By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
From Icons to Cons
Hands off Sri Lanka
Not Alif Lailah
For too long I had considered the game of cricket harmful, both for the individuals who play, watch and bet on it and the nation that takes it as a tonic of patriotism. But such has been its intoxicating hold on masses that its critics ran the risk of being the odd men out. I might have committed an act of sacrilege by denigrating it.
Now that the Indian cricketers, and the game itself, are suffering from a crisis of credibility, my fears find public approval. Unnecessary glamourisation of the players turned them into stars, then into heroes, and finally celebrities. Each of their histrionics carried a price tag. Rivers of money flowed in. But their thirst for more remained unquenched. Only now we learn how the innocent Indians have been cheated during these hectic years of one-day internationals. How that ‘game of chance’ could suffer from media hype and effectively hide the murky on-goings behind the veil, how punters could eliminate the chance and turn it into a business. From now on, every missed catch, edged shot, and abortive bid at stumps is all likely to make us look for sponsors from among the rivals. Not only the form, but even the patriotic bona fides of the players would also be open to doubt.
But these ugly facets of the game have come into open only now. I, for one, had been its critic for its sheer lack of fervour, being too placid to be called a sport, wasteful in terms of time and being individual centric. Team spirit, the very essence of games, is missing in cricket. Pursuit of individual records often urges the players to be selfish and sacrifice the team’s interest. Very often captains have refused to make a challenging declaration of the innings if a record is in sight. Remember how Manoj Prabhakar and another player were accused of ‘playing for themselves, and not for the country’ in a one-day international some years ago when the duo was seen chasing a century and wasting costly overs when fast runs were all that were required. Or should we forget the Indian captain who was accused of declaring an early innings merely to avert another teammate from scoring a record that none had till then made.
Electronic media and the crazy millions in the sub-continent have today turned the cricket into a mega-buck game. Punters could not have remained behind when so much of money, popular sentiments and even competitive nationalisms were involved. First the game turned into a gamble and then gamble took over the game. Those in the flannels were not fools. Only the proverbial 11,000, or the 11 million in the sub-continental context, watching the idiot box were being fooled. If media hype can make icons, it can also turn them into cons.
Is it not time that cricket is deglamourised?
I was in Sri Lanka in December 1987 at the height of the operations by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The small emerald island was bathed in blood with LTTE terrorists killing Sinhalese and Muslims (who also speak Tamil). Unaware of terrain, the IPKF was itself losing its men in great numbers. Tide of violence was rising by each day. But what pained me most as an Indian was the fact that IPKF was being expanded as "Indian Peace Keeping Farce" in popular parlance. And the people who were lapping the epithet were mostly Sinhalese, majority community that rules Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is too small to be bifurcated. The map of the proposed Eelam includes the northern and eastern provinces, which will encircle Sri Lanka as a garland from two sides. Such a division of the small compact island is unthinkable and will create two unviable states at the southern tip of India. And its cost would be enormous. Neither Eelam nor the remainder of the Sri Lanka would be left in peace. Defence expenditure would rise and ruin the economy of the whole island, which has hitherto enjoyed the best position in terms of Human Development Index. The island records 87 per cent literacy and has high degree of empowerment of women.
India must resist the bifurcation of the island, but also avoid getting involved militarily. Emergence of Eelam would sure have repercussions in the neighbouring southern state of Tamil Nadu. Ethnic bonds act as the natural factors in redrawing national maps. Any further attempt to create new boundaries in the subcontinent will only result in further militarisation of the region. Defence expenditure would eat into development funds and impoverish the already poor countries. India should use its good offices in bringing the two sides in Sri Lanka to talks and keep the military solution totally off the agenda. Though it is less likely to succeed in persuading the LTTE, going by its brutish past, any other alternative would be still more costly.
Pakistan too would be burning its hands and creating new ethnic animosities in the largely peaceful region by offering its military help to Sri Lanka. All SAARC states must avoid military confrontation by all means. The region harbours one-fourth of total humanity and is the poorest in the world. Conflicts will make the region pauper.
Last time, the Sri Lankan Muslims too were agitated because their areas of dominance, particularly the district of Amparai, had been included under the combined North-Eastern province. A few Muslim leaders had suggested a Pondicherry like arrangement for creation of a Muslim province in the island. It seemed unworkable. I found the Muslims well placed in business and industry in Sri Lanka. The government too had been kind to them. What I concluded is that a minority within a minority is always pampered by the majority. This is more true in Sri Lankan context because Muslims speak Tamil and do not identify with Eelam or even the concept of combined North-East province.
There are some misconception about the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Most of us think they are migrants from Tamil speaking areas of India. Tamils have lived northern areas of Sri Lanka for over 2000 years and had established their kingdom in Jaffna. They have rich culture and heritage and Sinhalese dominated administration had done everything to weaken the Tamils economically, in education, employment and demographically. The seeds of ethnic conflict lie in the systematic effort to undermine the Tamils after Sri Lanka became independent in 1948. No wonder Tamil anger manifests itself in the current conflict. Sri Lankan government should address these genuine grievances of Tamil. Interestingly, the Indian Tamils in Sri Lanka do not identify with Eelam and work in tea plantations in the central province. They number one million and are at peace with Sinhalese.
All of us, be it in India, Pakistan, Nepal or Bangladesh, should bear in mind that no nation is ethnically pure and aiding other's minority or supporting territorial claims of a minority will ultimately result in the region going into pieces.
The popular serial based on the Arabian Nights on the Doordarshan has been titled Alif Lailah. It should be Alf Lailah. The original title is Alf Lailah wa Lailah (literally One thousand and one nights). But none seems to have noticed the discrepancy and the serial continues nonchalantly. Alif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabets while Alf stands for thousand. As we know the epic has been known all through the history as One thousand and One Nights, a grand chain of stories within a story narrated by a charming princess who wins life night after night from a brute prince. Part of the literary heritage handed down from the Arabs, Alf Lailah has been known worldover. The fact that the serial continues to be mistitled is an outrage to all ears that have been tuned to Alf Lailah for aeons.