• Saurabh Nagpal

Dissent in a very limiting (play)ground


 

Listen to Iqbal Bano's performance of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's timeless protest poem, Hum Dekhenge while reading this piece. https://open.spotify.com/track/2k0WWTywTT1r591Zo7GI0r?si=K_oGI_anRWWKcph8G5Qtmg

 


PART I


In India, Cricket is not a sport, rather a religion.


This saying might be a cliché but it is, by no means, untrue. The country is absolutely mad about the game. It is religiously played and watched in each and every nook and corner of the land. Every year there is an almost two month long mega extravaganza in the form of the Indian Premier League. The emotional input that runs near the saturation level throughout the year, believe it or not, reaches the sky during the World Cup. Cricketers aren’t merely celebrities. They are near-Gods. They are worshipped. They, by the virtue of their position, have it in them to shape the life of an individual and even alter their worldview. Now, that is power.


Like the uncountable other kids in my gully, my colony, my state and my nation, I, a young kid of nearly 7, also fell for the sport. Not a day would go by when I wouldn’t drag my father to bowl to me. I wished to be like my hero, the one who inspired me to be blinded by the game, Rahul Dravid. The innocence of kids lets them live in the fantasy world. My fantasy was to play at the game at the highest level. My entire world revolved around this sport.

Years passed on. The enjoyment part mixed up with the practicalities of the career. Resolve to pursue my dream remained, but it didn’t seem quite as straightforward as in my formative years. My mates, with whom I continued to practice in my academy over the years, had similar dreams. Like me, they too were ready to sweat it to achieve their dream.


In this long, beautiful journey, the days of frustration, anger, and regret were far more than the happy and successful days. Being in a constant, relentless contact with a thing, a thing which might be very dear to you, can be quite taxing. You begin to develop a love-hate relationship with it because often the expectations you demand from it are way too high. There are times when you feel that you are done with it. Yet after a certain period of time of not indulging in it, you realise that you exceedingly miss it. Maybe as a coping mechanism, as a means of switching off, as a way of dealing with the ‘hate’ days or maybe out of mounting maturity, I began to realize that there was a world outside the cricket field. My mind started to “de-cricketise” when I was not in the vicinity of the field.


We grew up in a society which doesn’t rate diversity of thought and under a schooling system that wishes to create cogs in machinery rather than individuals who question the continuing, accepted norms of the society. It isn’t easy to unlearn the values that are thrust upon us from all the sides. I don’t wish to hint that I am well set on the path of social enlightenment but yes, I did realise the importance of attempting to question the things happening around me instead of bluntly taking them in. I view, strange as it may sound, “de-cricketising” as my first step towards unlearning the forced education.


PART II


Almost all the actions that are performed are affected by or are a direct/indirect consequence of the politics of our world. Same goes for the relationship between politics and sport. Many a times, powerful political statements have been made by athletes in big sporting events that have a global outreach. Cricket, especially cricket in India, however, wishes to remain ‘apolitical’. It, obviously, ignores the reality that being apolitical is very much a political stance and, that too, a very dangerous one.


Following the normative, I, till the age of 16-17, also had an apolitical approach towards life, which amongst many other things prevented me from educating myself about the happenings in the world. My entire focus was on playing well and managing my school studies. Luckily, in my home, my two elder sisters didn’t let me be entirely oblivious to the going-ons of the society.


I found a source of an alternative perspective, definitely a more empathetic one, about the general ‘debates’ that would get popular via the mainstream TV or newspapers, but I don’t think that most of the people I dealt with, my teammates whom I played with, got one.

In the last year of school and more so with entering college, I found much needed exposure and my political awakening continued (and is still continuing). The professors, the debates and discussions amongst my peers, the diversity and an overall socio-cultural-political atmosphere that college provides and provided made me questions things which I otherwise would have not. It made me view events from a different and a very important angle.


I began to apply my developing political consciousness to all spheres of my life and especially cricket. I would now notice the things to which I was oblivious before. My observations would often pinch me, make me uncomfortable. The things which seemed opaque earlier now became transparent. The things that were talked about, laughed on and even performed in my cricket circle were highly problematic. I can easily recall multiple instances which brought to light the prevalent and widespread homophobia; Islamophobia; misogyny; hyper-masculinity; jokes degrading lower castes; and jingoism among other issues. However, what was problematic in a graver degree was that such behaviour was exceedingly normalised. Dissent, in any form, was not only disregarded but the dissenter became an object of severe ridicule. The saddest part was that there weren’t many dissenters. Almost everyone was in sync with what was only normal to them. When things would become unbearable for my sanity and intolerable for my values, I would take a stand against them. It wasn’t of much avail in such a space, but it gave me the hope that these people would realise that there exists an alternative understanding of the way we live. I wished that my objection would, in the very least, unsettle their privilege to some extent.


Taking a stand, for what I believed in, also empowered me to continue in the alienating space because continue, I had to. After all, I couldn’t stop playing cricket, something which I absolutely adored, because the atmosphere was toxic. Persisting there became my everyday rebellion. A seemingly insignificant one but personally it carried great worth.


PART III


Coming to the contemporary times, the times of a draconian regime, of a fascist government, of arbitrary internet shutdowns, of suppression of freedom of speech, of brutal state-sanctioned violence on students and citizens, of shockingly similar patterns found in Hitler’s era. Such times!


In the backdrop of such a massive socio-political mayhem, disruption of an already sustaining-on-a-thin-line peace of mind was most obvious. The enormity of the state’s power and control to go along with their heartlessness and utter inhumanity made me feel helpless and powerless.


The united struggle of different sections of society from all over the nation, however, instilled a degree of hope within me. I found a means of inspiration to do whatever I could, in my capacity, for the cause I supported whether it be educating myself about it, starting discussions amongst the people I knew, sharing relevant information, exposing the cruelty of the state (which it tried to hide) on social media or showing solidarity by adding to the numbers and joining the protestors on the streets.


The naïve I also hoped that since the severity of the situation was so high that the stars from my field, the heroes who are worshipped and have the power of influencing lives would finally shatter their glass of remaining apolitical and take the right stand. Sadly, that was not to be the case. The Virats and the Rohits kept mum.


Similarly, I thought that my peers, my teammates, at least now, wouldn’t remain so indifferent. They would try to raise their voice or maybe just look beyond the mainstream media and educate themselves on why the protestors were protesting. Disappointment awaited me again. I was truly astonished by their lack of empathy. Having conversations with them made me realise that they really wanted to remain in their bubble. I thought of them as self-conceited. I understand the importance of one’s career and passion but sometimes looking at life from a larger perspective is much more important. Instead of the country’s political situation, they were bothered more about why was I spamming their social media accounts!


The reaction of the cricket industry deeply troubled me. I had belonged to it for more than a decade and this was not my reaction. This was not what I supported. This was not my stance. I had to try to make sense of it.


Like the international players, the people I play with, also go into the intricacies of the game. They acutely analyse their technique, their performance and perform all the other things that a good player ought to. Efforts are made to think out of the box, think unconventionally. Cricket is a lot about adapting to the situation and having immense mental determination. Players can succeed even with eccentric, alternative approaches to different aspects and skills of the game. Therefore, it is not like these people do not have the ability to comprehensively study and evaluate a game or an event. It is more to do with their thinking that politics of the nation or the world is not their ball game. This belief stops them from making the extra effort of reading up and bypassing the propaganda of mainstream media.


Existing in an atmosphere where people disregarded my opinions but more so they went on to disregard humanity, made me feel alienated, estranged and even enraged. However, I also learnt that to keep on resisting in such a limiting space was nothing but my duty, under the circumstances. I had to make them feel uncomfortable about their rigid opinions. I had to keep on persisting. The fact that my love for the game never died out, despite of everything, helped me a lot. Cricket, in a manner, became my true companion.


My father would often say to me that to reach anywhere substantial in the field, I’d have to be different and stand out. I wasn’t able to stand out the way he wanted, but I think I did stood out (I wish I didn’t have to stand out) in a way he never expected me to. I will be forever grateful to the game because, in a way, it taught me to stand up for what’s right even if not many stand with you, it encouraged me to commit thoughtcrimes and try to look beyond the prescribed pattern of thinking and it forced me to dissent in a very limiting (play)ground.


#Cricket #Politics

 

Much thanks to Anindita Chowdhury for the beautiful cover artwork.