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- International race-dynamics have not improved nearly enough

For those interested, let’s take an informal poll. Which, for you, was the most infuriating moment in the whole sordid drama leading to the lynching/guillotining of the final Test between England and Pakistan' I can answer only for myself: it was the moment when Darrell Hair flicked the bails off at his end, signalling the demise of more than just a five-day game of sport between two countries. Umpire Billy Doctrove, (may some Caribbean juju-demon toy with his moronically cowardly heart as he sleeps), at least took the bails off at his end with a sense of sad ceremony, but Hair’s action consisted of a little contemptuous flick, a small slap of the kind that feudal chieftains used to bestow upon hapless peasants before beheading them. In this case the vassal in question was not the Pakistan team but all of international cricket, and this jumped up Gauleiter of Settler Supremacism had evidently no hesitation in showing the world his contempt of darkies who dare play the game once reserved for ‘Us and Ourselves’ i.e England and Australia.

In these days of neutral umpiring, there is no possibility of Darrell Hair, an Australian, no-balling, say, another Australian and a habitual chucker like Bret Lee. But let’s try and imagine him doing what he did at the Oval to another white cricketer: England are playing against New Zealand or South Africa and they are in a dominant position; suddenly Simon Jones produces a reverse-swinger that traps, say, Stephen Fleming or Graeme Smith, nothing extravagant mind, just a reverse swing that is now commonly accepted when the ball is 50-odd overs old; Hair and Doctrove grab the ball, not immediately after the wicket, but a few overs later, say not a word to the England captain Vaughan/Flintoff/Strauss, and change it; they award five runs to the Kiwis/ Springboks and the game carries on as if nothing has happened. Can you see it' I can’t. Alternative scenario: Umpire Aleem Dar does the same thing to Glen McGrath and his captain Ricky Ponting in an Ashes Test match; the whole thing is taken in the ‘spirit of cricket’, Ponting doesn’t punch Dar in the face, no expletives, he doesn’t even walk off, he doesn’t protest, he goes in for Tea, relieves himself, wolfs down a cucumber sandwich, leads his team out and carries on playing, no matter that ‘Cricket Australia’ now has sheep-branding sizzling on its butt that says ‘CHEAT!’ Can you see it' I can see it about as clearly as I can see a kangaroo dancing kathakali.

The point is, when Hair knocks off the bails, you recognize that gesture, that moment. If you are a darkie of any colour whatsoever, and if you’ve done any travelling to the North by North-West, you’re more than likely to have experienced something that has a sick resonance with that ball replacement, with that glance at the watch and the flick of the fingers signifying forfeiture. Things may have become worse after 9/11, they may have been ‘a bit better’ for a period before Black Tuesday, but they have always been pretty goddam bad.

“You have no idea,” I can hear someone older saying to me, “you have no clue how bad it was when we had to stand up for God Save the King after every picture show, when we had to move aside for the whites on the street, when we were officially treated like dirt when we landed at some British port…” Yes, it’s true, I have no idea, and I am thankful to the roulette wheel of time that I was born a good thirteen years after this country became independent, therefore avoiding the raj and all its obvious humiliations. Equally, I am grateful to all those men and women, from Mohandas K. G to Rosa Parks, who fought so that their children and grandchildren wouldn’t have to put up with shit from caucasian hegemons. But, in the terms my own life has handed me, international race-dynamics are pretty jacked and, while they may have improved a teeny bit, they have not improved nearly enough.

In my emotional memory there is a negligible difference between the shakedown I received from the US customs man at Boston airport in December 1985 and the one I got from the fool at Chicago in June 2004. They were pig-eyed, robotic in following a script that was essentially racist, and licensed to sneer. “You say you are a journalist' Is this your notebook' Can I read some of your thoughts'” said the Boston bullfrog circa ’85, yanking open my diary. “A writer, huh' What kind of writing' Like maybe you have a book you wrote or something'” snarled the Chicago chihuahua circa ’04, and, to my great pleasure, I could pull out a copy of my book and show him. He took the alien object — I wish I could say he held it upside down — and, after scratching his gun and holster for a bit, he let me through. The Boston guy, if he’d ever heard of Osama bin Laden, would have cheered him, “Go get those Russkies!” the Chicago guy, if he could have recognized OBL, would have slapped leather and opened fire. But their treatment of me, a south Asian of medium brown colouration, remained pretty much the same across 19 years. Both times I got through because I was a ‘writer’, because I was hard to classify, because my English was demonstrably better armed than theirs, because the fear of what I, weird guy belonging to the cloudy class of ‘intellectuals’, may be able to pull out was greater than the arrogance of what they, as low-end officials of a superior race, could do to me. In other words, on those two occasions, perceived Class fire-power won over perceived Race fire-power.

Mostly though, it doesn’t play out like that. If you happen to be an unlettered darkie, or even one with a limited grasp of English, trying to go about your legitimate business in either Schloss Europa or Fort USA, you are still, in fact more than ever, guilty until proven innocent. Speak Arabic on a flight, kerplow! Change seats and talk loudly on a flight, bam! Sit in a café and say something against George Bush, whoosh! The interesting thing is, there is a continuum, from the pettiest of immigration exchanges to the highest circles of so-called civilization, whether cinema, literature or conceptual art, where this often invisible glass wall exists. And the stark tragedy is that the darkie-people who most often break through the barrier are often not the best-brought-up, the most erudite, or the most civilized.

The argument will be continued in my next column, but to end where I started: I clearly admit that I suddenly find myself missing Imran Khan and Sourav Ganguly. In this nasty-turvy world, if Hair had changed the ball without warning, either of those two fine examples of south Asian gamesmanship would have, I’m sure, yanked the plug on the whole farce and walked off immediately, not ten minutes later, not an hour later, but there and then. Despite the huge gap in their cricketing talents, both Khan and Ganguly understood one thing that a cuddly simpleton like Inzamam will never get: when confronted with a racist, white official, it’s best to present him with a gambit he can’t digest. Had the Pakistan team gone straight away, the brouhaha may have been greater, but it would have been cleaner and in the brownies’ favour. And, it may have gone some small way towards righting the imbalance that we all carry within our mirrors.

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