Because of our early printing schedules, I am writing this a day before the “mother of all battles”. So much speculation, punditry, opinion and caution has already been expressed that there is hardly anything new I can add, except, perhaps, make my personal biases clear. Am I for cricket diplomacy or against cricket diplomacy? How can any sane person be against it in the Mohali context? When the two prime ministers meet at the match, I hope between drinking tea and eating pakodas, they are able to have a brief chat (to be continued at the banquet) on non-cricketing matters. Even if they do not, the face-to-face encounter can hardly do any harm. Lowering the temperature is a phrase much bandied about, but it should not be dismissed out of hand. The very dispatch of the invitation and its prompt acceptance has had a calming effect (note the “very positive” home secretaries’ meeting).
Gesture diplomacy has a chequered but mostly successful history. The Sino-American breakthrough came via ping-pong—of which game I was once a minor champion. And let us not forget it was Mao Tse-Tung’s firm handshake of Brajesh Mishra at an embassy party in Beijing which led to resumption of full diplomatic relations between India and China.
In all the hoopla, we need to remind ourselves that the event under discussion is not an impromptu Indo-Pak summit, but a cricket match, one which has the potential of being a memorable contest. Of course, like 1.2 billion fans, I would like India to win on Wednesday (and on Saturday). On form, they deserve to win. But supposing the unthinkable happens? According to me—and please hold the shoes—that would not be a bad result either. Currently, Pakistan is bleeding, admittedly from self-inflicted wounds; it is a failed state. A victory over its old adversary would be a tonic for a nation down in the dumps. It would bind the country together, help lift its present sense of low self-esteem. On the other hand, we don’t need a World Cup triumph as much as they do. For us it would be the icing on the cake. For them it would be the cake itself which is in acute short supply.
A victory for Pakistan over India might lead to our estranged neighbour, suddenly self-confident and self-assured, becoming more reasonable and accommodating on vexed bilateral issues. Perhaps, the trial of the 26/11 terrorists would be speeded up. Perhaps, the meddling in Kashmir would stop. Perhaps, they would support our membership to the Security Council.
Before you declare me a dangerous anti-national fantasist, take into account the eruption of joy on the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. In that possible moment of sporting triumph lies for us an opportunity. Instead of cricket diplomacy, South Block should be contemplating how to exploit defeat diplomacy.
Having said all that, let me hasten to add that I will be cheering for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his team!
Why Japan, Lord?
Despite being a Hindu agnostic, I am inclined to believe that the universe is run by some divine sanction. At the Pearly Gates we will probably find a kindly old man with a flowing beard and gentle eyes keeping watch over heaven and earth. Alas, my faith in this gent has been severely shaken by the heart-rending and horrific images of mass slaughter inflicted on the citizens of Japan by the earthquake/tsunami. No one, not even a serial sinner, deserves to be extinguished so callously, so randomly. If God exists, he must be a cruel, malevolent God rather than a benign and merciful God. The Japanese are such serene, nature-loving, correct people who abide strictly by a culture dedicated to coexisting with the cosmos. How can one explain this casual, Biblical savagery visiting such people? At least, the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were punished for their wickedness.
When bad things happen on our planet, we are told by the pious and holy that this is His way of reminding us we must live by His commandments. Besides, misery and pain is the price we pay for the privilege of being born. All this mumbo-jumbo, I am afraid, will not convince the rational mortal that some benevolent and just order rules our world.
In Letter, What Spirit!
I am coming to the end of my autobiography (do buy a copy, otherwise how will I pay for my Blue Label!) to be published by Penguin in September-October. And the bit I’ve enjoyed writing most is about my stint in Outlook. Going through the Letters pages, for instance, I’ve discovered the Outlook reader is absolutely matchless. He/she is witty, insightful and elegantly rude. While we were patting ourselves on our 10th anniversary for producing a balanced, liberal journal, Navdeep Hans from New Delhi fumed: “It is blasphemy to call Vinod Mehta and his gang liberals. They are a bunch of partisan, pseudo-secular loonies who publish propaganda in the name of a newsmagazine.” More power to Navdeep’s pen.