Some people derogatorily use the word "intellectual" (or the more direct "pseudo-intellectual") to brush off a dissenting view. If you didn't care for a "masala entertainment" film that everyone else liked, it can only be because you're pseudo. Mention a book that isn’t on the current bestseller list? Yup, again, it must be because you're trying too hard to be different.
What's more amusing is when this accusation surfaces in the context of something as plebeian and mass-friendly as sport. As I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog, the Indian Premier League – all two months of it – entirely passed me by, so that I was still irritating friends with uninformed questions towards the end of the tournament: “You mean Shane Warne is playing for Jaipur – how is that even possible? Didn’t he retire a few months ago? Does Preity Zinta bat or bowl? Is this a unisex tournament?” During this period, much of my spare time has gone in watching tennis and participating in the messageboard of the TennisWorld website.
The average response goes: "The IPL is on and you're going on about tennis? You must be one of those snobbish pseudo-intellectual types who likes moving against the herd!" Now I have nothing against being called pseudo-intellectual or snobbish (or a vagrant sheep for that matter), but it's an ironic label given that most of my comments on the TW site run along the following lines:
"Rafa gets the break!! Woo-hoo!! Now HOLD SERVE, you moron, and take this to a third!! Bury the Djoker!"
Friends tell me IPL cricket is so exciting because of all the action off the ground: the cheerleaders, the movie stars, the Harbhajan-Sreesanth controversy. What does a bland sport like tennis have to compare with this, they ask.
More than you'd think, actually. For starters, in recent times, the mothers of players have been in the spotlight, and when mothers get involved in anything it always makes for good drama. During the tense Monte Carlo semi-final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the usually unflappable world number 1 shouted "Be quiet!" to Djokovic's shrieky mom, who was creating an unnecessary ruckus in the stands. Meanwhile, Britain's Andy Murray exploded in rage during a match, accusing his opponent of saying something inappropriate about his mother. Hindi-film scriptwriters might want to see the video – while Murray didn't actually slur "Maa kasam, chun chun ke maaroonga!" in Dharmendra style, it still makes Harbhajan's "Teri maa ki" to Andrew Symonds pale in comparison.
Speaking of Harbhajan, his physical assault on Sreesanth has nothing on a tennis player's recent assault on himself. This year's most viewed tennis clip by far is the one that shows Russia's Mikhail Youzhny repeatedly smacking himself on the head with his racquet – and drawing a nasty stream of blood in the process – after messing up a forehand. Cricket may have long ceased to be the gentleman's game, but tennis is no longer all strawberries and cream and long, leisurely days in the Wimbledon sun either. At this rate, contact sports like WWE will soon be an endangered species.
Lanka notes contd
Anyway, it turned out that my lack of interest in the biggest thing to hit cricket since coloured pyjamas was even harder to explain in Sri Lanka, where not only was it assumed that anyone getting off a flight from India would be reciting IPL match stats in his sleep, but where my very name helped steer the conversation. “Hi, I’m Jai,” I said when we met our guide/tour representative Keith at the airport, and on hearing these simple words his face lit up with the combined effulgence of a million glowworms, causing the people around us to look up in astonishment at the night sky. “Jaya like in Jayasuriya?” he exclaimed, scarcely able to believe his good fortune. “So pleased to meet you!”
“Um, yes – Jaya,” I replied, “but with an Arjuna instead of a Suriya!” At this our man sighed long and deep, and people around us looked up to check if monsoon winds were gathering. “Arjuna like in Arjuna Ranatunga, our great captain?” “True,” I conceded, “but without the ‘Ranatunga’ – or the captaincy, for that matter. I gave up both after we won the World Cup in 1996, ha ha.”
The joke fell flat but on the whole we had got off to a good start, and over the next several days we learnt about Keith’s love for cricket, his strong views about the game and its players, and even the ways in which it had affected his personal life: he told us about a promising job offer he had received in Australia, which he turned down on no other grounds than “the behaviour of their cricketers, and the way they treated Muralitharan”. (I decided to avoid disclosing that Australia had been far and away my favourite team back in my viewing days.)
Jayasuriya’s violent knocks for the Mumbai team were key talking points and it was noteworthy that throughout our stay, the one channel that would unerringly be available on every hotel-room TV set was SET Max. “Do people in India like Jayasuriya?” Keith asked tentatively. “Oh, we always admired him,” I replied, “but we like him a lot better now that he’s playing for a domestic team in a friendly environment rather than hitting Indian bowlers all over the park in an international match.” The next morning, Keith reciprocated with a few unexpected words of praise for an Aussie cricketer. “Did you see how Hayden celebrated with Murali after they took that wicket?” he asked, “I think he’s not so bad.”
I’m sure that the people who thought up the IPL were driven by baser motives than tearing down the narrow domestic walls of partisanship, but they might just have managed it anyway. On the other hand, if future editions of the tournament are as successful, India might soon revert to being a collection of sovereign states.