Does India win only if we win today?
‘All this over a game?’ asks Lisa Simpson in what was perhaps a programming masterstroke on the part of Star World.
Less than two hours after India won the World Cup semi-final against Pakistan, the world’s favourite four-fingered yellow family took their 11.30 pm slot, with an episode featuring Bart as a much-hated baseball catcher who first caught (Yaaaa-aaaaay) and then missed (Aaaaaaaaaaaah) a crucial ball.
Adoration turned to murderous rage, but that was besides the point.
What emerged as truly inexplicable — even to someone who had spent all day glued to a screen, praying 260 would do the trick — was the earth-shattering importance attached to a game where a group of men chase a ball around a field, following rules framed by another group of men aeons ago.
But then that is the power of Emergence.
To quote New York Times columnist David Brooks: “Emergent systems are ones in which many different elements interact [to] produce a new element that is greater than the sum of the parts…”
Culture is an emergent system, says Brooks, so is a bad marriage. They have to be studied as wholes… as “nested networks of relationships”.
Our religious devotion to the Men in Blue, though, would also seem to be a case of path dependence, another concept Brooks discusses. This, then, is the notion that “something that seems normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice”.
We know that our team winning does not prove that we as a nation are any different than we know ourselves to be. We know it doesn’t help us live better, earn better or clean things up. We know that all it proves is that one group of men played better than another group of men at a particular moment in time.
Yet somewhere down the line, much like the mismatched couple that eventually agreed to call it love, we decided that nothing better was likely to come along.
So we decided, silently and near-unanimously, that this would be our national success metre.
We couldn’t bank on that other group of men, lounging about in white in the grand Capital we so optimistically built. We can’t always bank on the sensex, though it is proving to be far more bank-worthy than the men in white.
So we turn the mega-watt glare of our collective ambition on to a group of 11 men in a branded blue uniform.
The thing about path dependence is you eventually forget the why. And you mistakenly believe that the way it is is the only way it can be.
That makes Saturday, for us, a lose-lose situation.