February 18, 2020
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A Boor, Not A Monkey

Several somewhat specious defences have been offered for Harbhajan's outburst against Symonds -- the most evidently specious among these being the one that finally succeeded with Judge Hansen. But...

A Boor, Not A Monkey

There is a joke currently doing the rounds, where match referee Mike Procter asks Harbhajan Singh, "Did you call Andrew Symonds a monkey?" to which Singh replies, "No, I called a monkey Symonds."

This is amusing, of course, but it masks a crucial injustice. The independent judge, John Hansen, while diminishing the charges and penalties against Singh, further castigated Symonds for using "foul and abusive language" and held him equally to blame for the fracas on the field. On first sight, this appears fair to all. But on closer inspection, the judgement is deeply flawed. What appears to have been missed out by all is the complete unfairness of the proceedings towards at least one injured party: The monkey.

Now, we in India are very fond of monkeys. We have the monkey god, Hanuman, who is well known to us as a sea of wisdom and virtue. He is, in fact, something of a Hindu god of sports, the receptacle and source of limitless strength, and many who seek to excel in this field pay fond obeisance to the monkey god.

Monkeys are, of course, mischievous, often tiresome, inclined to be destructive, and thieving -- but try to retaliate with violence against a simian miscreant, and the Indian public will turn upon you. 'Monkey' is also an expression we often use to articulate affection -- our children are, to us, 'little monkeys', and 'monkey' is also sometimes a term of endearment between besotted lovers.

Several somewhat specious defences have been offered for Harbhajan's outburst against Symonds -- the most evidently specious among these being the one that finally succeeded with Judge Hansen -- but no one has yet argued that Harbhajan sought to express affection for Symonds by 'allegedly' calling him a monkey. Consequently, it would have to be conceded that the expression 'monkey' was used, in this case, as an insult - and this does grave injury to our simian kin, a matter of concern greater than any injury that may have been done to the boorish Symonds.

However, we now have a judicial pronouncement -- based on no-doubt reliable evidence provided by some of the greatest cricketers in the world -- that what Harbhajan said was not, in fact, 'monkey' but the evidently less ambiguous "teri maa ki..." -- referring to the intimate anatomy of Symonds' mother. Those who saw excerpts of Judge Hansen's judgement broadcast on television will appreciate the extraordinary, if unintended, humour of the situation, as the judge ponderously analysed, in pronounced Australian accent, the nuances and implications of "terrymayky" (the transliteration does little justice to the actual comedy). Ironically, Harbhajan's mother is reported to have greeted the news that her son had merely denigrated Symonds mother, and had not, in fact, (The horror! The horror!) called him a monkey, with great relief, observing solemnly that this was a "triumph of truth".

Now imagine this. A young couple are called up by the principal of their child's school (I would have said, "their son's school", but that would be sexist and would ignore the great advances made by the girlchild in the field of invective). They present themselves, with their shamefaced progeny, in the principal's office, to be informed that the child has called a classmate 'monkey'. Quite naturally, their world crumbles around them, as they recognise the enormity of perversion that has entered their child's soul.

Further probing, however, demonstrates that the child had not, in fact, said 'monkey', but "teri maa ki..." On this determination, there is joy and celebration all around. The principal lets the child off with a mild reprimand, and compliments the parents on the excellent upbringing they have imparted to their offspring. The parents, in turn, skip out with their child to the nearest McDonalds (of this I am sure, such parents would naturally be stuffing their children with junk food as well).

You may contend that I am being facetious and deliberately ignoring the charge that 'monkey' was used as a racist epithet, and not as politically-correct non-discriminatory invective, and that there was a history here, since chants of 'monkey, monkey' had also been directed against Symonds during matches at various venues in India as well. But notice that players of different races have played in India for decades, and no individual or team of particular race or colour has ever been badgered by crowds chanting 'monkey'. It is not the intention to claim, here, that Indians are a people of superior virtue, and consequently incapable of racist abuse -- to use a cliché, take a look at our matrimonial advertisements or the market for 'fairness creams', and you will discover a deep distaste for darker complexions.

But the expression 'monkey' does not correctly articulate these racist sentiments. I have never heard, for instance, of an Indian calling Garfield Sobers, Brian Lara or Wesley Hall 'monkeys' (indeed, gentlemen cricketers, all, they were and remain objects of near-universal adulation in India). If anything, the expression, directed against Symonds by the Indian public, articulates the general perception of the degree to which he -- with a wide smear of white around his lips -- deviates from generally acceptable standards of human appearance, and I would now suggest, conduct, in any community, Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Green or Purple.

The truth is, the Aussies in general and Symonds in particular, broke every rule in the book during this tour. They cheated; they lied; they sledged and they intimidated; they clearly influenced the umpires into repeatedly giving manifestly incorrect decisions -- and there is strong suggestion of racist bias in successive decisions by the umpires, including the exclusive reliance on Aussie testimony for their decisions; they deliberately abused legal processes to take out an Indian bowler who had become a major threat to their performance.

And then they sought to apply standards of conduct and propriety to the Indian side that they were refusing to adhere to themselves. In sum, they made it more than obvious that they would do anything -- both in and out of the book -- to win. But when the BCCI does a little arm-twisting of its own, such a righteous whine goes up from the Australian continent!

The Aussies will find it difficult to live down their churlishness in this affair, and whether it is 'monkey' or 'teri maa ki...', the epithets will follow Symonds for a long time to come. The final judgement in the case has demonstrated how abusive and unsportsman like Symonds' conduct was, and, while Harbhajan will smart a little as a result of the partial loss of match fees, he can get away with feeling just a little silly. There is little by way of a real blemish on his character or his quality as a sportsman -- especially since the whole incident was provoked by Symonds' contemptible response to Harbhajan's sporting gesture of complimenting a rival team's player.

Symonds and his Captain, on the other hand, appear boorish, misbehaved and, even after this long-drawn controversy, truculent and unwilling to display courtesy or an iota of generosity of spirit. The Aussies have repeatedly demonstrated their superior cricketing skills in the field. But their spirit of sportsmanship has spiralled downward from Don Bradman's day.

K.P.S.Gill is former director-general of police, Punjab. He is also Publisher, SAIR and President, Institute for Conflict Management. This article was first published in The Pioneer

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