It’s World Cup time again, and the tango between media and marketing has begun to reach steamy levels. Write-ups speculating on “Our Boys’ Chances”, with attendant analyses and statistical torrents keep appearing in print, outnumbered and surrounded on the page by the catching cordon of advertisements. Having sent off a nostalgic contribution to one such “Special Issue”, I found myself with nothing better to do and started making a diagram mapping the connections between various cricketing heroes and the products they are promot- ing. Not being a rocket scientist I had to give up after about ten minutes, the page by then a snarl of criss-crossing arrows.
Never mind, let the boys make their bucks from wherever. After all, as the great batsman, Mushtaq Ali, once said in an interview, “Dekhiye, ek din ki chandni hai, phir andheri raat.” Call me a pessimist (and I have been both hilariously wrong as well as deadly right about cricket in earlier editions of this column), but after this World Cup I see many of our current players facing that long, dark, post-chandni night. A good thing then, especially for those not blessed with Gavaskar’s wisdom, Ravi Shastri’s articulation or Navjot Singh Sidhu’s…. er….wit, to be able to put away a little something in the kitty.
What amazes me through all this, however, is the support “Amader Prince” continues to get from various corners despite his recent batting and captaining exploits. From Sunil Gavaskar to my local Lalaji sitting in his dukaan, I get no joy for suggesting that Ganguly is far from the great captain everybody says he is.
I tried to say this to a well-known academic and fine cricket-thinker visiting from Calcutta, and he guffawed. “Do you know”, he asked me, “that in the Ganguly household there is a little television inside the pujo-ghor where Ma Chandi sits' Every time Sourav plays, this TV is switched on for the Ma to see and bless. The only problem is that, on some days, she seems not to see, and on those days Sourav and India don’t do so well. Otherwise there is no problem.”
Being the son of a mother who used to put her kartaals on the TV every time India played, and having watched those kartaals win India many a hopeless match, I had no bone to pick with this. In fact, I suddenly felt a swelling of faith, optimism and understanding: we didn’t have Sourav in the team for his batting, his superb fielding or the laser scalpel of his aggressive captaincy, we had him there because he was the channel for Ma Chandi’s power. Well, fair enough, I suppose it’s the one tangible hope we have of getting anywhere respectable in South Africa.
Sitting in the bludgeoning cold of New Delhi I quite often find myself murmuring prayers to Ma Chandi and other deities, especially when the electricity goes at eight o’clock on a freezing evening. Between the power shortage, and the entrails of the new Metro being laid around the city, I get the feeling of a slight déjà vu. Having spent half my life dealing with load-shedding and being surrounded by the snail-slow construction of the Calcutta Underground, it now seems to me that I carry these phenomena with me like a pair of chronic diseases, and that they will follow me wherever I go.
Between muttering prayers and curses, I sometimes feel a flash of nastiness rising up inside — where shall I move to now, I ask myself, which den of iniquity deserves to be infected next' Bangalore' I have yet to visit the city and I have nothing serious against Bangaloreans. Bombay' Enough problems there already — it would be a case of overkill. Currently my choice circles around my parents’ hometown, Ahmedabad, and whichever quaint hamlet that is nearest to V.S. Naipaul’s estate in Wiltshire. A great pity it can’t be both.
Landslide victory or no, once last spring’s poisonous lesson (that mob violence, murder and arson are variously profitable) has been fully digested by the Ahmedabad underclass, it will not be that easy for the “Hindu” fascists to control or direct their mobs. And once that happens there will be no guarantee that the richer areas of the city, most of them unscathed by last year’s blood-jamboree, will be any safer than the working-class parts of town. When the full fallout of the Vicious Hate Parishad’s great “experiment” hits Gujarat, Ahmedabad will most likely become an unimaginable hell-hole. Given that, it seems unfair to inflict extra hardship on its citizens. Naipaul, on the other hand, is another matter.
An image comes up of the Brown Squire of Letters sitting, fuming and freezing in his study without any electricity, while some lunatic Orwellian town-planner gouges his lawns for a local underground. One may even add rampant bulldozers blundering into the great man’s famed wine-cellars. The thought may be a tad far-fetched but it is, nevertheless, delicious.
Old Vidiad- har Pompous-prasad now finds himself in a bit of a pickle: on the one hand he is a friend of Tarun Tejpal’s and on the board of Tehelka, and therefore, by implication, a strong advocate of putting this evil government through the wringer on administrative corruption and communal crimes; on the other hand he loves his fascists and seems to want to be chums with the main pin in the Bharatiya Janata Party hand-grenade, L.K. Advani. If one were to use a cricketing analogy, it’s a bit like someone bowling from one end and then sprinting hard down the pitch trying to overtake the ball in order to grab a bat and play it. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it would look absurd, as it does now.
This man, who has built his reputation by constantly pouring the acid of doubt on third-world politicians and petty despots, suddenly finds himself able to repose great faith in the assurances of Advani that Gujarat will not be repeated. Why' Because Advaniji is, after all, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Country and therefore should not be doubted! No doubt the same touching faith in this “valid”, “inevitable” and “understandable” “Hindu” “resentment” danced its raas in Naipaul’s head when, last year, he received a statue of Saraswati from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, barely days before they began their Gujarat operation.
After the Gujarat pogrom, all he had to say about the events was that it was the inevitable fallout of intellectuals abdicating from the leadership of the popular upsurge, that in this “vacuum” the mob was bound to take over. Obviously, before Gujarat, the VHP leaders felicitating him were not the “mob” but the “intellectual leaders” of the “Hindu rejuvenation”.
It is interesting to look at the biographical flip-charts of some of these recent intellectual converts to the “Hindu” cause. To take just two pertinent examples, there is the self-proclaimed atheist Naipaul who has also let himself be called “a Brahmin from Trinidad” (!) and, say, someone like my ex-acquaintance, Comrade Swapan Dasgupta, who has gone from being a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party in the United Kingdom to being a Trotskyite, to being a “young fogey” and the best cook of Beef Vindaloo in south Calcutta, to becoming the Hindu fascists’ chief champion in the English language press.
Both these knowledgeable “Hindu” gentlemen are grossly guilty of misusing the vidya they have gathered in their greed for fame and power. But what they don’t understand is that Ma Saraswati is the goddess of vivek, of discrimination, and of buddhi, intelligence. As he sits in his country seat (perhaps with Com. Dasgupta over a rare steak and a decent old red wine), I suggest that V.S. Naipaul watch his statue of Saraswati carefully.
While Saraswati is not an ugra, a wrathful, avatar of Shakti, she is closely connected to Ma Chandi who is not greatly tolerant of child-murder or gang-rape or even of the apologists of the people who carry out these acts. I am confident that once the consciousness of the majority of this country turns from the patient to the fearsome side of the Ma, there will be hell to pay for these so-called “Hindus”, these Rakshasiya Swayam Sevaks. In the meantime, I hold on to the image of the little TV flickering inside the pujo-ghor in the Ganguly house and hope against hope that the Ma will first deliver us the much smaller victory of the World Cup in South Africa.