Like teenaged Harry Potter fans squealing with joy that J.K. Rowling’s books sell like no other consumable item, Indian cricket fans have busted a shirt-button or two with pride when they heard earlier this week that most Indians prefer to watch, well, cricket over World Cup football.
That’s like Americans getting mighty chuffed to find that most Americans prefer following the capers of Paris Hilton to that of Rakhi Sawant. One could also be mistaken that with Sharad Pawar taking over as the International Cricket Council (ICC) president on Friday, fobbing off some ‘white guy’s’ nomination, we witnessed payback for Mahatma Gandhi being thrown off the train at Pietermaritzburg station. But on a slightly more serious note, what the TAM Peoplemeter System, which counted TV viewership among Indians aged above 4 (we’d love to know what Indians between 0 and 4 prefer to watch), actually confirmed is the obvious value of three things: localisation, localisation and localisation. As for Mr Pawar following Jagmohan Dalmiya’s booted-safari suited footsteps, only two things were in play: politics and commerce.
It’s easy enough to bring in that chestnut of an ‘India growing in power and status’ to explain why cricket is topmost on our minds and why the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the new East India Company with the ICC as its pocket borough. But this could be, paradoxically, the right time to question India’s distinct herd mentality and the banal comfort that we, as a nation, take in numbers. If Bollywood movies had been immensely popular, what did it matter — so went the old refrain — if they had been immensely childish and silly? The logic was that it catered to our taste, as if Indians not hurrahing Jeetendra in Bidaai were being anti-national. Thankfully, it took some filmmakers within mainstream Hindi films, to point out that popular rubbish was being dished out as the only ‘local’ fare — as if beyond chana kulcha the only choice one is left with is ravioli.
That cricket is our football — like Hindi filmi music is our rock n’roll and Indian Chinese cuisine is our default restaurant khana — is as obvious as the day not being the night. But to pitch most viewers watching cricket as opposed to football in a ‘patriotism vs hype’ paradigm is as silly as expecting every reader of this editorial to know the meaning of ‘paradigm’. And let’s please not make a big deal about not knowing the meaning of ‘paradigm’.