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December 4, 2008

Samir Chopra

The show must not go on

Samir Chopra

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

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Posted by Jodecy on (December 23, 2011, 8:37 GMT)

Super informative wiritng; keep it up.

Posted by JK on (December 8, 2008, 18:43 GMT)

100% agreed that cricket should not be resumed. Also, India should not go on to tour Pak or even play Pak at any venue unless Pak hands over the suspected criminals. Cricket is a very trivial issue compared to the millions of lives at stake. It is depressing to see people bend over backwards to make this tour happen. If 10% of the security measures being provided to the Eng team were present in mumbai on 26/11, the tragedy could have been averted....

Posted by vaidya on (December 5, 2008, 18:41 GMT)

Am a cricket buff to the core, waking up everyday to coffee and cricinfo. The last week however, that has changed. Cricket has been far away from my mind with things happening in Mumbai. I did hope that the tour does not go ahead. However, that also sends out the wrong messages and would even be a small victory to the terrorists, as it would isolate India like they have managed to do with Pakistan. The show must go on, simply because it will tell them that we still dream, and can stand up and also a message from the UK that they stand with India on this. It would be a distraction, and maybe the interest in the matches will be below par, but we need it as a symbol, as a message more than anything else.

Posted by Sumit Sahai on (December 5, 2008, 14:28 GMT)

I think the author has mixed up his understandable lack of appetite for cricket in the current scenario with an ambiguous moral statement. I’m not looking forward to the Tests myself, but the case for playing for symbolism is stronger than the case for not playing.

Indians are not simpletons for whom a mere Test series is enough to wipe away the shock and pain of last week. But even if this were true for some morons, then any distraction would suffice. Should Bollywood, TV/radio all shut down so we can all focus on the images of the burning Taj? Should we go to work at all? If we have to go to work, why shouldn’t Dhoni and Flintoff?

This is a major wake-up call for Indian security forces, and the citizens/media shouldn’t ever let them forget. Our security and intelligence setup needs major overhaul, but ordinary folk have no control on this. I fail to see how prolonged public mourning and abstinence from cricket will prevent a repeat or defeat terrorism. Life must go on!

Posted by Praneeth on (December 5, 2008, 5:44 GMT)

It is quite ridiculous to say that cricket should not be played because of bad things happening in the country. What next? No movies should be made because movies are trivial... no candy sold in stores because candy is trivial? Where do you draw the line? If you take it such extreme, you can easily say that anyone who isn't a doctor or a teacher or whatever should just quit their job because "it doesn't seem important now." The government should focus on finding out why these attacks keep happening but that doesn't mean life should be completely altered. If it turns out that Pakistan had something to do with the attacks, then that tour should be cancelled. And guess what? Horrible things happen in the world. That's life. Does it seem fair that we pay actors and athletes ridiculous amount of money while people are starving? The citizens have to get back to routine, but the onus is on the government to show that it can protect its citizens.

Posted by Chinmay on (December 4, 2008, 21:02 GMT)

bingo!!! spot on target man.....some sanity after media madness.

Posted by Subra on (December 4, 2008, 16:10 GMT)

Perhaps Mr. Chopra does not know that in his country of residence, Major League Baseball resumed one week after the 9/11 attacks. I did not see that as being viewed as inappropriate. I suggest he is simply trying to conform to the line set by editors, who are basically of the opinion that Tests should not resume. Cricinfo always has had profound resentment that India is the financial powerhouse of cricket even though it originated from England, and I suggest that they simply are trying to somehow demoralize India by creating the impression that India is unsafe for cricket. The horrendous events in Mumbai in no way should allow us to disrupt our routines. It is possible to have immense compassion for the victims and profound sadness in our hearts, do whatever we can to pressure our government and yet enjoy a Sachin flick to square leg ir a Yuvraj hike over long-on. That is how it should be.

Posted by AC on (December 4, 2008, 16:00 GMT)

We said Samir! We Indians in general need to get over our pathological fixation with the bat, ball and bollywood. Yes, I agree it gives us a temporary relief from everyday grind, but remember it is temporary. There are many more important issues that need to be addressed. I am definitely against India touring Pak in Jan. It would not send the right signal to all the innocent familiies who were affected by the horror. Further, I believe all these pseudo-intellectuals like Samibit and Kamran should, as we Americans say, STFU.

Posted by Samir Chopra on (December 4, 2008, 15:44 GMT)

Folks, thanks very much for your comments. Please keep them coming. As I hope to have indicated in my post, I'm not taking any stances on whether its safe to play. Also, my stress on cricket (as opposed to other activities) is precisely because of its greater significance in the Indian context.

Thanks, Samir

Posted by Subash on (December 4, 2008, 15:26 GMT)

I disagree with you Samir, respectfully. Are we canceling the cricket for the wound is still pretty fresh or is it because teams are afraid to? If its the latter, then the job of the terrorists is done. If its the former, then, when is a good time? (a la Lorne Michaels of Saturday Night Live, after 9/11, Can we be funny again?). Yes, the government needs to figure out exactly what it wants to do. However, life needs to go on. I don't consider the renewal of tour as a distraction from the tragedy, rather - a firm middle finger at the perpetrators. Sorry, we are living our lives. The need for government's actions shouldn't be confused with the citizenry living its life. And yes, Sport is a part of everyone's life (almost everyone I suppose). Cheers!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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