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IPL, reels, Bhagat Singh

What would Bhagat Singh do in these times? Not swipe reels, or form an IPL team on an app, surely!

IPL, reels, Bhagat Singh

Rohit Mahajan

At 17, IPL is a brash youngster in glitzy bling, but it’s the aged who’ve turned into its biggest cheerleaders, often speaking with forked tongues. The great Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, 52 this year, talks about the primacy of Test cricket but promotes T20 cricket — and throwing away the gravitas of a former BCCI president, endorses a fantasy gaming app that could make cricket’s young fans addicts. Sunil Gavaskar, 75 this year, and India’s greatest Test batter — whose indifference for limited-overs cricket was such that he devoted only a few paragraphs to India’s 1983 World Cup win in his book Runs and Ruins — is a big supporter of T20 cricket.

This writer once asked Bishan Singh Bedi why his mentor and good friend Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi chose to be associated with the IPL, despite not being enamoured of it — he who was naturally averse to kitschy, gaudy ways of the T20 format! Bedi said he had put the same question to Pataudi, and got an answer to this effect: What could I do, they put so much money on the table!

Pataudi, Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri were paid Rs 1 crore annually for serving on the IPL’s Governing Council until 2010; when the BCCI decided to make this position honorary in 2010, Pataudi and Gavaskar turned down the offer — rightly, too — to serve the IPL without fee. Gavaskar’s explanation was spot-on: “The IPL is a commercial enterprise and non-BCCI members, former cricketers included, should be remunerated for the expertise, experience and time that they bring to the table.”

In 2008, just before the first IPL was going to be played, I asked India’s then ODI and T20I captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni what he thought of the tournament; his answer rings truer than it did at that time — the IPL would transform the cricket landscape because it “is the start of professional cricket in India”. “More players would take up cricket because they know… as professional cricketers, they can earn loads of money and later on, when they leave cricket, they can go into business with their earnings. It’s important to have security about your livelihood — whatever you do, you want to have a secure future,” he had said.

Job security apart, it appears the T20 format perfectly epitomises the spirit of our times, this hectic age of ours when the beauty of languidness, the joy of rumination, are lost due to the quick, recurrent and mind-numbing stimuli our brain is bombarded with.

A 1983 book by American academic Neil Postman seems to be more relevant now than ever before. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman critiques the effect TV had on the public discourse in the US — the role of the advertiser, the propagandist, the necessity of packaging news as entertainment. In his brilliant juxtaposition of the ideas of Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) and George Orwell (1984), Postman writes in the introduction: “Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.” Indeed, we’re reduced to trivialities in trivial times.

Since Postman’s book was published, the advent of the Internet — and, over the past decade, the proliferation of smartphones — changed the information/disinformation landscape beyond recognition. Huxley’s views, published in 1931, seem prescient, as if he foresaw the age of the smartphone, with regular and quick stimulation of the mind making it incapable of grasping ideas, incapable of meditating over them. Mind-numbing sensations — T20 cricket and reels on Instagram may have more in common than it might appear at first thought.

Also in 1931, Bhagat Singh was hanged, on March 23 -— Martyrs Day in India, Atheist Day worldwide.

Pondering over Bhagat Singh’s sacrifice — with no allurement of post-death reward — one can’t help wondering how far we’re from the vision he had in the 1920s. We have the cult of the strong leader in 2024, but in 1928, Bhagat Singh, all of 21, had the courage to critique Gandhi, Nehru, Bose and others. He wasn’t impressed by Bose’s “sentimental” invocation of India’s glorious past; he looks up to Nehru: “Punjabi youth should go with him to understand the real meaning of revolution…”

It’s hard to imagine how Bhagat Singh would have analysed Nehru’s years as Prime Minister, but he was impressed by his ‘internationalist’, non-parochial views.

In Anand Patwardhan’s documentary on the days of horrors in the Punjab of the 1980s, In Memory of Friends, he tells young separatists that Bhagat Singh had expounded on his atheistic views in his book Why I’m an Atheist. They responded: “It later emerged that he became a believer. The book you’re talking about, it was written by Congress people. They are not his words.”

In our times, when conflicts between believers are worse than during his times, what would Bhagat Singh the atheist do? In times when the wealth gap between the richest and the poorest is, according to analysts, biggest since the 1920s, what would the socialist Bhagat Singh do? Not swipe reels on his smartphone, or form an IPL team on an app for a chance to win Rs 1 crore daily, surely!

#Cricket #IPL #Sourav Ganguly

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