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Gatka in Australia

Sport creates an ingroup of people with disparate beliefs and backgrounds, and individuals see clearly the human in each other

Gatka in Australia

Gatka makes Harjas Singh’s wrists strong. This, the Aussie lad says, helps him to strike the ball hard. Gatka practitioners, among other things, brandish and swivel sticks, swords and spears. - File photo



Rohit Mahajan

Gatka makes Harjas Singh’s wrists strong. This, the Aussie lad says, helps him to strike the ball hard. Gatka practitioners, among other things, brandish and swivel sticks, swords and spears. “You have to have very strong wrists for that,” Harjas Singh says. “It’s a lot of sword fighting, and just sword spinning. There’s a lot of footwork-based stuff as well. With the heavy spears and swords that you spin, it gets really tiring on your wrist. And the more you do it, the stronger you get.”

“India spin bowling is their strength, and playing spin bowling is my strength,” he says.

Harjas Singh, son of migrants from Punjab, had top-scored for Australia in the final of the Under-19 World Cup, his 55 handing an Indian men’s team its second World Cup defeat to an Australian XI in three months.

Wristy batters from Hyderabad, such as Mohammed Azharuddin and VVS Laxman, attributed their strong wrists to playing a lot of cricket during their formative days on mat wickets — the ball tends to zip and dart on such wickets; to survive, batters must make last-nanosecond adjustments, done best with a flick of the wrist. This makes the wrists both strong and supple, and adds flair to a batter’s methods.

Sydney-born Harjas, 18, is a practising Sikh and has a strong affinity to Gatka — he seems to derive strength, physical and mental, from belief.

A cricketer born in, say, Sialkot in Pakistan, is likely to derive strength from Islam; a Sourav Ganguly might set up a small temple in his hotel room during travels, and Sachin Tendulkar might have images of the deities he reveres in his kit bag. In the uncertain and perilous path of sport, in which often, success seems to be governed by randomness, faith is a stick to rest on in times when the feet are tired.

Sarfaraz Khan, stalwart of domestic cricket for 10 years, finally got to play a Test match for India, and he immediately made a mark. These are the best days of the life of his father, Naushad Khan — his younger son, Musheer, made tons of runs in the U-19 World Cup, taking his form to the Ranji Trophy. Naushad could not pursue his dream of playing for India because, in the words of Sarfaraz, of his weak financial situation. Sarfaraz, though, put Naushad’s name on the India jersey in his own way. He opted for number 97 to be put on his back — nau and saat in Hindi, i.e. Naushad. Naushad, having battled poverty, and certainly no ‘gentleman’, had this heartwarming message on his own jersey: cricket is gentlemen’s everyone’s sport.

Some 16 years back, this writer came across a few young Punjabi lads pleading to be allowed to bowl to Indian batters at the nets — it was an unreasonable request, impossible to be granted, of course. They talked about being discriminated against in the Australian cricket set-up, about facing racism in grade cricket. Australia, then coming to terms with large-scale migration from India, particularly Punjab, was also witnessing a surge of hate crime against immigrants. This had sharpened the edge of the racism or racist comments the young Punjabi cricket hopefuls were facing — they believed the system was dead set against them, and they believed that their hopes of playing for Australia were doomed at the outset.

Lisa Sthalekar, born in 1979 and adopted at only a few weeks of age by a mixed couple —Indian-origin Haren and his wife Sue — had played for the Australian women’s team in 2003; but for boys from migrant families, the road was tougher.

Usman Khawaja, born in Pakistan, made his Australia debut in 2011. Indian-origin Punjabis such as Tanveer Sangha and Gurinder Sandhu, too, earned their Australia stripes. The White Australia policy, designed to keep the country monochromatic, was dismantled only by the 1970s, and large-scale migration from the Indian subcontinent started in the 1990s. The sons and daughters of the migrants are now fighting for their place in grade cricket, in state cricket and, indeed, in the Australian team. Multiculturalism, lauded by some and hated by some, is adding beautiful shades to the Australian colours.

India, multicultural for centuries — and yet not inclusive, a point too obvious to be expanded upon — is going through a disconcerting process of an appeal to premodern ideas about our origins, irrational beliefs and faith. The scientific method — the best way to do everything, including surgeries to remove tumours and to win wars and to communicate with others on the opposite face of the earth — has demonstrated that all human beings are, originally, Africans. Faith and religion were born of fear and superstition — a fairytale for the grown-ups, physicist Stephen Hawking said.

Human beings have evolved to be socially cooperative, but evolutionary biologists say that there’s an evolutionary advantage in being fearful of outsiders — so we have ingroups we’re comfortable with and outgroups that we are wary of. Sport creates an ingroup of people with disparate beliefs and backgrounds, and individuals see clearly the human in each other — this is perhaps the best thing about sport. 

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