“Dhoni finishes off in style. A magnificent strike into the crowd! India lift the World Cup after 28 years!”
All 35 people in our house that night jumped in unison as the Indian cricket team’s captain, MS Dhoni, hit a six out of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and led India to clinch the 2011 Cricket World Cup. Yes, I still get goosebumps. From my younger cousin who was only six years old at that time to my 93-year-old great-grandmother; from my school friends to our neighbours; from our guests to even our pet dog — everyone present in that room had tears of joy in their eyes. And it wasn’t just our house that celebrated the victory. The entire nation, filled with sundry individuals and communities, celebrated with the Indian cricket team.
In such a diverse society such as India, cricket can easily be referred to as a leveller. Ramachandra Guha, a famous Indian writer and historian, mentions that “the institutions that have kept India together are those bequests of the British: the civil service, the army, the railways, and cricket.” You might not feel the same way, but this statement rings true to me.
India is one of the most diverse countries in the world. The various religions and cultures that exist make citizens living across these divisions different in the way they live their lives. The festivals are unique, the food is dissimilar, the customs and traditions are wide-ranging, the social structure is different, the number of languages spoken is countless, and often even the dialects of the same language in different regions are distinctive. There is only one thing that stays constant across the depths and breadths of the country: the love for cricket. Cricket unites not only this fragmented and divided India but also the global Indian community, regardless of their country of residence, class, or religion.
I grew up in an environment where playing cricket every evening was nothing less than a ritual. On Sundays and other holidays, the ritual used to get extended to both mornings and evenings. In all honesty, we didn’t stop playing till we were physically and mentally drained. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. It didn’t matter how many players we had, where we played, or how the weather was (trust me, it was terrible) — nothing could interfere with us playing cricket. Be it a proper cricket ground or the Piazza; be it with a tennis ball or a rubber ball; be it summer or winter; be it with 20 players or with less than 5 — Indians find a way to play cricket whenever and wherever they feel like playing.
Cricket is also one of the best ice-breakers in India. If you are alone on a long train or cab journey or are feeling bored waiting at the barber's, raise the topic of cricket and you will, without doubt, end up talking about it for hours. It doesn’t matter whether you know anything about cricket. It’s free to learn the sport in India, taught by one and all. Cricket makes us skip meals, snatches our sleep away and, without shame, makes us cry. Even the streets are empty when a match is going on. Everyone comes together and cheers for the same cause. Overseas-born Indians, who have never even been to India, support India in a cricket game instead of rooting for the nation they have always been a citizen of. Sometimes I feel that cricket is the only aspect of Indian culture that defies time and space. It manages to bind the Indian diaspora with the Indian way of life and preserves Indian communities across the globe. It transcends cultural, social, religious as well as geographical borders and creates a unified, global Indian identity.
However, many people believe that this hype about cricket is a crucial factor in determining India’s performance in other sports. They ascertain that cricket is so huge in India that it suppresses the quest for achievements in all other sports. As a result, Indians tend not to perform equally well in other sports and sporting competitions.
That said, these critics fail to see that what cricket manages to infuse in the hearts of Indians is something greater than what any medal or trophy could ever do. The sport not only provides great entertainment but also invokes a feeling of pride and patriotism within Indians. It may not be our national sport (can you believe it, hockey is the national sport of India!) but it can definitely be regarded as a symbol of national unity. The social and regional harmony that many considered a lost legacy in India resurfaces through this much-loved sport. I believe that as long as cricket provides the glue, there is hope for a united India. It doesn’t matter if a crop is grown on the soils of Punjab, Bengal or Tamil Nadu; you will always be able to see children playing cricket on it.
Written by Atharv Joshi. Edited by Aada Orava and Robert Fletcher.
The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Atharv Joshi — not TEDxWarwick.
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