Remember the World Cup Cricket of a few months ago? Remember the India-Pakistan match and the heightened shows of nationalism before, during and after the fixture? And the febrile celebration following the finals?
At about the semi-finals stage, I wrote a partly tongue-in-cheek blog:
One earnest Indian reader responded: “I hope you just die or suddenly disappear from the face of this planet.”
I hope so too, but have, as the poet said, “miles to go before I sleep”. That reader reflected what many, including some friends, were saying regarding the “importance” of the match against Pakistan and of the World Cup.
In an editorial headed “Cricket: Victory as Crisis”, the Economic and Political Weekly (Vol XLVI No.15 April 09, 2011)pointed to the “risks inherent in the deliberate marketing strategy of stoking patriotic fan-fervour in an unstable region where both popular sentiment and state policy are notoriously volatile. Gautam Gambhir’s thoughtless ‘dedication’ and Shahid Afridi’s convoluted ‘response’ provide an instructive example of the competitive jingoism that can ensue.” [For background on the Afridi, Gambhir comments: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/Afridi-slams-Indian-people-media/articleshow/7870575.cms?prtpage=1]
I invited a couple of my friends to share their thoughts on cricket and nationalism.
Pamposh Dhar in Singapore said what most sensible people would say:
“Supporting one team over the other is fun; it adds a little zing to the whole experience. Except, of course, when it isn’t fun; when it descends into abusing each other’s side and abusing each other; or into a brawl with bottles and worse; or the burning down of a stadium by angry supporters of the losing side. I am not an avid sports fan myself, but I do watch the odd cricket or football game. If India is playing, I tend to support ‘my team’ and ‘my country’. But if the opposing side plays well, then I don’t see why I can’t appreciate that. I remember many years ago, watching cricket (on TV) with my Mum. India vs Pakistan: high excitement on both sides. India were set to win, when Javed Miandad hit a sixer on the very last ball of the game and Pakistan won! Wow. Unbelievable.
“Was I not supposed to enjoy the moment because I’m Indian? I don’t think so. Because, yes, I’m Indian but that’s only one layer of my identity. At that moment, in fact, I was mostly a woman watching cricket with my Mum, enjoying the game and enjoying a shared activity with my mother. An Indian, a woman, a human being.
“We all have multiple layers of personality. We can choose to identify with a team, a country, a race, humanity. At times, I identify with the millions who share my experience as an Indian; at other times, I identify with the millions more who share my gender. Sometimes I identify myself with my fellow Kashmiris; or with fellow journalists and ex-journalists. So many layers… My strongest sense of group identity, though, is as a human being. Which is why I can’t understand the extreme nationalism often associated with team sports.”
Che Singh Kochhar-George, who is pursuing a PhD in law, approached the issue through the prism of his experience of living in Hong Kong. He’s been ID’d by Asia’s Finest six times in a space of four years from 2006.
“Not known for their subtlety or grasp of the politics of identity, I suppose it should have come as no surprise when a ‘routine’ stop and search … turned into a slanted interrogation along the lines of Norman Tebbit’s infamous cricket test. [On the Tebbit test, see for instance http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000CA906.htm] After a long stare at my Hong Kong ID card and noting my mixed Anglo-Indian name, the copper shot me a puzzled look. As one does in such situations, I asked in as polite a voice as I could muster whether there was a problem. [Che is the epitome of politeness, by the way.] To which he replied in all seriousness: ‘So you English or Indian?’ (Apparently being a Hong Kong resident was not enough.) Not knowing the correct answer (if indeed there was one), I replied without a hint of irony that I’m a Britisher of an Indian mother. Thankfully he didn’t get it and I was told in the time-honoured police tradition to move along please.
“However, not averse to a spot of cricket, all this got me thinking. In these days of globalisation, the powers that be in ‘Asia’s world city’ (like elsewhere) don’t seem to be coping very well with the multiple national identities a good many of us simply take for granted. Governments for various reasons (some legitimate, others anything but) seem ever more obsessed with making us choose along narrow ethnocentric lines of national loyalty. How can we and why should we when on some days (notably when England play the Aussies), I’m inclined to throw my lot behind Andrew Strauss and his crew, while on others it’s all about the sublime batting of Sachin et al. Though, mostly I’d wish the national teams would simply just go away and rename themselves along some post-state cosmopolitan lines so we could simply get on and enjoy the game West Indian stylee.”
Che mentions globalisation. In these globalised times, capital knows no nationality. It migrates at will. Migrant labour is seen as a nuisance. Workers are kept bound to flags, to national anthems and to cricket or football teams.
Why are we so blindly bound by loyalties based on the concept of nation-state set out in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 in a fragmented Europe, a Europe which, over the past 60 years has been trying to overcome the effects of intense nationalisms that have led to genocide (of not only Jews but of the Roma, who migrated from India but have been forsaken by Indians)? Why should civilisation-states such as those of India, Iran or China behave worse than upstarts of recent centuries?
Look at the straight lines in the political map of Africa, the straight lines dividing Algeria from Mali, Mali from Mauritania and Mauritania from Algeria. Who drew them and why should people living half a kilometre one side or other of these borders be bound to the flags, anthems and football teams in countries they are deemed “citizens” of? (Staying in Africa, Algeria and Egypt had a bitter falling out in 2009 over the outcome of some football matches and such was the tension that had they shared a border, their armed forces might have become mired in a Thai-Cambodian-style clash.) Add to the countries divided by straight lines those hemmed by rivers or mountain ranges. But then rivers are forded and mountain passes negotiated, enabling people to mix, procreate together and create common cultures.
I was happy to learn (via Dibyesh Anand on Facebook) that many Tibetans rejoiced with Indians over the cricket victory. But we Indians hate Kashmiri Muslims celebrating the Indian side’s losses or their waving the Pakistani flag. Oppressed Tibetans’ identification with the “enemy” of their “enemy” is halaal but oppressed Kashmiris’ identification with Pakistan for the same reason is haraam!
In 1985, while covering a conference in Sofia, I was sitting in between the renowned ex-editor of The Statesman, S. Nihal Singh, and a UNESCO official of Pakistani origin. The two chatted amiably in Punjabi and after a while the Pakistani gentleman asked whether I understood anything. I mumbled that some words were similar to Hindi (which South Indian students are forced to learn). The two of them had identical linguistic, cultural, culinary and other reference points despite being from two different NATIONS, but I had much less in common with my “compatriot”.
Benedict Anderson defines nation as “an imagined political community” (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, 1991). “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion”.
A communion in whose name they may die and kill.