Turn on any of India’s up-market corporate channels, and you will find therein but just one lead: the IPL, or the Indian Premier League of 20×20 cricket.
It is as though that magic potion has been found at last that snuffs out all our troubles. Yet my migraine gets only more acute.
Watching these gladiators do relentless violence to the round little ball (and, in a moment of defeated frustration, to one another), you are not to think that anyone in India is houseless, diseased, unemployed, starving. Or that rape and murder, suicide and sell-out, insurgency and civil war are anywhere in evidence. Presto, just watch the league matches and yell with the next bludgeon. And should some superior snoot ask the question, just firm your jaw, look him in the eye, and say "why not"? Why not do as we do do from one gratification to the next? Who says there is anything better to be done with life than feed the appetite and chill the brain? Every rapists thinks the same.
Having played some years of state-level, first class cricket myself, I ought to belong to the gladiator party.
Alas, that since that time I should also have done some reading and some worrying. Look where that has got me. Indeed, what follows must declare me an unforgiveable spoilsport. Being stakeless, nonetheless, encourages me to say what I think for now. Not a small satisfaction in these empty, glittering times.
Just as behind the falling of the apple lay a whole world of considerations—which, once worked out, gave us aviation and a new world altogether—so, it must be said, behind the 20×20 lies a history of human endeavour that it does no harm to understand. For what seems is hardly ever what is.
When Capitalism came to the world, it brought in its wake a great deal of enlightenment.
Its facilitating intellects sat long hours through plague and punishment to examine and expose the manifold nastiness of feudal forms of social life.
Success could not have come to Capitalism had its strenuous new rationality failed to persuade wide swathes of people that monarchy and landlordism, buttressed by an absolutist and absolutely corrupt church were houses of oppression and evil.
Where the feudal triumvirate simply assumed its right-to-oppress, the new Capitalist class pressed into service a whole barrage of critical and analytic proof on behalf of a new future for mankind. In the process, many lost their lives.
Thus the story of the western world between the century that produced the loom and Protestantism (that made the teachings of the Bible amenable to the interests of the Capitalist class) and 1871 (when the possibilities of extending the new rationality to embrace the fate of millions of others who stood to gain little from Capitalism were brutally extinguished) was to be the story of the ascendance of Capitalism.
However, once ensconced in power, the very career of enquiry and critique that had helped dislodge the old order came to be seen as a liability.
Enquiry and critique were weapons that could be used against the new class as well. Thus if Capitalism had to ensure a long enough life for itself, these weapons had to be denied to those who now viewed it with suspicion. All the more so since with time it became apparent that its protestations notwithstanding, Capitalism represented not the interests of mankind but of a class. And that indeed those interests could be furthered only if the bulk of mankind was now to be exploited in new, sophisticated ways.
Thus while the method of science remained integral to the career of Capitalism towards the expansion of productive capacities, the exploitation of nature, and the maximization of profits thereby, science, this class recognized, was a dangerous tool if allowed to be fairly applied to an understanding of social and cultural issues.
No wonder that this conundrum has obliged Capitalism to forge its own proliferating repertoire of superstition, myth, and unreason—a task in which its control of technologies has constantly come to its aid.
Thus, if the career of Capitalism required assiduous homework and enlightenment, once in power it saw that inorder to thwart the world from thinking beyond Capitalism it needed to jettison enlightenment for entertainment.
In literary parlance, Capitalism now needed to rewrite the 19C novel into a sexy quickie, knocking out reflections upon processes for the mesmeric event, complete with blood and gore, with a ghost or some extra-terrestrial monstrosity thrown in for kicks. Nowadays ofcourse this menu has been further extended to include creatures, especially in the common fare from Hollywood.
It needed to produce a social order that would displace the thoughtful walk in the country, garden, or bylane by the frenetic rush of jogging.
It needed to emasculate language into digital ejaculations, chop grammar into animal grunts, castrate conversation into a time-saving hi and bye.
And to dethrone the warm contexts of tea-brewing and tea-drinking in favour of the stand-up cup of instant coffee.
It needed to numb the least moment of creative pain with the placebo of the next comfort available in the market.
It needed simultaneously to resist the backward call of religious dogmatism as well as keep afloat the religious sentiment, chiefly for two reasons: one, to keep the dregs of the earth from wandering into class-consciousness, and to make available to the corporates another perennial avenue of profiteering. Remember that more money is made from religious rituals than is from other forms of industrial life.
And it needed to cut to size the complex cadences of test-match cricket and instal the bestial gratifications of 20×20.
Gratification. That is the name of the game. The idea being to return mankind to those hunting-gathering primevals of life—food, sex, and violence. All made easy to hand by the professional skills of the technical and managerial elites who are made to believe that their labours are worthwhile in proportion to the packages they get. Or, vice versa.
And the underclasses are taught in school and market-place that only two classes of human beings exist—not the rich and the poor, but the winners and the losers. The winners are those that prostitute their hearts and minds to the Capitalist project, from the shop-floor to the Board, and losers are those who either fail to do so, or opt out, or foolishly offer resistance to the criminal barbarism of Capital. Religion comes in handy to teach them that human being infact are created unequal, and each must accept his/her destiny.
Thus everywhere Capitalism teaches that men may do whatever they set their heart upon and become equal to the highest on high, while in practice it ensures that the vast mass of mankind remain in thrall, and seek to alleviate their misery with the next piece of entertainment. In the mud houses of India’s slums, I have seen slum urchins derive great joy from pasting colourful Cadbury chocolate wrappers on their walls. It makes them feel they might belong.
When these days things get a bit over the hill even for devoted votaries of entertainment, some corporate channel is sure to do a programme that asks ‘is India become too materialistic’?
So ‘materialism’ (projected as a general human propensity to acquisition) is identified as the villain, never Capitalism.
Just as Naxalism is thought to be the ‘greatest threat to India’s internal security’, never the material conditions that produce it.
Same with other forms of violence in the hinterland, or ‘terrorism’, or indeed what is now called urban ‘road rage’ wherein motorists simply kill off each other for not yielding the right of way.
Please, therefore, let us not talk just of our cricketing gladiators who were before the commencement of the IPL publicly ‘sold’ and ‘bought’ in the full glare of corporate channels in an auction to various franchises owned by those other gladiators of a resurgent India, the film stars and corporate moghuls.
For whatever grand notions a Dhoni or a Harbhajan might have of their worth and status, they are at bottom the anthropomorphic versions of the breed cattle and camel that are routinely auctioned in India, here, there, and elsewhere.
And why should they mind? Without a thought in their heads beyond the next gratification, without a decent book-read in their profile, they make more money for swinging a barbaric bat for ten odd minutes than an Aristotle or Erasmus could ever imagine existed. Look how justly Marx lived and died in penury for being critical of Capitalism. Served the carbuncular nuisance right.
I leave you, though, with a thought that he (Marx) left us in the Third of his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.
And he left us that thought in the words of one of his adored English writers, name of William Shakespeare, who, in his play, Timon of Athens, spoke thus of the power of money at the heyday of England’s transformation to Capitalism:
Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious gold? No, gods,
I am no idle votarist: roots, you clear heavens!
Thus much of this will make black, white; foul, fair;
Wrong, right; base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant.
. . .Why, this
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides;
Pluck stout men’s pillows from below their heads;
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions; bless th’accurst;
Make the hoar leprosy adored; place thieves,
And give them title, knee and approbation,
With senators on the bench: this is it
That makes the wappened widow wed again;
She whom the spittal house and ulcerous sores
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices
To the April day again. . . .
Thus, my fellow commentators, rail not at 20×20; rail rather at the world that makes such an obscenity desirable.