Monday, March 05, 2007

The Indian History of a British Sport

From the preface of "A Corner of A Foreign Field" by Ramachandra Guha:

For the social historian, mass sport is a sphere of activity that expresses, in concentrated form, the values, prejudices, divisions and unifying symbols of a society. The importance of sport to the modern world is manifest in the pervasive use of sporting metaphors in popular discourse. Why is it that a new and conspicuously successful party in the land of Mussolini and Michelangelo has called itself Forza Italia, or Goal! Italy? Or that a controversial law in the US state of California is justified in terms of a baseball metaphor, 'Three strikes and you are out?' Or indeed, that when faced with a political crisis, generations of British Prime Ministers, Tory, Labour and Liberal, take cover in the language of cricket, and speak of playing with a straight bat on a sticky wicket? And how is it that since the end of the First World War there has been only one Kaiser in German society, and he a footballer, Franz Backenbauer?

[...]

The American writer Jane O'Reilly has remarked that the 'one nice thing about sports is that they prove men do have emotions and are not afraid to show them'. It is also, as this book shows, the one nasty thing. For the cricket field was both a theatre of imperial power and Indian resistance. The career of Palwankar Baloo illuminates the operations of that unique (and uniquely dreadful) human institution, caste. The disagreements between Hindus and Muslims before 1946, and between India and Pakistan since, have thrown a long shadow across the playing-fields of the world.

The commercialization of modern cricket and the corruptions that have come in its wake have led some commentators to speak wistfully of a time when this was a 'gentleman's game'. In truth, there was no golden age, no uncontaminated past in which the playground was free of social pressure and social influence. Cricket has always been a microcosm of the fissures and tensions within Indian society: fissures that it has both reflected and played upon, mitigated as well as intensified. The cricketer or cricket lover might seek to keep his game pure, but the historian finds himself straying, willy-nilly, into those great, overarching themes of Indian history: race, caste, religion and nation.

[...]
How wonderful is this book! The preface itself is so much enjoyable, the book itself is going to be a cracker of reading. The book is written with plenty of research, careful attention to the accuracy of data and of course, infinite passion towards the sport. Although it does not contain any statistics and records, this history-book is going to be arguably as entertaining as watching Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in an ODI and a Test match respectively!

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Great work.