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Sporting cures

We can say sport doesn't matter much and work with more 'adult' things like elections. Or we can forget our problems by watching Sehwag bat or Ishant bowl, writes Joy Bhattacharjya.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2009 23:10 IST
Joy Bhattacharjya

The Sensex at its lowest ever in three years, the world markets in a seemingly never-ending downward spiral — and not a cricket match or big film release to let us forget, even for a bit. It’s simply not fair. At the best of times, I am sobered by Javed Miandad’s last ball six at Sharjah (sorry for reminding all other 40-year-olds — yes it still hurts), at the worst of times I am comforted by Sehwag’s utter disregard for reputation, ability and ceremony.

Sport, after all, has been an inspiration and driver for a very, very long time. It is no coincidence that the most well known foot race is named after an epic journey by the Greek messenger, Philippides, after the battle of Marathon. It only added to the legend when he died immediately after delivering his message. Don’t get me wrong. Sport is great in good times. The film Rollerball, a significant hit in 1975, was all about sport in 2018 replacing the normal ‘civilised’ barbarities of war and terror with brutal sporting action. But to really appreciate the impact of sport, see how it affects people in bad times.

The depression produced two of America’s finest sporting moments. One is ‘Seabiscuit’ who became a symbol of hope during the Great Depression. The racehorse was the subject of a 2001 book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, and a 2003 film, Seabiscuit, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Then there is Cinderella Man. As the United States enters the Great Depression, James Braddock works at menial jobs to support his family, but still dreams of somehow returning to boxing.

He gets another chance to fight but is put up against the world number two. Braddock stuns the experts by winning his bout. Braddock continues to win and before long, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, defeats Max Baer to become the world heavyweight champion. Russell Crowe plays Jimmy Braddock, whose boxing career played out just before the crash of 1929.

Both Seabiscuit and Cinderella Man were hits when they were lovingly filmed and recounted in the 2000s. But to really appreciate their impact, one would have to revisit the newspapers and popular literature of the thirties. An honest boxer fighting for his family’s next meal, or an undersized racehorse who just had a huge heart were unbelievable inspirations in their own time.

There is even in a film, set in the American depression, which is all about the Bhagavad Gita. The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a golf-based film, has many parallels to the Gita in which Arjuna is instructed by Lord Krishna. In fact, the name ‘Junuh’ in the film derives directly from ‘Arjuna’ in the Gita, just as ‘Bagger Vance’ is meant to be a variation of ‘Bhagwan’. The parallels between the original novel and the Bhagavad Gita are brought out in a book called Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind Bagger Vance written by Steven Rosen.

At some point, the Brits understood the value of what sport meant to them. George Mikes summed it up best in his immortal assertion: “The continentals think life is a game, the British think cricket is a game”. John Major was not too far off

when he said, “Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers.”

We have the choice of deciding that sport does not matter all that much and work with the more ‘serious and adult’ things of life like (god help us!) elections. Or we can decide to forget all our problems by watching Sehwag bat or Ishant bowl. There is really that much of a choice.

Joy Bhattacharjya is director, Kolkata Knight Riders.