on Thu, 1 Apr 2004 12:49:01 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Karachi_captured: subcontinental cricketing_wars

Having had the luck to be able to watch all 5 one day cricket matches
between Pakistan and India over the past few weeks I thought I would pass
this on from one of the Sarai lists.

Nothing said about whether the 2 all situation before the deciding match
was the result of match fixing but even if it was what a spectacle the
whole event was .... now down to the test matches which have already seen
big scores and "history".

Thank god I am now in a country which at least has cricket on tv - so much
more exciting than watching baseball!!!


‘Karachi captured’: subcontinental cricketing wars

The cricketers are now the avatars of a nation’s sublimated violence 
that will be enacted on the playing fields of Pakistan.
Subarno Chattarji 
The current historic tour of Pakistan by the Indian cricket team has 
received blanket press coverage which preceded the actual journey by the 
team across the border and the commencement of games. The Times of India 
(among others) assiduously reported the visit of the three member Indian 
delegation in Pakistan to check out security measures. The delegation’s 
satisfaction with arrangements in Pakistan was combined with last minute 
anxieties about whether the tour would go ahead, and the final clearance 
came from the PMO.  

That the tour has obvious political implications was indicated in the 
way the scheduling of one-day internationals was changed so that they 
did not clash with the elections. Chandrababu Naidu, staunch NDA ally, 
was the first to raise the bogey that if the ODIs were to coincide with 
national elections and if India lost it would make a dent in the NDAs 
electoral fortunes, take the sheen off India Shining. Post Karachi it is 
significant that both the BJP and the Congress sought to make political 
capital out of India’s victory, the latter claiming in one mass SMS sent 
in its name, that India had won because of the presence of Priyanka and 
Rahul Gandhi.  

That the men in blue have been co-opted into the India Shining campaign 
was evident during their tour of Australia but with elections at hand 
their fortunes seem even more closely related to that of India and its 
political classes. This is not the first time cricket diplomacy has been 
brought into play (recall General Zia-ul Haq’s surprise visit to watch 
Pakistan in India) but this tour highlights in unique ways the fraught 
relationship between goodwill and peace on the one hand and 
infiltration, nuclear issues, and terrorism on the other. 

Preceding and coinciding with the tour have been the revelations and 
pardon of Abdul Qadir Khan, the continued killing of militants and 
civilians in Kashmir, the renewed hunt for Osama bin Laden, General 
Musharraf’s reiteration of the centrality of Kashmir to all negotiations 
(and his simultaneous invitation to tea for the Indian team), and the 
visit of Colin Powell to the subcontinent. In an obvious sense the 
Indian cricketers are innocent of these events and yet in crucial ways 
they swirl around the spectacle of the game, imbuing it with meanings 
that encompass a wider field of reference. From Moscow television to BBC 
World the first ODI and India’s tour is hailed as a breakthrough in 
bilateral ties because the game is a symbolic representation of 
collective desires, anxieties, and fears. As Mike Marqusee puts it in 
his study of Muhammad Ali, ‘Precisely because they are universal and 
transparent, innocent of significance or consequence, sports became 
charged with meanings; because they meant nothing in themselves, they 
could come to mean anything.

 The interface between the game and its political contexts is indicated 
by Nina Martyris’s piece ‘Mumbai’s sister city in holiday mode’ (Times, 
13.03.2004): ‘On the way to the stadium from the airport you pass the 
Pakistan air force block which has a permanent slogan on its wall which 
reads: "Prepare any strength you can to muster against them." The them 
is not named, but it is a pronoun heavy with menace, in stark contrast 
to the current joyous sentiment of the street.’ The permanence of the 
unnamed but reasonably identifiable ‘them’ contrasts with ‘the current’ 
bonhomie implying that the latter is or may be only a passing phase. 
There is a sense in the Indian media coverage that the welcome extended 
by the Pakistani hosts is an elaborate gesture whose substance cannot be 
quantified or judged for certain (and General Musharraf’s concurrent 
statement on Kashmir contributes little to that certainty).  

What seems undeniable so early on in the tour, however, are the efforts 
to maintain security and order on and off the field. The Karachi ODI 
exemplified professional management combined with graciousness and 
courtesy. All the fears about the volatility of Karachi were belied 
during the match and Sourav Ganguly along with the media has expressed 
its admiration for the quality of goodwill and sportsmanship on display. 
While concerns about security and crowd behaviour were justified in the 
context of the bomb blasts outside the hotel of the touring New 
Zealanders, there is an irony in Indian concerns and a lack of 
self-reflection in media reports. The references to the Shiv Sena 
threats against the last Pakistan team that toured India and their 
digging up of a cricket pitch to make the point are almost absent. If at 
all they figure it is through Pakistani voices reminding Indians of an 
unsavoury past. The riotous crowd behaviour at Eden Gardens during the 
1996 India-Sri Lanka World Cup match is never mentioned. These silences 
create an impression that only venues in Pakistan are volatile 
conveniently ignoring the passionate insanity that cricket creates in 
the entire subcontinent. 

Martyris writes about the conflict-security cusp within which the tour 
operates: ‘So far there has been no "war of words", except for sections 
of the press using unfortunate terminology like "Pakistan A butchers 
India" to describe the friendly Lahore match. But when the Indian team 
rolls into town from the airport, their arrival is reminiscent of the 
allies rolling into Berlin, with guards in the cavalcade pointing their 
guns watchfully at the passing streets which have been emptied of 
humans.’ The conflating of war with sport is a common phenomenon. During 
the European Cup semi-finals between England and Germany in 1996 one 
English tabloid had the headlines: ‘Two World Wars and One World Cup’. 
As Marqusee points out, ‘Sport became both preparation and substitute 
for war, a theatre of competition not merely between individuals and 
teams, but between nations and peoples.’  

While Martyris cites a Pakistani report, her paper had the banner 
headline ‘KARACHI CAPTURED’ (the latter in red) the day after India won 
in Karachi. That this headline featured in the Times of India despite 
the goodwill hype indicates the unease that influential sections in 
India (reflected in Pakistan as well) have over toning down their 
nationalistic rhetoric. (Praveen Togadia’s outburst against Prime 
Minister Vajpayee is a clear articulation of that discomfort). 
‘CAPTURED’ is a curious word in the context of a cricket match and ties 
up with Martyris’s unfortunate analogy of the Indian team’s entry into 
Karachi with the allies entering Berlin. Does she imply that the Indian 
team is a conquering force akin to the Allies? The historical context is 
apparent in the Allied victory over Nazism and that could be extended to 
political and media rhetoric about Pakistan as a failed or rogue state 
so common during the Kargil conflict. Or could it relate at least 
subliminally to hawkish political and defence establishment desires in 
India for a take over of ‘Mumbai’s sister city’? Whatever the 
implications the theatre of war metaphor is pervasive and disturbing. 
The uneasy negotiation with peace is apparent in the new Pepsi 
advertisement featuring Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif, and 
Zaheer Khan. When Ganguly asks his team mates what they have for him 
they reply that have aloo parathas, goodwill, and peace for their hosts. 
The feel good factor evaporates when Ganguly says that they’ll have to 
share their Pepsis and Yuvraj expresses outrage. Ganguly is satisfied at 
the dissension and derides their gifts as ‘dramebazi’ before they head 
off to stirring music through a tunnel (more common in football than in 
cricket) into the stadium. The message is clear: goodwill is all very 
fine but, as Kapil Dev put it, winning is of the essence. The cricketers 
are now the avatars of a nation’s sublimated violence that will be 
enacted on the playing fields of Pakistan.  

The history of cricket - the ghost of Miandad’s last ball six in Sharjah 
being laid to rest by Nehra in Karachi - is inevitably intertwined with 
the history of conflict and bitterness between the two nations. One can 
only hope that the goodwill and superb cricket performed in Karachi will 
continue and that some of the atavistic rhetoric and desire will quieten.
Subarno Chattarji teaches English at Delhi university. Contact: <>  
"the riddle which man must solve, he can only solve in being, in
being what he is and not something else...."

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