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’?


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.

In search of Sher Khan: Day 1

(I wrote this post last week, actually the following two posts as well. I couldn’t post this before because there was no internet connection and I wanted to add some photos too.)

Have you guys seen The Jungle Book yet? If you haven’t, please do. Its a very well made film and its quite an experience watching it on the big screen.
The Jungle Book has been a part of my childhood, as it has been for a few generations before me and as it will be for many generations to come. We have grown up with Mowgli and the film took me back to my childhood. My only regret would be not watching it in Hindi (yet) and so there was no ‘jungle jungle baat chali hai’.
But this post is not about the film. I am in Pench, Madhya Pradesh right now. It is a tiger reserve in Seoni, the home of Mowgli. The Seoni jungle is where The Jungle Book is based. We are here in search of the elusive Mr. (or Mrs.) Sher Khan.
We are going on our first safari here today.
Its an evening safari and we get in the gypsy at our hotel. Our guide tells us that there has been a tiger sighting in the morning safari, so we are pretty excited.
The jungle around us hardly looks like a jungle. The trees are spaced out and most of them do not have a single leaf on them. Dry, thin tree limbs reach out over the fading evening sky.


The heat is subsiding and the weather is pleasant. The gypsy leaves behind dust clouds as it moves on the road. Everywhere we turn, we see greys and dull yellows. Suddenly, a flash of brilliant blue makes us stop our jeep. A peacock struts into view. We are all amazed at the its colour. The blue that we term ‘peacock blue’ in paints and fabrics is nowhere close to the natural colour.


The first peacock garners some attention. But we soon realise that peacocks are very common in the jungle. Now, we don’t point out the next one we see but I am still marvelling at the colour.
We see many other birds too-owls, kingfishers, eagles, a tiger bird (so called because of its black and gold stripes), and many others I don’t know the names of.


We see a pack of wild dogs, jackals and their cubs, sambar, hards of spotted deer, nilgai, bisons and monkeys.





The jungle is alive around us and we keenly listen to its various sounds.
We go towards the river where animals gather for water. The area around the river is open and almost flat. We see storks and other birds near the water, along with a herd of deer.
But we don’t see the black and gold stripes.
We move on to another track and see another peacock. But this one has its tail feathers unfurled and it looks beautiful and graceful. We think it signals rain and as if on cue we hear distant thunder. Soon, the sky becomes cloudy, lightning flashes and huge, cold raindrops spatter on our faces. The wind picks up and blows dust all around us. The dry leaves on the ground are rushing away in the wind. The jungle is filled with the sounds of the rustling of leaves, the thundering and the rain.


Our safari is almost at an end. We enjoy the weather as we move towards the exit gate.
Sher Khan has managed to remain hidden.
Our search continues…

Photo Credits: My sister, my dad and well, me 🙂

The game we love

Cricket fever is back! Well, if you live in India I guess you could say it never really goes away but anyway. The last few months haven’t been great for the Indian cricket team and definitely not for the Indian cricket fan. Very very honestly, I don’t want to hope too much.
But its the ICC Cricket World Cup! If you’re a true cricket follower you can’t really help being excited, and so I am too. Super excited, in fact!!
Its going to be a month of some great matches, there are bound to be some shocks and revelations too. But its all part of the game and I can’t wait for it to start 🙂
The last World Cup gave us Indians some really fond memories (hopefully, this one will too).
You see, even if I say I’m not hoping too much, I am eternally optimistic (as all Indian cricket fans tend to be eventually). So here’s wishing the Indian team best of luck! Fingers crossed for some great games 🙂
Until the next post.


It has been a couple of weeks since my last post…that’s not very good, is it? But I have been busy, even if it has been a very small vacation. That is one thing that has greatly disappointed me actually. I didn’t even get a month free this year. Three weeks does not count as a summer vacation! Anyway there’s nothing I can do about that, so forget about it.

My exams went pretty well, or atleast I think they did and even though I am complaining about my vacation, or rather the lack of it, I am excited to start the next semester. Another thing I should confess right away, I have no idea what this post is about. I am just writing random thoughts and hoping it will all magically make sense in the end. I am trying out something new but I won’t talk about it now. If I think it is good enough I will definitely let you guys know.

I read this article in the Times of India today about how there is this cultural exchange happening between India and Brazil. many Brazilians who have visited India have learnt Indian dance forms, or musical instruments and how these artistes perform in Brazil which is why many things Indian have gained a lot of popularity. I always wonder what kind of an image India has in the world. I am not talking about the political or social image but more precisely the cultural image. More relating to Indian arts and languages. I know that many works of literature are translated and performed in many countries around the world but I have always wanted to ask people what they thought about the culture in India. The reason is simply because I am curious to know how people look at my country. India is not simply spirituality and spices. there is so much more to it than that. I think people who have actually visited would know better about this than anyone else. In Edward Said’s Orientalism he talks about how Western countries have an image of the Eastern countries based on books they read, for eg. But, he says that this image is not necessarily true. That is, according to me, the ‘spirituality and spices’ image of India.

Now, I have never had an opportunity to talk to people from other countries about all this.It is just something I think about, that’s all. But I always find these stories of cultural influences around the world interesting. According to the article, words like ‘pao’ (bread), ‘batata’ (potato), ‘chave’ (key), ‘tualia’ (towel) have come from the Portugese who were the major link between Brazil and India. There is also a dish called ‘Sarapatel’ which is cooked in, both, the Konkan region of Maharashtra and southeastern Brazil. Isn’t that great? There are more things in common with cultures around the world than we know. A friend of mine who went to Canada for an internship recently told me that she met so many students and professors there who were researching on India for their doctoral thesis. It’s just that you think you are so different from people from another country, and you most certainly are, but there are also so many things which connect you to each other. I think that is what makes the world such an amazing place.

I think I’ll stop here before the post goes in some completely different direction. And I know I have said this before but I really will try to write more often. I have a few ideas usually about what I want to write about. But today I just wrote about the first thing that interested me, probably because I wanted to remind you, and me, that this blog was still alive 🙂


Language Matters


I haven’t written in almost a month! But I’ve been really busy. It’s the end of the semester and we have last-minute lectures and assignments and what not to do.

I have started realizing a lot of things since I started my course and I am really surprised actually that all of it has been right under my nose and I have never paid attention to it. You know, like we climb the stairs to our classes every single day and we have no idea how many stairs there are or we see a picture in our house everyday and never even realize some detail in it which is right in the centre of it. Something as simple and normal as, say, language. There has been a lot of change in the way I look at language today and the way I looked at it (more like ignored it) till last year. It is just something I took for granted, a means to communicate, nothing about the nuances of it.

Almost everyone around me is, atleast, bilingual. I live in a country where knowing more than two languages is not a big deal. People speak many, many different languages and each language has many more dialects. I hear Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, English, Tamil, Malayalam and quite a few more in the train everyday. It’s true that I don’t understand everything but I understand enough to get an idea as to what the conversation is about. The language that connects all of these is, obviously, English. English has almost become an Indian language now, nobody learns it as a ‘foreign’ language. If it weren’t for English it would have been really difficult for people to communicate because imagine how difficult it would be if we had to learn every single language spoken in India! But all of the Indian languages are just so beautiful. Every language has subtleties that add a special something to them, make them different from the others.

There was this Sahitya Sammelan (literary meet) in our university a couple of months back. I think I have mentioned it in one of my earlier posts too. But anyway. There were writers from five different languages-Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and English-who spoke to us over three days. And it was an amazing experience! I can understand English, Hindi and Marathi quite well but Gujarati and Sanskrit not so much. But it was fun. Especially hearing Sanskrit. I have studied a bit of Sanskrit in school and so I can read it and understand a little. But I had never before heard people speaking it, as we speak all the other languages I mean. It sounded so good to the ears even though I could not understand most of it. And I was very glad to hear that contrary to popular opinion people still learn and write in Sanskrit. There are many young Sanskrit poets and the epic form of the poem is very popular amongst these poets.

Speaking of poetry, I am doing three poetry papers this semester and one of them has Indian poetry from different languages translated into English. But, you know the saying ‘Lost in Translation’, I agree with it, atleast when it comes to poetry. Every time I read a poem I think about how much better it would sound in the original language. Interestingly though I have read three novels in translation too this semester and I have not felt the same thing about novels. That’s probably because I wouldn’t have understood them in the original languages anyway 😛 It happens with the poetry probably because I know I can understand the point better in the original language.

In translation there are so many things that are missing. Every language uses images and metaphors in a different way. So when a poem is translated from, say, Hindi into English, the words and images that mean one thing in Hindi may mean something completely different in English leading to the poem being interpreted in various ways. I think a translator’s job is extremely difficult but also immensely interesting. I would love to try translating something once. Maybe I will 🙂

It feels so good to ramble on about things that you really enjoy learning and doing, isn’t it? But my ‘resolution’ to write about these wonderful things has really gone down the drain. Plus I have exams coming up.

Until the next post then, it will be when it will be 🙂