Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why we love cricket; or, the divine savage

Another of my crazy little theories. I was deeply impressed by a newspaper photograph of ruffians tearing down Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s under-construction house in Ranchi, and looking carefully at the expressions of the men it struck me that they were all blissfully happy. This didn’t seem like a group of anguished cricket fans at all, it was merely a bunch of people who were thrilled about having a good pretext to break things. Particularly noteworthy was one man towards the left of the frame, his foot raised like a Ziegfield Follies girl, his face the image of primal ecstasy. (Do try to locate the pic, I couldn’t find it on the Net or I would have put it up.) The thought that went through my mind when I saw him was, “This chap is probably not even very interested in cricket, he watches Godzilla movies instead.”

Ah yes, my theory. It’s this: India being an exceptionally religious country, most of us (humans, I mean) are conditioned to believe that we are shaped in the Divine Image. Darwin's we-came-from-monkeys thesis isn't especially popular here, never mind that one of our most revered deities is, in fact, a monkey. Suggesting that man might be more animal than divine would amount to denying the Gods (and if you do that, you fully deserve to have your house torn down, you atheist scum!).

But the burden of being celestial is too heavy for most of us to bear. We need occasional breathers. Every now and again, we need to stomp on the bricks of half-constructed houses. And by treating cricket as religion or as a symbol of national pride (and under-performing cricketers as fallen Gods or betrayers of national pride), we give ourselves the right to be sanctimonious and indulge our animal emotions at the very same time. This can take many forms: vicious water-cooler conversations in office, a banner that says “Reach Barbados or stay forever in Trinidad” or something more tangible, such as what the people in the photograph were doing. Cricket is the great liberator, allowing us to return to our caveman selves without feeling guilty about it. No wonder we love it so much! QED

(On a more serious note, some excellent pieces that demand to be read: Mukul Kesavan on the desi fan, Sambit Bal on cricket needing a reality check [I nod in vigorous agreement with Bal’s thesis that it might be a good thing if India were to be knocked out in the first round] and this older piece by Amit Varma, “Do we really love cricket?”)

P.S. “Wouldn’t you be this happy if you got the chance to break down someone else’s house?” I asked my mother, showing her the grinning man in the newspaper photo. The question was half-facetious, so I don’t know whether to be pleased or worried that she thought about it for a few seconds and then said “Yes.” The human condition strikes again...


  1. Hi, I really enjoyed reading your blog. Was wondering if you
    would like to add it to my directory?

    Thanks, Shelly

  2. I know I am going off tangent, but this (a) evolution theory, (b) hinduism and (c) 'god made us in its own image' combine quite well you know.

    the first avtar was a fish, then turtle, then some other animal and finally human. and god made us in its image so we were fish, then some other animal and then some other animal and now human and all the while we have been nothing but the image of god (or god itself - if you look at vedanta).

    so dear sir, i tempted to say that, hinduism, in my humble opinion, is super cool but i will not tickle the atheists here and will not make the generalisation.

  3. I am probably from your Mom's generation seeing you and my son share the year of birth. I agree with her when she says she'd like to pull down some people's houses (not Dhoni's though) the way the guys in the picture were doing with such obvious glee.
    You will find the picture in the Hindu cos I saw it there.

  4. Hah! That was a real breather..good job mate!

  5. Hi,
    Divine savage is aptly put. I blogged abt this and IMHO we're Mobistan. Vday, cricket losses, kings criticized in history books-all very good reasons to get a mob and break something....grrr.

  6. I'll probably go to hell for saying this a third time today but...what the hell! Cricket is supposed to be like a religion in our country. Pity, most of us don't understand either!

  7. Darwin's we-came-from-monkeys thesis

    A common misrepresentation. Evolution theory states that apes and humans have a common ancestor, not that we came from monkeys.

    (I know this was hardly central to your post, but still... :)