October 18, 2007

Racism - a sociological problem

By H Natarajan

It was at the instigation of a white man that Gandhiji was indiscriminately thrown out a first class compartment while traveling by train to Pretoria in South Africa. That incident triggered Gandhi’s determination to challenge the injustice and oppression of racial discrimination.

Indians, since, have always aligned themselves against the forces of racial discriminators. Even generations later, Indians strongly identify with the likes of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who championed the cause of oppressed and discriminated Blacks.

But, paradoxically, there are segments in our own society that are racial in its own ways. We understand “racial discrimination” as unfair segregation by skin pigmentation. And as a predominantly nation of brown skinned, we identify with fellow-browns and dark colored people in fighting forces that believe in white supremacy.

The Oxford dictionary defines racial as “having to do with race”. A wider appreciation of racial discrimination would mean prejudice that goes beyond race to include caste hierarchy, social standing, financial status etc.

While there is a widespread uproar over the racial taunts inflicted on Andrew Symonds, it comes as no surprise to me that the Aussies had to undergo what he did in India. Indian crowds are notorious for deriving for cheap thrills by making personal remarks against players – especially those fielding in the proximity of the fence. Such remarks are essentially to raise laughter among like-minded folks around than for any feeling of superiority. I have seen Vinod Kambli – ebony-hued like Symonds – suffer in his own country in a manner similar to the Australian.

The subject if Indians are racial has been debated many times among friends and the more honest ones among them agree that we are racists in our own ways. In the day bygone, our forefathers did not allow people of lower caste to draw water from the same well that they used. Human Right activists believe that 60 years after Independence, India has still not shed such inhuman practices and that several million ‘Untouchables’ continue to suffer from barbaric discrimination and violence because they were ‘tainted by birth’ into a lower caste.

How many among us so-called educated, enlightened and right-minded people treat our domestic help with compassion and fairness? Do we give them their weekly and yearly leave willingly and without cutting their pay? Are we remunerating them in an equitable manner? Do we speak with them in a manner we expect our employer speak with us? If we have to get an honest answer, most of us would be guilty of being racism – many of us without even realizing. It’s a sociological problem.

I guess it has also to do with the kind of education that we have received. We have been taught that anything black has a negative connotation. So we have words like Black market, Black sheep, Black spot, Black list, Black magic…and many more. So what’s ingrained in the subconscious mind is that black is something evil.

If black supposedly represents evil then white is all about everything pure and virtuous. At least the society would like us to believe. So we have whitening cream to make the dark skinned lighter and more acceptable in front of the society. The matrimony pages are littered with ads that clamor for fair girls.

How many black models you get to see in any ramp walk? Take a look at the cosmetic section of any big shopping mall and find out how much – if any – they have to offer dark complexioned women. They may have much stuff to ‘enhance’ their colour with lighter tones but next to nothing by way of complementing their natural, dark skin. And we are a talking of a nation that is predominantly brown!

The “monkey” taunts against Symonds cannot be condoned, but the Aussies cannot behave like paragons of virtue. Roshan Mahanama wrote in his autobiography that Glenn McGrath called Sanath Jayasuriya a "black monkey” in 1996. Four years back, Australia batsman Darren Lehmann was banned for five ODIs following his racist outburst. In the 2005-06 international series Australian crowds targeted visiting teams with racist comments. During the Perth Test in December 2005, some South African players were referred to as ‘kaffirs’ while some Sri Lankan players were called ‘ black c**ts’ during the Adelaide ODI.

It’s important that players are seen a good role models. The Australians, in that respect, are masters in the art of sledging and even abusing fellow players. And with the media making a bigger impact than ever before, live pictures of deplorable acts and copious discussion in the print media of the incidents have left a lasting impact on impressionable minds.

Just a few days back, four expat fans of Pakistan origin were arrested at Gaddafi Stadium for making racial remarks against the South African players. The racial virus is bound to grow into epidemic proportions and a global scale unless clamped down by deterrent laws. It’s time to come down heavily on the offenders – be they on the field or in the stands.

October 16, 2007

Farewell, Inzi and thanks for the memories

By H Natarajan

I have had the privilege of meeting Inzamam-ul-Haq a few times, away from the madding crowd, in the quiet ambience of his hotel room. And on every occasion I left the room with the feeling of having met a simple, soft-spoken and tranquil man with no apparent starry traits.

That was in the privacy of his temporary abode. Even in front of the all-pervasive television cameras, one cannot recall him growling like Andre Nel or Sreesanth or be irritatingly cheeky like Javed Miandad or Tony Greig. Yet, quite staggeringly, Inzi has been in the midst of some of the biggest controversies in the game.

The first big mess was in 1997 when he was so infuriated by a taunting spectator that he barged into the crowd with a bat in hand to teach his tormentor a lesson. That show of temper got him in trouble with the police.

More recently, he got into an even bigger mess when leading in a Test against England. He was accused of ball tampering – a charge that was subsequently cleared - by umpire Darrell Hair. That led to Pakistan infamously forfeiting the match in protest – an act unprecedented in Test history for which Inzi copped a four-ODI ban “for bringing the game into disrepute”.

Inzamam was still holding the reins when Pakistan made an ignominious first round exit from the World Cup, following which came the news of coach Bob Woolmer’s death in mysterious and suspicious circumstances. Inzamam’s cup of misery was overflowing. Given that Pakistanis – like Indians – are emotional in the extremes, it came as no surprise to find a three-man commission set up by the Pakistan Cricket Board blaming Inzamam for the team’s surprise first-round exit. After taking statements from players, former players and officials, the panel lampooned Inzi by dubbing him as a "dictator".

Whatever may be the findings of the panel and opinions of individuals, the fact remains that Inzamam remained in the hot seat the longest since Imran Khan – widely acknowledged as Pakistan’s best captain ever and one of the best in the game’s history. Pakistan cricket has a tainted history of getting embroiled by petty politics, parochialism and fierce infighting within the team. Captains have led their team out on the field knowing fully well that there are men following him with knives behind their backs, so to say. It’s a tribute to Inzamam that he survived that long as a leader.

Whatever carping critics may say, stats speak in his favour. Inzamam shaped the Pakistan side into a powerful unit and took it 2nd place in the ICC Test Rankings and 3rd place in the ICC ODI Rankings before he met his Waterloo in the World Cup.

But even the virulent of Inzamam’s detractors cannot ever deny that he has been one of the greatest batsmen in contemporary cricket. Imran Khan hailed him as the best batsmen in the world against pace while Sanjay Manjrekar rated him as the finest to combat pressure.

To the uninitiated, he may seem a misfit at the crease – like a sumo on salsa floor. But behind the seemingly indolent mass lies a brilliant athlete. Anybody who has seen him step out on light feet to hoist high and long for sixes will testify that the slouthful looks are misleading and deceptive. Like Arjuna Ranatunga, he may seem a minimalist in movement, but like the Sri Lankan Inzamam was not a misfit in a format otherwise restricted to the young and fit.

Inzamam served notice of his huge talent in the 1992 World Cup with a match-winning 60 from only 37 balls against New Zealand in the semis. It’s an innings that is still remembered by those who were privileged to see. But the greatest innings of his international career was his innings of 329 - the second-highest Test score by a Pakistani - against New Zealand in Lahore in 2001-02. It’s not easy to carry so much excess baggage and last long enough to score such a monumental knock. But Inzamam proved that he is equal to the most grueling physical demands with that one innings. If there is further confirmation needed one needs to look at his longevity – 498 appearances spanning 16 long years. And with a 50-plus average in Tests and almost 40 in ODIs, he has been a top performer. Most importantly, he has been a match-winner with 17 of his 25 Test hundreds powering Pakistan to victory.

If there is anything that he would regret about in his retirement, it could be that he could not recapture that early magic in World Cup matches and the fact that he did not do justice to his talent as an accomplished player of pace against teams with quality fast bowlers like Australia and South Africa. His averaged just 23 in World Cups and failed to score a single hundred. And in Tests, he managed a total of just one century when playing against Australia and South Africa at averages that were far from flattering. That will certainly take away some gloss when compared to contemporary batting greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting.

For the cynics, Inzi may be “aloo”, but for me he is a “baloo” (bear) - a six feet, three-inch lovable teddy bear who brought so much joy with his brilliant batting.

Farewell, Inzi.