On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

In Focus: ‘‘The Mumbai Meat Market’’

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“Say that cricket has nothing to do with politics and you say that cricket has nothing to do with life,” wrote journalist and cricket commentator John Arlott. It is a statement that can be appreciated by anyone who is aware of—or has even remotely tried to understand—how the game is run in his part of the world.

Let me say at the onset that just like millions around the world I enjoy watching the mercurial talent of Pakistan cricket and I admire the quality of players they have produced over the years. Sport, though, is not played in a vacuum and cricket at the international level, especially, is a game that has always carried the undertones of the social fabric between the opponents.

Last year it was the Pakistan Cricket Board that did not allow their cricketers to play in the IPL as a measure taken after the November attacks in Mumbai. India’s tour to Pakistan was never a possibility after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and the worst nightmare of cricket unravelled in broad daylight in Lahore on the 3rd of March; when the bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers was ambushed on its way to the Gaddafi Stadium.

This year, at the last moment, the players have not been picked. May be the owners were concerned about the availability but Rameez Raza had a point when he wrote that ‘the assurances of selection and the clearances given to them by the Pakistan government to participate in the tournament gave rise to false hopes among the fans and the media. The subsequent process of elimination was seen by the public as political and undignified.’

That is about all that Pakistan can be legitimately offended by because specific permissions should not have been sought if there was even a modicum of doubt in the minds of the franchise-owners. The franchise-owners could have easily done this a bit more graciously and taken the business decision early rather than at the last moment when, for instance, the name of a player like Shahid Afridi was announced and there were no takers; in a format where he is more than just handy.

This is what Harsha Bhogle had to say: “We live in times of violence and hatred; there are many people who seek peace but equally some who seek to deny us what we thought was given. Sport cannot exist in isolation, cannot fly free from this cage of reality. We would love the two to be separated but that has never happened. In times of peace, or relative peace, we could produce the path-breaking tours of 2004 and 2006. Now we are all pawns in the drama our subcontinent is enacting and the cricketers are merely more visible pawns. The conspiracy that Abdul Razzaq talks about is the reality of our times. The IPL will be poorer for the absence of some extraordinarily gifted cricketers, but this is just another victory for those that infect us with hatred. To believe there is a conspiracy against cricketers from Pakistan is wrong. It is the times we live in.”

“Make way for the Mumbai Meat Market” was a captivating headline when the players went under the hammer in the first edition of the IPL. Many cricketers expressed disbelief at the amount of money that changed hands on that eventful day where players were traded like commodity futures minus the presence of any visible rationale that governs the various commodities exchanges.

Things changed after that first year, on every front, and we were told that team owners had learned more about how to spend their money while buying ‘their livestock’. On the political front the dynamics changed so much that the second edition of the Indian Premier League was possible only outside India, and was hosted in South Africa. This was also about time when cricket fans and cricket writers were finding it difficult to digest the nauseating speed of the shorter version (A topic for another post, perhaps).

The Pakistan cricketers would tell you, in less than a minute, that they are heroes in India. That wherever they go, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam, Afridi, Rameez Raza, and Imran Khan and Javed Miandad—in their cricketing avatar—can be mobbed for autographs or they may find themselves in the company of youngsters seeking some advice on any eternal cricketing problem. And I’ve just taken those few big names for we associate more with legends but the fact is that the team is respected, loved, and surprisingly even cheered and supported. We know how Umar Gul ran riot against New Zealand and Gul’s 19th over against South Africa at the World T20 semi-final, when South Africa needed 29 runs from 12 balls with Duminy and Morkel at the crease, has gone down in cricketing legends. I got a message from a friend in Mumbai saying ‘That Gul over was the best bowling at death I have seen since Ambrose and Walsh used to operate.’ We know your cricket; the news of Umar Akmal batting on any turf becomes a buzzword in India. So the reasons, of course, have not been cricketing because we love your cricket. In a way, though, they can be called reasons that make ‘sense’ if not ‘cricketing sense’.

To suggest that there has been any conspiracy is like listening to the ridiculous Hamid Gul and the entertaining Zaid Hamid; both good at using the spinning jenny to churn out preposterous conspiracy theories out of a non-existent yarn. Someone from India needs to apologise for the ‘corporate inelegance’ in which the matter was handled and it should end there.

I’ll touch on the politics now despite the fact that I don’t relish it as much as Test cricket; but in extraordinary circumstances the King becomes a subject and has to be dealt like one. The effigies being burnt in Pakistan and the matter being taken up with the ICC is just plain overreaction and carries no meaning; what carries meaning is again what Rameez Raza said ‘that India should have been large’. Pakistan also needs to be large and look within as the Indian government has observed and this is one of those few things with which the nation may agree with the government.

At the centre of all this is Mumbai; and the still raw, complicated and bleeding ‘Mumbai Meat Market’. The effigy burning only reminds me of the column Thomas Friedman did for The New York Times after the Mumbai attacks. This is an edited extract from Friedman’s December 2, 2008 article: “On Feb. 6, 2006, three Pakistanis died in Peshawar and Lahore during violent street protests against Danish cartoons that had satirized the Prophet Muhammad. More such mass protests followed weeks later. When Pakistanis and other Muslims are willing to take to the streets, even suffer death, to protest an insulting cartoon published in Denmark, is it fair to ask: Who in the Muslim world, who in Pakistan, is ready to take to the streets to protest the mass murders of real people, not cartoon characters, right next door in Mumbai?

After all, if 10 young Indians from a splinter wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party travelled by boat to Pakistan, shot up two hotels in Karachi and the central train station, killed at least 173 people, and then, for good measure, murdered the imam and his wife at a Saudi-financed mosque while they were cradling their 2-year-old son—purely because they were Sunni Muslims—where would we be today? The entire Muslim world would be aflame and in the streets.

We know from the Danish cartoons affair that Pakistanis and other Muslims know how to mobilize quickly to express their heartfelt feelings, not just as individuals, but as a powerful collective. That is what is needed here. Because, I repeat, this kind of murderous violence only stops when the village—all the good people in Pakistan, including the community elders and spiritual leaders who want a decent future for their country—declares, as a collective, that those who carry out such murders are shameful unbelievers who will not dance with virgins in heaven but burn in hell. And they do it with the same vehemence with which they denounce Danish cartoons.”

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