Category Archives: Racial Boundaries

Fire In Babylon, New York City Screening

Via Peter Della Penna of DreamCricket (and a fellow N.J. resident), comes exciting news about Fire in Babylon, the documentary of West Indies cricket (long anticipated by Samir Chopra):

“Fire in Babylon” premiered at the London Film Festival in October. It also appeared at the Glasgow Film Festival in February and the Adelaide Film Festival in March. The first of four screenings at Tribeca will take place on Saturday April 23 at 8:30 p.m. Riley hopes that sports fans and non-sports fans in New York will view the film with equal satisfaction.

Timings and logistics available here. “It was like slaves whipping the asses of the masters.” Before India, before Pakistan and before Sri Lanka, there was the West Indies. See you all there! Trailer:


Indian IPL Cheerleaders

From Times of India:

Pune Warriors, during their Indian Premier League (IPL) encounter with Delhi Daredevils on Sunday, unveiled a new concept at the D.Y. Patil Sports Complex by replacing cheergirls with traditional Indian ‘Cheer Queens’ to goad on the team.

The concept is a brainchild of Sahara India Pariwar’s Managing Worker Chairman Subrata Roy. Indian girls dressed in designer ethnic dance costumes to cheered for the Pune Warriors, who are having a great run in their maiden IPL season.

Like Amy S. (forever missed), I generally opposed the presence of cheerleaders on or near the cricket field. The game already suffers from a terrible gender deficit (please! More on-air female commentators, and more female umpires!), and I didn’t feel placing women as eye-candy was the way to fix it. That said, an equally difficult problem was that all the cheerleaders were white, a decision obviously born out of a complex mix of marketing and nationalism. IPL organizers could satisfy the male gaze and local feminists by saying they were protecting Indian women, at the expense of the foreigners’.

Which, of course, is a terrible discourse to perpetuate. Allowing Indian men to cheer on white women isn’t the answer — and I’m not sure I much prefer the traditional Indian alternative described above. But it’s a terribly difficult thicket here: on the one hand, I don’t want to sound like right-wing demagogues, who oppose female cheerleaders because they see any role for women outside the kitchen as inappropriate. On the other hand, it’s galling to see shots of scantily clad white women dancing in front of all those male Indian eyes, like some terrible reversal of colonial edicts. What’s the answer?

The Danger Of Indian Cricket Nationalism

Everyone’s raving about Wright Thompson, the American cricket-stranger who wandered around India during the World Cup. Regular readers know I’m skeptical about non-cricket fans writing about the game, but tackling it from a foreigner’s perspective does bring out different tones among sources. It’s one thing to talk to another Indian about the game; it’s another completely to explain it to a (white?) American.

Read, for e.g., what Rahul Bhattacharya had to say:

“The aggression, the brashness,” says Bhattacharya, the cricket writer turned novelist. “It’s now something which Indians see that this is what we have to do to assert our place in the world. We’ve been f—ed over for thousands of years. Everyone has conquered us. Now we’re finding our voice. We’re the fastest-growing economy in the world. We are going to buy your companies. Our cricket team is like going to f—ing abuse you back, and we’re going to win and we’re going to shout in your face after we win. People love that.”

That’s just awful. It’s ironic that in our bid to express our long-suppressed voice, we end up sounding so much like our conquerors. Why is there such a fascination with the Australian way of playing, with all its talk of mental disintegration and toughness? Why must we lose our sense of play and of fun for the sake of winning? Why must we lose our own distinctive style?

Martha Nussbaum, another (white) foreigner has diagnosed this trend very well:

[As] I’ve noted, the traditions contain a wound, a locus of vulnerability, in the area of humiliated masculinity. For centuries, some Hindu males think, they were subordinated by a sequence of conquerors, and Hindus have come to identify the sexual playfulness and sensuousness of their traditions, scorned by the masters of the Raj, with their own weakness and subjection. So a repudiation of the sensuous and the cultivation of the masculine came to seem the best way out of subjection. One reason why the RSS attracts such a following is the widespread sense of masculine failure.

When Foreign Reporters Tackle Cricket

Kirk Semple of The New York Times had a tough assignment: wake up at 5 a.m., and watch a bunch of South Asians enjoy the India-Pakistan semifinal. The result isn’t pretty — the lede made me cringe:

If there seemed to be a shortage of taxis at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, one possible reason was apparent on the streets of Jackson Heights in Queens.

Ugh. The rest of the article is better, but still mildly annoying. The fans come across as almost insane (“he…excitedly rocked back and forth…”), and Semple treats the exercise like an anthropologist venturing into Papua New Guinea (no one “expected any trouble among the customers”). There’s also the usual question any Western reporter must ask a cricket fan: how do you deal with the game’s duration?

The trouble with the India-Pakistan storyline, compelling as it may seem to Western editors, was that it completely overpowered any real discussion of the game itself. If you read comparable coverage of soccer World Cup fans, articles tended to note their passion, but also their reactions to the actual sporting event (e.g., I don’t like X player; I don’t think this team will do well; I’m frustrated by Y move…). But most Western reports of the semifinal have tended to emphasize the cultural element of the game — as if people enjoying a sport is not a universal human trait.

Cricket fans, a couple of tips when talking to reporters: a) Do not say the words “cricket is a religion.” Just don’t. It’s a cliche, it’s not true and it confuses the hell out of Westerners and b) Try slipping in snide comments about American football or baseball.

Cricket Combating Crime in L.A.

Incredible story from The Sun: a non-profit engages at-risk youth in Los Angeles by teaching them the virtues of cricket.

Player-coach Ted, 59, said: “We caught these guys in their teens. At that age in Compton they can get into the hardcore gang stuff. The gang situation is like a magnet – it draws them in.

“We have lost a couple. Some have gone back to the streets and two have been killed. We have not only taught them the sport but also the etiquette. Other sports have rules and regulations but there is a superior level of respect in cricket.

“It has a civilising quality. That’s what makes it the king of sports.”

One of the team members elaborate:

Ricardo says of the game that he loves: “You don’t argue with the umpire – you have to have discipline and respect, just like life.”

I’m wary of any story that emphasizes the “civilising” virtues of a sport — let’s not resurrect Kipling or Macauley if we don’t have to, please — but such a strange antidote. Cricket? For gangs? In Los Angeles?

What To Take Away From The Commonwealth Games

I don’t care that much about the India’s troubles with the Commonwealth Games. Well, let me clarify — I do care that the exercise has been riddled with corruption and inefficiency, but I don’t care as to what it may or may not mean for India’s “honor” or reputation. If it were up to me, the games would have been held elsewhere, not least because India has more pressing concerns than whether or not it can organize an athletic stadium or not.

I make this point because one hears a similar argument — the National Honor Argument, I call it — when India’s cricket team ends up in some controversy or the other. (See “The Sydney Test” as prime e.g.) Obviously, it’s easy — and perhaps right — to take pride when your national team bests others, but it’s not clear whether the results says anything about your nation’s character or history or future.

The Economist put this more succinctly in its cover story this week. E.g.:

No doubt a strong central government would have given India a less chaotic Commonwealth games, but there is more to life than badminton and rhythmic gymnastics. India’s state may be weak, but its private companies are strong. Indian capitalism is driven by millions of entrepreneurs all furiously doing their own thing. Since the early 1990s, when India dismantled the “licence raj” and opened up to foreign trade, Indian business has boomed.

The IPL Cheerleader Question (2)

Kanishk Kapoor makes some very good points about IPL’s dubious sexual politics:

But I can’t just grit my teeth or laugh it off. Regular viewers of the IPL are now familiar with the sight of leering spectators separated from the cheerleaders in some stadiums by cage-like fences, an image that brings the cricket arena uncomfortably close to a zoo. It is the larger dichotomy suggested by this unfortunate image that I find troubling, that of Indian men ogling mostly white, non-Indian women. All too common in India is the belief in the licentiousness of foreign women. In recent years, stories of sexual violence against tourists in India have proliferated, a tragic byproduct in some cases of the impression that foreign women are naturally promiscuous. While I wouldn’t draw a direct line between IPL cheerleaders and such incidences, the very nature of IPL cheerleading as a spectacle feeds deeper, insidious notions about race and sexuality in India.

The paucity of Indian cheerleaders tells its own story. In a country where an entire film industry is sustained by beautiful women dancing, it is hard to believe that the appropriate “talent” is missing. The choice made by IPL organisers in this regard suggests, first, the unsettling marketing conclusion that Indians really just want to see white skin. Second, and perhaps more troubling still, it suggests a quiet acquiescence to the view of the conservative elements of society that Indian women are somehow more sacred and less carnal than their western counterparts. Not for them the tight tops and bared thighs of IPL cheerleading. Just like the licentious foreign woman, the idea of the modest Indian woman is closer to fiction than truth. It is the kind of fantasy that animates attacks on girls who had the “audacity” to have a drink at a pub (as happened in Mangalore last year). It is an ideal that masks the sexual violence perpetrated against Indian women on a daily basis (an issue about which I have written in these web pages before).

The IPL Cheerleaders Question

I don’t know who Tanya Aldred is, but she makes a good point about the IPL cheerleaders on Cricinfo:

2 Why are the cheerleaders all white? Aren’t there any Indian dancers? Surely they could dress in a culturally acceptable way if crop tops are not considered de rigeur. Or wouldn’t they be Caucasian enough to attract the American market? Am I missing something obvious here?

I’ve addressed my own concerns with the cheerleaders here. There are two ways to be bothered about them: the first is the sexism question (cheerleading turns women into objects, especially in the context of cricket, which has absolutely no role for women, not even as umpires). The second is the post-colonial question, which Aldred touches on: why adopt an American tradition in India, and that too in an all-white reincarnation? (You have to be careful about this line of attack, lest you find yourself next to some parochial Shiv Sainik going on about the dangers of Valentine’s Day. I think there’s a difference, of course, between a couple voluntarily choosing to do something on a particular day, and a mass audience being exposed to images on television while trying to watch a cricket game.)

Hitler And Cricket

Via Alex Massie, this delightful article talks about Hitler’s brief brush with cricket. The game apparently didn’t suit the Fuhrer, who thought it wasn’t sufficiently masculine:

“He had conned over [sic] the laws of cricket, which he considered good enough no doubt for pleasure-loving English people. But he proposed entirely altering them for the serious- minded Teuton.” Specifically, he “advocated the withdrawal of the use of pads. These artificial ‘bolsters’ he dismissed as unmanly and un-German . . . in the end he also recommended a bigger and harder ball.”

The article raises a more difficult question: is cricket inherently democratic? Given that its spread depended on decidedly imperialist origins, cricket may not be the best candidate for liberalism. (My American friends uniformly bring up this point when they ask how I, of an Indian origin, can like the colonizer’s game.) And, really, you don’t want to give cricket too much credit lest you fall into all that nonsense about “civilizing discourse” and “White Man’s Burden.”

But Desmond Tutu made the case for cricket best last year, when he told an English audience that “you drummed into us what the world saw as ‘fair play’ and what is not ‘fair play.’” What separates cricket from others is its insistence on good manners, which is why it’s disheartening to see defenses of Graeme Swann swearing at a Bangladeshi batsman. There are other elements, of course, like the appeals process: in other games, a referee can make a decision spontaneously; in cricket, an appeal must be made first.

Think, also, about cricket accommodates and pacifies violence. You’re allowed to bowl a ball at a batsman’s head, but only twice in one over. And your object should be to test a batsman’s reflex, not kill him (this isn’t the case in, say, American football or ice hockey or perhaps even rugby, where the violence is an end in itself).

A Partial Defense of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan

I’ve said before — again and again, in fact — that I don’t like Siva.

My animus boils down to one big thing: Siva comes across as a person impersonating a commentator, rather than an actual commentator. He knows the textbook things to say, and he dutifully says it, but that doesn’t necessarily make for good television. Ravi Shastri, for instance, understands the dynamics of drama — “Now this should be interesting!” — and he knows how to manipulate his voice and tone appropriately.

But I must say I appreciate Siva in certain aspects: first, the guy knows spin. I didn’t know he coached spinners until the recent series against South Africa, when he also simply and quickly demystified the googly (“As a batsman, if you see the bowler’s back of the hand, you know it’s a googly.”). That might be common knowledge to others, but it wasn’t to me. (And it isn’t to A.B. DeVilliers either, apparently.)

Second, Siva is unmistakably a dork. That too an Indian dork: he has oil in his hair, he’s kind of demure and wears big glasses. But I realized the other day how rare that is to see on television, where only the perfectly made-up people, or cricket legends, are allowed access. The thing is, while Siva may not banter easily or show much hints of originality, he still seems more sincere than, say, Sunil Gavaskar, whose jet black-dyed hair and perfectly accented English occasionally annoys me (especially when he harshly scolds onfield cricketers for some cricket foible or the other).

Also, I think my dislike stemmed from a post-colonial insecurity. Siva’s accent used to make me cringe; the way he can’t say words like “aggression” without tripping over it. That relates to my own insecurity as an Indian in America, where I learned the difference between the ‘v’ and ‘w’ and had to deal with the Apu jokes. I wonder: why do I find Geoff Boycott’s Yorkshire accent charming, but Siva’s own embarrassing?

So, keep your job, Siva. I still prefer Ravi over you, but, really, I’m not that impressed with the rest of Neo Cricket’s crew.