Thursday, Aug 11, 2022
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Malik Ambar, 1548-1626

The Dark-Fated One

Malik Ambar, 1548-1626 Malik Ambar, 1548-1626

Years ago, I managed to get tickets to the first cricket Test match to be played in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Opposing the Indian team was the West Indian team which included the peerless Viv Richards. The excitement as the crowds streamed to the new Test ground was manic, joyful, but I left the match remembering neither the score nor individual performances. The reactions of the Ahmedabad spectators, though, I won’t forget. As the West Indians took to the field, loud monkey whoops filled the air, and bananas came raining down from the stands. The pelted players—probably the greatest West Indian team in history—stood there in their flannels, stunned.

Indians’ particular contempt for people of African desc­ent—a racism shared even by Mahatma Gandhi, as evident in his South African years—doesn’t get talked about much, which is surely one reason little has changed in the 30-odd years since I watched that troubling match. It’s telling that a word still used in Hindi to refer to black Africans is habshi—shorthand in common usage for a dark-skinned slave.

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