S. Shankar, Professor, Department of English, University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
S. Shankar’s book of criticism Flesh and Fish Blood: Postcolonialism, Translation and the Vernacular is forthcoming from University of California Press. He is currently working on his third novel.
When India recently won the World Cup in limited overs cricket, the achievement was dedicated by many commentators and victorious team members to India’s talismanic batsman Sachin Tendulkar, known to his legion of fans as God. Tendulkar is without doubt one of the greatest athletes the world has seen. His achievements on the field in the years of his maturity are a testament to his strength of character. When natural ability began to erode with age, Tendulkar adjusted his game, became more patient, more calculating. If anything, his value to India’s national team is greater now than it was when he was a youthful sensation, a hungry pretender to cricketing greatness. Tendulkar played no little part in India’s triumphant World Cup campaign which included besting such cricketing powers as Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It is difficult, then, not to applaud Tendulkar and an Indian team that played professionally under tremendous pressure from its rabid fans. God Tendulkar and Team India. How can we not admire them? Is it not fitting that they should bring the country first to a halt during the weeks of cricketing madness and then to a joyous explosion of celebration with victory in the final?
Or is it? It seems churlish to quibble, but what exactly was achieved by India’s sensational sporting victory? Who benefited from it? Who got to feel good? Which India celebrated in the streets? Was it the India of designer jeans and shopping malls? Or of remote villages, where farmers flee rural despair by committing suicide? The newspaper headlines that India’s cricketing prowess drove out of the spotlight had to do with corruption scandals. For months now, India has been shaken by revelations about theft in high places on a scale that puts into the shade India’s already astoundingly corrupt past. The Commonwealth Games, the sale of cricket franchises in the Indian Premier League, the auctioning of spectrum for cellphones: the money siphoned off by corrupt politicians and corporations in each of these cases is so great as to be barely comprehensible. Put the amounts together and you would have enough money to fund vital education, public health and social service programs for years. But instead we have cricketing delirium and empty rhetoric about India Shining. As if a victory on a playing field—no matter how august the field and the sporting occasion—could ever substitute for progress on the only field that ultimately matters: the well-being of all citizens.
Since the World Cup, the corruption scandals have returned to the spotlight because of Anna Hazare’s hunger strike to establish a Lokpal, or ombudsman, capable of inquiring into allegations of corruption. It would be cynical to write off this welcome development, but skepticism suggests caution. Already forces are gathering to gut the powers of any Lokpal that is established and render it ineffectual. Perhaps, the counterattack will fail. Perhaps an ombudsman with real powers will indeed be established. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, the Indian Premier League cricket season has begun—no rest for the cricket weary—and Tendulkar’s club Mumbai Indians is currently at the top of the league. Tendulkar has never won the Indian Premier League championship in his illustrious career.
Imagine God and the Mumbai Indians triumphing in weeks to come.