In a poignant scene in the movie Titanic, while the ship is sinking, when everyone is running around to save their lives, a group of violinists starts playing ‘Nearer, my God, to thee.’ For them, the show must go on. Even at the risk of being left behind to die.
Sceptics could argue that the string quartet was wasting its time. When death is staring everyone in the face, when there is panic and fear all around, who has time for a melancholic melody; and that they should have grabbed a life jacket and jumped into a rescue boat. Some may even call it unnecessary distraction, an antithesis to the idea of ‘all hands on the board’ during a crisis.
Pop culture is sometimes a good reference point for understanding life around us. So, the Titanic sequence is a good metaphor for understanding the importance of something similar during our current life and time – the Indian Premier League.
Critics of the IPL have called it tamasha in the time of corona. Some newspapers and media organisations have implemented a blanket ban on its coverage, arguing that it distracts from the humanitarian disaster unfolding in India due to shortage of beds, medicine and oxygen; and the mayhem caused by the pandemic. Others have sought its immediate suspension.
Yes, India, like the Titanic, is sinking into pandemic pandemonium. We are witnessing a tragedy that’s unprecedented in scale and magnitude. All of India is depressed and in constant fear of the virus. But, we need the IPL to go on.
Unlike the violinists, IPL cricketers and franchises may not be driven by altruism or a commitment to duty – their interests may be driven more by commercial compulsions – while playing amidst the pandemic. But, like the violinists, they are trying to create a semblance of normality, making us forget, even if just for a few hours, that in this gloom and doom, the show must go on.
Poets, philosophers and psychologists all agree that life is not destined to stop. Humanity is programmed to overcome grief, pain and setbacks to plough ahead. Mohammad Iqbal, whose words are an inspiration to millions of followers, famously wrote:
“Faraib-e-Nazar Hai Sakoon-o-Sabaat
Tarapta Hai Har Zarra-e-Kainat
Theherta Nahin Karwaan-e-Wujood
Ke Har Lehza Hai Taza Shaan-e-Wujood
Samajhta Hai Tu Raaz Hai Zindagi
Faqat Zauq-e-Parwaaz Hai Zindagi”
(Loosely translated it means stability and perpetual relief are deception of the eye, every particle in this universe is restless; the caravan of life doesn’t stop, life rejuvenates itself every moment; you think life is a mystery, but it is just the desire to soar.)
So, what can be a better motivation, advertisement for perseverance, than a Mahendra Singh turning up at the Wankhede with characteristic calm even when his parents are admitted in a hospital because of corona? Does it not calm a nation’s nerves, tell thousands of people to calm down? Does his swagger and sangfroid not convey to millions that this too shall pass?
Psychologists will vouch the cure for pessimism and depression is not more of it. Entertainment, humour, games and sex – most tragedies lead to a baby boom – are well-known prescriptions for melancholia. Various studies have shown that people have been cured of grave diseases with the power of music, humour and entertainment. So, when a Ravindra Jadeja hits the bowler for five towing sixes in an over, when a game is decided in a super-over, it is not just a welcome respite, from the pandemic, but also chicken soup for the soul.
There is another benefit of the league. It keeps cricket fans at home, thus, acting as a facilitator of social distancing, and self-imposed lockdown, even if for a few hours. So, as long as the league is being played in empty stadiums, it is only contributing to the government’s efforts to break the chain of transmission.
Indians are known for shrugging off setbacks, tragedies and calamities. It is both a national flaw and a trait. We have already witnessed the price of the Indian penchant for nonchalance in their response to the pandemic – shrugging of shoulders, large gatherings and reckless behaviour. The same courage – or foolhardiness – was visible as a national character when people thronged bazaars, metro stations and stadiums even after terror blasts in many Indian metros. The point is: life in India just doesn’t stop.
For this restive, resilient population, an IPL played in empty stadiums is a much better distraction than election rallies, Kumbh Melas and mass events to merely say “Namaste Trump”? No?