Monday, April 4, 2011

National pride and the world cup

India and Sri Lanka played in the cricket world cup this past Saturday. These days its important to mention which world cup because there are just so many of them. It was a well contested match and India won. This everybody knows.

When India beat Pakistan and booked their spot in the finals I had friendly banter from my multitude of Indian friends asking about the match on Saturday. After all having a spouse that's Indian meant I'd have to factor how and where I put my allegiance.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, we had already lost two wickets. Dilshan and Tharanga were out. I was using hitcric, which was an excellent find for me. Of course, on that day, there were 36,000 people watching on that one channel. My wife and daughter ambled in an hour later, and we were all sleepily watching cricket when something my wife said jarred me.

"Tell me something" she said "so do you support this team even though it is a Sinhalese team?"

It was always there, deep inside me. Perhaps I thought it was hidden in the recesses where just I could go examine it from time to time. Clearly it was visible to an extent that my wife and others saw it as well.

What is the source of national pride when you were kicked out of your homeland?

Sports is not politics. Sports is supposed to transcend politics. In much the same way that you do not read about debaucheries of authors or actors. You enjoy their craft and prose. These 11 men on the field were not politicians or masterminds of the genocide that occurred over the 27 years from the time that my family and I were evicted from Sri Lanka. I should have been able to enjoy this as a world cup final. Sports in its purity.

It's not always that easy.

We went to a friends house to watch the second half. Malinga took Tendulkar's wicket. I started chanting his name, only to be admonished quickly by the majority Indian audience in attendance.

"You can't do that" one of our friends playfully chided me. It was confusing for them to have a Sri Lankan in their midst. It was disrupting their flow.

Gambhir settled down. The runs started to pile up. Tea was served. Order was slowly restored. I started to enjoy the cricket again. It was my two favorite teams playing each other. After all, when Sri Lanka is not playing, I am an avid supporter of the Indian team.

The thoughts kept coming back though. I have visited India 13 times in the last 15 years. I have come to love the country and feel at home there. I have not returned to Sri Lanka since 1983.

Dhoni hit a stylish 6 and the match was over. Medals were handed out and Kumar Sangakkara made a very gracious acceptance speech. He was truly a great ambassador for Sri Lanka, and a sportsman. Yet as part of the speech when he said 'I would like to thank his excellency the President', I cringed. This was the man who was responsible for the war camps in the Vanni area. This is the man who declared victory, while subjugating mass numbers of Tamil people.

Ironically, this would be Muralitharan's exit. One of the greatest in cricket history not just in Sri Lanka but in the world, and a Tamil. The only Tamil player on the team. Not many notice this, but I'm sure the Sri Lankan Tamils do.

I do not have answers for my queries. I just know I have them.

I'm delighted for India. I feel for the Sri Lankans, especially Dilshan, as it was clearly how badly he wanted a world cup title.

Most of all, I grieve for the Tamil civilians who are still in a war zone, and now mostly forgotten, as the world moves on to the crisis du jour.

Cricket truly is an expression of the world at large.


  1. I understand the emotions that you might have gone through and I respect that; I do sympathize with the struggles of the Tamils but being Indian I would love people who take refuge in our country(from other countries like Bangladesh, Lanka, Burma, Tibet) to respect the land that has accepted them with open arms; Show some gratitude to the land that has pretty much given them the same rights as that of its citizens(to a large degree true).
    Respect and gratitude are largely relative terms, it has a lot to do with the values that people are raised with. In the game against Lanka, I saw scores of lankan tamils in Chennai cheer for their home land team; This was something that bothered me a lot and I know it hurt the feelings of my friends and my brother when we saw this happening. We lost our PM, lots of soldiers, countless peacekeepers for the sake of tamils in the north but at the same count seeing them cheer for lanka was a horrid feeling.
    My two rupees.

  2. Wonderful writing Brenny, and I liked your statement "Sports is supposed to transcend politics" - and you showed me how it does. All these days - esp. with Indo-Pakistan match,with everybody saying "The game of cricket that wins" I wondered how, and your blog has showed me how.

    I too cringed when Sangakara thanked the President. Recent Wikileaks & other reports talk how Rajapakse violated human rights to crush Tamils.

    I am proud to be Indian and am grateful for differences & dialogues we can have in India. So, I disagree with fellow AnbuSelvam. I think refugees have to respect Indian laws but India being a democracy, doesn't mean the refugees have to submit their entire identity and merge with "INDIA". I think the richness of India is from this diversity rather than a homogeniety that would be created. And as a proud Indian living in Bengalooru - IF I wanted to support Sri Lanka or Australia, democratic India gives me that freedom. That wouldn't have made me less of an Indian.

    But this is an interesting debate. Living in the US, do you feel that identities have to be merged with larger US or do you retain Sri Lankan identity & values, and still be an American? (I think your blog already kind of answers my question! :) )

  3. First of all let me thank you AnbuSelvam for a thought provoking and sincere comment. You are also my first anonymous comment and it means that people outside my immediate circle are reading my blog, so that is neat.

    I can understand your perspective. It brought home to me a deeper understanding within myself of what it means to have a homeland

    My personal two cents aligns with Prashanta. In fact, when I was reading your response, I was thinking about what it is like to be a Sri Lankan who lives in the US. The US is seen as a melting pot, where people are here from all over the world, and are Americans in one sense, but also align very fiercely to their homeland or area of origin.

    A question to you, AnbuSelvam. If you were to move to the Australia, or England, or even Sri Lanka, who would you cheer for in the world cup?

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  5. There is another side of the coin too.

    I love my motherland as much as any Indian do but only because of my particular religion many times people look at me with suspicious eyes.

    Can you imagine the pain a person feel when his/her loyalty towards his/her country/motherland is questioned despite of being loyal to his country/motherland?

  6. Very interesting read Brenny! It is nice to hear the other side of the story.
    And let me confess, if I have to support anyone in cricket apart from India it is Sri Lanka for me. I admire the conduct of the team!