Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Swing when you’re winning — Is hockey the new cricket?

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

The crowds in the stand were on the edge of their seats. Not because the action on the field was exciting, but the seats were really dirty. The players on the field were ruthlessly perspiring. Not that they were worried about the outcome of the match, but because half of them hadn’t paid their monthly rent and the other half wanted the game to end soon so that they could leave early and avoid the rush hour traffic. The world was watching. And by the world we mean all the five people staring aimlessly at the television in the local pizza parlour called The World. As the clock ran out of batteries half an hour before the match was supposed to end, the boys in blue raised their hands in victory. The country was ecstatic! Finally, the Indian team had won a match! After all those weeks of poor performance, a small glimmer of hope! This one victory would make up for all that disappointment. The reason for this euphoria was that the Indian Hockey team had qualified for the Olympics.

Wait a minute, HOCKEY? All this ecstasy turned into uneasy befuddlement. Hockey was a real game? It wasn’t just something invented by a crafty bollywood producer so that he could make a movie about sports? Holy Baichung Bhutia, batman!

After a few minutes, the feelings of befuddlement turned back into ecstasy again. The important thing is that India won something. We are so starved for glory that we’ll take anything we can get. Even a kid born to Indian-American parents who wins the Oklahoma State Spelling Bee.

As if on cue, the news channels began to project Hockey as the new cricket. The new hope of a billion people! Curiously, ever since our population passed the one billion mark, the whole country has begun to wish for the same desired results. A billion people wanted AR Rahman to win an Oscar. A billion people wanted Anna Hazare to win the Hunger Games. A billion people wanted Sania Mirza to win . . . well, anything.

Thus, a billion people spent the next two days obsessing over Hockey. Teenagers were exchanging their cricket jerseys for whatever Hockey players wear to cover themselves whilst they are on the field. This was also the first time in our country’s history that so many hockey sticks were sold in the same day for non-riot purposes. Television and print journalists wondered aloud whether all the attention we pay to cricket is at the cost of other sports. They weren’t interviewed because not many people knew they existed, but I assume if all the barefoot javelin throwers and those shooters without a practice range could speak, they would disagree with this sort of sensational journalism. “We’re fine. Don’t worry about us!” is what they would say, while soliciting local businessmen for money to buy equipment & uniforms.

Fortunately, things went back to normal two days later when the Indian cricket team finally won a match. Whew! Welcome back, cricket! Don’t ever leave us again! Did you know a hockey game takes less time to play than a Rotary Club T-20 match which allows ‘one-tip out?' And hockey matches have penalties. How rude! It’s not a gentlemen’s game until its longest version takes up the better part of the week and the match still ends up in a draw.

This short-lived buzz over hockey must have woken up the officials of our Olympic organization committee. One minute they were stretching and rubbing out sleep from their eyes and the next minute somebody brought to their attention that there had been a large human tragedy in Bhopal in 1984, and that most of those victims are still suffering from ailments and a lack of justice. The committee must have been really moved by the plight of the victims because they were outraged enough to go on their annual pilgrimage to EmptyGestureland. They decided that the one thousand ‘officials’ accompanying our ten Olympic athletes would boycott the opening and closing ceremonies, unless the organizers removed Dow Chemicals-the current owner of the company responsible for the tragedy-as their main sponsor, Yes. That will show them! If they don’t listen to us and remove their main source of funds at the last minute, we will not attend an event at which we would have been barely noticed to begin with. Who do they think is organising the London Olympics, the ICC?

Each sports association in this country seems to be competing with the others for the gold medal in stupidity. Maybe that’s the one sport we are really good at?

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