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...