Batting for peace

SPORT is an unfailing cause of ill-will, George Orwell argued. And that’s often true, but not entirely.

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Published: Sat 16 Apr 2005, 10:22 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:27 PM

True, there is something inherently unsettling about an India-Pakistan cricket match — the overbearing, tangible tension, the primal outpouring of emotion and the assumption that the pride and honour of an entire nation rests upon the twenty-two men on the field.

The media, unfailingly and almost perversely, adds to the emotions, talking of the game as a metaphor for war. Matches are often described as “battles”, and teams are often said to have been “butchered, battered, demolished and routed”. No wonder Orwell saw it as ‘mimic warfare’.

His explanation: sport by nature is competitive, and involves winning or losing, and thus pride. A sport between nations, thus, takes on larger proportions, as it involves national pride — much as war would.

But yet there is something inherently positive achieved by such passionate encounters — the people-to-people contact and the promotion of peace and goodwill.

“I find it hard to articulate the sort of love the man of the street in Pakistan reserves for an Indian,” wrote Rahul Bhattacharya from Pakistan, during his visit across the border in 2004 with the Indian team for the historic tour. “It is a twinkle in the eye, a warm glow, an insistence to help, to feed, to organise, to extend fully in every possible way what we soppily refer to as the human bond.” Why should Bhattacharya have been surprised? Diaspora everywhere nurtures a strong attachment, a hospitability towards its own.

For Indians and Pakistanis, though, the people of the other nationality have been dehumanised, through decades of mutual distrust and nationalistic propaganda. The media has its share of responsibility, but popular cinema has been the biggest villain.

Cricket has been the only saviour. Thousands of Indian fans, who crossed over to Pakistan in 2004 returned with fond tales of warmth like Bhattacharya. And the Indians were equal in hospitality when Pakistani fans poured into Punjab at the beginning of the series.

And this is precisely why intellectuals in both India and Pakistan have always stressed the importance of people-to-people contact so that the other can be seen as human again. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out while inviting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to watch the final one-day encounter in Delhi, nothing will bring the people of India and Pakistan closer than cricket and Bollywood.

Cricket we agree, but Bollywood? True, there have been winds of change with many co-productions planned. But mindless stereotyping of a people in monster hits like Gadar and a legion of similar affairs needs to stop first.

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