Monday, March 28, 2011

May the Best Team Win!

As Indians and Pakistanis all over the world gear up for the 'mother of all finals', shrieking intensity on both sides is at fever pitch. While the Indian media is generating hysteria in the way only it knows how, the Pakistani Twitter and Blogosphere haven't been far behind. Any of those daring to question the validity of fringe lunatic behaviour regarding the match are promptly shouted down, called names and ostracized in a way that only new media knows how to do, with its little 'elite' cliques and coteries all linking to each other and patting each other on the back. Dissent in such a case is not an easy task. Some brave souls have still been attempting it, though.

It is remarkable how people who otherwise present themselves as 'liberals' see no dichotomy in indulging in near war-like rhetoric on Twitter, spinning themselves into a frenzy over their bottles of vodka in the hope that Pakistan will win this match. Make no mistake, I too would love for Pakistan to win but my love for the team and the desire for its triumph is not mutually exclusive with my ability to think straight. Most of all, as a cricket fan, and as a fan of two sports (cricket and tennis) that are more than big hulks pushing each other to the ground, I will appreciate all that the game has to offer me as a game itself.

As for the Aman ki Asha people and supporters, all this posturing is anathema to their cause so they will obviously try and push their ideas more aggressively when they watch them dissipating in a wave of mass hysteria.  It is understandable that their concern is with the larger implications of this game--the possibility of people to people exchange it affords, the cricket diplomacy that could potentially prove to be a thaw in Indo-Pak relations at the highest level and an opportunity to further the idea of sport as glue rather than divider.

In that light it is strange that one of my favourite blogs Cafe Pyala pokes rather mean-ish fun at those with a less jingoistic bent to this game, claiming that those behaving like spoilsports and talking of South Asia being the winner don't know anything about the game itself or Naoozubillah may not be eternally, irrevocably and undyingly in love with the Pakistan team, you know the kind of love that urges you to show your understanding of the game by posting a thousand pictures of the 'hot' team captain on your blog. Or that makes you excuse cheating cricketers because they are cute or young or talented. In the words of one such blogger 'Our team is 'badass'. Learn to live with it.' It is this excusing of 'badassery' in the name of winning at all costs that is the underlying problem in all Win-or-Bust rhetoric.

There is another blog called Clear Cricket that has come up with a list of 'etiquettes' for the match. They state that this match will NOT defeat terrorism. Huh? Of course it will not, nobody was deranged enough to suggest so, but your absurd reactionism can and will give legitimacy to men who play a different kind of sport--the Kasabs of this world--whose consciousness will be informed by your divisive, 'honour'-based rhetoric while infiltrating cities of the big, bad, evil India that needs to be defeated at all cost. Your posturing, chest-beating, fervent prayers, sledging, suggestive talk of the rape of Sheila and Munni will all have an effect that goes beyond the immediate. The haq-o-baatil ki jang backdrop in which you insist such matches be played makes you no better than the GEO anchors you love to otherwise deride.

Excessive celebration or depression disproportionate to the event only shows your lack of a life. ENJOY the game, that is what it was meant for. If a loss will leave you comatose or abusive for the rest of the week, you have obviously lost the plot. If your life's happiness is dependent upon this game, get a life. Which reminds me of Haali who muses on the characteristics of men (people) of character.

Shaadmaani mayn guzartay apnay aapay se naheen
Gham mayn rehtay hayn shagufta shaadmaanon ki tarah

(Men of character do not cross bounds in either celebration or grief)

I am a cricket fan and what I look forward to is a close contest, not a dead one-sided game, either way. The thrill of cricket lies in the twists and turns, an even contest between the bat and the ball, in the spirit in which the game is played. It is not a place for your cheap war fantasies where Haq demolishes Baatil completely because God is so obviously on the side of Haq. Crowds that are respected all over the world are not partisan ones who don't have the sense or sporting spirit to applaud another team's good play, who throw stones at their team bus or burn down stadiums because their side is losing. If you are so drowning in your patriotic juices then prove yourself better by showing restraint and a grasp of cricket's grand traditions and subtlety. This is not football, full of hooliganism and violence. Understand the difference.

I am all geared up for the match and can't wait for the 30th to arrive. Watching the game with my cricket-loving 9 year old and my 70 year-old cricket fanatic father is a treat in its own right. But if we lose, I know what I will tell my son, 'Cheer up, it's just a game!'

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let the Taliban take over

I just returned from a protest outside the Lahore Press Club against the assassination of Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. He was killed today in Islamabad by what are believed to be members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Pakistan. There have been reports that pamphlets were strewn around his body defending the blasphemy law, a colonial era law often misused in Pakistan, but defended vociferously by most of its population.

I reached the protest at exactly 3 O'Clock so there weren't a whole lot of protesters there then. Just about 50 odd. At first glance most protesters seemed to belong to the Christian minority, an understandable fact, since the slain minister was not only a defender of minority rights in Pakistan, he was a Christian himself. Many carried long red crosses above their heads and a few women in white uniform stood at the front, probably students from some missionary institution in Lahore.

Just standing in the middle of a busy road holding aloft crosses seems a fairly bold thing to do these days. But not too long ago in this country very middle class, conservative parents sent their children to Christian missionary schools without pondering too much over its 'effects', more concerned with the upward social mobility that these schools provided at a low cost than with fear of Christian indoctrination. The polarization between religions was, at least apparently, not as visible or divisive as it is today. I cannot recall a single girl in my whole school with the Arabic-looking headscarf that is in vogue these days, if you covered your head, a plain dupatta was considered sufficient. Anti India sentiment was rampant but it had yet not manifested itself in a fixation with the Arabization of everything. 'Allah Hafiz' 'Jazaak Allah' and other such phrases had still not been forced into everyday langauge to make the speaker sound pious and holy. Although, even back then, deep seated ideas about class and superiority made the Muslim kids silently condescend to the Christian ones for having darker complexions and less flashy possessions. But despite it being a so-called Christian school, its Muslim majority environment had the Christian kids firmly placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy. But the silent discourse of exclusion at that time was less about religion and more about 'class'. Other kids like me with unbranded surnames and hardworking professors as parents were, if not equally, then at least nearly, as much part of the struggle for acceptance.

Today we have separate 'Islamic' schools where the head scarf is a part of the uniform and my 5 year-old cousin's daughter says 'Alhamdulillah' each time she skips down a step. There may seem nothing wrong in that to cultural relativists who may accuse me of being ashamed of my own religious heritage, but as far as I know that is not my heritage to begin with. My naani who was certainly a Muslim, that too from a small Punjabi village, usually just wore a chiffon dupatta on her head and did not feel the need to make any greater show of her piety. But my born again Muslim cousin lets out a deep guttural sigh each time she talks of her grandmother, and prays for her 'maghfirat' (forgiveness of her souls) with fervent smugness.

At the recent TEDx Kinnaird a Christian girl, Elaine Alam, spoke about the trials and tribulations of being a Pakistani Christian. The immediate reaction of a typically defensive Muslim Pakistani friend behind me was 'What is she talking about? She is from my school, The Convent of Jesus and Mary. What discrimination could she face at a Christian school?' Apart from the fact that Elaine never once mentioned her school and talked mainly about her neighbourhood, this complete blindness to what kind of discrimination a Christian faces in a missionary school is emblematic of the apathy that the 'silent majority' is part of. I am sure this girl considers herself a 'moderate', but is completely oblivious to the role she is playing in perpetuating oppression, by refusing to even acknowledge its existence. Despite the silence in the hall i turned around and chided her, trying to explain with gestures and loud whispers that what she was saying was utterly wrong and tantamount to condoning bigotry and oppression. Needless to say, it wasn't really possible to get one's point across in those circumstances.

This girl's reaction was not unique, my students also routinely react this way when I first broach the subject of minorities in Pakistan. Many of them give examples of how well Christians are 'treated' in the country, the usage itself automatically placing them above the minority, creating a discourse of a kind master and a grateful servant

I severely doubt Shahbaz Bhatti's death will have any profound impact on people who choose to delude themselves in this manner. They will continue saying that Christians and other minorities in Pakistan are 'treated well', or else that they should not be so bold as to assert themselves and 'blaspheme'. They will continue feeling that a Christian man had no right to be made the head of a committee comprised to discuss the Blasphemy Law. They will continue radicalizing the country till such time as this becomes worse than Afghanistan. And for the long term interests of this region, I say let that happen. Until and unless we don't actually get to live under the tyranny of such men our romantic notions about this 'Muslim' state will never die. Once people are whipped for 50 years and taken back to the stone age is when a real revolution will take place around here. For any true change to come these religious forces will have to take over and break the idealism of both middle class conservatives and elite apologists. Only then can this nation rise from its ashes and build something anew.