Samir Chopra December 4, 2008

The show must not go on

It's a great thing to talk about getting back to day-to-day life

The day after the Mumbai bombings, an Australian friend of mine who had read my piece on Australia not touring Pakistan (which provoked many flames despite my pointing out that terrorist violence in India hardly received any international attention), wrote to me and said, "See, Chop? All it took was a few dead Englishmen and Americans. The Mumbai attacks are all over the news". There is a huge dollop of cynicism in that email, one that I partially share, as I've not failed to notice that fact myself.

But cynicism is not what I intend to traffic in today. I'd simply like to offer some skepticism about the constant refrain that cricket can act as a healing balm. For the fact of the matter is that cricket can be a good and a bad distraction. And right now, cricket seems like a bad distraction.

India has been attacked, and I'd rather the country, its people, its leaders, its intellectuals get down to the business of figuring out how it is that every year, due to planned acts of murderous violence, hundreds of Indian citizens die, of all religions and socio-economic orders, and yet, nothing concrete seems to happen on either the security, planning, or domestic and foreign policy fronts. It's a great thing to talk about getting back to day-to-day life. But getting back to normality can be overrated, especially if that return involves a dangerous forgetting of the fact that a sovereign nation is seemingly helpless to protect the lives of its innocent citizens.

If the absence of cricket forces a remembering of why the cricket is not on the television, then so be it. Let's watch images of the burning Taj instead, or perhaps some more shots of the dead, their limbs grotesquely askew, at the Mumbai railway station, and ask ourselves, what can we do to make sure this does not happen again? What will it take?

This rush to want to get back to watching cricket has a slight undertone of "Can something be done to get my mind off this disaster, please?" That emotion is understandable, but it should not turn into the dangerous complacency that seems to settle over all and sundry a few days after the site of the latest atrocity is cleaned up and all the bodies are consigned to the flames.

Indian cricket fans won't be starved of cricket. ESPN or Star Sports will show Australia vs. South Africa, and the Ranji Trophy is on. And of course, on any Indian sports channel, you can watch endless highlights shows, famous centuries, great bowling performances or whatever. The suspension of cricket is not going to be indefinite. We will get back to playing cricket soon enough. No test cricket was played anywhere in the world between 1939 and 1946. When the war ended, cricket resumed. We are not in the same situation, but would a temporary suspension for a couple of months hurt people so much?

The skeptics will say that complacency will return anyway, that the suspension of cricket will not bring the dead to life, that this is a problem too big to be fixed by suspending normal life, that the suspension will be counterproductive. But perhaps some of that skepticism might be dispelled by thinking of this as a mourning period instead. No one pretends mourning will bring the dead back to life; but it enables reflection, a sizing up of the world and our place in it, and it does not last forever. That's all I'm asking for now.

PS: In my blog, a couple of days ago, I'd written that I didn't care whether the English tour went ahead or not. But my feelings have changed. Right now, I don't think it'd be a good idea. Given my addiction to cricket, I'd land up paying attention if the games were played. But I'll be pretty distracted.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here