Cricket – Sachin Tendulkar and the Subaltern

I love the contradiction and irony of this.

Source: Times of India

We have the greatest batsman in the history of cricket on the one hand, making history yet again by becoming the highest run-getter in Test Cricket.

Juxtaposing that individual brilliance is the Sensex (Indian Stock Market) dipping below 10 K yesterday thanks to the US-led global financial meltdown.

Congratulations to the Master Blaster for succeeding where neo-liberal markets have failed; after all markets are not for ‘uniting’ peoples or nations, and building solidarity. However, employing the legend of Sachin Tendulkar is a win-win game for global capitalism even if the Sensex does not show it.

Such is the strength of the human spirit and national pride, that the Indian media called Sachin Tendulkar ‘King of the World’ and announced that 1 BILLION Indians are celebrating this proud moment. It was a moment of ‘national unity’ maybe even Pan-Indian unity, in the midst of a financial crisis that has bankrupted businesses, left thousands jobless and worried about their future. I can only speak for myself; sick, hungry and fasting all the way in the United States but up at 2am to see the historic moment.

I don’t know how the subaltern feels about Sachin Tendulkar and this historic moment. Tendulkar is the Mahatma Gandhi of Indian cricket — his story, his legend perpetuates the Indian space as a universal solvent or solution for caste divisions, religious differences and communalism. From an industrialized-nation standpoint, cricket is considered a ‘subaltern sport’ and mistakenly-so.

We can hardly call it subaltern in the world of corporate sponsorship and ownership. Cricket was part of the colonial seduction, the colonial paraphernalia of the British Raj and co-option by Indians was of the utmost importance to British empire. It was only through making Indians part of the game, making them consumers of yet another colonial product that an elitist sport, considerably a ‘gentleman’s game’ like cricket instead of kabaddi or gulli danda, became a national sport, a site for national glory.

As a legacy of British colonialism, cricket presents a strong critique of the term ‘post-colonialism.’ After all, how post-colonial can India be as a country if it has simply adapted a British sport and turned it into the national sport of India?

If anyone is interested, some good articles/books on this topic are here:

I may compile more later.

What’s even more problematic and fascinating is how immigrants from decolonized nations have continued to celebrate and glorify cricket as their sport. In the United States alone, there are 36 established leagues, 650 clubs and 12,000 senior players mostly of South Asian and West Indies descent. Here are some excerpts from an article on the immigrant-cricket diaspora:

“Cricket is a unifying sport. There are people from different backgrounds…once you start playing the game with different folks from different cultures you realize that we’re not that far apart. It’s called a gentlemen’s game. The perception of the game was premised on being a gentlemen and having good manners… there’s a discipline in the game that you take with you off the field.

Cricket originally spread through British colonization. While the history of colonialism and monarchical rule leaves mixed memories for many, most can agree that cricket is one legacy for which they can thank the British.

I suppose my problem with this has less to do with the post-colonial aspect than the seduction that ensues as the game becomes more corporate.

The success of the Master Blaster, the darling of the national media today (and its scorn when he has a bad day), is yet another wanton distraction. The media is selling the product and we are simply consuming without questioning. Lost once again, in the meta-narrative of this legendary tale, is the voice of the subaltern.

The seduction continues, albeit in a new way by a new agent.

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Filed under Desi, Neo-Liberalism, Sports