Ten days ago, somebody asked me, does sport really matter? It took me less than a second to say no, it doesn't. Mumbai was being brutalised, people were calling this India’s 9/11 and we didn't know where the world was heading. Ten days on, we still don’t know but as we count our losses and struggle to come to terms with whatever lies ahead, it’s perhaps time to look to sport, not to forget but to remember. As history has taught us repeatedly, sport gives us the opportunity to be together, grieve together, feel together and hope together that somehow, tomorrow will be better.
<b1>The most poignant example of this perhaps, in the recent past, was when the baseball team New York Mets took the field in a home game, their city’s first major sporting event since 9/11.
On September 21, 2001, ten days after the world’s biggest-ever terrorist strike, 41,235 people turned up to watch the Mets — sporting Fire Department of New York caps — take on and thrillingly beat the Atlanta Braves. It was a game that reportedly saw everyone, including the players, go through a range of open emotions — grief, rage, pain, the sheer happiness of celebrating something as simple as sport. It was also about the sheer happiness of being together for something unrelated to death, as many of those gathered had moved from funeral to funeral, grieving home to grieving home.
Some said it brought catharsis, some said it brought hope, some watched because it made them, however briefly, forget the horror of the past ten days and helped them breathe normally. Still others watched because it helped them remember that they were alive and ready to fight another day.
Two days later, New York’s football team, the Giants, played away at Kansas City. One of the Giants’ broadcast staffers, Dick Lynch, was there too. His son, said reports, a broker with a desk on the 84th floor of Tower Two, was missing, presumed dead.
On Thursday, when India’s cricketers take on England in the first Test at Chennai (unfortunately, not Mumbai), they will have a heavier responsibility than usual. And a vastly different one perhaps from that of the pressure of expectations. Cricketers (or sportsmen and women) are not and cannot be expected to be superheroes, or magicians who waltz in and wave a magic wand to make everything miraculously seem alright. But they can help us feel together again, even briefly.
And perhaps help us come together. India at the moment is a country on the edge. Along with all the rage and anger at the government and politicians, behind the tears and the candlelight vigils; behind the marches and fiery comments on television; behind the discussions in every home and every street corner, is an edginess about the future and, sadly, a thinly-veiled mistrust of those who don’t ‘belong’ to this or that group.
Despite reports of at least 40 Muslims dying in India’s most savage attacks (mostly Mumbaikars), the community is increasingly being treated with wary suspicion or outright hostility. But if we look beyond the devastating rip in our social fabric, some identifiable things, like Bollywood and cricket, still keep the faith.
Like a Wasim Jaffer leading Mumbai in their Ranji Trophy game against Hyderabad soon after the carnage and making a double hundred for the city he loves. Or the fact that the spearhead of India’s bowling attack, like Bollywood’s biggest superstars, is a Khan. They bring us joy and pride, as also the hope that a more rational tomorrow does exist.
We have got to play cricket, for nothing binds India like it does. We must not forget. But like New York, we can feel alive again together and it is here that a game, that most of us love and live, can perhaps help us.