Sports and Indian-ness

Every once in a while some blogger asks other bloggers to comment on “Who is the real Indian”. Misplaced though the question is, in that it betrays too much of quasi-Freudian complex (isn’t every complex Freudian, or is it not that simple?) — of either varieties — what is most surprising about it is the lack of any convincing answers. I suspect it is because of this: people don’t know where to look for the answers. Good news is: I do, and soon, you will too.

Here, then, is the short answer: an Indian is a person who follows cricket, and no other game.

There. You can stop reading, if you are a real Indian. Otherwise, you would want to know, “WTF are you saying man?” (a typical non-Indian reaction, if you ask me).

Indians (a short for real Indians from now on) follow just one game: cricket. Any Indian knows that. But there are some misconceptions and rumors that must be laid to rest.

Rumor: Indians are interested in hockey

To borrow from Geoffrey Boycott (a real Indian), “Rubbish”. Sure Indians were good at hockey, and it is the national game and so on. But let’s face it: in India, Hockey is played more ‘out of stadium’ than ‘in stadium’. It’s a game politicians play. Ubiquity of Hockey sticks in Indian movies is probably the thing that has created this illusion of (whatever) popularity of hockey. Hockey stick is the first weapon of choice for Indian youth. The second being cycle chain. But no one, rightly, believes that cycling is popular sports in India because of the chain. Strangely for hockey this twisted logic persists.

aiming at the leg, and aerial defense

Attack and defense: hockey at it’s best

To put things in perspective: hockey’s popularity in Indian youth is due to the hockey stick. In domestic hockey matches, it’s quite common for people to hit each other with sticks, even while a game is on. I suspect that is the sole reason why people play that game in India. It’s exciting, the sound of hockey stick hitting a the bone. And, it is also the sole reason why people watch it – when no good Bollywood movie is on TV. Have you ever seen anyone watching a hockey match in a stadium (apart from Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt in Gol Maal, that is)?

Under the benevolent dictatorship of Mr Gill, this sort of behavior, I hear, had official sanction. “Jao tod ke aao ek do haddi” (go break a few bones), is the line that domestic coaches routinely tell their team to pump them up. Less said better about such a violent pass-time.

Some skeptics (and these are people who are not real Indians, of course) will ask: but why isn’t cricket bat the first weapon of choice for Indian youth, then?

What a stupid, non-Indian question!

Anyone who’s played cricket knows how difficult it is to hit someone’s leg with a  cricket bat (for one, only one guy has the bat in his hand — except for professional cricket, where there are two, or four if there are two runners —  and everyone knows to keep distance from him). Hitting someone with a bat is not something they teach you on cricket grounds. In hockey, however, that’s the most natural thing to do! The whole Shivendra scandal notwithstanding. It’s not sociological stupid! It’s pure logical.

F1 and the Residential non-Indians.

Formula Two

Formula 2.0

What about F1, someone asks. Come again? F1? You must be kidding. It’s not what an Indian will follow. I mean Autorikshaws with fraction of engine capacity drive here at 60 kmph — turns, potholes, bumps, one-ways notwithstanding. Will a real Indian have any respect for someone who drives on smooth tracks, with highly engineered machines, with all sorts of protective gears, with data about twists and turns and everything already processed and available? Nah! Autorikshaw races are more gripping and everyday reality in India. There is a group of people who happen to live in India and follow F1. But they’re not Indians. They’re resident non-Indians. I suspect they don’t use autos much.

How about Golf? How can you even ask. Popularity of Golf in India rose and fell with the the Woods scandal (Woods, are you listening? You can save Golf in India). Golf, in any case, is not a game. It’s a social situation, and those are by the plenty in India. Don’t tell me a (real) Indian will fall for something like that.

Soccer the Fair-weather Game:

That brings me to one game that  can pose as the second Indian sporting passion – soccer. Second, mind you, on good days. Now there are two geographically Indian territories where this game is hot: Goa and Bengal. One is at any time equally populated by foreigners as is by Indians, and half of those half are probably not even aware that the Portuguese left long back, what with plenty of beer and Feni flowing around them. For Bengal less said is better. Half of those guys think India is a state of Bengal, if at all they’ve heard of India.

Still, every four years (and sometimes two — considering those European Championships that keep surfacing), there is this viral tide. Suddenly people start talking of strange names like Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronadinho, Kaka, Baggio and what not. You see footballs on every school/college playgrounds. The temporary obsession is a strange affair. But again, there is an explanation.

The reasons why people watch soccer have nothing to do with the game. Soccer’s biggest USP in India is this: people can fight each other over their support. Imagine doing that with cricket (before IPL).

“Today I feel like supporting Australia”, is good enough reason for friends to turn cold shoulders. But substitute Australia with Pakistan, and you could get seriously injured.

With Soccer world cup, Indians have a truly global sports (unlike cricket, whose world cup is really an affair between a few erstwhile colonized countries and the colonizer) where they can choose sides. “Go Brazil Go”, “Well I hate Ronaldo”, “Maradona was the greatest”, “No one like Pele man”, “Italy is too defensive, I like Argentina”. You see, it’s that freedom, not the game that’s loved.

Baseball, Basketball, and American Football

Current Out in Baseball

Galli Cricket ‘Rules’

Then there are those other games. Like baseball, which is galli-cricket exhalted to the rank of a professional sport. I mean in real cricket, that will be called chucking, what they do with that ball. And current out? I mean, how much more galli can you get? Real Indians obviously know how to treat the sport with the contempt it deserves. One Sehwag, or Dilshan hits a couple of dirty looking slogs, and Indian’s sneer: is that cricket or baseball for god’s sake?

Basketball — now that’s one game Indians watch sometimes because they’re awed by height. Nothing more, nothing less. Indians are short, so when they see these 7 feeters jumping and hanging onto basket, they get excited for a while. A day maybe.

Finally, there is that game that’s closets to Indian ex-national game kabaddi and another old Indian game kho-kho: American football. This mix between two Indian games with a football (that’s gone out of shape, and which is more handled than kicked, yet is called a football for some crazy American reason) thrown in the mix for variety, and you get this American monsterity where you have to wear helmets and shoulder guards so that you’re not hit by — no not the ball bouncing oddly but — men!

Inscrutable Football

Kabaddi with Protective Gear?

I mean, Indians are more civilized than that.

Except for those politicians we elect in our houses. Now, that’s another game we watch, by the way, we real Indians. But that’s hardly a sport. It’s serious business. Did I hear “so is cricket”? Damn you, traitor.


18 thoughts on “Sports and Indian-ness

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