Samir Chopra August 29, 2009

Play a game away from home

In the US (in a way well described in Joseph O'Neill's Netherland), cricket, despite being proudly played by large, important, immigrant communities, sticks out, and is played on sufferance

Here is a question I'm often asked by people who know of my obsession with cricket: why don't you play cricket in the US? The answer to that is a little tricky and I struggle to express it clearly. It goes something like this: I prefer playing cricket in a context where the game fits in organically with the rest of its surroundings. I know this is not entirely rational, and I welcome feedback from folks who do play cricket in the US on how they experience the game here.

I've played cricket in India and Australia, and indeed, after arriving in the US some 22 years ago, played a few games at my university (with the usual grab-bag of Indian, Pakistani and West Indian students). Since then, I've never picked up a bat or ball in the US. And given my present location in Brooklyn, which is one of the hotbeds of cricketing activity in the US, this is a surprising business.

For, somehow, I do not feel a strong desire to play the game here. I often see students at Brooklyn College playing a quick game on the grounds; I often see Bangladeshi boys practicing close to Prospect Park, and more than once I've seen young men walking around with cricket kit bags on their way to a game. But I never feel the compulsion to walk up and ask for a bowl or a bat.

It's not because I've become too old. In the intervening years, I've played cricket in Australia and will do again in Sydney this January. But I look forward to those games in a way that I don't in the US. When I played cricket in Australia, I was surrounded by the game and its trappings. Walking around in the city center in whites, carrying a cricket kit bag, felt normal. We played on city council grounds meant for cricket; during innings, as I relaxed on the sidelines with my team, we checked cricket scores on the radio; when games were over, we retired to pubs where we ran into other cricketers as Test cricket was shown on a big screen. And when I went to parties later at night, my other friends would ask me how the day's game went, and would respond appropriately when I told them of a duck or a four-for.

In short, cricket was everywhere, and we contributed to the big picture. In contrast, in the US (in a way well described in Joseph O'Neill's Netherland), cricket, despite being proudly played by large, important, immigrant communities, sticks out, and is played on sufferance. To play cricket meant participating in an oddity, something out of whack with its surroundings.

Perhaps the best way to explain this state of mind is to draw a parallel with my music tastes. I noticed on my trips back to India after living in the US that many artistes and genres that I was fond of listening to in the US, sounded discordant when listened to in India. In 1992, I played Ministry in my brother's living-room in Ambala, and quickly turned it off. Al Jourgensen felt jarring in those surroundings. And conversely I felt less comfortable with listening to Indian artistes and genres here in the US; somehow Pandit Jasraj didn't blend with Manhattan street sounds. It's almost as if I needed an organic, seamless meshing between the music and its setting to become fully lost in the listening experience.

I know this is an entirely personal, idiosyncratic and possibly ill-founded reaction. But I cannot deny its presence in my decision to abstain from cricket in my present setting. It's not as if I decline invitations to play cricket; if I were to be asked, I would probably say yes, because, what the heck, it is cricket. It's just that I've never taken any active steps to play the game.

The music example is perhaps illuminative in other ways: cricket, as a game, has a cadence and a rhythm of its own, one that demands a certain location, a certain tuning with its setting. In the US, that co-relation has been missing on a deeply personal level. Perhaps, as the game grows, even if only in small ways, - like becoming a recognised school game in New York City - that adjustment will take place and I will be able to play my beloved game in my adopted home.

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