holding the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year somehow — it also donates to help those afflicted by it. The BCCI, led by Sourav Ganguly and Home Minister’s son Jay Shah, have eagerly jumped onto the latest pet project of the PR loving Prime Minister — PM CARES. One has to admit, the acronym is an advertising coup d’etat! Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund: PM CARES Fund.
The government could have been original though — Obama Care comes to mind. But one should not expect too much here after the far-from-original thanksgiving we witnessed across India dot at 5pm last Sunday.
That's enough digression for one column, I reckon. Back to cricket.
The BCCI announced a donation of Rs. 51 crore — a collective effort from the Board and its state units — to the PM CARES fund yesterday. The distribution algorithm and disbursement timeframe of centralised funds is not exactly well defined and objective. Understandably so, given the size involved and the range required. Other variables hinder things further — from less than perfect coordination to the subjectivity in allocation. Some allege the political allegiance of the electorate in a given state is a big factor too. Allegations, I repeat!
Under these circumstances, considering the localised manner in which effort to fight back Covid-19 is being executed — with the state governments in charge of things at the ground rather than the largely helpless one at the Centre — wouldn't it have made more sense for the Board to allot amounts to the state units to disburse or donate as and when the need arises in their provinces?
But, wait! It, perhaps, would not make sense for the BCCI. The headline impact of 51 crore across newspapers (which ironically get delivered in Whatsapp inboxes along with other fake news links these days) is huge. If the same amount is divided into many state units, the awe factor gets smothered, the social media buzz much reduces. And as much as relief work is humanitarian it is also promotional. Unless you are MS Dhoni that is.
The former Indian cricket team skipper created quite a flutter on Twitter after he, reportedly, donated Rs. 1 lakh to the Covid-19 relief cause. This has been debunked by his wife Sakshi on Twitter as a lie, but she hasn’t clearly expanded on what exactly the lie is.
If this is true, then the meagre sum should make the army-loving wicketkeeper batsman ashamed of himself. He, after all, was/is a regular feature in the global richest sportsperson list. Even Virat Kohli, having pledged no money so far despite all that brand worth, looks better. If it is not true, then MS Dhoni sir, World Cups you have won becomes pointless in the wake of your lack of social commitment toward a society which fueled your stardom, and paid for your riches and those fancy superbikes in your garage.
Then again, Dhoni is no Roger Federer or Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, or the countless sports stars, including relatively poorer athletes like Hima Das and Bajrang Punia, who have all chipped in whatever ways possible. Messi-Ronaldo have given millions, while football clubs have come out with money as well as opening its facilities for Covid-19 care. Where are our IPL franchises, whose celebrity bosses are itching to get the show going, to occupy the broadcast slot between the Doordarshan’s take on Indian epics?
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Well, IPL clubs are no Leeds United, its bosses no Marcelo Bielsa. Then again, Bielsa has no football equivalent, either.
Sport becomes meaningless when it gets calloused by records and revenue and forget the ones who make it worthwhile for it to be played. Those masses. The ones who thronged at a terminal in New Delhi, to get onto overcrowded buses which would take them home. This despite knowing for sure that those government vehicles (pun intended) will take them towards health and economic uncertainty.
This scenario could have been avoided had the government taken a stance earlier, planned at the least basic framework before imposing lockdown. A small act like disbursing of funds in time to set up a supply chain of essentials for the labourers who can’t afford to eat if they dont work a day, would have ensured they stayed put and possibly safe. The decisions came late, the actions pretty ad-hoc and reactionary as always.
Would it have made a difference if the BCCI fund was pushed directly to the frontier and not into a bureaucratic vault? The coming days will give us the answer. With no cricket to run, the least the BCCI honchos could have done, was to be a little ahead of the curve.
Talking about curves, what would the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal crowd mean to the Indian Covid-19 curve? It has been kept flattened more by the non-availability of widespread testing more than anything else, experts say. That, in cricketing terms, would be akin to rolling down the grass off the pitch to make it flat so that Virat Kohli’s men maintain their invincibility streak. Yes, finally some cricket talk!
Covid-19, however, has shown us how far from invincible our existence is...
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