I sometimes wonder what is holding us together as a nation. We are so many and we owe our allegiance to different creeds and ideologies. We are two hundred million people in two hundred nations. We elect our leaders rarely based on virtues of honesty and ability but on issues like caste, religion, money and muscle. This we have been doing since the past 50 years and it has progressively worsened and as you can see from the headlines in our newspapers, that we are a poorly governed country. But we have managed to remain as a nation. How is it possible? It could be that these divided loyalties make us realize the larger issues of nationhood and prevent us from destroying the democracy. It is like Rumpole the lawyer defending a petty criminal and getting him off so that he remains a petty criminal and carries on and doesn’t graduate to serious crime. So though they are not our best specimens, our politicians in their own flimsy way have kept our nation going.
What else is keeping us together? There are two and these days I feel these two have contributed more to keep our identity as Indians going, more than our politicians. Let me deal with the first one. It is the great Indian Cinema. Especially the Hindi Cinema [popularly called Bollywood]. Exclusively produced in the city of Mumbai. Hindi is a language spoken and or understood by a majority of us. There are two types of these movies. One is called the commercial cinema and the other is called art cinema. Commercial cinema produces the largest number of movies and is viewed by almost all Indians, whatever may be their allegiance to other interests be. They may be rich, poor, Hindu [and many sub classes], Moslem, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain etc, they all watch this commercial cinema. All commercial movies have a simple formula. It has a story which revolves around heroes and heroines, villainous characters and evil and good. Ultimately the good triumphs and the viewer is happy. There is no real need for our heroes and heroines and of course our villains to know how to act. Acting is a byproduct. What they should know is how to dance and they must be good looking and well muscled. The heroines must be well proportioned and be prepared to show as much of it as possible. An average Hind formula movie has at least ten song and dance sequences, and the same or more number of fights. These will keep the audience spell bound for over ninety minutes.
The art cinema, surprisingly, is not dead yet. These are movies which are occasionally made that depict the real India and her struggles. It is, therefore, rarely entertaining. An average Indian doesn’t want to see on the screen what he is experiencing in his day to day life. He wants to live in world of illusion at least for those three hours. It is no wonder that these reality cinemas rarely make enough money and that they are still being made is surprising. What I have written about Indian cinema is what I think and is not supported by personal experience as I am not a movie goer, having decided long ago that it is waste of time and money. But my surmise that Hindi Cinema is one of the binding forces of our nation has many takers.
The other is cricket. Here I can write with some authority, having been an avid follower of the game for the past 50 years. Of all the mad habits the Britishers left us behind such as never using hands to eat food and wearing dark coloured suits in midsummer, playing and watching cricket, the last named has the maximum following. Few mad Indians still do follow the first two. It is not uncommon to see an Indian desperately trying to eat masala dosa with a fork and knife or profusely sweating in a dark suit. But the trait of watching cricket is across the board and is a universal habit. Before the advent of television this addiction was confined to the playing arena and a few thousands who actually watched and few more who listened to the running commentary over the radio. Now the viewership has grown so much that it is estimated that one in ten Indians watch or follow the fortunes of Indian cricket.
It has been attributed to late Bernard Shaw who described cricket as a game played by twenty two fools and watched by twenty two thousand! Going by his definition we are a nation of fools given the popularity. 50 years ago there was only one version that is now called test cricket. This went on for five days and often ended in a draw [honorable name for neither side winning]. Drawing the test match, especially when played between India and Pakistan, was the boring norm. Though test cricket still retains its popularity in some quarters, the shorter versions, the 50 over and 20 over cricket, has over taken test cricket in popularity ratings. This is because, in this short version of cricket, there is certain to be a result and the game ends in a day or few hours.
Indian cricket over the years has produced some outstanding individual cricketers but rarely a team which won consistantly.There was more losses and draws than wins for the team. Individual brilliance of a Kapildev or Tendulkar doesn’t win matches. It needs a team of good players led by a captain who has qualities of leadership. After Mansoor Ali Khan, who was Indian team’s captain more than 40 years ago, we have not had an outstanding captain who won matches for us till the advent of a man called Mahendra Singh Dhoni, two years ago.
M.S.Dhoni, popularly called as Mahi, is one of those rare persons who are born to lead. The way he walks, talks, thinks and acts is that of a leader and under him the team India has won match after match in almost all countries. This applies to all forms of the game. There are some outstanding players but the credit of knitting the team together and make them play as a unit goes to this one single individual, M.S.Dhoni. It is not an easy job. This team which played recently in New Zealand, has members belonging to different religions, castes, language and they come from all parts of this large country. Earlier years, we were not well known for our physical stamina and build. This team looks and behaves different. They no longer appear small either physically or in their deportment. They have no fear. The two openers we have, are small built men. One of them is Virender Sehwag. Seeing him you won’t believe he can hit the ball that long and that hard. He probably is the best hitter of the cricket ball in world cricket today. One has to see the helplessness on the face of the opposition when he cuts loose. There is all-round consternation. He reminds me of the West Indian cricket writer S.L.R.James who wrote about a West Indian batsman who had a simple philosophy. I will try my best and see that the wicket keeper has no job to do. Sewag once said,’ the ball is there to be hit and I will hit it. In the process if I get out so be it’. There is another called Yuvaraj Singh who believes that a ball which can be hit for a four can also be hit for a six. He hit an English fast bowler for six successive sixes in one over!
One outstanding leader can make so much difference and team India is now probably the best one day team in the world. When are we going to produce a political leader of the caliber of Mahendra Singh Dhoni?
In a county cricket match Freddie Trueman was bowling. Reverend David Sheppard was one of the slip fielders. Trueman hurled the ball at the batsman who edged it. The ball went between the legs of Dave Sheppard and sped to the boundary. Freddie gave one of his famous glares directed more at Dave than at the batsman. The next ball met the same fate. Dave, all apologies told Freddie.’ I am sorry’, Freddie replied,' not you, your mother’.
Another version, Dave apologized and said, ‘sorry, I should have kept my legs closed,’ No, not you, your mother’, replied Freddie.
Story told to me by a friend.