There is a stillness in existence this afternoon. The statement was a note to myself as I stared out onto the canopy of the trees outside my study window — a favourite place to collect my thoughts before letting the keyboard bear the brunt. I could see dashes of red in the green. Gulmohars are here. Summer.
Afternoons are a mirror image of how the world of sport is at the moment — still and silent. Waiting for a long, dry summer. This was another note to myself. Someday, these notes would stitch themselves together into something meaningful. At least that is the hope. Hope. A beautiful word in these uncertain times!
The window beckons my attention again. The slightly dirty glass panes — wiped in haste this morning, most of the dust still settled on them — left the world beyond in a tinge of sepia. Sport is in sepia these days. Everything is in retrospect. Football-heads in my team have been raving over FIFA and their World Cup archives. Mexico 1986 and Diego Maradona. Germany in Brazil. Johan Cryuff and Totaalvoetbal — the most egalitarian of philosophies in the most egalitarian of sport. and something the world needs to adopt while facing this very versatile, invisible foe.
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Cricket’s sepia days come with an overwhelming splash of white. The game’s colonial hangover is laced in white. The West Indies legends proved their point repeatedly in whites. Kapil Dev won the World Cup in whites, changing the course of Indian sport. As we watch recent matches, it becomes increasingly apparent that adding colour to the game was perhaps the biggest mistake the keepers of cricket made. Colours make things flashy but take the focus away from the inherent beauty hidden in black and white, or in cricket’s case, whites.
Cricket is not alone in changing its colours. Every sport has evolved into enterprises big and small adapting to the way the world has moved forward. The purpose of existence, both in organised sport, and in all human enterprises, has changed, arguably for the worse.
Since sport is considered a mirror through which society could be reflected upon or judged, we are bound to search in its present for answers to our being. Soon it dawns that reflection is fast becoming the myth of our existence. When we seek the true essence of sport while in lockdown, we invariably don’t find it in the present. We have to go back to a time when sport revolved around the grounded and uncomplicated pleasures of triumph and loss on the playing field. Post-modernist iterations are a chaotic clash of voices, lights, goals, sixes and money.
I wipe my study window to get more clarity. The tranquility I see beyond is but a mirage. Things have not been serene. The stillness from my procrastinating seat was welcome nonetheless, especially after the week that went by posing questions I could not answer. I realised, over the course of seven days, that our philosophies — personal priorities — are not unique. The world thrusts them upon us. Take it or leave towards the infinity of insignificance. Don’t we all wish we could take the second option and leave? Not to the mountains or the sea. Not necessarily towards insignificance either. But just return home. It is easy to understand why those migrant workers decided to take their chances against the virus, starvation and death and walked home from the country’s impersonal cities.
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We are, after all, migrant workers… Every single one of us. Far from home but not all of us would walk back. I wish I could, given what transpired.
It has been one sad week.
Tuesday, April 21, my Amma’s mother died in Kochi. My mother, who has been with me in New Delhi for the past six months, could not travel. The biggest loss in my life, she kept telling me, as I tried to be part of her grief.
A day prior to that, I believed, among many things, in the idea that the world is getting crunched into an accessible microcosm, limited only by our ability to handle technology. I also took pride in consumerism, in the purchasing power of my credit card. I believed the world, its technology, structure and infrastructure would always collaborate to ensure I could serve my responsibilities, admonish guilt. Truth is far from the reality we chose to believe in. My mother attended her mother’s last rites via a video chat app. That day, last Wednesday, I spent hours looking out of the window. I never received any notes to self for safekeeping that day...
It has been one sad week.
A week of chaos. And when amidst chaos, it is hard to find symphony, hard to dig deep into the pages of those physics and philosophy texts from my yesterdays to conjure up logic that this will eventually usher in beauty. I was always intrigued by Chaos Theory but I am no Friedrich Nietzsche, neither do I behold a butterfly up ahead. Neitzche would have said I am stuck in the cause-effect cycle so badly that I don’t perceive the future. "Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
Nietzsche’s music is for the ultra privileged, perhaps. We see chaos around us and we see humanity as a collective dance to a tune. But it is hard to sense the music from the pied piper who orchestrates public displays of loyalty and gratitude. The music hardly registers, except for the reality in the tone, tune and tempo set by a virus. How we find ourselves in lockdown today is indicative of a devolved state of being — the fragility of our aspirations, the mortal truth hidden in our egos and the fallibility of what we have built things on are exposed. And there is no music in it.
The accepted notion is that the novel coronavirus is a great leveller. It cuts and rips across all the fabrics laid out by humans — from class and social divides to economic subsystems revolving around capitalism, the monopoly and hegemony, crude oil powerplay, to political and geographic borders. It has shaken everything our world ticks by, exposing the inhumanity in human endeavour.
Amidst all this suffering and chaos, the world wants to get back to where it left things seconds before lockdown became a reality of life. The right and wrongs hardly matter if the war against the virus is settled, won rather.
The rush or itch to get back to smoothly running the agenda, the rut, comes from a heightened sense of entitlement which has become our hallmark — be it the BCCI, the Indian government or the American presidency. That comes from having only tasted victories.
In cricket, the game’s future is dictated by the Indian Board’s sense of the present. With the kind of financial clout at its disposal, it is a walkover each time the BCCI enters the fray. Back home, it stays above RTIs, accountability and even the law, with equal ease. The Board’s clout has its roots firmly entrenched in the government. It has always been the case in India... centuries on the field will make you God, while a BCCI seat will take you above the Gods.
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Arrogance stemming from such an unchallenged state of being is expected. The Board, in fact, is a small representation of the way of functioning of the current government at the Centre. The overwhelming majority in both houses of the Parliament, and the control over the other pillars of Democracy leave the BJP undisputed, unchallenged and untouchable. When they falter, beaten by people’s mandate, politics — if you can call it that — is played. Defections and rebellions become the norm.
Victory, too much of it, could become a cross too big for the BJP to carry. The fault lines are getting wider now. With each potentially discriminatory piece of legislature pushed through the system, crores poured into the drain on needless and wasteful projects, even while the economy struggles, and when the fight against Covid-19 looks jeopardized with inadequate funds and resources, the arrogance is clear. Unchallenged victories corrupted the best of them. It is what led to the fall of civilisations. For, in their dance with seemingly invincible destiny, they all had forgotten about defeat.
In the Taoist school of thought within Oriental martial arts, the saying is that everyone is born into the world ready to win, having only tasted life. It is defeat [even death] that one must train and ready oneself for. Defeat is reality. In sports, defeat dishes out the ultimate reality check. And in defeat, is the real test of character. The world is tasting defeat now. Sporting spirit dictates a bounce back. And we are bouncing back. A fight is on. The serenity I sense outside my window is but a temporary aberration.
Too temporary, in fact. I feel the leaves flutter. The wind picks up. I see clouds on the horizon. It rains. Unseasonal yet meaningful. Many saw a rainbow. I saw a silver lining. Something I was seeking the whole week, I get it now, a symbolic gesture from destiny, perhaps.
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