Cricket

From PhalkeFactory

Jump to: navigation, search

Cricket

By the early 1930s radio had arrived, taking the news of the cricket and the noise of the crowd into the streets and lanes and seaside bungalows of Bombay. Office-goers, eager for news, `thronged hotels and other public places where receivers have been installed'.(19) But even before the days of radio, recalled one writer, `you could hear reactions of the spectators in the corridors of Hornby Road, you could feel that great things were happening, that offices were denuded of clerks, especially in the afternoon, and in rickety old rooms, whose access is through dark staircases amidst ancient files and briefs, there came the muffled voices of ten thousand spectators, a call from afar, which made work impossible, and narrowed Bombay to that sunny green spot, where our heroes were making hearts beat pit-a-pat'.(20) The Quadrangular cricket tournament was what Indians call a tamasha, a carnival which brought city life to a standstill. When in 1926 the tournament was held for once in Bombay's rival city of Poona, a journalist sardonically remarked: `perhaps the offices will have cause to be satisfied as illness will not be as prevalent as usual in the period embracing this feast, and grandmothers will not require burial'.(21) The Bombay cricket carnival spawned a series of tournaments on similar lines. The Sind Quadrangular, established in 1916 at Karachi (and to become a Pentangular as early as 1923), attracted upwards of ten thousand spectators. A Central Provinces Quadrangular, played annually in Nagpur, was instituted in the 1920s. A Triangular was started in Delhi in 1937, with the Hindus, Muslims and the Rest participating. Lahore also had its three-cornered competition, between teams drawn from the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. In the South, the cricketing event of the year was the Madras Presidency match, played between the Indians and the Englishmen of the province. These regional variations on the Bombay pattern were influenced by local demography as well as power relations. The Parsis were a full-fledged side in Karachi (their second city), but could not form teams in Delhi and Lahore, where their numbers were small and their economic presence inconsequential. Definitions of `community' could be fluid: the Sikhs were willing to be clubbed with the Hindus in Bombay and Delhi, but insisted upon a separate identity in their native Punjab (especially in Lahore, which had been, as recently as 1840, the capital of a Sikh kingdom). The Europeans admitted talented Eurasians and the odd Indian Christian in Nagpur, a town tucked away deep in the interior, and in Madras, which since the time of the legendary Sir Thomas Munro (Governor in the 1820s) had been known for its progressive style of governance. In Bombay, however, racial boundaries were more sharply drawn. In the 1930s, for example, when a number of promising Indian Catholic cricketers were unable to find a place anywhere, the Hindu Gymkhana asked for the Europeans to reconstitute themselves as a `Christian' eleven, retaining the convenient quadrangular format. The Bombay Gymkhana was adamant; although it had chosen Australians in the past, it would not even consider the famous black Trinidadian cricketer, Learie Constantine (who toured India in 1934), let alone Christians of Indian origin. This was a clearly a question of status: `the "white" Brahmins of the Bombay Gymkhana [were] afraid of losing their caste by enlisting non-Europeans in the European ranks'.(22) In the event, continuing pressure from the Catholic Gymkhana of Bombay led, in 1937, to the formation of the `Rest' and the conversion of the tournament into a Pentangular. As a residual category, the Rest could afford to be inclusive; its cricket eleven included, at different times, Indian Roman Catholics, Protestants and Syrian Christians, as well as Eurasians, Sinhalese Buddhists and Jews. All over British India, then, competitive cricket was organized on `communal' lines,(23) with teams composed on the basis of caste, ethnic group, race or religion. A distinguished Indian cricketer, writing just after Independence, claimed: the communal form, in topmost Indian cricket, came into existence only because the Burra Sahibs in India, in the earlier days, had an undisguised superiority complex in all their dealings with the Indians. The British officers who came to India to protect the British Empire were encouraged by higher authorities to maintain very little contact with the "Natives" as they sneeringly called the Indians. The British, therefore, opened their separate exclusive clubs in the three Presidency towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, followed closely by establishment of other [such] clubs in other cities such as Poona and Bangalore. The Parsees who picked up the game also picked up the separatist tendency of the British along with it. On the one hand, the British did not admit the Parsees to their "sanctified fortresses". The Parsees, therefore, had perforce to have separate clubs. But in those clubs they could have allowed other Indians. Unfortunately that was not done. Consequently the Hindus also had to follow the same path. Muslims, last in the field, were compelled to follow suit.(24)

But, of course, Hindu society was scarcely less exclusive, with its own meticulous detailing of ritual boundaries between castes and sub-castes. Through much of the nineteenth century, Hindu cricket clubs in Bombay were themselves organized on caste lines. Social intercourse was even more restricted across religions: it does not come as a surprise that Parsis and Muslims also took to making up teams of their own. That Hindus were victims rather than willing participants in communal cricket is a retrospective reading, informed by the inclusive nationalism, transcending divisions of caste and religion, promoted after the 1920s by men such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. The element of compulsion was not really a factor in the origins of the Quadrangular tournament, which was moulded as much by Hindu caste prejudice, by Parsi social snobbery and by Muslim cultural insularity, as by British racial superiority. None the less, sown into this segmentary system were the seeds of social conflict.


III RACE MATTERS Some British cricketers saw the sport as a way of feeling less out of place in a hostile climate; others, more positively, as a vehicle for cementing relations between them and their subjects. In the latter category fell Lord Harris who, as Governor of Bombay between 1890 and 1895, had helped lay the foundations of what later became the Quadrangular tournament. A Parsi admirer believed that the Governor was `a sage statesman [who] at once saw that much of the friction between the Europeans and the Natives of India could be got rid off by bringing the ruler and the ruled together by means of sport'.(25) Or as the statesman himself put it: `East will always be East, and West, West, but the [batting] crease is not a very broad line of demarcation -- so narrow, indeed, that it ought to help bring about friendly relations'.(26) This required men with the motives (and motivation) of Harris himself. What India needs, remarked one colonial, `is a few more Governors like Lord Harris in Bombay and Lord Wenlock in Madras, a cricketing Commander-in-Chief [of the Indian Army], a cricketing Colonel in every cantonment and none but cricketing blues appointed as Collectors and Inspectors' General of Police'.(27) The links between cricket and the colonizing mission are made most explicit in a fascinating account of a cricket tour of India in the winter of 1902-3, by a side travelling under the name of `Oxford Authentics', but liberal enough to accommodate a few Cambridge men. The team travelled ten thousand miles through India and Burma, shooting tigers in Rajasthan, fishing trout in Kashmir and playing cricket wherever they went. The tour had been timed to coincide with the Coronation Durbar, a splendid ceremony in New Delhi organized by Lord Curzon to honour the new monarch, King Edward VII, a ceremony that was also intended to signal, to the sceptics, the British will to rule. The cricket they played and the ceremonies they witnessed are described in a book by one of the tourists, Cecil Headlam. Headlam was himself a historian (of medieval European towns) and placed cricket in its proper historical context, as among the last and most benign influences of imperial rule

Personal tools