Cool domestic happiness

The British existed in India for over two centuries. They should have co-existed. They would not have needed a Prime Minister in 2011, David Cameron, to fiddle around with ideas like Gross Domestic Happiness, his latest barometer to gauge the welfare of society. Indians have long preferred GDS to GDP: Gross Domestic Self-satisfaction. A 19th century Cameron would have caught on to the fact that life is something more than a mere industrial revolution.

By M J Akbar

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Published: Mon 28 Mar 2011, 10:54 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:51 AM

GDS cannot be either measured or implemented by governments, whose only obsession is to boss around or pocket paybacks whenever possible. Indians do like a bit of authority, but, alas, only in areas where they don’t get any, like municipal services. When it comes to pleasure, they don’t hang around waiting for permission.

On March 24, when India defeated Australia in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, an estimated 50 per cent of the country’s cricket fans took a half-holiday. This estimate is mine, based on empirical evidence collected from morning traffic in Delhi. There was no snarl on the roads, just a grudging smile. On Wednesday March 30, when India plays Pakistan in the semi-finals, the roads will be beaming with joy, since 90 per cent of the fans will stay at home. Most of them will begin their half-holiday at 10 am, arguing, quite correctly, that it is anti-national to waste as precious a national resource as petrol at post-Libya prices just to show your face for a few minutes in the office. I can proudly lay claim to the proposition that the half-holiday is an Indian invention, particularly one that begins at 10 am. A full holiday to watch cricket on TV is for wimps. Strongmen stick to half-holidays.

Prayers will be offered, and emotions invested in victory, because we Indians take our cricket-nationalism very seriously, indeed. But that is not the only spirit that will consume fans, or many fans will consume, on Wednesday. The moment the last ball is bowled, there will be a frenzy of conversation since India is a nation of analysts. Emotional Pakistan will be elated or depressed, but India will analyse whatever the result, whether over tea or something more sensational.

The good news, however, is that India and Pakistan no longer treat cricket as an existential conflict. One of the most moving moments of my life came in Lahore in 2004, when the joy of an Indian victory in a one-dayer soared at the sight of young Pakistani fans waving the Indian flag as a gesture of friendship. It would be too depressing if the culture of our subcontinent became hostage to political conflict.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has seized the moment by inviting Asif Zardari and his counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to Mohali. “Cricket diplomacy” is a bit of a misnomer since nothing actually moves on the diplomatic front as a consequence. Rajiv Gandhi invited General Ziaul Haq to Jaipur in 1987; and Dr Singh was host to General Pervez Musharraf in 2005. Later, Dr Singh declined a reciprocal gesture. The first did not lead to a breakthrough, and the second did instigate collapse. But governments are only one part of the India-Pakistan equation. Friendship between the people is far more important than friendship between two governments. Cricket builds relations at the broad, popular base, even if the apex of the pyramid is withering.

Cricket-chemistry is such alchemy on the subcontinent precisely because India and Pakistan have equal tubs of talent. Their individual and collective behaviour is visibly different. India is a professionally inter-woven unit; while Pakistan gives the impression of being a collection of temperamental mavericks. But environment, and opportunity, could make Pakistan’s seeming weakness into an asset; when such talent is watered by passion, it can blossom. You can never tell on which day who will become the genie in the Pakistan bottle.

India, on the other hand, revolves around four batsmen and one bowler: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. Yuvraj is on song, but the defining difference is Sachin, who, after two decades at the crease, has become the coolest, most disciplined genius in the history of the game. We will not be privileged to see his like again. Tendulkar has nothing left to prove, but he does have something left to say: that when the history of the game is written victory at Mohali will be among his laurels. That would be the ultimate in cool domestic satisfaction.

The columnist is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi

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