Cricket and History #2

A Corner of a Foreign Field is giving me new insights into history and colonisation in every chapter I read. Today, I read about one of the early Indian college teams whose popularity is reminiscent of the fanatical following that the present Indian cricket team enjoys.

At the Mohemmadan Anglo-Oriental College, the English principal encouraged native students to form a cricket team. Soon, the team gained a lot of popularity and its exploits were followed with a fanatical zeal. The College soon became known for its cricket and its matches were watched with interest.

Some parents and patrons were, nonetheless, uncomfortable with or against the hold this foreign sport had on their students and community. They believed this love of cricket as ‘evidence … of an unhealthy subservience to the values and culture of the foreigner’. This when the College and its playing XI believed that cricket brought them closer to the colonisers and thus social advancement through increased associations with the Englishmen.

Although cricket began in the English countryside, its origins are prominent in urban India. Where the sport was once played in imitation of the colonisers, the natives soon became experienced players of the sport and internalised it completely. If you know anything about cricket in India today, you will know that it is considered religion (one that even unites all other religions) and cricketers are revered as gods.

What is interesting to note, historically speaking, is the fact that the colonisers first viewed cricket as something that connected them to and reminded them of their home country and allowed them to pass their time in more familiar pursuits, especially when their entire lives had been uprooted from England to India. The natives, in contrast, started off as simply imitating their colonisers and eventually developing a love of the sport itself.

However, this love and eagerness to learn and play cricket began to be viewed as the colonised peoples acceptance of the colonisers’ values and culture. Eventually, instead of acknowledging that the natives had learnt the sport by themselves and for themselves, ‘the rulers convinced themselves that they had actively preached the gospel, that they had taught Indians to play cricket’. Doesn’t this sound similar to so many other arguments for colonialism?

And yet, if you look at cricket in India today, it might just be difficult to convince people that its not an ‘Indian’ sport at all. It is countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa, all former English colonies, that have internalised the sport and produced some of the finest cricket players in the world. Players who, if records are collected, studied and believed, might even surpass some of the best English cricketers. Could such talent, skill, technique and fanaticism really be ‘taught’?

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Cricket and History #1

I’ve just started reading Ramchandra Guha’s A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport, which is an account of the origins and growth of cricket in India. I’ve only read a couple of chapters so far, but I’m already fascinated.

In the Introduction to the book, Guha writes about how the history of a sport can also highlight so much of the political history of a nation, and he sets about to show us just that.

One of the most interesting things I’ve read about in the book so far is the conflict between the cricket-playing native Parsees and the polo-playing Englishmen. The conflict was about the use of the Esplanade or Maidan that was not already taken over by the Bombay Gymkhana, which was an exclusively English club for cricket and other sports. The natives and the Englishmen fought over who could use the remaining space, and the main issue was that the ground was disturbed to a great extent by the ponies used in polo and this led to it being unsuitable or even dangerous for cricket.

After several ups and downs, the final verdict was that the Englishmen would be allowed to play polo for two days a week even though the natives protested consistently and strongly against it. The interesting fact is that polo is originally an Indo-Iranian sport and therefore much closer to the Indians than to the Englishmen and cricket is a native English sport. I thought that this dynamic was especially interesting.

This led me to think about how history is so wonderfully weird. At every stage, there are several influencing factors and what we know as history today could have been so different if even one of those miniscule and seemingly irrelevant factors had changed. What made a handful of Englishmen playing a foreign sport fight against hundreds of Indians who were also themselves playing a foreign sport? Could it be considered a ‘foreign’ sport if they had each internalised it to such an extent that they were willing to fight for the chance and space to play it? Or was this again only a matter of pride in the continuing conflicts between the coloniser and the colonised?

I am hoping for several more insights and revelations through this book, about cricket, the colonial situation, and about Indian politics in general. I might just share a few more of those in future.

Difficulties

Its so difficult when you don’t know what the future holds. You might say none of us ever do, and you are right. But I am talking about the more immediate future. When you don’t know what has gone wrong and you don’t know what you can do or even if everything will be okay (not better or the same as before, just okay, just there).

Its so difficult to figure out what steps you can take. You can see the problem, but the helplessness is so profound that its impossible to imagine a future where things might be okay.

When you see a loved one suffer and you wish you could take some of it yourself, when you see the obvious (and even the not-so-obvious) wrongs in the world but think that you are too insignificant to change anything, when every waking moment you try to tell yourself that everything is going to be okay but never believe it in your heart, when you wake up suddenly in a panic and see if the person next to you is still breathing, when you lose someone you love and have to rethink your entire life, and when a simple photo can bring up memories that you really don’t want to think about because you are invariably going to tear up…its so difficult.

And yet, you go on. You cry, you rant, you complain and scream, you bury all the sadness and unpleasantness in your heart, and you go on.

Ultimately, that’s what we have to do. We have to go on, we have to make new memories, we have to regain our confidence, we have to learn to let go…

Someday, sometime, someplace, maybe it’ll be better. And that maybe is our hope right now. So we cling to that hope and we go on. We have to.

Books = Friendship, Sharing, Happiness and a little Potato Peel Pie

You know how there are some books that make you smile just by thinking about them? There’s one I read recently that has stayed with me. As soon as I finished reading it, I told all my friends about it and insisted that they read it too. The one thing (other than my own love for the book) that convinced me of its awesomeness was my sister’s love for it (believe me, she is really choosy when it comes to books and appreciating some things). 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (isn’t that a really interesting name?) tells the story of a community of people living in Guernsey during the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II. Its a story about people’s everyday struggles during the war and about the beautiful relationships that were forged during those extremely difficult times. 

The novel follows a series of letters written by the characters to each other. The protagonist, Juliet Ashton, is a writer looking for a new subject to write about. She coincidentally receives a letter from Dawsey Adams who lives in Guernsey and whose letters introduce her to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Curious about the book club’s rather unique name, she continues her correspondence with Dawsey and learns about the other members of the club. The other members also eventually start exchanging letters with Juliet and she later visits Guernsey, where her interactions and new relationships with the people of Guernsey change the course of her life.

Although the novel describes a crucial period in the history of the war, the writing brings out the main issues surrounding war through subtle references and engaging dialogue. The characters are lively and each letter showcases the strengths of the character by whom it was written. 

Mary Ann Shaffer’s story, which was later reworked on by her neice Annie Barrows, is beautiful and the writing makes the characters memorable. Guernsey is now on my list of places to visit in life (which is a pretty long list and getting longer every day). 

It has been a long time since a book made me feel this happy. I particularly liked it because all the characters are connected by something I love too–books. Dawsey writes to Juliet because of a book and the other members meet regularly for a book club and share their stories. 

I am really glad to have found it. I have a colleague to thank for this because I got the book as part of our Secret Book Santa event in the company last Christmas. 

If you haven’t already read the book, I would highly recommend it. Its a book that I believe everyone can enjoy. 

PS. I hear there’s a movie adaptation of the book coming out soon, although I’m not sure I want to watch it because I love the book too much. 

New Beginnings?

Sometimes its so easy to articulate what you think or feel. You know the exact words to convey your thoughts. 

At other times, you have a jumble of thoughts in your head and its really quite chaotic, but you are at a loss for words. These thoughts then keep piling up and you go back and forth and back and forth until your head aches. 

What do you do in such a situation? 

This is a genuine question. I am definitely not giving an answer to it through this post. If anything, I am seeking one.

I believe that writing really helps put my thoughts together. But I don’t really feel inspired to write anymore. My last post for this blog was more than a year ago, and I have not found the motivation or the inspiration to write in all that time. I have so many things I can actually write about, thoughts that I could (should) put into words, but sometimes I feel that I just cannot muster up the energy to do so. So much has happened in all this time–only a year, although it seems far longer. 

Honestly, at times, writing about something that happened during this time almost seems like reliving it. That is one thing I cannot do. I don’t want to relive most of my past year; it really hasn’t been good. 

Rather, I would like to think and ponder over my future. Again, so many things to think about. I am actually quite excited about it, although I don’t want to be. Atleast not unless I know I will be able to do what I have in mind. I have learnt that planning too ahead of yourself is not always a good idea. Life has a way of reminding you that you cannot always control everything. It surprises you and makes you realise the value of what you have. 

For a time, I think I was afraid to even think about what I could do, even to dream. I still am. But I think if I can just be determined and strong enough, like my mom was, then I could do it. I just need that confidence back. I don’t think I’ve had that for some time now. 

But maybe this could be the start of something new…

PS. I thought this blog was as good as dead. But I have realised that that’s really up to me. So I think its definitely worth another shot. For myself atleast. I am going to try writing again. Maybe sporadically, but any writing right now is a good enough start. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

In search of Sher Khan: Day 3

Today we have a morning safari again. But we’ve decided to leave a little earlier. We leave at 5:30 because we know the gates of the Reserve open at 5:45. There are atleast 6-8 cars already there and our driver tells us we are late.
When the gates open we all go in. We start the safari along a familiar route. After only two safaris we have started recognizing our surroundings a little.
But, after our two tiger-less safaris, we don’t really know if today’s the day. But we still hope, just a little.
We are on our way when we encounter another jeep coming from the opposite direction. The two drivers exchange some words, softly spoken, difficult for us to understand.
The other jeep moves in the direction we’ve just come from. Our driver tells our guide something and he reverses the jeep to go back the way we came. Our guide tells us that there is a chance that the tigress in whose territory we are currently travelling in will make an appearance.
We reach the spot-incidentally, its the same spot where we waited for almost half an hour yesterday-we see the other jeep and the driver is gesturing with his hands-slow down, keep quiet he is telling us. We park our jeep behind his and our driver shuts the engine. He tells us they have heard a sambar deer’s warning call and the tigress is definitely on the move. We know that her cub is in the jungle to our right and the warning call came from the jungle to our left. She is coming is get her cub!
Behind us, a few more jeeps have arrived, there are now 6 jeeps. Everyone is standing on the top of their seats…cameras poised…eyes scanning the jungle on the left.
Our wait is finally over. The tigress comes, majestic and beautiful, her coat gleaming in the morning light. The cameras start clicking away. But she owns that moment, that place. After all, its her home and we are the intruders.
She walks across the road, never once glancing at the jeeps, as if they didn’t exist for her and so neither did we. She crosses the road and everyone is exultant. We’ve seen what we came for.
But wait, there’s still something going on. We see her cub through the bushes. The cub’s been waiting for its mother. She goes in and gets the cub. Its a little less than half her size, and she is quite large. The cub is not very small but still young enough to not go hunting on its own, still dependent on the mother.
The jeeps have reversed and are now in a straight line along the road in an attempt to get any glimpse possible of the tigress.
But we are lucky. She comes back out and this time the cub’s with her. Its beautiful too and already has the regality of a full grown tiger. It looks a little nervous though.

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With the jeeps lined up, there’s no way for her to cross. She waits.

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Our jeeps reverse further. After all, its her home and we are interfering, we have to move. The road is hers. We back up and she crosses between the jeeps, again never once glancing at us. Her cub keeps close to her, its probably never seen crazy people in huge jeeps with black instruments that make weird clicking sounds.
They both cross the road again and go into the bushes.
Everyone remains quiet, waiting for any further activity and also soaking in the moment, not quite believing their luck. But now she’s really gone. Our guide believes she has just made a kill and is taking her cubs to eat it. She has two cubs and probably one is already near the kill.
We move on. But we can’t get over the fact that after three safaris we have finally seen a tigress (and twice no less, with a cub!).
The last two safaris seem totally worth it.
In fact, we now think that not seeing a tiger in the first two safaris just made this experience that much more exciting.
We still have about two hours to go in our safari and we hardly realise their passing. We see some more peacocks, a mongoose, some deer, two eagles, a few vultures high up in a tree, many different birds, a herd of the Indian gaur, and a jackal.
Its been a very fruitful third safari. We meet many jeeps along the way. Our driver tells them to go towards the spot where we saw the tigress. Everyone moves there, full of hope. We hear later that the tigress was spotted again, crossing over and our guide believes that one of her cubs has wandered off and she’s looking for it. But he says she has gone in the direction where she lives so she probably won’t come out again.
He also tells us that she is 13 years old and has given birth to 22 cubs so far. The cub we saw was about 13-14 months old.
We are ecstatic about this last safari. We saw Mrs. Sher Khan!
Its was an unforgettable experience!
I have seen tigers before but only in the zoo. I have been on a safari where my parents tell me we saw a tiger, but I was too young to remember it. Today’s experience is now etched in my memory. Watching a tigress in the wild could never compare to watching one in the zoo.
Our trip to the Pench Tiger Reserve has been extremely rewarding 🙂

Photo credits: My sister.

In search of Sher Khan: Day 2

No luck today either.
We start the morning safari at 6 am. Its a pleasant morning,doesn’t feel like summer at all. There’s a cool breeze blowing, the sun hasn’t risen yet and the sky is clear. We laugh about how worried we were about the heat before arriving here.
We see a couple of peacocks, a little black and white bird, the size of a sparrow (I don’t know the name), a few more spotted and sambar deer.
Animal sightings are few today, we hardly see any. The jungle is quiet and appears asleep. But that’s not how its supposed to be.
We meet a few other jeeps sitting idle at a turning. We are told that there’s a chance that a tigress will be seen because the area is known to be her territory and the guides know that her cubs are deeper inside the jungle. The tigress is believed to have gone hunting or for a drink of water. We wait in anticipation, knowing the mother will soon return to her cubs.
More jeeps join us. Everyone is quietly scanning the jungle for any activity. But there’s nothing. Everyone is patient but the younger kids are getting restless. The other guides tell us what they’ve seen or heard. They claim to have heard a warning call.
All the jeeps move in that direction, but again there’s nothing. The sun is beating down on us now and temperatures have risen. Its the dry kind of heat, no moisure in the air at all.
Our driver suddenly stops at a turning, there’s one more jeep ahead of us, waiting. They are scanning the ground. Our driver points it out to us-a tiger’s paw print. Its right there in the dust on the side of the road, looks fresh too. But in these parts fresh could mean two hours old. The tiger may have moved far away by now.
We keep searching, but no luck.
Our safari’s coming to an end. We start moving towards the gate, tired and extremely hungry. We’ve been roaming for almost four hours and haven’t had any luck of seeing any new animals. The sun is making it hard for us to see straight ahead.
We exit through the gate and finish another safari without a glimpse of the national animal of India. One more safari to go before we leave.
Will tomorrow be our lucky day?